The personality of a complete man (I am not referring to the complete man of a popular commercial ad.) comprises of five layers which are referred to in Vedanta as Panchakosam.
'Kosa' means a covering or sheath. Panchakosam means the Five Sheaths.
The scabbard of the sword covers the sword. It is of the same shape as the sword. It indicates the presence of the sword, even though it covers the sword from one's sight. The scabbard is always different from the sword and does not affect the sword in any way. Similarly the Soul or the Self is covered by the five sheaths, as shown in the diagram below. Hence the Self or the Soul is generally referred to as the Indweller.
What are these five Sheaths? They are 1.Annamaya Kosam (Food Sheath-Physical Body) 2. Pranamaya Kosam (Vital Air Sheath) 3.Manomaya Kosam (Mental Sheath) 4.Vijnanamaya Kosam (Wisdom or Intellectual Sheath) and 5.Anandamaya Kosam (Bliss Sheath) It may be observed from the diagram that we have to discover the Self which is the Reality as beyond the five sheaths. The sixth question raised in this Upanishad is where to find that Reality or the Self? And the answer is “Right here, inside the body”.
But before we go to the answer to the question posed, let us have a closer look at the coverings so as to get a feel of That which is being covered.
'Annam' means food and 'maya' means modifications. The body is the result of modification of food and hence called 'Annamaya'. The food eaten is digested. Its very essence becomes the source of new life. The child grows up and develops in strength and size due to the food eaten. Finally, we die to merge into food (Earth). The earth itself becomes the food we eat. So, we are born from food (earth) and go back to food (earth). When we identify with the Annamaya Kosa, we say-"I am tall, fair, healthy, beautiful, strong etc." Annamaya Kosam is our Gross Body (Sthula Sariram).
The Vital Air Sheath pervades the Food Sheath. It is subtler than the food sheath. The five modifications of air, which control the main physiological functions of the body, are called 'Pranas'. They are: a) Prana b) Apana c) Vyana d) Udana and e) Samana The five Pranas and the five organs of action together are called the 'Pranamaya Kosam'. Identified with it, a man says-" I am hungry, thirsty etc."
The Mind and the five sense organs of perception together form the mental sheath.
The mind is the seat of emotions like anger, love, jealousy, compassion etc. It is constituted of thoughts in a state of volition. It is the mind that perceives the objects of the world through the senses. If the mind does not back the sense organs, they cannot receive any stimuli. My eyes may be open; but I miss to see the object in front of me if my mind is elsewhere. It is only through the mind that the organs of action also respond to the world. Identified with the mental sheath, I say "I am happy, I am sad, I cannot hear etc.”
The intellect and the five sense organs of perception together is the Intellectual Sheath. It is subtler than and pervades the former three sheaths. It controls them as well. The five senses are common to both the mental and intellectual sheaths, as perception involves both the mind and the intellect.
Thoughts in a framework of decision-making are the intellect. Ignorance of the Self manifests first as the decision of the intellect as “I am the doer, I am finite etc.". This then gives rise to the notions -"I am tall, I am hungry, I am happy etc.”
Knowledge of the Self also takes place in the intellect as "I am infinite, I am pure happiness etc.” The intellect is the seat of the values of life. What we value, we try to emulate, run after or cherish. The intellect discriminates between right and wrong, real and unreal, good and bad etc. To innovate, create, discover, visualize, imagine, observe, conclude, inquire, question, recognize, assimilate etc. are intellectual abilities. The mind carries the sense perception to the intellect. Based on previous experience, it recognizes, understands and decides on the course of action. It conveys the same, through the mind, to the organs of action and the body to act accordingly. Hence, the intellect is called the 'Driver' of this vehicle of the body.
The Pranamaya Kosam, Manomaya Kosam and the Vijnanamaya Kosam together form our Subtle Body (Sukshma Sariram).
The subtlest and the most pervasive of the five sheaths is the Bliss Sheath. It is otherwise called the Causal Body (Karana sariram). It is of the nature of ignorance of the world and the Self, yet endowed with the bliss of the Self.
When night falls, the world is covered by darkness. All objects and their distinctive characteristics merge into it. The objects are not destroyed. Only they are not perceived. As the day dawns, the distinctions manifest. Similarly, in deep sleep when only the causal body is at play, all dualities, the ego, anxiety, agitation, the world, the subtle and gross bodies etc. merge into total ignorance. Due to ignorance, it is said to be of impure nature.
The five sheaths form the covering, which conceals the jewel of the Self in its folds. They are modifications of the elements, born to die and are known to be different from ' I ' - the pure Self. The self is beyond all modifications, unborn, immortal and the witness of all. The Self is neither happy nor unhappy. It is always of the nature of pure bliss. We are thus different from the five sheaths.
Beyond the five Sheaths
The five sheaths are known by the Self as 'my body', 'my prana', 'my mind', 'my intellect', 'my bliss' and are, therefore, not the Self. The fact that 'I am not the five sheaths' is simple. But the most simple facts are the most difficult to grasp and accept. Our mind is so complicated and the habits of the past are so over-powering that one does not see the Truth. Even if the Truth is appreciated, it is not accepted. Even if it is accepted, it is not owned up to. Therefore, through continuous discrimination and firm resolve, one must uncover the Self and get liberated from the bondage of the five sheaths.
Self, Consciousness, Creator, Atman, Brahman, Absolute and Prajapati are some of the terms used to refer to this One Ultimate Reality. The word used by the student, Sukesa Bharadvaja is Purusha or Cosmic Person.