By Swami Harshananda
Pañcakośas literally means ‘five sheaths’.
According to the Vedānta philosophy, the true nature of the human being or any living being or even the whole creation is ātman, the Self. Though this ātman is always present in us, we do not feel its presence. On the other hand, we identify ourselves with the body and mind, and hence, suffer. The factors responsible for this hiding or covering of our true nature are five:
- Annamaya-kośa - The physical body which is a product of anna or food
- Prāṇamaya-kośa - Prāṇa or the vital energies responsible for the functioning of the sense-organs and ther biochemical processes within the body.
- Manomaya-kośa - Manas or the mind
- Vijñānamaya-kośa - Vijñāna or the intellect, also called buddhi.
- Ānandamaya-kośa - It is ajñāna or basic ignorance.
Since these factors cover the ātman like a sheath and are five in number, they are called pañcakośas.
Significance of all the Kośa
- Annamaya-kośa, the first, consists of the physical body given by the parents and nourished by anna or food.
- The five prāṇas or vital energies like prāṇa, apāna and others form the second, the prāṇamayakośa.
- Manas or the mind with its capacity for cognition, will and doubts comprises the third, the manomaya-kośa.
- Vijñāna or the intellect, with its capacity to weigh the pros and cons, and come to definite conclusions is the fourth, the vijñānamayakośa.
- Ānandamayakośa, the fifth, is the name given to ajñāna or ignorance. The ānanda or happiness that is enjoyed during deep-sleep is due to it. Hence it is named so.
Location of all the Kośa
Annamayakośa is the outermost cover. Prāṇamayakośa is within it, filling it fully and of the same form. So also manomaya, vijñānamaya and ānandamaya kośas which succeed prānamayakośa in that order, fill their preceding kośas. By a process of negation, negating each of these kośas as not-self, one can arrive at the true Self.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore