According to many spiritual traditions, the human mind can be divided into various levels, spheres, or koshas. In yoga it is said that “the human being is composed of five layers of mind, just like the banana flower.”
The body, or annamaya kosha, comprises the sixth layer.
Each one of these “petals” envelopes the other and, depending on your perspective, progressively conceals or reveals the ultimate reality, Spirit or God.
According to the yoga philosophy of Vedanta, an individual is composed of five such sheaths. First is the annamaya kosha, the physical body.
Second is the pranamaya kosha, or the sheath composed of life force; it is the connecting link between the physical body and the mind; the sphere of emotions.
Third, the manomaya kosha, is the rational mind. Next is the vijanamaya kosha, the sheath of intuition; the subtle mind. Fifth is the anandamaya kosha, the sheath of blissful transcendence.
In Mahayana Buddhism, there are eight levels of consciousness. The first five represent the five senses.
The next layer of the mind is based on sensory experience. The seventh layer, called manas, refers to both higher mind and the center of the illusion of the separate self.
The final level is the alayavijnana, the veil before alaya or pure Spirit.
Yoga emphasizes the importance of understanding the essential nature of this spectrum of consciousness—how the individual mind rests within and is part of the soul (atman).
And, through an integral Body-Mind-Spirit practice, how the mind expands into this soul and finally, with its crystal-clear perception, unites with the Cosmic or Divine Soul.
Here is a contemporary yogic elaboration of these sheaths, developed by my teacher, Anandamurti, that expands on the Vedantic version by dividing our individual Body-Mind-Spirit into seven levels, including its many sub-functions:
1. Annamaya Kosha—the physical body, composed, as in Ayurveda, of the five elements: ether, air, fire, water, earth. The body is controlled by the crudest layer of mind, the kamamaya kosha.
In yoga, the body is made radiant and healthy through vegetarian diet, physical exercise and hatha yoga practice, or the third limb of Patanjali’s Asthanga Yoga.
2. Kamamaya Kosha—this state of mind is the “desire” kosha. Also known in Jungian psychology as the conscious mind.
It has three functions: a) sensing external stimuli from the outside world through the sense organs of the body, b) having desires on the basis of those stimuli, and c) acting to materialize those desires by using the motor organs.
This layer of the mind controls the motor organs and the instincts; it activates the body to satisfy the basic instincts of hunger, sleep, sex and fear.
This layer of the mind is perfected through yogic ethics, or yama and niyama, the first and second limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga.
3. Manomaya Kosha—the mental layer of mind. Also referred to in Jungian psychology as the subconscious mind.
This state of mind controls the conscious mind. It has four functions: a) memory, b) rationality, c) experience of pleasure and pain based on reactions from past deeds, d) dreaming.
This state of mind is perfected through the practice of pranayama (breathing exercises to control the body’s vital energy, or prana), or the fourth limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga.
4. Atimanasa Kosha—the supra-mental or subtle mind, the layer of direct knowing, creative insight and extrasensory perception.
Although most people spend the majority of their lives in the kamamaya and manomaya koshas, sometimes this layer is accessed through deep contemplation, artistic inspiration, or intellectual discovery.
In this layer, a deep yearning for Spirit is felt, and perhaps even a direct perception of Spirit is experienced. Jung called this layer of the mind the unconscious.
This is the state of mind where we experience intuition and synchronicity.
This layer of the mind is developed through sense withdrawal meditation, or pratyahara, the fifth limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga yoga.
5. Vijinamaya Kosha—the first layer of the causal mind, also called the “special knowledge” kosha. In this level of mind one is able to pierce through the veil of the gross, objective reality and get a glimpse of the world as it really is—simply Spirit.
Many divine attributes are expressed through this state of mind: mercy, gentleness, serenity, non-attachment, steadiness, success, cheerfulness, spiritual bliss, humility, magnanimity and more. This kosha has two main functions: discrimination (viveka) and non-attachment.
True discrimination means to be able to discern between Relative and Absolute truth. True non-attachment does not mean to escape the world but rather to embrace it as Spirit, to see that all is Divine.
This layer of the mind is developed through conception and concentration, or dharana, the sixth limb of Asthanga Yoga.
6. Hiranamaya Kosha—subtle causal mind, also referred to as the “golden” kosha, because of its effulgent, blissful expression. Here the feeling of “I” is only latent, only a thin veil separates the spiritual practitioner from the Soul.
One has approached the dawn of true Awakening in the all-pervading state of Cosmic Consciousness.
This state of mind is attained through the practice of a sophisticated form of yogic meditation techniques called dhyan, the seventh limb in Ashtanga Yoga.
7. Atman—beyond mind, the Soul, the Cosmic Consciousness. The 16th century Christian mystic St. John of the Cross explains well the highest state of God-consciousness: “…the soul appears to be God more than a soul. Indeed, it is God by participation.”
This state is the goal of yoga, or samadhi, the eight and final limb in Ashtanga Yoga.
No matter which model of the Body-Mind-Spirit connection you are used to, what is important is this:
Through the immense scope of these levels of mind, or spectrum of consciousness, the human mind is finally enveloped in pure Spirit and is able to realize Oneness with the Divine.
And although each tradition explains these layers somewhat differently, it is a natural and universal process of gradual unfolding and eventual full Awakening.
As John Caird said so beautifully in his book An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, “to appropriate that infinite inheritance of which we are already in possession.”
But perhaps none could have expressed this simple yet advanced process better than the poet and artist William Blake: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, man would see things as they really are—infinite.”
My own spiritual teacher, Anandamurti, notes that in order to experience this Cosmic state of Mind one must cleanse one’s perception by converting “the mind into a real mirror, every kosha has to be made transparent and crystalline….”
But how? Through the study of spiritual scriptures, through hatha yoga practice, through prayer and fasting, through ecstatic dancing and chanting, and most importantly, the yogis say, through the practice of meditation.
As Anandamurti says: “Through the medium of Kosha-wise meditation… the fuller the entire entity will become with Divine radiance, with Divine bliss.”
The universal aspect of this process is illustrated by the writings of many mystics and saints from various traditions.
St. John of the Cross perfectly echoes the yogis of India: “A soul makes room for God by wiping away all the smudges and smears of creatures, by uniting its will perfectly to God’s…”
“When this is done the soul will be illumined by and transformed in God. And God will so communicate his supernatural being to the soul that it will appear to be God himself and will possess what God himself possesses.”
Amen to that! Om Shanti to that!
To study the chakra and kosha poster above in some more detail, go to my friend Aaron Staengl’s website: http://www.staengldesign.com/index.html