Pancha Kosha | Five Sheaths of Human Nature

Published: Jul 14, 2023 | Revised: Jan 21, 2024
Edited by: Marce Ferreira

Pancha Kosha | Five Sheaths of Human Nature

Pancha Kosha — also written together as Panchakosha — is the theory of five layers or five sheaths of human nature, which is of ancient Indian Vedantic and Upanishadic origin.

According to Indian spiritual concepts, the human being consists of five energetic bodies, called Koshas. The word Pancha means “five,” and Kosha means something like “layer” or “sheath.” Pancha Kosha is often designated to be the “generator of consciousness.”

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In fact, each Pancha Kosha layer is associated with a specific type (or level) of consciousness, which goes from gross to gradually more subtle, that is, from the Anna Maya level to the Ananda Maya level.

It’s thought that when all five sheaths are integrated and balanced, a human being experiences health and wellbeing. This is also a spiritual attainment in which the sense of separation between Atman (subjective personal consciousness) and Brahman (objective universal consciousness) is dissolved in a higher Divine Union.

The Five Koshas should not be considered independent entities: they support, depend and influence each other, and changes in one of the layers (or bodies) automatically means that changes will take place in all other bodies (or sheaths). The Koshas are merely different aspects or interlaced functions of what we call a human being.

In any case, the Five Koshas recognized in Vedanta and Yoga are described as follows:

Anna Maya Kosha (Annamayakosha)

This is the gross layer, also said to be the physical layer; the “sheath composed of food,” and representing the skin, muscles, tendons, flesh, fat, bones, feces, and such.

Prana Maya Kosha (Pranamayakosha)

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Pranic Life Force, energy, or breath layer; this is the sheath of Vital Life Force Energy. It’s connected with Annamayakosha and responsible for animating i.e. giving life to the physical body. Pranamayakosha can be directly influenced through Pranayama Breathwork.

Mind that the Life Energy Channels (Nadis) which are maintained, opened or unblocked by an Ayurveda therapist or Yoga practitioner are said to be located in the Pranamayakosha. It is also the layer that connects or “binds” the gross layer (Annamayakosha physical layer) with the more subtle layers of thoughts, emotions, intellect and wisdom.

Pranamayakosha is composed of Prana, the principle that vitalizes and holds together body and mind. It pervades the whole organism and its physical manifestation is breath. As long as this Life Force exists in an organism, life continues. As such it’s sometimes considered the most vital of all Pancha Kosha sheaths.

Mano Maya Kosha (Manomayakosha)

This is the mental layer of concepts, thoughts, and emotions; Manomayakosha is composed of manas or mind, and is the place where the sense of an “I,” “person,” or “ego-self” arises.

Vijnana Maya Kosha (Vijnanamayakosha)

The consciousness, intellectual, and spiritual layer; Vijnanamayakosha is the seat of perception, the will, intuition, and memory, and relates to inner wisdom, inner growth, and higher states of consciousness.

Ananda Maya Kosha (Anandamayakosha)

This is the most subtle layer, which is related to states of insight in the Universe and the Self, bliss, joy, and Spiritual Enlightenment; it’s sometimes equated with the causal body, being the seed or cause of both the subtle body and the gross body.

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