DEEPER SECRETS OF THE KOSHAS IN PLAIN ENGLISH
The koshas are the five bodies, or sheaths, of the human organism, as described in the ancient Path of Yoga.
Some people learn about the koshas in the world of contemporary yoga; however, modern yoga, by its nature, can embrace the koshas only on a simplistic, abstract level. On deeper levels, the koshas are concerned with what it means to be human, transformation of the soul, the relationship between soul and Spirit, the deep significance of meditation, karma, reincarnation, and the goal of human evolution. Modern yoga could never have spread through our culture the way it has, if it embraced this kind of serious spiritual thinking. Most people just aren’t interested, and gravitate more toward one form or another of New Age, quasi-spirituality.
WHY BE INTERESTED IN THE KOSHAS?
A deeper understanding of the koshas can shed light on questions like these:
- what is the purpose of meditation as a spiritual practice?
- what is the spiritual nature of man?
- what is the spiritual task of the Witness?
- why do human beings reincarnate?
- what is the goal of human evolution?
- what separates us from the animals?
- what are Angels and Archangels?
- and so on…………….
To me, these are interesting questions.
I say, “deeper understanding of the koshas,” because in modern yoga the koshas are generally conceived of on a simplistic, abstract level. Well-known international teachers present the koshas as metaphor, as a conceptual method of understanding, a way to picture and talk about the various energy systems of the body.
This is a dead, materialistic way of thinking about the koshas, and yields little spiritual fruit. The koshas are not metaphor — the koshas are real entities, real bodies of physical, etheric, astral and spiritual substance, that combine to form the human organism. With our physical senses, we can perceive only the physical body. Think of the human aura. When someone is so spiritually developed that they can perceive the human aura, what they are perceiving is the koshas. When understood in this way — as spiritual reality, spiritual fact — the koshas reveal profound secrets about what it means to be human.
To explore the hidden meanings of the koshas you do not need to know Sanskrit or live in an ashram or follow a guru. The age of the guru is dead. That’s why there are so many morally failed gurus. This is a new age; in this age we live in now, each individual, in complete freedom, must take responsibility for finding a genuine relationship with the spiritual world. And in this age of individual spiritual responsibility, the koshas can be understood on deep levels, in plain English, by anyone with a clear and open mind.
Here is a diagram of the koshas that I found online:
This diagram is accurate, as far as it goes. But to understand the koshas on a deeper level, one needs to go further.
Just as an example – this diagram is more accurate than most, because it labels Anandamaya kosha – the bliss body – as “differentiated bliss”. Most diagrams don’t do that. But it does not tell you what the differentiation is. Nowhere in the world of modern yoga will you find the differentiation of the bliss body. Yet the deeper spiritual significance of the koshas can only be grasped by knowing that the bliss body is actually differentiated into two bodies, Manas and Budhi.
Many of the diagrams found online are simply wrong. For instance, one diagram by a well-known yoga teacher places the Soul at the center of the koshas. This is impossible. If the Soul were at the center of our being we would be animals, not human beings. This is the quasi-spirituality problem of modern yoga. People just make stuff up.
Modern yoga manages to create some incredibly beneficial and healing practices based on its simplistic conception of the koshas. Transformative, life-changing practices that benefit millions of people. So, I don’t mean to denigrate contemporary yoga. But it is good to recognize that a lot of quasi-spirituality attaches itself to contemporary yoga.
In ancient India, abstract thinking did not exist. They were not sitting around devising metaphors. Humanity still lived closely with the spiritual world from whence it came, and felt the spiritual world to be its true home. Earthly life was lived in a half-dream, compared to our clear, sharp consciousness of today. When the ancient Indians called the physical world Maya – Illusion – they were describing the reality of their experience. The spiritual world was more definite and real to them than the physical world. And with this ancient spiritual consciousness, so different from our intellectual consciousness of today, the koshas were perceived as fact, just as we perceive a rock or a tree.
Now, many thousands of years later, we have fully penetrated the physical world. We have smashed the atom. We build little engines with the power of 300 horses and zoom around on rubber wheels. We fly through the sky in aluminum tubes. We have created bombs with the power to destroy the Earth a thousand times over. We make Smoosh Balls. We make Silly String in a can. We are very clever. Literally, too clever for our own good. But at the same time, we are mired, we are stuck, we are blinded by materialistic thought. We have lost the ability to perceive the spiritual world all around us. The physical world, which for the ancients was the lesser world, is for civilization today the only world we acknowledge.
We are stuck in Maya and we don’t even know it. Any complete, rational idea of reality must include the spiritual world, the causal world of spirit that is all around us — and yet as a civilization we deny the existence of this other half of reality. As a civilization, we live in illusion about the nature of reality. I don’t say this to be critical – it is what it is; it is our destiny to live now, in this time. But it’s good to be aware of the underlying materialistic illusion that is woven into the fabric of our civilization, and to seek to rise above it. Contemplating the koshas is one way to do this.