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         How do we bring about the destruction of the great evil of samsAra? This is the purpose of all our scriptures and particularly of the Upanishads. Our experiences in life are through the layers of our personality. These layers are called koshas in the language of the Upanishads. A kosha is a sheath, like a scabbard for a sword. Five of them are mentioned as predominantly experienced by us in our day-to-day life. These are the so-called anna-maya (consisting of food), prANa-maya (consisting of prANa or life’s vital force), mano-maya (consisting of the perceptual mind), vijñAnamaya (consisting of intellect) and Ananda-maya (consisting of bliss) koshas. These koshas are, in a sense, like peels of an onion growing one over the other. However, the latter ones  are independent and not connected with one another, whereas the koshas are not so independent. The Taittiriyopanishad in its second  chapter takes up the exposition of these five koshas  of man and resolves each kosha  into that which precedes it in evolution.  In other words each effect is resolved into its immediate cause till the Ultimate Cause is reached.  We are thus led on to a knowledge of brahman, which is neither the cause nor the effect and thereby to a knowledge of the unity of the Self with brahman. Each sheath is represented as made up of a head and other limbs for the purpose of contemplation.


The first sheath is the annamaya-kosha, which is nothing but the physical body. It is certainly made up of a head and other limbs; whereas the remaining four koshas, starting from the prANa-maya-kosha,  are not actually made up of a head and limbs.  But as  molten metal poured into a mould takes the form of that mould  so also the four koshas which lie within the anna-maya-kosha are declared to be moulded after it.  Such a representation is intended to facilitate the meditation and discrimination of all the koshas. It is due to avidyA  (ignorance) that  Man takes Atman to be the five koshas one by one and it is the same avidyA that makes him also take the sufferings or the experiences of the five koshas to be those of the Atman . In other words he involuntarily identifies himself with one or other of the koshas. The Upanishad, taking hold of this natural bent of the human mind, enables man to resolve by meditation, each kosha into what is behind it till he reaches the Self behind all koshas and then enjoins him to hold on to that Self alone.


This physical body of man is anna-rasa-mayaH, a product, a transformation or modification (vikAra), of food-essence. That is why it is called the anna-maya-kosha. The word ‘maya’ (not ‘maayaa’) is used with three meanings in Vedanta. One is in the sense of ‘prAchurya’ (meaning ‘excess’ or ‘abundance’) as in the simple sentence: jala-mayaH grAmaH, meaning, the village is full of (or flooded with) water. The second sense is in the usage: brahman cin-mayaM, meaning, the very nature (defining lakshana, svarUpa) of brahman is cit, consciousness. The third meaning is in the sense of ‘vikAra’ as in the present usage: sthUla-sharIraH anna-mayaH, meaning, the physical body is a modification of the food that was taken in.


The physical body being the most accessible representation of a person, the immediate impression is to take this as the person per se. The Upanishad starts at this point and makes the declaration that this is the Atman. But this is only a tentative statement, as we understand by proceeding further with the Upanishad.   For instance,  suppose we want to show the moon, which is neither full nor brightly shining, to some one  seated in the midst of trees.  What do we do?  We direct the other person’s eye to a particular tree and a particular branch of the tree (as if that is the moon), so that the eye is now withdrawn from all other directions  and then we point the actual moon itself to be not the end of that branch but what is seen in the distant sky against that branch-end of the tree.  This process is so common in our miscellaneous activities  that we don’t realise the great Vedantic technique that lies underneath.  A child of three asks the mother where its baby-sister (that arrived the day before) came from.  The child is told that the baby came from the hospital.  In due course of time the child (when it is no more a child) gets to learn the truth of the matter. And then it knows and recognises (and is also  told) that the earlier information passed on to it was (and had to be)  only a temporary answer and probably the only possible answer in that context and circumstance.


In Vedanta this process of giving and accepting a temporary answer to a difficult question and later negating it in favour of (or in the direction of) truth has a special name, namely, adhyAropa-apavAda.  The word adhyAropa means: superimposition, wrong imputation, attribution of a false characteristic, assumption. The word apavAda means: negation, withdrawal, denial, rescission, elimination of what has been imputed, attributed, assumed or superimposed. This technique (prakriyA) of earlier  acceptance and later negation  is a standard way of presentation and teaching, particularly of advaita vedanta, since we  all begin only as children in the world of spirituality. Thus when we are told by the Upanishad that anna-maya-kosha is the Atman,  it is only an adhyAropa.  It is going to be negated  (legitimately) in the very next paragraph.


The next paragraph, after glorifying the annaM (food) for the reasons why the kosha consisting of food  may be considered as a first approximation to the Atman, says: Different from and inside of the anna-maya-kosha is the self that is made of prANa  (anyontara-AtmA-prANa-mayaH). “By that this is filled. This too, is man-shaped. This, in its man-shape, matches the man-shape of that one” (tenaishha pUrNaH; sa  vA eshha purushha-vidha eva; tasya purushha-vidhatAM; anvayaM purushha-vidhaH); anvayam is anu + ayaM, meaning ‘according to this one’. So the literal translation of the last two sentences in the above quote would be: “This person-shaped one is according to the person-shapedness of that one”.


The Brahman which  permeates  everything can be ‘visualised’ in the Purushha, namely our own person. First we have the physical body. What we see as this body is the corporeal self (annamaya kosha). Within this corporeal self there is a subtler self called the vital self (prāṇa-maya koṣa). It (the vital self) fills the corporeal self like heat filling a metal piece put in the fire. So the vital self (or sheath, kosha) permeates the corporeal self totally. The Upanishad uses the word Purushha for each of these ‘selves’. So the vital Purushha fills up the corporeal Purushha. Within the vital Purushha there is the manomaya Purushha (the mental self). Within the latter one there is the vijñAnamaya Purusha (the intellectual self). And within the vijñAnamaya there is the Anandamaya Purushha (the blissful self). The word ‘within’ here in each case is an understatement, a failure of words. In each case the succeeding sheath fills up the preceding one. Each Purushha follows the preceding one, is more subtle than the preceding one, and fills up the preceding one. This subtle sequencing is referred to by the terminology anvayam purushha-vidhaḥ repeatedly by the Upaniṣad.


Another way of understanding the five koshas is to look at the correspondence between them and the three constituents of the jIva, namely, the sthUla-sharIra (the physical body), the sUkshma-sharIra (the subtle body) and the kAraNa-sharIra (the causal body). Obviously the annamaya-kosha is the sthUla sharIra. The prANa-maya-kosha corresponds to that part of the subtle body consisting of the five vital airs (namely, prANa, apAna, vyAna, udana and samAna) and the five organs of action (karmendriyas). The mano-maya-kosha corresponds to that part of the subtle body consisting of the mind, that is, the faculty that receives stimuli from the outer world through the organs of perception (jñAnendriyas) and which is the seat of emotions and feelings, together with the jñAnendriyas. The vijñAna-maya-kosha corresponds to that part of the subtle body consisting of intellect (deciding faculty) and ahamkAra (the ego who claims agency for all action).  Thus the sUkshma-sharIra corresponds to the aggregate of three koshas, namely, prAna-maya, mano-maya and vijñAna-maya. Finally the Ananda-maya kosha corresponds to the kAraNa-sharIra (Causal body) of the deep sleep state wherein the person experiences blissful ignorance.


The second chapter of Taittiriyopanishad begins its very first paragraph (anuvAka) with the magnificent declaration: The knower of brahman attains the Supreme. The latter part of this paragraph introduces the annamaya-kosha as the Atman. Following this first paragraph, there are four paragraphs of which three are one kind. These three take up the prANa-maya-kosha, manomaya-kosha and vijñAnamaya-kosha in that order.  The pattern of the three paragraphs is almost the same.  These three koshas correspond to the sUkshma-sharIra. In each case the adhyAropa-apavAda technique comes to the fore as follows.  Different from and inside of the self that is made of food \ prANa \ mind    is the self that is made of  prANa \ mind \ intellect, respectively. Thus the anna-maya-kosha is discarded as non-self and prANa-maya-kosha is declared to be the self.  Then the prANa-maya-kosha is discarded as non-self and mano-maya-kosha is declared to be the self. And then, in the fourth anuvAka, the mano-maya-kosha is discarded as non-self and the vijñAnamaya-kosha is declared as the Self. The following table gives a panoramic view of this sequencing.


Para. No.

Glorification of

Kosha negated As non-self

Kosha declared As self






















There are five paragraphs (anuvAkas) depicting this treatment of sequencing of the five koshas.  In each case the particular Purushha is imagined to be a bird with wings, head, tail, etc. The comparison in each case is to a brick fire-altar, which is symbolically both a man and a bird.


In a ‘pseudo-scientific’ way we may understand the whole sequencing as follows. In every cell of the body it is the life force that is functioning. This life force in every cell sends responses to the mind from every sensation it receives. So the mind is permeating the life force in every cell. But there is an agent of the mind, who cognises that it is ‘I’ and that it is the owner of all these sensations and responses. That is the vijñAnamaya self. He is the agent and experiencer. He is proximate, in a metaphorical sense, to the Atman, the pure spirit within. But it is not itself the pure spirit. It has the notion of agency. Stripped of this notion of agency it is only the experiencer of joy. That is the bliss-self (the Anandamaya kosha). Even this is not the Atman. The Upanishad says that the Atman is the support, base, substratum of even this Ananda-maya-kosha.


To understand this last sentence we must go to the fifth anuvAka.  This anuvAka has given rise to certain controversies among the commentators and scholars because it concerns the crucial question whether the Ananda-maya-kosha itself is brahman or brahman is again something other than the Ananda-maya-kosha.  Shankara’s considered emphatic conclusion is that the Ananda-maya-kosha is also the non-self and that brahman (the Self) is other than all the five koshas.  The question itself arises because, in the style of anuvAkas 2, 3 ,4 and 5 where each previous kosha is discarded as non-self, there is no sixth anuvAka which discards the Ananda-maya-kosha as non-self. This is the point of contention. Brahmasutras I-1-12 to 19 (known as Ananda-mayAdhi-karaNaM) discuss this question in detail and Shankara spends considerable time on this in his commentary on these Sutras and also in his commentary on Taittiriyopanishad in its 2nd chapter and also once again in the third chapter.


First, let us keep before us a translation of the relevant latter half of the fifth anuvAka, which in its original, reads as follows: …

tasmAd-vA etasmAd-vijñAna-mayAt /anyo’ntara AtmA-AnandamayaH /

tenaishha pUrNaH / sa vA eshha purushha vidha eva /

tasya purushha vidhatAM / anvayaM purushha-vidhaH /

tasya priyameva shiraH /modo dakshiNaH pakshaH / pramoda uttaraH pakshaH /

Ananda AtmA / brahma-pucchaM pratishhTA /

tadapyeshha shloko bhavati //


Verily, different from and inside the self which consists of vijñAna (knowledge, understanding), is the self consisting of bliss. By that this is filled. This, verily, has the form of a person. It too, is man-shaped. According to that one’s human form is this form with the form of a man. Dearness (priyam) is its head; Happiness (modaH) is its right wing; Delight (pramodaH) is its left wing. Bliss (AnandaH) is its self. Brahman is its (tail) support.There is also this verse about it.


Now Shankara’s conclusions are based on the following eight main arguments of his, among many more:


  1. The very fact that a form (with head and wings) has been prescribed for Anandamaya-kosha shows that it cannot be the impersonal brahman.

  2. The whole chapter starts with the topic of brahman and continues with it till the end. So the ‘puccha’ (whose literal – vAcyArtha – meaning is ‘tail’) word that goes with brahman should be understood (at this context)  only in its secondary (lakshyArtha) meaning, namely, ‘support’ (AdhAra), though, in the other four anuvAkas, the ‘tail’ idea does not conflict with the context.

  3. ‘pucchavat pucchaM’ is the sense in which it is used in  brahma-pucchaM pratishhTA.  That is, brahman is the support (pucchaM) of this Ananda-maya in the manner of  the pucchaM (tail) being the base (support) of the body in the transactional world; because brahman is the support of the entire universe. Not only that. The bliss of brahman is the source and support of all the varieties of bliss in the ordinary world. – pucchavat pucchaM, pratishhTA parAyaNaM ekanIDaM laukikasya AnandajAtasya brahmAnandaH ityetad-anena vivakshyati. (Brahma Sutra Shankara Bhashya: I-1-19).

  4. For all the four earlier koshas the word ‘maya’ has been taken by all as ‘modification’ (vikAra), and so in this case of the Ananda-maya also, it should be taken  only as  ‘modification’ of bliss and not ‘abundance or excess’ (prAcurya) of bliss as some  commentators would like to take. 

  5. ‘Abundance’ of bliss would make sense only when there is the possibility of ‘less’ or ‘more’ of bliss.  Therefore it would not make sense in the case of Brahman, which is nothing but a mass of bliss  (Ananda-ghanaM, like prajñAna-ghanaM)– recall ‘satyaM jñanam anantaM brahma’ declared at the very start of the chapter.

  6. If brahman is taken to be the ‘tail’ of Ananda-maya-kosha, then it becomes a part or limb (‘avayava’) of Ananda-maya-kosha. Then the latter cannot be brahman, because brahman has no ‘parts’. In other words the same object cannot be its own attribute. This will be ‘asAmanjasyaM’ (a misfit) in Shankara’s words.

  7. Ananda-maya is an effect, by nature,  as also because, the Upanishad says later in the same second chapter, that ‘etam Anandama-yamAtmAnam-upasankramati’ meaning, (He) reaches the self which consists of bliss. Therefore Ananda-maya cannot be brahman. The  very concept of reaching or obtaining brahman is ill-defined since brahman is beyond time and space. Only that which is finite can be ‘reached’ or ‘obtained’.

  8. Since Anandamaya is within the vijñAnamaya-kosha and distinct from it, the last vestige of the notion of agency or ego is not there.  However, it is not absolutely free from all trappings, because there is still the thin upAdhi of intelligence transformed as happiness resulting from thought and action. And this happiness is limited, so it is not the bhUmA of Chandogya Upanishad.  It means it is not brahman. So the Upanishad does not mention here any reward for the contemplation of Ananda-maya-Self as it has done in the case of the four earlier Selfs. Instead it directly states that Brahman is its support and foundation.


The experience of bliss is a mano-vRRitti. There are gradations in this. When we see something we like there is a subtle bliss or joy; this is priya-vRRitti (thought-flow of dearness). When we get what we like there is a subtler bliss; this is moda-vRRitti (thought-flow of happiness), the joy of gratified desire. When we practically enjoy by consumption or consummation of what we like there is the subtlest bliss; this is pramoda-vRRitti (thought-flow of delight), moda at its apex. But all these are tiny specks of the Ananda (happiness) reflected from the Ananda-svarUpa of the Absolute. The Ananda-maya-kosha is nothing but the aggregate of priya-moda-pramoda-vRRitti plus the reflection (in the mind) of the Ananda-svarUpa of the Absolute. None of  the worldly happiness that we experience  comes from the objects of the world; the intensity of experienced happiness is directly proportional to the subtlety and purity of the thoughts of the mind.  The more subtle (sUkshma) the thoughts, the more intense is the happiness.  Ananda-maya-kosha  is inert.  But it directs us to the source which is the Ananda, the Absolute.  The beings only ‘live upon a small part of this infinite Bliss’ says the scripture. Every other experiential bliss is this bliss alone. That infinite bliss is the Self. That is Brahman.


All the above is shruti. Shruteriv-ArthaM smRtir-anvagacchat  (The smRtis followed the path of the shruti, as if to convey their meanings) said Kalidasa in a marvellous upamA.  The above pancakosha-viveka  of the shruti finds expression in several places in smRti. One excellent example is the name ‘panca-koshAntara-sthitA’ (the One who is located within all the five koshas) in Lalita-sahasra-nAma.

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