Please tell us about vijnanamaya kosha and the practices to awaken it.
Shalom! Salamalekam! Shabahkher! Swagatam! Namaskar! Namo Narayan! and welcome to the land of yoga. Although yoga by virtue of being a science is the universal birthright of mankind, which necessarily implies that it does not belong to any sect or group of people, nor to any country or even religion, yet I would not be wrong in saying that India is the land of yoga because it is here that this knowledge was preserved. It was in this land that this knowledge was kept alive for centuries amidst the ravages of war and turbulence of history, and for that we have to thank those great souls, the rishis and munis, who were the original scientists on this planet.
Scientists are those who, with complete freedom of mind, without any bias or preconceived notions, explore and probe deeply into the underlying mysteries of the universe and life therein. In that sense, these rishis were scientists because they devoted their entire lives to exploring the mysterious terrain of inner life. With utmost honesty, courage, sincerity and dedication they spent their time unravelling the deeper layers of the mind and consciousness, discovering its mighty potential and the source from which it has sprung. Yes, the credit for this discovery goes entirely to these ancient scientists of the vedic era, just as the credit for unravelling the mysteries of matter goes to the scientists of the modern era.
Of course, in those times they were not known as scientists. Instead they were known as rishis, which means seer, or munis, which means sage, or sannyasins, which means one who has entrusted himself to the divine will. Although they are often mistaken to be priests or religious sectarian pontiffs, that is not the case. They may have been born into a particular religion, just as you and I have been born into the Hindu, Muslim or Christian religion, but that did not in any way influence their quest for the mystery called life. Who knows what religion they followed in those prehistoric vedic times? We cannot say for sure because we know so little about it and what the historians tell us is mere speculation.
Just as the only reality the scientists of today know and believe in is that of matter, the only reality these ancients believed in was that of consciousness. Their entire quest was in this direction for they believed that the purpose of life was to discover the infinite, that reality which is not subject to death or decay. The finite perishes and after so much spent energy, one finally realizes that the source of this finite world is what one should be able to capture, for in that lies the ability to be master of both the finite as well as infinite worlds.
It was this magnificent quest so full of difficulties and perils that led them to the awakening of the vijnanamaya kosha, and it is on account of their discoveries and the records that they left behind that today we can sit here and discuss this important subject. Otherwise we would not even know that we have a vijnanamaya kosha!
According to the science of yoga, there are five koshas which surround this body in much the same way as the inner core of an onion is covered by layers of skin. Only, in the case of koshas, each subsequent kosha is more subtle and unperceivable to the naked eye than the one preceding it. One can say that these koshas can only be realized with the opening of the inner eye, in the state of meditation.
The first is annamaya kosha, which is the physical sheath made from food. Anna means food. The grain which you eat is called anna and the body which is composed of food is one that you can touch, see and feel. It is the substratum for the subtler koshas, which also assume the shape and size of the body.
Subtler than that which is not visible to the naked eye is the pranamaya kosha, which instead of food is made of prana or energy. You ought to know that your body is enveloped by this field of prana and when you leave this room, you will carry it out along with your body. Although you cant see it, the pranamaya kosha follows you wherever you go.
However, if you raise your awareness by the practices of yoga, then you will see the pranamaya kosha in the form of an aura which surrounds the body. Many people are born with this natural gift, where they are able to read the aura of people and determine what is in store for them, because this aura keeps changing all the time according to the state of health you are in at that time. Even your moods influence the pranic aura. The phrases green with envy or red with rage are just a few indications of the vibrations emitted by the aura according to our mental state.
Beyond the pranamaya kosha, this physical body is surrounded by a more subtle energy which is purely mental in nature, known as the manomaya kosha. It is at the level of manomaya that the chatushtaya antahkarana, comprising manas or mind, buddhi or intellect, ahamkara or ego, chitta or memory spring up and begin to perceive, cognize, record, understand, rationalize, discriminate, accept, reject, compare, to name only a few of the myriad functions that it performs effortlessly in our lives. Without the manomaya kosha we would be no better than the vegetables sitting on your kitchen shelf!
This kosha is the seat of para or empirical knowledge. It beholds the world around and although an instrument of inner consciousness, it has the capacity to externalize the awareness as well as withdraw it inwards. When it is under the sway of the senses, it is fully occupied with the external impulses that it receives from the world of smells, sounds, lights, colours, touch and taste. But there are times when, dissatisfied with the finite nature of these experiences, the mind propels inwards, and at that time it receives the impulses of the self which recharge and rejuvenate the manomaya kosha.
This happens in the state of meditation too, and that is why meditation broadens the horizons of the mind, sharpens the intellect, brings the ego in tune with nature and strengthens the chitta.
Beyond manomaya or mind is the sheath of intuition or vijnanamaya kosha, and needless to say it is subtler than all the preceding koshas. The Taittiriya Upanishad elucidates the existence of the vijnanamaya kosha in the following manner: Separate from the self comprised of mind, there is another inner self comprised of intuitive knowledge. This one is also like the shape of a person like the preceding koshas. Faith is its head, Tasye shraddhaiva shiraha; righteousness its right wing and truth its left wing, hritam dakshinah pakshaha satyamuttarah pakshaha; yoga is its soul, yoga atma, and maha its foundation, maha puchham pratishtaha.
Interestingly, by stating that maha is the foundation of vijnanamaya, we derive a clue as to how the koshas are also linked to the lokas, which are planes of consciousness one experiences as the awareness gains ascent from annamaya to pranamaya to manomaya to vijnanamaya. The sapta or seven lokas are bhu, bhuvar, swar, maha, jana, tapo and satya. While bhu, bhuvar and swar, the earthly, intermediate and divine planes, are related to annamaya, pranamaya and manomaya, maha, the plane of siddhas, jana, the plane of rishis and munis, and tapo, the plane of liberated souls, relate to awakening, stabilization and illumination of vijnanamaya.
Satya loka, the plane of ultimate bliss, corresponds to anandamaya kosha, which is none other than pure consciousness. The Taittiriya Upanishad defines anandamaya kosha as having the shape or form of a person with love as its head, joy as its right wing and delight as its left wing, bliss as its trunk and Brahman as its support or foundation.
Maha loka, the plane of siddhas and saints, is the foundation or support of vijnanamaya kosha. It is from here onwards that the superstructure of heightened awareness is constructed. If the foundation is shaky, in other words if the siddhis which begin to manifest become the object of focus or enjoyment, then the siddha will surely fall back to lower planes of consciousness. However, if he does not allow them to distract the awareness, especially when he is in a state of samadhi, then ascent of awareness to higher lokas known as jana, the realm of rishis and munis, and tapo, the realm of liberated souls, the jivanmuktas and videhamuktas, is definitely assured.
The above is such an important stage in the ascent of awareness that the Raja Yoga Sutras of Patanjali has devoted an entire section to this mega event, when the consciousness is able to perceive the four dimensions of time, past, present, future and eternity. Patanjali has termed this event when siddhis manifest as vibhooti. He calls it the accomplishment of yoga and has cautioned the aspirant against becoming distracted by this accomplishment. It is the state equivalent to paroksha anubhuti, or awareness of only one point without consciousness of ones own self. Deepening awareness of paroksha anubhuti leads the practitioner to aparokshanubhuti, which correlates to the bliss of anandamaya kosha.
So you can say that vijnanamaya is the doorway to anandamaya. The experiences of vijnanamaya give you glimpses of what is in store for you as your awareness begins to experience pure bliss, but the experience again drops due to the appearance and disappearance of distractions and one-pointedness of mind. All siddhas and saints must have passed through this stage before they attained enlightenment. The tales about Buddha, where prior to nirvana he encountered the demons and bewitching damsels, as well as the forty days and forty nights when Christ encountered temptation before he experienced God, point a finger in this direction.
When there is awakening in vijnanamaya kosha, siddhis begin to manifest. The practitioner becomes clairvoyant and telepathic; he begins to know many things about people and events before they happen, which come to him in the form of dreams, thoughts or visions. He may be able to appear at many places to many people at the same time. He develops the power to read others thoughts and also to change them. Or else he may develop healing powers. His words, touch or glance can heal the deadliest of diseases which no doctor can cure. In some exceptional cases, depending on the extent of his advent into the level of vijnanamaya kosha, he may even be able to resurrect life or enter another persons body. A person exhibiting such powers could easily be mistaken for God, which perhaps many did who were unaware of the manifestation of siddhis through the power of yoga when there is awakening in vijnanamaya kosha.
Yoga has boldly declared that you are not just the body you perceive with the eyes, nor are you just blood, bones, marrow, muscles, nerves and the different organs that keep you alive. You are much more than that. In fact, what you see of yourself with the eye is sustained by what you cannot see. If the unseen part of you ceased to exist, the seen part of you would wither and die. This unseen part of you is composed of the five koshas as mentioned above. The aim of all the practices of yoga, without exception, is to energize and awaken these koshas until ultimately you experience awakening in vijnanamaya kosha. That alone is the purpose of yoga.
Now, you ought to know that these five koshas belong to or co-relate with three bodies that constitute your being. These three bodies, which are known as sthula or gross, sukshma or subtle and karana or causal, along with the koshas also influence each and every experience and reaction you face or evoke throughout your life. For example, the experiences related to annamaya kosha belong to the sthula sharira or gross body, whereas the sukshma sharira or subtle body is the arena for the experiences of pranamaya and manomaya koshas. The most subtle body, known as karana sharira or causal body, which stores all of our karmas, samskaras and impressions of many, many incarnations is the one we encounter when we speak about awakening in vijnanamaya kosha.
As life evolved through 84 lakh yonis or incarnations, from an amoeba to a bacteria or virus and then on to insects, plants, fish, birds, animals and finally to the human being, it carried the impressions of its experiences. All of these experiences, pleasant and unpleasant, are stored in the vijnanamaya kosha. In order to step into the arena of spiritual ecstasy, you have to pass through this zone and face what is stored there eye to eye. You simply cannot avoid it, just as you cannot avoid your thoughts or your feelings and dreams. The practices of yoga can accelerate this process and accomplish this in a systematic and graded manner. It is only when the awakening occurs in vijnanamaya and that experience is stabilized, that the transcendental experiences of ecstasy and bliss related to anandamaya kosha arise in the consciousness.
In modern psychology, the causal body or karana sharira is known as the realm of the unconscious. You may even term it as the psyche of man. It is the mythical Pandoras Box, virtually the skeleton in the closet. You cannot know what is stored there until there is awakening in vijnanamaya kosha. When you experience awakening in manomaya kosha, you are still within the realm of buddhi or intellect. Everything that you experience will be within the fold of logic and reason and thus there is a degree of control of the experiences and their outcome.
Vijnanamaya kosha transcends intellect and enters into the dimension of intuition, where the mind does not work. This mind of yours which you are familiar with does not function in vijnanamaya kosha; nor does the intellect. Each one of us operates at the level of instinct, intelligence, intellect and intuition. Till the level of intellect you are under the influence and in the field of manomaya kosha. But when you are able to transcend this intellect, even for a second, you will experience an intuitive flash about something or other that has been on your mind. All of us have at some time in our life experienced this intuition, which comes in flashes due to a sudden contact with the vijnanamaya kosha. But they drop. You get intuitive, but you are not able to hold on to that state of awareness and once again you regress to the hold of intellect and intelligence.
The aim of yoga is not just to induce these abilities. More than that, the focus of yoga is to attain mastery or control of these supernormal powers that belong to the realm of intuition. That intuition should act as a tool in your hands, just like your intellect, mind or intelligence. All the practices of yoga are designed to take you to this point. And each one of us has to find a way for ourselves, because each one of us has a different temperament and each one of us has our own dharma which determines our own individual needs.
To be continued in the next issue