How do we know if we have reached vijnanamaya kosha? What are the signals or symptoms?
It is difficult to know, as there are no boundaries or defined borders. There are different shades of grey, different gradients of awareness. Just as there is a colour gradient from white to dark, in the same way there is a gradient of consciousness. It begins with tamas, which is dark, and as you continue, it becomes white. In this gradient change, how can one define which is anandamaya, which is vijnanamaya, which is pranamaya, and which is manomaya? Ultimately, the experience of consciousness is combined in manas, buddhi, chitta and ahamkara. If you have the experience of consciousness at any of these four levels, then you also feel the presence of conscious awareness at the other levels. Your mind is active, your buddhi is active, your chitta is active, and your ego is active. How do you decipher which is your manas, which is your buddhi, which is your chitta, which is your ahamkara? In the same way, how do you decipher which is your pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya or anandamaya? Theoretically you can, but practically it is next to impossible to have clear dividing lines between them. Yet, certain indications have been given. In the higher stages of meditation, symbols do appear which indicate that a shift in consciousness has taken place. You have to observe the play of consciousness. When you are in manomaya, then the experience of shanti, peace, stilling of every activity which is in relation to the world, will indicate manomaya balance. Whenever you are not at peace, it is the disturbance of manomaya. At night, when you cannot sleep and a continuous train of thought is going on, that is manomaya activity. When that train of thought stops and you go to sleep, that is also a manomaya experience. The manomaya kosha covers the gross expressions of buddhi, chitta and ahamkara. Vijnanamaya kosha also covers manas, buddhi, chitta and ahamkara, but not the gross expressions. It is the realm of what has been carried forward, that which is not a part of your current environment but what you have brought with you as samskara and karma.
Many people think that if they develop the ability to astral travel it will indicate that they are in vijnanamaya kosha. That is only a way to convince themselves or others that they are in a higher state of mind. Astral travel is not an aspect of vijnanamaya kosha. The experience of vijnanamaya kosha is luminosity, the effulgence of consciousness. When you identify with the element of Shiva in you, when the duality of the world has stopped and you are endowed with a singular awareness, which we call Shiva: the auspicious, balanced, harmonious, centred nature, that is the experience of vijnanamaya kosha. After that point it is only the experience and expression of bliss.
There is the story of Archimedes and his famous exclamation of ‘Eureka!’ He was taking a bath, thinking about a mathematical problem, and when the realization hit him he forgot everything. He ran naked from his bathroom to court. Where was his body awareness at that time? Where was the social awareness at that time? He ran through the middle of the road, straight into the king’s court. That is vijnanamaya kosha, when you are so taken by your realization that you forget the outer environment and the body. There is a term in yoga, dehadhyas. It means awareness of the body. When you transcend the awareness of the body, you are in vijnanamaya kosha, which is only one step away from anandamaya, bliss.
—28 October 2016, Ganga Darshan, Munger, Raja Yoga Training - Module 1 (Extract)