In this article, we’re going to systematically approach the question “Who am I?” by studying the panchakosha (5 layered) model of existence formulated thousands of years ago.
By the end of this article, you’ll understand the nature of your existence and know the single most powerful technique to approach and answer the question “Who am I?”
Here is what we’ll cover:
- Examining the question “Who am I?”
- The Three Shariras
- Panchakosha – the five layers of your existence
- Yoga is re-uniting with the Self
- Yoga works on all panchakosha to bring you back to Satchitananda
Examining the question “Who am I?”
Before diving into the panchakosha model, it’s important to understand where and how it’s applicable.
The soul-searching question “Who am I?” does not have the simple answer of “I’m Parm, and you?”
This question arises in you when you begin to search for the purpose of life and what you really want from it.
At this point, you have confused all the masks that you wear with your true nature. The question “Who am I?” arises naturally to lead you through the panchakosha and back to your authentic self, your higher self and the universal self.
The Three Shariras
Let’s start by reviewing the 3 shariras or 3 bodies. The 3 shariras will later be split up into the panchakosha. The conclusion that you are your body is incorrect. Simply saying this is my body implies that the body is separate from you.
It is yours but it is not you.
In yoga philosophy, you have 3 shariras or 3 bodies:
- Sthula sharira (gross/physical body)
- Sukshma sharira (subtle body)
- Karana sharira (causal body)
where each sharira is more subtle than the previous.
Sthula means gross and the sthula sharira encompasses the gross aspects of existence. This includes your body as well as the environment around you.
The sthula sharira is made up of the panch mahabhutas or the 5 elements. From subtle to gross, they are:
- Akasha (ether/space)
- Vayu (air)
- Agni (fire)
- Jal (water)
- Prithvi (earth)
And each one is associated with a tanmatra or a subtle element. The subtle elements are:
- Shabad (sound)
- Sparsha (touch)
- Rupa (form)
- Rasa (taste)
- Gandha (smell)
Each tanmatra in turn, has an associated sense organ which is part of the sukshma sharira. The sense organs perceive the elements and are the ears, skin, eyes, tongue and nose.
Akasha is the space element and it is clear, light, subtle and immeasurable.
Akasha is the most subtle and the largest of the 5 elements. The four other elements exist in akasha. Akasha is associated with the tanmatra shabad. Sound vibrations travel in space and are perceived with the sense organ ear. Akasha is associated with the Vishuddhi Chakra.
Vayu is mobile, light, dry, cold and subtle in nature.
The word vayu comes from the root “to move” and is the air element. It is associated with the tanmatra sparsha and the sense organ skin. Vayu is associated with the Anahata Chakra.
Agni or tejas is the fire element and the qualities of agni are light, hot, sharp, dry and subtle.
Agni is associated with tanmatra rupa and the sense organ eye. Agni is synonymous with light energy and is associated with the Manipura Chakra.
Jal or apa is the water element and is cool, fluid and soft.
Jal is associated with tanmatra rasa and sense organ tongue. It is associated with Svadishtana Chakra.
Prithvi or bhumi is the earth element and is solid, gross, dense and hard.
Bhumi comes from the root “bhu” which means to be. The associated tanmatra is gandha and the associated sense organ is the nose. Prithvi is associated with Mooladhara Chakra.
The Three Doshas
The intermingling of these elements forms the three doshas, and consequently your body and the world you see around you.
Your body, tendencies and personality are so unique because of the unique combination of the 3 doshas in your body; this is called your prakriti. Disease originates from an imbalance in your doshas.
The mixing of the elements is also responsible for all the different types of matter you encounter in the world, as well as their unique characteristics.
Sukshma means subtle and the sukshma sharira is your subtle or astral body. It moves past the physical layer of your existence and starts to move inward. Your subtle body is home to many of your faculties and is a result of your past karma. It is later split up into three layers of the panchakosha.
Included in your sukshma sharira are:
- Jnanendriyas (the five sense organs) – the jnanendriyas are the ways in which you perceive the world, more precisely: the subtle elements. As mentioned above, they are the ears, skin, eyes, tongue and nose.
- Karmendriyas (the five organs of action) – the karmendriyas are the ways in which you interact with and perform actions in the world. They are the mouth, hands, legs, anus and genitals.
- Panch pranas (the five energies) – the panch pranas are the five main manifestations of your prana or life force energy. They are what regulate your body and all the functions and systems of your body.
- Your inner faculties – your inner faculties are beyond the physical body. They are the aspects of your existence that allow you to think, remember, feel emotions and have a sense of identity among other things. Your inner faculties are:
- Manas (mind)
- Buddhi (intellect)
- Chitta (memory)
- Ahamkara (ego)
The mind is the vehicle that perceives and observes all the information that comes into the sense organs at all times.
The intellect is your discriminating faculty. It is what makes decisions and interprets the perceptions of the mind. For example: “I don’t like this, that is unsafe, this is good for me, that isn’t.” The more you refine your intellect, the stronger your intuitive abilities become.
The memory is where you store information that comes into your system. The chitta will not store everything, the chitta will store what is perceived to be important.
The ego is your sense of identity or “I-ness”. It is the source of your thinking patterns and the culmination of all the labels that you have associated with yourself, for example: “I am a man, I am American, I am strong, I don’t like to be told what to do, I have a sweet tooth, I’m afraid of heights, I care what people think,” and so on and so forth.
The karana sharira is the causal body, it is the cause of the subtle and the gross bodies. The karana sharira is that which continues after the other bodies fall away and it contains the seed for a new life in a new body. Just like the seed of a tree, it contains all the information needed to populate the subtle and gross bodies, that is, it contains all your past karma and decides the qualities of your subtle and gross bodies.
Panchakosha – the five layers of your existence
Pancha means five and kosha means envelope or sheath. The panchakosha model breaks down your existence into 5 distinct layers or sheaths with the intention to help separate self from non-self, Atma from Anatma.
Here, each kosha is more subtle than the previous and supports the koshas that come before. The panchakosha are:
- Annamaya Kosha (Physical layer)
- Pranamaya Kosha (Energy layer)
- Manomaya Kosha (Mind layer)
- Vignanamaya Kosha (Wisdom layer)
- Anandamaya Kosha (Bliss layer)
The annamaya kosha corresponds to the sthula sharira. The pranamaya, manomaya and vignanamaya kosha correspond to the sukshma sharira and the anandamaya kosha corresponds to the karana sharira.
Anna means matter and annam means food. The annamaya kosha is quite literally the food layer or the matter layer of your existence. This layer is the grossest of the panchakosha and is comprised of everything that you can interact with physically via the five sense organs and the five organs of action. Everything in this layer is inert.
The pranamaya kosha is home to your prana or life force energy. This is where you will find the panch prana, chakras, nadis, and kundalini shakti. The movement of the prana in this layer supports the inert matter in the annamaya kosha.
The manomaya kosha is home to manas or the mind. This is where your thoughts and emotions reside. Everything that happens here directly influences the pranamaya and the annamaya koshas.
Thoughts and emotions directly affect your breathing and your physiology, both positively and negatively. Stress, tension, fear and anger shorten the breath and tighten the muscles. Happiness, love and a relaxed state of mind lengthen the breath and relax the body.
Vignan means knowing and the vignanamaya kosha is the wisdom layer of your existence. Your intellect and intuition live here and it is here that all thoughts in the manomaya kosha are evaluated. The vignanamaya kosha is where you judge, classify, know, discriminate and decide.
Th vignanamaya kosha supports all the grosser layers of the panchakosha. It is from this layer that the mind can be tamed. In fact, the practice of yoga facilitates the removal of false concepts and wrong understanding and refines this layer, gradually strengthening the practitioner’s intuitive ability.
Ananda is bliss and the anandamaya kosha is the seat of Satchitananda – the Self. This layer is at the core of the panchakosha and propels the vignanamaya kosha to do everything that it does. The ultimate purpose of all the actions of the vignanamaya kosha or the intellect, is to reach the Self – to reconnect with the bliss that lies at the very heart of your existence – Satchitananda.
The bliss of the anandamaya kosha goes beyond the experience of happy emotions, it is not tied to any stimulus. Instead, the entire layer is bliss.
Yoga is re-uniting with the Self
The word yoga comes from the root word “yuj” which means union, and this union is a union with the Self or Satchitananda.
Sat or satya is truth, chit is consciousness and ananda is bliss. The ultimate goal of the practice of yoga and of human life is to reconnect with this blissful truth that is the one consciousness. This consciousness is the cause of all causes, the very essence of existence and the home that you have been searching for.
Like waves in the ocean, it is from here that we arose and it is here that we will subside.
Yoga works on all panchakosha to bring you back to Satchitananda
Thousands of years ago, Sage Patanjali so beautifully curated the knowledge and wisdom of yoga and composed into 8 concise limbs.
In the following table, you can see how each limb corresponds to the different aspects of the panchakosha as discussed above.
|Kosha||Sharira||Corresponding Limb of Yoga|
|Annamaya – physical||Sthula – gross||Pranayama|
|Pranamaya – energy||Sukshma – subtle||Pranayama|
|Manomaya – mind||Sukshma – subtle||Pratyahara|
|Vignanamaya – wisdom||Sukshma – subtle||Dharana, Dhyana|
|Anandamaya – bliss||Karana – causal||Samadhi|
The underlying foundation of the panchakosha and 3 shariras is Satchitananda, the Self or Atman and yoga is an all-encompassing methodology to reunite yourself with Satchitananda.
Parm’s Yoga yoga classes offer spiritual depth and alignment with the ancient values of yoga as taught by sages of the past and passed down from guru to disciple. Every single session contains aspects of each limb of yoga and is taught intuitively based on the needs of the day.
At the end of every session, you’ll experience a peace that transcends the mind and originates from the very core of your being.
Practice with Parm and notice how stress, anxiety and depression just fall away.