The Coverings

“I really want to see you Lord, I really want to be with you…but it takes so long.”

My Sweet Lord, George Harrison

Yoga and Ayurveda are rich treasures of perhaps the world’s first holistic health paradigms. They incorporate healing for our many levels of being. One model is like an onion with various coverings, or in Sanskrit, koshas. The Bhagavad Gita tells us that a yogi is one who cuts through these coverings and unites with his inner world into absorption, or samadhi.

Ayurveda variously translates as the “science” or “knowledge” of “longevity” or “self-healing.” Holistic self-healing begins with self-awareness when we realize changes are needed and take steps toward them. A holistic healer can guide a person, but one must learn their own capabilities, which foods are best, which activities are valuable and what cognitive controls to employ.

Concepts such as body/mind/spirit that contemporary holistic health and integrative medicine apply derive from these coverings from Yoga and Ayurveda. Holistic health is indeed care of the body, mind and spirit. However, yoga and its complementary sciences and philosophies are broader and deeper than three levels. In yoga, Ayurveda and Vedanta five coverings are described plus the innermost Self. Each covering reveals a deeper place within, until revelation is uncovered. Beneath them resides Atman, the innermost, imperishable, unstained Light of Pure Consciousness, Brahman, the Self. That is, the koshas cover the Indwelling Lord yearned for in the quote above.

Each kosha is described as a mayakosha. Maya loosely translates as “illusion.” Maya plus kosha suggests a “veil,” or soul-created illusory covering. Each layer obscures the one beneath. Each mayakosha can be pierced, if the seeker persistently reduces and conquers karmas brought into this life.

Yoga is a journey of the self, through the self, to the Self.

The journey is from the outer world where we strive to be individuals, through body, energy, mind, discrimination, and bliss coverings into the Self. We think of ourselves as separate. And we are distinct. But, this paradigm requires different thinking. We cannot truly separate from others, because the human condition is interdependent. Under all the coverings/illusions of the world we are all One, once the individual absorbs into the Self of all.

The philosophy of the five koshas is described in the Taittiriya Upanishad estimated to have been written between the fifth and seventh centuries BCE. From greatest to subtlest, they are as follows:

  1. Annamayakosha is the outermost level and includes the body and senses. Anna translates as “food” so it’s literally the covering made of food. Much attention is placed on the body: food, shelter, clothing, appearance, etc. Most people identify exclusively with the body. We are so busy with its requirements, we lose sight of time, further veiling the Self /Indweller. Yogis deliberately take good care of the body, a precious tool, but distinguish themselves from it, which is necessary for clearing karma and reaching the inner goal.
  1. Pranamayakosha is the second covering. Prana is energy, chi, breath and/or spirit. The Latin word spiritus sometimes translates as “breath.” Energy/breath/spirit links body and mind. Breath accessed consciously, via pranayama exercises, improves vigor in the body and sharpens the mind. Always moving, prana carries vitality to and throughout the body, remaining active during sleep. As the vital force, prana is present only when there is life.
  1. Manomayakosha, the level of the mind, is vast. It encompasses the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious realms. Most people conjecture the brain holds the mind. But the mind is not held within. In fact, the mind regularly travels outside of the body.

“All the body is in the mind, but not all the mind is in the body.”

Swami Rama

Imagine you’re walking a beach; now shoveling snow. Your mind just travelled outside your body to different times and places. Mind also travels with memories, which are stored in the deeper, subconscious mind. Yogis strive to be ever present, harnessing mind activity, a considerable task. Yogis say illnesses occur first in the mind before they manifest outward in the body. Therefore, by extension, self-healing begins here when we release suffering from the mind.

  1. Vijnanamayakosha, the fourth level, is sometimes called buddhi or knowledge. Here lie human intellect, wisdom, and discrimination. Discrimination is greatly valuable to all truth seekers and the yogi sharpens it like a sword. The intuition also resides here and is symbolized as a mirror that receives light from the deeper levels and reflects it outward onto the mind.
  1. Anandamayakosha, the deepest of the five levels, is called bliss. Ananda encircles the Atman, glowing as a lampshade radiates light from the source within. It’s so close to the source, it’s glorious. We humans seek joy outside, but this bliss is not from worldly delights, rather from the proximity to everlasting joy and equanimity within.

Finally, the innermost place: although indescribable, we all experience glimpses of euphoria and ecstatic joy. During sublime moments we feel content and close to God. Gradually we expand those unencumbered feelings, heeding their ephemeral call with full attention. When we understand all our levels of being, and find the source of all life within, boundless healing resources become available and we begin to gain control over our health and life.

Questions for contemplation:

Can I turn off the outer world and tune into my inner world?

Am I ready to access intuition, wisdom, and glimpses of Soul?

Copyright  Cynthia Gran 2015

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