NAVIGATING THE LEVELS OF EXISTENCE USING PRANA
PRANA is the energy behind all activities – be it physical, mental or intellectual. We all know about the Pancha Kosha model. Just to recapitulate: According to Taittiriya Upanishad, we are capable of experiencing five dimensions of existence. These five dimensions are – Annamaya Kosha, Pranamaya Kosha, Manomaya Kosha, Vijnanamaya Kosha and Anandamaya Kosha. At a given point of time, a human being can exist in any of these dimensions.
The first sheath – Annamaya Kosha, is the physical body. It is dependent on food, water and air. Next is the Pranamaya Kosha. This sheath is very important for higher experiences and is the basis for Pranayama. It has almost the same shape as the Annamaya Kosha, but is subtler as compared to Annamaya Kosha. It stays for a long period even after the disintegration of the Annamaya Kosha. This is the reason that even after the loss of a part of the physical body, the feel of that part remains for a long time. Essentially, it is the energy field which is felt.
The next is Manomaya Kosha, the mental dimension. We are aware that the mind has two parts – conscious and unconscious. This layer caters to the conscious part of the mind and is a link between the intuitive mind and the senses. Next comes the Vijnanamaya Kosha, which caters to both the unconscious mind and the intellect. It is said to be the link between the individual and the universal mind. Inner knowledge comes to the conscious mind from this sheath. Awakening of this sheath results in intuition and wisdom. Innermost is the ANANDAMAYA KOSHA, the sheath of Bliss.
When it comes to the Three Body Doctrine, Annamaya Kosha forms the STHULA SHARIRA (gross body). Pranamaya Kosha, Manomaya Kosha and Vijnanamaya Kosha are part of the SUKSHMA SHARIRA (subtle body). It becomes more and more subtle as we move inwards. Anandamaya Kosha is part of the KARANA SHARIRA (causal body).
One important aspect is that Prana pervades all the sheaths and all of them are dependent on Prana.
What is the ultimate aim of Yoga? It is Liberation – meaning, individual consciousness becomes one with the universal consciousness. Each practice of yoga allows us to pierce deeper and deeper and reach higher levels. Shatkarma and Asanas allow us to take care of Annamaya Kosha and penetrate further into the Pranamaya and Manomaya Kosha. Breathing exercises and Pranayama help us not only in keeping the first three sheaths together, but also in reaching the fourth layer, Vijnanamaya Kosha, by piercing the first three. As Patanjali yoga sutra says – TATAH KSHIYATE PRAKASHA AVARANAM – meaning, ‘The veil covering the light of the true self then vanishes’. This is followed by more refined concentration, extrasensory perception and purging of Samskaras. Mind then becomes empty (purified) and one experiences the Anandamaya Kosha.
An important point to remember is that the nature of practices we have to undertake will depend upon the Kosha our consciousness is in. Meditation helps in taking care of both Vijnanamaya Kosha and Anandamaya Kosha. It is the only practice which allows us to pierce the unconscious mind and take care of the Samskaras and Vasanas. That is why, in our tradition, so much emphasis is laid on a systematic approach to reach the final goal.
PRANA is perceived differently in different Koshas. If we are aware of these signs, it can help us understand where we are and what efforts/practices need to be taken to move further towards the goal.
In Annamaya Kosha, Prana is perceived as Nervous energy. In Pranamaya Kosha, it can be felt as movement of Prana and there is control over the senses, leading to Pratyahara. In Manomaya Kosha, it is perceived as the luminosity. The quality of luminosity will depend upon the level of purification of the mind. Sadhana is nothing but purification of the mind. Any practice which purifies our mind can be included in Sadhana. In Vijnanamaya Kosha, Prana manifests as inner vision, smell or sounds. This is what happens in the Bhramari. You hear the Nada coming from inside, which is nothing but very subtle Prana. Even though, initially we simulate this Nada by chanting, the end point is actually hearing the Nada produced by the Prana. Most people think that once you reach this level, it becomes easier and practices may not be required. But it is the other way round because, once this sheath is unlocked, it requires maximum efforts on the part of the Sadhaka, not to lose himself / herself in this realm, which is so fascinating! After this is pierced and Anandamaya Kosha is reached, everything becomes luminous. One stays here only when the Mind is totally purged and purified.
So, dear Sadhakas, we should keep working on breath every single day in a disciplined way. That is going to help us in having Guru’s grace. Amma is guiding all of us. We have to make ourselves deserving and keep working on ourselves. Let us proceed with this Sankalpa and use our breath-mind complex to be victorious. Guru Parampara is always with us.
Dr. Ashok Bhatt