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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

PANCA KOSA -1- Five Sheaths Of Existence

Who are we? This fundamental question has been instinctually investigated by humans at every level. As we are born, we explore our physical being by looking at ourselves and others. This human nature of curiosity began investigating living organisms and their physical properties. By taking the investigation of the human body one step further, we began dissecting and evaluating corpses where we discovered the various parts of the human body and its functionality. And we further investigated the aspects of human existence that can not be seen, the intellect and mind. This investigation of life has led to the advent of modern day science.

As we further investigate human existence, especially our own, we begin to look inwards, at our emotions and thoughts. This is explored in the Upanishads, an exploration and understanding of the human being based on what one experiences through feeling, rather than seeing. The path adapted is an inward journey which cannot be explored without the help of external sensory but the inward journey is deeper than pure sense perception. This inward journey is referred to as “Tapas” in the Sanskrit language of the Upanishads.

The introduction to this inward journey is explored indirectly when the student actually approaches the teacher and asks, “ What is the origin of all creation?” The teacher understands that this question is actually asking, what is that from which the universe or creation comes and into which the universe dissolves itself? In order to answer the question, the teacher turns to the student and tells him to look inward and find out what he is and what his original nature is.

Immediately, the student is perplexed, how does his teacher’s instruction to look withinfor the answer correlate to what the student is asking, what the essential building block of creation is. These seem totally unrelated. Adi Shankaracharya correlates the question and answer with two points:
1. An individual is also part of creation and thus, there is no way he can isolate or separate him/herself from creation. Therefore, turning inwards for investigation is just investigating the deepest part of creation one can know.
2. When one investigates outside one’s self, the sense which facilitate your investigations, also become your limitations. One cannot know anything which is subtler than one’s senses. They are limited to what is touched, seen, smelt, or heard, and nothing beyond. One’s experience is deeper, it includes fear, courage, hate, love, and etc which are all beyond sense perception. This sense perception is also often influenced by what is felt, and thus dually distorted

Hence, the Upanishad has given a totally different turn to the whole area of investigation, and has given birth to the knowledge of what is our essential being. The student, or investigator, shows us five layers of existence, called “Panca Kosa.” These five layers of existence are within us in common man’s experience, not outside. It is apparent for all, not only those who go into an altered state of consciousness. As the student further investigates the answer to his question, the five sheaths become apparent.

The Upanishads briefly state the ideas of this investigation, and thus it is the duty of the commentator to give the connecting explanation at each step of the investigation. Many commentators have given their explanations and although the details may vary, the final position and meaning of the Upanishads remains the same.

to be continued...


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