I first began talking about the energy bodies here in 2009. When I came back to the topic in more detail about a year ago, a definition error crept in I should have caught.
Firstly, “energy bodies” refers to what are commonly called Auras. In Sanskrit, the more accurate term is koshas or sheaths. They interpenetrate one another and each more subtle one is a little less distinct and larger. The Buddhist term for them is Skandhas.
Here is the list:
Annamaya physical, etheric
Pranamaya energy, emotional
Manonmaya mental, sensory
Vijnanamaya intellect, Buddhi
Anandamaya bliss, celestial, causal
Chittamaya qualified or moving consciousness, flow
Atmamaya Atman or cosmic Self, Sat
A note about the term Chitta. Chit is consciousness. Chitta is modified or moving consciousness, often a reference to thoughts or mental activity. Some also use chitta to describe the source of manas, buddhi, and ahamkara (mind, intellect, & ego). In the context of the mind, this is perfectly valid. But defining Chittamaya kosha, more subtle than the celestial, as the storehouse of impressions is incorrect. Our baggage is found largely in the energy and mental bodies, with some subtle patterns a bit deeper.
The koshas also highlight the distinction between typical life and the enlightened experience. Prior to awakening, the lower 3 bodies dominate our experience – our thoughts, feelings and sensations.
When enough of the fog of past impressions are resolved, the deeper levels become apparent. When we reach Makara above the third eye, kundalini becomes stable and the full-time witness arises. We shift into the intellect level and the “resolute intellect” comes on-line.
With Self Realization we shift to Atman. As it becomes established, it is described as sat chit ananda – note the names of the last koshas above. We’re now living from the 3 subtler koshas, experiencing daily life through the appearance of the denser koshas.
To fill this out further, lets explore each kosha in a little more detail
Annamaya – literally food body. This is our gross physical body and its etheric underpinning, sustained by eating.
Pranamaya – this is the actual energy body, described as prana or vayu (air) or breath. The Vedas describe 5 pranas and 5 sub-pranas. This is where you first experience the chakras and nadis. It’s also where we store a lot of energetic sludge.
Manonmaya – relates to the term Manas or mind. This is where the ideas can get confused.
The mental sheath has 3 aspects:
– Manas itself – the habit-driven sensory mind
– Chitta – the mental activity or content, the thoughts. These are often driven by subconscious impressions: samskaras (strong mental impressions) and vasanas (desires). These lead to our inclinations and motives plus our emotions. This also relates to our unresolved karma.
– Ahamkara (I sense, preferences)
All actions make impressions in the subtle body, mainly the mind and energy bodies. But do those impressions bind us or do we process and release them? Also, while we may not consciously know how to “read auras“, we are subconsciously picking up others “vibes”. If we’re an unskilled empath, we’re also taking on their baggage.
Browse “Kosha” on-line and you’ll see all kinds of conflicting interpretations. Some attribute Chitta to Vijnanamaya but we tend to be more aware of activity in the mind. Some use the mind definition of Chitta to define Chittamaya kosha (I copied that mistake) and some use Chittamaya to describe the Chitta aspect of Manonmaya. It’s important to be clear on these differences.
Vijnanamaya – discernment; this is Buddhi, the intellect, our decision-maker. It may also be called dharmamaya. It is our conscience that drives our values and purpose. It is often overshadowed by the activity of the denser koshas, the mind and emotions.
This is the first sattvic kosha and is also called prajna. Some experience this as intuition. This is the level of structure, relationship and subtle geometry. Distortions in the template can lead to issues in the more expressed koshas above.
I mentioned above how this level becomes much more conscious at makara, with the witness. We then reside beyond the mind. When the intellect becomes associated with the absolute instead of the mind, it becomes “resolute.” With the resolute intellect we gain “evenness of mind in pleasure and pain, loss and gain, victory and defeat” as described in the Bhagavad Gita (2v41). This is mind on a platform of even intellect vs mind driven by old impressions.
The intellect has just one issue to resolve, the “mistake of the intellect“. This is when it shifts from looking out and dividing to looking in and joining. This heralds the shift to Unity consciousness. It also defines the “experience and become” process of the stages of Unity and the development of wholeness or totality.
It’s also worth noting that human development, as studied in psychology, works through the development of these sheaths progressively: body, emotions, mind, intellect.
When people refer to the “subtle body“, they are generally referring to the Energy and Mental bodies but may be including the intellect. When they refer to the “astral“, they may mean the energy body or either combination of ‘subtle body’. Some use the terms very loosely.
Anandamaya – the Bliss sheath and celestial. Deva-atma-shakti. This is the home of name and form where our universe first becomes. As such it is also known as the causal and is home of the Pranava, Aum. Also of Hiranya Garbha, the golden egg, seed form of the universe. It is sattvic and the home of the universal chakras (we share the same ones). As the celestial, it is home to celestial beings; saints, sages, and devas (not to be confused with astral beings). Clearly, this is not a personal kosha but a common one shared by all beings in this universe.
When we clean out the baggage of the denser sheaths, this kosha, which is always with us, becomes conscious. Then we live in bliss, either foreground or background. It can be noted this isn’t the highest bliss, simply when it first very present. The wave of happiness we feel when coming in and out of samadhi is crossing this kosha. .
It’s also worth noting the dominant element for each of the first koshas:
anna = earth, prana = water, mano = fire, intellect = air, bliss = space. Not physical elements but their seeds. Note how space is nested. These elements also align to the sense organs.
Because the chakras also have these correspondences, we might conclude there is a relationship between the chakras and the koshas. This is true but is more generalized. The chakras have their shared source in the bliss sheath and express forward progressively (as yantra, flower, wheel, and vortex) into the prana (energy) sheath.
The Taittiriya Upanishad describes much of the above, calling it the pancha kosha or 5 sheaths. This is as far as many traditions go. If they’re based on Self Realization, they would not see anything further as a kosha. To someone in Cosmic Consciousness, Atman is eternal being, not a sheath.
However, at the end of Unity, consciousness does what the intellect did prior. It turns from perpetually looking in on itself to turning and looking out. This is the dawning of Brahman and a recognition that consciousness (Atman) has an “origin” and thus is also a sheath.
Chittamaya – qualified or moving consciousness. Some would call this the self-interacting dynamics of consciousness. This is also called the wisdom sheath, but it should not be confused with the Chitta of the mind. This, we could say, is the Chitta of God, Lila, cosmic mind, the play of creation, or flow.
It’s not accurate to call this a “body of consciousness“. Atman is consciousness so this level is qualified consciousness, consciousness becoming. The Cosmic body resides within this range though.
I’ve also seen the term Chaitya used here, meaning soul. I define soul as the point value of consciousness where consciousness is aware of itself both globally and at every point.
Atmamaya – Atman or cosmic Self, “body” of pure consciousness, also called Sat. Beyond Atman is Brahman. Brahman has no form.
It’s also worth noting how the states of consciousness correspond.
– Waking state is associated with our physical reality
– Dreaming is associated with the subtle bodies (not a spiritual realm)
– Sleep brings us to the celestial. This becomes conscious with development.
– Turiya, the fourth, is pure consciousness. We experience bliss (the kosha) when passing in and out of pure being.
As I noted above, with established Self Realization or Cosmic Consciousness, we live more in sat chit ananda, the 3 subtle koshas.
The 7 lokas or worlds are all contained within the Anandamaya kosha. Again, we might seek correspondences but they’re not one to one. Bhur is associated with the physical, Bhuvah with the subtle, and the heavens with the celestial.
Gradually, everything comes together in one wholeness.
[Updated and polished March 2019]