Introduction To The Five Sheaths (Koshas) with Explanation of Chakras

This article is an excerpt from my book, Bitten By The Energy Serpent: A New Perspective on Kundalini Awakening

Q. Can you tell us about the five sheaths and the chakras?

Ans: Our existence is an energetic combination of material and subtle. Therefore, according to traditional spiritual literature, our body has five layers or sheaths or koshas as they are called in the yoga philosophy. They are as follows:

  1. The physical (Anamaya Kosha) – the physical body that receives nourishment from the food you intake. It is also known as the food sheath.
  2. The life-force (Pranamaya Kosha) – is the vital energy or the life-force that differentiates sentient beings from non-sentient things like rocks and stones. 
  3. The mental layer (Manomaya Kosha) – is the layer of thoughts and emotions that collectively constitute the mind. It facilitates the personal interpretation of life.
  4. The wisdom layer (Vijnanamaya Kosha) – is the layer of intuition and intellect associated with higher awareness and wisdom. It is the higher or the witnessing mind.
  5. The bliss body (Anandamaya Kosha) – is the last layer where we rest as the “being.” The word bliss here is not an experience as a feeling but the “being” that we are. An experience is always related to an individual experiencer. But in this layer, there’s an impersonal sense of being or awareness that is referred to as bliss. It is associated with the state of wholeness and integration—the integration of the finite with the eternal.

What lies beyond these abstractions is what you truly are, or what Ramana Maharishi called the “Self.” It has no form, dimension, or attributes. The scriptures call it Atman or Brahman. I refrain from using such words cause we tend to grasp terms and concepts and project onto them our own qualities.

Now coming back to the topic, there’s a more straightforward classification of existence (that I prefer to use) into three fundamental components: gross, subtle, and causal.

The gross is the physical body. The subtle is the inner world – thoughts, feelings, emotions, and other internal tendencies and traits – it includes the subconscious and the unconscious. And finally, the causal body that we’ll not get into in this discussion. 

Layers 2 to 4 constitute the subtle body, of which the chakras are a part. It is not possible to directly measure the subtle energy with physical instruments. It does not arise from the interaction of matter and energy. 

When you have a cut in the physical body, how does it heal on its own? How does breathing, heartbeat, digestion, or homeostasis happen?

The subtle body infuses life force into the physical body and provides for the above-mentioned regulatory mechanisms. When the physical body disintegrates on death, the life force is cut off, but the subtle body remains.

Our physical body is an extremely limited aspect of existence. Anyways, we are going off-topic now.

Just like the Kundalini, even the chakra is a concept. So if when people say that the chakras are unreal, they are not wrong. But even the unreal can have a significant impact on the real. 

Q. But science does not accept the existence of chakras?

Ans: If you talk about reality in the worldly sense, the chakras are not real. But when you open up to the fact that every reality has another dimension to it, which is beyond the ordinary human perception, you will realize that there is a lot more to the chakras that we understand.

Notice the suffix “Maya” after each kosha. It’s all energy or Maya manifesting as separate layers. That’s why I say that phenomenality is nothing but the interplay of the same energy. Even quantum physics says that the entire universe is made up of the same “substance.”

You and I are just abstractions. Behind the appearances, we’re just subatomic particles. At the most miniature scale possible, you won’t find a boundary where I finish and you begin. Every form has a subform.

An atom is composed of subatomic particles like neutrons, protons, and electrons, further subdivided into the fundamental building blocks (known so far) called Quarks.

So what’s real? The object you’re holding in your hand? Or the molecules and atoms that hold it together? Or the quarks? My point is that reality based on sensory perception is relative. And despite knowing this truth, we continue to argue about what’s real and what’s not.

Even the smallest quark has a mass. Therefore it implies that even the smallest known particle is composed of something smaller, which science has not discovered yet. But where’s the limit? How small can you go?

And the answer is that there’s no limit because you’re dealing with the mother of all illusions – the Maya. It will keep presenting itself with new layers of reality because you, the observer (also the energy), are keen on seeing one. The moment you realize that the observer and the observed are one, it’s game over.

We have made marvelous inventions with matter using science and technology but can never know what it is. Therefore, when people ask me if the chakras are real, I answer “No.” If your interpretation of reality is only material, then chakras are not real.

Chakras are not a part of the physical anatomy. They operate in the subtle or etheric body, born out of the causal body. The etheric body infuses the physical body with life-force elements associated with intuition, intelligence, emotions, and other psychological components.

I might get a lot of flak for speaking on this topic, but I’ll take my chances. There’s a lot of misinformation about chakras and energy healing. What I see happening with spirituality is that people with commercial interests are commoditizing it.

Many unsuspecting and vulnerable people get manipulated and abused by these so-called ‘new age gurus’ into believing that there are shortcuts to self-development and spiritual awakening.

The concept of chakras is merely an idea to heal aspects of ourselves and help attain freedom from the tranny of the mind. We should view it from a spiritual perspective. There is no physical reality to chakras. There are no fixed chakra locations.

In Hindu scriptures, there are seven chakras. In Tibetan culture, there are four chakras. Whereas, in the Buddhist culture, there are nine chakras. Some also believe that there are infinite energy points within the subtle body. And they are all right.

The processes of the subtle body are subjective. They are unique to each individual. Each of us will have different experiences felt at various locations in the physical body. For example, kundalini (life-force energy) rising is traumatic for some people and pleasurable for others.

The heart chakra location is near the heart region, but its precise location will differ for different people. People will have varying experiences of chakra opening. However, these variations are subtle.

No matter how many crystals or essential oils you apply, you’ll never be able to open your heart chakra without cultivating real self-compassion and forgiveness.

Visualization exercises and other things like stones, crystals, and essential oils help create a relaxed environment, but they alone will not help open the chakras. They are just there to create a pleasant sensation and a conducive atmosphere for practicing meditation.

Q. I too am from a scientific background. I agree with lots of things you say (New age Fake speed awakening etc.) However, I was surprised when you Say that chakras are merely a conceptual help for meditation. Did you ever felt something at the locations of the chakras, although being of a subtle energy nature? If so what kind of feeling is this for you?

Ans.: The subtle and the physical are not two separated by a rigid boundary. The physical is a manifestation of subtle energy. Therefore, thoughts themselves are subtle energy components and hold a lot of power to influence the physical body.

You may have heard of cases where many decades of pain in one particular body part just vanishes by allowing the release of some emotional tension. The implication of the article was not to prove if the chakras are real or not. That debate is entirely meaningless. We cannot know the reality objectively.

It may have come across like that but the chakras are not merely a conceptual help for meditation. Chakras reveal the internal state of the psychophysical organism. Meditation is one of many practices that can help reveal our internal state.

For example, in the early days of my spiritual practices, I would feel different sensations on my forehead, throat, heart region, lower back, and more. It is very common for people to feel a throbbing sensation on their forehead, which is the third-eye energy center, or a cool sensation in the throat region. 

But these experiences are only pointers to the background awareness where everything manifests. The chakras and Kundalini are only concepts that appear to an individual “experiencer.” When the kundalini opens up through the crown, the contracted energy or the individual becomes ONE with the universal consciousness. Consciousness is all there is.

I hope this is not too vague.

Q.: As a yoga practitioner myself, I totally agree with you that chakras can be felt and are not mere tools for visualizations. Sorry to have misunderstood the post on your website!

One scholar, Mallinson, said in a video that chakras cannot be really felt (and be real, whatever he understands by that) because there have been so many chakras systems in history with different locations and different numbers of chakras, that these systems cannot account for the same phenomenon.

I’m a little bit puzzled by that! What do you think of his reasoning?

Ans.: Different traditions have different systems. According to traditions, chakras are part of the subtle body and they have a strong influence on the mind and body. However, energy by nature cannot be the final reality as it is a movement. But that does not imply that we abandon our yogic and other spiritual practices.

I practice Yoga postures and pranayama every day. And it keeps my mind and body healthy and fit. But in my understanding, mind and body are appearances in consciousness. Therefore, till there’s an individual claiming ownership of the mind-body complex, the suffering will continue. This understanding does not stop the pain in the moment, but it does not let the pain translate into suffering in horizontal time.

This whole argument about what is real or unreal, which traditions are genuine or fake, etc., is meaningless. It keeps the mind running. Something that cannot be directly perceived or detected by the physical senses does not become insignificant or “unreal”. Chakras are not physical entities, therefore, the manifestation of symptoms may happen in different locations for different people, but that does not invalidate their existence.

When people argue about the existence (or non-existence) of Chakras, it is usually from the point of view of the individual who believes he/she has a strong understanding of what’s real and what’s unreal. In my understanding, we cannot know reality as an object of our experience. Every perceivable reality is relative. 

I practice yoga with complete volition, but deep down, I know that I’m not in control, and the energy is doing its work as per its own Will. Again, it is only my concept. But this concept frees me from the outcome of my efforts.

It frees me from the duality of right/wrong, good/bad, real/unreal, etc. I enjoy my Yoga practices knowing that the energy is doing what’s required and all I have to do is execute the action without a sense of personal doership.

Q. What can one do to balance the chakras or raise Kundalini?

Ans: You must do whatever you think, at this point, helps your mind and body. Living in awareness, by itself, removes all blockages and allows the Kundalini to flow. Everything, including the chakras and kundalini, shines in the presence or pure awareness. Therefore, there is no higher truth than awareness.

If you understand it, you will most likely save yourself a lot of effort and pain. You will see how effortless it is to raise the Kundalini. Most people spend a lifetime in practice raising Kundalini. It’s because they think of spiritual awakening in terms of “becoming” something more than what they are right now.

They can’t believe that something like Kundalini can be raised without effort. The ego likes to undertake deep practices or sadhana to become worthy of enlightenment.

And then what? After all the spiritual work, when life challenges show up, they fall back into their old behavioral patterns. They feel frustrated. They feel trapped. They look for the next technique, method, or guru, who can save them.

When I say living in awareness, what I mean is that make your actions conscious whenever you remember to. Don’t be hypervigilant. Spend time in relaxation. Be in nature. Meet people in real rather than immersing yourself in devices. Find something, like a cause to help others without creating any expectations.

If you’re living life unconsciously, driven purely by habits and unconscious tendencies, you will never experience the joy and peace of the present moment. You need to examine your life.

You see if you’re spending most of your day in a toxic environment, ten or twenty minutes of meditation or Yoga will not do anything for you.

The majority of people are unwilling to look at their life: What kind of job do you do? What kind of relationship do you have with others? What kind of people do you associate with? Do you spend your entire day complaining and whining about how things are so bad around you?

If you are such a personality, don’t even think about Kundalini awakening. It will traumatize you. If you feel isolated and depressed, you need to reach for help first. Talk to a friend or a therapist.

Some people say, “But I have no one.” “I’m all alone.” Why is that? It’s because, all these years, you’ve only thought about yourself. “What about me?” “My needs.” “My desires.” “Life is not fair to me.”

Your isolation is self-imposed. I’m not saying it’s your fault. But it happened. Identify a cause or something and give it everything you have selflessly. Selfless action is the basis of Karma Yoga philosophy.

You can’t imagine, the amount of love I receive from people all over the world. It fills my heart with so much joy, love, and gratitude. I feel connected. I feel whole. I get appreciation emails from so many people.

And it’s not “me” doing this work, but the energy is operating through this instrument called “me.” Doing what needs to be done. This attitude frees me from pride and arrogance.

I never felt this kind of satisfaction and fulfillment in my early years when I was working in a corporate job, although I was making a lot more money, I was miserable and depressed.

Now, you don’t have to quit your job and become a social worker but find something that gives you happiness without expecting anything in return.

Your relationship with others is determined by your relationship with yourself. You cannot love others unless you learn to love yourself. And when you truly accept yourself for who you are, the differentiating boundary between “you” and the “other” will vanish. That is when you revel in pure love.

Here’s a simple test to assess where you stand right now. Observe your mind when you see a random person on the street. If the thoughts that arise in your consciousness are focused on judging appearance, physical attributes, and an imagined character, it is likely that your mind is restless.

The reason it focuses on the above-mentioned superficial attributes is that it is scared to take a look deep within. It is a deliberate attempt of the mind to divert attention from its own painful attributes. Therefore, it seeks relief by projecting. It is unconsciousness.

One requires a still mind to be observant of what’s going on within oneself. As I mentioned in the chapter on the sattvic mind, the stillness of mind brings peace and tranquility which raises the Kundalini effortlessly. Without “you” trying to “do” anything.

When you’re obsessed with the idea of Kundalini awakening, that very obsession, by itself, becomes an impediment to the movement of energy.

A lot of information online on chakra balancing is centered around personal happiness. There is no such thing as personal happiness. We are social creatures. We thrive in places where we’re able to connect physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually with others. All of these connections are vital.

Material pleasures alone will never give you any happiness without spiritual connections. And spiritual connections alone will not help without taking care of your material needs.

Your kundalini awakening will be useless if you’re continuously surrounded by unhappy people. That’s why I say, you need to take a deep look at your life and how you live. You need to evaluate your ideas of happiness and success.

No matter how many essential oils, incense, jewelry, or crystals you buy (although there’s nothing wrong with that), you won’t be happy unless you learn to live consciously.

Once you get the basics right, you won’t have to do anything, the energy will do for “you” whatever is required. That’s when you will raise energy effortlessly and chakras balance on their own. So the effort is only to look at and assess your life and the conditioning it has brought about.

Latest book release: Bitten By The Energy Serpent – A New Perspective on Kundalini Awakening

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Jagjot Singh
Jagjot Singh

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