The Inner World
by Gary Gran, CYT, D.Ay
Imagine for a moment that you have been caught breaking the rules at work. The incident is sure to be reported upstairs. The next day you and your accomplice see the boss walking slowly towards you. You don’t quite know what to expect - perhaps a good scolding, or worse. Or, maybe, just maybe, you hope beyond reason, he isn’t coming to speak to you at all!
In any case, you brace yourself and keep working, albeit a bit nervously. As the boss nears, you work a little harder. When the boss does arrive, he sits down, and looks directly at you. There is a long, long pause. You keep working, wondering what comes next. Finally, the boss shakes his head and says “you are perfect.” He gets up and is on his way! That was it.
I am perfect? What did he mean? What part of me is perfect? My action breaking the rules wasn’t perfect. If I am perfect, then who am I?
Sound far-fetched? This scenario actually happened to me while working at one of Swami Rama’s ashrams. The transgression? Being up after hours. The boss? Swami Rama himself. The punishment? As above.
The age old question of philosophy is “who am I?”. In the traditions of yoga and ayurveda we are taught that we live in two worlds, the outer world and the inner world. To truly answer the question “who am I?” requires an exploration of the inner world. Luckily for us, a map is provided!
The map looks like a series of concentric circles. Each circle is called a layer, or a sheath. In three dimensions, this would appear like an onion, layer upon layer. The inward journey is a process of peeling off layer by layer to see what lies at the center.
The outermost layer is called the annamayakosha. The word is composed of three parts: anna-maya-kosha. Anna means food. Perhaps you have heard the name Annapurna, which means perfect food or complete nourishment.
Maya has many meanings. In eastern philosophy it is sometimes defined as illusion. To call something an illusion is to say it has no permanent existence. It is said that the outer world represents maya. It may seem very real right now, but it is temporary, which means subject to time. At some point everything in the world will pass away.
It is interesting to note that the root of the word maya is ma, which means mother. In this context, mother is that which brings things into existence (birth), sustains those things in existence (nourishment) , and passes things out of existence (death).
Kosha is the part that means layer or sheath. It is related to the English word cushion as in a protective covering. A kosha is a protective cushion that can help protect us by absorbing blows from the outer world, like a shock absorber.
All together, annamayakosha means a temporary cushion or layer of protection composed of food, that is to say, the physical body. We have a body, but we are not the body. The body is impermanent, subject to time.
Whenever the body is hurting we can say “thank you for absorbing that shock and protecting me.” But who is this me? Let’s continue our journey.
The second layer is called pranamayakosha. Prana means vital energy.
Thus the second kosha is the temporary cushion or covering composed of vital energy. If a shock to the body is strong enough, the energy layer also absorbs part of the blow. Sometimes, after the physical body is healed, the so-called energy body remains weakened. Conversely, if we can heal or rebalance the energy field first, physical healing occurs more quickly.
Our primary access to the energy level is through breathwork or pranayama. Pranayama can be divided into prana- yama which means control or restraint of the vital force, or it can be divided into pran-ayama which means expansion or freeing of the vital force. The alternate conditions of contraction and expansion of the vital force provide an enormous range of energetic potential which we can learn to master.
So we temporarily have the capacity to breathe, but we are not the breath. Ultimately the breath is something we share with all beings.
The next layer is called manomayakosha. Mano means mind. Our mind is also a temporary or changeable form of protection. Certainly the condition of our mind can change most rapidly. And our mind can also be influenced by external events. Oftentimes we can shrug things off mentally and emotionally, but sometimes the mind absorbs and holds on to the event. The mind is constantly receiving input through the five senses and also from the storehouse of memory. We can learn to strengthen the mind by examining and then releasing our thoughts.
It is important to note in this context that the mind is considered to be different from the contents of the mind. The mind is like pure water and thoughts are the particles of matter suspended in the water. In this way the mind, like the physical body and the energy body, can be seen as a cushion which absorbs and holds thoughts and emotions.
We can thank the mind for absorbing and processing all of our sensory input. And we can say that we have senses and a mind, but we are not the senses or the mind or the contents of the mind.
The next level is vijnanamayakosha. Vijnana is divided into vi- and -jnana.
Vi- means inner. Jnana means knowledge. In fact, jnana is directly related to the English words knowledge, knowing, and gnosis. A gnostic is defined as one who knows. An agnostic is one who doesn’t know or isn’t sure. The prefix a- negates the meaning of the root word. So vijnanamayakosha is the temporary cushion composed of inner knowing.
It is a great blessing to wake up and strengthen this inner knowing which is variously referred to as discrimination, wisdom, intellect, conscience, and intuition.
The vijnanamayakosha is said to be like a sword or a mirror with two sides. One side faces the outer world and learns to discriminate and make judgements. Like a sword, it is able to cut through all the sensory inputs of the mindfield and make decisions.
The other side faces inward. The outer side represents the intellect, but the inner side represents intuition, knowledge that is received from within. The advice is to continously polish the mirror to avoid distortions. The intellect and the intuition should always be tested. Developing our intuition is sometimes called turning the mind around or looking within. This means to continue our inner journey.
Next comes anandamayakosha. Ananda is a most interesting word. We know that the prefix a- negates the root word, in this case -nanda. However, nanda means bliss, and ananda also means bliss. This is the joy or bliss which has no opposite. We are leaving the field of duality, the field of time, to find our inner happiness, the flood of bliss which is constantly flowing. We are near the inner source. The source is called sat-chit-ananda: pure existence, pure consciousness, pure bliss. We are that source of life, light and love which is ever-pure, ever-knowing, and ever-free.
Now it is time to retrace our steps back to the external world. On our way we begin to realize that the koshas are not just protective layers, but also means of expression. We begin to see that the inner world and the outer world exist together like a vast continuum. We begin to see the inner perfection of all beings. Our thoughts, our speech, and our actions become the instruments to express our inner knowing. Then when we speak to others we can look past the surface and say “you are perfect.”