Week 27 – The Practice

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    Purnamadah Purnamidam  /  Purnat Purnamudachyate  /

    Purnasya Purnamadaya  /  Purnameva Vashishyate  /  Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantih

    That (universality) is wholeness, this (individuality) is wholeness  /  From that wholeness, this wholeness comes forth  /  When wholeness is taken from or added to wholeness  /. What remains is wholeness. Om peace, peace, peace.

    From the Isha Upanishad, this mantra helps to beautifully illustrate the concept of completeness, the undercurrent for which the practice of yoga is intended. Yoga, meaning the state of being united in and of all our parts (mind, body, emotions, thoughts, etc.), that for whatever reason we speculate as separate from each other. As the spiritually enlightened yogi masters of times long past repeatedly remind us, the pieces and parts of ourselves are never separate, but rather only seem apart due to the conditioning that exists within the scope of our understanding. Another rich text, the Taittitiya Upanishad, highlights these pieces in a model called the koshas. These puzzle like layers, akin to that of Russian dolls, help to describe and explain how each of our seemingly seperate parts are uniquely fitted with each other and are of equal importance in the investigative process of recognizing the whole of our Self. 

    The word kosha, most often translated as sheath, is used to describe the layers of our physical and psychosomatic selves that are constantly at play with each other. Described as five separate ‘skins’, the panchakosha are listed as annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijñanamaya and anandamaya koshas. When these layers of our being are balanced and harmoniously cohabitating, it is said that the individual will be bathed the completeness of true joy and the ultimate realization of Self. When dissonance exists then disharmony, despair and eventual disease is sure to muddy the joyous waters of our existence. 

    In my own study and practice of dissolving the notion of the separate layers of the self, I’ve made comparisons of the koshas to that of layers of clothing, nested lampshades or even an onion and its peelings. The outer most layer, like the flaky outer skin of an onion, is called the annamaya kosha. Referred to as our ‘food’ body, it is the physical manifestation of the body and it is here, from our most tangible experiences, that we commence our journey inward. By way of this outer layer, our body, we learn what it is to move, to rest, to touch, to see, to satiate and to sense all of the world around us. 

    Once acquainted with our ‘food’ body, the opportunity exists to being traveling into the more subtle realms of the other four koshas. Food, as you well know, is energy. And the food that we eat affects us in many ways. Food can either make us feel uplifted and inspired, full of life and vitality, or it can leave us feeling heavy, lethargic and with a bad case of the Eeyore’s. Like the energetic effect of food and our physical body, our food sheath directly relates to the energy sheath, or pranamaya kosha. But this energy body extends far beyond that of the food we eat. The air we breath and the environment in which we are breathing can an do influence prana, as do the experiences, relationships and other causative factors. 

    Prana, as stated in the Upanishads, is the foundation for life and consciousness. “It (prana) is the vital force that produces the subtle vibrations related to breath, and which are the driving forces behind the physical aspect of the senses and the operation of the physical body. It allows the invisible indweller, our True Self to be able to animate in the external world. At the same time, however, it allows the eternally still, silent centre of consciousness, to be mistakenly identified as the moving, visible physical body.” – Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati

    In Taoist philosophy, the most important component in any given context is flow. To experience flow, all we have to do is shift our attention to the breath. From our first to our last, the breath is a reminder of the life force energy, or vitality, that is in and all around us. As we’ve all experienced, there are many internal (mind, thoughts) and external (body) forces that work for and against the flow of our life force. When we are agitated, angry, grieving or fearful, a heaviness weighs on the body and mind and impedes the effectiveness of the lungs and ultimately our capacity to breath. At other times, while delighting in a moments rest, a warm embrace or an expression of gratitude, we feel the freedom and flow of breath, and perhaps a boost of our living energy. 

    The pranamaya kosha, is the link between the body, annamaya kosha, and the mind. This next layer, called manomaya kosha, is at the level of our mind and includes our thoughts and emotions. This mental sheath, is our main processor that interprets, instructs and operates, by way of the energy body, the physical body. As incredible of a computer our mind is, at times the mind ‘thinks’ it is the Chief Executive Officer of Operations, when really, it is not. Therefore false beliefs, misconception, confusion, deception and delusion, to name a few tricks-of-the-mind, result in the clouding of truth, a.k.a. illusion, or maya in Sanskrit.

    “All behaviour, both constructive and destructive, is dependent on our thoughts. By understanding how our thinking works, we discover nothing less than the very secrets of human psychology. With this right perception and understanding of our minds, the door opens to our liberation, as we go through the veil of illusion into the bright day of clarity and wisdom. The study of mind and consciousness, therefore, lies at the heart of yoga.” – B.K.S. Iyengar

    So if the mind is muddied in misconception, deeper wisdom is also clouded. Thus, the practices laid out in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, are far more than philosophical musings. Rather they are a profound series of tips, tools and methods for calming and stilling the waves of mind-chatter. When the mind settles like that of a calm and clear lake, a deeper level awareness can be witnessed. Called vijñaamaya kosha, this is the level of wisdom that dwells beneath the thinking and processing parts of our mind. Referred to as the intellectual body, it is here that we are able to distinguish, discriminate and know between that which is appropriate and that which is not. It is here where correct knowledge, or pramana, exist. It is also the seat of ego consciousness where the waves of self-identification and assumption, merged with memories and thinking, where one often loses sight of the  innate wisdom within.

    Again, turning to daily practices (sadhana) as listed in the yoga sutras, the student (sadhaka) transcends the limitation of mind and ego and moves closer to the realization of the true Self. Here at the fifth sheath called the anandamaya kosha, the student emerges from practice with a clear understanding of the meaning of peace, joy and love that exists beyond mind, body and emotions. Called the bliss body, or divine body, it is here where the core of our being is revealed for us behold.

    We are immensely complex and layered beings, yet by way of the kosha, we can simplify our parts to more clearly see the truth of who we are. Imagine each kosha like five unique lampshades covering a light. The source of the light, is the truth of our selves. Each lampshade that layers on top of the one beneath has a different colour and density therefore changing the light we ‘see’. As the light shines through the lampshades, it is progressively changed in colour and nature. It is a bitter-sweet colouring. On one hand, the shades provide the individualized beauty of each shade. Yet, the lampshades also obscure the purity of the initial source of light. The yogic path of self-realization is one of progressively moving inward, through each of the five lampshades, so as to experience with clarity and an unobstructed view, the truth of the authentic self. While allowing the uniqueness of individuality to shine through, it is this authentic pure source of light at the centre of consciousness called Atman – the indescribable and eternal divine Self whose light is a spark of Universal Consciousness.