sheaths, five

   The five sheaths, also called the pancha kosha, are five coverings of the soul or self enumer-ated in the TAITTIRIYA UPANISHAD. The outermost sheath, which coincides with the human body, is the “food” sheath, the grossest aspect of being. Within that in the body at a subtler level is the “breath” or “life” sheath, which assures bodily sustenance, along with food. Within that in the body at another level is the “mind” sheath, which guides grosser instinctual functions and the sur-face aspects of nervous activity. Within this sheath is the sheath of “understanding,” which overlooks higher and more refined mental functioning. Finally, there is the “bliss” sheath, which is the covering for the soul itself.
   Some VEDANTA philosophies see these sheaths as simply “not-soul”; the spiritual process gradu-ally rejects them in favor of the self or soul within the heart. Another, more holistic view, sees the spiritual effort as a process of full realization of these sheaths, and their integration with the real-ized self, the secret foundation of the sheath that consists of bliss.
   Further reading: Swami Nikhilananda, trans., Self-knowledge (Atmabodha): An English Translation of Sankaracharya’s Atmabodha (New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1946); S. Radhakrishnan, The Principal Upanisads (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humani-ties Press, 1992).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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