According to Ayurveda, we are multi-dimensional beings with many layers of life. This is a different concept than Western, aleopathic medicine, has—which treats each individual merely as a bag of molecules. We often hear mind-body-spirit referred to when speaking of a holistic model of an individual. In Ayurveda, there is a model for this. I’ve this concept is also referred to as the Koshas, or layers of life.
The Ayurvedic Model of the Human Physiology as a Multi-Dimensional Being/The Quantum Mechanical Framework: The quantum mechanical body is a localized concentration of energy and information in a universal field of energy and information. From this perspective, the physiology is viewed as consciousness first and matter second.
According to Adi Shankara, 9th century yogic sage, there are 3 primary layers of life: physical, psychological and spiritual. Although we tend to think of these levels of existence as separate, they are consciousness in different disguises. When we are able to freely access these layers, we achieve balance and integration, optimal health and vital energy.
The Physical Body: (Stuhula Sharir)
1.) The Extended Body or our Environment
2.) Anna maya kosha: food or nourishment – our covering made of food.
3.) Prana maya kosha: our energy body (chakras, nadi’s, electromagnetic field)
The Subtle Body: (Sukshma Sharir)
The subtle body exists in time, but does not occupy any space. Transformation fields have a longer shelf life than the physical body. Includes the mind, the intellect and the ego.
1.)Mano maya kosha: the mind/mental layer. This the field where we experience our emotions.
2.) Buddhi maya kosha: the intellect. The intellect discriminates for us, deciding what is good or bad, safe or unsafe, what we like or do not like.
The Intellect: Ideas, concepts, beliefs. Determines what action should be taken in reaction to the information brought in through the senses; identified by manas (the mind) & evaluated by ahankara (or ego).
3.) Ahankara: The Ego – the aspect of the mind that claims ownership. “That’s my car, my child, my family.”
The Causal Body: (Karana Sharir), Ananda maya kosha – individuality; the body of bliss; conditioned bliss.
1.) The personal soul (atman); 2.) The collective soul; 3.) The Universal Soul (Brahman) – Unity Consciousness.
The Layers of Life
The Physical Body – The Field of Molecules
According to Shankara’s model, the physical body is comprised of three layers: the environment, the personal body, and the energetic body.
Environment—the extended body
Although your senses may tell you otherwise, there is no distinct boundary between your personal and extended bodies, which are in constant and dynamic exchange. Each breath that you inhale and exhale is a reminder of the continuous converation taking place between your physical body and your environment.
Recognizing that the vast majority of the cells in your body are derived from the food you eat, Sankara named the physical body anamayakosha, meaning the covering made of food. This idea underscores the need to pay attention to the food you consume to maximize nourishment and minimize toxicity.
Shankara named the third layer of the physical body, pranamayakosha, meaning the sheath made of vital energy. This vital energy, known as prana, breathes life into biochemicals and orchestrates cells into a vibrant living being.
The Subtle Body—the Mind Field
Shankara identified three layers of the subtle body: the mind, the intellect, and the ego.
Within this framework, the mind is the repository of sendory impressions. As the mind cycles through different states of consciousness, your sensory experiences change. Dreaming reality is different than waking reality. Shankara named this level of the subtle body manomaya kosha.
This is the aspect of mind that discriminates and makes decisions. Shankara called this layer buddimaya kosha.
According to Shankara, the ego is that aspect of your being that identifies with the positions and possessions of your life. It is ultimately your self-image and identity. In yoga, the ego is known as ahankara, the “I-former.”
The Causal Body—The Field of Pure Potentiality
Shankara identified three layers of the causal body: the personal domain, the collective domain, and the universal domain.
According to Shankara, every individual has a personal soul with unique memores and desires. These memories and desires guide the course of your life to the fulfillment of your soul’s highest purpose.
The second sheath of the causal body is the collective domain. This realm calls you to live a mythical life. The gods and goddesses that reside within your sould have one desire—to express their creative power through you.
The deepest aspect of your being is beyond space, time and causality, yet gives rise to the manifest universe. This is the universal domain of spirit in which all distinctions merge into unity. It is known in Sanskrit as Brahman.
Now that you understand that you are a multi-dimensional being, let’s take a few minutes to explore your identity. Please close your eyes, bring your attention into your heart, and listen to the answers that emerge in response to these questions:
Who Am I?
What do I want?
How can I serve?
Please take a few moments to jot down the answers that come to you in your journal. We will suggest that you bring these questions and answers into your awareness each time before you quiet you mind in meditation.
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The pinnacle of accomplishment within the world-renowned Chopra Center is to be certified to teach all three pillars of Ayurveda which includes Yoga, Meditation and the Lifestyle Principles of Ayurveda. Proficiency in—and mastery of—these three disciplines conveys a special designation known as the Chopra Center Vedic Educator. This coveted triple certification represents the highest level of commitment to exploring the depths of Vedanta, Ayurveda and Yoga.
Information for this post was created using information provided to Chopra Center Vedic Educators.
The Image for the Layers of Life was used with permission from the Chopra Center.
©Kay Rice, M.Ed. 2019
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