Layers of Being - The Five Koshas - Part IV Vijnana Kosha

The five koshas, introduced in the Taittirya Upanishad describe humans as having five layers of being, each overlapping the next.  The concept is useful for those with a regular yoga or spiritual practice of some kind.  The fourth layer is vijnana kosha.

Vijnana kosha corresponds to consciousness, or reason; it is the sheath of your inner wisdom, that part of you which knows, your instinctive self, it is expressed through observation or awareness.  It is the ability to stand outside yourself and watch yourself objectively without judgement; it the state in which you observe without attachment and without judgement.  It is what we are always working towards in our yoga practice, however that practice manifests itself.

It is the nature of your brain to move.  That is the job of your mind.  If it stops, my friend, then you are dead.  But what we do in yoga, indeed what we do in all mindfulness practice, is to learn how to dissociate ourselves from the never-ending cascade of thoughts that pass through our mind.  We learn to watch, not too get involved, not to judge.  And this helps us to live better.  It creates a space between what is happening in our lives and our response to it, so that when we feel rage, for example, instead of instantly fighting/shouting/attacking, we discover that we have a moment to notice the feeling of rage, to assess whether it is appropriate given the situation and to choose our response to that stimulus rather than reacting in an automatic, time-honoured way which may not be in our own, or others', best interests.

Working with vijnana kosha is akin to finding compassion for yourself, for when we can observe the story of our lives played out without attachment or judgement, we see ourselves in a kinder light; we observe that the all of the 'stuff' that happens doesn't effect the core of our being, which remains its same, steady self.  When we connect with our essential nature, then we can surf more easily the sometimes tumultuous waves of life; we don't drown in them or find ourselves constantly upturned by the vicissitudes of living.

We begin working with vijnana kosha by observing ourselves kindly while we practice; we watch and we are gentle with ourselves, we let go of expectation and give ourselves only what we need in that moment, we don't look outside ourselves for validation, instead we seek inside for the steady core of our own selves, we don't compare ourselves with other people, we come to appreciate and accept ourselves.  Try to practise from the inside out, feel your way through your asana or meditation practice; drop into your body and leave aside the constant commentary of your brain for the duration.  Don't expect this to be easy, you have spent your whole life living in your head and judging yourself and comparing yourself to other people and/or to an ideal version of yourself that you keep hidden somewhere inside you.  Start by knowing that you are enough and give yourself time to learn how to watch and feel, rather than comment and judge.  This is the work of a lifetime and you move towards it in the same way that you move towards anything worth having: patiently, persistently, hopefully.  If you practise it, you will increase your capacity for achieving it.



  1. It is hard to change the habits of a lifetime and, indeed, the habits society teaches us - is it also hard to want to change?
    How do you eat an elephant? bite at a time! V.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts