The Great Chain of Being
‘Yat Pinde tad Brahmaande’
“As above, so below.” The ancient Vedas and Upanishads say, “Yatha pinde, tatha Brahmande”, translated as: “As is the atom, so is the universe. As is the microcosm, so is the macrocosm.” i.e., The individual is truly cosmic.
‘To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower,
hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.’
- Hierarchical Nested Levels
- Vertical Chain of Being
- Multi-Levels Thinking
- Multi Scale Thinking
- Fractal (Self Similar) Structure
- Holographic Brain, Holographic Universe
- Hierarchy, Heterarchy, and Holarchy
- Parts and Whole ( Part in Whole, Part is the Whole, Whole in the Part)
- Hyper Sets
- Nested Platonic Solids
- Connectivity (Interconnected) Hypothesis
- Myth of Invariance
- Invariance in Time and Space
- Levels of Consciousness
- Sheaths of Being (Kosha)
- 14 Lokas (worlds) in Hinduism
- 11 headed Chenrezig (Tibet Buddhism)- Chenrezig in Tibet / Avalokiteshvara in India/ Kuan-yin in China/ Kannon in Japan.
- Virat Swarup of Krishna (Bhagvat Geeta)
- Realms in Norse Mythology
- Shiva (10), Rudra (18), Bhairav (64)
- Shri Yantra Geometry
- Vasu (8), Rudra (11), Aditya (12),
- Hyper Cube (Tessarat) / Hyper Sphere
- 14 Parts of Maha Vishnu
- Microcosm and Macrocosm
- Theory of Correspondences
- 7 Chakras of Human Body
- Involution and Evolution
- Immanence and Transcendence
- Ascent and Descent
- Jacob’s Ladder
- Jhini Jhini Chaddariya (Songs of Kabir)
- Jambu Dwipa to Pushkar Dwipa
- Board Game of Saap-Seedhi / Snakes and Ladder
- Bhu/Bhuvah/Svah (Terrestial to Celestial)
- Flatland (book)
- Square and Circle / Squaring the Circle
- Three Gunas – Sattva, Rajas, Tamas
- Pancha Bhuttas ( Five Elements)
- Philosophy of Astrology
- Relations of Nakshatras with Gunas
- 72,000 Nadis in Human Body – 14 main Nadis – Pingala, Ida, Sushumna
- Three Doshas – Kapha, Pitta, and Vata in Ayurveda
- Jain Cosmology/Buddhist Cosmology/Hindu Cosmology
- 14 Rajju – Height of Universe in Jain Cosmology
- Three Granthies (Knots) – Brahma (Base of Spine), Vishnu (Heart), Rudra (Between Eyebrows)
- 14 Verses of Maheshvara Sutras (Panini)
- 14 Parts of Osiris in Egypt (Misr) Myths
- Three Bodies – Gross, Subtle, Causal
- Three States – Waking, Dreaming, Sleeping
- Man in the Universe, Universe in Man
- Mind in Man, Man in the Mind
- Mind Only School of Mahayana Buddhism (Yogachara)
Great Chain of Being
Great Chain of Being, also called Chain of Being, conception of the nature of the universe that had a pervasive influence on Western thought, particularly through the ancient Greek Neoplatonists and derivative philosophies during the European Renaissance and the 17th and early 18th centuries. The term denotes three general features of the universe: plenitude, continuity, and gradation. The principle of plenitude states that the universe is “full,” exhibiting the maximal diversity of kinds of existences; everything possible (i.e., not self-contradictory) is actual. The principle of continuity asserts that the universe is composed of an infinite series of forms, each of which shares with its neighbour at least one attribute. According to the principle of linear gradation, this series ranges in hierarchical order from the barest type of existence to the ens perfectissimum, or God.
The idea of the chain of being was first systematized by the Neoplatonist Plotinus, though the component concepts were derived from Plato and Aristotle. Plato’s “idea of the good” in the Republic, eternal, immutable, ineffable, perfect, the universal object of desire, is fused with the demiurge of the Timaeus, who constructed the world of becoming because “he was good, and in one that is good no envy of anything else ever arises.” Aristotle introduced a definition of the continuum and pointed out various graded scales of existence. Thus, in the words of Plotinus, in his Enneads,“The one is perfect because it seeks for nothing, and possesses nothing, and has need of nothing; and being perfect, it overflows, and thus its superabundance produces an Other.” This generation of the many from the one must continue until all possible varieties of being in the descending series are realized.
The scale of being served Plotinus and many later writers as an explanation of the existence of evil in the sense of lack of some good. It also offered an argument for optimism; since all beings other than the ens perfectissimum are to some degree imperfect or evil, and since the goodness of the universe as a whole consists in its fullness, the best possible world will be one that contains the greatest possible variety of beings and so all possible evils. The notion died out in the 19th century but was given renewed currency in the 20th by Arthur O. Lovejoy (The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea, 1936).
General Characteristics of the Renaissance
The Great Chain of Being
Among the most important of the continuities of the Renaissance with the Classical period was the concept of the Great Chain of Being. Its major premise was that every existing thing in the universe had its “place” in a divinely planned hierarchical order, which was pictured as a chain vertically extended. (“Hierarchical” refers to an order based on a series of higher and lower, strictly ranked gradations.) An object’s “place” depended on the relative proportion of “spirit” and “matter” it contained–the less “spirit” and the more “matter,” the lower down it stood. At the bottom, for example, stood various types of inanimate objects, such as metals, stones, and the four elements (earth, water, air, fire). Higher up were various members of the vegetative class, like trees and flowers. Then came animals; then humans; and then angels. At the very top was God. Then within each of these large groups, there were other hierarchies. For example, among metals, gold was the noblest and stood highest; lead had less “spirit” and more matter and so stood lower. (Alchemy was based on the belief that lead could be changed to gold through an infusion of “spirit.”) The various species of plants, animals, humans, and angels were similarly ranked from low to high with in their respective segments. Finally, it was believed that between the segments themselves, there was continuity (shellfish were lowest among animals and shaded into the vegetative class, for example, because without locomotion, they most resembled plants).
Besides universal orderliness, there was universal interdependence. This was implicit in the doctrine of “correspondences,” which held that different segments of the chain reflected other segments. For example, Renaissance thinkers viewed a human being as a microcosm (literally, a “little world”) that reflected the structure of the world as a whole, the macrocosm; just as the world was composed of four “elements” (earth, water, air, fire), so too was the human body composed of four substances called “humours,” with characteristics corresponding to the four elements. (Illness occurred when there was an imbalance or “disorder” among the humours, that is, when they did not exist in proper proportion to each other.) “Correspondences” existed everywhere, on many levels. Thus the hierarchical organization of the mental faculties was also thought of as reflecting the hierarchical order within the family, the state, and the forces of nature. When things were properly ordered, reason ruled the emotions, just as a king ruled his subjects,
the parent ruled the child, and the sun governed the planets. But when disorder was present in one realm, it was correspondingly reflected in other realms. For example, in Shakespeare’s King Lear, the simultaneous disorder in family relationships and in the state (child ruling parent, subject ruling king) is reflected in the disorder of Lear’s mind (the loss of reason) as well as in the disorder of nature (the raging storm). Lear even equates his loss of reason to “a tempest in my mind.”
According to the chain of being concept, all existing things have their precise place and function in the universe, and to depart from one’s proper place was to betray one’s nature. Human beings, for example, were pictured as placed between the beasts and the angels. To act against human nature by not allowing reason to rule the emotions–was to descend to the level of the beasts.
From From the Great Chain of Being to Postmodernism in three Easy Steps
The 14 Lokas Of Hinduism –
The concept of the 14 Lokas of Hinduism state that they are divided into 7 upper worlds or Vyarthis and the 7 lower ones, known as the Patalas.
The 7 Vyarthis –
1 Satya-loka: Brahma’s loka. Satya-loka planetary system is not eternal. Abode of Truth or of Brahma, where atman are released from the necessity of rebirth.
2 Tapa-loka: Abode of tapas or of other deities. Ayohnija devadas live here.
3 Jana-loka: Abode of the sons of God Brahma.
4 Mahar-loka: The abode of great sages and enlightened beings like Markendeya and other rishies.
5 Svar-loka: Region between the sun and polar star, the heaven of the god Indra. Indra, devatas, Rishies, Gandharvas and Apsaras live here: a heavenly paradise of pleasure, where all the 330 million Hindu gods (Deva) reside along with the king of gods, Indra.
6 Bhuvar-loka (aka Pitri Loka): Sun, planets, stars. Space between earth and the sun, inhabited by semi-divine beings. It is a real region, the atmosphere, the life-force.
7 Bhur-loka: The Vishnu Purana says that the earth is merely one of thousands of billions of inhabited worlds like itself to be found in the universe.
The 7 Patalas –
1 Atala-loka: Atala is ruled by Bala – a son of Maya – who possesses mystical powers. By one yawn, Bala created three types of women – svairiṇīs , who like to marry men from their own group; kāmiṇīs, who marry men from any group, and the puḿścalīs.
2 Vitala-loka: Vitala is ruled by the god Hara-Bhava – a form of Shiva, who dwells with attendant ganas including ghosts and goblins as the master of gold mines. The residents of this realm are adorned with gold from this region.
3 Sutala-loka: Sutala is the kingdom of the pious demon king Bali.
4 Talatala-loka: Talātala is the realm of the demon-architect Maya, who is well-versed in sorcery. Shiva, as Tripurantaka, destroyed the three cities of Maya but was later pleased with Maya and gave him this realm and promised to protect him.
5 Mahatala-loka: Mahātala is the abode of many-hooded Nagas (serpents) – the sons of Kadru, headed by the Krodhavasha (Irascible) band of Kuhaka, Taksshaka, Kaliya and Sushena. They live here with their families in peace but always fear Garuda, the eagle-man.
6 Rasatala-loka: Rasātala is the home of the demons – Danavas and Daityas, who are mighty but cruel. They are the eternal foes of Devas (the gods). They live in holes like serpents.
7 Patala-loka: The lowest realm is called Patala or Nagaloka, the region of the Nagas, ruled by Vasuki. Here live several Nagas with many hoods. Each of their hood is decorated by a jewel, whose light illuminates this realm.
Koshas and Lokas in Hinduism
The Five Koshas
Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Satsang in Toulon, France, June 9, 1984
In philosophy, the body, mind and spirit are understood as one continuity, but in fact eastern and western thought were never in agreement with each other. Western philosophy originated from Greece while eastern philosophy originated in India. Greek philosophers in general and western philosophers in particular spoke about the object. Indian philosophers in general and in particular spoke about consciousness, and for many centuries western thinkers could never accept anything beyond object as tangible: here is the object, I can see it, I can touch it, therefore it is.
However, in yoga and in vedanta, object and consciousness are interrelated. In fact, modern science, what you call physics, speaks in exactly the same way as yoga. Both modern physics and ancient yoga move absolutely parallel to each other in explaining the reality of matter and consciousness.
Body, mind and spirit are interconnected, interrelated and interpenetrating. Therefore, a person is a combination of three things: firstly, the gross body, secondly, the subtle or astral body and thirdly, the causal body or unconscious. These three bodies constitute you, me and everyone, but they are gross divisions, broad classifications.
Each body has a dimension and a layer. You can call it a field. Just as you say electromagnetic field or radioactive field, in exactly the same way there are fields in your body. In vedanta, they are known as koshas which means ‘sheaths’. These koshas are five in number: annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya and anandamaya, and are further sub-divisions of the three bodies, which represent the three states of your daily experience.
Every day you have three types of experiences. One is the waking experience in which you experience through your senses and mind. The second experience is dream. In dream you do not experience through the senses, but through your subconscious mind. The third experience is sleep in which there is no knowledge of time and space, no knowledge about yourself or about anything in sleep, but when you get up in the morning, you know that you slept well the night before.
So every day the individual self undergoes these three experiences alternately. These experiences relate to a particular field. Whenever your individual self goes to one particular realm, it has one experience, and as your individual self changes the field, realm or dimension, it has another experience. For example, if you go to the North Pole, you will feel cold, or if you go to a tropical country, you will feel hot.
The first kosha is annamaya, the physical body. Annamaya kosha can be sattwic, rajasic or tamasic. The word sattwa means harmony, balance and tranquillity, where you create a balance between activity and peace. Rajas means dynamic, active, violent. Tamas means dull and inert. Through the hatha yoga shatkriyas, you develop a sattwic annamaya kosha and when annamaya kosha becomes sattwic, then the bouncing of energy is much greater.
In modern science it is said that all the time, the whole day and night, atomic energy is bouncing in and out from this physical body like a pendulum. Of course, you cannot see it, but scientifically it has been seen that just like a pendulum swings from left to right, left to right, in the same manner everybody is emitting or throwing away these atoms. The sattwic body creates a longer bouncing, a tamasic body perhaps no bouncing at all, while a rajasic body has a bouncing but it has no limitation.
Now when these atoms or atomic particles bounce off your body and come back, there is a period of rest. That period of rest is always in the pendulum also. When it goes to the left and then turns to the right, there is a moment of rest. In the same way, when you do pranayama, in between inhalation and exhalation there is a point of rest. That is called timelessness and it is very short. Sometimes it can be a one-thousandth part of one second and sometimes a ten-thousandth part of a second. In that short period, the body transmits energy which is sattwic, rajasic or tamasic. Therefore, annamaya kosha, which is the container of the other koshas, is tackled through the practices of the hatha yoga shatkriyas.
The second kosha is pranamaya, the kosha composed of prana, or life force. This prana is a part of cosmic life. Each and every creature, each and every thing in this world is a part of cosmic life. Prana is the force or energy for all kinds of motion. Prana is a Sanskrit word meaning movement, motion or vibration.
Pranic energy is in constant motion throughout life. It is not only in human beings, animals, herbs or trees, not only in oceans and mountains, minerals and bacteria. The tiniest part of an atom has prana. This prana is both visible and invisible. We need not talk about invisible prana now. Visible prana is manifesting before you. Wherever there is prana there is movement, growth, change and activity and where there is no prana there is no activity. When we die the body dissipates because it has become completely bereft of prana.
Prana is one item of your total composition and should also be dealt with in yoga. If the pranas are agitated or there is a pranic imbalance, there is imbalance everywhere. To understand prana you need to know a little about positive and negative atoms. The pranas are in the atmosphere in the form of positive and negative ions, which keep on bouncing, migrating and reintegrating. A balance has to be created between them.
If you study the science of the behaviour of positive and negative ions, you will understand the importance of balancing the prana in the body, because prana represents the positive energy in the body, and mind represents the negative energy. When there is a balance between positive and negative energy, then you can see illumination and everything is in harmony.
This prana is responsible for the action of the karmendriyas, the organs of action, just as electrical energy is responsible for the functioning of a microphone or light bulb. If the electricity which is being supplied somewhere in 220 volts becomes 440 volts, everything will burn. If the electricity becomes 120 volts, then there will also be a crisis. Therefore, the electricity has to be adjusted according to the capacity of the microphone or the bulbs. Similarly, there has to be coordination between the prana and the indriyas or sense organs. If there is too much prana, then your children are sometimes hyperactive. Hyperactivity in the body is due to hyperactivity of the prana.
There are five karmendriyas: feet, hands, vocal cords, urinary and excretory systems. Indriya means vehicle, tool or sense. Karma means action. Through these five karmendriyas you perform five gross actions. Prana is the force behind them. You have seen how old people become slow due to lack of prana. Pranamaya kosha is the energy in annamaya kosha.
There are five main pranas: prana, apana, udana, samana and vyana. These forms of prana control various functions in the physical body. For example, urination, excretion, insemination and childbirth are consequences of apana. Then there are five auxiliary or secondary pranas.
Prana is not a mechanical outcome of the body as it is understood in modern medical science. According to the classical tradition prana enters the womb in the fourth month of pregnancy. When an embryo is developed in the mother’s womb, it is part of the mother’s body and prana. After the third month, the independent or individual pranas manifest in the foetus. That is to say, from the fourth month, the mother’s prana and the prana of the embryo become two different pranas. Therefore, remember that prana is universal energy.
Pranamaya kosha is purified through the practice of pranayama, because pranayama makes the pranic energy penetrate into each and every cell and fibre of the body. Pranayama does not literally mean breathing exercise. The word pranayama is composed of two ideas, prana and ayama, meaning field, dimension or area. Pranayama means extending the field of prana. In this physical body you have a field of prana. It is the subtle form of energy and can be measured. This prana shakti can also get blocked. It can be in excess in some parts of the body and sometimes there is an imbalance in the prana.
The third kosha is manomaya, the kosha composed of the mind. Mind is consciousness. It is a field of energy by itself. Even as prana is the positive field of energy, mind is the negative field of energy. In Sanskrit, the mind is known as manas, and has three dimensions. In fact, in Samkhya philosophy, they say that the mind has ten dimensions. Here they mean the mind of everyone, not only of human beings but of lower animals, the vegetable kingdom, the mind of each and everything in this world.
There are ten stages in the evolution of the mind from the most crude to the most fine. If you want to study those ten stages, you should read the Samkhya Sutras. However, out of those ten stages of mind, three are known to human beings: the conscious mind, the subconscious mind and the unconscious mind. Now these three stages are divisions of the human mind. The literal meaning of manas is ‘that by which you cognize, perceive and understand’. Perception, cognition and understanding are the basic and primary qualities of the mind.
This mind is connected with time, space and causality. What are past, present and future? They are the three so-called divisions of the same mind. What is the form of the mind? It is said that the mind moves at the greatest speed. Do you know the speed of an object? French trains run at 240 kilometres per hour. You know the speed of sound and of light, but do you know the speed of the mind. If only you could create a mental train! The mind is a very subtle unit and when it goes to the subconscious level, it begins to go into the unknown past.
Carl Jung used to talk about archetypes, dreams and visions. He said there is no known source of these things. Whether they are transferred to you from your parents or from a super space, from your previous incarnations or from some unknown transmissions, there is a primitive stock of archetypes within you. This is called samskara. It is known as the seed body or the unconscious. These are the three broad divisions of the mind.
Now this mind can be brought closer, that is to say, time, space and causality can be brought closer. When we are on the external conscious plane, the distance between time, space and causality is long and when you are in meditation, then the gap between time, space and causality is very short. In fact, if the mind can sometimes stop, time stops. A lot of work has been done on this by modern physicists.
The mind which I am talking about is part of the cosmic mind. Of course, I think that I have an individual mind. Everyone thinks this, but it is ignorance because we do not know, just like an ignorant person may feel that the light burning in the light bulb is individual, but another person understands that the energy is coming from the powerhouse. In the same way, this mind is part of the universal mind. How can we put this mind in touch with the cosmic mind? Through raja yoga practices.
The fourth kosha is vijnanamaya. Vijnana means psyche. Vijnana is a Sanskrit word from the prefix vi and jnana meaning knowledge or awareness, inner perception or experience. Vijnana has two meanings: external science and also inner experience. Therefore, whenever you have any experience which is subjective in nature, it is a consequence of vijnanamaya kosha. Whatever you are dreaming is a projection of vijnanamaya kosha, and in your meditation, concentration or mantra yoga, when you see lights and flowers, figures, angels or saints, smell perfumes or hear sounds, it is the consequence or result of vijnanamaya kosha.
Vijnanamaya kosha is related to a very unknown part of the universe and it is a link or sutra between the conscious mind, the individual mind and the universal mind. Universal knowledge comes to the conscious mind through vijnanamaya kosha or the psychic mind. Vijnanamaya kosha does not depend on time, space and causation factors.
You may not have seen Peking, but vijnanamaya kosha can give you a complete film of Peking because it is not limited by time past, present or future. The mind has its eyes on the object, but vijnanamaya kosha has its eye on the universe, and therefore Hindus say that vijnanamaya kosha has a thousand heads and a thousand eyes, a thousand hands and a thousand feet. This means it can see anywhere and think anything.
How can it be developed? It can be developed through tantra because tantra is related to vijnanamaya kosha. The tantric practices act as a catalyst because it is in you, just as curd and butter are in milk, but cannot be seen as separate unless they are released. Matter has energy in it, but when you look at matter, can you see the energy? No, you cannot. Even if you believe that there is energy in matter, still you cannot see it. Then you adopt a method to separate the energy from the matter. That is what nuclear energy is. All energy is inherent in matter. In the same way, vijnanamaya kosha is inherent within you but it is hidden in you like butter is hidden in milk. You have to separate it; you have to release your vijnanamaya kosha.
The fifth organism is anandamaya kosha. It is not possible to translate the word ananda. Some translate it as bliss or happiness, but ananda is when there is no happiness and no unhappiness. In happiness you are jumping, in unhappiness you are dull – sometimes low, sometimes high. So your mind is swinging. In ananda there is no swinging. There is unified experience and that experience does not change.
Death cannot change that experience; birth cannot change it; love and hatred cannot make your experiences swing. When your mind has become steady in experience and does not fluctuate under any condition, that is ananda. So we call it homogenous experience. The experience which you have in your life every day is not homogenous. It is divided and that is why swamis have ananda in their name, to remind them that they must achieve the state of mind where there is no swinging. So, anandamaya kosha means the kosha which comprises homogenous experience.
In many books, anandamaya kosha is translated as the blissful sheath. But I have thought about ananda for many years and have come to the conclusion that there is a state of mind which does not change, despite anything that happens in life. With that state of mind you can live with all the conditions of life. You can live with a good partner or a bad partner, prosperity or poverty, disease or death, in a discotheque, on a beach, a hotel, everywhere, because nothing affects you. You are where you are, firmly rooted in your own self, but at the same time you can interact with everyone. You can even fight, but still not be affected.
The three gunas
You are composed of these five sheaths or koshas, but you are not that. These five koshas belong to the lower existence, not to the range of supreme knowledge. They are controlled by the three gunas: sattwa, rajas and tamas. Guna means quality, faculty or attribute. The three gunas belong to nature. In this context nature does not mean beautiful places, mountains and hills.
In philosophy nature means prakriti, the universal law. There is a universal law which controls all, from biggest to tiniest, and it is inherent in the thing itself. Take a tree, for example. It is controlled by the laws inherent in the tree. In the same way every human being and every animal is controlled by a law which is inherent in it. My controller is inherent in me and that is the law. That is prakriti, and it controls, maintains or manages each and every law by the three gunas.
These three gunas again control the five koshas. The three gunas work in unison. Nothing is controlled by one guna. The body is controlled by tamoguna, but there is also a little bit of rajas and sattwa. In the same way, anandamaya kosha is controlled by sattwa guna, but there is a trace of the other two gunas. The mind is controlled by rajoguna, but there is a trace of the other two gunas. The three gunas control the five koshas in cooperation with each other. They all have a share. In one kosha, one guna may have a major share and in the others a very minor share, but the proportion changes from time to time.
Where can we place yoga here? First of all, the various practices of yoga purify the mechanism of these koshas. Thereby they can change the quantum of the gunas in each kosha. For example, the body is predominantly tamasic, but by the practices of hatha yoga, sattwic food and a good daily program, you can increase sattwa guna in the body. In the same way you can change the quantum of the gunas in each kosha.
When you change the quantum of the gunas in these five koshas through the yoga practices, a balance is created and when balance is created, then greater awareness takes place. These five koshas are separate classifications. You can experience them during your yoga practice. When you meditate, you pierce through or penetrate each and every kosha.
There are many books on the koshas. One is Vivekachudamani, a very famous book by Adi Shankaracharya, the second is Panchadashi, a very famous book in fifteen chapters dealing with terminologies in yoga and vedanta, and the third is Samkhya Sutras. These three are authentic classical texts.
The five koshas, five tattwas, three gunas and various forms of yoga should be studied in conjunction with each other because they are related to everyone. Even animals have koshas, but the nature of evolution is different. Animals have a well developed annamaya kosha and pranamaya kosha, but their manomaya kosha is in a rudimentary state of evolution, while their anandamaya kosha is not at all manifest. In little insects, annamaya kosha is there but pranamaya kosha is not fully developed and manomaya kosha is unmanifest there.
So the five koshas are not the sole property of human beings. Anything in this universe which has a body has five koshas, but as it goes on evolving then the later koshas become more and more prominent. A yoga practitioner has a developed vijnanamaya kosha while one who has achieved the result of yoga has anandamaya kosha fully developed. But beyond these five koshas is the absolute self. The purpose of existence is to experience that cosmic self and in order to understand and experience that cosmic self, you have to first understand these five koshas and then separate them.
Awakening the Vijnanamaya Kosha (Part 1)
Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati
Satsang to Iranian yoga students at Rikhia, 24th January 2007
Please tell us about vijnanamaya kosha and the practices to awaken it.
Shalom! Salamalekam! Shabahkher! Swagatam! Namaskar! Namo Narayan! and welcome to the land of yoga. Although yoga by virtue of being a science is the universal birthright of mankind, which necessarily implies that it does not belong to any sect or group of people, nor to any country or even religion, yet I would not be wrong in saying that India is the land of yoga because it is here that this knowledge was preserved. It was in this land that this knowledge was kept alive for centuries amidst the ravages of war and turbulence of history, and for that we have to thank those great souls, the rishis and munis, who were the original scientists on this planet.
Scientists are those who, with complete freedom of mind, without any bias or preconceived notions, explore and probe deeply into the underlying mysteries of the universe and life therein. In that sense, these rishis were scientists because they devoted their entire lives to exploring the mysterious terrain of inner life. With utmost honesty, courage, sincerity and dedication they spent their time unravelling the deeper layers of the mind and consciousness, discovering its mighty potential and the source from which it has sprung. Yes, the credit for this discovery goes entirely to these ancient scientists of the vedic era, just as the credit for unravelling the mysteries of matter goes to the scientists of the modern era.
Of course, in those times they were not known as scientists. Instead they were known as rishis, which means seer, or munis, which means sage, or sannyasins, which means one who has entrusted himself to the divine will. Although they are often mistaken to be priests or religious sectarian pontiffs, that is not the case. They may have been born into a particular religion, just as you and I have been born into the Hindu, Muslim or Christian religion, but that did not in any way influence their quest for the mystery called ‘life’. Who knows what religion they followed in those prehistoric vedic times? We cannot say for sure because we know so little about it and what the historians tell us is mere speculation.
Just as the only reality the scientists of today know and believe in is that of matter, the only reality these ancients believed in was that of consciousness. Their entire quest was in this direction for they believed that the purpose of life was to discover the infinite, that reality which is not subject to death or decay. The finite perishes and after so much spent energy, one finally realizes that the source of this finite world is what one should be able to capture, for in that lies the ability to be master of both the finite as well as infinite worlds.
It was this magnificent quest so full of difficulties and perils that led them to the awakening of the vijnanamaya kosha, and it is on account of their discoveries and the records that they left behind that today we can sit here and discuss this important subject. Otherwise we would not even know that we have a vijnanamaya kosha!
The five koshas
According to the science of yoga, there are five koshas which surround this body in much the same way as the inner core of an onion is covered by layers of skin. Only, in the case of koshas, each subsequent kosha is more subtle and unperceivable to the naked eye than the one preceding it. One can say that these koshas can only be realized with the opening of the inner eye, in the state of meditation.
The first is annamaya kosha, which is the physical sheath made from food. Anna means food. The grain which you eat is called anna and the body which is composed of food is one that you can touch, see and feel. It is the substratum for the subtler koshas, which also assume the shape and size of the body.
Subtler than that which is not visible to the naked eye is the pranamaya kosha, which instead of food is made of prana or energy. You ought to know that your body is enveloped by this field of prana and when you leave this room, you will carry it out along with your body. Although you can’t see it, the pranamaya kosha follows you wherever you go.
However, if you raise your awareness by the practices of yoga, then you will see the pranamaya kosha in the form of an aura which surrounds the body. Many people are born with this natural gift, where they are able to read the aura of people and determine what is in store for them, because this aura keeps changing all the time according to the state of health you are in at that time. Even your moods influence the pranic aura. The phrases ‘green with envy’ or ‘red with rage’ are just a few indications of the vibrations emitted by the aura according to our mental state.
Beyond the pranamaya kosha, this physical body is surrounded by a more subtle energy which is purely mental in nature, known as the manomaya kosha. It is at the level of manomaya that the chatushtaya antahkarana, comprising manas or mind, buddhi or intellect, ahamkara or ego, chitta or memory spring up and begin to perceive, cognize, record, understand, rationalize, discriminate, accept, reject, compare, to name only a few of the myriad functions that it performs effortlessly in our lives. Without the manomaya kosha we would be no better than the vegetables sitting on your kitchen shelf!
This kosha is the seat of para or empirical knowledge. It beholds the world around and although an instrument of inner consciousness, it has the capacity to externalize the awareness as well as withdraw it inwards. When it is under the sway of the senses, it is fully occupied with the external impulses that it receives from the world of smells, sounds, lights, colours, touch and taste. But there are times when, dissatisfied with the finite nature of these experiences, the mind propels inwards, and at that time it receives the impulses of the self which recharge and rejuvenate the manomaya kosha.
This happens in the state of meditation too, and that is why meditation broadens the horizons of the mind, sharpens the intellect, brings the ego in tune with nature and strengthens the chitta.
Beyond manomaya or mind is the sheath of intuition or vijnanamaya kosha, and needless to say it is subtler than all the preceding koshas. The Taittiriya Upanishad elucidates the existence of the vijnanamaya kosha in the following manner: “Separate from the self comprised of mind, there is another inner self comprised of intuitive knowledge. This one is also like the shape of a person like the preceding koshas. Faith is its head, Tasye shraddhaiva shiraha; righteousness its right wing and truth its left wing, hritam dakshinah pakshaha satyamuttarah pakshaha; yoga is its soul, yoga atma, and maha its foundation, maha puchham pratishtaha.”
Koshas and lokas
Interestingly, by stating that maha is the foundation of vijnanamaya, we derive a clue as to how the koshas are also linked to the lokas, which are planes of consciousness one experiences as the awareness gains ascent from annamaya to pranamaya to manomaya to vijnanamaya. The sapta or seven lokas are bhu, bhuvar, swar, maha, jana, tapo and satya. While bhu, bhuvar and swar, the earthly, intermediate and divine planes, are related to annamaya, pranamaya and manomaya, maha, the plane of siddhas, jana, the plane of rishis and munis, and tapo, the plane of liberated souls, relate to awakening, stabilization and illumination of vijnanamaya.
Satya loka, the plane of ultimate bliss, corresponds to anandamaya kosha, which is none other than pure consciousness. The Taittiriya Upanishad defines anandamaya kosha as having the shape or form of a person with love as its head, joy as its right wing and delight as its left wing, bliss as its trunk and Brahman as its support or foundation.
Maha loka, the plane of siddhas and saints, is the foundation or support of vijnanamaya kosha. It is from here onwards that the superstructure of heightened awareness is constructed. If the foundation is shaky, in other words if the siddhis which begin to manifest become the object of focus or enjoyment, then the siddha will surely fall back to lower planes of consciousness. However, if he does not allow them to distract the awareness, especially when he is in a state of samadhi, then ascent of awareness to higher lokas known as jana, the realm of rishis and munis, and tapo, the realm of liberated souls, the jivanmuktas and videhamuktas, is definitely assured.
From vijnanamaya to anandamaya
The above is such an important stage in the ascent of awareness that the Raja Yoga Sutras of Patanjali has devoted an entire section to this mega event, when the consciousness is able to perceive the four dimensions of time, past, present, future and eternity. Patanjali has termed this event when siddhis manifest as vibhooti. He calls it the accomplishment of yoga and has cautioned the aspirant against becoming distracted by this accomplishment. It is the state equivalent to paroksha anubhuti, or awareness of only one point without consciousness of one’s own self. Deepening awareness of paroksha anubhuti leads the practitioner to aparokshanubhuti, which correlates to the bliss of anandamaya kosha.
So you can say that vijnanamaya is the doorway to anandamaya. The experiences of vijnanamaya give you glimpses of what is in store for you as your awareness begins to experience pure bliss, but the experience again drops due to the appearance and disappearance of distractions and one-pointedness of mind. All siddhas and saints must have passed through this stage before they attained enlightenment. The tales about Buddha, where prior to nirvana he encountered the demons and bewitching damsels, as well as the forty days and forty nights when Christ encountered temptation before he experienced God, point a finger in this direction.
When there is awakening in vijnanamaya kosha, siddhis begin to manifest. The practitioner becomes clairvoyant and telepathic; he begins to know many things about people and events before they happen, which come to him in the form of dreams, thoughts or visions. He may be able to appear at many places to many people at the same time. He develops the power to read others’ thoughts and also to change them. Or else he may develop healing powers. His words, touch or glance can heal the deadliest of diseases which no doctor can cure. In some exceptional cases, depending on the extent of his advent into the level of vijnanamaya kosha, he may even be able to resurrect life or enter another person’s body. A person exhibiting such powers could easily be mistaken for God, which perhaps many did who were unaware of the manifestation of siddhis through the power of yoga when there is awakening in vijnanamaya kosha.
Yoga has boldly declared that you are not just the body you perceive with the eyes, nor are you just blood, bones, marrow, muscles, nerves and the different organs that keep you alive. You are much more than that. In fact, what you see of yourself with the eye is sustained by what you cannot see. If the unseen part of you ceased to exist, the seen part of you would wither and die. This unseen part of you is composed of the five koshas as mentioned above. The aim of all the practices of yoga, without exception, is to energize and awaken these koshas until ultimately you experience awakening in vijnanamaya kosha. That alone is the purpose of yoga.
Koshas and shariras
Now, you ought to know that these five koshas belong to or co-relate with three bodies that constitute your being. These three bodies, which are known as sthula or gross, sukshma or subtle and karana or causal, along with the koshas also influence each and every experience and reaction you face or evoke throughout your life. For example, the experiences related to annamaya kosha belong to the sthula sharira or gross body, whereas the sukshma sharira or subtle body is the arena for the experiences of pranamaya and manomaya koshas. The most subtle body, known as karana sharira or causal body, which stores all of our karmas, samskaras and impressions of many, many incarnations is the one we encounter when we speak about awakening in vijnanamaya kosha.
As life evolved through 84 lakh yonis or incarnations, from an amoeba to a bacteria or virus and then on to insects, plants, fish, birds, animals and finally to the human being, it carried the impressions of its experiences. All of these experiences, pleasant and unpleasant, are stored in the vijnanamaya kosha. In order to step into the arena of spiritual ecstasy, you have to pass through this zone and face what is stored there eye to eye. You simply cannot avoid it, just as you cannot avoid your thoughts or your feelings and dreams. The practices of yoga can accelerate this process and accomplish this in a systematic and graded manner. It is only when the awakening occurs in vijnanamaya and that experience is stabilized, that the transcendental experiences of ecstasy and bliss related to anandamaya kosha arise in the consciousness.
In modern psychology, the causal body or karana sharira is known as the realm of the unconscious. You may even term it as the psyche of man. It is the mythical Pandora’s Box, virtually the skeleton in the closet. You cannot know what is stored there until there is awakening in vijnanamaya kosha. When you experience awakening in manomaya kosha, you are still within the realm of buddhi or intellect. Everything that you experience will be within the fold of logic and reason and thus there is a degree of control of the experiences and their outcome.
The dimension of intuition
Vijnanamaya kosha transcends intellect and enters into the dimension of intuition, where the mind does not work. This mind of yours which you are familiar with does not function in vijnanamaya kosha; nor does the intellect. Each one of us operates at the level of instinct, intelligence, intellect and intuition. Till the level of intellect you are under the influence and in the field of manomaya kosha. But when you are able to transcend this intellect, even for a second, you will experience an intuitive flash about something or other that has been on your mind. All of us have at some time in our life experienced this intuition, which comes in flashes due to a sudden contact with the vijnanamaya kosha. But they drop. You get intuitive, but you are not able to hold on to that state of awareness and once again you regress to the hold of intellect and intelligence.
The aim of yoga is not just to induce these abilities. More than that, the focus of yoga is to attain mastery or control of these supernormal powers that belong to the realm of intuition. That intuition should act as a tool in your hands, just like your intellect, mind or intelligence. All the practices of yoga are designed to take you to this point. And each one of us has to find a way for ourselves, because each one of us has a different temperament and each one of us has our own dharma which determines our own individual needs.
(To be continued in the next issue)
Awakening the Vijnanamaya Kosha (Part 2)
Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati
In the journey to awaken vijnanamaya kosha, first of all, you have to find out exactly where you are standing at this present moment. What exactly is your temperament? Are you tamasic, rajasic or sattwic? While it is true that each individual is a combination of these three gunas or qualities that belong to the realm of prakriti or nature, still one or the other is predominant in us. Are you by nature a procrastinator, lazy, dull and negligent in your duties and responsibilities; if you are, then you are tamasic by nature. Of course, we are all lazy at some time of the day, but tamasic individuals are unable to rise above these tendencies, no matter how hard they try. On the other hand, predominantly rajasic people are always on the go, trying to accomplish and achieve something, having a lot of desires and passions. Or are you sattwic, full of knowledge, peace and tranquillity? Is that the point where you are going to start your journey to the awakening of vijnanamaya kosha?
Preparing for the awakening
After discovering your temperament, you have to prepare the vehicle which is this body, annamaya kosha. The journey starts from the body because it is through this vehicle that you can reach that point of intuition. The next thing you have to gear up is the fuel to move this vehicle to higher states of experience which are beyond the gross and mundane. Just as you need refined high octane fuel to drive your Mercedes Benz, Bentley or Rolls Royce, in the same way you need high octane fuel to drive this body and mind out of the clutches of the sensorial experience into the state of meditation.
According to yoga, that fuel is known as prana. Prana is not oxygen, nor is it the breath. Prana is the energy which flows in the breath. It is the vital energy, the source of life. So first of all you have to prepare the vehicle, and you also have to see that the quantum of prana which is flowing in the body is sufficient to take you to that heightened state of awareness. If there is an insufficient flow of prana in the body, then you simply cannot meditate. You may be able to meditate for a short period, but again the awareness drops. But to awaken vijnanamaya kosha you have to have enough fuel to allow unhindered and uninterrupted meditation.
So you have to find ways to increase as well as conserve the quantum of prana which is being dissipated and lost in the myriad activities you engage yourself in throughout the day. Prana is depleted in the digestion of food; you also lose prana when you talk, sing or dance. In fact everything requires prana, from blinking the eyelids and sneezing to thinking and contemplating. A lot of prana is wasted when you are worried, anxious, frightened or upset, which means you have to also learn the mental disciplines of yoga so that you don’t waste prana in useless thoughts, but instead are able to conserve it for meditation. This means that along with the vehicle and the fuel, you also have to take care of the driver, which is the mind. You have to keep the mind in order if you want to dive into the experiences of vijnanamaya kosha. By mind, I mean the totality of mind which constitutes the conscious, subconscious and unconscious.
The path of yoga
Good health or a beautiful body is not the aim of yoga. Fitness, beauty and youth are a by-product or side effect of yoga, not its final goal. Just as modern medicines produce side effects – for example, long usage of aspirin results in peptic ulcers or some other drug results in night blindness or vertigo or stiff joints – yoga too has a side effect. The difference is that the side effects of yoga are not detrimental; instead, they always have a positive and beneficial influence on the body and mind. You derive good health and attain clarity and focus of mind. Your intellect and memory are sharpened and your capacity to take correct decisions improves. You acquire confidence, poise and grace. These are only some of the side effects of yoga, but they are certainly not the aim or purpose of yoga.
The purpose of yoga is far more sublime. It is to prepare you for that ultimate state of meditation or transcendental experience. Through the practice of asana you first of all purify the entire physical structure and organs which constitute the body. The heart, lungs, liver, kidney, endocrine, nervous and circulatory systems are purified and the body is brought to an optimum condition. Then through the practice of pranayama you increase the level of prana, which increases the flow of blood to all the organs of the body and also to the brain, which is the most vital organ for meditation.
When all the organs are functioning properly and the flow of prana is unobstructed, then calmness and a peace descend on you, which is essential for meditation. In fact, peace of mind is a prerequisite and not a consequence of meditation as we normally tend to think. Unless you have attained peace of mind you cannot ever meditate, because the distractions of mind will simply not allow you to reach that heightened state. Instead of concentration, the mind will be wandering everywhere.
Asana and pranayama are practised to induce a balance and harmony between the body and mind, or you may say the physical and mental activities. Asanas do not just influence the organs, they influence your emotions as well. Together they play an important part in regulating the turbulent emotions which influence your attitude, responses and perception of the events in your life.
Through the practices of asana and pranayama you can directly instigate an immediate influence on the quantum of prana which flows through 72,000 channels or nadis throughout your entire body. Although all the nadis are to be purified, for this there are three which are most important, known as ida, pingala and sushumna.
Ida nadi, which corresponds to the sympathetic nervous system, is responsible for your mental activity, and pingala nadi, which corresponds to the sympathetic nervous system, is responsible for your physical activity. Originating at the root of the spine, they wind their way upwards, intersecting at a few junction points from where they send offshoots to all the different parts of the body, conveying prana right from your head down to your toes. An imbalance in the flow of these two nadis not only results in physical or mental sickness, but also obstructs awakening of the third nadi, sushumna, which corresponds to the autonomic nervous system.
The practices of yoga are intended to create a balance between the flow of these two nadis, which carry physical and mental energy to every part of the body, as that paves the way for the grand awakening of sushumna. Because it is only with the awakening of sushumna that experiences of vijnanamaya kosha begin to take place. Unless and until you are able to awaken sushumna through the balance of ida and pingala, you will not have the experience of vijnanamaya kosha. That is the sum and substance of what you have to do for awakening of vijnanamaya kosha.
Stages of awakening
This awakening takes place in three stages, which yoga terms as pratyahara, dharana and dhyana. As you become proficient in the practices of asana and pranayama and attain a balance in the flow of ida and pingala, you will find your mind becoming more and more introverted and that suddenly it is easier for you to withdraw your awareness from the external to the internal. That awareness, which is deeply attracted by the sense perception of sound, taste, smell, sight and touch, is able to transcend the influence of the senses and turn inwards. In other words, you are able to shut off the external world for some time and enter into the inner dimension. This is known as pratyahara and mastery of this state is essential before you can progress any further to the next stage. There are several ways prescribed to induce pratyahara, but pranayama is one of the most effective ways to perfect it, no matter whether you are temperamentally tamasic, rajasic or sattwic.
In the brief moments when you find that you are able to achieve this enormously difficult feat of sense withdrawal or pratyahara, you will need to fix that awareness on an inner point so that the concentrated energy that you are directing inwards does not dissipate, scatter or diminish. This inner focus or fixed concentration on a point is known as dharana. As you build your proficiency in these two practices with regular practice, the third stage of dhyana or meditation occurs. There are no rigid barriers between pratyahara, dharana and dhyana. Perfection of one spontaneously leads to the other.
When you do the practices of asana and pranayama, particularly pranayama, you may at any time spontaneously experience the state of pratyahara. If this state of pratyahara continues for some time, the mental energy will automatically become concentrated and dharana will occur. And as soon as the mind is concentrated, the internal state of dhyana or meditation simply happens, which is none other than the experience of awakening in vijnanamaya kosha, and glimpses of the experience of bliss and ecstasy related to anandamaya kosha begin to filter through.
Experiencing vijnanamaya kosha
The most important thing you have to know is that vijnanamaya kosha is the realm of your unconscious mind or psyche. It is a world of signs and symbols, colours and lights. And your unconscious is a part of the collective unconscious. It is directly linked to the collective unconsciousness or hiranyagarbha, the cosmic womb, that holds everything that has ever come into existence or is waiting to come into existence. It is the cosmic storehouse to which the unconscious mind of each and every individual is linked. That is why when you have experience of vijnanamaya kosha you become intuitive, because you begin to perceive things which belong to the four dimensions of time, the past, present, future and beyond that to eternity.
When your mental frequencies transcend time, space and object to attain a heightened frequency, that knowledge becomes available to you. The collective unconscious is a definite reality, where everything that has happened, everything that is happening and everything that will happen is stored. You can say it is a bank of unlimited knowledge. For example, it does not have the limitation of country. It is not Indian knowledge, nor is it American knowledge. Nor does it have the limitation of religion, because religions are man-made. This knowledge is universal. It is the knowledge of existence. It is not restricted to time and space.
Therefore, if you want to enter this realm of your being which is mystical and psychic, it is important that you should try to know a bit about your past: what is your ancestry, where do you come from, what is your heritage? Each one of us has a lineage, a heritage and a tribe from which we have descended. I may be an Indian, but that is not my tribe. That may be my national identity, but it does not indicate my tribe. The identity each one of us holds dear to ourselves of nation, religion and sect is fabricated or stitched so neatly around us that ultimately we are reduced to that and cease to be nothing more than that.
Eventually we fit into that mould, but undoubtedly there is something more to us than that. So each one of us has to go through this process of self-discovery which will take us beyond the confines of caste, country and religion back to our origins from where we descended. Who were those people from whom you descended? What was their tribe? What were their beliefs? Which rituals did they follow? What mantras did they chant? What methods did they employ to alter the consciousness?
You may be American by birth, but you may belong to a tribe that has its roots in India. From the North Pole to the South Pole, from Peru to Alaska, there are many, many thousands of tribes that have existed since time immemorial, who later congregated in different countries, different sects, different beliefs and different religions. In the course of time, they lost that tribal identity, but that does not alter the fact nor change the reality that those tribal influences will remain embedded in their psyche.
For instance, an Indian belonging to the Santhali tribe of Jharkhand will have a different psychic influence to an Indian belonging to the Toda tribe of the Niligiris. To reach the roots of your ancestry is important if you want to delve into mystic practices, because knowledge of that will help in ascertaining the practices that will yield quick results for you. This is because every tribe has its own set of mystic practices that are peculiar to them. Some tribes used mantras and mystic sounds to reach that mystical state, others used fire rituals, still others had knowledge of herbs or music and dance.
There is not one but thousands of rituals practised by different tribes, which they preserved as long as they maintained their tribal identity. Once they lost that identity, these rituals may have gradually ceased to exist in the conscious mind, but they would certainly have retained their roots somewhere in the unconscious as memory. It is this unconscious memory in the form of symbols and sounds, colours, lights and visions that comes to the fore in mystical practices and generates an altered state of consciousness.
As long as you want to develop the mind, intellect and intelligence, it is perfectly in order that you resort to the knowledge which is available according to the place where you live and your surroundings. But if you want to delve into the mystic practices that will awaken vijnanamaya kosha and develop your intuition, you will need to correlate yourself with your primitive and instinctive origins. That will give you very good results.
Instinct and intellect
Although instinct and intuition are very similar in expression, they are not the same. However, even though they are not the same, they are deeply linked and you may say that they are two sides of the same coin. At one level the consciousness expresses itself as instinct, as it does in the animal kingdom, and at the other end it expresses itself as intuition in humans.
If you observe birds and animals closely, you will find that they know of natural calamities in advance. Is that instinct or intuition? Not only that, they can know of distant events; leave some tasty meat outside in your courtyard and see the swarm of birds and animals that descend there in just a matter of seconds. This is the instinct of survival which perhaps we have inherited from them, which in the course of time can evolve to intuition if we know how to transform it. The difficulty we face is that we have lost sight of our instincts because we rely solely on our intellect and intelligence to survive. The intellect and intelligence is so highly developed in us that it has simply erased the innate instinctive responses and reactions that are still alive in animals. You have to restore that connection with your primeval past if you want to transform your instinct into intuition. Unfortunately, you have sacrificed your instinct at the hands of intelligence and intellect, which in a sense has corrupted your natural responses and led you away from your inner self.
That self, which becomes apparent as there is awakening in vijnanamaya kosha, cannot be realized through the mind. This mind which is responsible for your present experiences has to be separated and thrown out of its present field or range of experience. It is not this mind that illumines your experiences beyond manomaya kosha, but the self that illumines your path.
Intuition is born when the mind is transcended. So long as you function in this mental state of logic, reason and intellect, your intuition will not reveal itself to you. Intuition has no logic, it is pure feeling. It comes to you with amazing clarity as if that event is occurring right before you. For example, once a lady had come to meet my guru and as she entered the room I saw her in a white sari, although she was wearing a bright red one. It was just a flash of a vision and I did not give it much importance until I learnt a few days later that she had become a widow due to a tragic accident. Imagine my amazement when, two weeks after her visit, she again returned for my guru’s blessings, this time in the white sari which I had seen her in. That was intuition working.
This is an important point as well, for intuition first of all reveals calamities, destruction, fatal events, sickness, tragedy and all that is negative. This why the sage Patanjali in ‘Vibhooti Pada’ of the Raja Yoga Sutras has clearly warned against the use, or should I say misuse, of siddhis that arise as a consequence of awakening in vijnanamaya kosha. In fact, he has called them obstacles in the path of yoga – Te samaadhavupasarga vyutthane siddhayah (3:38). To an ordinary person they are a welcome achievement, one that he can boast about and maybe use to earn money, name and fame, but for a serious aspirant they act as hindrances. For if he begins to use them, in time they will disappear and leave him bankrupt. Even if you do not want the siddhis, they will come to you as you progress on the path of yoga, because awakening of vijnanamaya kosha grants vibhootis (divine attainments) and brings out the inherent pratibha (inner light, intuition) in an individual.
Beyond the mind
To awaken vijnanamaya you have to transcend the influence of mind and intellect. The easiest and quickest way to influence the analytical mind and logical intellect is to provide it with a set of practices that defy all logic. Amazingly, according to yoga and tantra, this really works. Mystic practices, involving mantras, rituals, worship, music as well as dance as in the case of the whirling dervishes and Sufi traditions which have been utilized since time immemorial by millions of races and tribes throughout the world, are a very important heritage which we can delve into. Of course, if you don’t have knowledge of your ancestral past, you can still use the practices of yoga. Because, as I said at the very beginning, yoga is universal, it belongs to mankind. And all mystic practices, all practices dealing with the esoteric, have some link with yoga. So you can easily use the practices of yoga, such as asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha, mantra, pratyahara, dharana and dhyana, to awaken vijnanamaya kosha.
The Moksha Gita by Swami Sivananda Commentary by Swami Krishnananda
Chapter 9: The Five Sheaths
1, 2. The Guru said: This Annamaya sheath or food sheath is made up of the five elements. It has a beginning and an end. It is inert and full of parts. It is an effect of the five elements. It is full of impurities. Therefore you are not this physical body or the Annamaya sheath. You are the witness of this body. Understand, therefore, “I am not the body. I am Brahman.”
The physical body is the grossest form of thought. The food consumed by the parents is converted into Sukla (semen) in men and Sonita in women and by the combination of these the physical body is formed. After birth, the body grows by suckling the milk which is only a transformation of the food consumed by the mother. The body is further developed by taking food. It gets dissolved in earth which is another form of food. The body is itself a food for other creatures. Hence it is called the food sheath, the material body or the earthly encagement of the soul. The food sheath is an object of perception. The Atman is the cogniser and the body is the cognised. Hence the Self is different from the body. In dream and deep sleep there is no consciousness of the body.
The five elements constitute the physical body. These modifications of Maya are not the Truth, the body and its Dharmas, size, form, birth and death are not actual modifications of the Self. Varnashrama, name and class differ in different births. They are mere accidental attributes of the body. There is no physical body either before birth or after death. Hence it is non-eternal.
Existence, birth, growth, modification, decay and death are the six Vikaras of the physical body. Just as the ether in a pot is not affected in any way by the destruction of the pot, so also the Atman is not at all affected by the destruction of the body or the Annamaya Kosha. Atman is unattached. Ether is subtle, but the Atman is still subtler. Atman is formless, changeless, birthless, deathless, free from old age. It is neither born nor is killed. Hence one should meditate on this Atman or Brahman.
3, 4. The Pranamaya Kosha or the vital sheath is a product of Rajoguna. It also has a beginning and an end. It is inert. It is an effect. Therefore you are not the Pranamaya Kosha. You are the witness of this sheath. Understand, therefore, “I am not the Pranamaya Kosha. I am Brahman.”
The Pranamaya Kosha consists of the five Pranas and five Karma-Indriyas or organs of action. Though the Prana is waking when one is sleeping, it does not invite a friend and entertain him; it cannot stop a thief who tries to remove the articles in a house. Therefore it is insentient. The Self is a mass of Intelligence. It is Chaitanya-Swarupa. It is entirely different from the Prana. The Self is the knower, seer and witness of this sheath.
Prana is only the active working of the mind. A pure-hearted man breathes rhythmically. The breath of an evil-minded person is disturbed. When the mind is controlled the Prana is automatically controlled. The Vedantic aspirant does not practise Pranayama, because his breath is automatically regulated and Kumbhaka naturally follows when the mental Kumbhaka or concentration and meditation are practised. The Pranas are the Rajasic manifestations of the dynamic mental force which with their ups and downs maintain the balance of individual existence even as the bicycle is kept in balance when its wheels are vigorously turning. When there is a break of this movement, the bicycle falls down and when the Prana is inhibited the individualising mind together with the ego breaks down and dies.
Hence there should be no identification with the Pranamaya Kosha and the aspirant should assert the Self-existent Atman distinct from it.
5, 6. The Manomaya Kosha or the mental sheath is a product of Sattwa Guna. It also has a beginning and an end. It is inert. It is an effect. Therefore you are not the Manomaya Kosha. You are the witness of this sheath. Understand, therefore, “I am not Manomaya Kosha. I am Brahman.”
The Manomaya Kosha consists of the mind and the five Jnana Indriyas. It is a means of enjoying pleasure and pain. The mind causes egoism in the body and “mine”-ness in house, sons, wife, wealth, etc., and passes outside through the avenues or channels of these five Indriyas. It is the internal instrument for gaining the experiences and knowledge of this world. Mind is associated with the Vrittis or waves of lust, anger, etc., and is a terrible objectifying agent. Mind is a Vikari, it constantly changes itself.
The Self is a witness of the Manomaya Kosha. The Self is Nirvikari. The mind is not the Self. The Self is the Atman or Brahman, unblemished, eternal and changeless, and one should meditate on it as such.
7, 8. The Vijnanamaya Kosha or this Buddhi sheath is a product of Sattwa Guna. It has also a beginning and an end. It is inert. It is an effect. Therefore you are not the Vijnanamaya Kosha. You are witness of this sheath. Understand, therefore, “I am not the Vijnanamaya Kosha. I am Brahman.”
The Vijnanamaya Kosha consists of the intellect in conjunction with the five organs of knowledge or the Jnana-Indriyas. During sleep it gets involution or Laya along with Chidabhasa or the reflection of Pure Consciousness. During waking state it is the doer. It is an effect like a jar and is inanimate. It shines in borrowed feathers. It borrows its light temporarily from its source, just as the moon borrows its light from the sun. It is not the eternal Self.
The Pranamaya, Manomaya and the Vijnanamaya Koshas constitute the subtle body. The subtle body is composed of the five unquintuplicated elements. There is neither breathing nor talking, neither seeing nor hearing in the dead body. There is also no warmth. The self-cognitions such as “I speak; I hear; I am hungry; I am thirsty;” and the like appear distinctly in the subtle body. The subtle body operates in the waking and the dreaming states. Ghosts and apparitions are the manifestations of the subtle body only.
The ego is hidden in the intellect and the memory (Chitta) is hidden in the mind. The subtle body thus, contains nineteen principles or Tattwas. It is also called the “Puri-Ashtaka” or the eightfold city. The five organs of sense, the five organs of action, the five vital breaths, the five subtle primary elements, the fourfold Antahkarana, ignorance, desire and action are the eightfold city of the subtle body.
The physical body is only an instrument in the hands of the subtle body. When the subtle body is disciplined through Pranayama, abstraction and concentration, the physical body also becomes very healthy and strong. Whatever the subtle body is, that the physical body also becomes. The mind which is the ruler of the subtle body gets fattened by worldly affections, by avarice for wealth, by the acquirement of women and gold and by attachment to the external fleeting forms of beauties. The mind is thinned out by eradication of the Vasanas and egoism.
The subtle body is the distracted expression of the self through Avidya, the causal sheath. Therefore it is not the Truth. Truth is Brahman and all else is false. One should meditate that he is not the subtle body and that he is the self-effulgent Atman.
9, 10. The Anandamaya Kosha or this bliss sheath is Avidya or ignorance, a modification of Prakriti. It is the effect of past deeds. It is endowed with changing attributes. It is Jada or insentient. Therefore you are not the Anandamaya Kosha. You are the witness of this sheath. Understand, therefore, “I am not the Anandamaya sheath. I am Brahman.”
The Anandamaya Kosha is made of Mula-Ajnana. It is the Karana Sarira or the causal body which is the substratum of all other sheaths which are external to it. Its three attributes or Dharmas are Priya, Moda and Pramoda, affection, delight and intense happiness. It is the indescribable beginningless Avidya, the nescience of the Atma, and is composed of Malina Sattwa. It is inanimate, beginningless, but has an end in Atma-Jnana.
The ignorance of the real nature of the Self constitutes this causal body or seed-body. It contains the potentialities or the seeds for the subtle and gross bodies. It projects the appearance of the whole universe through the subtle sheath. It is the food of ignorance for the hungry ego. The mind has come out of this ignorance and gets involved in it during deep sleep. In the sleeping state there is a vigorous functioning of this ignorance in which everything is lost as in pitch darkness. The Karana Sarira screens the Satchidananda Brahman.
He who knows the ignorance or the negation of the existence of the Atman and the denial of its appearance is the true Self, the Atman. He who knows the effects of ignorance, such as “I am a man, I am the doer and enjoyer, I am happy, I am miserable,” is the witness and the Atman. Hence in reality the Self is the seer, knower and the witness of the causal body or the ignorance. The Self is the Knowledge and the Light itself.
As the light that enlightens the jar is different from it, so is the Self different from the bodies witnessed by it. Therefore the Self is Consciousness itself and not the bodies.
The aspirant should endeavour to rise above the five Koshas to realise the identity with Pure Consciousness. Just as one draws out the thin stalk from the Munja grass by stripping off its upper layers one by one, so also one should take out the innermost essence of the Atman from all objects of perception, i.e. the five Koshas, by the “neti, neti” doctrine of negating unreality. Just as butter is removed from milk by churning the mixture of curd, so also the butter of the Atman should be taken from the mixture of the five Koshas by the churning of constant meditation on the Immortal Brahman which fictitiously appears as the sheaths, the world, etc. When the identification with the sheaths ceases, the self realises the Infinite Being and gets liberated beyond death.
Above Dhruvaloka by 10,000,000 yojanas is Maharloka, above Maharloka by 20,000,000 yojanas is Janaloka, above Janaloka by 80,000,000 yojanas is Tapoloka, and above Tapoloka by 120,000,000 yojanas is Satyaloka. Thus the distance from the sun to Satyaloka is 233,800,000 yojanas, or 1,870,400,000 miles. The Vaikuṇṭha planets begin 26,200,000 yojanas (209,600,000 miles) above Satyaloka. Thus the Viṣṇu Purāṇa describes that the covering of the universe is 260,000,000 yojanas (2,080,000,000 miles) away from the sun.
SB 5.23.9, Translation and Purport:
The body of the Supreme Lord, Viṣṇu, which forms the Śiśumāra-cakra, is the resting place of all the demigods and all the stars and planets. One who chants this mantra to worship that Supreme Person three times a day—morning, noon and evening—will surely be freed from all sinful reactions. If one simply offers his obeisances to this form or remembers this form three times a day, all his recent sinful activities will be destroyed.
Summarizing the entire description of the planetary systems of the universe, Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura says that one who is able to meditate upon this arrangement as the virāṭ-rūpa, or viśva-rūpa, the external body of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and worship Him three times a day by meditation will always be free from all sinful reactions. Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura estimates that Dhruvaloka, the polestar, is 3,800,000 yojanas above the sun. Above Dhruvaloka by 10,000,000 yojanas is Maharloka, above Maharloka by 20,000,000 yojanas is Janaloka, above Janaloka by 80,000,000 yojanas is Tapoloka, and above Tapoloka by 120,000,000 yojanas is Satyaloka. Thus the distance from the sun to Satyaloka is 233,800,000 yojanas, or 1,870,400,000 miles. The Vaikuṇṭha planets begin 26,200,000 yojanas (209,600,000 miles) above Satyaloka. Thus the Viṣṇu Purāṇa describes that the covering of the universe is 260,000,000 yojanas (2,080,000,000 miles) away from the sun. The distance from the sun to the earth is 100,000 yojanas, and below the earth by 70,000 yojanas are the seven lower planetary systems called Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talātala, Mahātala, Rasātala and Pātāla. Below these lower planets by 30,000 yojanas, Śeṣa Nāga is lying on the Garbhodaka Ocean. That ocean is 249,800,000 yojanas deep. Thus the total diameter of the universe is approximately 500,000,000 yojanas, or 4,000,000,000 miles.
Vedic Cosmology – The Planets of the Material Universe
The cosmology and cosmography of the ancient Vedas is awe inspiring to say the least. The more “modern” of the Vedic texts are known to originate from approximately 3000 B.C., thus being the oldest scientific and religious doctrines known to man. The descriptions of our solar system and what modern astronomy has discovered of the visible universe corresponds with the ancient Vedic knowledge, proving that man has had advanced knowledge of astronomy for thousands of years before our modern civilization began. This article describes the Vedic version of planetary systems from the topmost, eternal planets down through the temporary planetary systems within innumerable universes of this material world.
When saying “cosmic manifestation” we speak of two separate worlds, the spiritual and the material. The spiritual planetary systems are eternal, beyond the limits of the material universes, and belong to a “super dimensional” or “anti-material” dimension. These are beyond the limitations of material time and space and therefore beyond our vision, or powers of perception. In these planetary systems there is no occurrence of creation or dissolution, and these planets are unlimited, indestructible, and eternally existing. There are descriptions of these spiritual planets in the vedic literatures, but this article concentrates on those within the material universe.
The material planetary systems are created at some point in time and will be destroyed at another. They are bound by the influences of time and space. Both of these energies (spiritual and material) are of the same divine source called “brahmajyoti”, the spiritual light. About 1/4th of this brahmajyoti is covered by the “mahat-tattva”, the material energy, where are found innumerable material universes. The 3/4th portion is the eternal spiritual sky. In the spiritual world are two realms of existence, “Goloka-dhama” and “Hari-dhama”. The material world has one realm called “Devi-dhama”.
Goloka-dhama is the topmost planet and residence of the Supreme Godhead Sri Sri Radha-Krishna. Below this is Hari-dhama where the spiritual planets of the Vaikunthalokas are situated. Below the Vaikuntha planets is “Mahesh-dhama” (also called Sadasivaloka, or the abode of Lord Siva). This is the realm dividing the spiritual from the material universes. Below Mahesh-dhama is Devi-dhama, the realm of the material universe. It is said that the systems of yoga offer different destinations. Bhakti yoga directs one toward entering Hari-dhama or Goloka-dhama. Jnana yoga directs the aspirant toward entrance to Mahesh dhama, and karma yoga directs one to remain in Devi-dhama, experiencing repeated birth and death in the material worlds.
The Planetary Systems of Devi-Dhama
In the Bhagavad-Gita we find a statement that there are three divisions of material planets in our universe. They are “urdhva-loka” (highest), “madhya-loka” (middle), and “adho-loka” (lower). Above the urdhva-lokas are the coverings of the material universe beyond which lie the eternal realms of existence. Within these three spheres of existence are 14 main planetary systems with different standards of life and duration of existence. The residents of the upper three systems have almost no disease or aging of the body, and they have no sense of fear. As the planetary systems progress downward there is lesser duration of life and standard of living, as well as a greater manifestation of disease and anxiety.
The 14 planetary systems are named as follows, from highest to lowest:
In one of the Vedic scriptures called the “Hari-vamsa” there is a description as follows: “Above the planetary systems where humans live is the sky. Above the sky is the orbiting sun, which is the entrance point of the heavenly planetary systems. This is the middle of the universe where begins the planets of those elevated by great austerities and penances. The planets above these, up to Satya-loka are the residences of those advanced in spiritual knowledge. All these planets are within the material world and under the control of Devi (Goddess Durga), and therefore called Devi-dhama.”
The term “amara” (deathless) is often used to describe the residents of the heavenly planets because their span of life is inconceivable to us, but although they live for millions of years by our calculation, none within the material worlds can live here eternally. In Bhagavad-Gita there is given a description for the life span of those living on Satyaloka. One day is equal to 4,300,000,000 solar years. On other heavenly planets the day is considered to equal six months of our time, and the night also equal to six months on earth. These souls live in their bodies for 10 million of their years.
Time duration such as day, night, months, and years are different in different planetary systems, and there are also different types of human beings, animals, trees, and vegetation. Some of the planets that are visible to us are considered heavenly planets with different timings. Jupiter, Venus, and the Moon are examples of planets where one day is equal to six months on earth. How can that be, one may ask, when we can see these planets orbiting the Sun?
One point of reference that may be difficult for some to understand is crucial to this realization. All planets have different dimensions surrounding them. The dimension of existence visible to our eyes gives us the impression that the other planets in our solar system are mostly devoid of life. In actuality astronomers have found proof of intelligent life on other planets, regardless of the fact that little is yet public knowledge. The purview discernable by our physical eyes, though, cannot enter into the heavenly spheres of these planets where devas, angels, and higher beings exist, nor even that of humans who enjoy an existence far superior to what is obtainable on our planet earth.
Just as on and surrounding earth there are realms of existence inhabited by ethereal beings invisible to our eyes, some highly advanced and others bound by unfortunate circumstances (such as ghosts), all planets have different spheres of existence. We can never gain knowledge of the multi-dimensional reality on earth with our physical eyes, so how could we possibly expect to enter into the higher realities of other planets with them?
There are also different types of oceans on different planets in the material world. “Siddhanta-siromani”, an ancient vedic astrological text describes them as being of seven varieties:
1) an ocean of salt water
2) an ocean of milk
3) an ocean of curd
4) an ocean of ghee (clarified butter)
5) an ocean of sugar cane juice
6) an ocean of liquor
7) an ocean of sweet water
Our minds may balk at such a conception of different types of oceans, but why should any of these be more fantastic than the ocean of salt water that we have here on earth?
There are also some eternal planets seemingly situated within this material universe, but they are always inaccessible for human beings. The text “Laghu-Bhagavatamrita” describes these eternal planets as follows: “Above Rudraloka, the planet of Lord Siva, is the planet called Vishnuloka. It is 400,000 miles in circumference, and inaccessible for any mortal living being. Above that Vishnuloka is a golden island called Maha-Vishnuloka in the ocean of salt. Brahma and other demigods sometimes go there to meet Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu lies there with Lakshmi (the goddess of fortune). East of here is the “ocean of milk” where within is the island of Svetadvipa, where Lord Vishnu also resides with Goddess Lakshmi. His transcendental island is 200,000 square miles and covered with desire trees for the pleasure of the Supreme Lord.”
This planet is called “Dhruvaloka” and we see it as the polestar. It is said to be 3,800,000 yojanas above the sun (one yojana is equal to 8 miles). Above Dhruvaloka by 10,000,000 yojanas is Maharloka. Above Maharloka by 20,000,000 yojanas is Janaloka, a further 80,000,000 yojanas lies Tapaloka, and above by 120,000,000 yojanas is Satyaloka. The Vaikuntha planets begin 26,200,000 yojanas beyond Satyaloka.
The scripture “Vishnu Purana” describes that the outer covering of the universe begins 260,000,000 yojanas above the sun. About 70,000 yojanas below the earth begin the seven lower planetary systems of Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rasatala, and Patala. Below these planets 30,000 yojanas is the Garbhodaka Ocean where Sesa Naga lies. This ocean is 249,800,000 yojanas deep. This gives an approximate diameter of the universe as 500,000,000 yojanas or 4,000,000,000 miles. These distances are calculated according to the distances between the planetary “planes” of existence. Actual distances between planets may be more.
The higher planetary systems are the realms of devas, demigods, and angels. Bhuvarloka is the abode of ghostly spirits, and the lower planets are populated by those of demoniac consciousness as well as the snakes known as “Nagas”. Development of higher consciousness, which also includes advanced intellectuality, starts with human beings and further increases among the denizens of higher planetary systems. The earth is situated close to the middle of these planetary systems.
Descriptions of the Planetary Systems
This is the abode of Lord Brahma, the progenitor of this material universe. Here there are airplanes controlled by mantra, not by any mechanical means. The residents have mind and intelligence, but no material gross bodies. They feel compassion for those suffering in the lower regions, but do not suffer fear, old age, or death. At the time of final dissolution of the material planets the residents here transform their subtle bodies into spiritual bodies and enter the eternal Vaikuntha planets. Great yogis finally reach this highest planet through the Milky Way, which is the “highway” to this most elevated planet where the duration of life is calculated as 15,480,000,000,000 years.
This is the abode of the four Kumaras named Sanat, Sanaka, Sanandana, and Sanatana. In this world many great sages also reside due to their advancement through spiritual austerity. The enjoyment available to the residents is inconceivable to us as it is beyond anything of our experience. When there is annihilation of the material universe the residents here also transform their subtle bodies to spiritual and enter the spiritual sky.
This planet, still above the heavenly realms, is another abode of great saints and sages. This planet is populated by mystics who move to higher planets, and eventually transform their subtle bodies to spiritual, when the fire of devastation consumes the material planets. These residents can move between any planets within the material universe as mystic “spacemen” at speeds unthinkable to us.
When fully purified from material desire and contamination through sacrifice, penance, and charity one can reach the heavenly planets, and if advancing further can pass through the higher orbits to reach Maharloka. The greatest of sages, such as Bhrigu Muni, live in this place. It is situated beyond the “Sisumara”, which is the pivotal point for the turning of the universe. Advanced yogis reach this planet and live here for 4,300,000,000 solar years. When the fire of devastation almost reaches this planet the residents transport themselves to Satyaloka where they live further before this highest of planets is destroyed. They then transform their subtle bodies to spiritual and enter the spiritual realms.
In every material universe is one Vaikuntha planet with an ocean of milk where Lord Vishnu resides on an island called Svetadvipa. This planet is Dhruvaloka. Living here are completely pure personalities. In our universe this planet is seen as the polestar and is situated above the planets of the Seven Rishis. As it is a spiritual planet, it is eternal and therefore remains when all other planets within the material universes are destroyed. It is said that this planet is the pivot for all material stars’ and planets’ orbits. All planets travel at high speeds in orbit, including the sun, which travels 16,000 miles per second in its orbit around Dhruvaloka. The planets of the seven sages are stars just below this planet that also orbit Dhruvaloka. They are always concerned with the welfare of the living entities within this material world and send emissaries to bring spiritual knowledge at various times and circumstances.
Saturn is considered an inauspicious planet astrologically, as he gives painful lessons to us here on earth. It is situated 1,600,000 miles above Jupiter and passes through one sign of the zodiac every 30 months.
Jupiter is considered a most auspicious heavenly planet and is generally considered favorable astrologically, depending on placement at the time of our births here on earth. It is a planet of devas, and situated 1,600,000 miles above Mars.
Mars is considered to be a malefic planet, which creates lack of rainfall on earth and almost always is capable of creating unfavorable influences here. It is situated 1,600,000 miles above Mercury.
Mercury is said to be the son of the moon and is 1,600,000 miles beyond the planet Venus. As does Venus, he sometimes moves behind the sun, sometimes in front, and sometimes along with it. Generally the influence of Mercury is said to be auspicious astrologically, except when not moving with the sun. At such times this planet causes great storms on earth.
Venus is considered a most auspicious and favorable planet, and is also of the heavenly planets. Venus is said to bring rainfall, another reason for it being considered auspicious to life on earth.
The Moon is one of the four most important residences of the demigods. Those who worship the demigods through sacrifice aimed at great material enjoyment are promoted to the Moon. Here the celestial, intoxicating beverage called “soma” is available. It is not possible to enter into or even see the actual heavenly dimensions of this planet with our present eyes. The Moon passes through the entire zodiac in approximately one month. He influences the growth of vegetation and therefore considered the life-giver for all living beings on earth.
The Sun is the source of light and heat for our universe. Modern science considers many stars to also be suns, but in the vedic literature they are considered to be planets of varying material elements, but not the center, as is the Sun. Surya, the sun god, is considered an expansion of Narayana (a form of Lord Vishnu). He controls the seasons here on earth. It is situated between Bhuloka and Bhuvarloka, rotating through the time circle of the zodiac. Yogis practicing hatha or ashtanga yoga, or those performing agnihotra sacrifices, worship the sun for their benefit. The demigods residing on the sun planet have bodies made of fire, necessary for life here.
Rahu is said to be an invisible planet, which is situated 80,000 miles below the sun. It causes solar and lunar eclipses, as Rahu, along with Ketu, are the north and south nodes of the moon respectively.
Siddhaloka, Caranaloka, & Vidyadharaloka
These planets are 80,000 miles below Rahu. The residents of these planets are born with natural mystic powers, including the ability to fly without mechanical means, even to other planets. They have all the mystic siddhis, and being materially perfect beings can control gravity, time, and space. Their arts, culture, and sciences are far superior to that knowledge possessed by we here in the earthly realm.
Yakshaloka & Rakshashaloka
Beneath these higher planetary systems, in the sky called “antariksha”, are the residences of the Yakshas, Rakshashas, Pisachas, ghosts, and other etheral beings. This realm extends as far as the wind blows and clouds float in the sky. Above this there is no air.
Bhu-mandala (Middle Earth)
The planetary systems of middle earth (Bhumandala or Bhuloka) are abodes of both standards of living such as we enjoy on our planet, as well as some heavenly abodes where living beings may “stop” on the way to, or from, births in the heavenly planetary systems. There are seven planetary systems, which are divided by seven oceans. The names of the planetary systems are Jambu, Plaksha, Salmali, Kusha, Krauncha, Shaka, and Pushkara. Each system is twice as large as the one preceding it, and each ocean between the systems are made respectively of salt water, sugarcane juice, liquor, ghee, milk, emulsified yogurt, and sweet water.
Bhumandala is shaped like a lotus flower and the seven planetary systems are in the whorl of the lotus. The radius of Bhumandala extends as far as the sunshine, and the limits of our vision here to see the stars and moon. As the sunshine reaches earth from a distance of 93,000,000 miles, this is the radius of the plane of Bhumandala.
Lower Planetary Systems
Below the earth are seven other systems called Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rasatala, and Patala. These lower planetary systems are the same size as the earth planet, and begin 560,000 miles below earth. Sunshine does not reach these planets and light comes from jewels on the hoods of serpents. These planets are populated by persons of great power and opulence, yet of demoniac consciousness, who have reached here through austerity aimed at material enjoyment without spiritual development. They do not become old and diseased and fear only the time factor, which ultimately must destroy their abodes. Therefore they are given the name of “bila-svarga”, or subterranean heavenly planets.
The residents here enjoy a standard of material comfort more opulent than even the higher planets due to their desires for high standards of sensual enjoyment, wealth, and influence. The residents are known as Daityas, Danavas, and Nagas and are all engaged in illusory material enjoyment with no thought of spiritual liberation. There are incredible feats of architecture in their cities bedecked with valuable jewels in houses, gardens, compounds, etc. All residents drink juices and bathe in herbal elixirs which free them from any anxiety or physical disease, as well as any sign of physical aging. The visual beauty of these artificial heavens surpasses that of the higher planets and this sensual atmosphere completely captures the mind, allowing no thoughts but those directed toward sensual pleasure and happiness. Since time is not divided into days and nights due to no sunshine reaching these planets, they have no fear produced by time. Only at the time of dissolution does anxiety and fear consume them.
Narakaloka, the Hellish Planetary Systems
Beneath the planet Patalaloka, and slightly above the water of the Garbhodaka ocean, are the Naralokas, or the hellish planetary systems. These planets are of different degrees of suffering for those who must endure life there. Here on earth we can see many hellish circumstances of suffering for people, but nothing like what is experienced on these planets. They are said to be a place of rectification for those who commit the most abominable actions while living as humans on the earthly plane. Although life here seems like it goes on for an eternity, in actual fact the duration of one’s “karmic sentence” here may be only seconds or moments. There are 28 different hellish planets described in the Vedic literatures.
These descriptions of the material creation, as well as the spiritual planets, may be found in several Vedic literatures to a far greater depth. I have out of necessity greatly abbreviated the information given here.
All of the planetary systems in the material world will in time be annihilated. This annihilation takes place in two ways. Partial annihilation occurs every 4,300,000,000 solar years, or at the end of each day on Satyaloka. This extends from the hellish planets through all lower planetary systems up to the heavenly planets. The highest planets are not annihilated at this time. The entire cosmic manifestation is wound up in the universal form of God every 8,600,000,000 x 30 x 12 x 100 solar years. The spiritual world, which is never annihilated, simply absorbs the material creation. It is described that before the destruction there is no rain for hundreds of years. Everything dries up and dies due to continuous sunshine. The sun becomes 12 times as powerful as was previously. Then there are horrendous rains that absorb everything into water.
The mortal bodies of living entities, including all vegetation, merge into the earth. The earth merges into its subtle sensation of fragrance. Fragrance merges into water, and water merges into its quality of taste. That taste merges into fire, which merges into form. Form merges into touch and touch into ether. Ether finally merges into the sensation of sound. The senses all merge into their origins, the presiding devas and demigods, then they merge into the controlling mind, which merges into ego in the mode of goodness. Sound becomes one with ego in the mode of ignorance, and ego (the first of all the physical elements), merges into the total nature. The total material nature dissolves into the modes (goodness, passion, and ignorance). These modes then merge into the unmanifest form of nature, and that unmanifest form merges into time. Time merges into the Supreme Godhead, present as Maha-Vishnu, the original creator of the cosmic manifestation. The origin of all life merges into God, the unborn Supreme Soul who remains one without a second, and from whom all creation and annihilation takes place. This annihilation of the material world is the exact reverse of the process of creation. Everything ultimately rests within the Supreme Absolute.
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