This paper was presented at
Psychology: The Indian Contribution
National Conference on
Indian Psychology, Yoga and Consciousness
organised by the Indian Council of Philosophical Research
at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education
Pondicherry, India, 10-13 December 2004

(click to enlarge)

Unveiling Consciousness: Vedantic Theory of Personality

Theory of Punch Kosh---Revisited

Rai Pramod Kumar* and Guru Onkar Dev**
*Department of psychology, Dr.H.S.Gour University Sagar. (MP).INDIA
**M.A Sanskrit, retired lecturer

People in western developed countries have entered the 21st century with a societal wealth unimaginable in other times or other places. House sizes are large, computer, laptops and cell phones are every where, and cruise ships are plentiful. Are they better off than earlier? On the one hand they have material abundance; on the other hand they have social recession and psychological depressions. There are high rates of divorce, suicide, depression, and conflict, with significant number of non marital birth, abusive families, teenage shooters, and poverty of the spirit. Community ties have decreased and happiness has not increased. People have more sexual partners and more sexual diseases, more freedom and more disillusionment, more gadgets and more therapists. Is it happiness?

The psychologist David Myers (2000) answers: materially yes, morally no. He terms this phenomenon as American Paradox.

“Americans have to change their cynical, mistrusting thoughts, and hostile emotions….and rather practice trusting and being tolerant to others. Tell yourself that getting riles up and criticizing others can kill you, it is better to replace your anger with optimistic, tolerant understanding, forgive those who have angered and, thereby, free yourself from resentment .Undertaking these kindhearted treatment efforts would surely bring more happiness to you and more kindness to others and, therefore heal your own soul as well.”

These are not comments by psychologists or religious saints but by a world famous cardiologist William D R (1989) and author of the famous book ‘Trusting Heart’

To address this paradox discussed above Myers and others recommended altruism, fidelity, family, community, and spirituality, which they believe will lead to fulfillment. But these are patch work approach, with very little hope of improving well being of the people. While the concept of personality developed in Upanishads has built mechanism to achieve real happiness and peace within.

The most elaborate analysis of the structure of human personality is to be found in Vedantic psychology. Thus the account here follows the basic trend of that analysis.

Human personality is a multi dimensional phenomenon and can be described as a physical/ mental/spiritual continuum. The first three components are different modes of expression of the fundamental energy envisaged as trigunas (rajas tamas satva)

If a cardiologist is corroborating Myers, a humanistic psychologist.we have reasons to believe what our Indian religious saints had centuries back contributed in precious ways, the means to transcend our consciousness to the level where we were free from all miseries and unhappiness and remain in state of Chidanandroopam means a blissful state while contributing to the society in a highly creative way.

In this reference in our paper we have made a humble endeavor to explain ‘Punch koshas’ discussed in Taiterai upnishad a Vedic literature ,which is supposed to be a hierarchical theory of personality. However before delving deep into layers of consciousness, we have to prepare a ground from where to begin and then discuss the concept mind and consciousness

According to Indian psychologists, it is the mind that reaches out to the objective world through the sense organs and nervous systems, drawing its sensations and impressions through them and unifying the experience gathered into coherent information or knowledge. The word “mind” corresponds to the Vedantic word antahkarana (inner instrument) which has four functions:

(1)Manas, the oscillating or indecisive faculty of mind; (2)Buddh,the decisive state which determines that “this is a tree and not a man”; (3)Ahamkara,the state which ascertains that “I know”;(4)Chitta,the store house of mental state which makes remembrance and reference possible .we can call this the “mind stuff”. According to the Hindu system of thought (Vedanta), Antahkarana stands between the self and the object and receives the object of perception, assuming its form as whole .Gestalt psychology of the west has a similar conception, although there is some difference. Antahkarana is the inner instrument through which the subject knows the object by identification .It is not the self .Self is consciousness and not the product of the relationship between subject and object .It is the underlying, self –illumining principle. Consciousness belongs to our innermost core in which we are nothing. Self or Atma, is called sakshi, the unchangeable reality .it remains only the witness. Mind, or antahkarana, gets it power by association with the self, or atma, which is the same as Brahman, or the absolute. It has become seemingly individualized by virtually limiting itself by ignorance.

Atma is the unchangeable reality, the great witness, Consciousness itself, Sakshi Chaitanya.

Hindu Vedanta conceive the internal implement for perception as the Indriya (sense),which is independent of the outer sense organs and nervous system ,although the mind uses it as an implement .A definite difference between the two is shown in the following (based on Kathopnishad):-

“Know that the soul who sits within, is the master of the chariot, and the body the chariot. Consider the intellect (Buddhi) as the charioteer, and the mind (Manas) the reins .The senses are the horses and their roads are the sense objects. Beyond ‘anandmaya kosh is Nirvikalp samadhi the foremost example existence, that is, of being self conscious beyond all bodily or mental conditions.”

Before studying ‘Punch Kosh’ one must realize that materialistic attitude is an expression of consumer culture adopted to meet mere fulfillment of sensual pleasure ,is not going to give real happiness and harmonious living with family, community and world at large .This is due to the simple fact of the law of the ‘impermanence’ which is the law of the Nature. All material things are impermanent, if we are happy with a thing we must be prepared to be unhappy once it is not with us.; as it is bound to happen .This is not only true with sensual or material pleasure but also with our ideas ,beliefs and relationships. Because no matter how precious or valuable your contribution is people around you will not always appreciate it .Therefore unattachment or freeing of our self selves from the bondage of attachment and craving is ‘Moksha’ or liberation, a prime goal of all human being

Inorder to inculcate this we have to develop ‘sakshi bhava’ (witness like attitude). That is, we are not the doer of the acts done by us we are only instrumental in things being done. If we feel pride in accomplishments we will have to be ready for suffering , when people will not give due credit to us all the time .Perhaps due to these reasons ,many great scientists are seen to be sufferer of mental diseases.

If we are unable to achieve the Sakshi bhava or custodian type attitude of our materialistic accomplishment ,we may not achieve eternal happiness, which rest in our chaitnaya swaroop atman pure consciousness.

In taitreya upnishad it has been discussed that our pure consciousness is covered or veiled with five layers or koshas. And this is the way through which we evolve by identifying and eliminating the defilement of each stage .Thus we transcend ourselves step by step by developing mindful awareness of defilement of each stage .

Infact panch kosahas are nothing but a way of ‘self realization’ chaitnayaswaroop aatman or knowledge of pure consciousness—thatis the spiritual transcendental, or ontological dimensions—in which the dimension of subject or object ,doer or deed do not exist and through which individual experience their existential oneness with the cosmic whole ‘I am one with Brahman or tao’(Radhakrishnan 1953p462)

Importance of Panch Koshas or Five Veil of Consciousness

These panch koshas are important for spiritual way of personality development_ that is self realization (To know shudh chaitanya swaroop atman by united with the Divine within us). This will enable us play our creative role in the process of achieving a harmonious social order for individual and world peace. This is closer to ‘Integral Yoga’ also. The aim of life is to unite our selves or get closer to the ‘Shadh Chaitaya Swaroop Atman to become part of the ‘cosmic world’ where boundaries of individual, families, Nationals are fussy and the feeling of Vasudhai Kutumbakam prevails.

Five ‘koshas’ or Curtains are there to unveil in order to achieve this aim.

(1) Physical Body or ‘Annamaya Koshas’.

This is first dimension of human persomality that is gross physical body. We have to fed ourselves with ‘Anna; inorder to gain inergy to perform all kind of activities and ultimate aim is to serve humanity. It is said ‘Annam Brahamam; or ‘Sharir Madhyam Khalu Dharma Sadhanam’. Body is instrument to serve Dharma that is duty. ‘Annamaya Kosha’ is made of ‘Panch Maha Bhoot’ (Earth, Water, Air, Sky, Fire). Our grossbody is made up of this ‘Annamaya Kosh.

Five sense organs and five effevents get energy from physical body for their working.The Atma with this gross body is called ‘Vishva’. The power which govern the world is called ‘Hiranya garbha’ because whether it is subject of gross body or five sense organs can not do without light. This physical body consists of flesh, blood, bone and tissues, organs, glands, and so forth; as well as the highly developed nervous system_crowned with the brain.

When a persom is dominated by Annamaya Kosh (physical body) he considers himself as man _ women; mighty_ thin; Black_white; etc. The Shudh Chaitanya Swaroop

‘Atman’ is perceived as mortal and born while infact is inborn and immortal. Here we function at lower level of consciousness.

(2) The Vital or instinctual Component(Pranamaya Kosh)

This structure of personality is energizing force for all activities. It consists of sense organs and ‘ten pranas’ and their defilemen/cover the ‘Shudh Chaitanya Atman’. Due to this cover the ‘Atman’ considers itself as Doer, sufferer, doner, synergic speaker etc, while it is just beyond these limits.

(3)The manomaya kosh: mental or physical component

It comprises mind and five sense organs .It is workshop of thoughts and emotions .It also contains ‘willpower’ which is an important aspect of personality .Will power functions through Buddhi ,mind,chit (storehouse of memories ,emotions vasanayen and pranans.)

This structure or layer of personality when covered with defilement of senseorgans and mind becomes suspicious, full of attachment and cravings and miserable with wordly thoughts—positive or negative—while Shudh Chaitnaya Swaroop is beyond all positive or negative qualities. According to all school of yoga psychology, an element of original or primal ignorance is presented in all mental functioning .it consists of self –oblivion or estrangement from true self. Estrangement from true self produces false identification with the not - self, such as the ever changing physical, instinctual, and mental processes as well as emotional and volitional fluctuations. It also produces the false spirit of possessiveness and emotional attachment extended to both property and person, to both things and related beings. The offshoot of such I-ness and mine-ness is a strangulation sense of isolation and separation from environment, both natural and social. It leads to continuous clashes of interest with fellow beings. It is reinforced by the intellectual dichotomies of subject and object, God and Satan, good and evil and so on. The consensus of all yoga teachers is that it is this complex falsifying ego structure that is the root cause of all human sufferings. No wonder that the disintegration of this ego structure in the enlightened understanding of the essential oneness of all existence is considered the indispensable condition of spiritual liberation in the cultural heritage of Asia.

(4)Vigyanmaya Kosha

When the Shudh Chaitanya Swaroop is further transcended it reaches Vigyanmaya kosha. Hence along with mental components buddhi dominates our thinking.

Intellect or wisdom regulates the affairs of ‘Manomaya Kosha’ which give rise to countless thoughts constructive or destructive .It makes our thought focused towards certain objects and will power is geared to perform the task at hand .It is the pure formless consciousness and comprehensive knowledge of the universe as a whole. It may also be conceived as manifestation of cosmic energy ‘prakriti’.In most of the human being it is present only as a great potential ,which is never actualize , only a few thinkers achieve this.

But here also the defilement of ahankar, the ego, covers the atman. And ahankar considers itself as doer, knower, and feels pride in intellectual achievements and creativity. But the moment the Atman is considered a doer he becomes sufferer also.

(5)Anandmaya Kosha (state of bliss)

Vigyanmaya Kosha separates, the other three Koshas from Anandmaya kosha. Vigyanmaya Kosha is related to buddhi but Anandmaya Kosha is related to divinity. It is highest form of Savikalpa Samadhi. But here also ‘Shudh Chaitnaya Swaroop Atman’ is a seeker of bliss, a kind of defilement required to be eradicated in order to achieve highest Samadhi that is Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Where the distinction between the doer and deed is completely diminished.

As discussed above the theory of Punchkosh is a way of transformation or transcendence from lower self to highest self i.e. aham brahmasmi a state of eternal peace, love and harmony. This transformation makes us videh i.e. free from body or detached from body. This is a state of eternal bliss and our Shudh Chaitanya Swaroop Atman is beyond all kind of attachment and cravings i.e. Chidanandroopam Shivoham Shivoham.

You are involved with all but unattached to all. You are only sakshchi bhav. You just observe that your sense organs are doing this or that. Our Mann, Buddhi is working in this way. You are instrumental not doer of the deed. All work is an opportunity to serve the Almighty or

The Supreme Being. This is the only way by which American paradox as discussed earlier can be resolved. But this is not always absolute but relative and gives the man a chance to introspect and eradicate the defilement of each Koshas step by step.

There are many ways to achieve this transformation or transcendence. To name a few Astang Yoga of Patanjali, Budhiest Vipasyana or Integral Yoga of Maharshi Aurobindo. It is up to us to adopt the way we choose, but once we realize its importance, the roads will come to us.

Om Shanti Om Shanti.


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Radhakrishnan.S. (Trans.). Principal Upanishads. Calcutta: Univ. of Calcutta, 1950.

Myers, D.G. (2000). The American paradox: Spiritual hunger in an age of plenty. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.