The Five Layers of Being

In Hindu philosophy, goodness, truth, and God are one. God is absolute goodness and eternal truth. The Absolute Soul that is God illuminates the soul of all beings. However, human goodness is a material human trait. The human traits of goodness and evil both pertain to the body, not to the spirit. In Hindu though, the mind is part of the body. It is the energy that powers our intellect, our judgment, and our ego, but it is temporal and it is shed when the soul is released from the bondage of repeated reincarnations. The body and mind are matter whereas the soul is spirit. A particular life comes into being when the spirit and the body join together and it ends when the soul and the body separate at death.

When it embodies, the soul, the kernel that is our innermost divine spirit, is covered by four layers of being. The soul itself is counted as a fifth layer, though it is pure essence and is devoid of matter. It is the unchanging soul named God. The five layers of being are called kosas. The four layers surrounding the soul can be understood to be sheaths, shells, or husks, or vessels. The kosas increase in density as they move outward, further away from the spirit. The layers closest to our soul make up our ethereal astral body whereas the outermost layer is heavy with matter.

The fourth sheath, nearest to the soul, is knowledge. It is the highest level of understanding and sensitivity that is closest to God. The third sheath is the mind. It is intellect and it contains our memory, causes dreams, and processes the information that we have taken in through our minds and senses. It also manages the collective information we may call human instinct or intuition. This collective information belongs to all mankind. The second sheath is vitality. It is the vital force that moves the body and makes it work. This is the subtle body that controls our senses and actions as well as internal bodily functions like the pumping of the heart. The fourth outermost sheath is the dense physical body itself.

The living body has three attributes or properties called gunas. These attributes are our tendencies or natures. Ranking from highest to lowest, the three gunas are sattva, rajas, and tamas. Sattva is the tendency of the highest and purest of beings. It is true and good. Rajas is the tendency of dynamic beings filled with energetic or frenetic passion. It is not good, but not evil. Tamas is the tendency of ignorant and inert beings. It is bad. People are a mixture of these three traits but our nature depends of which trait is strongest:

 

When Sattva is strongest we are wise.

When Rajas is strongest, we are greedy

and we cannot keep calm or still.

When Tamas is strongest,

we are lazy foolish, and covered by darkness.

(Gita 14:11, 12, 13)

 

This excerpt is from On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar.