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.

Chapter 14: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas

July 17, The Gita, A New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture by Irina N. Gajjar

Commentary and Chapter 14, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas

 Chapter 14 of The Gita discusses the three attributes of the body. These are known as Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. The Lord explains this to Arjun and others to share an important truth which enables believers to become one with the Lord. By understanding these attributes, we can escape from repeated births and deaths and avoid suffering when the world is destroyed at the end of an age.

Birth takes place when the spirit and the body join together. The spirit is God, the Father, and the body is the Mother. At embodiment, we all are made up of the three attributes or qualities -Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas- known as gunas which tie the soul to the body. While we are a blend of the three, the predominance of one or the other determines our nature.

Sattva is good, happy, and calm. Rajas is not good. It arises from attachment and is greedy and passionate. Tamas is bad. It comes from ignorance and is sluggish and flawed. When Sattva is strongest in us, we are wise. When Rajas is strongest, we forever want things and are jumpy. When Tamas is strongest, we live in darkness and are dull and lazy.

If when we die, we are mostly Sattva, we will be born again in a world of purity and wisdom. If we are mostly Rajas, we will be born again in our world of attachment. If we are mostly Tamas we will be born again in the body of a dumb and unwitting being.

The fruit of Sattva is goodness. From Sattva comes wisdom. The fruit of Rajas is sorrow. From Rajas come passion and greediness. The fruit of Tamas is ignorance. From Tamas come pain and mistakes. However, the spirit of those who understand that God is beyond Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas will be freed from their bodies. They will not need to be born again and will attain eternal life and oneness with God.

Arjun asks how someone can become free of the three gunas that bind the soul and how such a person who is filled with goodness can be recognized. God answers that whoever worships Him faithfully and is detached from actions crosses beyond the world and the gunas and becomes free. Such a person is unconcerned about her body or about pleasant and unpleasant experiences. She is wise and feels the same about stone and gold. She treats friends and enemies alike and she does her duty, not caring about praise or criticism. She becomes part of God.

The Lord concludes this chapter saying that He is God, that He is the home of Brahma, God unmanifest, that He is everlasting and unchanging and that He is endless goodness and happiness.

Chapter 14: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas

Bhagvan said: Arjun, I will share the greatest truth with you again. Knowing this, people become part of me and do not have to be born when the world is created. Knowing the truth, people do not have to suffer when the world is destroyed.

Everything is born when the body and the spirit join together. The body is the Mother and I, God, am the Father.

The body has three parts or three gunas called Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. These three tie the soul to the body. We are made up of Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas.

Sattva is good. It is clean and shining. It is healthy and has no faults. Sattva is happy and calm. Rajas is not good. It is greedy and active and causes strong feelings.

Tamas is bad because it comes from ignorance. It is full of faults and mistakes. Tamas is lazy.

These three things are mixed up in us, but the strongest part makes us good or bad. When Sattva is the 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.

If when we die, we are mostly Sattva, our spirit gets born again in the world of the wise and the pure. If we are mostly Rajas, our spirit gets born again on earth. If we are mostly Tamas, our spirit gets born in the body of dumb, ignorant being.

The fruit, or the result, of Sattva is pure goodness. The fruit of Rajas is sorrow. The fruit s Tamas is ignorance.

But if you understand that God is past Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas, your spirit will be freed from the body. It will not have to be born again and you will go straight to God.

The Arjun asked: How can I recognize a person whose spirit is freed from her body? How can we go past the three gunas which bind the soul?

Bhagvan answered: The person who is free does not care what happens to her body. Whoever feels the same about pleasant and unpleasant things has crossed beyond Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. Whoever likes stone as much as gold is wise. Whoever treats friends and enemies the same way, and does her duty, not caring if she is praised or scolded, is free. Such a person has gone past the three gunas.

She who always worships God faithfully crosses past the world, and becomes a part of God.

I am God. I am Brahma’s home. I am everlasting and unchanging. I am unending goodness and unending joy.

 

 

Vedic Worlds: Naraka

The seven lower worlds described in the Vedas are located in Naraka, the netherworld belonging to demons and souls that have become distanced from goodness and God.

Naraka is the plane of lower consciousness. Its regions are temporary hells of the mind and the universe. They are places where souls may wander for many ages or for just moments. Ancient scriptures accepted the relativity of time and space.

Thus, according to Vedic literature the duration of any soul’s existence in any world depends upon whether the time experienced by a particular soul expands or contracts and upon the time scales that are in play when souls migrate from world to world.

Hinduism believes that the destination of our soul depends upon our nature at the time of our death. Our nature is made up of different combinations of three attributes or qualities called gunas in Sanskrit.

These are sattva which is purity and truth, rajas which is desire driven activity, and tamas which is ignorance and inertia. Our actions and aspirations during our life create the sum of the attributes that make up our aura at death and determine what happens to our soul. Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita describes the essence of the Hindu understanding of reincarnation in just a few short lines:

If when we die,
we are mostly Sattva,
our spirit gets born again in the world of the wise and the pure.
If we are mostly Rajas,
our spirit gets born again on earth.
If we are mostly Tamas,
our spirit gets born in the body of a dumb, ignorant being.

For more on Vedic Worlds, read On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar.