Kosas: Layers of the Mind

by Acarya Vedaprajinananda Avadhuta

According to Ananda Marga philosophy, the mind is pure consciousness which has been modified by the operative principle (Prakrti) to form three functional parts: mahat (“I am”), aham (“I do”) and citta (“I have done”). However, due to the continued activity of the operative principle on the citta portion there is the creation of five different layers or kosas. In order to explain the intellectual and intuitional capabilities of the human being it is important to understand the functioning of these five kosas. In addition, understanding of the five layers of the mind also helps one in the various spiritual practices which are designed to perfect these layers of the mind.

The division of the mind into five layers is similar to the structure of an onion – as one layer is peeled away the next layer is revealed until one reaches the innermost layer.

The outermost layer of the mind is actually the physical body which we can consider to be the sixth layer of the mind. This physical body is formed from the food we eat and is known in Sanskrit as annamaya kosa. By admitting that the body is the base of the mind, Ananda Marga philosophy avoids the duality of mind and body which has troubled some philosophical systems. Also by accepting the body as an integral part of the mind, the practitioner of Tantra Yoga includes the development of the body in the program of spiritual development.

The need to integrate a concern for the body in an over all program to develop the mind is demonstrated in the story of Gautama, the Buddha, who in his final quest to attain enlightenment vowed to sit in meditation until he reached his goal. He sat for several days without eating or sleeping, but his body gradually weakened until he was no longer able to maintain the position of meditation. Fortunately, a young woman saw the plight of Gaotama and brought him a bowl of food. He ate the food, and with renewed strength continued in his arduous spiritual practice and after several more days realized his true self.

Beyond the annamaya kosa we find the first non-physical layer of the mind which is known as kamamaya kosa. Kama means desire and it is this layer which controls and guides our relationship with the exterior world. The work of the sensory and motor organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin, limbs, etc.) are governed by this kosa. It is this layer of the mind which is at work during our normal waking consciousness. It senses the exterior world and helps our motor organs to react to the world. It is known in Western psychology as the “conscious mind”. If someone sees a piece of cake and then desires to eat it and finally if his or her motor organs begin to carry out this desire, then we have a typical operation of the kamamaya kosa.

Going further into the mind we find another layer known as the manomaya kosa which is also known as the subtle mind. This is the layer which governs memory. All memory is stored here, and we can recall a previous experience due to the capacity of this layer. In addition the mind’s ability to process and use previously acquired data also depends on this layer.

An example of its operation is found in a university student who reads many books in preparation for an examination. At the time of the examination there may be one or two questions and it is the manomaya kosa which recollects the diverse facts from all the books and helps to synthesize them into a coherent response.

The manomaya kosa is known in psychology as the subconscious mind”. The subconscious mind is active during sleep while the conscious mind (kamamaya kosa) is inactive. Dreams take place in this layer. A further function of the manomaya kosa is that pleasure and pain are experienced here.

Unlike many schools of Western psychology, Ananda Marga philosophy states that the mind does not end with the subconscious layer. Beyond the manomaya kosa there are three layers which are collectively known as Karana manas or “causal mind.” Some psychologists, notably Carl Jung, have called this the “unconscious mind”. This causal mind is concerned with the intuitive capabilities of the human being, but due to the constant activity of the conscious and sub conscious minds, it is rarely experienced by most human beings. This is perhaps why its study has been neglected in most schools of psychology.

This causal mind has also been called the collective unconscious by Carl Jung because all the knowledge of past, present and future is lying in it. The information in the causal mind is not limited to the memory and experience of the individual as is the data in the subconscious mind. It is because of the existence of this causal mind that we can explain the extraordinary experiences of prophets, psychics, clairvoyants and others who have predicted events of the future or who have known things beyond the limits of their sense organs.

An example is the case of the scientist Mendeleyev who was the first person to formulate the periodic table of elements, an arrangement of the physical elements in order of their atomic weight. Mendeleyev was asked how he had determined this arrangement and he responded by explaining that one night he was dreaming and in his dream he saw the periodic table of the elements. He woke up and then copied it down.

The American clairvoyant Edgar Cayce was able to diagnose the illnesses of people who were thousands of kilometers away from him. This is another example of the extraordinary capacity of the causal mind.

The Old Testament story of Joseph’s dreams in which he predicted several years of good harvests followed by several years of famine in ancient Egypt is another example of the limitless knowledge which lies in the more subtle layers of mind.

Similarly, there is an Indian tale of a man who worshipped the goddess Kali in order to find a remedy for his sick child; subsequently he was told the proper medicine in a dream by the goddess. In these cases, dreamers went into deep sleep in which they penetrated beyond the manomaya kosa into the causal mind.

In Ananda Marga philosophy, three layers of the causal mind are recognized. The first layer is called atimanasa kosa. It is here where the desire for spiritual realization originates. The faculties of clairvoyance, intuition and artistic creativity are characteristic functions of this layer.

The second layer of the causal mind is vijinamaya kosa or “special knowledge” kosa. Two of the most important intuitional qualities which humans can develop are expressed in this kosa. One is viveka or true discrimination; the ability to know what is permanent and what is transitory. The true sage knows that the passing show of this material world is only a relative truth and he or she is able to see the unchanging and absolute consciousness behind the panorama of the physical world. When viveka is developed then the second quality, vaeragya, gets expression. Vaeragya is the renunciation of and non-attachment to transitory physical objects. It does not mean running away from worldly objects like a hermit in a cave, but rather psychic non-attachment to objects. This state is best expressed in the story of India’s legendary sage-king, Janaka, who is said to have remarked, “Even it my kingdom goes up in smoke, I have lost nothing.”

The final layer of the causal mind is hiranmaya kosa or “golden layer”. In this kosa a practitioner of Tantra Yoga can experience a brilliant golden effulgence and experience the pure “I” feeling. When the aspirant reaches this layer, he or she has the awareness that only a thin veil separates him or her from the pure witnessing consciousness (Atman) which lies beyond the kosas.

Shrii Shrii Anandamurti compares the mind to a mirror which can reflect the Cosmic Consciousness. He says that if the mirror is not clean then the reflection of the consciousness is not clear. We can think of the kosas as the different layers of our mind’s “mirror”. If there are impeffections in the different layers, then the reflection of consciousness is not fully perceived, and we may be unaware that there is pure consciousness beyond our mind. That is why Tantra Yoga utilizes the eight steps of Astaunga Yoga to puriify each of the kosas.

The development of the mind can be accomplished by natural processes but it can be greatly accelerated by the application of the various yoga practices. The body or annamaya kosa is developed naturally through physical labor and exercise while yoga prescribes asanas and the proper selection of food to develop the kosa.

The development of the kamamaya kosa (conscious mind) through natural means comes about due to physical clash, that is the struggle to live in the world. In Astaunga yoga the practice of Yama and Niyama (moral code of conduct) helps one to develop the conscious mind by strengthening one’s conscience. The subconscious mind (manomaya kosa) is also developed naturally through physical struggles and in yoga through the practice of Pranayama. The atimanasa kosa, or first layer of the causal mind is developed naturally through psychic clash, struggles in the realm of mind which everyone faces in the course of life. The yogic practice for the development of the atimanasa kosa is pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses from attachment to external objects.

The second layer of the causal mind, vijinanamaya kosa, is likewise developed in all humans through psychic struggles and in yoga practice by the technique of Dharana (concentration). Finally the development of the last kosa, hiranyamaya kosa, comes about in all humans due to their longing for the Infinite. In yoga the practice of Dhyana develops this last and most subtle portion of the mind.

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