Garments of Spirit
"As a man abandons worn-out clothes and acquires new ones, so when the body is worn out a new one is acquired by the Self, who lives within."
Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, verse 22.
You have probably heard the expression that 'the body is a house or temple of Spirit'. For thousands of years, the ancient tradition of yoga has acknowledged the existence of 3 bodies or 5 sheaths in our human constitution - the vehicles or garments of Spirit during earthly incarnations.
These 3 bodies (sariras) or 5 sheaths (koshas) are:
1) Physical or gross body: sthula sarira or annamaya kosha , made of food and anatomical structures. The health of the physical body relies greatly on the condition of the subtle body. According to energy medicine (homeopathy, acupuncture, for example) diseases start in the subtle body and then manifest as symptoms in the physical body.
2) Subtle or energetic body: suksma sarira, made of energy, feelings and thoughts. The subtle body has 3 sheaths:
a) Pranamaya kosha: the vital or etheric sheath.
b) Manomaya kosha: the emotional or astral sheath.
c) Vijnamaya kosha: the mental sheath. It includes the 3 aspects of the mind: Manas (collects information); Buddhi (discriminates); Ahamkara (or ego, integrates and makes sense of out experiences). The subtle body is perceived by clairvoyants and healers as a luminous and colourful aura. It is in the subtle body that our conditioning patterns (samskaras) are held and stored. The anatomy of the subtle body is made of nadis (energy channels) and chakras (energy centres). According to the yoga traditions, there are about 350,000 nadis and 7 major chakras in the subtle body. The ascending journey or evolution of consciousness along the chakras is a path of enlightenment. That's why the subtle body is often referred to as the light body.
3) Causal Body: Karma sarira or Anandamaya kosha. This is the closest sheath to Spirit. It holds our higher ideals and purpose in life. The causal body is a body of Light, made of bliss and joy. I believe the causal body is the place where Spirit works; the place where saints and enlightened beings reside most of the time and communicate from.
Now a question arises. How can we transform emotional pain? How can we access and manifest our body of Light? I think the answer lies in opening ourselves to the Divine and having a willingness to acknowledge our shadow. We must embrace our shadow if we are going to grow into the Light.
In Yoga, we work with the 5 sheaths interconnected. The physical body is a gateway to the subtle body. The postures and breathing practices release tension and strengthen the vital sheath. Cleansing ourselves at the emotional and mental levels becomes essential for our spiritual evolution. Cleansing the emotional and mental layers is like cleaning the windows of your house, so that the Light can come in. Giving voice to raw emotions like anger, grief and fear and facing our painful issues can be the first stage on our therapeutic work (or 'travelling through the tunnel' as I call it). It is better than 'avoiding the tunnel', or living with repressed emotions trapped in the body under the form of muscular armour, tension and weakness. As we reclaim our body and the events of our life, we begin to contain all the chapters of our life in a strong energy field. We can then move towards higher emotions like understanding, forgiveness and compassion. I call this stage 'finding Light at the end of the tunnel'.
We do cross many tunnels in our lives, but as we open our hearts to the Divine, we begin to feel that even in the darkest moments, we are walking in the light. As understanding of ourselves grows beyond the psychological and we touch out spiritual essence or highest star, the path is open for divine forces to work through us. With steady commitment to our practice and purpose, we all may become channels for divine wisdom and love, manifesting our body of Light.
As an ancient Upanishad promises us, Yoga is a path from falsehood to truth, from pain to bliss, from death to immortality, from darkness to Light. Today, please honour your own journey, step by step, breath by breath, moment by moment.
Published in Yoga Links. Nov. 2000. Issue 4