This article is written by Srivatsa Ramaswami and is reproduced here with his kind permission:
The words vidyā, viduṣa, veda,vidvān all come from the root ‘vid’ to know. Vidyā is knowledge or body of knowledge. The Upaniṣads contain a number of vidyās, all aimed at disclosing the nature of the ultimate reality Brahman and we have several upaniṣad vidyās.
Sri Kṛṣnamacarya taught us several such upaniṣad vidyās. The famous pañcakośa vidyā from the taitiriya upaniṣad is one of them. He taught us to chant this oft chanted upaniṣad and also the vidyā contained in it. Then we have the pranava vidyā detailed in the upaniṣad called Mandukya upaniṣad, from the atharva veda. This vidyā interprets the sacred syllable “OM” as representing the pure consciousness, the ultimate reality referred in many upaniṣads as Brahman.
Yogis may find some similarity ( and some differences) between how Patañjali interprets pranava and how this upanishad explains it. Then he also taught an important vidyā called “sadvidyā” from the Chandogya Upanishad belonging to the Sāma Veda. Sat would mean truth and here it would indicate that which really exists again represented as Brahman. This vidyā contains the famous mahāvākya or great saying “tat tvam asi” or ‘that you are’
As we were going through different upaniṣad vidyās one day I asked him: ‘If all these vidyās are about the same reality then why the vedas have so many different vidyās.’ My Guru said something on these lines “Different sages teaching to disciples of different capabilities and temperaments at different times at different places.” Bādrāyana harmonized the various upaniṣad vidyās into one single work called Brahmasutras, a classic which has very many commentaries written.
All these help lead us to locate and understand the ultimate reality in us, the pure consciousness, the awareness-the Self- (with) which we experience everything. How to find the soul within this body? How to find me within me? This is what the upaniṣad vidyā, the pancha kosa vidyā of the taittiriya upaniṣad attempts to expound.
It starts with the physical body all of us identify as ‘oneself’. It occupies physical space and for convenience is considered to have five parts, the head, the right limb (wing) the left limb (wing), the torso and fifthly the lower extremities, or the tail. The wings and the tail are mentioned in the upaniṣad considering the body as that of a bird. Anyway there are five parts of the body which itself is made of seven humors. It is the material body or annamaya.
This is the gross body all of us are familiar with. Subtler than this is the body of prāna or prāna sarira. It is the energy body. Just as the skeleton gives a structure to the physical body, it is the prāna sarira (or prana maya kośa)which upholds the body and makes it work, without which the physical body can not even stand up. Miśra, the commentator of the yoga sutra, while on the ‘prayatna saitilya’ sutra in the Yoga sutras calls prāna as śarira dhāraka or that which holds up the body. This prāna sarira also has five parts, the prāna, apāna, vyāna, udāna and samāna.
The prāna is considered to be the head or top part of this. Its main function is respiration especially drawing prāna vāyu into the lungs or svāsa kosa. Then we have vyāna which is responsible for the entire circulation in the body. It takes prānavāyu and other nutrients to different parts of the body, different cells. It is said to be like the right limb of the prāna body. Then apāna is said to be the left limb or wing of this subtle body. Apāna is responsible to excrete waste products from the body. Then the upaniṣad refers to samāna as the trunk or torso of the body, samāna is said to be responsible for the harmonizing the food we eat, And finally the udāna vāyu which looks upward is the one that is said to be the support and that balances the forces prāna and apāna or inhalation and exhalation. It is therefore referred to as the seat (or lower limbs) or the tail. It could be seen that the prāna sarira or the prāna-maya-kosa is the energy body or the forces that dominate the autonomic nervous system.
The sāmkhyas refer to the five factored prāna as an activity of citta (brain) and the vritti or activity as samanya vritti or sāmānya karanā vritti which corresponds to autonomic or independent kind of brain’s activity. Respiration (prāna), circulation (vyāna), excretion (apāna), digestion (samāna) and maintaining balance between inspiration and exhalation is udāna constitute the energy body. When udāna fails, prāna or inspiration does not start at the end of the breathing cycle resulting in death. Mere prāna or respiration is not sufficient to maintain life. A complete system, the prāna maya, is necessary to maintain life. If there is no prānamaya, then the annamaya alone would be a body but a lifeless one.
The next kośa which is subtler than this is called mano-maya. This subtle body, subtler than the prāna maya again is visualized by the sage as made of five parts.,The head of the manomaya is yajurveda, the right limb or wing is the rig veda, the sāma veda is the left limb or wing. The tail, seat or support is the atharva veda and the heart or torso is the “ādeśa’ or vedic or upaniṣadic instructions.
While it is not difficult to relate the five aspects of annamaya and prānamaya, it is rather difficult to say that the manomaya is made up of the various vedas. Perhaps one in a million may have studied all the four vedas and understood them properly. How about my mano maya – of one who has no idea what the vedas are? Here we have to consider that the sage is talking about his/her mano maya. He or she has studied the vedas and the mind is full of vedic knowledge. Further the basic information about the subject on hand which is the knowledge about the Self is contained in the upaniṣads, a part of the vedas.
Manas is considered to be a representative term for the entire group of indriyas, the five sense instruments and the five karma indriyas or instruments of activity, the mind being the coordinating aspect of this group. The Sāmkhyas call this group the ekādaśa or 11 indriyas. An infant grows up collecting information from the outside world through the senses which education goes on all life. Information through the eyes ,ears, and by touch smell and taste reach the mind which processes and coordinates them and some of which is retained as memory in the mind.
The information I have is different from what someone else may have or the vedic ṛṣi may have got. Since the olden days sanskrit was not a written language a lot of information as the four vedas were chanted by the teacher which were heard and memorized by the student. Thus the mano maya is the subtle body of the citta that collected and retained information. This is represented by the upaniṣad as the mano maya with the four vedas as different parts of this subtle body and the core instructions as the heart of this body of knowledge. If there were no manomaya kośa the person would be in a comatose state until the prānaṛṣ leaves the body.
There is the fourth body subtler than the manomaya which is called vijñanamaya. This is the kosa which has the ability to analyze data and come to conclusions, hopefully the correct one. The other term used for vijñana is buddhi. Sāmkhyas call buddhi as that which is able to break down data like a farmer using a sharp plough is able to break the earth and make it fit for cultivation. How does this kosa operate? It has śraddha or faith as the head. ṛtam or straightforwardness is the right side of it and then truth is the left limb or wing. Yoga or one-pointedness/samādhi is the heart of this kosa and it rests on mahat or universal intelligence. Sraddhā — initially one should start with the faith that the knowledge about the self can be found the vedas/upaniṣads. Rtam will refer to an open mind or straightforward thinking. Satyam would refer to the truth of the Self. Then how can the truth be found out. By ekāgrata or yogic samādhi and that is the implication of yoga being the heart of the whole endevour. And Mahat is universal intelligence (the order or dharma of the universe) which is said to support (puccha) this vijñanamaya.
Then the last subtle kośa or sheath is the ānanda maya which is identified as the bliss kosa or one may say the place of emotions or ego. Without this everyone would be like a moron, a robot. This is also visualized to have five parts. The head is identified with priya. Commentators refer to priya as the feeling one gets when recalling a distant object one likes, just the visualization. The right limb of this is moda. The example is the feeling when one gets the object desired. Then the left wing is pramoda or something similar to the feeling one gets when one uses/enjoys the desired object. Then ananda the generalized feeling of satisfaction is the core or heart of this kośa and finally the whole range is said to be established (puccha) on Brahman the ultimate reality.
Since the whole exercise is about realizing the Brahman, here priya the head would indicate the feeling one gets thinking about oneself, the dearest thing. Then the moda would indicate the feeling one gets by identifying the true self by study of the these vidyās. Then the pramoda would be what one gets when one conclusively understands the true nature of oneself by repeated meditation on it. Then ananda would indicate the feeling when one is directly able to experience through Yoga samādhi. Ultimately one realizes the Brahman and loses one’s own individual identity and remains merged in Brahman. These are the stages of ānanda.
These kosas or all the bodies, gross and the subtle ones are to be kept clean (śuddha) or highly satvic. Yoga helps in such a clean up. Asanas help the annamaya, prānāyāma the prānamaya, pratyāhāra the manomaya, antaranga sādhanā the vijñanamaya and finally nirodha or nirvikalpa the ānandamaya.
The vedas have a a beautiful mantra “ātma śuddhi mantra”. One line of it specifically prays for the purification of all the five kosas so that one can clearly work through the kosas and realize the underlying Brahman/ātman the pure unwavering consciousness, the core, the foundation of my being.
“annamaya, prānamaya, manomaya, vijñanamaya. ānandamaya me śudhyantām, jyotiraham, virajā vipāpmā bhuyasam, svāhā”.
The Brahman or the self which is pure unwavering consciousness is beyond the five kosas but is the support of the five layered body.
This pancakośa vidyā is one comprehensive upaniṣad vidyā or a step by step system of knowing oneself. And there are quite a few other choices the upaniṣads offer.
The long Sanskrit vowel ‘O’ (as in boat) is considered a diphthong by Sanskrit scholars and vedic sages. “O’ may be considered compound vowel of ‘a’ ( as in up) and ‘u’ (as in put). Try to say ‘a’ (as in up) and then momentarily in the same breath ‘u’ (as in put) also, then we have “O” The pranava or ‘OM’ mantra is made up of O and ending with the consonant ‘M’ Actually the first vowel in Sanskrit is ‘a’ and the last consonant is ‘M’ leaving aside the siblings. So ‘OM’ or “AUM’ would contain the first sound when one opens he mouth “a’ (as in up) and ‘M’ when one closes the mouth and hence he pranava is considered to contain the entire alphabets and the entire vedas.
Here in the pranava vidyā as found in Māndukya Upaniṣad, the syllable “OM’ is considered made up of a, u and m. .a. is identified with the pure consciousness, the Brahman in the individual waking state, ‘u’ in the dream state and ‘m’ in the deep sleep state, the three states (avasthā) of awareness of the same atman or brahman. And then it refers to the transcendental state as the fourth state of awareness or the turiya avastā the state of pure consciousness which is what the previously discussed pancakośa vidyā leads the abhyāsi to.
There is another brief vidyā in Mahānārayana upanishad on these lines. The pranava is associated with three vyāhritis, viz., om bhuh, om bhuvah and om suvah. The three vyahritis represent the three states of waking ,dream and deep sleep. The sage māhācamasya talks about a fourth state of consciousness beyond the three all of us are familiar with. He calls it ‘caturti’ or the fourth. That he calls it as maha, so the fourth vyāhriti ‘om mahah’ represents the fourth state of consciousness. The upanishad affirmatively says ‘that’ consciousness is the atman, the brahman (tat brahma, sa atma)
Then the famous prānāyama mantra in the same upaniṣad refers to seven vyāhritis all of which refer to seven states of consciousness, four at the microcosmic level and three at the macrocosmic level. In this the first four ‘om bhuh, om bhuvah, om suvah and om mahah’ would refer to individual consciousness and the other three ‘om janah om tapah and om satyam’ representing the pure state, the state of contemplation and the state of actual creation by the supreme being.
The message is to consider that the same consciousness prevails in its pure state as satya (om satyam), then in the contemplative state before creation, identified as .’om tapah’ then in the state of creation it is known as ‘om janah’. Then the same consciousness is known further down at the micro level as the fourth state ‘om mahah’ and then the three individual states. The whole exercise done along with prānāyāma is to contemplate on one Consciousness in all the seven states three at the macro level and four in the micro level, the fourth being a state obtained after practicing these vidyās and understand the unity of consciousness.
The yogis on the other hand identify the states of the mind, citta into five categories called citta vrittis. These can be related to the three avastas of pranava vidyā. The nidra vritti would correspond to the sushupti avastā . Pramāna, viparyaya and smriti may be considered as forming the jāgrat avastā or waking state and finally the vikalpa will basically correspond to the svapna avastā. The nirodha state of the citta will correspond to the turiya state of the ātman (individual self) or the kailvalya.
There are several upaniṣad vidyas and scholars have identified 32 as very important mostly belonging to the 10 major upaniṣads. Brahma Vidya is a path of contemplative meditation taught in the Upaniṣads. The passage of time has largely obscured the nature and culture of these meditations, and subsequent discussions of them are largely academic, drawing on the texts and their subsequent treatment in the Brahma Sutras. Scholars eventually identified the upaniṣad meditations or vidyās as 32.
One such enumeration is given below: Sad Vidyā,Antaraaditya Vidyā ,ākāśa Vidyā.Prāna Vidyā,Paramjyoti Vidyā. śāndilya Vidyā. Upakośala Vidyā , Vaiśvānara Vidyā , Bhuma Vidyā ,Satyakāma Vidyā .Dahara Vidyā .Madhu Vidyā .Samvarga Vidyā , Gāyatri Vidyā .Pancāgni Vidyā ,Akshi Vidyā .Antaryāmi Vidyā .Akshara Vidya , Jyotishām jyotir Vidyā , Maitreyi Vidyā , Sarvāntarātma Vidya .ānandamaya (panchakosa) Vidyā . Vāruni Vidyā , Nyāsa Vidyā , , Paramapurusha Vidyā , Naciketa Vidyā. Angushta-pramita Vidyā . Paryanka Vidyā , Pratardana Vidyā , Bālāki Vidyā . Aksharapara Vidya , Isāvāsya Vidyā. Other well known vidyas include pranava vidyā, dahara vidyā.
Sri Krṣnamācārya taught many of them in addition to teaching the nuances of āsanas, prānāyāma, bhakti meditation, vinyāsasakrama, religious and philosophical texts, wonderful sanskrit chants and many more. Putting all his teaching merely in the āsana straight jacket is not doing justice to his scholarship, experience and what he did as a compassionate teacher . His teaching had a very far reach and it is necessary to explore and bring out the many facets of his teachings so that modern yogis may benefit.
What is the use of these upaniṣad vidyās?
They help remove avidyā