The Anatta Upanishad

Understanding the Three Phases of the Heart

and Penetrating the Five Sheaths of Illusion


Preface      I. Gautama's Gift      II. The Three Hearts

III.  The Kosha Epistemology of Self-Understanding


III. The Kosha Epistemology of Self-Understanding


'Self'' is the most overused, under-examined, and unconsciously presumed creation of humankind. When is the last time you or I have stopped and utterly examined our process of self-identification? When have we thoroughly and critically examined our own identity --so that self and self's knowledge, in all of its appearances, is transparent? What schemas and images make sense in this task? Is this transparency even possible? Transparent to what?

Unfortunately, when self is studied, the investigations are made by self and colored by self. The ancient Hellenes had a word for this skewed logic of self-presumption: hubris. Usually hubris is translated as pride, for the arrogance of pride and its tragic destiny are the timely evidence for the delusion of the self-position. Our Hellene forbearers repeatedly revealed hubris as the source of delusion and human suffering. And let us note: the study of self by selves is fatally colored by self-logic: this is the hubris of psychology.

At humanity's psychological worst, megalomania, narcissism, and much human evil are the result of this hubris; at best, the study of the psyche by psyches is tainted with humanistic presumptions.

Fortunately, we've also inherited the wisdom teachings that ''stand out (from self)'' (ekstasis, ecstatic). At worst, these teachings will be merely believed; at best -- when embraced with ''open eyes'' -- they grant liberation.

The Vedic Revelation of the Koshas

The strength of the West is found in a deeply developed sense of the self, in the psychology of the individual, and in individualistic society. Self-esteem is very important to the Western individual, and both the individual and Western society are obsessed with politics of independence.

The weakness of the West is evident in the poor delineation of the highest and very subtlest aspects of the self, and by an aggressive opposition to anything that sounds like ''spiritual self-sacrifice''. Because of this Western weakness, let us use a model from the strength of the spiritual East, a model wherein the Western psychologies of self-development can be held together with the higher Eastern wisdom of perfect self-understanding: the five sheaths, or Vedic koshas.

The ''koshic'' epistemology not only discerns the magnificent process of self, its unfolding wide spectrum and subtle heights; it also delineates the way of the self's dissolution into its lighted source. Herein, the atman is resolved into the Para-Atman; the self resolves or the soul surrenders and floats within the great Self or Oversoul of all-pervading, all-inclusive, Divine Brightness -- Original Brahman.

The five Vedic ''sheaths'' of self (koshas) constitute a broad epistemology that includes the somatic, the emotive, and the mental levels of appreciation, as well as the understandings that are beyond mentality and describe the razor discrimination which leads to unitive blissfulness. The koshas are the Vedantic version of the ''great chain of being'' -- with each sheath of self carrying personal, social, and historical implications.  

This spectrum of knowing allows us to soberly appreciate our selves (and the limits of our knowings) within an open-ended, wide-ranging process -- stretching from the fleshy body to the realization of liberated, unitive, formless awareness.

The self-bound sheaths or koshas were often compared to the skins of an onion, each enclosing