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

another in an embrace and transcendence of the shallower skin. This process became most mature with the secrets of the soul, or deepest self --to be found not at the center, but beyond it.

In developmental psychological terms, the sheaths could also be described as five layers of a self-pyramid. In this light, the grosser koshas represent a kind of foundation for the subtler and more mature levels of awareness. Each layer has not only depth but breadth, and each level matures into the next. For instance, a well-developed somatic intelligence provides the base for the higher forms of knowing --with the highest triangle completing the building and also existing beyond it. Indeed, the highest space and transcendent eye seem to be floating above the great foundation. An entire psychology could be described by koshic categories and the developmental needs within and between each layer.

The limitations represented in each skin of self-presumption are the illusions or ''maya'' of that kosha. Maya (''she who measures'') is the force of delusion that comes with being limited to the self-position; the maya of the kosha is the  delusion of the self, and is the Eastern analogy to hubris. Within the liabilities of each kosha lie the detailed imperfections, delusions, arrogance, and sufferings of humankind.      Each layer also has its ability and strength, representing the intelligence associated with a certain vibrational frequency. And from the maturity of each sheath's intelligence, there appears a new, more inclusive kosha. The appearance, liability, ability, and maturity of each skin or self must all be learned and recognized for this integrative process to grow.

The Five Layers of the Self

Adi Da pithily describes primal identity formation in The Enlightenment of the Whole Body: ''As the newborn feeds upon the mother's breast, the infant informs itself of its independence and receives pleasure as the reward for body identity.''  That outermost kosha is called anamayakosha (anna-maya-kosha), or ''the deluding sheath of the food body.'' When the body needs elemental replenishment, we say, ''I'm hungry,'' and presume identity with the elemental body.

In annamayakosha, the self or I is compelled to body-identity and carnal logic. The sufferings of being limited to the flesh and confined to the logic of sensation are well trumpeted.

The food sheath is our fleshy ephemerality -- the world of want, sensation, and identity. In the fleeting time of this identification, we inherit the body's logic: flight or fight, feed, fuck, and fear. Here, our solutions to our limitations are pointedly partial. The propensity for unconscious consolation riddles this sheath and creates the suffering of ordinary body identity.

But the flesh is not dead, and its pleasure can rise in pleasure to the living energy that inspires it. When we contact this energy, we have come to the next sheath.

Pranamayakosha is ''the deluding sheath of the pranic or breath body'' wherein we enjoy the buzz and thrill of living energies -- felt in the body, in the living breath, with others, in nature, and in the matrices of experience. In pranamayakosha, one feels the intercourse of the body, emotions, and nature. In the maturity of this immersion, self is given to see the beautiful, awesome, etheric interconnectedness of energies -- as well as the symphonic nature of feeling and experiences.

Identity with the etheric and magical domain gives the self both great power and great maya, great delusion. Pranamayakosha is the self bound in the sheath of dreamy subconsciousness -- with a weakness for the Siren call -- and consoled by states of energy, like a pendulum swinging between stimulation and rest. Identification with states of energy plagues the self-presumption of pranamayakosha in cycles of rising and falling. On the dark side of the magical, pranic, etheric interconnectedness is superstition, subconscious dreaminess, self-involved immunities, mythic beliefs, and indulgence in states of energies. Here we settle for sentiment and are afflicted by affections.

But these dreams and affections are not without understanding, and thus we come to the next sheath. The mythic understanding of pranamayakosha eventually matures beyond the magical and merely mythical into manomayakosha's cleverness and explicit knowing.

Manomayakosha is ''the deluding sheath of the mind.'' (Consider the etymological family of both ''mano'' and ''maya'': measure, moon, menses, men, mental, mind.) Just as prana pervades the body, the mind pervades the energies and the flesh. The early manomayakosha mind is illuminated by stories, parables and myths. It begins to see the (one) principle amidst the many, the singularity in all the energies; it winnows concepts from precepts and asserts the One Astral God with its many energies.

Manomayakosha is a great leap beyond the mythic pranamayakosha. Manomayakosha creates the objective knowing of science, the logic beyond the myths, and the moral behind each story. ''Principles, not faith'' is the mantra of manomayakosha.

As Achilles was the character of hubris in The Iliad, Odysseus is an icon of guile's strengths and weaknesses in The Odyssey. While manomayakosha's logic is senior to pranamayakosha's beliefs, manomayakosha is also limited, as revealed by the trials of Odysseus.

Manomayakosha identifies with the verbal portion of the brain, the waking state, and the merely rational. The continuous verbal mind creates the deluding cave of clever inwardness, self inside, behind blue eyes, seeing shadows on the walls of the common world.

When a self grows out of the myth-laden sentiment into objective mentality, the mind, at first and by its abstract nature, tends to reject the previous sheaths. The previously interconnected and magical world is reduced to ''childhood fantasy.'' Etheric and fleshy energies plague the ordinary mind with their illogical depth. The early transition to manomayakosha is seen in this rejection of the body and emotions. An example of this nascentity: immature religious thought is often at war with the body, the energetic/sexual world, and women.

Obsession with the waking state and verbal mind within manomayakosha creates a clever but schismatic relationship to the body and the emotional life. While the schismatic approach to the world creates ''good science'' and objective knowing, manomayakosha shows its weakness and dark side in the manipulative and separative mind. Here we find idealisms taken too far, unexamined presumptions, and beliefs with limited understanding.

The vast body of somatic, magical, and mythic knowledge seems to retreat from the chatterbox sitting abstractly on top of the shoulders. Manomayakosha is compelled by the logical sentence the way pranamayakosha is possessed by sappy sentiment, and annamayakosha is consoled by instant gratification.

The liability of manomayakosha is not found in fleshy unconsciousness, nor dreamy subconsciousness, but in mere consciousness. Manomayakosha is a superficial flatland of arrogant knowing, obsessed with knowledge as power. For manomayakosha, facts and information are the truth, but unfortunately, manomayakosha is often made mad by manipulative mentality.

The liability of manomayakosha is seen in another manner, a way imbued with cultural significance. As the mind of manomayakosha comes to the fore and discovers the single principle behind many different events, it discards the many gods and righteously asserts the One god, and his name is  (fill in the blank) . (Often it adds, ''And you'd better kiss his ass or I'll kill you.'') The deluding limits of manomayakosha can be seen in this immature religious arrogance and zealotry. Herein we find every arrogance of power, every clever manipulation, and the initiation of every ''holy war.''

Perhaps the most crucial of the sheaths to understand is manomayakosha. The critique of mere reason is not only the province of Kant, it is the obligation of every maturing adult. While the most developed of humans have outgrown modernity's obsession with the early mind, humans in general are still characterized by mythic-mindedness and the abstract mentality of manomayakosha. Our new world order has us still grappling with ''its many truths, the way a room full of mad Christs or crazy Napoleans confront one another in an insane asylum.'' ''My god is better than your god'' is the absurd hymn of manomayakosha.

The suffering of manomayakosha must be recognized and soberly appreciated so that the afflictions of mere mind no longer torment the suffering, inward soul. Self must come to a radical revulsion to the consolations of the mind, the flesh, and energies. It is this crucial turning (metanoia) from life's ordinary lethargies to a longer-lasting happiness that gives birth to the next sheath.

''An unexamined life is not worth living.'' This Socratic discernment is what is meant by ''vijna.'' In disciplined moderation, we come to vijnamayakosha. Vijna is the discrimination that pervades the mind, energies, and body. Vijna's discipline, examination, and discernment cuts into the pleasures that do not persist, and, by this vijna, the happiness that does last becomes discrete. Thus, the vijna of the sage exclaims, ''neti, neti'' (''not this, not this'').

Indeed, discrimination has a purpose; thought has pointed meaning. It is the narrow gate into unitive consciousness, formless ecstasy, and the heart and source of thoughts, emotions, and all mortal matter.

Vijnamayakosha is the higher mind of great thought and mystic knowledge. Here the self fully matures, and from its great strength, learns to give itself up to its source. Here self learns subtlety, the deep and the upper sweetness. Via vijna, self finds its own roots in the light and in the true and real. Here is gnosis, vijna, viveka, as well as cultural and formless discriminations of all kinds.

Vijnamayakosha holds most of the higher wisdom traditions of humankind. Vijnamayakosha begins with the conversion from the schismatic manomayakosha in a new birth of wisdom: vijna-self masters the body, emotions, and mind, grows in real heart-happiness, and ecstatically touches the rapture of highest knowledge.

In vijnamayakosha lie the lyre and bow of Apollo, the raptures of Rumi, the divine ignorance and true beauty of Socrates, Ockham's razor, dialectics from Parmenides, Hegel, Shankara, and Vivekananda, the revelations of Nietzche, Kant, Newton, and Einstein, the bliss rings of Dante, the wholeness of Michaelangelo, the sublime thrusts of Beethoven, and the internal avenues of joy singing Mozart's concertos. Vijna provides the yogis and mystics with paths of ascension via light and sound to and from the source of joy.

The self enters vijnamayakosha through a door wide enough to hold every experience, all myths, all beliefs, and all ordinary knowing. Taking these illuminations to heart, the self grows in balanced equanimity, and, on the basis of the oceanic calm wrought by heart-wisdom, the last atom of the self exits vijnamayakosha through the eye of a needle.

But vijnamayakosha has a limitation. The ecstasy or samadhi attained by discrimination, while real and true, is not permanent, and must be supported or deepened again and again by the attentive discernment of what is real. In vijnamayakosha, the deeper self is consoled not by body, emotions, or cleverness, but by insight and the task of attention. The real liability of vijnamayakosha is that a great thinker may console himself or herself with brilliant insight, just as the yogi sheaths himself or herself by the divine knowledge that they touched or embraced the blissful source point. Brilliantly thinking about real living is not walking the talk, and every vision of the infinite mystery must not be left in the past.

While the cup or crater of vijna's pure joy is real, true, and deeply satisfying, vijna's light is to be distinguished from inherent bliss. The light of vijna comes from the radiant sun: Apollo is the son of Zeus. Insights are not themselves the point. The living breath, body, human cleverness and all insights must intercourse in a presently singular joy. This worship must be strengthened and deepened by years of practice; otherwise, interior delusions will be the limit of vijna's kosha.

The angels of Milton fell due to their satisfaction with their own brilliant insights into the paradoxical divinity wherein all arises. Milton's fallen angels are the personification of vijna-maya-kosha.

Vijna's limitation can also be stated philosophically: Discrimination is done by a self who discerns reality, and the dyadically bound nature of attention and self must be relinquished upon entrance into unitive bliss. Vijna, at last, must unsheath a sword of free attention sharp enough to slay itself. Unless the self of vijnamayakosha is understood, unless the deepest identity is understood, unless self itself is understood, the one who discriminates is left with either “I” (as in Descartes) or nothingness (as in Sartre). To the delusion of vijnamayakosha, from the point of view of the deepest ego-I, we objectify existence as Void, without seeing the void of I that projects nothingness upon This Fullness.

Avatara Adi Da: Contemplate the mind. How much can the mind tell you? If the mind was so enlightened, you would already be enlightened. You just continue to consult the mind again and again and again and revolving through its parts, consulting its grammatical structures and so forth as if that would somehow become Absolute Illumination you see. You must use the mind, not dwell on it,inwardly, use the mind's intelligence, as attention, and bring it to the real context of life, bring it to my Argument and the Argument as consideration, in other words bring it into the context of life. Merely to dwell on the mind is just - a way of making forms, sculptures out of thought. You can't accomplish any more than the mind has already communicated to you, than the mind already contains. In any case there is no consequence in the mind that's equivalent to Transcendental Realization.

So the mind should be used as a tool rather than an already existing substance or word bank, you see. In other words we must use the higher mind, not the lower mind. The lower mind is full of memory, words, grammatical constructions, illusions, and so forth. These things are constantly arising in us rather automatically. We must use the higher mind, vijnanamayakosha, the intelligence factor of the mind, the capacity to observe and see directly and understand and release, transcend, go beyond. This function of mind does have a use in spiritual life. The other form of mind has a use in practical life really and not much more use The mind is mere content and structure. It is not something that we should suppress, but we should economize it, we should require it, oblige it to be useful in its domain. You wouldn't consult the liver, for instance, for God-Realization.

Why should you consult the lower mind? You don't sit and have conversations with your feet. Why do you have conversations with your mind? Instead of using your higher mind, you see, you indulge it, you become an odalisque and you lie in the lower mind and in the body and in the emotion's and reactions, the content of past life and so forth. You don't exercise a freer mind, the higher mind. The mind is just intelligence, attention. That form does have a use in spiritual life, but we don't use it very much, you see. We indulge ourselves in the lower mind and in the body and in emotions, our relations, and we bind ourselves to these structures, instead of using the higher structures for the sake of self-understanding, self-transcendence, liberating insight and intuition. Then the higher mind would even itself be transcended, you see, in transcendental Realization.

The fifth sheath is anandamayakosha, the sheath of ananda, inherent bliss. Here is the greatest happiness a center can enjoy. Here, upon the last atom of deepest self, is the joyous point of attentive discrimination. In anandamayakosha, self abides in inherent bliss; the soul floats in joyous divinity. Here is the rested soul and unknowing of Sokrates. Here the atman is found within the Para-Atman, and being within Supreme Being.  Anandamayakosha's unitive light can be re-cognized as joy permeates and includes all the previous sheaths. Thus, ananda or bliss can be found in razor-sharp insight, in delightful cleverness, in free-flowing energies, and in the pleasures of the flesh. All of this, joyously I am.

The soul in anandamayakosha is ''the atom in the heart,'' also called ''the soul or ego in the heart.'' It is traditionally referred to as ''the heart on the right,'' ''the source of the heartbeat,'' and indicated as the deepest intercourse of the body with the transcendental. Here, in the deepest heart, is the seat of the soul that shines out of one's eyes -- even as each heartbeat pounds out the source of our self-identity.

Anandamayakosha would seem to be the end of the self's evolution and dissolution. From the point of view of egos in the common world, to criticize the spiritual maturity of anandamayakosha seems ludicrous. But a tradition of perfect realization points out that anandamayakosha is a sheath, a skin, a limitation --albeit the subtlest of delusions. While the atman is in bliss in anandamayakosha, there is still a delineation, the last nub of self enjoying the infinite. The sheath of bliss must also be penetrated so that the center itself will be undone.

Annandamayakosha's blissfulness holds the intersection of awareness and attention. In unitive joy, in relaxed, formless awareness, the creation of any tension sows the seeds of attention in the Unborn Field. Awareness becomes attention when tension creates self and other. Self and other is the very first form of ''a tension,'' attention, the arche-archetype. The birth of attention is coincident with the birth of worlds.

When attention itself is understood to be the self-tensing of (otherwise) formless, blissful awareness, the causal creation of world is radically understood, and the activity of withdrawal and process of self-contraction is thereby also radically understood. This transition between attention and formless awareness was made perfectly clear by the transmission of the fully enlightened ones, the teachers of joy and realizers of divinity.

Anandamayakosha is not the subtlest of the subtle; it is the causal point of the whole spectrum. Beyond the highest point is the source Condition. Before the first form, prior to the archetypal tension, is the joy that is formless, Unborn. Now dazzling through the last atom in the separate heart, the process of self-creation is recognized and attention is re-cognized. Sat-chit (being -consciousness) is added to ananda (love-bliss)  as attention and self resolves and dissolves (back) in Nirguna Brahman. Sat-Chit-Ananda.

The passage out of all sheaths, the penetration of the causal knot at the heart's source, the splitting of the atom in the heart, is done by no one. Understanding and penetrating the last sheath, the bliss sheath, as a sheath, passes through identity and clothed awareness into the naked consciousness, formless bliss, and perfect awakening of moksha or nirvana. It is this un-selfed Witness of inherent, unsupported, unmediated consciousness that outshines all the creations, and even the creator. Moksha, liberation, is the Unborn Brightness, the Condition of all conditions, always and already blissfully outshining all forms like ceramic cups in a perfect furnace.

Ehvam: Thus I have heard from my Beloved Adi Da.

Herein begins the teaching not of salvation, but of liberation. Confronting the dhamma of anatta (''no-self''), we come to understand that there is no substantive ''I'' and that the self is not an entity, but an activity, a process. The process that is ''I'' is the activity of withdrawal and the process of contracting. Contraction is the substance of the skins or koshas; withdrawing creates a self within. When we radically take responsibility for the single action of self-creation, we are given fully to joy, and attention resolves into awareness. Falling and resting in heart-bliss passes through and Witnesses everything else one has settled for before only immortal happiness will do. Only God satisfies perfectly. I am nothing and I am joy itself, I am the wave and I am the sea. Only the oceanic Unborn is everywhere rising in the nectar of immortal sweetness.

This I have witnessed and baptismally received in the gracious and miraculous company of my spiritual master, Avatara Adi Da.


Certainly I am this body, and certainly I am this breath and these sentiments, and certainly I think, therefore I am. I am also an interior voice and, in a way, I hear the conversations of all beings past. I fear, I need and hurt, and I fail. I am also sensitive to wisdom, and I am growing --thereby I will learn to love. By that conscious decision and disciplined turning, I discern true happiness distinct from temporary happiness. I will understand the time of temporary happiness and I will lengthen the time of deep happiness. Growing in happiness, I am in love, I am enraptured, I am distracted by the wonder wherein I and all arises, I am blissful, I am gone in the ecstatic fire like a snowflake. At last, when the defining action of identity as the encapsulating shell of closure is perfectly understood, and feeling opens free in the Company of the Great One, ''I'' resolves into unperturbed awareness. ''I'' is the extending and undefined body: the great body, the immortal sweetness of the beyond-mythic, trans-mystic, selfless divine person, the full incarnation ever widening, always and only, and no other. All of these things, ''I'' confesses. All of these processes, I am.

Ehvam -- Thus I have heard. By the word, glance, touch and embrace of my Master, I have been initiated into the exaltation of every sheath and to the transcendental Consciousness beyond them. I have been graced to be shown my absolute responsibility and our divine destiny and state.

The evidence of true liberation is free heart-incarnation. This transcendent immanence I have felt and seen at the feet of my beloved teacher, Avatara Adi Da, the selfless person of love.