Superimposition and discrimination between Atman and the 3 bodies
or five koshas
extract of the book "The Philosophy of Life" Ch.10: The Jiva
by Swami Krishnananda
by Swami Krishnananda
The five sheaths (koshas) are comprised in the three bodies. The Atman is different from the sheaths the latter being external to consciousness (Atman). Their existence and intelligence are borrowed from Atman which is infinite existence and intelligence. Just as clouds which are generated by the rays of the sun, and which exist on account of the sun, cover the sun itself; just as smoke which draws its existence from fire conceals fire itself; so do the five sheaths, which owe their existence to the Atman, hide it from experience. It is the natural tendency of the mind to identify itself with the sheaths, and vice versa. This superimposition is mutual, and is caused by Avidya (ignorance). One has to realise one’s distinction from the five sheaths by the practice of the method of ‘Neti, Neti’, declared in the Vedanta.
The ignorant man identifies himself with the mass of flesh, fat, skin, bones, etc., while a discerning person becomes aware that he is an intelligent principle (Atman). The Pandit (Priest, Hindu scholar learned in Sanskrit and Hindu philosophy and religion, typically also a practising priest) who has only a theoretical knowledge identifies himself with a mixture of body, mind and soul, while the liberated sage (Jivanmukta) regards the eternal consciousness (Atman) as his Self.
There cannot be the relation of inherence between the sheaths and the Atman, for the insentient and the ephemeral cannot be said to inhere in the sentient and the eternal. There cannot be a relation between entities possessing entirely dissimilar properties. There is not, again, between the sheaths and the Atman, any external contact, for the Atman is unlimited, while the sheaths are confined to spatial and temporal endurance. The two are not made of the same substance, and so there cannot be any contact between them. The apparent relation between the Atman and the sheaths is one of Adhyasa or erroneous imposition (Superimposition).
Superimposition can be of two kinds: partial and mutual. When we see a snake in a rope, the snake is superimposed on the rope, but there is no superimposition of the rope on the snake. This is an instance where the error is one-sided or partial.
But the transference of attributes between the Atman and the sheaths is not thus overbalanced, but obtains on both sides; the superimposition is mutual. The essences of the Atman are projected on the sheaths and the defects of the sheaths are swung upon the Atman. This reciprocal superimposition is called Anyonya-Adhyasa. The nature of Satchidananda which belongs to the Atman is falsely attributed to the sheaths when one makes such statements as ‘My body exists,’ ‘my body is intelligent,’ ‘my body is dear,’ ‘my life is precious,’ etc. In statements like ‘I am a man,’ ‘I am a male,’ ‘I live,’ ‘I grow,’ ‘I die,’ ‘I am hungry,’ ‘I am thirsty,’ ‘I am happy,’ ‘I am sorry,’ etc., there is seen an interjection of the qualities of the sheaths on the Atman. It is this apparent relation that is brought about between the Atman and the sheaths that is the cause of one’s bondage and suffering, and it is the aim of the Vedanta to enlighten the Jiva in its attempts to overcome this ignorance and to realise the Atman in this very life.
The five sheaths (five koshas) have no independent reality from Atman (Consciousness). Just as the mutations that take place in the body of a cow,—growth, decay, etc., do not in the least affect the owner of the cow, who is only a witness, so the changes that occur in the sheaths do not touch the Atman which is their witness.
Just as one can distinguish the sound of one person from that of another through the power of discrimination; just as by this faculty one can feel: ‘This is soft, this is hard, this is hot, this is cold,’ etc.; just as one can, by looking at a mural picture on a wall, say: ‘This is blue colour, this is red colour, this is the wall,’ etc., with one’s discerning capacity, although one is not able to separate the red colour from the blue, or the picture from the wall; just as one can know by tasting a drink: ‘This is lemonade, this is orange,’ etc., through the understanding faculty; just as one can know the odour in a cloth by the organ of smell, although the odour cannot really be separated from the cloth; so also one can clearly differentiate the Atman from the sheaths by an analysis and study of their respective natures.
It is impossible for ordinary people to separate water from milk when the two are mixed together, but it is possible for a swan to do so.
In like manner, though it is impossible for persons of gross understanding to distinguish between the Atman and the sheaths, yet, it is within the capacity of an aspirant endowed with subtle discrimination to fulfil this difficult task.
A pure sattvic buddhi can have the capacity of subtle discrimination and this is the result of a long time systematic sadhana. Dsicrimination (VIveka) together with vairagya (dispassion) are the most important qualifications for self-realization. ~ Atman Nityananda
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