Vedānta series 20

Next to the mental sheath is the sheath of intellect or vijñānamaya kosha, which is also associated with the subtle body. Vijñāna means intelligence and its opposite is ajñāna or ignorance. Intellect along with organs of perception or jñānendriya-s forms the sheath of intellect. When the organs of perception join with the mind it is called manomaya kosha and when the organs of perception join with the intellect it becomes vijñānamaya kosha. Though intellect is the refined form of the mind, it does not mean that it is supreme to the mind. Mind is the knowing principle and the intellect is the deciding factor. When one is able to transcend both the mind and the intellect, his knowledge becomes complete, as both mind and intellect are associated with the pluralistic world. Intellect largely depends upon the impressions in the subconscious mind for its decisions. Impressions in the mind and impressions in the subconscious mind are different. Impressions of the subconscious mind are more powerful than the impressions in the mind. Impressions in the subconscious mind, like karmic account, accompany the casual body during transmigrations. Intellect interacts only with the mind and not with any other faculties. When the mind is incapable of taking any decisions on its own, it always refers to the intellect. Intellect is mind’s guru. One could wonder why knowledge forms the sheath for the Brahman. It is to be recalled that the Brahman within, is sheathed by ignorance and this state of the Brahman is known as jīva. The Soul or the Brahman within can be realized only if the sheath of ignorance is penetrated. With vijñānamaya kosha, ajñāna or the ignorance can be transcended to realise the Self-illuminating Brahman.  

The fifth and final sheath is known as ānandamaya kosha or the sheath of bliss. The previous four sheaths are associated with gross and subtle bodies. Ānandamaya kosha alone is associated with the inner most casual body. The casual body is full of ignorance. Pañchadaśī (III.9) explains the sheath of bliss as, “there is a position or function of the intellect, which at the time of enjoying the fruits of good actions, goes on a little farther inward and catches the reflection of the bliss and at the end of this enjoyment, merges in deep sleep.” Tattvabodha explains ānandamaya kosha as the impure sattva guṇa. It is called impure sattva guṇa because it has the traces of rajo guṇa and tamo guṇa. If the traces of these two guṇa-s are not present, then it is not ānandamaya kosha. Only the nirguṇa Brahman has no traces rajo and tamo guṇa-s. When the nirguṇa Brahman is sheathed by individual ignorance is called jīva and the same nirguṇa Brahman sheathed by collective ignorance of all the beings is known as Īśvara. Ignorance and māyā are the same.  

Now a question may arise why this sheath of bliss is full of ignorance. Bliss means happiness and what happiness has to do with ignorance. Ignorance and happiness refer to the different states of mind. When the mind reaches the state of happiness, it means that the mind is well tuned to look within. When the eternal happiness pervades the mind, the mind gets set to dislodge the ignorance encircling the Brahman and realise the Self-illuminating Brahman within. The Self-illuminating light of the Brahman now becomes absolutely candid to the mind, as the sheath of ignorance that was the cause for the dissemination of the light has been removed. After all, realization happens only in the mind.

During the process of fertilization, the casual body leads to the formation of a subtle body and gross body. In terms of these five sheaths, ānandamaya kosha leads to vijñānamaya kosha, vijñānamaya kosha leads to manomaya kosha, manomaya kosha to prāṇamaya kosha, prāṇamaya kosha leads to annamaya kosha. During the process realisation of the Self, the reverse process happens. Gross body realizes the subtle body and the subtle body (mind) realizes the casual body and the Self. In the same way, annamaya kosha leads to the realisation of ānandamaya kosha and ānandamaya kosha becomes responsible to obviate the inherent ignorance and finally Self is realized.

Further Readings:

Vedanta - Three Types of Bodies

Vedanta - Gross Body

Vedanta - Dream and Deep Sleep States