Vedānta series 18
Gross body consists of annamaya kosha and prāṇamaya kośa. These two kośa-s (sheaths) are gross in nature, hence associated with gross body. These are called sheaths because they form veils around the soul or ātman. This soul or ātman is nothing but the Brahman Himself, who is beyond these bodies and five sheaths. Knowledge of these sheaths becomes essential so that one can negate them as Brahman. As already discussed, Brahman can be realised only by affirmation and negations.
Annamaya kosha or the physical sheath is produced by the combination of gross elements viz. ākāś, air, fire, water and earth. This sheath is called annamaya kosha, as it is sustained only through the intake of food. The consumed food nourishes not only the external organs and also flesh, blood, nerves, bones, etc. Pañcadaśī (III.3) explains the formation of the gross body. It says that gross body is formed out of procreative fluids of parents, which are formed out of the food consumed by them. The quality of procreative fluids again depends upon the quality of the food consumed by them. The physical sheath becomes important not only to sustain the other sheaths, but also a necessity to undergo one’s accrued karmas, that enters the fetus at the time of conjugation. Karmas are unfolded mostly through gross body and very rarely through the mind. The physical sheath, which is grossest in nature, is formed by the subtlest sheath ānandamaya kośa. The subtlest becomes subtler, gross, grosser and grossest. In other words, the ānandamaya kośa forms vijñānamaya kośa, vijñānamaya kośa forms manomaya kośa, manomaya kośa forms prāṇamaya kośa and prāṇamaya kośa forms annamaya kosha. It is like the gross body that cannot be formed without the casual body. It is always the subtlest that leads to the grossest. It is only because of the subtlest soul, the gross body is formed. Even in the case of gross elements, the subtlest among them, the ākāś is the cause for the rest of the elements. Taittirīya Upaniṣad (II.1) beautifully explains this phenomenon. “From this Self comes space; from space air, from air, fire; from fire, water; from water, earth; from earth, plants and herbs; from plants and herbs, food; from food comes human beings.”
Tattvabodha says that annamaya kosha is formed out of essence of the food (essence is created due to the digestive system), sustained by the essence of the food and is ultimately consumed to the earth, in which plants grow producing food grains. The quality of the physical body depends upon the type of food one consumes. Certain food items create quality organs, whereas certain types of food cause malfunctioning of organs. Particularly smoking not only injures organs like heart and lungs, but also depletes the positive energy of the body as a whole. Presence of smokers in spiritual meets erodes the huge amount of positive vibes generated. A drop of poison is enough to turn the entire glass of water poisonous.
The importance of the gross body cannot be ignored. It is only the gross body that makes us to realize the Brahman. By effectively controlling the nine apertures in the gross body, the inherent nature of the gross body can be modified. For example, the sensory organs can be effectively controlled from associating with the materialistic world. This can happen only by practice, for which annamaya kosha is essential.