vijnanamaya kosha (wisdom-apparent-sheath) or the prajna (wisdom) sheath is part of sukshma-sharira (subtle body). Vijnanamaya means composed of vijnana, or intellect, the faculty which discriminates, determines or wills. Vignanamaya kosha is the fourth covering of atma. It is the combination of intellect and the five sense organs. It is the sheath composed of more intellection, associated with the organs of perception. It is the vehicle of higher thought, vijnana — understanding, knowing, direct cognition, wisdom, intuition and creativity.
Adi Sankara holds that the buddhi, with its modifications and the organs of knowledge, form the cause of man’s transmigration. This knowledge sheath, which seems to be followed by a reflection of the power of the cit, is a modification of prakrti. It is endowed with the function of knowledge and identifies itself with the body, organs etc. This knowledge sheath cannot be the Supreme Self for the following reasons:
- It is subject to change.
- It is insentient.
- It is a limited thing.
- It is not constantly present.
Vignana means specialized knowledge. In the normal day to day life, we learn much knowledge in the various fields viz., physical, commercial, social, cultural and religious. Based on this knowledge we can progress in the material world. This material success doesn’t contribute even a little to the spiritual progress. Spiritual progress is not based on even the knowledge of scriptures. A person who has rich knowledge of shastras need not have realized the soul. Atma jnana can’t be acquired by reading or preaching scriptures.
Jnana means knowledge but vignana is a specific knowledge which is acquired by sraddha, dharana, manyata (beliefs) and anubhuti (experience). All of us know that atma is immortal, imperishable and is different than the body. It is a part and parcel of Ishvar, who is Sachitananda Swarupa. But we have no experience of this reality.
When the sadhaka is in the state of annamaya kosha; he considers himself based on sex, age, characteristics and others. When he reaches pranamaya kosha his assessment is based on guna (qualities) like - I am a musician, scientist, writer, fool, intelligent, rich, poor etc. When sadhaka reaches manomaya kosha the criteria shifts to swabhava (nature) like greedy, arrogant, atheist, theist, selfish, generous etc. When our attention is focused on these, we are considered to be in the third stage of atmonnati (spiritual progress). When the sadhaka reaches the fourth level of vignanamaya kosha, he starts experiencing that
‘I am different from the physical body. I am not what my properties and nature depict. I am the prince of Ishvar and imperishable, indestructible, immortal atma.’
Atma gnani is one, who has strong vishwas (faith) and complete sraddha in his experience of being the atma. He knows for sure that he is vishudha atma and nothing else. This body is my vehicle, prana is my weapon and manas is my slave. The interests of atma are different than the interests of physical body.
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