To be clear about what is our goal in life, it is important to know who we are and what we have. Before delving into who we are, which is a very deep search calling for a great intellectual exercise, we can clearly know about what we have.
That is what Sri Sankaracharya goes about explaining in the Vivekachoodamani. Having specified the details about the physical body and its impermanence, the master now speaks about the organs of perception, action and the subtle instruments we function with the aid of.
There are five sense organs of perception through which we understand various objects that get registered in our mind as thoughts.
They are the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin. The sense organs that express themselves in work are mouth for speaking, hands for grasping, legs for measuring the ground and locomotion, the organ of reproduction and excretion.
When it comes to the inner and subtle instruments, they are four in number. They are called the Antah Karana or inner tools. They are the mind for knowing everything without and within, the intellect for deciding, the ‘I’–maker called the ahamkara. Its job is to add the idea of I to everything we think, speak, do or experience.
The fourth is the chitta or memory bank that keeps constantly ruminating on one’s own objects of interest. If you badly want to have ice cream, know that the idea has come from the chitta, which has stored the memory that eating ice cream makes you happy.
The ahamkara or I thought adds fuel to that thought and makes you think, “I want to eat ice cream”. The manas shows you the possible ice cream shops nearby that you can get from and the buddhi, or intellect, dragged by the rest of the three decides and says, “Yes, you can go for ice cream.” One aspect of the subtle body is the Pranamayakosha. It contains mainly prana, but with five different functions. The prana is the vital energy that holds together the gross physical body and the mind. When this layer weakens, the individual feels depleted of energy.
When through the process of aging, the prana’s power ebbs away, which causes the difficulty for the eyes and other sense organs to function.
It basically functions through the sense organs of perception. The Apana functions through the sense organs of action and it does an excretory function. Samana helps to digest and assimilate. Vyana circulates nutrients and Udana lifts up things in the body.
Udana is the cause for our thoughts which have a rising motion and also the final departure of this sheath on death is caused by Udana.
The differences in these five functions are like the differences in a bangle, chain, ring or earring—all made of gold or the difference in water—ice, steam, liquid, foam, and froth.