To one degree or another, we are all a product of our upbringing, our personal experiences, genetics, and ingrained social expectations. I am constantly amazed at how much those things influence my daily life, my attitudes towards people and things, my views on events. Some of this "social programming" I have chosen consciously, some, I am sure, I am not even aware of. The stuff that I am aware of, however, is vast, powerful, occasionally overwhelming, always fascinating.

Vijnana is translated from Sanskrit as "special knowledge", but it is not the logical, scientific, objective knowledge to be found in the Mano Maya discussed in the previous blog, it is rather a kind of emotional knowledge that motivates us to act, sometimes rather illogically. It is all the assumptions we make about ourselves and the world that we haven't tested for validity, relevance, and usefulness, which, nonetheless, affect our emotional state and the choices we make from that emotional place.

In the Taittiria Upanishad from the ancient Vedas, the Pancha Maya Model is handed down to us from the seers of Yoga. The human being is represented by a bird in this text, with a head, body, two wings, and a tail. The head is the Ana Maya, or the body of food. All beings are born of food, exist by food, and eventually become food. "Anam" - that which is eaten and that which eats. The head gives us direction.

Prana means vitality in a body that is alive. No vitality can be expressed without this container of the body. It is through Prana the divine in us lives, both human and animals, it is the Universal Life of all. In the bird model it is represented by the right wing - that which facilitates flying, moving us forward towards a goal. If Ana Maya is nourished by food, Prana Maya is nourished by breath.

Mano Maya, the body of the Mind, is represented by the left wing, and is the other necessity for moving forward. If the emotions are the motivating factor in much of what we do, our Mind can override emotions with logic, if necessary, or validate emotions, and the two wings need to be working well together for there to be flight and progress towards a goal, rather than half-hazard aimless darting back and fourth. Birds are thus given a certain significance in the sense that they represent spiritual elevation and progress upwards in that respect. Mano Maya is nourished by learning.

Vijnana Maya, therefore, is represented by the body of the bird - that which links everything. Here the teachings we received throughout life provide the guiding light. Our conditioning exerts powerful influence. It can come from the cultural heritage and our DNA, the feelings that we had in response to life's circumstances, and our ingrained habits. This layer of ourselves is nourished by our special knowledge, by what we believe in, our spiritual paradigms. Having our beliefs in harmony with the outside world, if necessary, breaking free from them, can be very difficult, sometimes impossible, but we can try to raise our awareness of their role in our lives.

When this particular dimension is blocked, meaning that there is little Self-awareness, a human being becomes more like a mechanical automation, divided into the separate Koshas: the body, emotions, and intellect exist separately, without an inner core that links them all together. Such people do not do anything, rather, everything is done to them. It may look as if they have a free will, but in reality they are just an extension of other forces, processes, an effect of some external cause. Everything that ever happens, happens around them, they themselves are passive, even when they appear active. They are reactive, rather than pro-active.

In a balanced individual, the person is in harmony with the world. The inner world of the person is well-integrated into society, which means that he or she can develop and grow, can have needs met, not just basic needs, mind you, but the more advanced, spiritual needs. Because a person does not live a full life on bread alone: experiences, information, emotions, and meaning are all food for the soul. When we can filter out harmful outside influences, enhance beneficial influences, and even transform the former into the latter, then we can say that the Vijnana Maya is thriving. When there is a conflict between the inner world and the outer world of an individual, such a person will suffer and will seek refuge from that suffering in addiction, or go to the other extreme, and escape into illusions.

I don't want to spend much time talking about addiction and illusion, other than to say that the defining characteristic of addiction is that gradually the focus of inner life shifts to the outside, and we are consumed by it and loose our Self. Illusions, on the other hand, create a kind of a bubble around us, on the inner walls of which we can project whatever makes us feel safe, no matter how removed from reality those pictures might be. This creates a dissonance with reality, and over time more and more energy is necessary to maintain the illusion.

A healthy Vijnana Maya means that all of the person's parts are well-integrated, the person is plugged into society and is a productive member of it. Stress is well-managed, enough energy is produced to use it for inner development and to reinforce the connections with the outside world. In the layer of the Mano Maya we can have rapid personal transformation by adopting new, progressive ideas and through learning. In the Vijnana Maya, this inner growth leads to a production of value for society via a creative process of some kind - this is where we change not just our own paradigms, but create new social matrix and order for future generations. The stronger Vijnana Maya, the more respect and significance such a person has in society, because his or her "products" are admired, adopted, multiplied, and spread by others. This is the area where an activity that gives us pleasure at the same time carries a lot of value to society! Vijnana Maya allows us to derive pleasure from being useful. This is where Mano Maya and Vijnana Maya overlap and "bleed" into each other: by feeling useful one acquires better Self-esteem, by believing in oneself, one can more easily find ways to be useful. On the next level, Ananda Maya, it is what bring us joy.

Do you feel like you are fulfilling your Dharma, or purpose in life? Do you feel useful to society, a productive, valuable member, a force for change so that the future generations can thrive and learn from us?


Anna M.