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This is the 3rd in the series of Short talks by Pujya Swamiji. For continuity you may want to check previous posts here #1 and #2


The fundamentals of the human personality or the body-mind complex are explained in Tattva Bodha (one of the preparatory texts by Adi Sankaracharya). These are technical terms that are important in understanding the teachings in the scriptures.

The human personality consists of three layers of bodies called śarīratrayam or dehatrayam. The three layers of the body are gross body (sthūla śarīram), subtle body (sūkṣma śarīram), and causal body (kāraṇa śarīram). In this analysis, the following four aspects of each body is discussed:

• The material with which each body is made up of
• The components of each body
• The functions of each body
• The nature of each body

Gross Body
Gross body is made up of the five elements – space, air, fire, water and earth. These five gross elements are called sthūla pañca bhūtāni. Since the body is made up of gross materials, it is also called bhautika śarīraṃ.

The gross body consists broadly of four components – the head, the hands, the legs, and the trunk.

The function of the gross body is to serve as a temporary residence for the individual. It is a leased house whose payment is in the form of karma. Until the payment is used up, you can use that house. The name of the individual is the address that is used for worldly transactions.

It is the nature of the gross body to constantly undergo change. The change is classified into 6 types of modifications:

– potential existence (in the womb of the mother)
– actual birth
– growth of the body until certain age (childhood to adolescence)
– metamorphosing – aging of the body after the growth has stopped
– declination or decay after middle age
– death

The gross body is visible and evident to the individual and the others; it is objectively available for transactions to all the other bodies. The physical body ceases to exist after death; it has the shortest longevity of all the three bodies.

Subtle Body
The subtle body is born out of the subtle form of the physical matter consisting of the five elements, space, air, fire, water and earth. The subtle matter is called sūkṣma bhūtāni and since the subtle body is made up of physical matter, it is also bhautika śarīraṃ.

There are 19 components in the subtle body each with specific transactional function:

Organs of sense knowledge (5): These subtle bodies refer to the power of senses behind the organs and not the organs themselves. The organs belong to the gross body, but the knowledge gathering function belongs to the subtle bodies. Eyes to gather knowledge of colors and forms, the ears of sound, the nose of smell, tongue of taste and the skin of touch. These organs of sense knowledge are called pañca jñāna indriyāṇi.

Organs of action (5): While the organs of sense knowledge receive input from the external world, the organs of action, respond to those inputs. These again are not the physical organs, but the power behind each organ to produce response. The five organs of actions or pañca karma indriyāṇi are speech, action with hands, motion of legs, evacuation or excretion and reproduction or procreation.

Organs of internal functions (5):  These energy generating systems called pañca prāṇās are responsible for the following vital internal functions:

Prāṇa – respiratory system
Apāna – evacuation system for excretory functions
Vyāna – circulatory system for distribution of oxygen, nutrients etc.
Samāna – digestive system to convert food into nutrients
Udāna – reversing system that comes into effect at the time of death when everything fails. However, it is also required sometimes for emergency such as vomiting after poisoning etc.

Organs of mental functions (4):  The four innermost functions called antaḥ karaṇāni are mind, intellect, memory, and ego.

– Mind carries the message from the external world to stir up the emotions. In addition to being an emotional faculty, it is also a doubting faculty.
– Intellect is a judging, discriminating, rationalizing or reasoning faculty. It sorts out the emotions stirred up by the mind before acting. Swami Chinmayananda gives a beautiful analogy: mind is like mailman who brings the mail, but does not have the authority to disposition the contents. Only the intellect has the authority to disposition the content.
– Memory receives and records experiences in the mind. It can record knowledge acquired from all the five senses and replay it at any time one needs. According to the śāstras, it remembers not only the past details of this life, but also from the previous lives without one even knowing about it. The personality shows through this. For example, a musical or spiritual prodigy is the result of knowledge drawn from the memory of previous births
– Ego is the faculty of self-reference. A human identifies himself uniquely and displays his pedigree.

These 19 subtle organs provide the power behind all transactions. Some of the organs are receivers, some are senders and some can perform two-way transactions, e.g. mouth that is a sensory organ is also an organ of speech.

The nature of the subtle body is the same as the gross body in one aspect, i.e. it is also constantly subject to change. They are subject to improvement as well as weakening. The weakening of the organs can cause disease to the gross body. The subtle body has a longer life than the gross body. It continues into the next life. We get the benefit of the memories of the past lives in this life. This continues until the dissolution of the universe or pralaya when the subtle body is dismantled. The subtle body is recognizable only by its owner and is not visible to the external world. Since it is available only for the owner, it is called subtle body.

Causal Body
The Causal body is made up of the subtlest form of physical matter called avidya, prakṛti, māyā etc. The components are the same as the gross and subtle bodies in their potential form before their manifestation. For example, a tree was in a seed form 20 years ago in the potential state. Universe was in a state of potential energy before it was created. The function of the causal body is to serve as the receptacle from which the other bodies manifest and to which they return after dissolution. When the physical body dies, it gets converted to energy and then converts back to matter when the body manifests again. This is the law of conservation of energy and matter. It has the longest life compared to the bodies. It is not destroyed even at the dissolution of pralaya; it simply goes back to the potential state. The dissolution of this body occurs only at the time of liberation. It is not evident to one or to the others. It is undecipherable and indistinguishable or nirvikalparūpam.

Atma (Self)
The body-mind complex or śarīratrayaṃ is made of physical matter and so, it is inert or insentient in nature. According to the Śāstras scriptures, an insentient object neither has consciousness (caitanya guṇakaṃ) nor can it produce it (caitanya janakaṃ). However, our experience is to the contrary, but it appears logical. Experience is sentient because the body and the mind are conscious of the surroundings. The purpose of this analysis is to reconcile this contradiction.

When a pauper comes to a party dressed well, one can only draw a conclusion that he has borrowed the dress. Taking this analogy, the since the physical body does not have consciousness, we conclude that it has borrowed it. It does not have natural consciousness (svābhāvika caitanya), but has a borrowed consciousness (ādantaka caitanya) If the body-mind complex (śarīratrayaṃ) is borrowing, there must be a lender. The fourth factor in human personality, Ātmā or Ātmān is the lender of this consciousness. It is also called the soul or Self, but the latter term is technically correct. Ātmā makes the body-mind complex glow with life just as electricity makes the bulb glow. The electricity is invisible, but it exists. Regardless of the shape and size of the bulb (or any appliance for that matter), the electricity makes it glow. Similarly, Ātmā makes body-mind complex of all beings aglow with consciousness or life.

Nature of Ātmā
The consciousness is separate from the body and has the following characteristics:

– Consciousness is not a part or property or a product of the body – it is a separate entity that enlivens the body. It is analogous (not identical) to light, which is not a part, property or product of the body, but it pervades the body and makes it visible.
– Consciousness is an independent entity which pervades and enlivens the body – it is not dependent on the body to exist, but the body requires Consciousness to exist. For example, the bulb needs the electricity for it to glow, whereas, the electricity is not dependent on the bulb for existence.
– Consciousness is not bound by the limitations of the body just as light is not limited by the body it is making visible. It is not bound by the spatial limitations of the body.
– Consciousness does not die when the body perishes – When the hand is taken away, the light itself is not visible because there is no reflecting medium. However, the light continues to exist. As long as the body is there, the Consciousness is present in the manifest form. When the body is removed (dead), the Consciousness is not in a detectable form. However, it continues to exist. If the body is present, the Consciousness is called vyakta caitanyam and when the body is gone, it is called avyakta caitanyam. This Consciousness is Ātmā and the body-mind complex is anatma. Every individual is a mixture of Ātmā and anātmā. The spiritual sadhana consists of shifting our identification from the perishable anātmā to the imperishable Ātmā .

More about Ātmā will be discussed when we study Jnana Yoga in Chapter 2 (of the Bhagavad Gita)

Pranaam from Kamal Kothari