Subscribe for Newsletters and Discounts
Be the first to receive our thoughtfully written
religious articles and product discounts.
Your interests (Optional)
This will help us make recommendations and send discounts and sale information at times.
By registering, you may receive account related information, our email newsletters and product updates, no more than twice a month. Please read our Privacy Policy for details.
By subscribing, you will receive our email newsletters and product updates, no more than twice a month. All emails will be sent by Exotic India using the email address

Please read our Privacy Policy for details.
Your Cart (0)
Share our website with your friends.
Email this page to a friend

The Three Bodies: Going Beyond Them

Article of the Month - May 2011
Viewed 23045 times since 15th May, 2011

The ancient scriptures define a body as something that is prone to destruction – ‘sheeryate iti shariram’. Vedanta also states that the individual soul (jiva) is nothing but the eternal Supreme Soul (Paramatma or Brahman). However, the jiva invariably mistakes himself to be the body. To remove this false knowledge of the jiva, the scriptures identify the three bodies conditioning the jiva, and then step by step show how the jiva is essentially different from all the three.

The Gross Body (Sthula Sharira)

This is the visible, physical body. We all identify ourselves so much with our physical bodies made up of hands, legs etc, that we consider it to be our true self (Swarupa). Our names, gender etc. all belong to this body only. Why did God give us this body? To reap the fruits of the karma we did in our previous lives. In the same manner, our body in the previous birth was given so that we could reap the karma done in births prior to that one. This leads to the conclusion that this flow of karma and its consequent births is an endless one. Therefore the question that what is the cause of our first birth does not arise. When we realize that this body, the cause of our distress, is being born again and again since eternity then it leads to disenchantment (Vairagya) with the body. Our mind turns away from the external world towards God. With the passage of time and sadhana, one can become a Jnani (one having the knowledge of salvation or Moksha). A Jnani is one who utilizes his body only for the reaping of previous karma and takes care of not creating any new karma for the fruits of which he will have to take another birth. The ignorant person on the other hand, in addition to reaping the previous fruits, also creates new karma leading to further births.

I am Not the Gross Body

Krishna Delivering Gita Sermon






The Bhagavad Gita says: “Like a man discards his worn out clothes and wears new ones, so does the soul discard this body and acquire a new one” (2.22). This makes it clear that the individual soul or jiva is different from this body.





This is known easily through the scriptures. However, we can understand this otherwise also. Even though during childhood, youth and old age the body has changed, ‘I’ am still the same. Not only this, when the doctor amputates a part of the body or replaces it with an artificial organ made of iron etc., or with the organ of another human being, even then the original jiva does not change, it remains the same as earlier. This conclusively proves that the gross body is but a mere implement for the jiva to reap the fruits of his karma. During surgery the patient is put under anesthesia. At that time, the jiva loses mental contact with the body. Even when the body is under the surgeon’s knife it does not suffer any pain. It is somewhat the same position during deep sleep. Therefore, we realize that the jiva (our own self) is different from the gross body. Thus it is proved that we are not the gross body, and any of the identifications associated with it (man, woman etc) are fictitious to say the least.

The Subtle Body (Sukshma Sharira)

Inside the gross there is another body, known as the ‘sukshma sharira’. It is not visible to any of the sense organs. We know the gross body is by itself animate (otherwise a dead body too would move), therefore there has to be something else granting it movement. This is the subtle body, so called because it is too subtle to be discerned by our senses. When we are in deep sleep our subtle body more or less withdraws from the gross body. Therefore, during that time the gross body nearly ceases all operations. When the subtle body withdraws completely from the gross body death occurs. Whatever karma we do gets coded in an invisible way in this subtle body. The subtle body does not die. Therefore, after the death of the gross body, this subtle body in due course, as per its coding, receives another gross body.

The subtle body is made up of the following nineteen elements:

1). The five organs of knowledge (Jnana Indriya): Sight, Hearing, Taste, Touch and Smell.

2). The five Organs of action (Karma Indriya): Tongue (Speech), Hands, Feet, Genital, Anus.

3). The Four Internal Instruments (Antah Karana): Mind, Intellect (Buddhi), Memory (Chitta) and Ego (Ahankara).

4). The Five Vital Breaths (Pranas): These five are:

a). Mukhya (Main) Prana: The inhalation and exhalation of breath.

b). Apana: The down going breath responsible for the excretory function in the body.

c). Samana: The part of breath responsible for digestion.

d). Udana: Responsible for the function of swallowing and coughing.

e). Vyana: Responsible for the holding of breath during lifting of weights etc.

I am Not the Subtle Body

Like it has been proved above that ‘I’ am not the gross body, similar is the case with the subtle body too. This is because all elements making up the subtle body are insentient (inanimate). They work in tandem with each other. The scriptures clearly state:

Aitareya Upanisad: With the Commentary of Sankaracarya (Shankaracharya)





‘Any parts of a complicated machinery which work in mutual cooperation do so only for the consumption of a an entity different from themselves. Similarly the workings of the subtle and gross bodies in mutual harmony are for the sake of the jiva different from them.’ (Shri Shankaracharya’s commentary on the Aitareya Upanishad 1.3.11).





Prana and Pranayama





Therefore, the jiva is different from both the subtle and gross bodies. It is the jiva who witnesses the being and destruction, if any, of the Indriyas forming the subtle body. Even in the case of prana we very well know that accomplished yogis can keep it under their control through the regular practice of Pranayama. Therefore, Prana too is essentially different from the jiva.





The four internal instruments making up the antah karana are also separate from our true self. To understand this, we have to go back to our experience of deep sleep. We all know that unlike the waking state or dream state, in deep sleep we are not aware of anything. Even then ‘I’ am the witness to this absence of awareness in deep sleep. As soon as we get up in the morning we say: “Totally unaware, I slept with ease.” This indicates the absence of all internal instruments during deep sleep, because the instruments themselves cannot recognize their own absence. There has to be another entity independent of them to witness their absence.

Since all elements (or their absence) making up the subtle body are visible to me, and the view is always different from the viewer, ‘I’ am not the subtle body.

The Causal Body (Karana Sharira)

Therefore, understanding that the individual soul is neither of the two bodies, gross or subtle, we realize that it is separate from the two. We are not what we believe ourselves to be as a consequence of our natural, unquestioning acceptance of these two bodies; i.e. we do not know our own self. This is our Avidya.

This ignorance of what we truly are gives room to mistakenly identifying ourselves through our bodies: “I am a man, I am a woman”, “I am tall, I am short” etc. This is the jiva’s false knowledge or ‘Mithya Jnana.’ This allows the entry of attachment and aversion (raga-dvesha) into our lives. It is not karma itself that is harmful. It is action done because of raga-dvesha that is the source of our misery. Karmas performed under the influence of raga-dvesha lead to their fruits getting coded inside the subtle body. Not all these fruits can be reaped within the present birth. Therefore we have to take birth again. Hence the root cause of the continuous cycle of birth and death is our Avidya, or ignorance of our true self.

We need to recall here the definition of a body as ‘One that is prone to destruction’. Since this Avidya is susceptible to destruction through knowledge (Jnana), hence it too is a sharira (body). Consequently, ignorance too is referred to as a body in the scriptures (Shri Shankaracharya’s commentary on the Isha Upanishad, Mantra 8). Indeed, Avidya is the causal body since it is the cause of our falling continuously into the cycle of birth and death.

Indeed, Avidya is the causal body since it is the cause of our falling continuously into the cycle of birth and death. Therefore, it is through overcoming our Avidya, the root cause of all our miseries, that we can ensure of never again falling into the clutches of the gross and subtle bodies.

I am not the Causal Body


Isa Upanisad: With the Commentary of Sankaracarya (Shankaracharya)





Even though we think of Avidya (the causal body) as situated within us, and thus reap the fruits done through raga-dvesha, in actual terms the Avidya does not reside in us (Shri Shankaracharya’s commentary on Katha Upanishad 2.2.11). This Avidya is not natural to the soul (our actual self), because the soul is ever pure and devoid of any Avidya-like contamination. Hence do we say that the causal body too is not our true self (Commentary on Isha Upanishad, 8).





Actually, Avidya or the causal body is not actually the presence of something (bhava rupa), rather, it is the absence of something (abhava rupa), namely knowledge or Vidya.


The detailed delineation of the three bodies in the scriptures is not to inspire analytical research on tapping the psychic powers available to the jiva. To lay too much stress on the psychic buildup of the individual soul is to divert away from the ultimate purpose of the scriptures, which is to make one realize the most common mistake which we all make, namely identifying ourselves exclusively through our bodies, forgetting in the process our essential oneness with the Supreme Soul.


References and Further Reading:

This article is based almost entirely on the teachings of Param Pujya Swami Paramanand Bharati Ji. However, any error is entirely the author's own.

Post a Comment
Post Review
  • Intuitive guidance comes from god, from all sources ,to the one who is ever vigilant towards the ultimate goal of life ie Self realization. Your article is one among them ;) many thks, pls do keep up the good work
    by Anuradha on 23rd May 2011
  • Thank You so much for this important analysis which touches the rot problem of our days, the overemphasis of the material body!

    Warm regards
    by Siegfried Gutschmidt on 21st May 2011
  • I want to thank you again for a wonderful article. I appreciate the very important information you send in your newsletters. I read each word and forward these lessons to friends.
    by KK Hannegan on 19th May 2011
  • Thanks for a great article.
    Very useful for somebody trying to understand the rich complexities of these matters.

    by Patricio Duarte on 19th May 2011
  • ‘The Material World’

    Truth, Truth, Truth,

    Cruel, Cruel, Cruel, Truth

    How much truth could there be?

    Truth that’s neither sought; nor beseeched!

    The server of two ways can never be

    Energy that’s inspired by goodness

    Is an ambition that's neither

    Sought; nor seen

    The material world’s entanglement

    Is a recognition not by itself.

    The material world’s ambition

    Entanglements that are neither

    Thought; nor felt.

    The material world’s ambition

    Ambition can be realized.

    Every day is different

    Looking toward the Sun

    In peace there is wisdom

    All teachings are One
    by J.W. Pavlic on 18th May 2011
  • That was an extremely interesting and enlightening article.
    by Sunita on 18th May 2011
  • Namaste

    Wonderful article on three bodies and beyond when human being achieves fourth which is mental body then the soul of that body is near self realization or self knowing the oneness with almighty
    nirvikalpa state.
    by Chaula Gundavda on 17th May 2011
  • Thank you so much for this wonderful article that helped me so much in my understanding of Jiva! Namaste.
    by Evelyn on 19th May 2010
  • This article was and always will be very enlightening like HINDUISM itself.
    by Chander on 17th May 2010
I am overwhelmed with the amount of hard-to-find Hindu scriptural texts that I have been able to locate on the Exotic India website as well as other authentic cultural items from India. I am impressed with your fast and reliable shipping methods.
Lee Scott, USA
Your service is excellent.
Shambhu, USA
Exotic India has the best selection of Hindu/Buddhist statues at the best prices and best shipping that I know of.I have bought many statues from them.I am thankful for their online presence.
Michael, USA
Thanks for sharpening our skills with wisdom and sense of humor.The torchbearers of the ancient deity religion are spread around the world and the books of wisdom from India bridges the gap between east and west.
Kaushiki, USA
Thank you for this wonderful New Year sale!
Michael, USA
Many Thanks for all Your superb quality Artworks at unbeatable prices. We have been recommending EI to friends & family for over 5 yrs & will continue to do so fervently. Cheers
Dara, Canada
Thank you for your wonderful selection of books and art work. I am a regular customer and always appreciate the excellent items you offer and your great service.
Lars, USA
Colis bien reçu, emballage excellent et statue conforme aux attentes. Du bon travail, je reviendrai sur votre site !
Alain, France
Madhu, USA
I love your site and although today is my first order, I have been seeing your site for the past several years. Thank you for providing such great art and books to people around the World who can't make it to India as often as we would like.
Subscribe to our newsletter and discounts
Share with friends
Related Links
"Whenever he gets the time, he should go and live amongst people who have given up worldly life…. A wise person should serve his body and family only to the extent that is functionally necessary…. The person who lays claim on the surplus wealth is nothing but a thief…. He should share all objects of enjoyment with everyone, right down to dogs, sinners…. Such is the attachment to one’s wife….How despicable is this body, which if buried is going to become the food of worms, or excreta if eaten by animals….Since a son is to thus revere his elders even after their death, what to say that he is expected to serve them when they are alive…. The person wishing to follow the path of dharma should steer clear of the five forms of Adharma."
Narada Teaches Yuddhishtra a Householder’s Dharma
"This middle path lies in between extreme asceticism on one side, and extreme indulgence on the other…. When standing under a Ashok tree, tired and exhausted, she raised her right hand for seeking support of a branch of the tree…. The unique balance that defined his entire life was pre-determined in this duality….One day, in the palace garden he frightened his attendants…. He ate less and less till his diet reduced to a sesame seed, and himself, to a mere skeleton…. Seven days after the attainment of enlightenment gods sent food for breaking his fast…. However, he postponed his ‘nirvana’ for three months till he visited the places he had reminiscences of."
The Light That Enlightened Millions
(The life of Buddha in the popular mind)
"Here is a fragment from one of the most poignant episodes of Indian history…. This piece of history is from the Mahabharata…. She was dying with shame but inside, like a true kshatrani (woman of the warrior race), she was burning with anger…. I have heard that women who follow dharma were never brought before a public court….Greed is the destroyer of dharma. I do not desire a third boon…. Draupadi was as forgiving as mother earth herself…. Just then Arjuna saw his dear friend Bhagawan Krishna approaching him…. “Leave him, leave him. He is a brahmin and worthy of our worship. Their mother should not cry, like I have at the death of my children."
Analyzing the Eternal Dimensions of Dharma Through Itihasa (History)
"Her epithet in the Devi-Mahatmya is Mahalakshmi. She is the wrathful four-armed goddess of battlefield represented holding in them various weapons…. A form of Lakshmi seated over a lotus laid over a golden seat and a pair of white elephants…. Except in some classical forms in Lakshmi-Narayana imagery Lakshmi is ordinarily two-armed…. Incarnation theory is the crux of Vaishnavism. Vishnu incarnates alone but Lakshmi also incarnates in simultaneity…. Though very rare some enthused artists have conceived on Ardhanarishvara line also Vishnu’s Ardhanarishvara images."
Title: Iconography of Vaishnava Deities: Goddess Lakshmi
"Once as he was engaged in puja, a saint came to visit him….Like a true householder attached to his family, Gajendra sported in the water with his wives, children and friends…. Understanding that his end was imminent, they all slowly withdrew, till Gajendra was left alone…. If we reflect on it calmly, we will realise that there is no house in the world where the story of Gajendra does not play out…. The one who is careful towards the end is able to reform his death…. Gajendra’s hymn of praise is one of the greatest philosophical poems in the annals of world literature."
Moksha of Gajendra: Liberation by The Formless God
"She has always believed that this would redeem her of her distress….A coconut, otherwise an ordinary dried fruit or the source of edible, or at the most, beauty oil, has always been revered as an auspicious object effecting good and well-being and the food that gods most loved….The tree in the Buddhist tradition was later identified as Bodhi-tree, seated under which Buddha had attained Enlightenment….Body gestures and symptoms, signs, indications among others must have been the early man’s tools of communicating oneself and knowing and understanding the world around….Kirttimukha was initially conceived as a mystical mask….Lion does not figure in the wide range of animal toys or figurines excavated from Indus sites."
Auspicious Symbols in Indian tradition
"Contrarily metaphysicians and theologians perceived his form as it manifested in the Upanishads and Puranas….The ‘Advaita’ philosophy also contends that the entire Creation is just the extension of One…. Dance illustrates one of the ever-first cosmic acts with which Shiva seems to have tamed violent motion and separated from it rhythm, moves that communicated emotions and states of mind – human mind and the cosmic, and disciplined and defined pace…. Unlike Vishnu who resorted to dance for accomplishing a contemplated objective, Shiva has been conceived more or less as a regular dancer performing for accomplishing an objective as also for pure aesthetic delight…. Unfurling locks of hair and his snakes floating into space portray the dynamics of the act."
Shiva, the Nataraja
"We assume that our happiness is the result of an interaction with external objects…. Suppose that an individual is deprived of sleep and food and pleasurable objects for a long time and then all of them are simultaneously offered to him…. Actually, seeking the answer to this question is the most significant pursuit in life…. The veil comes up again and the duality returns…. In this background, we can now analyse the nature of dukha (grief)."
Ananda: Understanding the True Nature of Happiness
"It concedes that for an orderly social life a division into four groups based on the principle of varnadharma is necessary…. Each individual sometimes acts in a sattvika manner while at other times he may act in rajasic or tamasic manner, which means that the manifestation of a particular guna depends on circumstances…. Though all the three gunas are present in everyone, different persons are driven to act differently…. The karma that I have to perform should depend on my inherent gunas and should have the ability to regulate these gunas…. There is no instant transition to moksha…. An individual has to make his way towards moksha only through worldly life."
Varnashrama Dharma: A Logical View
"Actually, the one who worships Bhagwan Vishnu should get rich and the one who worships Shiva should become an avadhuta like Him…. Then he works hard again to acquire wealth. I render all his efforts futile…. However, Bhagawan Vishnu is not like that, it takes longer to please Him…. As a consequence, they later harassed the great God Himself…. On the seventh day, he bathed in the holy waters of Kedarnath and began to cut his head with an axe to offer into the fire…. The boy bowed respectfully before the demon and asked…. No one who commits sin against a great person can be safe and happy in this world."
Shiva and Vishnu: A Unique Aspect of Their Worship
"The Bhagavad Gita, while describing the qualities of a wise person says…. This verse is vividly illustrated in the story of king Rantideva occurring in the Srimad Bhagavatam…. He did not believe in hoarding, was above all attachments and was highly patient…. They were all trembling due to starvation and thirst….bowed to the dogs and their owner…. What I want is only this: That I be able to go and live in the hearts of all beings and undergo sufferings on their behalf, so that they may become free from all miseries."
An Example of Living Vedanta: The Story of King Rantideva
"There is Rama, the son of Ayodhya's king Dasharatha in his human birth, and there is Rama's divinity, his divine aura that overwhelms the Tulasi's entire Ramacharit-manas, one manifest - with attributes, and the other, unmanifest - without attributes. With main emphasis on his majesty in South Indian tradition this crown is taller than usual. His 'khadgasana' images are usually in three modes; one with his right foot moved forward represents him in a commander's disposition ready to rush for protecting a devotee in crisis or redeem him from some calamity. Harihara, a form in which he shares with Shiva half of the body. Basically a bird Garuda is seen for ages as Vishnu's ardent devotee, a learned human being and an auspicious presence, and in iconographic tradition often conceived with a man's face, anatomy, ornaments and ensemble. The Puranas are replete with tales of Garuda's divine exploits."
Iconography of Vaishnava Images: Vishnu
"Only a certain fraction of this karma is chosen by God in order to form the blueprint of our next birth…. The fruit that one experiences in this birth is due to prarabdha and a portion of the present agami…. Similarly, a fish in the Ganga does not accrue punya because of always living in Ganga…. A good karma can be annulled by a bad karma and a bad one by a good one…. Sometimes we also hear that prarabdha cannot be got rid of. It has to be spent through…. Bhagawan Vyasa says that for the full result of the karma to manifest, three things are necessary…. Then how to understand the statement that prarabdha should unavoidably be experienced?"
Theory and Practice of Karma: Some Salient Features
"During one such sacrifice, nine spiritually charged men entered the sacrificial hall….As for Bhagavat Dharma, it is the dharma spoken by God directly from his own mouth…. Like a person eating food finds himself gratified simultaneously in three ways…. We are all constantly taught by spiritual texts to offer or dedicate all our actions to God. However, the question remains as to how to practically carry out this injunction…..The only fruit of wealth is dharma... Therefore, there is no need for the Vedas to enjoin us to these things for which we already have a tendency….The real intention of the Vedic injunctions in these matters is to make a person abstain from them…”
Nine Teachings from Nine Yogis: The Essence of Bhagavat Dharma
"But to pull this statement out of context and give it as an advice for anyone is far from correct…. But how is one to recognise the guru? Obviously, he will be able to understand the difficulties of the disciples and clarify to them the meaning of the scriptures on the basis of logic and experience…. They will have to search in their own neighbourhood only….The guru chosen by him should be at least better than himself!…. Of course, if the ideal guru whose features have been enumerated in the beginning is available, then the sadhaka should immediately go and surrender to him…. It is just like going to another teacher for higher education, after completing the education in a school."
The Qualities of a Guru and How to Find One
Show More
All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 © Exotic India