In Unit 20, we discussed sthUla sharIra.

We will discuss sUkShma sharIra (subtle body) in this unit.

sUkShma sharIra or subtle body.

An entity, inside the Gross body that is not cognizant to the sense organs and responsible for all the activities of the gross body is the subtle body. The activity is the marker for identifying the jIva in the body, and hence is also called the Marker body or Linga sharIra. During sleep, the subtle body withdraws inwards and hence no activities of the gross body is experienced during sleep. Death is marked by the total withdrawal of the subtle body. The subtle body experiences the fruits of activities (karma) of the gross body and hence is the store house of the fruits of action. At death, the subtle body leaves the gross body with the store of the fruits of action; following death, this subtle body takes another gross body in accordance with its fruits of action (karma) and the law of karma to experience those fruits. What is this subtle body made of?

The constituents of the subtle body are (1) five sense organs - eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin, (2) five organs of action - hands, legs, speech, and two lower organs, (3) five vital airs - prANa, apAna, vyAna, udAna and samAna, and (4) antah-karaNa - the seat of thought and feeling consisting of manas (mind), buddhi (intellect), chitta (memory bank) and ahankAra (ego). Thus the subtle body has a total of 19 constituents - These are the "panchIkrita" constituents - gross space formed by the combination of subtle space, subtle air, subtle fire, subtle water and subtle earth etc. The five prANAs contain the panchIkrita vAyu and is called the five vital airs; the five sense organs consist of the pancIkrita fire and the five organs of action contain the pancIkrita earth; the mind consists of panchIkrita space. This being the case, the material cause of the subtle body is also Brahman, as is the case with gross body.

The activities of the gross body could be physical or sense organ driven actions. Some of the physical activities are under the control of the jIva, but some are not; The actions under control are driven by the five organs of action; the actions not under control are driven by the five vital airs. The 19 constituents of the subtle body are called AdhyAtmika (relating to the Self), their actions are called adhiboutika (relating to the physical environment) and the presiding deity driving the activity is called the Adhidaivika (relating to deity - a function of individual karma). The presiding deity is the driver and controller of the activities of the subtle body. We may recall here the following verse (18-14) from Bhagavad gIta;

"adhiShTAnam tathA kartA karaNam cha prthak vidam
vividhAh cha prithak chEShTah daivam cha iva atra panchamam "

- In the accomplishment of karma, there are five factors - the body, the doer, the various senses, the various different functions and the presiding deity being the fifth.


The literal meaning is "internal tool". The outer sense organs are the bAhya-karaNa or "external tool". The information captured by the external tool is captured by the internal tool, processed and offered to the jIva for his experience/decision. The most subtle part of the food the jIva consumes forms the fuel for the antahkaraNa (the most gross portion is excreted, the middle portion transforms to flesh). So food is an essential ingredient for proper function of the antahkaraNa. The antahkaraNa is impacted by the type of food we eat. sAtvika, rAjasa, and tAmasa foods(gIta 17-8,10) promote respective guNas in the antahkaraNa and drive respective reactions in the jIva. This is why many seekers carefully choose what they eat.

As stated earlier, the antah-karaNa consists of manas (mind), buddhi (intellect), chitta (memory bank) and ahankAra (ego). The mind is the origin of thoughts - "sankalpa vikalpAtmakam manah"; sankalpa pertains to imagination, volition, mental resolve, intention, determination etc.; vikalpa relates to doubts, uncertainty, indecision, hesitation, suspicion etc. The mind is a tool for the conduct of the jIva and is also called manOmaya kOsha - manOmayah icchA shaktimAn karaNa rUpah. The buddhi sorts the thoughts and helps in deciding them in to right and wrong (nischyAtmika buddhih). The buddhi has the agency of doing and is called vijnyAnamaya kOsha - vijnyAnamayO jnyAnashaktimAn kartru rUpah. The chitta stores the thoughts. The ahankAra provides an identification - I am a man, I am a woman, I did this, I am rich, I am poor etc. The presiding deities of mind, intellect, memory and ego are Moon, BrahmA (chaturmukha brahma- four headed brahmA), vishnU and Rudra respectively. Any action originates as a sankalpa in the mind, going through the stages of deciding and storing the thought/action and expresses in ego - I did this, I did not do this etc. So it is in the anthah-karaNa that the fruit of the action accumulates.

Om shAntih, shAntih, shAntih ( Om peace, peace, peace).

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