How 3 Bodies (Gross, Subtle, Causal) Seemingly Condition Ātman (17)
How 3 Bodies (Gross, Subtle, Causal) Seemingly Condition Atman (17)


Session 17 explain what 3 bodies of every human being are. Then elucidates how experience occurring within the 3 bodies or 5 sheaths – gets mistakenly superimposed onto Ātman (“I”). Hence individual (Jīva) claims “I AM ___ (pure, impure, happy, skeptical, young, etc)“. Also we briefly explain CAUSE for Waking, Dream and Deep Sleep states.

(3 States will be covered thoroughly in Mandukya Upanishad in near future)


  1. What is Gross Body?

    The food sheath is called the ‘gross body’. The gross body is the tenement or hutment for the five organs of perceptions (eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin) and the five organs of action (hands, legs, speech, genital organ and anus) through which an individual contacts the objects, gathers stimuli for the experience of joys and sorrows and interacts with the world.

    When pure Consciousness (Ātman) identifies with the gross body, it manifests as the ‘waker’ who experiences the waking world, that is the pluralistic world, which one experiences in the waking state.

  2. What is Subtle Body?

    The vital-air, mental and intellectual sheaths together form the subtle body. The vital-air governs the various physiological functions of the body like digestion, breathing, blood circulation and so on.

    The mind and the intellect are both only thoughts. However, there are functional differences in these thoughts. These functions have been classified under the following four categories:

    (a) Mind (manas)
    (b) Intellect (buddhi)
    (c) Memory (citta)
    (d) Ego (ahaṅkāra)

    These four factors constituting the subtle body are the ‘inner equipment’ (antaḥ-karaṇa). The outer equipment consist of the five organs of perception and the five organs of action which are located in the gross body.

    As mentioned earlier these four divisions in the inner equipment—that is the mind, intellect, ego, and memory—are purely functional; they are not organs. An organ is that which has a structure and a function (EG: physical brain, lungs, heart). These four have no structure; they only denote functions.

    When conditioned Consciousness withdraws from the gross body and identifies with the subtle body, it manifests as the ‘dreamer’—who experiences the dream world, that is the mental world of plurality which one experiences while dreaming.

  3. What are 4 thought types of Mind?

    (a) Mind (manas): In an experience, the first impact of the stimuli from the external world reaches one through the organs of perception. It causes a disturbance in thought, as a result of which there is restlessness and indecision within. Thoughts in this condition of doubt or indecision are called the mind.

    (b) Intellect (buddhi): After the first impact is over, the disturbance dies down and quietude is created by one’s decision and determination. Thoughts in this condition of decision are called the intellect.

    (c) Memory (citta): For the intellect to come to a condition of decision, it requires pertinent data related to the stimuli received. Such decision-making data is supplied by a third function stemming from the depths of an individual’s inner personality. This data has been stored and accumulated as a result of past experiences. Such stored thoughts are called the memory.

    (d) Ego (ahaṇkāra): A doubt, a decision and a memory will be related to each other only if they belong to a single individual. When all of them reside in a person, one is aware that the doubt, the decisions and the memory belong to that same person. The constant concept of possessiveness or egoism in feelings of ‘I doubt’, ‘I decide’ and ‘I remember’ is also a thought and its functional name is ‘ego’.

  4. Metaphor how Consciousness (Atman) is seemingly conditioned by the Mind.

    Pure Consciousness is all-pervading and unconditioned by any one of the human equipments (Body-Mind-Intellect).

    However, when pure Consciousness functions through the conditionings of the mind, the intellect, memory, and the ego it becomes as though conditioned by these equipments.

    When these conditionings are eliminated the conditioned-consciousness as though (meaning: not actually, because it never was conditioned in the first place)… merges back and becomes one with the unconditioned pure Consciousness.

    This phenomenon is comparable to the all-pervading sunlight and the sunlight conditioned by the walls of a room.

    The sunlight in the room remains conditioned by the walls of the room as long as the walls exist.

    But when the walls are removed, the conditioned sunlight within the room, as though merges and becomes one with the total sunlight.

    Similarly, the conditioned consciousness as though merges with the pure Consciousness when the mind is sublimated by a devotee following bhakti-yoga (the path of devotion).

    Or when the intellect is transcended through jñāna-yoga (the path of knowledge).

    Or when the ego is overcome through karma-yoga (the path of action).

    When the mind, intellect, or ego are sublimated, all of them are transcended since they are all made up of the same substance— thoughts.

    What remains thereafter is pure Consciousness.

  5. What is Causal Body?

    The bliss sheath, also called the causal body, consists of vāsanās (inherent tendencies) in an unmanifest form.

    It is experienced in the deep sleep state of consciousness when both the gross and the subtle bodies are not acting.

    It is a condition where the pluralistic worlds of the waking and the dream states are obliterated but, at the same time, the vision of supreme Reality is not available.

    In other words, it is the state of non-apprehension. In this state we know neither the higher Reality (satya) nor the lower plurality (mithyā) —it is a state of utter ignorance.

    When pure Consciousness withdraws from the gross and subtle bodies and identifies with the causal body, it manifests as the ‘deep sleeper’ who goes through a homogeneous experience of nothingness, that is the experience that one has while fast asleep without being disturbed even by dreams.

  6. Reason for 3 states (Waking, Dream, Deep Sleep).

    The real nature of human beings is pure Consciousness but they pass through the three different, distinct, and relative states of the waker, dreamer, and deep sleeper because of the play of the Consciousness in the gross, subtle, and causal bodies respectively.

    When the identification with these bodies ceases the original, pure, transcendental nature is understood to be the ever-present self-evident “I”.

    Consciousness functioning through the gross body creates the waker.

    The same Consciousness withdrawing from the gross body and functioning through the subtle, creates the dreamer.

    Withdrawing from the gross and subtle bodies and functioning through the causal body, Consciousness expresses as the deep sleeper.

    The combination of the three—that is waker, dreamer, and deep sleeper—constitutes the individuality (jīva) in a human being.

  7. Why person (Jīva) pursues life of procuring and chasing Desires?

    An individual (Jīva) constantly endeavours to regain his real nature of Bliss by trying to procure more and more happiness from the world. But all that he obtains is only spasms of joy which are soon followed by sorrow and bitterness.

    This happens as a result of the identification of the Consciousness (Ātman) with the matter layers. The qualities pertaining to, and the sorrows associated with, matter are superimposed upon the Ātman.

    To remove such false superimpositions and thereby come to experience the absolute Bliss one has to reflect carefully upon, as well as analyse, the five layers of matter and then gradually detach oneself from the influence of each one of them.

    When this process is successfully carried out, one apprehends and experiences the pure Self as different from the waking, dream, and deep sleep states of consciousness.

    Such discrimination of the five superimposed layers of personality and recognition of one’s real nature as the supreme Bliss is termed as ‘discrimination of the five sheaths’ (pañca-koṣa-viveka).

    In the world today human beings totally identify with the matter layers and suffer the agitations and sorrows associated with them.

    The analysis and discrimination of the five layers of personality helps an individual to withdraw from the thraldom experienced through the association with matter, and to recognize and regain the original glory of Bliss (Awareness).

  8. Nature of Ātman

    The five layers of personality—food, vital-air, mental, intellectual, and bliss sheaths—are constituted of matter.

    Matter, by itself, is inert and insentient. But an individual behaves as a sentient being and is conscious of all that is happening around and about himself or herself.

    It, therefore, follows that there must be something other than these five matter vestures to lend them sentiency or consciousness. This Principle of Consciousness is Ātman or God.

    Human beings unconsciously accept themselves as different from their equipments by declaring them to be ‘my body’ and ‘my intellect’.

    When a possessive pronoun qualifies an object, the ‘possessor’ must necessarily be different from the object ‘possessed’. For example, my car is not me, my dog is different from me.

    Thus, the Self, the ‘I’ in a person, is distinct and different from the body, mind, and intellect. This supreme Possessor, the pure Self in all living beings is the one absolute Consciousness or Ātman.

    Ātman (Consciousness) is again indicated as that transcendental Power which provides the sense organs their capacities to perceive objects of the world, gives the mind the ability to feel all emotions, and lends the intellect the faculty of thinking.

    The three bodies—gross, subtle, and causal bodies—are the three equipments through which the Ātman (Consciousness) functions.

    Consciousness may be considered as the fuel which propels these three vehicles to act. The Consciousness is the Life Force which when functioning through the inert equipment of the gross, subtle, and causal bodies creates the composite human personality as the waker, dreamer, and deep-sleeper.

    Ātman (Consciousness) is also referred to as the changeless substratum upon which all changes take place. The body and its perceptions are constantly changing, and so are the mind and its emotions, and the intellect and its thoughts.

    These changes occurring in one’s equipments are noticeable. It should be evident that recognition of change is possible only with reference to a changeless entity.

    For example, two people sitting in a closed compartment of a moving train do not observe any change with respect to each other.

    However, when they look out of the window they are able to notice the movement of the train with reference to the stationary objects outside.

    Similarly, the fact that human beings recognize the changes occurring in themselves establishes beyond doubt the existence of a changeless entity within themselves.

    This changeless entity is Ātman (YOU).

    Summarizing the above observations, God (Ātman) can be indicated as follows:

    (1) The Being which transforms insentient matter into sentient beings. Ātman provides life to the inert layers of matter and together they create live human beings.

    (2) The ‘I-ness’ or the pure Self in a person which is the supreme possessor, is different from the possessed, that is the body, the mind, and the intellect.

    (3) The Power which provides the sense organs, the mind, and the intellect their respective capacities to perceive, feel, and think.

    (4) Something that transcends the gross, subtle, and causal bodies. On identification with the bodies it manifests as the waker, dreamer, and deep-sleeper respectively.

    (5) The changeless Reality which enables one to recognize the changes occurring at the physical, mental, and intellectual levels.

  9. Non-apprehension (ignorance) CAUSES mis-apprehension (projection of false notions).

    Pure Consciousness (Ātman, YOU) is beyond the intellect’s capacity to comprehend. It is the very power in the intellect which gives it the capacity to comprehend and, therefore, cannot be an active object of comprehension.

    However, when the intellect fails to comprehend a thing, the mind begins to misinterpret it by casting a false and unreal projection upon the thing.

    This happens because the essential nature of human beings is absolute Knowledge yet they constantly yearn to know more and more with the help of their equipments.

    Where the intellect has failed, the mind tries to compensate by projecting upon the unknown object a false notion of knowledge.

    Nonapprehension (due to uneducated Intellect about Realities) is the root cause for all misapprehension (projection of false notions onto the World due to uneducated Intellect).

    For example, in context of snake-rope story: misapprehension of the snake cannot be removed except by removing the non-apprehension of the rope, that is except by gaining the true knowledge of the rope.

Download visual mind map of this session.

28 Aug

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