Inquiry Into Various Vedanta Definitions

subtle body, mind, intellect, antakarana


Something cannot come from nothing. This material universe evolved out of consciousness. Consciousness is both the substance of which the creation is made and the intelligence that shapes its names and forms. Just as the spider is both the substance of its web and the intelligence that shapes it. Consciousness operates the laws that control the behavior of matter and the conscious beings.


Because western material science is tethered to the senses it cannot experimentally verify the existence of consciousness because consciousness is subtler than even the most subtle material object.

Even though consciousness is self evident and all material objects, gross and subtle, are revealed in its light and none reveal it, science is forced to incorrectly conclude that consciousness evolved out of matter.

How this can happen is a complete mystery for anyone who understand the nature of reality because matter is inert.

The obvious conclusion, one that seems to have escaped the brightest minds of our age, is that matter evolved out of consciousness.


Just as a mighty oak potentially exists in a tiny acorn, the universe potentially exists in an invisible or unmanifest ‘seed’ condition, the finest level of existence. The ’seed’ state, the macrocosmic causal body, is comprised of three basic energies.

When these energies, light (sattva), activity (rajas) and darkness or substance (tamas), are undifferentiated there is no cosmos, a condition or state of perfect potential energy. When disturbed, for whatever reason, the subtle and gross elements come into being and unfold the universe.


Although it seems to be real the physical body can be resolved into awareness. The physical body is made up of the 5 subtle and gross elements: air, fire, water, earth. If we remove any one of the 4 the body will no longer exist. Do elements stand alone or do they depend on something else? They depend on much smaller units of apparently real substance, lets call them atoms. How real are they?

If we analyze the atoms we find that they are space and electrons, protons and neutrons. We can now discard the atoms. As we move deeper in our investigation we come on mesons, quarks and neutrinos and see that the spaces between them are as vast as the spaces between galaxies. We can now dismiss the electron level.

At this point a new factor enters our analysis. What seems to be substantial particles suddenly lose their shape and become waves of energy. Now we have waves of energy playing in space. If we keep concentrating on energy we find that it seems to come out of space and disappear back into space. So space is the reality, the substrate, and energy is the apparent reality.

Discarding energy we are left with space and awareness. We cannot resolve awareness into space because it does not depend for its existence on space. Space, however, depends on awareness because without awareness space cannot be perceived. Therefore we can resolve space into awareness.

From the level of the gross body all the way down to the level of infinite space all existent objects are only names and forms. They have no existence apart from their substrate. Now, try to resolve awareness, the substrate. It is impossible because awareness is non-dual and irreducible.

The final stage of this discrimination is determine whether or not awareness is different from you. It obviously cannot be. Therefore you are awareness and not the body. This inquiry can be applied to any object, including subtle and causal bodies.


Identification with time is an obvious source of suffering and can be removed by analysis. As we increase the units from nanoseconds to milliseconds to seconds and on up to years, centuries, ages, etc.

The space between the units increases until time eventually runs out and only space, which on analysis turns out to be nothing more than a concept, remains. Space is a concept because it depends on awareness witnessing it.

Concepts can be further reduced to mind and mind to awareness. Awareness is not reducible because before you know the existence of an object you have to be there as awareness.

There is nothing outside of awareness to reduce it to something else. Or if this analysis seems too abstract, consider that time is different for every individual.

One hour in a torture chamber does not equal one hour at an exciting movie. Time, like space, is dependent on the desires and attachments of the one that experiences it.

Attachments and desires are only transitory phenomena. In deep sleep they don’t exist.


The limitless I is called the substrate in Vedanta. A substrate makes the error that I’m limited possible. The rope in the example of the snake and the rope is a substrate, something whose nature makes it possible to mistake it for something else. The fact that I’m formless consciousness makes the playing of myriad (infinite) roles possible.

It is very easy to identify with conditioned roles because awareness cannot be perceived by the senses or the mind, making a perfect substrate, one that can support any identity.

A substrate is also the essence, a form reduced to its ultimate nature. For example, a ring, a bracelet and a necklace are three forms into which gold can be crafted. If the three are melted down, their forms are destroyed but nothing substantial is lost because the gold, their essence, remains.

Inquiry into the self merges the waker, dreamer and sleeper into the substrate, leaving awareness shining as the innermost self of the seeker. When i inquire into the substrate i find that i am whole and complete. I see that i never change. i discover that i am pure love.


When you see that the big scary coiled up snake was actually a coiled up rope, the snake vanishes.

To make the inquirer understand that the disappearance of the world is not exactly like the disappearance of the snake, Vedanta discusses two types of superimposition. The snake and the rope is an example of unconditioned superimposition. Unconditioned superimposition means that once the rope is perceived it is impossible to take it to be a snake.

As long as you know that the self is whole and complete and non-separate and that is you, you will not take yourself to be desperate, inadequate and incomplete.

Conditioned superimposition is like a mirage on a desert. Even if you are dying of thirst and see a lake on the desert you will not try to drink the water because you experiencially know it is unreal.


Once maya is operating awareness ‘assumes’ the role of creator and apparently identifies with maya.

Awareness (Brahman) in association with maya is then referred to as Isvara or ‘God,’ the creator, preserver and destroyer of the objects in the dharma field.

As such it is also known as the macrosmic mind, the causal body or the deep sleep state. Isvara or Maya is a ‘limiting adjunct’ for awareness in that it causes awareness to appear as the limited world.

Again this implies a sequence of ‘events’ which is not correct, because it infers time; we describe it so because we need to understand the distinction between the real and the apparently real, satya and mithya.


Awareness, under the spell of maya , identified with the subtle body, is called jiva. The subtle body is an uphadi or limiting adjunct for awareness.

The jiva is the microcosmic mind or individual. The subtle body is made up of the mind, intellect and ego.

Sometimes the jiva is defined as awareness plus the five sheaths: the physical sheath (ananmayakosa), the vital air sheath (pranamaya-kohsa), the emotional sheath (manomaya-kosha), the intellect sheath (vignamaya-kohsa) and the bliss sheath (anandamaya-kosha).

There is only one jiva because there is only one awareness appearing as many apparent jivas or individuals.


The body is an aggregate of common elements drawn from various sources, a shifting sand bar across which the elemental oceans ebbs and flows, its constituents changing from moment to moment. Identifying with this meat tube is suffering. Through patient self inquiry, one will work out that the body is only but a mere object appearing within you, awareness.


Awareness appears as the creation (jagat) when ignorance (maya) is operating. It is an effect and is called the apparent (mithya) reality.

It includes all the gross and subtle objects in existence, the objective empirical world and the subjective psychological world.


Ignorance is the cause of the causal body. It has no beginning. The causal body determines the nature of the individuals experiences and the quality of those experiences-hence the word ‘causal’.

All objects (thoughts, dreams, ideas, desire, emotions, memory etc) appearing in the subtle body is sprouted from a causal seed.


The subtle body, is composed of the instruments of experience and is the instrument of perception. The points on the physical body where sense perceptions seem to occur are not actually the sense organs.

For example, the eyes are only “places of light” or windows through which the power of vision, a subtle body component, beams forth. Perception is only possible when the mind is behind the sense organ.


Maya is the upadhi (limiting adjunct) of Ishvara (the cause of the total).

The five sheaths (pancha-kosha) are the upadhis of the individual. When the upadhis are negated, no difference remains between the individual and the total.

Anything made of clay is clay through and through. Anything that is made of awareness is awareness through and through. There is nothing but awareness so the individual and the total can only be one.


The traces left in the causal body by repeated experience are called vasanas, impressions, in Sanskrit. When they accumulate, vāsanā becomes samskara, deep channels, and generate terrible internal pressure.

Instead of waiting to see what comes, we try to make the things happen that we think will give us relief.

Samskara means ‘formation’ and is similar to the psychological idea of a ‘complex’, an amalgam of subtle tendencies that produce a particular mental/emotional condition.


The gunas are called macrocosmic vasanas i.e. they belong to Isvara or the total, the creation, not to the person. As an apparent person or jiva , (the self under the spell of ignorance) they are in the driver’s seat, so to speak.

The person thinks he/she is a doer so they drive him/her relentlessly until he/she gains the direct knowledge of his/her true nature as awareness.


Once māyā is operating awareness ‘assumes’ the role of creator and apparently identifies with maya.

Awareness in association with maya (that which results in ignorance) is referred to as Īṣvara or ‘God’, the creator, preserver and destroyer of the objects in the dharma field.

It is also known as the macrocosmic mind, causal body or the deep sleep state. Īśvara or māyā is the ‘limiting adjunct’ for awareness in that it causes awareness to appear as the limited world.


Awareness, the self, is not directly involved in life processes. Just as the sun blesses earthly activities with its radiance but doesn’t participate in them, awareness simply illumines the gross, subtle and casual bodies.

These bodies are actually inert matter but they seem to be alive and conscious because they are illumined by awareness.

Although the self is present as the substance of the subtle body and the modifications in it, it is not known because the vasanas extrovert attention into the thoughts arising in awareness and the material objects sitting in the field of awareness.


Most people define reality as what they are experiencing. The sun, the moon, the stars and what I think and feel is reality for them. But Vedanta has a different definition. It is ‘what never changes.’

We pursue objects because we think they are real. If we knew that they weren’t real, the pursuit would stop and our relationship with the world would definitely become fruitful.

Discrimination is like waking up from a dream. When you are in it you think it is real but when you wake up you enjoy a perspective that renders the dream events unreal.

Satya is a Sanskrit word that loosely translates into English as “unchangeable”, “that which pervades the universe in all its constancy”. It is also interpreted as “absolute truth” or “reality”.”

This is therefore the absolute Reality — birthless, deathless and changeless — referred to in the Upanishads as “Brahman.”

— More definitions here.

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