16 – Tattva Bodha: 3 Powers You are Endowed With & What is the Subtle-Body?


Discourse 16 speaks about intelligently using your mind, and what is the subtle-body.

Source: Tattva Bodha


Subtle-Body (commonly called just “Mind”) cannot be perceived by physical senses nor instrumentation in the lab. We can map out the brain's neural net on the computer, seeing which regions light up when there is “analysis” involved. But instrumentation cannot tell you WHAT the analysis is about.  Mind could be analyzing a philosophical question, or a mathematical equation; yet the same brain regions will light up more or less.

At the same time, we can't dismiss absence of Subtle-Body, because we all experience thoughts or emotions or abstract ideas which are not physical in nature.

A human Subtle-Body is endowed with 3 powers which can either liberate or lead one further away from the empirical world, and more into their own version of it.

These 3 powers are (a) power to desire [icchā śakti], (b) power to do [kriyā śakti], (c) power to know [jñāna-śakti]).  Every day, these 3 powers are exercised according to another power endowed only to a human body — free will… or power to choose. 

Amidst these powers, we are further endowed with…

  • Kāma (same as icchā-śakti): Capacity to Desire. Pseudo advice says “Get rid of desires”. Vedanta has no problem as can’t eliminate it. Child has desire to walk. Some have desire for freedom (moksha). Desire to perform discriminative enquiry (viveka). Desire itself is neither good/bad as it’s an empirical capacity of mind. However quality of desire can be beneficial or hindering.
  • Saṅkalpa: Capacity to have Resolve or Decide. Neither good/bad. Depends what your resolve is. If resolve is “I am going to take initiative, take charge of my emotions”, then it’s wonderful resolve. If resolve is “No matter what happens, I want this promotion, and I’ll get it at any cost”, and you bypass dharma (universal ethical values), then that resolve is afflicting for you because it’ll give conflict in the future. So goal of a discerning mind becomes moving from afflicting resolve to beneficial resolve.
  • Sandeha: Capacity to Doubt. Good/bad? Depends. If form a doubt in reference to whether you have clarity in reference to “I”; it’s useful. Whereas if it’s doubting whether your spouse is loyal; then becomes controlling.
  • Śraddhā-aśraddhā: Capacity to have conviction, to say “Let me pursue this”. Suppose you go to physics class, and in first lesson (before even starting it), you demand from teacher “You prove to me this is true!”. Thus have to be exposed to the knowledge for a while. Without it, you’ll say “There could be another discipline that’s more right then yours!”; in which case you remain eternal seeker. Every subject matter deserves to be given a chance. 
    • Shraddha VS. Ashraddha VS. Blind-faith
      1. Shraddha (faith) is keeping mind open, but not stopping to question and use logic.
      2. Ashraddha (no-faith) is to be unable to put trust in people or being overly suspicious.
      3. Blind-faith is to take questioning or critical-analysis out and accept whatever comes just because you have a pleasant emotional connection to the organization or person.
  • Hrīḥ: Shame. Neither good/bad; depends. Positive when sensitive not to disturb an unknown environment. Negative when ashamed of oneself.
  • Dhīḥ: Capacity to understand. Cognition; can be simple as 2+2 = 2, to understanding black-holes. Can apply it to any discipline (EG: Medicine; even if learn 8 years; still know miniscule).

In conclusion, humanity has one's “I” in the mind, as to be born is to not know one's true nature. Although the powers above do rest on your mind — they are in a constant flux, thereby never remain in an optimal state. This compels one to invest whole life in hacking or optimizing their mind or feeling good. In fact, in last decade, we've had an explosion of “mind hacking” books; seeing the mind as an operating system to “upgrade”. This is ignorance at play.

In reality, these powers can be used to continue one's cycle or rebirth, or to end it. 

Good news is, the Mind and all the powers the rest upon it, are not you. You are cit (Awareness) in reference to the mind. Meaning Awareness is not in any way connected, affected, nor defined by the characteristics of the mind. 

Verse: (What is the Subtle Body?)

sūkṣmaśarīraṃ kim?
apañcīkṛta-pañcamahābhūtaiḥ kṛtaṃ satkarmajanyaṃ
sukhaduḥkhādi-bhoga-sādhanaṃ pañca-jñānendriyāṇi
pañca-karmendriyāṇi pañca-prāṇādayaḥ manaścaikaṃ
buddhiścaikā evaṃ saptadaśa-kalābhiḥ saha
yattiṣṭhati tat-sūkṣma-śarīram

What is the subtle body? That which is composed of the five great elements which have not undergone grossification, born of the good actions of the past, the instrument for the experience of joy, sorrow and so on, constituted of seventeen items (the five sense organs, the five organs of action, the five physiological functions, the mind and the intellect) is the subtle body.

  • MATERIAL CAUSE OF SUBTLE BODY (apañcīkṛta-pañca-mahā-bhūtaiḥ): 5 Subtle Elements.
    • Difference between subtle/gross elements?
      • Gross are perceived/tangible (more densified). Subtle can’t be perceived by Gross Body.
      • Gross Brain has weight. Thoughts/emotions don’t.
      • In space, brain floats as it’s affected by gravity. Thoughts/emotions don’t float away.
      • Subtle elements also go through pañcikaraṇa (conversion) process to become Gross.
        • EG: Hydrogen/Oxygen is gaseous state. Both unseen. But when H2 and O1 combine, they densify. This bonding process discussed later.
  • EFFICIENT CAUSE OF SUBTLE BODY (kṛtaṃ sat-karma-janyaṃ):
    • Karma (past causes put into the field through your actions). We have human mind with human capacities. We can manipulate our tendencies, invent, calculate, master our mind, liberate. Plants/animals have rudimentary. In essence, Jiva gets what it deserves. 
  • FUNCTION OF SUBTLE BODY (sukha-duḥkhādi bhoga sādhanaṃ):
    • This Subtle Body is means by which experience of joy/sorrow or heat/cold is experienced.
    • Comparing to the function of the Gross-Body (sukha-duḥkhādi-bhoga āyatanam from previous verse):
      • Your Gross-Body is like a house which let's the world deliver it various experiences. A house can be vandalized (papa) or renovated (punya) for example. However if the owner is vacant, then there's noone to own the unpleasant result of vandalism, or to enjoy the delight of a new roof or driveway.  Therefore the owner who suffers or enjoys the experience delivered to the house — is the Subtle-Body.
  • Examples showing how Subtle-Body is DIFFERET from Gross-Body (How mind is not the physical brain):
    • Eye's of Gross Body are directed toward a screen showing a funny movie. However your Subtle Body is elsewhere for a moment. Daydreaming. During a funny scene, your friend laughs, and you would too — but you (as the Subtle-Body) are not fully with the Gross Body — hence remain unresponsive until your friend nudges your gross-body.
    • If Gross-Body was the Subtle-Body, then you should equally feel pain when cut cut nails/hair, just as is true anywhere else.
  • SUBTLE-BODY CONSISTS OF 17 PARTS (saptadaśa-kalābhiḥ saha):
    1. 5 ORGANS OF PERCEPTION (jñānendriyāṇi; 5 facilities that enable sensory knowledge):
      • When say “eye”, it actually means “capacity or ability to see”. This capacity belongs to Subtle (and not brain like prefrontal cortex/auditory center). EG: Can see/hear in imagination or dreams or psychedelics with total realism, without the physical eyes/ears being open. Or Near-Death survivors claim seeing/hearing things in the room.
      • Vedanta VS Science:
        • Science says: Mind comes from Brain. Example of material science can be see in Christof Koch's book; also claiming Consciousness is product of brain.
        • Vedanta says: Mind uses Brain to function.
      • What are the 5 facilities of sensory knowledge? We'll see in next verse.
    2. 5 ORGANS OF ACTION (karmendriyāṇi; 5 faculties that enable action):
      • Capacity/ability of doing action. EG: If damaged vocal cords, only lost mechanism, not ability to speak. Or capacity to grasp and walk.
      • What are the 5 facilities that enable action? We'll see in next verse.
    3. 5 PHYSIOLOGICAL FUNCTIONS (pañca-prāṇādayaḥ):
      • Physiological powers that enables:
        1. Circulation and spreading nutrients across the body (vyana)
        2. Digestion (samana)
        3. Excretion (apana)
        4. Inhalation & exhalation (prana)
        5. Reversal such as burping, vomiting and severing subtle-body from gross-body upon physical death (udana). 
      • Some pranas are active in some organs more then others, such as apana (excretion) is active in kidneys.
    4. MIND/INTELLECT (Emotions, Doubting, Memory / Reasoning):
      • Mind (manas): Name give to when thoughts in fluid state, like: Emotions, Doubting, Memory.
      • Intellect (buddhi): Name give to when thoughts in steady state; meaning a resolve or decision has been made. Active during reasoning or analysis. 
  • Upon physical death, what is it that leaves the sthula-sharira? Atma conditioned by sukshma-sharira survives and leaves. I, under spell of ignorance, leaves the physical-body upon death.
    • What is Material Cause? 5 Subtle Elements.
    • What is Efficient Cause? Past Karma.
    • What is it's Function? Means for experiencing pain and pleasure.
    • What are 17 components of Subtle Body? 5 organs of perception, 5 organs of action, 5 pranas, mind & intellect.
    • How many modifications does Subtle Body undergo? Innumerable (your mind shapes and shifts in countless ways). Unlike 6 modifications for Gross-Body.


  1. What is the Material Cause of the Subtle Body? 
  2. What is it's Efficient Cause ? 
  3. What is it's Function? 
  4. What are 17 components is constitutes the Subtle Body? 
  5. How many modifications does Subtle Body undergo?



Credit for help in Tattva Bodha to Chinmaya Mission's Swami Advayananda, and Arsha Vidya's Swami Dayananda.

Recorded 10 Sept, 2023


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