Question 238-9: The Subtle Body and the senses

The Subtle Body and the sensesThe young Ram asks about the five senses and how they function in the body-mind complex. The sage responds explaining the presence of sarira, the subtle body, and its operations. What is it that enjoys the gratification of the senses?


hridaya: heart = n. the heart (or region of the heart as the seat of feelings and sensations; “to take to heart “‘), soul, mind (as the seat of mental operations; the heart or interior of the body; the heart or centre or core or essence or best or dearest or most secret part of anything;

Chaitanya Consciousness, intelligence, spirit.

Atma-tattva reality of the Spirit; the primordial element; the consciousness that is the primeval element of existence;

akash: San. m., n. (ambara) sky, space, an expanse; the element of ether, the subtlest form of matter. Space gives things form and keeps them discrete. Its quality is sound. ‘It is through space that sounds are transmitted and heard. Love and play are products of akasha and seeds sprout on account of akasha.’ ‘Akasha pervades the cosmos but remains unstained.’ (BG: 23:32)

jiva-kala: the spirit of life as vitality, bodily strength, vigour, energy, ability, etc.

Puryastaka: ‘body comprising eight parts’. It is the sareera or the subtle body that is responsible for the transmigration of the jīva, the soul in bondage.

atma-gyan: direct knowledge of the Atma;


Question 238: Sir, I am putting to you some questions for improving my understanding. Kindly do explain to me clearly. Why don’t the five sense organs, viz., ears, eyes, skin, tongue and nose, that are manifest, perceive their objects after death? Apparently the senses are gross. How then are their experiences received within the mind (hridaya)? Each sense organ is independent. How are they then integrated? How does the experience of oneself such that,‘ I see, I hear’, arise and how do the various feelings merge together?

Answer: Ramji, the senses, chitta, mind, body, etc are not independent of chaitanya (Consciousness). Atma- tattva is more subtle and pure than akash. When modifications arise in it, it visualises all the senses before it and the chitta adopts these senses with a firm attitude. The chitta potency, arising in the pure consciousness assumes the jiva idea and adopting the six senses including the mind, and living in a body, it enjoys gratification of external objects. The experience of objects occurs due to the association of mind with five senses, and that would not happen in the absence of this association. It is the jiva-kala (jiva-potency) involved in the six senses that enjoys gratifications, and when jiva-kala, the base of the senses is withdrawn, the senses do not apprehend the objects. Even though there are separate senses, there is one jiva-kala permeating through them that integrates them, and this then is called jiva. Then ego arises from this and conceives that ‘I see, I hear, I smell‘, etc; acceptance of objects occurs because of the ego.

Body, mind and senses are inert. They can perceive objects only when they are granted the potencies of Atma. This Atmic potency (Atma-satta) is also called sareera – the subtle body (puryashtaka). When puryashtaka is withdrawn from the body, the senses cannot perceive objects. The eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin are not senses; rather these are the centres for the senses. The senses are highly subtle and are related to sareera- the subtle body (puryashtaka). When puryashtaka or jiva conceived a body and a self, ego was aroused. When the jiva started reflecting, mind was created and when the jiva began to resolve, intellect grew. Extemal objects were created when the jiva began to think of these. The potency of this nature is called puryashtaka.

Atma-tattva permeates through everything, but it is realised where purity obtains. Or, where the mind is pure, that is, it possesses high qualities (sattva guna); Atma-jiva is also there. As long as puryashtaka is in a body, the body appears sentient, and when it is withdrawn, the body becomes inert.

Ramji, Atma is neither one nor many. It is pure and faultless and is of the nature of supreme element (tattva). The modifications or ideations arising in it are also its aspects or forms, and there is no place for duality in it. In fact, Atma is distinct from all the six senses, including the mind. Creation of jivas in Atma is in name only; in reality these too have not been created. Everything is just an illusion. When creation of jiva is assumed, various objects with names and forms are cognised due to the extrovert ego, and this is ignorance. This ignorance cannot be destroyed except with Atma-gyan. When ignorance is destroyed under the instructions and guidance of a preceptor and scriptures, the illusion of the universe with names and forms also vanishes and Atma only is sustained. Nothing else has been created.

Ramji, consider only that to be real which is obtained with perfect knowledge; the object that is not sustained after perfect wisdom, must be considered unreal. The idea of jiva puryashtaka (individual with the subtle body), too, is unreal, because it appears real due to ignorance. Know this for certain.

Question 239: Sir, what is waking and what is a dream?

Answer: Ramji, waking and dreaming are of the same form or nature. Just as the ideational universe experienced by a jiva in a dream is neither real nor unreal, because it is just an illusion resulting from ideation by a jiva, so is the waking state a mere illusion. Hence I said that both waking and dreaming are of the same nature. Waking is a dream of a long duration; therefore, it appears as real. A dream has a short duration; hence it appears unreal. When wisdom is attained, waking, too, is cognised as a dream.

A jiva cognises the unreal as the real, and vice versa due to ignorance. It is due to ignorance that all objects are cognised to the contrary; when knowledge of the Atma is attained, nothing but Atma is cognised and all illusions vanish. A jiva established in Atma functions unattached.

Ramji, after some time a king, Pandu by name, will be born and he will get a son Arjuna. Just as Arjuna will function unattached on hearing the spiritual teachings of Sri Vishnu, you, too, should live like him.


To comprehend Atma Vidya one must practice self-inquiry and through inquiry see the special nature of the mind and the intellect. This special knowledge pertains to the spirit and the inner, subtle senses and feelings. A person is able to develop the power of renunciation due to the combination of mental and spiritual knowledge. By merely practicing penance alone without control of the senses one cannot realize anything fruitful. The relationship then between knowledge and penance is like the positive and negative; it is related to the inner subtle body guarding the outer physical body. Education relates to the body, penance to the Spirit. The body has been gifted for selfless good actions; one need not be highly educated to use his body for proper action. So, we need both spiritual and formal knowledge to lead a fulfilling, purposeful life.
Kodaikanal, April 16, 1996


The Vedanthins speak of a subtle body, separate from this gross body. That too is physical. It is the centre of subtle skills and force. It is in this body that all the subtle mental feelings and agitations take place. Every force can work only through some medium or other, which is physical. The same power that operates the gross body works through the subtle processes of thought. They are not two different entities. One is the subtle form of the other, that is all.


Hamsa Gayatri
Om Hamsaaya Vidmahe
Paramahamsaya Dheemahi
Tanno Hamsa Prachodayat

“May we realise Hamsa that is our own Self as the Swan. Let us meditate on that Paramahamsa, the Supreme Self. May Hamsa illumine us.”