Causal Body and Subtle Body

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    Danakeli Dasi

    In SB 3.26.14 we read, “The internal, subtle senses are experienced as having four aspects, in the shape of mind, intelligence, ego and contaminated consciousness. Distinctions between them can be made only by different functions, since they represent different characteristics.”
    First, let me make sure I have the terminology correct. My current understanding is that the gross, physical body is made of the sense organs/instruments, the subtle body is made of the mind (manas), intellect (buddhi) & false ego (ahankara), & the causal body is the contaminated consciousness (citta/mahat). Is this correct?
    If so…
    We often hear Srila Prabhupada explain, “When this body is annihilated, the subtle body—mind, intelligence, ego—carries the soul to another gross body. This is the process of transmigration of the soul.” (from a lecture) It seems, though, that it would more specifically be the causal body (citta) that carries the soul & that the next subtle & gross bodies (both phenomena themselves) would form around that causal body. Is this correct? Perhaps Prabhupada was just using general terminology when he said “subtle body carries”?
    Also, we read in SB 11.3.39, “in all species of life the prāṇa, or vital air, remains unchanging and follows the spirit soul from one body to another.” Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura comments on this verse by saying that in deep sleep the subtle body is “destroyed,” leaving the soul covered by prana only. Seems this should also be true at death.
    What, then, is the proper way to understand the connection between causal body, citta & prana? What actually carries the soul to its next destination after death?

    Ashish Dalela

    The causal body in my understanding is what we call the “unconscious” in Western psychology. It is called karana-sarira and is the body in which Maha Vishnu injects the soul into the causal ocean or the karana-samudra. It is outside the 7 layers of the universe, and is, therefore, deeper than any of the subtle bodily instruments. A practical illustration of this distinction is that as the child grows up, we say that their mind and intellect and the senses are “developing”.

    So, we need to distinguish between “conscious” and “unconscious” bodies. The gross and subtle bodies are conscious — i.e. waking and dreaming state. The “unconscious” body is the deep sleep state of existence, in which the subtle body becomes dormant as a possibility.

    During the time of death, the subtle body is destroyed, the gross body is left behind, and only the causal body goes forward. The prana carries this body to the next place. When the soul is injected into the mother’s womb, as Srimad Bhagavatam and other Purana describe, there is no consciousness until the 7th month. This means the soul exists in the deep sleep state. Until this time, there is no mental or intellectual, or sensual experience. So, you don’t feel pain, etc.

    After the 7th month, the subtle body starts developing — i.e. the senses, mind, intellect, ego. At this time, the soul due to suffering prays to Lord Vishnu to take him out of this dark place and if he ever gets out of this place he will never forget the worship of Lord Vishnu. Then at the beginning of the 10th month when the child gets out, he forgets his promises.

    There is a subtle but important difference between “consciousness” and chitta. When we speak about “consciousness” we should specifically speak about self-consciousness, or that “I exist” and I am eternal, I have the capacity to know myself, and I can enjoy by myself, I am self-sufficient. When we speak of chitta, it is a perceptual instrument like the mind or senses. It perceives the ideals in this world. If you eat some food, the senses will get the taste, the mind will say it is chapati, the intellect will say based on previous experience the mind is right (or wrong), the ego will say my desire is fulfilled and I’m feeling satisfied as my hunger is being fulfilled, and the chitta will say this chapati is ideal or non-ideal — i.e. it could have been better or it is already perfect. When you are very hungry, the sense of satisfaction dominates the perception and you can eat whatever is given. If you are not that hungry, then chitta’s effect will be seen.

    We all have some notion of ideality or perfection. For example, most people think that getting enough money, power, and fame is ideal. Money is the measure of a person. This is ‘contaminated perception’. Lord Chaitanya says — cheto darpan marjanam. Two things are important here. First, the chitta is unclean, which means it has false ideas about perfection. As this chitta is modified. Sri Chaitanya Caritamrita says there are many stages — perfect, more perfect, and most perfect. So, it is an improvement in the understanding of what we mean by ideal or perfect.

    Then, the second thing is that it is like a ‘mirror’ (darpan). This means things can be reflected inside it. All senses are like that. They are like mirrors, and they inject the world within themselves. That is the reason these are called ‘consciousness’. It is not self-consciousness. But is the mirror in which nature is reflected. For example, when you see the world through your eyes, the world enters your eyes. The eye is the whole, and the world is a part of that eye. The world exists outside your eye, and it can enter other eyes, but during perception, it enters your eyes.

    This is the main problem of perception, namely, that some material objects are like mirrors. Another object enters them and becomes a ‘representation’ of the world. In science, we cannot think of such things. How can one object enter inside another and yet remain outside?

    When you measure by a meter, the measured object is outside the meter. But when you observe by the senses, the world is inside the sense. Like that the perfection or imperfection of the world enters the chitta and becomes part of the chitta. Because it enters the chitta (or other senses) it contaminates the senses and leaves behind an ‘impression’. We have been observing things for a long time, and all these impressions have modified our senses, mind, chitta, etc.

    So, purifying the chitta means cleansing ourselves of all these past perceptions. The most important of these purifications is the idea of perfection. What is perfection? How am I going to be perfect? How do I know something is perfect? That Vaishnava Acharyas say that if you can see the connection between Krishna and the world, then you know how to use it in relation to Krishna and that aspect of the thing — as it becomes relevant to Krishna — is its perfection.

    So, everything is perfect in one sense, and everything is imperfect. Our ability to see that perfection purifies the chitta. This means we neglect the imperfections, and they don’t enter our chitta. Only the relevance of the object to Krishna enters the chitta.

    Each of the senses is also a ‘standard’ of measurement. When the world enters our senses, it becomes a part of the senses. The part is judged in relation to the whole — the sense. So, the sense is the standard instrument against which we measure, and the part is measured against that standard. So, when our chitta is pure, then our standards are raised. In the ‘perfect’ stage, we reject the whole world. In the ‘more perfect’ stage we see that there is a presence of God in everything. And in the ‘most perfect’ stage we see everything connected to God.

    These are progressive levels of perfection. Generally, you cannot attain a higher level of perfection until you cross the previous levels. So, even if someone rejects the material world, it is to be considered ‘perfect’ although not ‘more perfect’ and ‘most perfect’. Hope this helps.

    Danakeli Dasi

    Yes, this is very helpful! Thank you. I appreciate the distinction made between chitta & consciousness & the description of how chitta becomes polluted or purified.
    I would like a clarification on the causal body. If I’m understanding properly, it is not the self-consciousness of the soul but rather a very subtle covering of the soul. Is it a record of our karma & of the gunas we’re attracted to, & in this way an “information” body? Is it composed of the gunas? Does only liberation annihilate the causal body?

    Ashish Dalela

    Yes, my understanding is that the causal body is guna and karma. These are the real causes of our transmigration through bodies. The guna is our habits and proclivities. They are potentials or possibilities which lie dormant. But they are activated due to time. So, if you form a habit of eating at a certain time, then there is a guna that is activated by causal time at the same hour.

    Liberation is freedom from these habits and proclivities. Causal time cannot act upon us anymore, because it factually never acts on the soul. It acts on the guna and karma. If we become free of guna and karma then there are no habits and proclivities and no consequences. You are totally free of material influences and your free will is not forced by matter.

    Danakeli Dasi

    Thank you. This gives me proper clarity on the nature & role of the causal body.

    Danakeli Dasi

    As a follow-up question…
    If only the causal body goes w/ the soul after death to the next birth, & both the subtle & gross bodies have been destroyed or left behind, how do we explain past life remembrances? The causal body can store memories? That’s something I thought was the function of the intellect.
    Perhaps when there’s a sudden or traumatic death, the subtle body might also go w/ the soul? In his work on past life remembrances, Dr. Ian Stevenson reported that young children can have reasonably verifiable, vivid past life remembrances, but that such memories would usually fade as they grew up.

    Ashish Dalela

    This is somewhat stepping into unknown territory for me. My understanding is that the unconscious stores everything. There is a record of all events, which is why some people do past live regressions or regressions of the unconscious. There used to be a TV program in India where a hypnotist used to hypnotize people (they did not show how the hypnosis was done) but thereafter people used to remember their past lives, how they died, where they were. I don’t watch TV, but I remember one episode in which a person died during India’s struggle for freedom.

    I’m not an expert on the data on reincarnation, but going by the very sketchy knowledge I have, yes, it is possible to get your past life memories through some process, although in some cases these things are automatically manifesting in someone’s memory. Intelligence is also involved in conscious recall, but here I think we are talking about unconscious impressions. Again, I don’t want to speculate, but I think someone has to do a deeper study on hypnotic regressions to understand how much of the unconscious exists from past lives.

    Danakeli Dasi

    Thank you. Of course, I probably shouldn’t be too curious about it either. But memory is a fascinating & mysterious topic to me. I’ve heard Srila Prabhupada on 3 different recordings say, “I remember when I was 3 months old lying on the lap of my sister, & she was knitting.” (!!!) I myself can’t recall anything until about 4-5 yrs. of age!

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