Three Bodies Doctrine (Vedanta)

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According to Sarira Traya, the Doctrine of the Three bodies in Hinduism, the human being is composed of three sariras or "bodies" emanating from Brahman by avidya, "ignorance" or "nescience". They are often equated with the five koshas (sheaths), which cover the atman. The Three Bodies Doctrine is an essential doctrine in Indian philosophy and religion, especially Yoga, Advaita Vedanta and Tantra.

The three bodies

Karana sarira - causal body

Karana sarira or the causal body is merely the cause[1] or seed of the subtle body and the gross body. It has no other function than being the seed of the subtle and the gross body.[2] It is nirvikalpa rupam, "undifferentiated form".[2] It originates with avidya, "ignorance" or "nescience" of the real identity of the atman, instead giving birth to the notion of jiva.

Swami Sivananda characterizes the causal body as "The beginningless ignorance that is indescribable".[web 1] Siddharameshwar Maharaj, the guru of Nisargadatta Maharaj, also describes the causal body as characterized by "emptiness", "ignorance", and "darkness".[3] In the search for the "I am", this is a state where there is nothing to hold on to anymore.[3][note 1]

Ramanuja concludes that it is at this stage that consummation of the atman with the Paramatman is reached and the search for the highest Purusa, i.e., of Ishvara, ends.[4]

According to other philosophical schools, the causal body is not the atman, because it also has a beginning and an end and is subject to modification.[web 2] Shankara, not seeking a personal god, goes beyond Anandamaya Kosha in search of the transcendent Brahman.[4]

The Indian tradition identifies it with the Anandamaya kosha,[web 1] and the deep sleep state, where buddhi becomes dormant and all concepts of time fail, although there are differences between these three descriptions.

The causal body is considered as the most complex of the three bodies. It contains the impressions of experience, which results from past experience.[5]

Suksma sarira - subtle body

Suksma sarira or the subtle body is the body of the mind and the vital energies, which keep the physical body alive. Together with the causal body it is the transmigrating soul or jiva, separating from the gross body upon death.

The subtle body is composed of the five subtle elements, the elements before they have undergone panchikarana,[web 3] and contains:

  • sravanadipanchakam - the five organs of perception: eyes, ears, skin, tongue and nose[web 3][3][note 2]
  • vagadipanchakam - the five organs of action: speech, hands, legs, anus and genitals[web 3][3]
  • pranapanchakam - the five-fold vital breath: Prana (respiration), Apana (evacuation of waste from the body), Vyana (blood circulation), Udana (actions like sneezing, crying, vomiting etc), Samana (digestion)[web 3][3]
  • manas[web 3][3][note 3]
  • Buddhi, the Intellect, discriminating wisdom[web 3][3][note 4]

Other Indian traditions see the subtle body as an eighth-fold aggregate, placing together the mind-aspects and adding avidhya, kamah and karma:

In samkhya, which does not acknowledge a causal body, it is also known as the linga-sarira.[6] It puts one in the mind of the atman, it reminds one of the atman, the controller. It is the beginningless limitation of the atman, it has no beginning like the Sthula sarira.

The "dream state" is a distinct state of the subtle body, where the buddhi shines itself owing to memory of deeds done in the waking state. It is the indispensable operative cause of all the activities of the individual self.

Sthula sarira - gross body

Sthula sarira or the gross body is the material physical mortal body that eats, breathes and moves (acts). It is composed of many diverse components, produced by one’s karmas (actions) in past life out of the elements which have undergone panchikarana i.e. combining of the five primordial subtle elements.

It is the instrument of Jiva’s experience, which, attached to the body and dominated by Ahamkara,[note 5] uses the body’s external and internal organs of sense and action. The Jiva, identifying itself with the body, in its waking state enjoys gross objects. On its body rests man’s contact with the external world.

The Sthula sarira’s main features are Sambhava (birth), Jara (old age or ageing) and Maranam (death), and the "Waking State". The Sthula sarira is the anatman.[7] The gross bodies, the subtle bodies and the causal worlds make one vast universe.

Correlations with other models

Three bodies and five sheets

The Taittiriya Upanishad describes five koshas, which are also often equated with the three bodies. The three bodies are often equated with the five koshas (sheets), which cover the atman:

  1. Sthula sarira, the Gross body, also called the Annamaya Kosha[8]
  2. Suksma sarir', the Subtle body, composed of:
    1. Pranamaya Kosha (Vital breath or Energy),
    2. Manomaya Kosha (Mind),
    3. Vijnanamaya Kosha (Intellect)[8]
  3. Karana sarira, the Causal body, the Anandamaya Kosha (Bliss)[8]

Four states of consciousness and turiya

The Mandukya Upanishad describes four states of consciousness, namely waking consciousness, dream, and deep sleep, and turiya, the base-consciousness. Waking consciousness, dream, and deep sleep are equated with the three bodies, while turiya is a fourth state, which is equated with atman and purusha.


Turiya, pure consciousness, is the fourth state. It is the background that underlies and transcends the three common states of consciousness.[9] [10] In this consciousness both absolute and relative, Saguna Brahman and Nirguna Brahman, are transcended.[11] It is the true state of experience of the infinite (ananta) and non-different (advaita/abheda), free from the dualistic experience which results from the attempts to conceptualise ( vipalka) reality.[12] It is the state in which ajativada, non-origination, is apprehended.[12]

Four bodies

Siddharameshwar Maharaj, the guru of Nisargadatta Maharaj, discerns four bodies, by including turiya or the "Great-Causal Body"[13] as a fourth body. Here resides the knowledge of "I am" that cannot be described,[14] the state before Ignorance and Knowledge, or Turiya state[13]

Application in Indian philosophy

Yoga physiology

The three bodies are an essential part of the Yoga physiology. Yoga aims at controlling the vital energies of the bodies, thereby attaining siddhis (magical powers) and moksha.

Atma vijnana

According to the Advaita Vedanta tradition, knowledge of the "self" or atman can be gained by self-enquiry, investigating the three bodies, and disidentifying from them. It is a method which is well-known from Ramana Maharshi, but also from Nisargadatta Maharaj and his teacher Siddharameshwar Maharaj.

By subsequently identifying with the three lower bodies, investigating them, and discarding identification with them when it has become clear that they are not the "I", the sense of "I am" beyond knowledge and Ignorance becomes clearly established.[15]

In this investigation the three bodies are recognized as not being anatman.[16]


The later Theosophists speak of seven bodies or levels of existence that include Sthula sarira and Linga sarira.[17]

See also


  1. Compare kenosis and Juan de la Cross' Dark Night of the Soul.
  2. Shri Kalam Ashram: "[T]he organs of perception and action have been defined as residing in the Subtle body. These organs are not to be confused with the physical entities of the Ear, Eye etc which are part of the physical body. In Vedanta, it is the “Indriyas” –which are responsible for the function. The Indriyas are the “senses”. Thus while the physical organ “eye” is part of the Gross Body, when we talk about the “eye”, we are referring to the sense of sight which resides in the Subtle body.[web 3]
  3. See also Manas-vijnana
  4. See also prajna
  5. Ego, I-ness or the Antakarana in which the Citta or the atman is reflected


  1. Sharma 2006, p. 193.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Bahder & Bahder 2013.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Siddharameshwar Maharaj & 2009 31-32.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ranade 1926, p. 155–168.
  5. Gregory P., Fields (2001). Religious Therapeutics: Body and Health in Yoga, Āyurveda, and Tantra. State University of New York Press. p. 27. Retrieved 4 June 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Feuerstein 1978, p. 200.
  7. Franco Marcello Antonetti (2012-02-27). The Enigma of God:A Revelation to Man. Balboa Press. p. 32. ISBN 9781452547404.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 J.Jagadeesan. The Fourth Dimension. Sai Towers Publishing. p. 13. ISBN 9788178990927.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Ramana Maharshi. States of Consciousness.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Sri Chinmoy. Summits of God-Life.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Sarma 1996, p. 137.
  12. 12.0 12.1 King 1995, p. 300 note 140.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Siddharameshwar Maharaj 2009, p. 32.
  14. Siddharameshwar Maharaj 2009, p. 33.
  15. Siddharameshwar Maharaj & 2009 34-58.
  16. Sri Candrashekhara Bharati of Srngeri. Sri Samkara’s Vivekacudamani. Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. p. xxi.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Ed Hudson (2008-05-01). The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Harvest House Publishers. p. 471. ISBN 9780736936354.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


Published sources

  • Bahder, Paul; Bahder, Carol (2013), Be Free From "Me": Vedanta Notes, Vision of Vedanta<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Feuerstein, George (1978), Handboek voor Yoga (Textbook of Yoga), Ankh-Hermes<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • King, Richard (1995), Early Advaita Vedānta and Buddhism: The Mahāyāna Context of the Gauḍapādīya-kārikā, SUNY Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Ranade, Ramachandra Dattatrya (1926), A constructive survey of Upanishadic philosophy, Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sarma, Chandradhar (1996), The Advaita Tradition in Indian Philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sharma, Arvind (2006), A Primal Perspective on the philosophy of Religion, Springer, ISBN 9781402050145<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Siddhrameswar Maharaj (2009), Master Key to Self-Realization. In: Master of Self-Realization. An Ultimate Understanding, Sadguru Publishing<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  1. 1.0 1.1 Divine life Society, Bases of Vedanta
  2. Dr. S. Yegnasubramanian. "Tattva Bodha of Adi Shankara Part 2" (PDF).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Shri Kalam Ashram, An Overview of Vedanta

External links