The Doctrine of Three Bodies is found in ancient Vedantic texts, known in Sanskrit as Treya Sharira. This teaching is one of the fundamental aspects of yoga. Here, we will introduce the concepts of sthula [gross], sukshma [subtle], and karana [causal] sharira – the physical, subtle, and causal body.
In the ancient Indian tradition of yoga, the human body is believed to consist of three main parts or “shariras”: the physical body or “sthula sharira,” the astral body or “sukshma sharira,” and the causal body or “karana sharira.” These shariras are considered interconnected and interdependent, and they form the basis for understanding the complex nature of the human experience.
Let’s explore each of the shariras in more detail:
- Sthula Sharira – The Gross Body
The sthula sharira refers to the physical body that we can see and touch. It is made up of the five elements – earth, water, fire, air, and ether – and is subject to the laws of physics and biology. Through yoga, we seek to strengthen and purify the physical body through asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing exercises), and other practices. By taking care of the physical body, we can create a strong foundation for spiritual growth and overall well-being.
- Sukshma Sharira – The Subtle Body
The sukshma sharira is the subtle or astral body that lies within the physical body. It is often described as a network of energy channels or “nadis,” through which prana (life force) flows. This subtle body is said to be the seat of our thoughts, emotions, and desires. Practices like meditation, visualization, and mantra chanting are used to purify and balance the sukshma sharira. By doing so, we can achieve greater clarity of mind, emotional stability, and heightened awareness.
- Karana Sharira – The Causal Body
The karana sharira is the most subtle of the three shariras, and it represents our deepest level of consciousness. It is often referred to as the “seed body” because it contains the potential for all of our thoughts, actions, and experiences. The karana sharira is said to be the source of our individuality and is responsible for our unique karmic patterns. Through practices like self-inquiry and surrender, we can become aware of the karana sharira and begin to transcend our limited sense of self.
While the three shariras are distinct, they are also deeply interconnected. The physical body affects the subtle body, which in turn affects the causal body. By working with all three shariras, we can create a holistic approach to health and spiritual growth. In fact, many yoga practices are designed to address all three levels simultaneously.
For example, asanas [yoga postures]are not just physical exercises – they also affect the subtle body by balancing the flow of prana [life force energy] and clearing energy blockages. Pranayama, or breath control, can also have a profound effect on the subtle body by calming the mind and promoting a sense of inner peace. And through meditation, we can access the deepest levels of the causal body and experience a profound sense of unity and interconnectedness.
In conclusion, the concept of the shariras is a fundamental aspect of yoga philosophy. By understanding and working with the three shariras, we can cultivate greater awareness, balance, and well-being in all aspects of our lives. Whether we are focused on physical health, emotional stability, or spiritual growth, the shariras offer a powerful framework for personal transformation.