We are all familiar with our gross physical body. It is available to our direct perception and it gives us our ID. Vedanta tells us that we are blessed with two more bodies — the subtle body comprising life-force, the mind and the intellect, and a totally imperceptible third body, subtler than the subtle body. It is called the causal body, the source of the other two bodies. Advaita Vedanta avers, as we all know, that what we truly are is Pure Consciousness. Consciousness is our nature. It is the very Self that knows “I AM.” It is not that the Self possesses Consciousness. Self is Consciousness. We are actually none of these bodies.
But for some unknown and indeterminate reason, the Self, instead of being the Subject, the Knower or the Seer, got contaminated. We superimposed the Self with the known and the seen, the objects. We shifted our ID from being the Self to being a body – mostly as the gross physical body, and sometimes as the subtle body. That is a great fall for the Self – from Self to not-Self because the bodies are insentient (anAtma). The strong association we experience with the three bodies stands as a proof of the apparent fall. The severity of the fall could have been far less had we considered the bodies to be “mine” instead of taking them to be “me,” identifying ourselves with them as “I am my body.”
The apparent fall of the Self to not-Self is described in the Vedantic literature as a veiling of the self-effulgent Consciousness by “ignorance.” Much like the Sun being obscured by a cloud. The name given to that apparent veiling is “ignorance.” One cannot for sure say, though, that ignorance does exist, as we shall see a little later. However, the “concept of ignorance” has become central to the teaching of Advaita doctrine. It turned out to be a useful explanatory device. As already said, we are the Pure Self and our nature is Knowledge that shines like light. Ignorance, comparable to darkness, cannot exist in the presence of Self-knowledge. Nevertheless, the moment we become unaware or forgetful of our true nature, ignorance takes over and rules the roost.
Consequently, we face the unavoidable decay (ageing) and death because of the physical body. We experience the inescapable hunger and thirst because of the subtle body. The inexorable delusion and grief haunt us because of the causal body. Using the famous maha vAkya (Great Statement) “tat tvam asi” from 6.8.7, chAndogya Upanishad, Shankara reassuringly reminds us that what in truth we are is brahman which is beyond the three bodies. Therefore, we do not have to suffer those indignities resulting from our misidentification with the bodies. He says in his short treatise, vivekacUDAmaNi:
षड्भिरूर्मिभिरयोगि योगिहृद्भावितं न करणैर्विभावितम् ।
बुद्ध्यवेद्यमनवद्यभूति यद्ब्रह्म तत्त्वमसि भावयात्मनि ॥ — 257, vivekacUDAmaNi.
[Meaning: That which is untouched by the Six Waves of Affliction; which is realized in the heart of Yogis; which cannot be grasped by the sense organs; nor the intellect can know; and which is of flawless excellence, that brahman are you. Meditate on That in your mind.]
Taking help of the “neti; neti” (Not thus; Not thus) technique provided by 4.5.15, brihadAraNyaka Upanishad, an earnest seeker, through diligent inquiry and contemplative meditation can relatively easily discover that s/he is neither the gross body nor the subtle body. However, we find the causal body (kAraNa sharIra), which is the seat of ignorance, to be not so easy to negate.
2. Purpose, Sources and Acknowledgements:
The discussion in this article is focused on appreciating that we are not the causal body also. Hopefully it will be found useful in negating the causal body and to understand that our true nature is Pure Consciousness. The arguments and reasoning used in this discussion are centered on Shankara’s detailed commentary on the verse 13.2 of Bhagavad-Gita. This write-up itself is based on the three 90-Min talks by Shri Yellamraju Srinivasa Rao (YSR). The three talks are a part of his Series on “Advaita SiddhAnta SamIkSha” (A Review of the Advaita Doctrine). The links to the YouTube Audios in Telugu for the three Talks (91- 93/192) are given at the end. We have taken considerable liberty in editing and rearranging the material, while adhering to his text. If any errors have crept in because of this process, they will entirely be our responsibility and may not be attributed to Shri YSR. This article is prepared by Smt. Neppalli Padma and Ramesam Vemuri. We are grateful to Vijay Pargaonkar who read through the initial versions and offered valuable inputs.
3. The Causal Body:
Sri Krishna says in the Gita that we are deluded because our Knowledge, which is our intrinsic nature, is covered by ignorance. At another place, he even says that it looks as though the Knowledge is stolen by mAyA.
अज्ञानेनावृतं ज्ञानं तेन मुह्यन्ति जन्तवः ॥ 5.15, Bhagavad-Gita
[Meaning: Knowledge is enveloped by ignorance; thereby mortals are deluded.]
माययापहृतज्ञाना आसुरं भावमाश्रिताः ॥ 7.15, Bhagavad-Gita
[Meaning: Having Knowledge stolen by Illusion, following the ways of the Demons…]
Strictly speaking, Knowledge can neither be stolen nor destroyed. It is only from the viewpoint of our intellect (buddhi), it appears as though we have lost the Knowledge. We have to be very vigilant not to forget who we are in order to avoid being entrapped by ignorance.
Sage Sanatkumara tells Dhritarashtra in the text “sanat sujAtIyam” that death is forgetfulness (pramAda) and forgetfulness itself is ignorance. For eons, we have forgotten our real and original nature. All we have are the memories from the relative world we are in now. These worldly object-oriented memories are like the treasures accumulated in a dream. Objective knowledge, worldly expertise, and accumulated information are no better than ignorance. What is important is to remember the Self-knowledge, our real intrinsic nature. Bhagavad-Gita in a preliminary manner and brihadAraNyaka Upanishad more exhaustively explain the nature of ignorance.
Birth and death pertain to the gross body and not to the individual (jIva). The life-force (prANa) and mind are merely instruments available in the service of the individual. Not knowing who we are in Reality because of ignorance, we become everything else which we are not. A discrete analysis of our deep-sleep state shows us that the causal body is responsible for veiling our Knowledge of the Self.
Therefore, we have to understand the role of the causal body and its relation to ignorance.
(To Continue … Part 2/8)