Is the subtle body being material destroyed by the power of time, as is the gross body?
From: Keshav Prabhu
Transcription By: Jyoti Shirsangi Mataji
Edited By: Shyam Venkatesvaran P
Question: After death or after liberation, does the subtle body decay or die out? It is a detail question-it is said that there are two types of bodies, one is gross and another is subtle i.e. mind, ego, intelligence etc. Now both these bodies are matter, but the difference is that the subtle is fine; the cause of matter is akash and the cause of force is prana. So due to prana, the akash keeps changing its form, just like water changing to ice, water vapour, etc. Our muscles contract when we sit because our muscles are made of akash. Due to prana, form or shape of muscles changes. Hence, whatever we see in this world, changing its shape is akash etc. Gross or fine body under the action of prana the force. Our thoughts also change from one to another because thought is fine body akash transparent. When a person dies, the gross body decays immediately but the fine body does not die, but it decays after long time, since fine body is also matter which will have to decay completely at some time. When both gross body and fine body get decayed completely and jiva is liberated. Now, if the fine body decays, then the jiva must become inactive after liberation. So, is it true? If yes, then how come jiva became active now? If not, why? Is it illusion that we see jiva being active today?
Answer: There are a lot of concepts over here in this question. I will focus on a few and I will just address others briefly.
The primary question is about the subtle body being destructible or indestructible. Yes, the subtle body, as it is rightly pointed out, is material, and so, it is also destructible. However, the subtle body, being of a subtler nature of matter, is not as quickly or as grossly affected by time as is the gross body. So the gross body inevitably ages as time passes and it ultimately dies, whereas the subtle body, in general, doesn’t age. We know about our desires it is time and time- kalena nahi yasya viplavo. Gajendra in the 8th canto, in his prayers to Lord Krishna says that the nature of the desires which are the essence of the subtle body is such that they are not destroyed even by time. Similarly, in Kapila’s teaching in 3rd canto it is said, “Prasangam ajarampasham”. Our attachments are such that they are ajara; jara is old age, whereas the attachments never grow old. So the subtle body doesn’t undergo the effects of time the same way as the gross body does, and that’s why the concept of aging is not there for the subtle body, but of course, it is just like in demigod world; the demigod’s are under time and they do die at a particular time, but time doesn’t bring about gross effects in them, in terms of them becoming old. They live, and when their lifespan ends, then they die, but aging doesn’t happen in terms of physical deterioration of abilities or appearances.
The same applies to the subtle body also. Now, within the subtle body, there is a constant change that happens as our desires change. So, the subtle body doesn’t get destroyed or decay because of old age. Subtle body is destroyed when the soul becomes free from all material desires.
In other questions about the subtle body and the gross body, I have explained how our presence in the material world is like a pilot’sentering a virtual reality setup for simulating an attack on an enemy base. “purusha prakrti sthohi, bhunkte prakrti jan gunan, karanam guna sangasya, sadasadyoni janmasu.” (BG 13.22).So purushah prakrti sthohi, the soul becomes situated in prakrti because bhunkte prakrti jangunan, because of the desire to enjoy matter, and because of this contact, karanam guna sangasya, because of the association with the modes, sadasadyoni janmasu, and the person meets with good and bad in various species. So, as a person starts watching a movie, then he experiences a rollercoaster of emotions based on whatever happens in the movie, although that person is entirely separate from the movie.
So, is the Jiva inactive right now? The Jiva is active in terms of having desires. We are definitely the desirers and according to our desire, the machine of the subtle body and the gross body act. So, when we work on a computer, when we press the print command, we are the doers in terms of pressing the print command, but after that, so many processes happen that we are not even aware of. The signals go from the keyboard to the CPU, and the CPU sends out signals to the printer, and the printing hands move and that’s how the paper get sprinted. So, there are so many processes that happen over there which we are not aware of. And are we the doers of those processes? Well, we are the doers in the sense that we are the initiators, and what was our initiation? How did we initiate them? By our desire to get a printout and by pressing a button. So similarly, we are primarily the desirers and subsequently, material nature acts under the supervision of the super soul. So the Jiva definitely is active right now in terms of actively desiring. But beyond that, everything else is done as per the Jiva’s desire, and of course, as per the Jiva’s Karma, by material nature, under the guidance and supervision of the super soul.
So, is it an illusion, that the Jiva is active? It depends on what we define or imply by the word illusion. Well, the Jiva is definitely active in terms of desiring and perceiving various sense objects, and responding to those perceptions. But, is the Jiva acting at the physical level? Well, the Jiva is simply using the instrument. “Prakrti kriyamanani, gunaih sarvani sarvasha, ahankara vimudhatma, kartaham iti manyate”(BG 3.27). These two are very important Verses, 3.27 and 13.22 which I quoted earlier, to understand how the soul is entangled in material existence. So, the soul who thinks himself as the doer is definitely in illusion. But that doesn’t mean thatthe soul is not doing anything. The soul has to change the quality of the desires. So it is an illusion to think that we are the doers, it is illusion to think that we are the enjoyers, but it is also an illusion to think that just by stopping the desiring and enjoying wewill become free from illusion, because stopping the desiring and enjoying can also be a symptom of tamo guna. In tamo guna, the person may not want to enjoy grossly because the person is frustrated with gross enjoyment. So to come out of the illusion requires purification, not just a mere renunciation. Mere renunciation, if it is based on frustration, will not sustainable. So, illusion is a subjective term and essentially when I am speaking and you are hearing, we are both active. But what is active? The soul desires to speak and the soul desires to hear, and then the psychophysical apparatus is operating with it. But the working of the psychophysical apparatus is not known to the soul. So, in that sense, if the soul thinks that I am such an expert speaker, then that is an illusion.
So, now regarding this whole subject, so the subtle body gets destroyed only when the soul becomes free from material existence. That means, when we return back to the spiritual world, after having become purified of all material desires, then the subtle elements merge with the universal subtle elements and the soul departs from material existence. Till then, the subtle body continues to exist, but the nature of the subtle body keeps changing depending on the kind of desires. So, like a person is watching a virtual reality show and if the person is tamasic, that person wants to watch violent programmes or play violent games. If the person is sattvik, the person may want to play educational games. But the whole setup is under illusion. So, our subtle body does change depending upon the quality of our desires, but still the subtle body continues to exist, and it doesn’t decay just with the passage of time. It actually is destroyed only when we decide that I don’t want to enjoy in this material world, and we turn away from the material world and turn towards Krishna. So, if we imagine that there is a virtual reality setup for each person, so when that person decides that now I don’t want to play this anymore, then that setup will be destroyed. It will become redundant and then it will be destroyed. Similarly, when we decide that I don’t want to engage in the material world any more, we become purified and it’s time for us to return to the spiritual world to be liberated, then on our journey back, the subtle body gets destroyed in terms of the elements of the subtle body, mind, intelligence, and ego merging with the elements in the universal elements.
And I won’t go into this whole zone of Akash and Prana, these are the concepts of Sankhya and they are of an entirely different subject. But it is essential to say that, actually, it is not Prana that is the force; it is the Jiva that is the force, Jiva is the force of consciousness, and the consciousness of the Jiva is exercised through various ways, which are all material mechanisms. So, Prana, which is called the force, is also one of the mechanisms, but the ultimate actuator is not the Prana in and of itself; the ultimate actuator is the soul. And when the soul stops actuating the material body and the soul stops desiring to actuate the material body for the sake of enjoyment, then eventually when the soul leaves the gross body, the subtle body is also left behind.