The 9th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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It is also known in other different spiritual traditions: "the most sacred body" (wujud al-aqdas) and "true and genuine body" (jism asli haqiqi) in Sufism, "the diamond body" in Taoism and Vajrayana, "the light body" or "rainbow body" in Tibetan Buddhism, "the body of bliss" in Kriya Yoga, and "the immortal body" (soma athanaton) in Hermeticism.
The various attributes of the subtle body are frequently described in terms of often obscure symbolism: Tantra features references to the sun and moon as well as various Indian rivers and deities, while Taoist alchemy speaks of cauldrons and cinnabar fields.
History of the term
The expression "subtile body" appears suddenly in English literature in about 1650, appears erratically until it ceased to be used by about 1840. At that time, the more common term "subtle body" comes into use.
The latter expression gradually gains in currency through the nineteenth century, and begins a sharp increase in usage from about 1940 until the present time. Further research is needed to clarify the actual authors who used the phrase, and what they meant by it.
The Yogic, Tantric and other systems of Hinduism, the Buddhist psychology of Tibet, as well as Chinese (Taoist alchemy) and Japanese (Shingon) esoterism are examples of doctrines that describe a subtle physiology having a number of focal points (chakras,
These invisible channels and points are understood to determine the characteristics of the visible physical form. By understanding and mastering the subtlest levels of reality one gains mastery over the physical realm. Through practice of various breathing and visualisation exercises one is able to manipulate and direct the flow of vital force, to achieve superhuman (e.g. in martial arts) or miraculous powers ("siddhis") and attain higher states of consciousness, immortality, or liberation.
The subtle body (sūkṣma śarīra) in Vedantic philosophy is composed of three Koshas or "sheaths" (Pranamaya, Manomaya and Vignanamaya kosas are related to Subtle body, Annamaya is related to Gross body, Anandamaya is related to Causal body).
The subtle body is the vehicle of consciousness with which one passes from life to life. The Liṅga Śarīra is the vehicle of consciousness in later Samkhya, Vedanta, and Yoga, and is propelled by past-life tendencies, or bhavas.
It consists of twenty-five tattvas from eternal consciousness down to the five organs of sense, five of activity (buddindriya or jñānendriya, and karmendriya respectively) and the five subtle elements that are the objects of sense (tanmatras) The Samkhyakarika says:
"The subtle body (linga), previously arisen, unconfined, constant, inclusive of the great one (mahat) etc , through the subtle elements, not having enjoyment, transmigrates, (because of) being endowed with bhavas ("conditions" or "dispositions")
As a picture (does) not (exist) without a support, or as a shadow (does) not (exist) without a post and so forth; so too the instrument (linga or karana) does not exist without that which is specific (i.e. a subtle body)."
The idea was adopted by Vedanta and Yoga philosophy, and from there, in the 19th century, the terminology was adopted by the Theosophy of Madame Blavatsky. Subtility-The State Of Being Subtile To Will
Meher Baba's teachings
The spiritual teacher Meher Baba stated that the subtle body "is the vehicle of desires and vital forces," He held that the subtle body is one of three bodies with which the soul must cease to identify in order to realize God: "At the end of the Path, however, the soul frees itself from all sanskaras and desires connected with the gross, subtle and mental worlds; and it becomes possible for it to free itself from the illusion of being finite, which came into existence owing to its identification with the gross, subtle and mental bodies. At this stage the soul completely transcends the phenomenal world and becomes Self-conscious and Self-realised."
H. P. Blavatsky's Theosophical teaching represented the convergence of 19th century Western occultism, Eastern philosophy, religion, science, and mysticism. The Secret Doctrine, and The Key to Theosophy combined the Vedantic concept of five koshas with Western esoteric traditions (particularly Neoplatonism). She refers to three subtle bodies:
The Linga Sharira is the invisible double of the human body, elsewhere referred to as the etheric body, doppelgänger or bioplasmic body and serves as a model or matrix of the physical body, which conforms to the shape, appearance and condition of his "double".
When it returns to the physical frame, the wound will be reflected in the physical counterpart, a phenomenon called "repercussion." At death, it is discarded together with the physical body and eventually disintegrates or decomposes.
The mayavi-rupa is dual in its functions, being: "...the vehicle both of thought and of the animal passions and desires, drawing at one and the same time from the lowest terrestrial manas (mind) and Kama, the element of desire."
The higher part of this body, containing the spiritual elements gathered during life, merges after death entirely into the causal body; while the lower part, containing the animal elements, forms the Kama-rupa, the source of "spooks" or apparitions of the dead.
They also redefined some terms. The Linga Sarira (sometimes called astral body by Blavatsky) was denominated by Annie Besant as Etheric double. C.W. Leadbeater, regarding the emotional body as the seat of the kamic principle of Blavatsky's constitution, denominated it astral body. Therefore, the subtle bodies in a human being are:
The later Theosophical arrangement was taken up by Alice Bailey, and from there found its way (with variations) into the New Age worldview. It is also associated with the human aura observed through Kirlian photography and Kilner screens.
Max Heindel divided the subtle body into: Vital Body made of Ether, our instrument for specializing the vital energy of the sun, seen by clairvoyant vision to extend about an inch and a half outside the body;
the Desire body, which is our emotional nature and pervades both the vital and dense bodies, seen by clairvoyant vision to extend about 16 inches outside our visible body, related to the Desire World;
An interesting variant on the concept of subtle bodies is found in both Alchemical Taoism and the "Fourth Way" teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, where it is said that one can create a subtle body,
According to (Rosenthal, 1997) "In Gurdjieffes cosmology our nature is tripartite and is composed of the physical (planetry), emotional (astral) and mental (spiritual) bodies; in each person one of these three bodies ultimately achieves dominance."
The work of the Body of Light was part of English author and occultist Aleister Crowley's system of magick, saying in his Magick (Book 4) that it must be developed by rigid discipline, including rituals and the "assumption of god-forms", as well as by practice and experience.
see also:Subtle Body