Sharir – Sthul, Sukshma, and Karan
Hinduism describes that the non-liberated soul are born (jiv) in “Mrutyu Lok” – the realm of the universe where life exists. They born, live, and die in this realm (lok), so, it is called Mrutyu (death) lok. Scientists have found that life can sustain even in the most extreme or harsh conditions. This is because of the superb structural and functional engineering of the body. Thus, body is an important unit of living being. In Hinduism, body is known as sharir, deh, tanu, or tan (ta´n). The Sanskrit word “tan (ta´n)” rhymes with man (ma´n means mind) and dhan (dha´n means money or wealth). Middle Persian language (3rd to 7th century BCE) also used to have word tan (ta´n) for the body. Hinduism describes all living beings have three kinds of body, namely, Sthul (gross), Sukshma (subtle or psychological), and Karan (causal). This body of living beings is consisting of 24 physical entities, called tattvas.
1. Sthul sharir: It is a gross physical body of the soul or jiv. Sthul body is made of different parts and organ systems called “Ang” and “Upāng” in Sanskrit. For the lower animals and microbes, their gross body is microscopic and they have tiny angs and upangs. Out of 24 elements, the sthul body of living beings consists of five gross elements known as Panch-bhuts. They are: Pruthvi, Jal, Tej, Vayu, and Akash. These five bhuts are created from Tāmas Ahamkār, which in turn is created, along with Rājas and Sātvik Ahamkārs, from Mahattattva. Mahattattva, which is equivalent to Chitt, is the primordial element of the body. Sthul sharir is perceptible by our five senses. According to Hinduism, an important function or the main purpose of Sthul sharir is to gain the ultimate knowledge of the Truth, to enjoy the bliss of God and God related spiritual pleasure in this very life, and to transcend to the abode of God after the death. But because of its nature of experiencing happiness and sorrow of panch–vishays it has become an object or vehicle for Bhog-vilās (worldly pleasures) causing more attachments to them, instead of achieving moksh, detaching from worldly pleasures, or achieving the highest spiritually enlightened state.
2. Sukshma sharir: It is subtle, psychological or functional body. For higher animals it is psyche or mental body for the soul. It is not perceptible by our senses or sensory organs but its existence can be inferred and experienced in our day to day life. For the lower animals and plants sukshma sharir is functional and can be understood by their intelligence and activities related to survival and feeling of pleasure and pain, such as, food gathering, cell division and multiplication, mating, hibernation, running away from danger and developing bodily resistance against harsh environment, experiencing shock, sadness, crying, etc. Sukshma sharir carries with it the basic instincts for the protection and survival of a living organism, such as āhār (to eat food), nindrā (to sleep), bhay (to fear), maithun (to procreate), sukh (to feel pleasure), and dukh (to feel plain). In the modern time of luxuries we still feel unhappiness in our life. In the modern time of comfort we still feel that our world’s peace is at stake. This is because we are still harboring, in our sukshma sharir, the vices, such as, lust (kām), avarice (vāsanā), anger (krodh), greed (lobh), egotism (mad), infatuation (moh), jealousy (irshā), enviousness (matsar), hope (āshā), deep and intense desire or crave (ishnā, trishnā or trushnā), grudge or animosity (ver), etc. We create our own mental body around us. For example, I am such and such person of such and such race, with such and such name, with such and such nationality, with such and such skin color, with such and such qualifications, with such and such social and monetary status, and such and such creed. I am doctor, engineer, actor, or businessmen, etc. I am rich or poor. I am brother or sister, father or mother, uncle or aunt, etc. Even animals, tiny creatures, and microscopic organisms also create their own such mental (sukshma) body around their soul and that is why they recognize their kind and also stay, mingle, and mate with their kinds. When we call an animal by its name it will look at us and respond, because, the animal has created a mental body around its soul. Our sexual orientation, irrespective of our chromosomal, hormonal, or physical orientation is the result of our mental (sukshma) body. A common person may think of himself as a king and a king may think of himself as a common person and behave accordingly because of his sukshma body. Sukshma sharir consists of rest of the 19 elements, namely, five Prāns, Vishays, or Tanmatras; ten Indriyas, four Antahkarans, namely, Man, Buddhi, Chitt, and Ahamkar.
“Panch-prān-mano-buddhihi dashendriya-samanvitam, a-panchikrut-bhutotham sukshma-angam bhog-sādhanam.”
Man (Mana) and Buddhi are part of sukshma or subtle body. Sometimes Ahamkar and Chitt are not included as part of sukshma sharir, which makes the total of 17 elements for sukshma sharir. The reason may be, Hinduism also describes that both Chitt and Mahattattva has indifference (abhedpunu). Because, just as Mahattattva is the primordial form and cause of three kinds of celestial body of Ishwar, namely, Virāt, Sutrātmā, and Avyākrut; Chitt also is the primordial form and cause of three kinds of terrestrial body of Jiv, namely, Sthul, Sukshma, and Kāran. If this is the case, then chitt obviously, as a cause of other bodily elements, could possibly the part of kāran sharir. From chitt, three types of Ahamkār are evolved and from ahamkārs rest of the 24 elements are evolved. Thus, ahamkar would also become the part of kāran sharir. Probably, because of this reason both Ahamkār and Chitt might not have been included, by some, in sukshma or subtle body, instead they may be included as a part of kāran or causal body. In short, Antahkarans – man, buddhi, ahamkar, and chitt (mind or psych as a whole) is the cause of attachment and detachment with the worldly objects and their relatives. “Man eva manushyam kāranam bandh mokshayoho.”
3. Kāran sharir: Hinduism has described Kāran sharir around our soul. It seems to be, the karan sharir of the soul has not been described before by any other religion except Hinduism. Kāran sharir is a causal body which is the sole cause for the gross and subtle bodies in the next birth of the soul that is not liberated or detached from the causal body. Causal body carries the information or knowledge acquired during the previous births. The infatuation and intense or deep desires for the worldly objects and pleasures, called vāsanā, goes along with it. Soul is firmly attached to this causal body or kāran sharir. Kāran sharir consists elementally of Māyā, so it has all the characteristics of Māyā. It is described to have attributes like, anādi (without the beginning and end), avidyā (ignorant in nature), and anirvāchya (indescribable or inexplicable). On death the sthul and sukshma bodies become “dust unto dust” or parts of natural physical elements. But the causal body or kāran sharir, after death, goes with the non-liberated soul (māyānvit meaning covered with maya) wherever the soul goes, unless, the soul is completely detached or freed from it. Once the soul is completely detached from its causal body made of Māyā, it goes to the abode of God called Brahmdhām. This liberation of the soul is known, in Hinduism, as final redemption or “Ātyantik moksh”. Thus, final redemption in Hinduism is the detachment of soul from its three bodies consisting of maya and its attributes. It also means liberation forever from the cycle of birth and death, also known as Samsār chakra, because the soul has never have to come back to world again except for the God’s wish.