The Mind and Prana
Shastra teaches us that every individual living being is made up of 3 bodies: Gross, Subtle, and Causal. We have previously seen the definition of the Gross Body (Sthula Sharira) & some of the Subtle Body (Sukshma Sharira). The subtle body is made of 19 components = 5 organs of perception + 5 organs of action + 5 physiological functions + 4 fold mind. We will now see the last 9 remaining elements here:
5 Physiological Functions (Pancha Pranah)
These are the 5 subtle energy generating systems of the body:
1. Prana = Respiratory Function. E.g. Inhalation & Exhalation
2. Apana = Excretory Function. This is the Shakti that removes any kind of waste from the body. E.g. Urine, sweat, faeces, etc.
3. Vyana = Circulatory Function. Blood circulation to distribute Oxygen around the body and circulation of nutrients from absorbed from food in the digestive system.
4. Udana = Reversing Function. This function is not active in a normal healthy state, it reverses normal operations of the body. This is activated in an emergency for your protection. E.g. when you swallow poison, you vomit. Something gets stuck in your throat, you cough. But most importantly, Udana Shakti is activated in full measure at the time of death of the physical body. This is the force that withdraws the powers of 1,2,3 &5, and propels the subtle body out of the physical body at the time of death once the physical body is no longer fit to sustain life. The subtle body then continues its journey to its next new physical body.
5. Samana = Digestive Function. Converts food into nutrients e.g. carbohydrates, protein, minerals, etc.
Remember the above 5 are not physical, they are subtle (sukshma). By definition, subtle is that which is not perceptible by your 5 physical senses (indriya gocara). So these are the 5 subtle powers behind the corresponding physical elements in the physical body. You may recognise the above 5 from Vedic prayers as this is commonly chanted when offering food before it is eaten (Pranaaya Svaha, Apanaya Svaha, etc.).
4 fold Inner Instrument (antahkarana)
The mind is called an ‘inner (antah) instrument (karana)’. Why? You use ‘external (bahya) physical instruments (karana)’ to transact with the world (eyes, ears, mouth, hands, legs, etc). But you also need an ‘inner instrument’ (‘inner’ means more subtle than your physical body) to coordinate all these external instruments and fulfil other functions. This inner instrument is called the mind or antahkarana. Your mind is made up of nothing but thoughts (vrtti). All these thoughts take place in the antahkarana (mind). These thoughts are of 4 different types and therefore the antahkarana has 4 different names depending on the type of thought at a particular time:
1. Manas = Mind. This is what the mind is called when our thoughts are indecisive, doubtful, or emotional. e.g. you think “Did I lock my front door? I’m not sure?” this thought is Manas. Or an emotion such as anger, fear, sadness, is experienced. These are all Manas.
2. Buddhi = Intellect. This is what the mind is called when the thoughts are decisive, rationale, definite. E.g. “I understand this, this is clear, this is what I will do”
3. Citta = Memory. This records all the experiences gained via the 5 senses (eyes, ears, nose, etc) in the mind. E.g. “I remember you said this to me 15 years ago”.
4. Ahankara = Ego. The ‘I thought’ (Aham Vritti). This is the thought that claims to be me, the subject in any action. E.g. “I do, I eat, I walk, I talk, I think, etc.” The one who says all this, is just a thought (albeit a very special thought as we will see in later classes) in the mind called Ahankara. Humans have a much stronger Ahankara than Animals. Animals tend not to have much of a notion of themselves. E.g. A rabbit does not have a strong notion or thought that “I am a rabbit, you are not a rabbit”. Animals simply operate and think instinctually.
The above 4 are different names given the same 1 mind, depending on the function/type of thought. They are not 4 parts of the mind. It’s just like when you come to a class you are called a ‘student’, at home you are called a ‘son’, at work you are called an ‘employee’. But there’s only 1 ‘you’ with multiple names depending on your function.
We have now seen all 19 instruments that make up the Subtle Body. What is the function of this subtle body? To enable experiences & interaction with the world via these 19 instruments. What is the nature of the subtle body? It is subject to change (e.g. eyes weaken, memory fades, intellect gets sharper, etc.) & the subtle body has a longer life than the physical body (It does not die when the physical body dies, it gets reborn again and again).
This is the definition of the Sukshma Sharira – the 2nd of the 3 bodies (Sharira Traya).