Traya means three, and Sharira means body, thus Traya sharira simply means three bodies. Our self is seemingly attired in three bodies and delights in three interrelated states namely sleeping, dreaming and waking respectively. According to the Ancient Hindu Philosophy and the ‘’Tenet of three Vital bodies’’ Every human being constitutes three vital bodies namely, Sthula sharira or the Gross body, Sukshma sharira or the Subtle body and the Karana sharira or the Causal body. The panch kosha or five cardinal sheaths resides in these three bodies.
The food body is called the Gross body (sthula sharira).The physiological systems, the emotions, the intellect and the self-counterpart (ego) are called the subtle body. The seeds of one’s past experience are hailed as the Causal body because they cause one to think, feel and act. The Gross, Subtle and Causal bodies are substantiated by the atman (the self), if the self identifies with the gross body it seems to have a waking existence. When it identifies itself with the subtle body it seems to be in a dreaming or thinking state. If it tags itself with the causal body it seems to be in a sleeping state. This process is akin to an actor playing different roles in a play, or a crystal that takes on the colour of the object near it. Similarly just like an actor the self is distinct from the roles it appears to take over or assume. Therefore the self is called the Observer or Witness (sakshi) of the three bodies and their respective states. The self is ‘’I’’ and the three bodies are ‘’this’’.
The Gross body is the outmost and revealed aspect of a thing. It is the exterior material sheath. Thus the ‘’crude body’’ (sthula sharira) is the perishable corporeal frame. It is the gross tangible body of the soul or the atman. The gross body embodies the five cardinal elements (panchmahabhutas) –space (aakash), air (vayu), fire (agni), water (jal) and earth (prithvi) after they experience the process of splitting and combining (pancikarana). It is born as a result of worthy and creditable deeds of the past. It is the prime channel through which the soul communicates with the outward entities and experiences both the pleasures and miseries of life. It undergoes these six changes namely Birth, Subsistence, Growth, Maturity, Decay and Death. It is actually a dense physical body.it is an instrument of all other principles (bodies) during physical existence. The food sheath (annamaya kosha) and part (physical expression) of the vital breath or Energy sheath (pranamaya kosha) inhabit the gross (physical) body. The Annamaya kosha and Pranamaya kosha provides food, drink and air to the gross body for fulfilling its needs. When one dies the physical body vanishes and its five cardinal elements pass into oblivion. According to the Hindu philosophy the prime objective of the Gross body (Sthula sharira) is to attain the knowledge of the self, experience divine bliss and reach the acme of spirituality which would lead to Salvation (Moksha) finally in this short span of human life. The human soul gets entrapped in this mundane world of untold desires and thereby experiences all sorts of pain and pleasures resulting from the attachments to various desires and wants. Constant practice (Abhyasa) and Dispassion or Detachment towards all worldly pleasures (Vairagya) is the means to attain Moksha or final emancipation (a state of perfect bliss).
The Subtle body (Sukshma sharira) is also known as the Astral body (Linga sharira). It is subtle psychological or functional body.It comprises of the subtle aspect of the five elements before they experience the process of splitting and recombining.it is a consequence of good deeds done in the past and is a means to feel subtle experiences. It embodies seventeen parts: the five perceptive senses(jnanendriyas),the five organs of action(karmendriyas),the five vital airs : respiration(prana),evacuation(apana),circulation(vyana),digestion and assimilation(samana)and the power in the body discard undesirable objects(udana). Udana is also active at the time of death and is also responsible for ousting the subtle body from the gross body. The subtle body also contains the mind and the intellect. The gross body is sustained by the subtle body which manage the organs of perception and action, the pranas and the physiological systems. When the gross body perishes the subtle body also leaves. The subtle body varies from one person to another .the association of the self with the emotional aspect of the subtle body gives rise to feelings like ‘’I am mirthful’ ’I am sad’ ’I am angry’’etc. The subtle body is the seat of the mind and the intellect.manomaya kosha(the mental sheath), vigyanmaya kosha(intellect sheath) and part of pranamaya kosha( energy or vital air sheath)lie in astral or the subtle body. The subtle body consists of the cognitive and the cerebral coverings which carry the emotions and feelings of the mind and ideas and ideals of the intellect. All these are mere perceptions. The subtle body comprises of the thoughts.
Causal body (karana sharira) is that which is unexplainable (anirvachaniya) and beginningless (anaadi). It is free of division and the source of self-ignorance. It is the foundation of the gross and the subtle bodies.it is called the karana sharira because it is the germ or seed of the gross and the subtle body.it is the main basis of the gross and subtle bodies and also results in the future birth of the soul that is not set free or liberated from the causal body. The causal body regulates the growth and evolution of the other two bodies, and shape every aspect of the next birth. The causal body is the emanation of higher consciousness.it is related to the state of dreamless sleep and Samadhi of highest order. It conjoins the microcosm (individual consciousness) with the macrocosm (collective consciousness). The past life mindfulness and perceptions are saved in the causal body, it permeates the information and knowledge attained during the previous births. All the mundane moorings and intense desires for the carnal objects and pleasures named ‘’vasanas’’go hand in hand with the karana sharira or the causal body.
The causal plane of our personality –the insentient intensity layer of our mind is elucidated in the Upanishads as ‘’Nescience”or Ignorance (Avidya).The ‘’Ignorance’’ of the ethereal vitality, and its eternal splendour and completeness in us the root cause of our sense of restlessness, loneliness, fear etc. and thereby the intuitive “uges’’ for, the mind ‘’shakes’’ with, and the sense organs ‘’indulge’’in the world of sense objects.
Anandamaya kosha (blissful sheath) inhabit the causal body (karana sharira). It confers upon the bliss to the causal body. After the death of the human being, both the causal and astral bodies (that exist together) separate from the physical body. Once the soul gets isolated from its causal body it commingles with the divinity. There is no need to come back to this worldly plane for the soul except for God’s wish. When they do return they arrive as a divine soul who leads the ordinary masses and exalt them to the path of enlightenment or divine essence (moksha).
The life span of each of the bodies varies largely. Since the gross body is nurtured by the gross food thereby it has very short life. The subtle body is nourished by thoughts and feelings so its life span is a bit longer than the gross body. The causal body has the highest life span as it needs only bliss and peace. The soul is distinct from all these three bodies .it does not requires anything because it is the experience and the observer and thereby it is imperishable and immortal.
Death is nothing but the falling off the gross body. The soul remains along with the suble and causal body where samskaras are stored. Man would take human birth again and again with the help of gross body till the samskaras are fully exhausted. We can only use and burn all our samskaras (karma phala)only in our human life by conscious living and our will power. It is not possible in any other life besides human life and that is the prime reason why human birth is regarded as greatest from liberation perspective.