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The mind and the three bodies: the functions and interactions


The Yogis believe than in addition to the gross physical body, there are other two vehicles used in the spiritual path. Each of these bodies consists of one or more sheaths, each composed by different elements or energies, with which humans experience different aspects of their existence. All these interact with the mind in very specific and determinate ways. To attain liberation, the yogi aspirant must stop identifying with the sheaths and transcend them.

The Mysteries of the Mind

Yoga explains that one of the vehicles of the soul is the astral body. Using this body, human beings can operate in higher planes beyond the 3 dimensions. However, most are unaware of its existence, and how the astral body relates to the physical, and the effect of the mind on this body.

The astral and physical bodies are interconnected by a subtle channel that transports vital energy. When death comes, such cord is severed and they become separate. During the dream state, the astral body becomes temporarily detached from the body, bringing about a different state of consciousness. Like the physical body, there are also senses of perception in the astral body. When these are used, extra-sensory perceptions can arise. However, just like the physical senses often deceive us, the astral senses also have their limitations. As the Yoga practice deepens, these phenomena can emerge (siddhis physical and psychic powers). However, the Yogi must be firm, and understand that this is not the purpose of the practice, and keep his efforts to attain liberation.

The science of Yoga also explains the different functions and characteristics of the mind. First, Yoga explains that all our experiences are the products of the mind and the impure senses, whether the physical or astral.  For instance, once the mind is controlled, the experience of time and space is no longer present. To attain liberation, aspirants attempt to control the mind and the senses and unveil their mysteries. Through the practice of concentration, meditation, and Samadhi, one can deepen the understanding of how the mind works at each of its different levels (e.g. conscious mind, unconscious mind, superconscious mind and the higher mind).

There are three stages of the mind. The first, the subconscious mind contain the impressions (samskaras) and is involved in instinctual knowledge. Then, there is the conscious mind, where the intellect resides. Finally, there is the higher mind, where intuition takes place. By becoming aware of the tree stages of the mind, the Yogi can slowly control the mind and guide it to the spiritual path, with the goal of transcending the illusory veil of Maya.

As evolution takes place in the animal kingdom, the instinct become more intricate. The common human actions are mostly coming from the subconscious mind; there is no reflection on reaction. Thus, the first step to understand the mind is to become aware of one’s actions, and to reflect before responding. A healthy subconscious mind should be under the controlled of the intellect, and not the other way around. The subconscious is also charged with emotions and even forgotten memories. Through the practice, the Yogi becomes in control of his emotion, transforming lower emotions like anger, into positive emotions like contentment.

Intuition is highly related with the inner silence. Intuition transcends reason, but does not contradict it. Intuition is experiential: to fully understand the insight shared by others, the intuitive mind should experience it empirically. Through Yoga, the aspirant slowly tunes into the intuitive mind.

Once the Yogi has understood and controlled theses aspects of the mind, the Yogi must then transcend them. Beyond these three stages of the mind lies pure consciousness, the goal of the practice. Once this state is achieved, the Yogi remains in a state of existence, knowledge and bliss absolute (sat-chid-ananda).

The Three Bodies and the Mind

The Physical Body (Stula Sharira)

This body is composed of the five elements (e.g. earth, water, fire, air and ether), that is, with molecules and atoms. With this body one experiences birth, growth, change, decay and death. It is believed that during sleep, one transcends this body. The sheath associated with this body is the Annamayakosa Kosha (Gross Physical Sheath). It is composed of food, and will return to the food cycle after death.

The Astral Body (Sukshma Sharira)

 This body is composed of 19 elements: 5 organs of action, 5 organs of knowledge, 5 pranas and 4 inner instruments. With this body, one experiences pain and pleasure.

There are three sheaths associated with this body. The first, the Pranamaya Kosha (Vital Sheath is composed of the 5 pranas (each corresponding to a chakra, a region in the physical body) and the five organs of action. Hunger, thirst, heat and cold are experienced in this sheath. Second is the Manomayakosa Kosha (Mental Sheath) which is composed of the mind, subconscious, and the 5 organs of knowledge. In this sheath one experiences thinking, doubting, anger, lust, depression and delusion. Finally, there is the Vijnanamayakosa  Kosha (intellectual Sheath). This third sheath is composed of the intellect (buddhi, which analyses) and the ego (ahamkara, self-assertive principle). Both discrimination and decision-making occur in this sheath.

The Causal Body (Karana Sharira)

This body is composed of karma and samskara. It is a record of all the previous actions one has performed. The causal body is composed of the Anandamayakosa Kosha (Blissful Sheath) where one experiences bliss, joy, calmness and peace.