Three Bodies Concept | Gross, Subtle, and Causal Body

Published: Jul 31, 2023 | Revised: Aug 9, 2023
Edited by: Marce Ferreira

Three Bodies Concept | Gross, Subtle, and Causal Body

One of the important concepts we encounter in Yoga philosophy is that of the Three Bodies, called Tri Sharira or Traya Deha. You will also find that Sharira, which means “body,” is written as Sarira.

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In this theory, it’s believed that a human being in reality consists of three distinct parts that coexist and interrelate with each other.

These three bodies (or parts) are thought to be the Gross Body (physical body), the Subtle Body (astral body), and the Causal Body (featureless body).

The three bodies are usually associated with the Pancha Koshas — the Five Sheaths. That is, the Gross Body is associated with Anna Maya Kosha, the Subtle Body with the Prana Maya, Mano Maya, and Vijnana Maya Koshas, and the Causal Body with Ananda Maya Kosha.

In some other theories, it’s also thought that there’s a relationship with the Marma Points, which are said to be the locations where the Gross and Subtle bodies intersect.

In any case, below then a brief discussion of the three distinct bodies:

Gross Body

This is the tangible physical body we see, the one of flesh, bones, blood vessels, nerves, and so on. It’s also called the Sthula Sharira (or Karya Sharira).

The Gross Body breaths, moves, and acts, and unlike the Subtle Body it gets born, ages, and dies. The Gross Body appears during the “waking state” and the “dream state.”

It’s made up from the gross aspects of the Five Elements called Pancha Bootha — Air, Water, Fire, Earth, and Space (Ether).

Subtle Body

Also called Sukshma Sharira, the Subtle Body consists of various energetic layers, that is, of Prana and other subtle energies.

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It’s made from the subtle aspects of the Five Elements (Pancha Bootha). The Subtle Body gives rise to all feelings, ideas, and thoughts, while also controlling psychological and physiological processes.

In the Yogic system, it’s thought that Prana Vital Life Force travels within the Subtle Body along the Nadi Energy Channels. The Chakras then are the locations where the Nadis converge.

It’s assumed that the Subtle Body controls the Gross Body and keeps it alive. It’s also thought that the Subtle Body separates from the Gross Body upon its death and transmigrates (Indian Hindu reincarnation theory).

The Subtle Body connects the Gross Body with the Causal Body.

Causal Body

The Karana Sharira or Causal Body is the part that is considered the cause or seed of both the Gross Body and Subtle Body, having no other function than being causal.

The Causal Body is generally thought to be formless and timeless, although some claim that it contains the past and current impressions and experiences of an individual human being.

Note: by some Indian philosophical lineages, the Causal Body is not considered an actual “body,” that is, it’s seen as formless, timeless, and without properties. As such, it’s thought to be non-existent, and you will find that some don’t talk about the Three Bodies, but rather about the Two Bodies, discussing only the Gross Body and the Subtle Body.

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