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According to various esoteric, occult, and mystical teachings, living beings are constituted of a series of psycho-spiritual subtle bodies, each corresponding to a subtle plane of existence, in a hierarchy or great chain of being that culminates in the physical form.
It is known in different spiritual traditions; "the most sacred body" (wujud al-aqdas) and "supracelestial body" (jism asli haqiqi) in Sufism, "the diamond body" in Taoism and Vajrayana, "the light body" or "rainbow body" in Tibetan Buddhism, "the body of bliss" in Kriya Yoga, and "the immortal body" (soma athanaton) in Hermeticism. The various attributes of the subtle body are frequently described in terms of often obscure symbolism: Tantra features references to the sun and moon as well as various Indian rivers and deities, while Taoist alchemy speaks of cauldrons and cinnabar fields.
Clairvoyants sometimes say that they can see the subtle bodies as an aura. The practice of astral projection, as described in various literature, is supposed to involve the separation of the subtle body from the physical.The theosophical movement was important in spreading such ideas throughout the West in the late nineteenth century. The existence of subtle bodies is unconfirmed by the mainstream scientific community.
See also: Taoism
The Yogic, Tantric and other systems of India, the Buddhist psychology of Tibet, as well as Chinese (Taoist alchemy) and Japanese (Shingon) esoterism are examples of doctrines that describe a subtle physiology having a number of focal points (chakras, acupuncture points) connected by a series of channels (nadis, Acupuncture meridians) that convey life-force (prana, vayu, ch'i, ki, lung).
These invisible channels and points are understood to determine the characteristics of the visible physical form. By understanding and mastering the subtlest levels of reality one gains mastery over the physical realm. Through practice of various breathing and visualisation exercises one is able to manipulate and direct the flow of vital force, to achieve superhuman (e.g. in martial arts) or miraculous powers ("siddhis") and attain higher states of consciousness, immortality, or liberation.
The subtle body (Sukshma sarira or Sukshma sharira) in Vedantic philosophy is composed of five Kosas or "sheaths". The subtle body is the vehicle of consciousness with which one passes from life to life. The Liṅga Śarīra is the vehicle of consciousness in later Samkhya, Vedanta, and Yoga , and is propelled by past-life tendencies, or bhavas. . Linga can be translated as "characteristic mark" or "impermanence" and the term Sarira as "form" or "mold". Karana or "instrument" is a synonymous term. In the Classical Samkhya system of Isvarakrsna (ca. fourth century c.e.), the Lińga is the characteristic mark of the transmigrating entity. It consists of twenty-five tattvas from eternal consciousness down to the five organs of sense, five of activity (buddindriya or jñānendriya, and karmendriya respectively) and the five subtle elements that are the objects of sense (tanmatras) The Samkhyakarika says:
- "The subtle body (linga), previously arisen, unconfined, constant, inclusive of the great one (mahat) etc , through the subtle elements, not having enjoyment, transmigrates, (because of) being endowed with bhavas ("conditions" or "dispositions")
- As a picture (does) not (exist) without a support, or as a shadow (does) not (exist) without a post and so forth; so too the instrument (linga or karana) does not exist without that which is specific (i.e. a subtle body)."
|Planes of existence|
Gross and subtle bodies
|Surat Shabda Yoga|
|Talas/Lokas - Tattvas, Kosas, Upadhis|
|Atziluth -> Beri'ah -> Yetzirah -> Assiah|
H. P. Blavatsky's Theosophical teaching represented the convergence of 19th century Western occultism, Eastern philosophy, religion, science, and mysticism. The Secret Doctrine, and The Key to Theosophy combined the Vedantic concept of five koshas with Western esoteric traditions, (particularly Neoplatonism). She refers to a number of subtle bodies or vehicles of consciousness:
- Linga Sharira - the Double or Astral body
- Kama rupa - the "Desire Form"
- Manas - the Mind, Lower and Higher
- Buddhi - the Consciousness, Spiritual Soul (the vehicle of the Spirit)
The Linga Sarira or Linga Sharira, which is part of the lower quaternary is the eidolon of the Greeks, separated from the physical plane by a Laya center. It is the invisible double of the human body elsewhere referred to as the etheric body, etheric double, doppelgänger or bioplasmic body and serves as a model or matrix of the physical body, which conforms to the shape, appearance and condition of this "double".
The linga sarira can be separated or projected a limited distance from the body. When separated from the body it can be wounded by sharp objects. When it returns to the physical frame, the wound will be reflected in the physical counterpart, a phenomenon called "repercussion." At death, it is discarded together with the physical body and eventually disintegrates or decomposes. The mayavi-rupa, in contrast is an illusory body. Apparitions of the dead are often projections of the mayavi-rupa.
Theosophy was further systematised in the writings of C.W. Leadbeater and Annie Besant, who established the Adyar School of Theosophy or neo-Theosophy. They described seven bodies, but they divided Blavatsky's higher and lower astral and Manas into two bodies each:
Each "body" has its own aura and set of chakras, and corresponds to a particular plane of existence. C.W. Leadbeater considered the astral body equivalent to the kama principle of Blavatsky's septenary series. Annie Besant wrote that the Linga Sarira corresponds to the Etheric Double, contrary to earlier theosophical teachings. The Linga Sarira is considered the vehicle of prana.
The Adyar arrangement was taken up by Alice Bailey, and from there found its way (with variations) into the New Age worldview. It is also associated with the human aura observed through Kirlian photography and Kilner screens. The Anthroposophical view of the human being) found in Rudolf Steiner's Anthroposophical teachings usually referred to only the Etheric and Astral Bodies. However, Steiner also used a threefold classification of body,soul,and spirit as well as a sevenfold and a ninefold description .
Max Heindel divided the subtle body into: Vital Body made of Ether, our instrument for specializing the vital energy of the sun, seen by clairvoyant vision to extend about an inch and a half outside the body); the Desire body, which is our emotional nature and pervades both the vital and dense bodies, seen by clairvoyant vision to extend about 16 inches outside our visible body, related to the Desire World; and the Mental body, which functions like a mirror, reflects the outer world and enables the Ego to transmit its commands as thought, word and action. The human being is seen as a threefold Spirit, possessing a Mind by which he governs the threefold Body that he transmutes into a threefold Soul. The Human Spirit aspect has emanated from itself the desire body to be transmuted into the Emotional Soul; the Life Spirit aspect has emanated from itself the vital body to be transmuted into the Intellectual Soul; the Divine Spirit aspect has emanated from itself the dense body to be transmuted into the Conscious Soul.
Samael Aun Weor wrote extensively on the subtle vehicles, organizing them in accordance with the kabbalistic Tree of Life. The common person only contains the lunar vehicles of emotion (astral body), thought (mental body), and will (causal body), concentrations of the collective animalistic intelligence, the evolution of the Essence through the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms. Becoming human means to have a soul, a Solar Astral Body, Solar Mental Body and Solar Causal Body. These bodies are constructed through a form of Tantra called White tantrism.}}
Barbara Brennan's account of the subtle bodies in her books Hands of Light and Light Emerging refers to the subtle bodies as "layers" in the "Human Energy Field" or aura. Causality proceeds downwards: each of the layers has its own characteristics and can have its own expression of disease, requiring individual healing. As with the Adyar arrangement, each body or aura also has its own complement of chakras, which interrelate to those in the other layers.
Michal Levin describes the relationship between the energy bodies and the chakras in her book Meditation, Path to the Deepest Self.
An interesting variant on the concept of subtle bodies is found in both Alchemical Taoism and the "Fourth Way" teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, where it is said that one can create a subtle body, and hence achieve post-mortem immortality, through spiritual or yogic exercises. The "soul" then is not something one is born with, but something that one has to develop through esoteric practice.
Aleister Crowley and the Body of Light
The work of the Body of Light was part of English author and occultist Aleister Crowley's system of magick, saying in his Magick (Book 4) that it must be developed by rigid discipline, including rituals and the "assumption of god-forms", as well as by practice and experience.
From Crowley's Magick Without Tears (Ch. 81):
One passes through the veil of the exterior world (which, as in Yoga, but in another sense, becomes "unreal" by comparison as one passes beyond) one creates a subtle body (instrument is a better term) called the body of Light; this one develops and controls; it gains new powers as one progresses, usually by means of what is called "initiation:" finally, one carries on almost one's whole life in this Body of Light, and achieves in its own way the mastery of the Universe.
- Neoplatonism (the okhemas)
- Theosophy (the Septenary, inspired by the five koshas of Vedanta)
- Anthroposophy (the etheric and astral bodies)
- Rosicrucianism, in the Western Wisdom Teachings philosophy (a Seven-fold and a Ten-fold constitution of Man)
- Thelemic mysticism
- Spiritual science
- Esoteric cosmology
- Kirlian photography
- Life review
- Sex magic
- Silver cord
- Spiritual evolution
- Septenary (Theosophy)
- Larson, Gerald. Classical Samkhya p.242
- Purucker, Gottfried. The Occult Glossary
- Samkhyakarika, transl. Gerald Larson, vv 60-81, Classical Samkhya p.268.
- Blavatsky, HP. The Key to Theosophy
- Annie Besant, The Ancient Wisdom, 1898.
- Geoffrey A. Farthing, "The Etheric Double: The Far-Reaching Effects of a False Assumption" onlineonline
- Samael Aun Weor. "Types of Spiritual Schools". http://www.gnosticteachings.org/content/view/417/64/. Note: The "ego" referred to by Samael Aun Weor is not used in the same context as it is used other esoteric schools.
- Aleister Crowley Magick (Book 4), Samuel Weiser
- Alfass, Mirra (The Mother) Mother's Agenda
- Besant, Annie, Man and His Bodies
- Brennan, Barbara Ann, Hands of Light : A Guide to Healing Through the Human Energy Field, Bantam Books, 1987
- —, Light Emerging: The Journey of Personal Healing, Bantam Books, 1993
- Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom; transl. by W.R. Trask, Princeton University Press, 1969
- C. W. Leadbeater, Man, Visible and Invisible
- Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1970.
- Poortman, J. J. Vehicles of Consciousness; The Concept of Hylic Pluralism (Ochema), vol I-IV, The Theosophical Society in Netherlands, 1978
- Powell, Arthur E. The Astral Body and other Astral Phenomena
- —, The Causal Body and the Ego
- —, The Etheric Double
- —, The Mental Body
- Samael Aun Weor, The Perfect Matrimony or The Door to Enter into Initiation. Thelema Press. (1950) 2003.
- Samael Aun Weor, The Esoteric Course of Alchemical Kabbalah. Thelema Press. (1969) 2007.
- Steiner, Rudolf, Theosophy: An introduction to the supersensible knowledge of the world and the destination of man. London: Rudolf Steiner Press. (1904) 1970
- —, Occult science - An Outline. Trans. George and Mary Adams. London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1909, 1969
- Heindel, Max, The Rosicrucian Mysteries (Chapter IV: The Constitution of Man: Vital Body - Desire Body - Mind), 1911, ISBN 0-911274-86-3
- Crowley, Aleister (1997). Magick (Book 4) 2nd ed. York Beach, Maine. : Samuel Weiser.
- Crowley, Aleister (1982). Magick Without Tears. Phoenix, AZ : Falcon Press
- Thelemapedia. (2004). Body of Light. Retrieved April 16, 2006.
- White, John. Enlightenment and the Body of Light in What is Enlightenment? magazine.
- James L. Oschman. Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis.
- Levin, Michal. Meditation, Path to the Deepest Self, Dorling Kindersley, 2002. ISBN 978-0789483331
- Levin, Michal. Spiritual Intelligence: Awakening the Power of Your Spirituality and Intuition. Hodder & Stoughton, 2000. ISBN 978-0340733943
- The Institute of Noetic Sciences supporting research into supposed subtle body phenomena
- Astral Body in Theosophy and Neo-Theosophy (A comparison)
- What are humans made of? http://www.spiritualresearchfoundation.org/articles/?id=spiritualresearch/spiritualscience/what-are-humans-comprised-of