What Is The Difference Between Gross and Subtle Body

[Krishna's lotus feet]“One can experience the distinction between the subtle and gross bodies even daily; in a dream, one’s gross body is lying on the bed while the subtle body carries the soul, the living entity, to another atmosphere. But because the gross body has to be continued, the subtle body comes back and settles in the present gross body. Therefore one has to become free from the subtle body also. This freedom is known as mukta-linga.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.12.18 Purport)

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Friend1: I am not the body.

Friend2: Nor am I.

Friend1: Neither is the animal.

Friend2: Nor the plant.

Friend1: I am spirit soul.

Friend2: Aham brahmasmi.

Friend1: Brahman is the Absolute Truth. It lives forever. For the soul there is no birth.

Friend2: Nor having once been, does he ever cease to be. [Bg 2.20]

Friend1: Now that we’ve established the foundational truth of the spiritual science, coming from the Vedas, what is the body?

Friend2: What do you mean?

Friend1: Well, I am not the body. I am spirit soul. We’ve agreed on that.

Friend2: Yes.

Friend1: What is the body, then? I am not it; I understand that. What is it, though?

Friend2: Oh, that’s an easy one. Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, addresses this in the Bhagavad-gita.

“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego – altogether these eight comprise My separated material energies.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.4)

Friend1: I definitely knew that, but I totally forgot there was a verse giving the exact details. Okay, I’ve heard about gross and subtle bodies. What is the difference?

Friend2: The first five in the list are the gross elements. They are things that you can see.

Friend1: You can see air? Ether?

Friend2: Sorry, I should have said “perceive.” We know it is windy outside based on the movement of flags and trees. There is no way to actually see wind. That is a limitation of the eyes.

Friend1: So the last three things listed are the subtle elements?

Friend2: Right. They are inside the body. The gross elements come in different proportions and combinations.

Friend1: Up to 8,400,000, right?

Friend2: Exactly. People who know this aren’t so enamored by alien life or dinosaurs. They understand that the gross elements can be combined in such a way that amazing bodies result.

Friend1: What is death? Is that where the individual leaves the body behind?

Friend2: The gross body. The covering to the subtle body. Mind, intelligence and false ego are not perceptible; they are inside the gross covering. Again, we know they exist based on the influence they have.

Friend1: Is the subtle body left behind as well?

Friend2: That is a great question. The relationship to the subtle body is the dividing line between reincarnation and liberation.

Friend1: How so?

Friend2: In a typical death, you leave the gross body behind, but the subtle body comes with you. Krishna compares it to the air carrying aromas.

“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.8)

This travel of the subtle body is what explains the different tendencies in man. You see how some kids are smarter than others. Some children are quicker to pick up talking, while others are better at building things. Even in the animal community, we see that certain newborns can do things as soon as they take birth. That natural intelligence is there from the subtle body.

Friend1: I see. So what is liberation?

[Shrila Prabhupada]Friend2: It’s giving up both gross and subtle bodies. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada says that freedom from the subtle body is known as mukta-linga. Oh, I should mention that there is a way right now to know the difference between gross and subtle bodies.

Friend1: What’s that?

Friend2: Sleeping. You escape from the gross body. Certain things like feeling, seeing and hearing are diminished. But since there is still attachment to the subtle body, you eventually return to the gross body.

Friend1: Interesting.

[Krishna's lotus feet]Friend2: Anyway, know that the spirit soul has nothing to do with these elements, which are material. In the spiritual world, there is a different kind of form, known as the svarupa. The present body can be transformed even before death, through practicing devotion and becoming self-realized. That’s why the teachers in the line coming from Krishna always place full emphasis on being devoted, chanting the holy names, and avoiding sinful behavior. They want everyone to become mukta-linga and beyond.

In Closing:

Gross elements those we can perceive,

From subtle things like knowledge to receive.

Still the soul remaining apart,

Subtle accompanying when life to depart.

Previous body left behind,

New by consciousness defined.

Mukta-linga for wise the goal,

Easy when bhakti the interest sole.

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