[This is a transcript and excerpt from “The Subtle Body” (1976) by Pandit Usharbudh Arya, who later became Swami Veda Bharati. Thank you to Michael Smith for providing this.]
This principle of the subtle body is very, very closely related to the doctrine of karma because the actions that we perform are not performed with the physical body. Here you will have to change your entire world scheme. You cannot go into yoga and meditative philosophy unless you change your entire world picture. And as you go into yoga experiences, your picture changes automatically anyway, slowly it changes. You begin to find inside you what you were looking for and what you are experiencing outside - take, for example, sex. So the subtle body is the source of all your activity because all of your actions begin with the mind. And then the mind looks for things, not outside your body, it looks for things first inside. When you are searching for something, you should search right where you are, in the place closest to you.
There was an old woman who had been a seamstress, and her eyesight was failing. And in India, in villages, you don't have electric lights as yet. Sometimes in the homes they don't, and you have outside. This woman was looking under a lamp on the road, bending down and looking in the dirt for something, and somebody passed by and said, "What are you looking for, Lady?" She said, "My needle is lost. I'm looking for the needle." He helped to look because he realized that the woman couldn't see very well. He looked all over and he couldn't find any needle around there under the light by the road. He said, "Are you sure that's where it fell?" She said, "No, no. It fell in my house, but there is no light in the house, so I am looking for it where there is light."
So the subtle body is where everything happens. But we look for things in the external light outside the house. But the mind whenever it wants to move, for the smallest thing, it moves first into the subtle body, in the realm of the subtle body. It connects its fragrance potential before it sends out a command to the nose to recognize a fragrance outside. For this reason also some of the Sanskrit language words for sex are ananga, "the bodyless," the nonphysical urge. Another one is manoja, "the mind born one." Things first happen in the mind, in the subtle body. There are certain currents of energy that become awakened that are then projected outwards. So if you want to understand the principle of karma, our actions and the reactions, you have to understand the subtle body.
Now, there are certain laws in the universe which I call the cosmic laws. These are laws applicable to all branches of knowledge, metaphysical or physical. Those laws are true in all branches of knowledge in all sciences. For example, Newton's Third Law of Motion: for every motion in one direction there is a movement in the opposite direction. The first principle in aerodynamics, the first principle in running your ships. For every motion in one direction, there is a motion in the opposite direction. It is actually a variation on the cosmic law of karma. For any action in one direction, there is a reaction in the opposite direction. And this is applicable to motion, it is applicable to psychology, it is applicable to meditation, anything. For any action in one direction, there is a reaction in the opposite direction. It's very simple.
So how does the law of karma work? We know that everything, absolutely everything we have ever done in life is present somewhere inside us. Absolutely everything we have ever done in life is present inside us. Everything we have seen with the corner of your eyes, fleeting glances; everything you have heard, absolutely everything you have done, each time you have moved your hand; somewhere an impression of that experience or impression of that action is left in your subtle body. Actions are those movements that go from you towards others. Experiences are those things that come from outside towards you – actions with the active senses, experiences through the cognitive senses.
Samskaras are those processes that take place in the subtle body as a result of all your actions and experiences. You may have a short-term memory in the brain, but there is something deeper than that. Now you would say, is then subtle body synonymous with the subconscious mind? The answer is no. The subconscious mind is a part of the function of the subtle body. What is the difference between samskaras and karma? The word karma literally means action. Samskara means the impressions left inside. The impressions of your actions and experiences left in the subtle body are called samskaras.
Actions, the karmas, are of three kinds. This is from the point of view of a belief in reincarnation. People ask me is there life after death in your philosophy? I say, there is not only life after death, there is a life before birth. There couldn't be life after death unless there was life before birth. Where did it come from? If something is to continue into the future it had a continuation in the past. You cannot have infinity in one direction only. You can't say infinity began here because then it is not infinity. If I am born here and I shall remain forever into the infinite that is not possible because that is not infinite, it has a beginning. So if you do believe in an infinite life, then you have to believe into the future and into the past forever. Otherwise, it is illogical to think that it started yet it is infinite. Infinite things cannot start. Things that start cannot be infinite. So when we speak of reincarnation, we speak of it in association with the doctrine of karma. The two are one and the same.
So you have three kinds of karma. The first kind is known as prarabdha, which is the sum total of the karma performed in your previous lives on the basis of which your current life was determined. For example, at the hour of death, it is the sum total of your karma that comes before your eyes. You know people become incoherent at the hour of death. It's not incoherent. It's like moving from a house where you have lived for 70 years. Now if you've lived in a house seven years, just seven years, and you move, what happens? A little broken down doll of your child's is found somewhere, a kerchief you had lost, beads of a necklace you liked so much, and God knows what happened to it, all those things come out. All the samskaras, all the hidden things from the basement, they all come out. At the hour of death, the sum total of all your actions come in a flash like a film before your eyes. So, if you want to decide what kind of a death a person will have, see what the sum total of his whole life is.
[Answer to a question]: All the lifetimes. But, of course, at the hour of the death of this present body, it is the impressions of this life that are the strongest. If you want to decide what kind of death, make up your mind what kind of death you want to have; plan it from now by changing
the sum total of the impressions and actions of your daily life.
[Answer to a question]: I am not sure. I think that death in some ways is also a traumatic experience for a large number of people. But the actual process of death can be very peaceful. So on the basis of the sum total of your current life, you determine what the next life is going to be like, meaning what species you would be born in; what life span you will have in that particular type of body; and third, during that life span what sort of pleasure or pain will be yours.
[Answer to a question]: Yes, some of the unfulfilled hankerings, good or bad, leave very strong samskaras. Because when we are talking of actions and experiences, in fact, primarily we speak of what happens in the mind. So if you have a craving or a strong desire it must come out in one way or another, in this life or in the next life. Because every time you think a thought, you sow a seed and that seed must bear fruit. Every time you think a thought, no matter how faintly you have sown a seed. And the sum total of your garden bears the sum total of your fruits.
Now the three types of karmas. Prarabdha, actions in a previous life as a result of which you have come into this life, which you now cannot change. Then you have the second kind of actions known as sanchita, which are the actions you have performed or experiences you have gathered or the samskaras you have gathered in the current life so far up to this day. Now, what you have done you have done, that cannot be canceled, although there are contradictions to that too. There are some ways of canceling it. But you can do one thing: for the sum total of this life you can make changes from now on. If you have got muddy water in a gallon container, half a gallon of muddy water, but now you add to it clean water, you naturally change the sum total of the contents. So from this moment now, you can decide what sort of samskaras you are going to gather for your personality.
So all of these samskaras are gathered in the subtle body and everything that happens in the gross body happens first in the subtle body. The subtle body serves as the mold for the gross body. So whatever you have in the subtle body, that comes out in the gross body. Let's say you are matching a marriage. The lines on the palms of your hands, your facial expression, your sickness or health is all from the sum total of the subtle body. Somewhere the energy field gets warped, you get sick. That's the only diagnosis of all sickness. The medical doctors may or may not agree with me, but the first principle in the yoga system of medicine is that sickness comes from a warped energy field and it occurs from the subtle body. Every line of your body is an expression of something happening in the subtle body – in your shape, form, configuration, your personality is visible.
Now I'll give you one example of the way karma and the subtle body work together.
Remember these three things:
(1) All my actions, all my thoughts leave an impression, leave a samskara in the subtle body,
(2) for every action in one direction, there is a reaction in the opposite direction,
(3) that everything we have outside is first in the inside – all our senses and so on, their potential, their consciousness is all inside us.
So now I go and shoot an arrow at someone and blind him. What have I done? I think that I have physically blinded him, which is true, I have physically blinded him, but I think that I have gotten off scot free because I was hiding in the bushes and shot an arrow. But I have not gotten off scot free, because from that action in the direction of the other person, there must be a reaction in my direction. And if it is not a tangible reaction, there must be a reaction in the subtle body. What I have done, says the doctrine of karma, is blind myself in the subtle body. I have created a blank area in the “sight aspect” of my subtle body. And this also applies even to any bad thought I think of others.
So you have to decide on your responsibility to fellow human beings. You have a certain karmic responsibility to others. The greatest karmic responsibility you have towards others – and that is the one on which the entire society and family and your relationship with your children is based – is to educate them towards liberation and not towards bondage, negation, negativity and self-destruction but to help them utilize the means that are at their disposal towards positive ends. And wherever you fail to do so, you add a negative karma to yourself.
Now, very roughly speaking here, from such an action of placing a blank on my subtle body concerning my sight potential, I have harmed myself. And sooner or later, somewhere along the line, that karma will visit me. It has become a part of the sum total of my actions. Similarly, a purification of the subtle body may also take place.
(This article has also been published in the December 2020 edition of the AHYMSIN Newsletter.)