We study through school and college, but hardly do we get the real education we need to know about who we are, what is the nature of the instruments we have, how to use those instruments to achieve what we want in life, what is the goal of life and what work we should do to achieve those goals.
With a lack of clarity on this basic aspect of education, we move on in ignorance, hitting and missing and accidentally tasting success sometimes, but all the time failing to strike the right cord that makes us content. The basics of education about the self begins in Tatwabodha.
The master Sri Adi Sankaracharya left the answer by saying the collective I or atma is beyond the gross, subtle and causal bodies. Its nature is existence, knowledge and bliss. Now the student does not spare the teacher: What is the gross body?
The teacher begins his patient explanation: something which none of our modern medical textbooks have told us. The gross physical body that you and I have is created by a process of panchikarana or quintuplication of the five great elements of earth, water, fire, air and space. This body is earned by every individual by doing good actions or actions that are done for the welfare of all in the past births. The body is the house for experiencing a gamut of emotions like joy and sorrow. It is called shareeram because its nature is constant decay. This body goes through six modifications.
From being non-existing, it comes into being, in the womb of the mother. Then it is born. The body grows. The body undergoes changes. The body then enters its period of gradual decay and one fine day, it completely collapses never to stand up and be the same again. The physical body with all these characteristics is called sthula shareeram.
We may wonder why these descriptions are given. The Master elaborates on the different facets of our existence, as scientists would analyse objects in the laboratory to conclude their research. The research here is that, the body which is born and eventually dies is not you. When you and I say I, we refer commonly to the body and that is not us. If you say, “I am tall”, the right usage will be, the body is tall.
Referring to the gross body, the Master uses an interesting grammatical expression: “Etat sthula shareeram.” This is the gross body. The word etat indicates a neuter gender object, which has no life and is close by. Tat refers to an object far away and etat refers to something close by. This physical body is indeed a lifeless object very close to our real being. It is not us. This is the essence of all understanding of Vedanta that is driven home time and again that, “I am different. This body is different. I am not this body.”