The self and the subtle body

With the help of a simple yet beautiful example, Sri Adisankaracharya explains in the Vivekachoodamani about the relationship between the self and the subtle body.

Published: 08th December 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th December 2019 12:51 PM   |  A+A-

With the help of a simple yet beautiful example, Sri Adisankaracharya explains in the Vivekachoodamani about the relationship between the self and the subtle body. The carpenter does his work with his tools. They exist so that he may use them and create beautiful objects out of wood. In the same way, the Atman, which is pure consciousness, uses the subtle body as its tool.

Just as the carpenter carves out wooden objects, the Atman carves out its own experiences in consciousness with the help of the subtle body. Just as the carpenter’s tools do not stick to him, the subtle body is in no way attached to the Atman which is always free. The eyes may not be able to see or may have a dim or sharp vision.

They can be of normal quality or very special in their function. The ears may have an inability to perceive sounds and the tongue may be incapable of speech. They are, however, the qualities of the sense organs and not of consciousness which has nothing like dimness, sharpness, less power or more power. It is just as it is. After describing the subtle role of the sense organs, he now takes up a description of the Prana—breathing in and breathing out, yawning, experiencing hunger and thirst. People who have studied Prana say that these are the actions of Prana and their nature is to experience hunger and thirst. So here the message is, when I am experiencing hunger, I say, “I am hungry.”

The author is driving home the fact that it is the Prana in me that is experiencing the hunger and not I, the consciousness. I am only a witness of the movements of hunger and thirst experienced within me. Beyond these aspects of the inner instruments, there is a notional understanding called, “I”. This thought identifies itself with each of the inner instruments, the mind, the intellect, the memory, sense organs and actions. That means, with each one of this, it attaches the word “I”. “I do,” “I speak,” “I see,” “I think,” “I remember,” or “I decide”. That false identification of the “I” notion with every movement experienced in consciousness is called Ahamkara or the one who does the “I”.

The Ahamkara is identified with its ideas of “I am the doer,” “I am the enjoyer”. Along with the three qualities of the mind—brilliance, dynamism and inertia—it experiences the waking, dream and deep sleep states. When the sense-objects are conducive, it is happy. When they are not to its liking, it becomes sad. Joy and sorrow are the qualities of the Ahamkara and not of the nature of the self, which is eternal bliss alone.

The writer is Sevika, Chinmaya Mission, Coimbatore (; email:


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