The Subtle Body – The Mind Field
“Most people identify themselves with their mind, intellect, and ego, which are the components of the subtle body. The seventeenth-century French philosopher René Descartes is famous for his statement, “Cogito, ergo sum”, meaning “I think, therefore I am.” People continue to believe that they are their minds, but Shankara [ninth-century teacher of the philosophy of yoga and Veda] encourages us to recognize that the components of our subtle body are simply coverings of the soul.
According to this framework, the mind is the repository of sensory impressions. When you hear a sound, feel a sensation, see a sight, taste a flavor, or smell a fragrance, the sensory experience registers in your consciousness at a level of your being called manomaya kosha. The mind cycles through different states of consciousness, and your sensory experiences change with these changing states. The impressions that enter your awareness during a waking state are different from those generated during dreaming. Yoga reminds us that reality is different in different states of consciousness – different filters of the mind layer.
“The second layer of the subtle body is the intellect, known as buddhimaya kosha. This is the aspect of mind that discriminates. Whether you are trying to decide what kind of toothpaste to purchase, which partner to choose, or what house to buy, your intellect is at work, attempting to calculate the advantages and disadvantages of every choice you make. This layer integrates information based upon your beliefs and feelings to come to a decision. According to yoga, the ultimate purpose of this intellectual layer is to distinguish the real from the unreal. The real is that which cannot be lost whereas the unreal is anything that has beginning and end to it. Knowing the difference is the essence of yoga.
“The third layer of the subtle body is the ego. The ego is known in yoga as ahankara, which means the “I-former.” According to Shankara, the ego is that aspect of your being that identifies with the positions and possessions of your life. It is ultimately your self-image – the way you want to project who you are to yourself and to the world.
“The ego is the boundary maker that attempts to assert ownership through the concepts of “I,” “me,” “my,” and “mine.” The ego seeks security through control and often has a deep-seated need for approval. Most emotional pain is the result of your ego being offended because something that it believed it had control over was actually outside your jurisdiction.
“It is easy to become lost in the subtle body, with its attachments to roles, relationships, and objects, but Shankara encourages us to go deeper. Letting go of the body and letting go of the mind open the possibility of experiencing an aspect of your being that is beyond your usual limitations. This is the realm of spirit, which Shankara called the causal body.” (Deepak Chopra 2004)