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The Subtle Body
Peter: Dear James, I have been going through your materials and have two questions, which may actually be the same question. Thank you for considering them.
I am the knower of the body, but the body does not know me in the sense that the body itself is lifeless and without consciousness. Yet the body appears to know in that it responds to states of mind. For example, resentment may appear as a physical condition of the body, an illness. How to reconcile this? There appears to be an identity between mind and body in that both seem the same only perceived from two different perspectives.
James: The experiencing does appear to be in the physical body, but it takes place in the subtle body. Both the subtle body and the physical body are aggregates, meaning that they are made up of parts. As such they are in a state of constant change and are part of the whole field of existence, which is also made up of parts. This field is a duality. The gross physical aspect is not subject to pleasure and pain, because it has no subtle body. You can break up a rock with a hammer but it does not feel anything.
The subtle aspect of existence is subject to pleasure and pain, attachment, joy, sorrow, etc. because of its association with consciousness which is not an enjoyer, i.e. a sufferer of the dualities. A subtle body (a person) who experiences pain in the waking state is pain-free when he or she sleeps, is under the effect of painkillers or when the subtle body, the conscious mind, is distracted. This shows that the pain is not inherent in either the self or the subtle body. He or she does not suffer, because he or she is actually consciousness in a state that is free of the experiencing entity, the subtle body. In fact he or she enjoys the bliss of the self – as the self. The self enjoys itself when it is identified with the causal body, which is not an aggregate and subject to change like the subtle and gross bodies. It is called akshara purusha, the unchanging self, in the 15th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. It is not an experiencing entity like the subtle body.
The operative word in this discussion is “apparent.” This means that although the suffering exists, it is not real. It is experienceable – which subtle bodies define as real, but it is not real viewed from awareness’s platform. “Not real” means not always present. The self is the only thing that is always present.
Suffering is a temporary condition that results when awareness illumines a subtle body that is in a state of disequilibrium. It does not actually belong to any body or the self. In any case, the point of this teaching is not to explain suffering, which it does, but to be an aid in identifying the self by separating it from the three bodies and any conditions that the bodies are subject to.
Peter: The self is unborn and unmodified. The self does enter into material world. It is always itself, unconditioned. In the material world there exist physical laws and order. For example, fire is always hot, water always wet. This order is it an expression of God/self? Is it not the self appearing as?
James: The only mistake in your knowledge is the idea that the self “enters” the material world. With the aid of ignorance, it “projects” the material world but it does not enter it, because it is non-dual. There is nothing other than it for it to enter into. But it seems to enter it because it is so subtle you cannot physically separate it from the bodies, just as you cannot separate a pot from clay. The clay pervades every atom of the pot, yet it exists independently of the pot. When the pot is destroyed, the clay is not destroyed. So the answer is yes, the clay appears as a pot. This seeming association of awareness with the bodies can only be removed by knowledge. Knowledge can do the job because the association is not actual.