Vedānta series 14

Tattvabodha says that causal body or kāraṇa śarīra is inexplicable, beginningless, in the form of ignorance; the cause of other two bodies - gross and subtle bodies, discussed earlier; does not undergo any changes and is ignorant of its own nature.

Causal body is the inner most body. kāraṇa means cause; it is the cause for other two bodies. The other two bodies cannot be formed without the causal body. This cannot be explained by any examples. Even a car tyre cannot be the right example, as tyres and tubes are manufactured independent of air within the tube. A tree also cannot be an example. A tree grows from a seed. The cause of the tree is the seed. Till this point it holds good. But, once the tree grows, the same seed no longer exists there. The cause of the tree, the seed cannot be found again. It has undergone modification. But the causal body is different. The causal body remains the same all the time, birth after birth. It does not undergo changes even after several births. If the causal body leaves the gross body, the gross body ceases to exist. Electricity cannot be cited as an example. Though electricity is the cause for various electrical appliances, they exist independent of the electricity. Appliances do not perish without electricity. They carry out their intended functions, only if electricity is provided. Without electricity, they do not function, but they do not disintegrate. Therefore, the causal body cannot be explained with any kind of examples. This is the reason for its inexplicability.

It is beginningless, as its origin is not known. It is ādi, the beginning, yet it is anādi, existing from the beginning. In other words, the causal body is without parentage. For all the movable and immovable, there has to be parentage. For animals, he and she; for plants, seeds and saplings; for rivers, water sources, etc are said to be the parentage. Even the earth is formed out of big bang. Therefore, there is always a cause for everything that exists. But for the causal body, no such thing can be attributed as the cause for the causal body. Causal body is also known as the individual soul. Individual soul is nothing but the Brahman Himself. There is no cause for the Brahman as He is ādi and anādi. The only difference between the Brahman and an individual soul is the ignorance. Brahman as the Self is devoid of ignorance, whereas Brahman as a soul is covered by ignorance. Since Brahman is beginningless, an individual soul is also beginningless, as there is no difference between Brahman and a soul as such. The individual soul has all the qualities of the Brahman such as luminosity, acting as a witness, etc.

An individual soul sheathed by ignorance or avidyā and placed within a body is called jīva. The Brahman sheathed under the collective ignorance of all the jīva-s is called Īśvara. Brahman sheathed by collective ignorance of all the souls is known as Saguṇa Brahman or Īśvara. The attributes of Brahman that are being discussed are about Saguṇa Brahman or Īśvara and not about Nirguṇa Brahman. Nirguṇa Brahman is beyond any explanation, discussion and even by mystical comprehension. But, it must be remembered that the individual soul is nothing but Nirguṇa Brahman and not Saguṇa Brahman.  Individual soul as such is not Īśvara. Individual soul or Nirguṇa Brahman is encased by ignorance or avidyā in a man. This ignorance or avidyā is known as māyā. Māyā surrounding Īśvara is called samaṣṭi or collective māyā and the māyā surrounding an individual soul is known as vyaṣṭi or individual māyā. Tattvabodha discusses māyā separately.

The following chart will explain this phenomenon.

Tattvabodha discusses maya

The effect of māyā is first concealment and then projection.  It first conceals the Brahman and projects the Brahman as the limited one. Thus māyā is the limiting adjunct of the Brahman. This is called upādhi. In other words, the superimposition on the Brahman is called upādhi. Upādhi conceals the Brahman and projects Him as the various forms of gods and goddesses, commonly known as Iṣṭa Devata-s or desired deities.  Either māyā or its act of upādhi does not modify the Brahman at all.  Brahman always remains beyond modifications and is eternal. 

When one transcends māyā and discards the effect of upādhi, Brahman is realized in His true form. As long as a soul remains covered by māyā, the soul is ignorant of its true nature. This happens because of upādhi or superimposition caused by māyā. Deluded by māyā, the soul induces us to consider the body as the doer. This is called spiritual ignorance or ajñāna, which is beautifully explained by Gabriel Pradīpaka in his Svātantryasūtram (II.3) as “tatsatyānupalabdhirajñānameva” which means ‘non-perception of that truth is spiritual ignorance’. This spiritual ignorance can be destroyed only by acquiring spiritual knowledge. Once the acquiring of spiritual knowledge is complete, practice of realising the Brahman begins.

Further Readings:

Vedanta - Three Types of Bodies

Vedanta - Subtle Body

VEDANTA - Organs of Perception and Action