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Linga Sharira – Subtle Body As Distinguished From Gross Body

The human body (or the body of any living being), which is destroyed after death is called sthula sharira (gross body). There is another body which is anadi (beginningless), which continues after death, from birth to birth. It is called Linga Sharira – also known as Sukshma Sharira or Karana Sharira.

According to Samkhya, the sthula sharira is composed of 18 tattvas (elements). These are: the three-fold antahkarana (internal organs – intellect, egoism, mind), the five tanmatras (subtle elements), five jnanendriyas (cognitive senses), and five karmendriyas (motor senses). It is described in detail in Samkhya Karika (39-42) and 55). It is said that the gross body gets dissolved at the end of each birth, but the subtle body remains the same in all births.

Linga Sharira contains samskaras (traces) of all past experiences and deeds, which it carries from birth to birth as it accompanies the being. Just as a picture needs the support of a paper or a wall, and a shadow must have an object, similarly, the internal organ needs the means of linga sharira for transmigration.

The linga shraria is not eternal like purusha and prakriti. It is beginningless but not endless. It gets dissolved in its cause when the Purusha attains kevala jnana about its own nature (Karika 64 to 65). Then the soul abides in its pure, absolute, separate existence.

In Vedanta, the linga sharira is said to contain only seventeen elements, ahamkara and tanmatra being not recognized in Vedanta, but the five pranas (vital airs) are admitted. Patanjali does not mention linga sharira in his Yogasutra but only chitta which carries the samskaras.

Source – Origin and Development of the Samkhya System of Thought (1957) – Pulinibihari Chakravarti – Calcutta Sanskrit Series, Kolkata.
Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume VI page 284 - IHRF

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