The subtle body is the causal body; it is this body that takes on the new physical body. You see many light bulbs around here. The electricity is one, that energy is one, but it is manifesting through different bulbs. The bulbs have different bodies, but their soul is one. Similarly, the consciousness manifesting through us is one, but in the manifestation of this consciousness, two vehicles are applied. One is the subtle vehicle, the subtle body; the other is the gross vehicle, the gross body.
Our experience is limited to the gross, to the physical body. This restricted experience is the cause of all human misery and ignorance. But there are people who, even after going beyond the physical body, may stop at the subtle body. They will say, “There are an infinite number of souls.” But those who go beyond even the subtle body will say, “godliness is one, the soul is one, brahman is one.”
There is no contradiction in my statements. When I referred to the entering of the soul, I meant that soul which is still associated with the subtle body. It means the subtle body the soul is enveloped in has not disintegrated yet. That’s why we say that the soul which attains to the ultimate freedom steps out of the cycle of birth and death. There is indeed no birth and death for the soul – it was never born, nor will it ever die. The cycle of birth and death stops with the end of the subtle body, because it is the subtle body that causes a new birth.
The subtle body is an integrated seed consisting of our thoughts, desires, lusts, longings, experiences, knowledge. This body is instrumental in taking us on our continuing journey. However, one whose thoughts are all annihilated, whose passions have all vanished, whose desires have all disappeared, who has no desire left within him, there is no place for him to go, there is no reason left for him to go anywhere. Then there is no reason for him to take birth again.
There is a wonderful story in the life of Ramakrishna. Those who were close to him, who knew him to be a paramahansa, an enlightened one, used to be deeply troubled about one thing. It bothered them greatly to see an enlightened person such as Ramakrishna – one who had attained samadhi – craving food so much. Ramakrishna used to become very anxious about food. He would often enter the kitchen, asking his wife Sharada Devi, “What’s cooking today? It’s getting so late!” Right in the middle of a serious talk on spiritual matters he would get up abruptly and rush toward the kitchen asking what was being cooked, start looking for food.
Feeling embarrassed, Sharada would politely chide him, “What are you doing? What must people think – dropping the talk on brahman so suddenly and starting to talk about food!” Ramakrishna would laugh and remain silent. Even his close disciples remonstrated with him. They would say, “It’s giving you a bad name. People say, ‘How can such a person have attained knowledge when his desire for food is so overwhelming?’”
One day his wife Sharada got very upset and reproached him. Ramakrishna told her, “You have no idea, but the day I show aversion to food, know that I shall not live more than three days afterward.”
Sharada asked, “What do you mean?”