Psycho-physical system, or subtle body (Tib. ལུས་ཕྲ་, lü tra, Wyl. lus phra) – the subtle system of
of the human body.
- The Tantric Buddhist tradition of Tibet offers an explanation of the body that is quite different from the one most of us are used to. This is of a psycho-physical system, which consists of a dynamic network of subtle channels, “winds” or inner air, and essences. We are familiar with something similar in the meridians and ch’i energy of Chinese medicine and acupuncture.
According to the masters, the human body is compared to a city, the channels to its roads, the winds to a horse and the mind to a rider.
Tsoknyi Rinpoche writes:
- The subtle body is a kind of interface between the mind and the physical body, a means by which these two aspects of being interact.
According to Tselwang Rindzin, the main tutor of Tsoknyi Rinpoche:
- You know you have a physical body, and you’ve come a long way toward understanding how the mind acts to create a sense of self. But there is a layer of experience that lies between these two. That layer is what we call the subtle body.
- To describe the subtle body is as hard as trying to describe the taste of water. You know when you are drinking water. You can feel the need of it when you are thirsty. You can feel the relief when your body receives its moisture. But can you actually describe the taste of it to someone else?
- The subtle body is very rarely discussed in texts or in public teachings. It’s understood to be one of the higher or more advanced teachings of Tibetan Buddhism.
There are 72,000 subtle channels in the body, but the three principal ones are:
- the central channel (Skt. avadhūtī; Tib. དབུ་མ་, uma, Wyl. dbu ma), running parallel to the spine,
- the right channel (Skt. rasanā; Tib. རོ་མ་, roma, Wyl. ro ma) and
- the left channel (Skt. lalanā; Tib. རྐྱང་མ་, kyangma, Wyl. rkyang ma), which run either side of the central channel.
The right and left channels coil around the central one at a number of points to form a series of "knots". Along the central channel are situated a number of “channel wheels,” the chakras or energy-centers, from which channels branch off like the ribs of an umbrella.
Wind-Energies or Inner Air
Through these channels flow the winds, or inner air. There are five root and five branch winds. Each of the root winds supports an element and is responsible for a function of the human body. The branch winds enable the senses to operate. The winds that flow in the central channel are called 'wisdom winds'. The winds that flow in all the other channels except the central channel are said to be impure, and to activate negative dualistic thought patterns.
The “essences” (or drops) are contained within the channels. There are red and white essences. The principal seat of the white essence is the crown of the head, and of the red essence at the navel.
- Jamgön Kongtrul, The Treasury of Knowledge, Book Six, Part Four: Systems of Buddhist Tantra, '9. The Nature of the Body' (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2005), pages 169-85.
- Gyalwa Yangonpa, Secret Map of the Body Visions of the Human Energy Structure (Shang Shung Publications, 2015), translated by Elio Guarisco.
- Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, revised and updated edition (HarperSanFrancisco and London: Rider, 2002), pages 251-52.
- Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Open Heart, Open Mind (Harmony Books, 2012), page 135.
- Tulku Thondup, Enlightened Journey (Boston & London: Shambhala, 1995), pages 207-212.