Organs of Perception & Action
The Vedas teach us that knowledge of who I truly am brings lasting fulfilment (Moksha). So who am I? Atma. What is Atma? It is not any of my 3 bodies. What are the 3 bodies? Physical (Sthula), Subtle (Sukshma), Causal (Karana) – Physical Body is made of physical matter, but the Subtle Body is not. Subtle body is made up of 17 parts = 5 Organs of Knowledge + 5 Organs of Action + 5 Physiological Functions + Mind + Intellect. So what exactly are these subtle ‘organs’ (Indriyas)?
5 Organs of Knowledge (Jnana Indriya)
Let’s see this as a table with 3 elements for each organ: (1) the subtle power behind a physical organ (Indriya); (2) the Devata (Presiding Deity) which governs that power on a universal level in the form of order; (3) the object/sphere of operation of that subtle power (vishaya). Listing (1)-(2)-(3) below:
Power of Hearing – Dik – Sound (loudness, quietness, etc.)
Power of Feeling – Vayu – Touch (roughness, cold-ness, etc.)
Power of Seeing – Surya – Colour (Redness, Green-ness, etc.)
Power of Taste – Varuna – Taste (Sweet-ness, Salty-ness, etc.)
Power of Smell – Ashvinis – Smell (various fragrances – pleasant or unpleasant)
These are the 5 organs of knowledge/perception. To explain 1 example from the above list: the physical ear (golaka) is part of the physical body. But just a physical ear alone does not allow you to hear (hence why some people are deaf, in spite of having the physical ear intact) – you need the non-perceptible (sublte) ‘power of hearing’ operating within the ear in order to hear. This is called the Indriya. Each individual power of hearing is common to all, hence there must be a wider law/order which governs that individual power – Veda calls this a ‘devata’. The devata for hearing is called ‘Dik’ (space) in the Vedas.
It’s important to note 2 points here:
a) The object (vishaya) of each organ is unique and exclusive to that organ. For example, the ears (along with the power of hearing) are there to know sound (the object of the ears). And sounds cannot be known through seeing, smelling, tasting, etc. Sounds are the unique and exclusive object of the ears alone. Hence why someone deaf cannot hear, even if he can see/smell/taste. So to colour is only known via the eyes, not through your nose, ears, tounge, etc. Colour is the exclusive object of the eyes.
b) The entire world we experience via our organs of perception is nothing but a series of sounds, sensations, colours, tastes and fragrances. These are all properties – colour is the property of a ‘thing’. Smell is the property of a thing. But the property is not the ‘thing’, it’s just a property which comes and goes! So this leaves us with a very important question…what is the ‘thing’ in itself? I.e. what is this world we experience every day? We don’t really know the answer based on our perception! Veda reveals that the ‘thing’ called world is actually Brahman. We will see this later.
5 Organs of Action (Karma Indriya)
Similar to above, there are 5 subtle organs of actions by which each individual interacts and performs action in the world. Following the (1)-(2)-(3) logic above, these 5 are:
Power of Speech – Agni – Speaking
Power of Hands – Indra – Grasping
Power of Legs – Vishnu – Movement
Power of Excretion – Mrtyu (Yama) – Removal of Waste
Power of Genitals – Prajapati – Sensual Pleasure
These are the 5 Karma Indriyas, organs of action. For example the physical legs (golaka) alone do not allow you to move. This is why some people have physical legs, but still cannot walk. There is a subtle power involved to – called the Karma Indriya (Power of Legs). The devata which governs that individual power/law on a universal level is Vishnu. And the sphere of operation of the legs is movement.
These are the 5 Organs of Perception and 5 Organs of Action which make up the overall Subtle Body.