As a boy, I attended Boy Scout camp during a couple of summers, and I remember a prank the older boys would play: They’d send younger boys from campsite to campsite asking to borrow a bucket full of steam.
To many people, the term spiritual body makes about as much sense as a bucket of steam. The term strikes them as an oxymoron. By definition, they say, “body” means “material body.”
A look in the dictionary only confirms their point of view—and confirms that the dictionary’s not the best place to look for spiritual guidance. Better to look to the Vedic literature, which does talk about spiritual bodies, using the term sach-chit-ananda-vigraha: “a body (vigraha) composed of eternity (sat), knowledge (chit), and bliss (ananda).”
The Vedic literature says that eternity, knowledge, and happiness are the constituents of spirit—what God, and the individual souls (jivas) are all made of. But that concept may be hard to grasp. How can something be made of eternity? Or knowledge? Or happiness?
A different perspective may help us understand. Instead of bundling together eternity, knowledge, and bliss, we can think of spirit as consciousness itself. The Upanishads describe the jiva as chit kanah, a particle of consciousness. Because a particle has form, or a body, we can say that the living being is an eternal, blissful body composed of consciousness. Srila Prabhupada writes in his Bhagavad-gita commentary, “The soul is consciousness and conscious.”
Both the jivas and the Supreme Soul (God) are sach-chid-ananda-vigraha. And while I’ve spoken of souls as being composed of consciousness and possessing the qualities of eternity and bliss, it is also correct to say that God and the jivas are in fact composed of all three—eternity, knowledge, and bliss—because on the spiritual plane, unlike the world of our experience, an entity and its qualities are identical.
So we can legitimately speak of spiritual bodies once we understand that something besides matter can constitute bodies. Now, what are the implications, in this world, of our being spiritual entities composed of eternity, knowledge, and bliss? Simply put, we’re always striving for those qualities in the material world, which has the opposite nature. The material world and our material bodies are temporary, devoid of sure knowledge, and unhappy.
Our material bodies are not our true self, and material existence is not natural for us. We’re spiritual beings who are naturally eternal, fully conscious of the nature of reality, and always abundantly happy. So in this world we strive constantly to achieve our true nature. We want to live forever, have doubtless knowledge, and always be happy. But our material bodies and the material world don’t cooperate.
The philosophy of Krishna consciousness and the practices of bhakti-yoga allow us to regain our true, spiritual nature and spiritual bodies. In the Vedic literature, especially in books such as the Srimad-Bhagavatam, we hear about Krishna’s pastimes with His devotees in the spiritual world. Vaishnavas, who understand the concept of spiritual bodies, know that these activities are not mythological or metaphorical; they’re exchanges of love between spiritual beings (God and the individual souls) in spiritual bodies of eternity, knowledge, and bliss. These spiritual activities performed with spiritual bodies are not imaginary, like buckets of steam, but are the purest objects of meditation and praise.