The three bodies

Devdutt PattanaikMy new book Business Sutra describes the concept of three bodies: the physical one we are born with, the mental one we construct with our imagination in our heads and the social one that we build around ourselves to position us in the world.

While we claim that we work to feed our physical bodies, most of our ambitions and desires are driven by the desire to sustain our social bodies which in turn props up our mental bodies.  The story goes that Markandeya has the boon of immortality, yet he feels great fear. One day, he sees the rains fall and the oceans rise until the whole world, every mountain, continent and person he knew, every village and city he’d visited, get dissolved. 

Illustration/ Devdutt Pattanaik

The sun disappears from the sky along with the moon, the stars and every cloud. Markandeya finds himself surrounded by vast, limitless water. Alone in the midst of nothingness, Markandeya experiences great dread. There is no one to see him or call him by his name. Without the world, who is he? He has no identity. Does he even exist?

As these thoughts cross his mind, he sees a banyan leaf floating on the waves. A child is sitting on the leaf and gurgling happily, sucking his big toe joyfully. The child breathes in and Markandeya finds himself being sucked into the child’s body. Inside, he can see the entire universe—the sky, the earth and the underworld.

He sees the realms of devas, asuras, yakshas, rakshasas, nagas, and manavas, some of whom recognise him and call him by name. Markandeya feels secure, his identity and value restored. All the fear that Markandeya experienced now disappears, thanks to the intervention of the child, who is undoubtedly Vishnu. Then the child breathes Markandeya out. He is back in the realm of the waters, of nothingness, where his fears return.

Markandeya’s physical body may be immortal, but when the world around him collapses, his social body dies. He is stripped of all relationships, titles and status. He belongs to no hierarchy; is a nobody. That is why we cling to social structures around us: hierarchy, the rules of an organization, these grant us our identity and meaning. Sanskriti exists to make humans feel secure. That is why any change in society frightens us.

Our social structures depend on the organisation. The organisation depends on industry, which in turn depends on the market. The market depends on society, which in turn relies on the environment. All these are susceptible to change, and so are constant threats to our physical, social and mental body. We are only comfortable with change that nourishes our social body and reinforces our mental image. This constant, looming threat to our social beings is an eternal source of stress.

The author is Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group, and can be reached at

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper. 

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