The eternal spiritual soul

The Soul – Atma – Jiva-Atma
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

न जायते म्रियते वा कदाचिन्नायं भूत्वा भविता वा न भूयः ।
अजो नित्यः शाश्वतोऽयं पुराणो न हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे ॥२०॥

na jāyate mriyate vā kadācin / nāyaṁ bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥ
ajo nityaḥ śāśvato ‘yaṁ purāṇo / na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre

“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (BG 2.20)

Vishnu Supersoul spiritual soul

Lord Viṣṇu – Paramātmā the Supersoul within the heart

Purport: In quality, the tiny fragmentary part of the Supreme Spiritual Being is one with the Supreme. Unlike the body, it is not subject to change. Sometimes the soul is also called “the everlasting” (kūṭastha). The body is subject to six types of change. It is born in the womb, remains there for some time, grows up, begets offspring, gradually grows old and finally sinks into oblivion. The soul, however, is not subject to such changes. The soul itself is not born, but because it takes on a material body, the body is born. The soul is not born, and the soul does not die.

Everything that is born must die. And since the soul has never been born, it knows neither past nor present nor future. It is eternal, everlasting and primordial – that is, there is no trace of its origin in history. Under the influence of the physical imagination, however, we search for the time of its birth and so on. The soul, unlike the body, never grows old. Therefore, the so-called old man feels that he is the same spiritual being as in his childhood or youth. The soul is not affected by the changes of the body. The soul does not wither away like a tree or any other material thing. The soul also has no offspring. The by-products of the body, the children, are also different individual souls, and it is only because their bodies are produced by other bodies that they appear as children of particular parents. The body evolves because the soul is present, but neither does the soul have descendants nor is it subject to change. Therefore, the soul is free from the six transformations of the body. In the Kaṭha Upaniṣad we find a corresponding verse:

na jāyate mriyate vā vipaścin / nāyaṁ kutaścin na vibhūva kaścit
ajo nityaḥ śāśvato ‘yaṁ purāṇo / na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre.
(Katha Upanishad 1.2.18)

The translation and explanation is the same as that of the Bhagavad-gītā verse. But here in this verse there is a special word, vipaścit; it means learned or with knowledge.

The soul is always full of knowledge or consciousness. Therefore, consciousness is the symptom of the soul. Even if the soul is not found in the heart, its presence can be recognised very easily by the presence of consciousness. Because clouds have moved in front of the sun, or for some other reason, sometimes we cannot see it in the sky; but its light is always there, and therefore we know that it is day. As soon as it gets a little light early in the morning, we can understand that the sun has risen. Similarly, we can understand the presence of the soul, because there is consciousness in all bodies, whether human or animal.

However, this consciousness of the soul is different from the consciousness of the Supreme, since the Supreme Consciousness has all-encompassing knowledge of the past, present and future. The consciousness of the individual soul has a tendency to forget. When it forgets its true nature, it receives education and enlightenment from the sublime teachings of Kṛṣṇa. But Kṛṣṇa is not like the forgetful soul; if Kṛṣṇa were forgetful, His teachings in the Bhagavad-gītā would be useless. There are two kinds of souls: the minute soul (aṇu-ātmā) and the Supersoul (vibhu-ātma). In the Kaṭha Upaniṣad we find a similar passage; it reads:

aṇor aṇīyān mahato mahīyān / ātmāsya jantor nihito guhāyām
tam akratuḥ paśyati vīta-śoko / dhātuḥ prasādān mahimānam ātmanaḥ

“Both the Supersoul (Paramātmā) and the minute soul (jīvātmā) sit on the tree of the body in the heart of the living entity. Only one who has become free from all material desires and lamentations can understand the glories of the soul by the grace of the Lord.” (Katha 1.2.20)

Kṛṣṇa is also the origin of the Supersoul, as will be revealed in the following chapters, and Arjuna is the tiny little soul who forgets his true nature; therefore it is necessary for him to be enlightened by Kṛṣṇa or His bona fide representative (the spiritual master).

देहिनोऽस्मिन्यथा देहे कौमारं यौवनं जरा ।
तथा देहान्तरप्राप्तिर्धीरस्तत्र न मुह्यति ॥१३॥

dehino ‘smin yathā dehe / kaumāraṁ yauvanaṁ jarā
tathā dehāntara-prāptir / dhīras tatra na muhyati

“Just as the embodied soul continually wanders in this body from childhood to youth and to old age, so also at death it enters another body. The self-realised soul is not confused by such a change.” (BG 2.13)

EXPLANATION: Since every living entity is an individual soul, it changes its body at every moment, sometimes manifesting as a child, sometimes as a youth, and sometimes as an old man. Nevertheless, the same soul is present because it is not subject to change. This individual soul changes body permanently at the time of death and enters another body. Since it will certainly receive another body in the next birth – either material or spiritual – there was no reason for Arjuna to lament death, not even the death of Bhīṣma or Droṇa, about which he was so much concerned. Rather, he should rejoice that they would exchange their old bodies for new ones and thereby renew their energy. Such changes of body, which take place according to our behaviour in life, determine the manifold joys or sufferings of the living being. Since Bhīṣma and Droṇa were noble souls, they would certainly receive either spiritual bodies in their next life or at least a life in celestial bodies in which a higher enjoyment of material existence would be possible. So in both cases there was no reason to complain.

Any person who has perfect knowledge of the constitution of the individual soul, the Supersoul and the material as well as the spiritual nature is called a dhīra (a most prudent person). Such a person is never misled by the change of bodies. The Māyāvādī theory, according to which there is only one soul, cannot be justified on the grounds that the soul cannot be divided into fragmentary parts and that such division into different individual souls would make the Supreme divisible and changeable, which would contradict the principle that the Supreme Soul is immutable.

As confirmed in the Gītā, the fragmental parts of the Supreme exist eternally (sanātana) and are called kṣara, which means that they have the tendency to fall down into material nature. These fragmental parts are eternally so, and even after liberation the individual soul remains the same fragmental part. But once liberated, it lives an eternal life of bliss and knowledge together with the Supreme Personal Godhead. Using the example of reflection, one can understand the Supersoul, which is present as Paramātmā – different from the individual living entity – in every single individual body. When the night sky is reflected in the water, both the moon and the stars can be seen in the reflection. The stars can be compared to the living beings and the moon to the Supreme Lord. The individual, fragmental soul is represented by Arjuna, and the Supreme Soul is represented by Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personal Godhead. As it becomes clear at the beginning of the Fourth Chapter, they are not on the same level. If Arjuna were on the same level as Kṛṣṇa and Kṛṣṇa were not above Arjuna, their relationship as teacher and disciple would lose its significance. If they were both misled by the illusory energy (māyā), there would be no need for one to be the teacher and the other the disciple. Such teachings would be useless, since no one who is in the power of māyā can be an authoritative teacher. Here it is explained that Lord Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Lord, is in a higher position than the living entity Arjuna, an illusioned soul misled by māyā.

अविनाशि तु तद्विद्धि येन सर्वमिदं तततम् ।
विनाशमव्ययस्यास्य न कश्चित्कर्तुमर्हति ॥१७॥

avināśi tu tad viddhi / yena sarvam idaṁ tatam
vināśam avyayasyāsya / na kaścit kartum arhati

“Know, that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one can kill the imperishable soul.” (BG 2.17)

EXPLANATION: This verse explains even more clearly the real nature of the soul, which is spread throughout the entire body. Everyone can understand what is spread over the whole body: it is consciousness. Everyone is aware of the pains and pleasures felt either in one part of the body or in the whole body. However, this spread of consciousness is limited to one’s own body. The pains and pleasures of one body are unknown to the other. Therefore, each individual body is the embodiment of an individual soul, and the symptom of the presence of the soul is experienced as individual consciousness. From the Vedic scriptures we learn that the soul is as big as the ten thousandth part of the tip of a hair. The Śvetāśvatara Upanisad confirms this as follows:

bālāgra-śata-bhāgasya śatadhā kalpitasya ca
bhāgo jīvaḥ sa vijñeyaḥ sa cānantyāya kalpate

“If the tip of a hair is divided into a hundred parts and each of these parts is divided into another hundred parts, then one of these parts corresponds to the size of the soul.” (Śvet 5.9) The Bhāgavatam explains this fact in a similar way:

keśāgra-śata-bhāgasya śatāṁśaḥ sādṛśātmakaḥ
jīvaḥ sūkṣma-svarūpo ‘yaṁ saṅkhyātīto hi cit-kaṇaḥ

“There are innumerable tiny spiritual atoms, and each of them is as big as the ten-thousandth part of the tip of a hair.” Therefore, the individual soul is a spiritual atom smaller than the material atoms; there are an unlimited number of such atoms. This tiny little spiritual spark is the basic principle of the material body, and just as the influence of a medicine is manifested throughout the body, so the influence of such a spiritual spark is spread throughout the body. This diffusion of the soul is felt everywhere in the body as consciousness, and this is the proof of the presence of the soul. Any layman can understand that a body without consciousness is a dead body and that this consciousness cannot be revived in the body by any material endeavour. Consciousness, therefore, does not originate in a combination of material elements, but emanates from the soul. In the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad, the extent of the minute soul is further explained:

eṣo ‘ṇurātmā cetasā veditavyo / yasmin prāṇaḥ pañcadhā saṁviveśa
prāṇaiś cittaṁ sarvam otam prajānāṁ / yasmin viśuddhe vibhavaty eṣa ātmā

“The soul is tiny and can only be perceived by perfect intelligence. This tiny little soul floats in five different kinds of air (prāṇa, apāna, vyāna, samāna and udāna) within the heart and spreads its influence over the entire body of the embodied living entity. When the soul is purified from the pollution of the five kinds of material air, its spiritual influence unfolds.” (Muṇd. 3.1.9)

The haṭha-yoga system is meant to control the five kinds of air that encircle the pure soul through various sitting postures. The goal is not material gain, but the liberation of the tiny soul from entanglement in the material atmosphere.

The nature of the tiny soul is described in all Vedic scriptures, and any sane person can actually experience its presence in his life. Only a madman can believe that this tiny little soul is the all-pervading Viṣṇu-tattva.

The influence of the tiny soul can be completely spread over a single body. According to the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad, such a minute soul is situated in the heart of every living entity, and because the size of the inconceivably small soul is beyond the reach of material science, some deluded scientists claim that there is no soul. There is no doubt that the individual tiny soul dwells in the heart along with the Oversoul and therefore all the energies required to move the body come from that part of the body. The red blood cells that take oxygen from the lungs receive their energy from the soul. When the soul leaves the body, the activities of the blood and the energy-generating combustion processes come to a standstill. Medical science accepts the importance of red blood cells, but it cannot find out that the source of energy is the soul. On the other hand, medical science admits that the heart is the centre of all the energies of the body.

These tiny little components of the spiritual whole are compared to the molecules of sunshine. In sunshine there are countless radiant molecules. Similarly, the fragmental parts of the Lord are also tiny sparks in the rays of the Supreme called prabhā (higher energy). Neither Vedic knowledge nor modern science denies the existence of the spiritual soul in the body, and the science of the soul is explained in detail by the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself in the Bhagavad-gītā.

– Bhagavad Gita ‘As It Is’ –
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda