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Nature of the Soul

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Nature of the Soul

The Aatmaa pervades all like butter hidden in milk. He is the source of Self-knowledge and ascetic fervor. This is the Brahman teaching, the highest goal. He who with the truth of the Aatmaa, unified, perceives the truth of Brahm as with a lamp, who knows God, the unborn, the stable, free from all forms of being, is released from all fetters. The inspired Self is not born nor does He die; He springs from nothing and becomes nothing. Unborn, permanent, unchanging, primordial, He is not destroyed when the body is destroyed.
Krishn Yajur Ved, Shwetaashwatar Upanishad 1.16; 2.15-18; 18. Verses, 711, 762, 566

There is a spirit which is pure and which is beyond old age and death; and beyond hunger and thirst and sorrow. This is Aatmaa, the spirit in man. All the desires of this spirit are Truth. It is this spirit that we must find and know; man must find his own soul. He who has found and knows his soul has found all the worlds, has achieved all his desires. What you see when you look into another person's eyes, that is the Aatmaa, immortal, beyond fear; that is Brahm.
Saam Ved, Chhaandogya Upanishad 8.7.3-4. UPM, 121-122

Now, the teaching concerning the Aatmaa: the Aatmaa is below, it is above, it is behind, it is before, it is in the South, it is in the North. The Aatmaa indeed is all that is. He who sees, reflects and knows this -- he has joy in the Aatmaa, he plays with the Aatmaa, he unites with the Aatmaa, his is the bliss of the Aatmaa. He becomes free and is free to move in all the worlds. But those who think otherwise are ruled by others and their worlds are perishable. They are bound in all the worlds.
Saam Ved, Chhaandogya Upanishad 7.25.2. Verse, 740

There are five subtle elements (Tanmaatraa) and these are called elements. There are also five gross elements, Mahaabhoot, and these are also called elements. The union of these is called the human body. The human soul rules the body; but the immortal spiritual soul is pure like a drop of water on a lotus leaf. The human soul is under the power of the three constituents and conditions of nature, and thus it falls into confusion. Because of this confusion the soul cannot become conscious of the God who dwells within and whose power gives us power to work.
Krishn Yajur Ved, Maitree Upanishad 3.2. UPM, 100

He who dwells in the light, yet is other than the light, whom the light does not know, whose body is the light, who controls the light from within -- He is the Aatmaa within you.
Shukla Yajur Ved, Brihadaaranyak Upanishad 3.7.14. Verse, 708

The three impurities are Anav, Maayaa and the one caused by actions.
Suprabhed Agam 2.1. SA, 102

Pure consciousness, taking form as knowledge and action, is present in the soul everywhere and always, for the soul is universal in its unfettered state.
Mrigendra Agam, Gyaan Pad 2.A.5. MA, 60

When the state is attained where one becomes Shiv, the Mal -- the bonds diverse, mental states and experiences that arose for the individualized soul -- will all fade like the beams of the Moon in the presence of the rising sun.
Tirumantiram 2314. TM

When Jeev attains the state of neutrality to deeds, good and evil, then does divine grace in Guru form descend, remove attributes all and implant Gyaan that is unto a heavenly cool shade. The Jeev is without egoism, and the impurities three are finished. He is Shiv who all this does.
Tirumantiram 1527. TM

In the primal play of the Lord were Jeev created. Enveloped in mighty Maalaa were they. Discarding them, they realized themselves and besought the feet of their hoary Lord. Thus they became Shiv, with birth no more to be.
Tirumantiram 2369. TM

A goldsmith fashions several ornaments out of gold. So God, the great goldsmith, makes many ornaments -- different souls -- out of the one Universal Spirit.
Natchintanai, "Seek the Profit..." NT, 11

The Aatmaa is eternal. This is the conclusion at which great souls have arrived from their experience. Let this truth become well impressed in your mind.
Natchintanai, Letter 1. NT, 15

An Ordinary Man's Views
But the question is what is Aatmaa or soul? Vishisht A-dwait is translated as “qualified monism” or monism subject to reservations. I had heard Velukudi Krishnan Swami emphasize time and again that Aatmaa or the soul and body are different. This did not strike me as significant. A Tirupati lecturer gave the impression that this was the “qualified” part
of Vishisht A-dwait. This came out in his interpretation of Tat tvam asi meaning, “Thou (You) are That”. “That” refers to the Brahm, the ultimate reality.

(There are two very similar words Brahm and Brahmaa. The first is in neuter gender and is the ultimate reality. The second is masculine and refers to the progenitor. I owe this clarification to another Tirupati lecturer on Dwaitvaad. Being a Vaishnavite he called the latter the “son of Naaraayan”. I do not accept the "son" part.

Brahmaa is an independent part of the Hindu trinity of Godhead. He is the father of all life systems embedded in the Padmanaabh icon and (hence of Vishnu).

(I am not able to name the lecturer. The bureaucratic practice of crediting all the superiors in the department makes it difficult to know who deserves the credit or who is the actual speaker? Tamil Channels go farthest and mention the Driver of the vehicle also. Socialism cannot go farther down.) According to the Tirupati lecturer, Tvam refers to the Aatmaa as distinct from the body. He said the two are different. If this is the 'qualified' part, then I feel it is wrong. Vishisht A-dwait has no rationale to the claim of an independent system.

Another Tirupati lecturer on Dwaitvaad gave a different twist to "Tat tvam asi". He somehow arrived at "tat tvam na-asi" and said the soul and Brahm are different. The difference is the cornerstone of Dwait.

(Digressing, I quote an atheist friend who said that it is not "chaaturvarnyam maayaasrishtam" . He added another "a" and described it as "chaaturvarnyam maayaa-a-srishtam".)

The Aatma concept had troubled me for a long time. Even now all my doubts are not removed. What is the Aatmaa or the soul? Where does it reside in the body?

Kathopanishad provided an absurd answer. It says that the Aatma has the size of a thumb and stays in the heart cavity. This cavity part is also mentioned in Taittireeya Upanishad.

The idea of localized Aatmaa faces this difficulty. Man dies of several causes, including injury to or failure of the heart, brain and even kidney. Since death is caused by fatal injury to several parts of the body and is ensued by the escape of the Aatmaa from the body, it is unreasonable to localize the Aatmaa. It has to pervade the entire body. It means that Aatma is not different from the body. It is to be identified with body. Differentiation of Aatma and the body is the key postulate of the “qualified monism”.

The question was discussed in the Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad (II, i, 20). It asserts, “Praan vai Satyam, Teshaamesh Satyam”. (Praan is the Satya. Amongst all, it is Satya). It calls Praan, "Satyasya Satyam" or Truth of the Truth.

Praan pervades the entire body. It is the one that is directly or indirectly responsible for termination of life. The idea that Praan is the Aatmaa, does not solve all the problems. But it is
the one that fits many known facts.



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Created by Sushma Gupta on 3/15/05
Updated on 12/19/12