Attributes of the soul
Kinds of bodies relevant to the soul
Transmigration of souls
In this world we see two kinds of things. Things of the first kind can work according to their own wish. They can move about on their own wherever they wish. They can eat and drink. Such things are called living things (animate). All living things possess life. All creatures are living beings. They have life.
Things of the other kind have no will of their own. They cannot move about on their own. They cannot do any work on their own. Such things are called non-living or inanimate. Non-living things possess no life.
In human beings and other living creatures we see two main things, firstly a body and secondly, the life force of the body. The body of a human being is made up of bones, flesh, blood, skin and nerves. It has hands, a mouth, feet, eyes, ears, nose and other senses. The body has its life force. If a body does not have this life force, it cannot do any work. It will not be able to move itself about. Without this force the body will not be able to see or listen. This life force is called the soul. All human beings and other living creatures possess a soul. As long as the soul is in the body, the body remains alive. When the soul leaves the body we say that the body is dead. Then the body is called a corpse. A dead body is unable to do anything.
Attributes of the soul
The main attributes of the soul are as follows:
(i) Desire for the acquisition of things, (ii) repulsion, (iii) activity, (iv) feelings of pleasure, (v) feelings of pain, (vi) sorrow, (vii) displeasure, (viii) consciousness, (ix) inspiration and expiration, (xi) nictitation (closing and opening of the eyes), (xii) organic growth, (xiii) judgment, (xiv) memory and individuality, (xv) movement, (xvi) regulation of the senses, (xvii) internal changes and disorders, such as hunger and thirst, joy or sorrow.
These attributes of the soul distinguish it from God. The existence of the soul is known only by these attributes as it is not material or perceptible by the senses. These attributes are noticeable only so long as the soul is present in the body, but cease to do so as soon the soul leaves it.
The soul is an immortal entity and is neither created nor destroyed but exists at all times. When this body becomes old it becomes unfit to do its work. When the body becomes diseased or invalid or becomes unsuitable for the habitation of the soul or the life span of the body comes to an end, the soul leaves the body. This state is called death. At the time of death the body perishes but the soul does not die with the body.
At the death of the body, the soul leaves it and then enters another body in accordance with the rules of God and the deeds of the soul. This entrance of the soul into another body is called birth. It is also called rebirth (reincarnation) which means that the soul has entered another body based on its deeds. In this way the cycle of birth and death goes on. The controller of this cycle of births and deaths is God. It is the eternal law of God that enables the soul to leave one body and enter another until the soul has reached the state of salvation.
When the period of salvation ends the soul takes another body and the cycle continues.
Kinds of bodies relevant to the soul
The kinds of bodies relevant to the soul are as follows:
a) The gross physical body (sthul sharir) which is seen and felt.
b) The subtle body (sukshm sharir) sometimes also called spiritual (abhautik) or astral (swabhawik) body which comprises seventeen principles as follows:- 5 nervauric (pran) or vital principles, 5 principles of sensation (hear, smell, touch, taste, sight) and 5 physical principles such as earth (prithivi), water (apah), heat (agni), air (vayu) and space (akash), in fine form, and the principles of volition (gati) and judgment (vivek). The subtle body accompanies the soul in all its births and deaths (reincarnation). It is of two kinds:
i) Material which is derived from the fine particles of subtle matter.
ii) Spiritual or natural which comprises the natural powers and attributes of the soul.
Both these remain with the soul in the state of Emancipation.
c)The causal body (karan sharir) which consists of the elementary matter (prakriti). It is all-pervading and therefore, common to all souls. It is through this that the soul enters into the state called sound dreamless sleep (sushupti).
d)The turya body or the body through which the soul is absorbed in the thought of the All-blissful Supreme Spirit God in the state of samadhi (superior condition) developed by the practice of yoga and perfect concentration. The energy born of this pure body - the product of the pure influence of the superior condition - is of great service to the soul in Emancipation.
The soul itself is distinct from all the above mentioned systems, states and bodies. That the soul is distinct from the above states is evident from the fact that when a person dies, everyone says that the soul has passed out of the body. The soul alone is the prompter, the possessor, the seer, the doer, and the reaper of the fruits of its actions. All the bodies mentioned above are by themselves dead and motionless. They can never feel any pain or pleasure, nor can they do anything good or evil, though it is true that the soul in conjunction with them does sinful or virtuous deeds and reaps the fruits thereof- pain or pleasure.
When the soul through the assistance of the mind, intelligence and senses sees the outside world, its involvement then is regarded as outwardly. At that very moment feelings of happiness, cheerfulness and fearlessness are experienced by the soul when the act is good; while those of fear, shame and distrust are experienced when it is evil. This feeling is the communication to the soul from the Omniscient Divine God - the inward Controller of all from within. One who senses this communication and acts accordingly - enjoys the bliss of salvation. Whosoever goes against the dictates of this voice from within suffers from misery and pain - the result of bondage.
This subtle body contains everything therefore we do not need anything from outside. At the time of death the soul contracts all its forces and powers. All these forces centralise into a “nucleus”, which already possesses mind, vital force, powers of senses and all the impressions and experiences. After departing from the body the soul’s destiny is decided by the outcome of its deeds (karm).
Parents are the means through which these subtle bodies find their proper conditions to develop into a body.
The ovum and the sperm meet during conception to form the embryo. The formation of an embryo indicates the presence of a soul with its subtle body.
The subtle body may be destined for this earth or any other planet. It has the power to travel with the speed of light and it can follow the way of light from one planet to another with the vibration or the waves of ether.
Parents cannot give birth to a child on their will alone. It involves a lot of things including the deeds of the parents and also of the soul which is going to take the body. After death all subtle bodies remain in the space in an invisible state, until the time for rebirth arrives and the proper conditions for its taking birth are found. These conditions are the result of the will and the deeds of parents plus the will and the past deeds of the souls going to take birth, plus the natural law. When sin predominates over virtue in a person, his/her soul goes into the bodies of animals and the like. When virtue predominates over sin in a soul it is born as a good person. When sin and virtue are equal the soul is born as an ordinary person.
The Vedas prescribe the performance of the sixteen sacraments which includes the sacraments of marriage and conception. These sacraments prepare the parties mentally and increase their will power to develop a particular kind of soul they want.
Transmigration of souls
There are infinite number of solar systems. There are infinite categories of creatures as well including plants and trees. As insects, plants, trees, men, women and creatures die, their souls are in the process of migrating from one category to another.
Also, there are innumerable solar systems similar to the one of ours. It is not necessary that only the souls existing on this earth are reborn here; there is always transmigration of souls occurring every second. It is also wrong to say that once a soul loses the human body it has to go through all the births (8.4 million births or yonies) to be reborn as a human being. When a soul is deprived of a human body due to its bad deeds and gets a body of other creatures or plants, it suffers the fruits of its bad deeds in that body and the soul is refined and redeemed. It finishes the period of punishment in that lower category and when the percentage of deeds gets balanced then again starts with the human life. Compared to all this, the increase in human population that we see around us, is nothing but a bit of that regular and continuous process. With our limited knowledge we cannot fully understand it. But one thing is certain; there are no new souls created, because the souls do not have either a beginning or an end.
The Vedic scriptures say that death is nothing but a transfer of the soul from the existing body to a new one.
Adapted from ‘Dharmic Shiksha (Vedic Religious Knowledge) – Form Five’, Arya Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji, 2001.
Copyright: Arya Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji