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On the Constitution of the Soul


by Hayagriva dasa Adhikari
(ISKCON—New Vrndavana)

“The soul can never be cut into pieces by any weapon, nor can he be moistened by the water, nor withered by the wind.” (Bhagavad-gita, 2.23) Here Lord Krsna begins to describe the properties of the spirit soul. These properties are antipodal to the properties of the body. We all know that the body can be cut to pieces, burned up, wetted, and so on, and because of this it is subject to pain and death. We are so certain of the killing abilities of fire that we use it to sterilize so that things will be germless. But we have information from Vedic literatures that there are living entities also in the fire. “This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can neither be burned nor dried.” (Bg. 2.24) Here Lord Krsna is stressing the point that fire cannot kill the soul. All material attempts to annihilate the soul are futile. It is not possible to kill the soul by making a hotter fire, by using a sharper weapon, or by drowning it with any amount of water. The individual soul is sanatana, eternally situated.

Eternally Individual

Because it is not possible to cut the soul, it is not possible to sever the individual soul from the Supersoul. Consequently the jiva, or individual soul, has always been individual because if it had ever been homogeneously one with the Supersoul, it would never have been possible to break it or cut it away. Therefore, Lord Krsna speaks of the jivas as “eternal fragments of Myself.” “The living entities in this conditional world are My fragmental parts, and they are eternal. But due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.” (Bg. 15.7)

Because the soul can live under any material means, it can go anywhere and live anywhere. And we have practical experience that living entities are everywhere and that they acquire suitable bodies for their particular environments. If we dig deep into the earth, for instance, we will find so many worms, and of course on the earth’s surface there are so many entities, and also in the air, and, of course, there are infinite creatures in the water.

And from Vedic sources we understand that even in fire there are many living entities that have particular bodies which are adaptable to living in fire, just as some souls can acquire bodies for living on a planet with no atmosphere. However, these bodies are more subtle and are difficult to perceive by the gross senses.

Life Is Everywhere

Because the soul is not influenced by material condition and because it can grow in fire, water, air or earth, we can conclude that on all other planets there are also living entities because every material planet is made up of at least one of these five gross elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether. Some of the planets are principally composed of water and earth, like our planet, or of fire like the sun, or of air, ether and gases like Jupiter. Due to a poor fund of knowledge about the constitution of the soul, material scientists doubt that life can exist on any other planet in our solar system. They argue that there is no life on Mercury and Venus because Mercury is so close to the sun that the temperature on its sunlit side reaches as high as 700 degrees F, and that Venus, although almost twice as far from the sun as Mercury, has an even higher surface temperature of 800 degrees F, which is distributed uniformly by strong winds. They fail to understand the relativity of heat and the ability of organisms to adjust to any circumstance. Our mean earth temperature of 57 degrees F may be astoundingly hot or cold to other living entities who may argue that life is not possible on earth due to intense heat or cold. Man has landed on the moon, which has a temperature of 215 degrees F on its sunny side and minus 250 degrees on its dark side, and seeing no living entities he concludes that there is no life there. “A magnificent desolation,” he calls it upon landing, and from the gross material point of view he is right, but we should not conclude that there are no living entities on the moon because the soul can inhabit various subtle bodies which can endure lack of atmosphere and extreme temperatures. Similarly there is no scientist who would argue on behalf of life existing on the sun. The surface temperature of the sun is 10,000 degrees F, and its average interior temperature is 25,000,000 degrees F, a temperature inconceivable from the material point of view, and yet we have information from Bhagavad-gita that the sun-god Vivasvan is residing there, presiding over his entourage of sun dwellers. It is also stated in Vedic literatures that Vivasvan drives a chariot with horses which obviously must be able to withstand such heats. These bodies, then, are subtle in order not to be consumed, and, being subtle, they’re practically imperceptible to mundane vision.

Why Only The Earth?

On the side of the earth away from the sun, the planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are, according to scientists, too cold to sustain life, and their surfaces are reportedly enveloped by layers of methane and ammonia, which are poisonous gases. Again using the earth conditions as a criterion for life possibilities, scientists speculate as to whether life exists on Mars, the planet most similar to earth. They have perceived seasonal color changes that appear to be some kind of vegetation, but they have discarded the idea that the Martian canals were dug by intelligent beings. Hence they conclude that in our solar system only the planet earth provides the proper condition for life. It does not follow logically that living entities can exist in the elements earth and water and not in the other elements. Most major scientists agree, however, that earth is not the only planet in the entire universe containing life. They claim that there are other innumerable solar systems with planets that duplicate the earth. No doubt there are, but their insistence that life can exist only on this particular type of planet is a conjecture ethno-, geo-, and egocentrically based.

Here we are reminded of the example of Dr. Frog, Ph.D, an eminent scholar who lives in a well. One day a fellow frog went down to see the Doctor and inform him that there is such a thing as the Atlantic Ocean. Upon hearing about this ocean, Dr. Frog enquired, “Tell me, how big would you say it is compared to this well? Is it as big or twice as big?” “No, much, much bigger,” said the visitor. “Oh, much bigger then?” asked the Doctor. “Then tell me, is it five times as big, ten times as big?” “Oh, no, much vaster.” “Vaster? How is that? Maybe a hundred times or a thousand—how can it be so much bigger?” In this way Dr. Frog goes on speculating about the breadth of the Atlantic Ocean, but it is obvious that he will never comprehend its vastness because it is totally outside his experience. It is natural to compare that which is unknown to that which is known, but it is narrow-minded to insist that the unknown must correspond with the known.

So from Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic literatures we can understand that in every planet and in every atmosphere there are living entities. All these living beings are numberless; the various species alone number over 8,000,000. These countless entities are being maintained by the singular entity, Krsna or God. It is stated in the Srimad-Bhagavatam that this is the major difference between the Supersoul and the individual jiva: the jiva is maintaining itself in its own body, but the Supersoul is maintaining infinite jivas in infinite bodies all over the universe. It is illogical and contrary to experience to state that life is supported in one part of the universe and not in another.

We Are Always Persons

The parts of the Supreme Soul are thus scattered throughout the universe, and they remain parts eternally, taking on and shuffling off bodies. Even after being separated from the illusory identification with matter, the jiva remains a separate identity. After liberation from material contamination, the atomic soul may prefer to remain a spiritual spark in the effulgent rays of the Supreme Lord, and this stage is called Brahman realization. However, the more intelligent soul enters into the planets of the spiritual sky to associate with God’s person, and this is one step beyond liberation.

Lord Krsna further characterizes the soul in this way: “He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable, and eternally the same.” (Bg. 2.24) Here the word sarva-gata (all-pervading) is significant. This gives additional evidence that there are jivas, individual souls, pervading the entire creation, on land, on water, in air, in the earth, even within fire. Because it is stated that the soul cannot even be burned by fire, it is a misconception that fire can kill all living entities.

As mentioned before, Gita gives evidence that there are inhabitants of the sun. If the sun is uninhabited, then the word sarva-gata—living everywhere—is meaningless.

The Existence Of The Soul

Lord Krsna also gives more information about the soul’s constitution. “It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable, immutable, and unchangeable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body.” (Bg. 2.25) The soul, being spiritual, cannot be perceived by material eyes. Even the most powerful microscope cannot see the spirit soul. It is experimentally impossible to establish the existence of the soul, and therefore sruti, or Vedic wisdom, must be accepted as proof. We do, however, perceive symptoms of the soul as life symptoms. We understand that when the soul has left the body, the body is dead. These are symptoms of the soul which can be perceived materially. Beyond this we have to accept the existence of the soul on the grounds of Vedic authority. Here the supreme authority Lord Krsna states that the soul is beyond human conception, immutable and unchangeable. The body is everlasting and is always the same, although it may inhabit countless bodies.

Compared to the infinite Supreme Soul, the individual soul or jiva is atomic or finite. It is not possible for this infinitesimal soul to become equal to the infinite soul because it is stated here that it is unchangeable. Being unchangeable, it cannot expand to include everything. Therefore the theory of the Mayavadi impersonalists that at death the individual soul leaves the body and merges into the great all-pervading spirit to become one with that spirit contradicts the Gita. The totality of the jivas is all-pervading, but the individual jiva is infinitesimal and remains so eternally. It partakes of the total ocean by swimming about. In the very beginning of the Gita, Lord Krsna asserts the eternal individuality of the soul: “Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.” (Bg. 2.12) It is not that at a certain point the individual soul cuts itself off from the Supreme Soul and merges into matter, or that at another point it will leave its association with matter and merge once again into the Supreme Soul. Such a process of amalgamation is not possible. Even after liberation the individuality remains. The oneness mentioned here refers to oneness of interest. The common interest of all liberated individual souls is the Supersoul, Lord Krsna. When the jivas are in total agreement with Krsna, then there is oneness. Oneness is therefore experienced when the jiva surrenders unto Krsna, and diversity is experienced when the jiva rebels. When he surrenders, the jiva associates with Krsna in the spiritual world, but when he revolts he is placed in the material world amidst diversity. It is stated in Bhagavad-gita: “After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes, and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Bg. 7.19) Attaining this knowledge may take time, but this is the ultimate Vedanta. Vedanta means to know that Lord Krsna is everything.

“I Am Not Matter, I Am Spirit”

This eternality of the soul apart from the body is the basis for Lord Krsna’s urging Arjuna to fight in the battle. “For the soul there is neither birth nor death, nor having once been does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Bg. 2.20) The consciousness that pervades the entire body is the consciousness of the soul that inhabits the body. When the soul is not in the body he cannot perceive bodily pleasures and pains. Because the soul may be addicted to the pleasures of the body, he may take on another body after leaving his present body. Lord Krsna likens this struggling off and taking on of bodies unto changes of dress (Bg. 2.13). This constant change is senseless and very painful. Eventually, after so many changes, the conditioned soul becomes materially exhausted and so seeks a spiritual master who can teach him how to liberate himself from the constant repetition of birth and death (samsara). It is at this point that the jiva decides to revive his ever dormant Krsna consciousness in order to escape the miseries of reincarnation. Upon reestablishing his relationship with the Supersoul, the jiva attains the state of brahma-bhuta, realizing aham brahmasmi: “I am not this material body. I am not matter, but spirit.” The first symptom of brahma-bhuta realization is joyfulness. Perceiving its eternality, seeing that it can never be cut to pieces, burned, moistened, broken, dissolved or dried, the soul becomes instantly joyful. It at last identifies with its true essence. As long as it is in identity with matter, it will hanker and lament, as Arjuna was hankering and lamenting on the battlefield. The message of Bhagavad-gita, then, is one of joy, for the lesson taught Arjuna provokes the conditioned soul to seek its eternal happy position.

In the material position, entangled in birth and death, the jiva tries to lord it over matter, and in his attempt becomes adverse to Krsna. The conditioned soul, forgetful of his spiritual nature, engages in a hard struggle in the ocean of material existence, but all this time the love of Krsna is dormant within him. This love is awakened by the spiritual master who engages the jiva in devotional service and so opens the way for liberation.

Wonderful Beyond Conception

1970-1973-01-39-06Concluding his initial statements on the soul in the Second Chapter of Gita, Lord Krsna tells Arjuna that “some look on the soul as amazing, some describe him as amazing, and some hear of him as amazing, while others, even after hearing about him, cannot understand him at all.” (Bg. 2.29) It is not often that one finds a man who can understand the nature of the soul. However, we should take the statements of Krsna in Bhagavad-gita as authoritative and so learn of the constitution of the soul through Him. It is certainly wonderful that a minute particle smaller than an atom can sustain life in a body; without this atomic particle the body dies. It is also wonderful that this minute particle is eternal and that the totality of souls pervade the entire creation. Because this is beyond human conception, one should accept the authoritative statements of Krsna.

Lord Krsna tells His friend Arjuna that even if he thinks that the soul itself is perpetually being born and dying, still there is no need for his lamentation. “For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore in the unavoidable discharge of your duty you should not lament.” (Bg. 2.27) Certainly no one laments when he sees a skyscraper being erected. Nor does he lament when he sees it being dismantled. The dismantling is inevitable. In either case, even from the material point of view, one does not grieve over what is perfectly natural. “All created beings are unmanifest in their beginning, manifest in their interim state, and unmanifest again when they are annihilated. So what need is there for lamentation?” (Bg. 2.28)

Vedic wisdom encourages self-realization based on the nonexistence of the material body. As far as the eternal spirit soul is concerned. the material body has no factual existence. One may dream of becoming a great king or a great general or even a pauper, but when one awakes, the body in his dream no longer has substantiality. Nor did it ever have substantiality. So identification with the material body is a sort of dream for the spirit soul.

The process of the awakening of the soul is joyful, and the dream of entanglement is painful. Just as one is awakened from sleep by sounds, the sleeping soul is awakened by the sabda, or sound incarnation, of the Lord imparted to the soul by the spiritual master. The sabdas which the spiritual master uses to awaken the sleeping souls are the sounds of Bhagavad-gita and the holy names of Krsna. Since it is inevitable that one who is sleeping will awake, one should not become disheartened if it seems that he continues to lounge even after hearing the call to arise. Eventually the sabda will enact, and the drowsy soul will enter into his blissful position.

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