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Srivaishnava Question and Answers – Learners Series – 7

Chapter 4: The Eternal Jivatma
1. Please explain how you say that the soul is different from the body?

When I say “this is my book”, I mean the book belongs to me. The book is obviously something different from myself.

Similarly, I say “this is my body”. So, the body is different from myself. Here, the word “myself refers to the soul. Thus, we can see that the body is different from the soul. Otherwise, we will not say that “this is my body.”

2. What is the relationship between the soul and senses, mind, knowledge?

Here again, the soul is different from all these. We say “I see through my eyes”. Hence I or the soul is different from the eyes. We say “I hear through my ears.” So I or soul is different from the ears. We say that “my leg is paining or my hand is paining.” So, it is clear that the leg is different from the ‘I’ or soul. Thus, the five senses of action or karma (Karma Indriyas) and the five senses of knowledge (Jnana Indriyas) are all different from the soul. Similarly, we say that “my mind is clear.” From this also, it can be seen that T or the soul is different from the mind.

3. Please explain this with an analogy? 

The child which comes out of the mother’s womb is very small in size. Then it becomes a boy or a girl and then a young man or woman and then finally he or she becomes old and then passes away.Thus, the body varies in size. It starts at the time of birth as a very small baby and then grows up. The body becomes ill, the body becomes well and is thus subject to so many changes, whereas the soul is not affected. Thus the body changes in size. The body becomes old, weak. The body shrinks in old age.The body is that of a male or female or animal. Thus the bodies are different for different persons. But the souls are all similar and are not subject to any change.

4. Does the soul also come to live along with the body and die along with the body?

No. The soul or Jivatma is eternal and Permanent. The soul has no beginning or end. or when the body dies, the soul does not die

5. How many souls are there?

The souls are infinite in number. I will give you a very simple example. We stay in one house for some time. After some time we shift to another house. Again, we go to another town or place and shift to another house.Thus, we are going from one house to another or from one place to another. Just like this, the soul also stays in one body for some time. At the death of the person, the soul leaves the body; then it either attains salvation and reaches Paramapada; or, it goes to Svarga -(heaven); or directly takes on a new body. Where the soul goes to Svarga, after experiencing pleasures the soul returns to earth and takes on another body, as a man, or an animal, or a bird or anything. Thus, the soul also goes from one body to another, just as we shift from one house to another.

6. Can you give me a further example?

For the same person, in the body, first there is childhood; from childhood, youth comes over and then old age comes over. Similarly, for the soul also, from one body it changes over to another body. We do not feel sorry when a child becomes a young man or when a young man becomes old,because the body remains the same. But when the soul goes from one body to another, we call it death and grieve for the dead person.

7. What is the size of the soul?

The soul is atomic in size.

8. How do you explain this?

The soul enters a new body, based on the previous karma. Thus, the soul can take on thebody of an ant or it can take on the body of an elephant or a man. So the soul has to be smaller than the ant for it to enter the body of the ant.Thus by logic,the soul has to be smaller than the smallest of the bodies like ant or mosquito. Thus, the soul is atomic in size.

9. Why not say that the soul also changes in size, like the body? For example, the body of an elephant is much bigger than the body of an ant. Can the soul of an elephant be much bigger than the soul of an ant?

This is actually the philosophy of Jainism that the soul is as big or as small as the body of the person. However, we do not accept this theory and we have the proof of the Vedas. In several places, the Vedas declare that the soul is atomic in size. In fact, the Vedas say that the soul is of the size of 1/100th of 1/100th of the tip of a grain. This is only to explain that the soul is atomic in size. Further, I can give one more reason why the soul is atomic. At the death of a person, the soul leaves the body and goes out, according to sastras. We accept the authority of the sastras. We are not able to see the soul actually leaving the body. Thus, the soul is smaller than the smallest object that our eyes can see, and is atomic.

10. Can the soul be destroyed?

The soul is eternal and permanent, i.e., always existing. Since it is atomic in size, it cannot be cut by a sword, it cannot be burnt by fire, and it cannot be thrown about by air. It is so minutely small

11. What is the meaning of saying that a person is born or a person is dead?

When the soul has taken on a new body, we say the child is born. Similarly, when the soul leaves the body, we say the person is dead.

12. Why do people grieve when a person dies?

A really intelligent man, who knows philosophy, does not grieve. However, it is because of his attachment that a person really feels for his near and dear ones when they die.Let me give you another example. When the clothes we are wearing are torn, we naturally throw them away and we put on new clothes. Similarly, the soul also throws off the old body and takes on a new one, just as we take on new clothes.

13. You said the souls are infinite in number. Is there any variation between these different souls?

There is no variation. They are all atomic in size. However, the souls are divided into three categories.

14. What are the three categories?

1. The souls or Jivatmas, which are still bound by samsara-pass through the cycle of births and deaths. They leave one body after death, but are again bom in this world in some other body and go on rotating in the cycle of samsara. Thus, these souls are called Baddha, i.e., Bound (by samsara).

15. Who are these Baddhas?

They start right from the four-faced Brahma and include the various devas, gandharvas and so on, viz. people in the other worlds. They include human beings, animals, trees, insects, birds and those in water like fish, ants and everything.

16. Do you mean to say that trees also have souls?

Yes. The trees also have souls. It has been proved by modern biologists that the trees and plants have life in them.

17. How many sub-divisions are there in the first category of Baddhas?

We can broadly say that there are four subdivisions. These are:
1. The Devas. Under this group we include the pitrus, siddhas, gandharvas, kinnaras, vasus and yakshas.
2. Human beings.
3. The animal category. Under this are included all animals, birds, those which crawl like serpents and worms.
4. Trees and plants, whose knowledge is much less.

18. What is the second category of soul?

The second category is Mukta. That is, the souls or Jivatmas, which have been released from the samsara, from the cycle of births and deaths. The jivatma, after adopting the means prescribed in the sastras for attaining salvation, thus attains salvation or moksha and then becomes mukta or liberated. He is in Paramapada, permanently enjoying and serving the Lord Narayana and His Consort Lakshmi

19. Who are the third category?

The third category consists of Nityas, namely, those souls who are eternally free, who are never born in this world. We also call them as Nitya Suris. These are Adisesha, Garuda, Vishvaksena and such others.

20. Are souls of these categories also atomic in size?

Yes, the souls of all these categories are also atomic in size.

21. Whose souls are infinite?

Only those of Narayana and Lakshmi are infinite (vibhu).

22. What are the other qualities of the souls?

The souls are of the nature of knowledge, happiness and purity and the like. Their knowledge is infinite, i.e., they can perceive and understand everything.

23. But, this is not the case with human beings. Our knowledge is certainly not infinite.

The essential nature of the knowledge of the soul is infinite. But, having come into the world, the knowledge is temporarily contracted or becomes restricted. On release from samsara, the knowledge is restored to infiniteness.

24. Why is the knowledge contracted or reduced, when the Jivatma comes into this world?

This is because of the past karma of the Jivatma and his association with the material world around. The knowledge of one is much different from the knowledge of another. The knowledge of a tree or animal is much lower and that of man is much higher. Again, among different men and women, the knowledge of one is much higher or lower than that of another. All these variations are due to the differences in the past karma of the individuals.

25. How do you classify the normal activities of the Jivatma?

The activities can be classified into three kinds.
1) Those activities which bring punya to the soul, like going to the temple, worshipping the Lord and doing service to the Lord.
2) Those activities which bring papa or sin to the Jivatma like uttering lies, committing murder and drinking liquor.
3) The third kind of activities are those which are neutral in character. That is, which brings neither punya nor papa to the soul,like remaining quiet or lying in deep sleep.

26. Sometimes, I read the words “attributive knowledge” (Dharmabhuta Jnana). What is this?

As I explained earlier, the soul itself is of the nature of knowledge, but it has also knowledge as an attribute or quality

27. It is difficult for me to understand

Let me explain by a simple example. We have a lamp. When the lamp is lighted, the lamp lights up the surrounding areas. At the same time, the lamp itself glows with light. In other words, by the lighting of a lamp, the surrounding areas are seen by us and the lamp itself is also seen by us.Somewhat similarly, by the attributive knowledge of the soul, we are able to understand the surrounding things. It is this attributive knowledge, which is contracted or restricted, when the Jivatma is in samsara.

28. You were saying that the soul is atomic in size.How is it then we are able to see the various places, the various things, which are quite far off?

Again, the example of the light that I gave you will apply. You keep the lamp at one place but you are able to see things which are quite far off by the light of the lamp. Similarly, by the attributive knowledge of the soul, you are able to see things which are far off.

29. I do not understand your saying that the essential nature of the soul or Jivatma is happiness; In this world, we face so many sorrows and difficulties. It is rarely that we are happy. How do you say that the Jivatma is essentially happy?

The essential nature of the soul is indeed happiness. But because of his contact with the body and as a result of his previous karma (papa or sin), the degree of happiness is reduced. Once he attains moksha, the permanent happiness is fully restored.

To be continued…

Source: A Dialog on Hinduism By Sri V.N. Gopala Desikan

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  1. Namaskaram:

    I just read the Learners’Series 7 above. It is very interesting and removes many lingering doubts. How can I save all the series and store them in my hdd for study very often? Mere copy and paste operation covers many unnecessary areas. Hence this question. Do reply. Thanks.

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