Star: Three/Seven, The Soul and its universality

The third, official/unofficial start of Hinduism is the Soul.

The basics of this star include:

  • Universality of the existence of souls
  • All living beings have “soul” -not just humans
  • The same life, which is Atman/part of Brahman, exists in all living beings
  • Soul is indestructible
  • The whole Universe is one(family)

Earlier in his booklet, Thatte mentions Purusha and Prakruti. The soul is the Purusha of a being. Since the soul is essentially a living entity’s Atman, which itself is a small part of the Ultimate Brahman, and since every living thing has soul, all things have the same foundational essence and are thereby connected. Hence the Vedic sentence, “Vasudev’ Kutumbhakum.” Universal Family. Hinduism believes that the whole Universe is an intimately-connected family.

All living things have soul, which can also be called Self or jiva. All soul is part of the Universal Consciousness, aka Brahman. It’s because of this that all that is living must be treated with care and respect. This is the basis of environmental sensitivity which is embedded in Hindu philosophy.

What happens to the Atman when one dies?

You must first understand that a person dies because the Atman leaves the body, not the other way around. Once He has left the body, it is dead. The Bhagavad Gita explains, “Just as one discard old clothes when they get worn out and puts on new clothes, similarly, the Atman discards the body(at the time of death) and is reborn in another physical body.” (It should be noted that while the body is impermanent at best, Hinduism places great emphasis on physical well-being. Patanjali’s Yoga Shastra/Sutra is a great resource for this!)

The life form the Atman takes upon rebirth is determined by a staggering number of factors, not least of which is the Atman’s store of karma yet to be worked through as well as the condition/focus of one’s mind at the moment of death. It has supposedly taken “several million cycles of birth, death, and rebirth” to experience life as a human. Some believe that it’s possible for the Atman to regress to a lower life form, depending on one’s actions/karma. This is something I’m not sure I agree with entirely.

It seems to me that, if there is a hierarchy of life(surely based on the development of consciousness), it isn’t a two-way street. Evolution, whether physical or spiritual, must surely be a process that leads to ever-better states of existence, with no choice of going back really. So, I don’t see reincarnation as a matter of forward/backward movement of the Atman in its development. I see it as a matter of how much or how little the Atman progresses compared to what the potential for progress is. A life lived with intentionally more effort placed on improvement(punya- good deeds, etc…), versus the opposite which would be a life lived with tons of paap(badness) is more likely to know further and faster advancement.

This alone would constitute “heavenly” reward in the form of increased nearness to moksha/mukti/samadhi(freedom from the samsaric cycle of birth and rebirth), as opposed to the relatively hellish “punishment” of another turn around the wheel.

Thatte’s practical take-aways in this chapter include: We all have a soul and it’s because of this that we’re all connected. It’s because of this connection that we should strive to treat others with compassion and empathy. And although he doesn’t go much into these, he also claims as take-aways: You create your own heaven or hell. As well, we can train ourselves to control the desires generated by our senses. Controlling these desires isn’t the same as denying them, rather it means that the intellect is in charge of using the mind to control one’s senses.