Soul or Atma in Different Systems

Author: Shivashankar Rao
Jan 29, 2018

One of the mystifying phenomena that have never been conclusively understood is the cycle of births and deaths.

Was there something before birth/ whether it survives death?

While most Indians believe the existence of such a spirit, views on it vary widely.

The earliest reference to the Atman is in Rigveda (1.115.1) with a simple notion of cosmic unity.

Gradually, the term has been defined as that which animates, which pervades, which experiences and eternal.

The term Brahman is used to indicate the transcendent reality and Atman is used to for immanent reality (individual).

The charuvaka system denies the existence of a permanent soul.

Jainism accepts the existence of an infinite number of eternal souls that could evolve infinitely.

Buddhism which refuses to accept the existence of a permanent soul believes that there is continuity of life.

The Nyaya system (and the vaishEshika system largely) believes in an infinite number of atmas which are different from the body, senses or mind.

Being an agent of action, it suffers the consequences swayed by raaga, dvEsha, mOha etc., as a result of mithyAjnAna.

TattvajnAna , the right knowledge of the reality frees it from the sorrows, sufferings, and miseries.

The Sankhya system accepts an innumerable number of atmans as Purusha, the eternal pure consciousness which gets bound to samsAra due to its avivEka.

With the discovery of the original state of freedom by vivEkakhyAti (distinguishing himself from Prakriti) becomes free from pain and suffering.

The meemaamsa system also believes in numerous atmans and that atman is eternal and pervades death.

Obligatory performance of actions without expecting results, knowledge of atman and wearing out the accumulated karmas leads to mOksha.

Vedanta system has three main branches- Advaitha, Vishistaadvaitha and the Dvaitha.

According to Advaita school, Atman is eternal, infinite and is of the nature of super consciousness.

It is Brahman, the absolute itself in the ultimate analysis.

Ajnaana (ignorance) of its real nature is responsible for its bondage.

Jnaana (knowledge) leads it to liberation.

This is regaining the original state and not newly attained.

In the original state, there is unalloyed bliss.

The Vishishtaadvaita says that Atman(soul) though eternal, is not infinite, but atomic in size.

The intrinsic consciousness in it could contract and expand.

Though the atmans are different from Brahman, they are parts of it.

Moksha (liberation) is possible through Bhakti(devotion to God).

The souls become like God, but not absolutely identical with Him.

The Dvaita school, on the contrary, says that the innumerable souls are eternal.

They are different from God and from one another.

These souls are of three classes- 1. those that are bound but may become liberated.

2. those that are eternally confined to transmigratory existence.

and 3. Those that are doomed permanently to the misery of Hell.

Mukti (liberation) is obtained by devotion to Vishnu, by His grace.

It means living in Vaikunta in His presence.

Even after liberation, differences among them continue.

MOKSHA OR LIBERATION is the ultimate purushaartha (goal of life).

The Sootasamhitha describes four kinds of moksha- SaalOkya(living with God), Saaroopya(Having a similar form as God), Saameepya(Living near God), and Saayujya(Getting united with God).

The Taittareeya Samhita, AitarEya Brahmana, Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad and ChaandOgya Upanishad mention these.

It is only the Advaita Vedanta which declares that Man is essentially the Atman, the pure spirit, but has somehow forgotten it and has identified itself with the body-mind complex.

Transmigration (cycle of birth-death-rebirth)and the consequential suffering is all because of this false identification and the karmas.

There is no discrimination or false differentiation and all are eligible for liberation without consideration of caste, creed, religion, sex, etc.

Advaita thus binds the whole humanity into one entity.