“The fact that the atomic soul is within the body of a gigantic animal, in the body of a gigantic banyan tree, and also in the microbic germs, millions and billions of which occupy only an inch of space, is certainly very amazing.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 2.29 Purport)
A soul is inside of the largest animal, inside of a banyan tree, in the tiny little germs that we try to avoid, and in so many other areas of space. Who would ever think it? The same spark that is responsible for the amazing capabilities of the human being – his unique ability to do math, science, reading and political analysis without any hesitation – is so tiny that it can fit into an area of space that is impossible to measure. Knowledge of the properties of the soul is meant to further a purpose, not just to be marveled at. Indeed, only the human being can realize the amazing soul and study its properties. More amazing than its ability to fit into the oddest areas is the soul’s natural penchant for loving service. When offered to the right purpose, flowers of devotion blossom within and leave a peaceful and pleasant condition that lasts permanently.
“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.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.29)
First of all, how do we know that the soul exists inside of animals and nonhuman species? Don’t many religious traditions deny the existence of souls inside of animals? Aside from taking the information from authority, we can use outward perception. We know that human beings move, develop, and leave byproducts for as long as they are alive. When death occurs, the life is deemed over, but the material elements often remain as they were prior to the person’s death. The same hands, legs and face are there, but they cease to do anything. It’s as if someone took the force of life out of the body.
Animals and plants have similar behavior. In fact, many animals are so human-like that theories are posited that the human being evolved from them. There is the same eating, sleeping, mating, defending and the stopping of vital functions once death occurs. Rather than turn a blind eye to these similarities, the wise person realizes that the same spark of life found within the human being must be present in other species as well. Otherwise, how could they move on their own? There is no computer operating the movements of an ant, telling it to crawl into the tiniest of spaces and follow the other members of their community. There is no computer telling the dog when to bark and when to go running outside. Even if there are commands made in these areas, it is still up to the dog to decide when and where to act.
If the soul is so amazing, why would it ever choose to remain in an inferior species? Ah, but are these species inferior? Who is making that judgment and why? The gigantic animal is very powerful and feared. Who is going to take on the elephant, which is so large that no one can move it? Who is going to mess with the lion, the king of the jungle? Wouldn’t everyone love to be feared, or at least respected? The bird can fly on its own without any external fuel source or a pilot. It doesn’t have to worry about mortgage payments, marriage, raising the national debt limit, or losing weight. Rather, the bird simply eats when it needs to and flies to wherever the climatic conditions are ideal.
Even the plants and germs have unique abilities. Some trees can live for thousands of years, while the germs can go undetected. The fly is so elusive that no one can catch it, as it buzzes around wherever it needs to go. Lest we think that these species are universally held in low esteem, just see how many human beings try to imitate their behavior. The tiger eats the flesh of other animals through killing, and similarly many human beings range the forests to shoot wild game. The trees stand naked for extended periods of time, and so the human being tries to dance with little or no clothes on for pleasure. The birds soar through the beautiful sky, and the human being desires to fly in airplanes and rocket ships that go into outer space.
Though these abilities of lower importance are present in animals, there is no need for human beings to artificially imitate them. The same soul that is present in the lower species is there in the human being. So, the question that must be asked is why the human form exists in the first place? Why not stay in a body that can allow us to fly all over the place? Mental speculation in this area will lead to theory after theory, with no one winning the debate because of the tenuous standing of the conclusions.
Rather, the best way to understand such complexities is to go to the proper authority sources. Again, there are likely many figures claiming to be authorized teachers in this area, so we can apply a few filters to weed out the pretenders. Now, wouldn’t it make sense to approach someone who already knows the information about the soul and its ability to transcend the human form of body? Wouldn’t it be wise to approach someone who has confidential information about the soul, its properties, the reason for its residence in different species and where its ideal home should be? This is where the Vedas stand out; they are the only spiritual tradition that provides as much information as possible to allow for the sober human being to make an informed decision as to their direction in life.
The Vedas also happen to be the oldest scriptural works in history. There is no coincidence in this area, as spirituality is meant for all classes of men spanning every single period of historical time. The requirement for sobriety is there because in the absence of rational thought, the human being is no different than the animal. Sanatana-dharma, or the eternal occupational duty of the soul, can never change, but in lower forms of life there is no expectation that the soul retain its cognizance of its obligations. This is similar to how we don’t expect children to work or have the correct viewpoint on important issues. There is a voting age restriction precisely for this reason. Not until maturity is reached can the human being be taken seriously in his opinions and thoughts.
Man’s curiosity is fully accounted for in the Vedas. The Vedas are full of nuance and complexities, with so many different branches of information. The root of the tree is Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the same God that everyone either worships, ignores, or denies exists. Since Vedic wisdom sprouts from Krishna, there is a variety of information presented, fruits of wisdom that can be used to further different purposes. Since the soul transcends every type of outward manifestation, however, it is a complete entity, one whose satisfaction can result in favorable conditions in any circumstance.
Vedic wisdom is summarized and presented in a beautiful song format in the Bhagavad-gita, which was delivered on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago. In this wonderful work, Lord Krishna is the teacher and Arjuna the student. Sanjaya, the servant of the king Dhritarashtra, was the broadcaster, giving play by play of everything that was going down. The backdrop was a battlefield that was to see the war to end all wars, but the subject matter covered the full spectrum of philosophy and rational thought.
Right off the bat, Krishna started by describing the properties of the soul. This indicates that for any real discussion on the meaning of life to take place, familiarity with the soul’s constitutional position, its eternality, its inability to be killed, and its travels through different forms must be present. Otherwise, there will only be speculation about the place of the human being within the grander scheme. With speculation, there can never come an assertive conclusion that can be confidently followed. On the other hand, accepting Krishna’s information wholeheartedly not only removes hesitation, but it ensures that the proper path can be followed, one that has passed the necessary quality control tests.
“Arjuna said: I have heard Your instruction on confidential spiritual matters which You have so kindly delivered unto me, and my illusion is now dispelled.” (Bhagavad-gita, 11.1)
Okay, so why the different species? The soul is autonomous and blissful, but based on its desires it can be placed into different homes. Think of it as the soul wanting to travel to vacation spots. Not every person chooses the same destination for a vacation. Based on their desires and past experiences they will choose to relax at specific places each year. Similarly, the soul looking to imitate God lives in different bodies from life to life, experiencing material existence and swinging back and forth on the pendulum of acceptance and rejection.
When the amazing soul has tasted sufficient animal delights, it gets the best life in the human form of body. The reasons for this classification should be quite obvious. The human form allows for cognizance of the soul’s presence to emerge and thus also for a more tangible path in life to be followed. If the human being simply imitates the animals then he has not made any progression. On the other hand, if he takes to understanding God, studying His scriptures, chanting His names, worshiping His deity, immersing Himself in a life full of transcendental service that goes on uninterrupted and unmotivated, he tastes the sweet fruit of his existence. If not for transcendental love, what need is there to even be? Why should we exist if not for finding supreme pleasure that never dries out?
That sublime life is found only through bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Just as Krishna is the root of all knowledge, devotion to Him is the root of all service. Every other type of engagement is a derivative of devotional service, with the target beneficiaries narrowing in scope and having but a partial reflection of Krishna’s transcendental energies. If devotion to Krishna is taken as the topmost engagement, the ray of spiritual sunshine remains bright within the heart, the temporary residence of the spirit soul. When basking in the soothing light of Krishna’s association, no amount of separation, temporary loss, frustration, or dejection can bring the devoted soul down from the transcendental plane of consciousness.
Even the information about the soul is meant to further the cause of devotion to Krishna. If we know that the soul can exist within any type of body, we will try to find out what leads to those shifts. In the Gita, Krishna reveals that whatever state of being one remembers at the time of death, that state they will attain without fail. This means that if we remember Krishna while quitting the body, we will get His association in the next life. Since He lives in the spiritual world, the departing soul gets a spiritual body, one with abilities more amazing than those of every body type combined. The Krishna consciousness needed at the time of death can only come from practicing devotion during one’s time on earth. The sober person accepting the authorized information directly descending from Krishna dedicates their time to bhakti-yoga, and especially to its quintessential act, the constant recitation of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
“I see souls here; I see souls there; I see souls everywhere.” Because of the amazing ability of individual sparks of spirit to fly into different forms of body, we are never alone in our journey through life. The sparks come from the original fire that is Shri Krishna, so drifting too far away from the comforting light of the Truth is never beneficial. If in the advanced human form the mind can become convinced of the need for returning back home, back to Godhead, that reward will surely be granted. The Supreme Soul is never limited in His exhibition of powers. When He should choose to act on behalf of the devoted soul, nothing can stop His forces. Shri Krishna is there for whoever wants to be with Him; that choice just needs to be made known.
Spirit soul is completely amazing,
In so many species its presence sparkling.
Can take this information from authority,
Or can see by observing life attentively.
Regardless, information must be put to use,
Otherwise just mental effort producing no fruit.
Soul’s properties learned from Shri Krishna’s talk,
In Bhagavad-gita, outline for spiritual path did He chalk.
A lover of God is soul meant to be,
From material attachment it can be set free.
Follow the divine path, yoga in bhakti,
Liberated soul shows all that individual can be.
Soul’s most amazing feature is loving ability,
Find ideal match with Krishna, chant His name with sincerity.