“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.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.12)
From the Bhagavad-gita we learn that the basis for our strong emotions has been wrong all along. We haven’t really seen the individual. We think we know things as they are, and therefore what to be concerned over, but in fact identity is of a different nature.
That identity is spirit soul, which is distinct from matter. Spirit is purusha, which means “person” or “enjoyer.” Matter is prakriti, or “that which is enjoyed.” The spirit soul, atma, is superior to the illusory energy known as maya. The wise don’t lament over something that never had life to begin with.
The soul is amazing, to the point of almost inconceivable. One way to gain a further understanding is to study the things which can’t be done to the soul.
1. Give birth to
The truths relating to the soul are so fundamental to a higher knowledgebase that they form the beginning of Krishna’s all-important presentation given to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago. The warrior was distressed, in doubt over how to proceed. He was fighting to uphold righteousness, but that fight would likely come at the cost of the loss of loved ones on the opposing side.
One of the most important things for Arjuna to understand was that the soul has no birth. We come into this world through the action of life, namely the combination of mother and father. But that birth is simply a travel of the individual soul from one place to another. The parents don’t actually give birth to our existence. Shri Krishna says that there was never a time when He didn’t exist, nor Arjuna, nor any of the people assembled on the battlefield. This birth-less property is true for every individual spirit soul.
The material world is full of duality. Heat is coupled with cold. Light corresponds with darkness. Happiness and sadness. And so birth also has a matching event: death.
“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)
From the previous truth we can come to the next conclusion on our own. If there is no birth for the soul, then there is no death, either. This was important for Arjuna to understand. He would not be killing anyone, nor could anyone kill him. Not that death wasn’t real; simply the nature of it wasn’t properly understood. Death is merely the event of the spirit soul casting off a certain body in favor of a new one; sort of like changing clothes.
3. Made wet or burned
Light a fire to get heat in the cold. If there is an unwanted fire, douse it with water. If we can’t give birth to the soul or kill it, maybe we can affect it in different ways. Perhaps a person can severely disable the soul through different material mechanisms.
“The soul can never be cut into pieces by any weapon, nor can he be burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.23)
Shri Krishna again reveals the truth of the situation. The soul cannot be burned or made wet. These things occur to the body, which covers the soul. The body is composed of material elements, both gross and subtle. Those elements change in nature based on chemical reactions. The soul has no material chemicals, so there is no possible reaction to affect it.
Alright, so you can’t destroy the soul, but what about dividing it? Cut it up into different pieces and have it scatter. Even those with a little understanding of Vedic teachings can get confused in this area. They speculate that the individual souls are indeed fragments, which are divided at present but can come together later on. That coming together is their definition of liberation, final salvation, nirvana, or whatever the preferred term for the highest achievement in life.
The individual spirit soul is technically an expansion. It is a fragment in comparison to the Supreme Spirit, who is also known as God. Krishna says that He is the source of the material and spiritual worlds. The individual souls are expansions coming from Him. They are not fragments in the sense that they have broken away from something.
“That knowledge by which one undivided spiritual nature is seen in all existences, undivided in the divided, is knowledge in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.20)
A person in the mode of goodness sees the oneness of the fragments of spirit. The singular spiritual nature, Brahman, is distributed throughout the creation. A wise person sees it is a collective, a reflection of the length, breadth, and scope of the spiritual energy.
Still, the souls themselves are not divided. The soul cannot be cut up. Half of it can’t be shipped off to some area, never to be seen again. The individual always retains their identity, even when they merge into the Brahman energy. Their identity simply remains dormant for a period of time, until the desire for activity requiring individuality returns.
Knowledge of these properties of the soul is important because it empowers the individual to seek a higher mode of life. No need to worry so much over impending death, as the soul will live on. No reason to be so depressed over tragedies in the world, as loss is the attached partner to gain.
If the soul is eternal, it should find an eternal engagement. That is the meaning to sanatana-dharma. Reentry into that engagement begins with knowledge of the soul, and it ends with full love and devotion for the Supreme Soul, who is known as Krishna because of His all-attractiveness.
Of true identity now in the dark,
Properties of the soul point to start.
Cut up, burned, made wet cannot do,
Moved, give birth or killed too.
Imperishable in its existence,
Through time continuum persistence.
Eternal being to work correlation,
Bhakti to reenter that occupation.
Categories: the four