“The individual soul and the Supersoul are both compared to swans (hamsa) because they are white, or uncontaminated. One swan, however, is superior and is the instructor of the other. When the inferior swan is separated from the other swan, he is attracted to material enjoyment. This is the cause of his falldown.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.28.64 Purport)
“Bhagavad-gita describes the soul as amazing. The soul never takes birth. It never dies. It will never cease to exist in the future. The soul cannot be cut by weapons. It cannot be burned by fire. The list goes on. I could spend hours talking about how great the soul is.
“Oh, and Shri Krishna confirms that He and Arjuna have been around before. Many, many births, which I know is not the most accurate word to use for Krishna. His births are actually appearances. Janma has a different context for Him. It is transcendental in nature, like His karma.
जन्म कर्म च मे दिव्यम्
एवं यो वेत्ति तत्त्वतः
त्यक्त्वा देहं पुनर् जन्म
नैति माम् एति सो ऽर्जुन
janma karma ca me divyam
evaṁ yo vetti tattvataḥ
tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma
naiti mām eti so ‘rjuna
“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.9)
“The difference, of course, is that Arjuna cannot remember those past lives. This is to indicate a specific difference between God and us. We are like Arjuna. Perhaps not as fortunate in terms of having Krishna as our driver, as our guide, available at a moment’s notice, but we have similar difficulties in determining right and wrong.
“This is where it might become difficult for a person to believe they are truly great, as individual soul. If I struggle so much on a given day, how can I be similar to God? I run through depression on a constant basis. For instance, I should be happy on a Saturday afternoon. No work. No pressing responsibilities. No having to sit and wait for a message from the office, asking to take care of an emergency situation.
“Yet I do get depressed. I get sad that I have nothing urgent to take care of. Though I have everything around me, there is this emptiness. It makes absolutely no sense. This is but one example of many. People wouldn’t take to drugs and alcohol if they were happy. If they had full intelligence, they would know how to navigate the ups and downs of life.
“Isn’t this all an indication that the individual soul might not be so great? How can it be spotless, as described in Vedic literature?”
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that the soul is compared to a hamsa for a reason. It is white in terms of the contamination factor. Like the brand new shirt, never previously worn. Not until there is some interaction with the outside world does it get stained. You might drop some pizza sauce on it. A child might roll around in the mud.
The shirt then needs to be cleaned. In most cases, it can be made white again. A little effort at cleaning, and there is restoration to the original state. The shirt is not to blame, as there were outside factors at play for the change in appearance.
In the same way, the change of state is what causes the individual soul to lose its way. It is originally just as white as the other soul residing inside. This is Supersoul, and it is also compared to a swan. Two birds in one tree, always together, but there is a difference.
Supersoul never loses its way. It does not succumb to illusion. It does not take a bite out of the apple, so to speak, if that apple is harmful and dangerous. It is satisfied in the self, atmarama. It does not require outside engagement to fulfill any sort of need.
The individual soul becomes temporarily contaminated, in a sense, through forgetting the presence of the other swan. There is repeat birth and death. There is sadness and depression. There is a misguided set of priorities. The targeted interests are not what will ultimately do good to the soul.
But the entire experience is like a dream. The soul remains white the entire time, though it is difficult to see. The clearest evidence is the newborn child. They are not contaminated by the previous birth. They get a new set of clothes, so to speak. They came from someplace else, but they are still the swan on the inside.
The situation changes upon learning of the nature of the individual and its relationship to the other swan. This is called spiritual awakening. This is one symbolic aspect to the historical incident of Krishna singing Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna.
Wisdom of the ages bringing,
Gita to Arjuna singing.
Like clarity finally found,
Not to ignorance bound.
Spotless the entire time,
The soul inside to find.
But clearing first contamination,
Required in steady determination.