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A Dialogue on Hinduism - Chapter 4 - Post#5

From: Parthasarati Dileepan (MFPD_at_UTCVM.UTC.EDU)
Date: Thu May 09 1996 - 15:50:04 PDT

Post 5 of 14
Chapter 4 of 13 of  "A Dialogue on Hinduism,"
Published by Sri Visishtadvaita Research Centre, C/O Sri
Ahobila Mutt, 66, Dr. Rangachari Road, Madras 600 018, 1990

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====Start of Chapter 4 of 13 from Sri Gopala Desikan's book=======

                       Chapter 4
                  The Eternal Jivatma

Q.   We can now take up the tattvas in detail: first, the
     chetana or Jivatma or soul.  Please explain how you say
     that the soul is different from the body.

A.   When I say "this is my book", I mean the book belongs
     to me.  The book is obviously something different from

     Similarly, I say "this is my body".  So, the body is
     different from "myself".  Here, the word "myself' refers
     to the soul.  Thus, we can see that the body is different
     from the soul.  Otherwise, we will not say that "this is
     my body."

Q.   What is the relationship between the soul and senses,
     mind, knowledge?

A.   Here again, the soul is different from all these.  We say
     "I see through my eyes".  Hence I or the soul is different
     from the eyes.  We say "I hear through my ears." So I or
     soul is different from the ears.  We say that "my leg is
     paining or my hand is paining." So, it is clear that the leg
     is different from the 'I' or soul.

     Thus, the five senses of action or karma (Karma Indriyas)
     and the five senses of knowledge (Jnana Indriyas) are all
     different from the soul.

     Similarly, we say that "my mind is clear." From this also,
     it can be seen that 'I' or the soul is different from the

Q.   I find this a bit confusing.

A.   The child which comes out of the mother's womb is very
     small in size.  Then it becomes a boy or a girl and then a
     young man or woman and then finally he or she becomes
     old and then passes away.

     Thus, the body varies in size.  It starts at the time of birth
     as a very small baby and then grows up.  The body
     becomes ill, the body becomes well and is thus subject to
     so many changes, whereas the soul is not affected.

     Thus the body changes in size.  The body becomes old,
     weak.  The body shrinks in old age.  The body is that of
     a male or female or animal.  Thus the bodies are different
     for different persons.  But the souls are all similar and are
     not subject to any change.

Q.   Does the soul also come to live along with the body and
     die along with the body?

A.   No. The soul or Jivatma is eternal and permanent.  The
     soul has no beginning or end.  So, when the body dies,
     the soul does not die.

Q.   How many souls are there?

A.   The souls are infinite in number.  I will give you a very
     simple example.  We stay in one house for some time.
     After some time we shift to another house.  Again, we go
     to another town or place and shift to another house.
     Thus, we are going from one house to another or from
     one place to another.

     Just like this, the soul also stays in one body for some
     time.  At the death of the person, the soul leaves the
     body; then it either attains salvation and reaches
     Paramapada; or, it goes to Svarga (heaven); or directly
     takes on a new body.  Where the soul goes to Svarga,
     after experiencing pleasures the soul returns to earth and
     takes on another body, as a man, or an animal, or a bird
     or anything.  Thus, the soul also goes from one body to
     another, just as we shift from one house to another.

Q.   Can you give me a further example?

A.   For the same person, in the body, first there is childhood;
     from childhood, youth comes over and then old age
     comes over.  Similarly, for the soul also, from one body
     it changes over to another body.

     We do not feel sorry when a child becomes a young man
     or when a young man becomes old, because the body
     remains the same.  But when the soul goes from one
     body to another, we call it death and grieve for the dead

Q.   What is the size of the soul?

A.   The soul is atomic in size.

Q.   How do you explain this?

A.   The soul enters a new body, based on the previous karma.
     Thus, the soul can take on the body of an ant or it can
     take on the body of an elephant or a man.  So the soul
     has to be smaller than the ant for it to enter the body of
     the ant.

     Thus by logic, the soul has to be smaller than the
     smallest of the bodies like ant or mosquito.  Thus, the
     soul is atomic in size.

Q.   Why not say that the soul also changes in size, like the
     body?  For example, the body of an elephant is much
     bigger than the body of an ant.  Can the soul of an
     elephant be much bigger than the soul of an ant?

A.   This is actually the philosophy of Jainism that the soul is
     as big or as small as the body of the person.

     However, we do not accept this theory and we have the
     proof of the Vedas.  In several laces, the Vedas declare
     that the soul is atomic in size.  In fact, the Vedas say that
     the soul is of the size of 1/100th of 1/100th of the tip of
     a grain.  This is only to explain that the soul is atomic in

     Further, I can give one more reason why the soul is
     atomic.  At the death of a person, the soul leaves the
     body and goes out, according to sastras.  We accept the
     authority of the sastras.

     We are not able to see the soul actually leaving the body.
     Thus, the soul is smaller than the smallest object that our
     eyes can see, and is atomic.

Q.   Can the soul be destroyed?

A.   The soul is eternal and permanent, i.e., always existing.
     Since it is atomic in size it cannot be cut by a sword, it
     cannot be burnt by fire, and it cannot be thrown about by
     air.  It is so minutely small.

Q.   What is the meaning of saying that a person is born or a
     person is dead?

A.   When the soul has taken on a new body, we say the child
     is born.  Similarly, when the soul leaves the body, we say
     the person is dead.

Q.   Why do people grieve when a person dies?

A.   A really intelligent man, who knows philosophy does not
     grieve.  However, it is because of his attachment that a
     person really feels for his near and dear ones when they

     Let me give you another example.

     When the clothes we are wearing are torn, we naturally
     throw them away and we put on new clothes.  Similarly,
     the soul also throws off the old body and takes on a new
     one, just as we take on new clothes.

Q.   You said the souls are infinite in number.  Is there any
     variation between these different souls?

A.   There is no variation.  They are all atomic in size.
     However, the souls are divided into three categories.

Q.   What are the three categories?

A.   1. The souls or Jivatmas, which are still bound by
     samsara, pass through the cycle of births and deaths.
     They leave one body after death, but are again born in
     this world in some other body and go on rotating in the
     cycle of samsara.  Thus, these souls are called baddha,
     i.e., Bound (by samsara).

Q.   Who are these Baddhas?

A.   They start right from the fourfaced Brahma and include
     the various devas, gandharvas and so on, viz. people in
     the other worlds.  They include human beings, animals,
     trees, insects, birds and those in water like fish, ants and

Q.   Do you mean to say that trees also have souls?

A.   Yes.  The trees also have souls.  It has been proved by
     modern biologists that the trees and plants have life in

Q.   How many subdivisions are there in the first category of

A.   We can broadly say that there are four subdivisions.
     These are:

     1.   The Devas.  Under this group we include the
          pitrus, siddhas, gandharvas, kinnaras, vasus and

     2.   Human beings.

     3.   The animal category.  Under this are included all
          animals, birds, those which crawl like serpents and

     4.   Trees and plants, whose knowledge is much less.

Q.   What is the second category of soul?

A.   The second category is Mukta.  That is, the souls or
     Jivatmas, which have been released from the samsara,
     from the cycle of births and deaths.  The jivatma, after
     adopting the means prescribed in the sastras for attaining
     salvation, thus attains salvation or moksha and then
     becomes mukta or liberated.  He is in Paramapada,
     permanently enjoying and serving the Lord Narayana and
     His Consort Lakshmi.

Q.   Who are the third category?

A.   The third category consists of Nityas, namely, those souls
     who are eternally free, who are never born in this world.
     We also call them as Nitya Suris.  These are Adisesha,
     Garuda, Vishvaksena and such others.

Q.   Are souls of these categories also atomic in size?

     Yes, the souls of all these categories are also atomic in

Q.   Whose souls are infinite?

A.   Only those of Narayana and Lakshmi are infinite (vibhu).

Q.   What are the other qualities of the souls?

A.   The souls are of the nature of knowledge, happiness and
     purity and the like.  Their knowledge is infinite, i.e., they
     can perceive and understand everything.

Q.   But, this is not the case with human beings.  Our
     knowledge is certainly not infinite.

A.   The essential nature of the knowledge of the soul is
     infinite.  But, having come into the world, the knowledge
     is temporarily contracted or becomes restricted.  On
     release from samsara, the knowledge is restored to

Q.   Why is the knowledge contracted or reduced, when the
     Jivatma comes into this world?

A.   This is because of the past karma of the Jivatma and his
     association with the material world around.  The
     knowledge of one is much different from the knowledge
     of another.  The knowledge of a tree or animal is much
     lower and that of man is much higher.  Again, among
     different men and women, the knowledge of one is much
     higher or lower than that of another.  All these variations
     are due to the differences in the past karma of the

Q.   How do you classify the normal activities of the Jivatma?

A.   The activities can be classified into three kinds.

     1.   Those activities which bring punya to the soul,
          like going to the temple, worshipping the Lord
          and doing service to the Lord.

     2.   Those activities which bring papa or sin to the
          Jivatma like uttering lies, committing murder and
          drinking liquor.

     3.   The third kind of activities are those which are
          neutral in character.  That is, which brings neither
          punya nor papa to the soul, like remaining quiet or
          lying in deep sleep.

Q.   Sometimes, I read the words "attributive knowledge"
     (Dharmabhuta Jnana).  What is this?

A.   As I explained earlier, the soul itself is of the nature of
     knowledge, but it has also knowledge as an attribute or

Q.   It is difficult for me to understand.

A.   Let me explain by a simple example.  We have a lamp.
     When the lamp is lighted, the lamp lights up the
     surrounding areas.  At the same time, the lamp itself
     glows with light.  In other words, by the lighting of a
     lamp, the surrounding areas are seen by us and the lamp
     itself is also seen by us.

     Somewhat similarly, by the attributive knowledge of the
     soul, we are able to understand the surrounding things.  It
     is this attributive knowledge, which is contracted or
     restricted, when the Jivatma is in samsara.

Q.   You were saying that the soul is atomic in size.  How is
     it then we are able to see the various places, the various
     things, which are quite far off?

A.   Again, the example of the light that I gave you will
     apply.  You keep the lamp at one place but you are able
     to see things which are quite far off by the light of the
     lamp.  Similarly, by the attributive knowledge of the soul,
     you are able to see things which are far off.

Q.   I do not understand your saying that the essential nature
     of the soul or Jivatma is happiness.  In this world, we
     face so many sorrows and difficulties.  It is rarely that we
     are happy.  How do you say that the Jivatma is
     essentially happy?

A.   The essential nature of the soul is indeed happiness.  But
     because of his contact with the body and as a result of his
     previous karma (papa or sin), the degree of happiness is
     reduced.  Once he attains moksha, the permanent
     happiness is fully restored.