by Padman Govindarajan

From the words of Jesus “ For what doeth it profit a man if he can gain the whole world and lose his own soul “, it is clear that the soul is more precious than the whole world.  The true value of soul cannot, therefore, be measured in worldly terms.  When Emperor Alexander, who conquered the whole world, was facing death, he was asked his last wish.  The emperor wanted his two hands to be severed after his death and placed over his coffin so that posterity could know that the conqueror of the world left empty handed.  Worldly felicities can be of no avail in the after-life.  The fundamental questions asked by sceptics are: Can extinction into nothingness be the end of human life of toil and struggle?  Does individuality of consciousness survive the death of perishable body?  Is there a soul that exists beyond the grave?  Is there an eternal life for soul after the extinction of body?  In the very beginning of His discourse on Srimad Bhagavad-Gita, the Lord reveals the entire secrets in regard to embodied soul in the ever-changing, perishable body.
          In verse 12 of Chapter II, the Lord declares: “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.”  The Lord says very clearly that He Himself, Arjuna and all the warriors who are assembled on the battlefield are eternally individual beings and that the Lord is eternally the Ruler of the individual living entities both in their embodied and in their liberated state.  Their individuality existed in the past and their individuality will continue to exist in the future also without any interruption. The individuality is maintained on spiritual grounds and this fact is confirmed by great Acharyas like Sri Ramanuja, Sri Madhwa, Lord Caitanya and others. The plurality of the individual souls and of the individuality of Lord are eternal facts and this is confirmed by the Katha, Mundaka and Svetesvatara Upanishads also.
          In the next verse, the Lord says: “ As the embodied soul continuously passes in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death.  A wise one is not bewildered by such a change.”  It is to be noted that the Lord uses the word DEHINAH to refer to the knower in the body and He does not use the word atman or soul.  The knower of the body does not undergo any change during the process of transformation of the perishable body.  The Supreme Lord is present in each and every individual body and is known as Paramatma.  He is different from the individual living entity.
          In verse 17 of the same Chapter, the Lord declares: “ That which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible.  No one is able to destroy that imperishable soul.”  This verse explains more clearly the real nature of the soul, which is consciousness that covers the entire body.  Everyone is conscious of the pains and pleasures of the body in part or as a whole.  An unconscious person is unable to know his own existence or the happenings around him.  Consciousness is an indivisible organic whole that does not change with time or is affected by the ailments that affect the body.  Neuroscientists are surprised at the plasticity of consciousness as they find that even a sizeable removal of brain cells does not affect the functioning of consciousness.   The spread of consciousness is confined to one’s own body and the pains and pleasures of others cannot be known.  The symptom of the soul’s presence is perceived as individual consciousness.  The astronauts who experience zero gravity in the state of weightlessness lose their control over the body but their consciousness remains fully intact in that state.  Parapsychologists say that those who have undergone the weird state of near-death or out of body experience report almost a similar condition like the weightless state in zero gravity.  Unlike the physical body, the soul is atomic and infinitesimal but consciousness covers the whole body.
         Srila  A.C.Bhaktivedantaswami Prabhupada in his comments on the purport of the above verse says: “ This very small spiritual spark is the basic principle of the material body as the influence of such a spiritual spark is spread all over the body, as the influence of the active principle of some medicine spreads throughout the body.  The current of the spirit soul is felt all over the body, as consciousness.  Any layman can understand that the material body minus consciousness is a dead body, and this consciousness cannot be revived in the body by any means of material administration.  Therefore, consciousness is not due to any amount of material combination, but to the spirit soul.”  The minute soul is like an electric bulb that spreads light over an entire room.  Self-realization is meant to liberate the atomic soul from the entanglement of the material body.
         Srila  Prabhupada in his detailed comments on the purport of this verse further says: “ According to the Mundaka Upanishad, this atomic soul is situated in the heart of every living entity, and because the measurement of the atomic soul is beyond the power of appreciation of the material scientists, some of them assert that there is no soul….. Medical science, however, does admit that the heart is the seat of all energies of the body….So whether one follows Vedic knowledge or modern science, one cannot deny the existence of the spirit soul in the body, and the science of the soul is explicitly described in the Bhagavad-gita by the Personality of Godhead Himself.”  In the next verse (II.18), the Lord declares:  “The material body of the indestructible, immeasurable and eternal living entity is sure to come to an end; therefore, fight O, descendent of Bharatha.”  In this verse also, the Lord refers to the knower as SARIRINAH i.e. knower of body and the word atman or soul has not been used.  There is absolutely no possibility of the material body surviving indefinitely and after its span of life it perishes  In his explanation on the purport of this verse, Srila Prabhupada observes: “ In the Vedanta sutras, the living entity is qualified as light because he is part and parcel of the supreme light.  As sunlight maintains the entire universe, so the light of the soul maintains this material body.”
       In verse II.20, the Lord says: “For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time.  He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being.  He is unborn, eternal, ever existing and primeval.  He is not slain when the body is slain.”   The perishable body is subject to the six kinds of changes.  It takes its birth from the womb of the mother, remains for some time, grows, produces some effects, gradually dwindles, and at last vanishes into oblivion.  The soul, however, does not undergo any change at all.  The newborn does not come into the world with a blank memory.  After birth, it sobs and smiles in the state of deep sleep, as it probably remembers its previous state of existence till the soft portion on the top of its head gets closed by the full growth of cranium. It also preserves in its memory all animal instincts like survival, selfishness, attachment to pleasure, repulsion to pain and discomfort etc.  The newborn could not have inherited its consciousness from its parents, as consciousness is an indivisible organic whole that cannot be parted with.  Parapsychologists, on the basis of their scientific studies of the few cases of remembrance of past existence, have concluded that individual consciousness continues to exist even after the death of the body.  In his comments on the purport of this verse Srila Prabhupada observes: “ The soul does not take birth there, and the soul does not die.  Anything, which has birth, also has death.  And because the soul has no birth, he therefore has no past, present or future.  He is eternal, ever-existing and primeval- that is, there is no trace in history of his coming into being…..The changes of the body do not affect the soul.”
         The soul is full of knowledge or full always with consciousness.  Therefore, consciousness is the basic symptom of the soul.  Even, if one does not find the soul within the heart, where it is situated, one can still understand the presence of the soul simply by the presence of consciousness.  Srila Prabhupada says: “ Similarly, since there is some consciousness in all bodies- whether man or animal- we can understand the presence of the soul.  This consciousness of the soul is, however, different from the consciousness of the Supreme, because the supreme consciousness is all-knowledge-past, present and future.  The consciousness of the individual soul is prone to be forgetful.”  In verse 22 of Chapter II, the Lord observes: “ As a person puts on new garments giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.”  Death is not the end of life but a new beginning in a fresh state.
Parapsychologists have thoroughly investigated the survival of individual consciousness after death and their conclusions fully correspond with and confirm the teachings of the Lord in the Bhagavad-gita.  Consciousness is continuous without any break and indestructible; the loss of perishable body does not mean the extinction of consciousness.
        Death is nothing more than the casting aside of worn out body and entry of consciousness in a new body.  The basic objective behind the scheme of transmigration seems to be to facilitate each living entity to unfold the spiritual potentials latent in them to the full extent of their perfection. For an individual entity to develop its potentials to the highest degree of perfection within the span of its life may not be feasible for all.  The good, bad and indifferent cannot also reach the very same destination of nothingness or naught.  The motive force behind evolution of soul is the Law of Karma i.e. action and reaction.  Belief in evolution should mean faith in progression of soul towards perfection through a life of striving in Self-realization.
 Future is only a mental vision of the blissful state to come and an ideal to be attained, but it is in the present that one has to work out his future.  The prospect of eternal life of bliss motivates aspirants after Truth to strive hard, bearing all the hardships and burdens of life with equanimity.  All are not born equal at birth.  The inequalities, physical handicaps and mental differences among individuals at the very start of life can be satisfactorily explained only with Law of Karma and transmigration of soul, as the All-loving, All-merciful Lord is impartial, just and kind to one and all of His creations.
         In verse 28 of Chapter II, the Lord says: “ All created beings are unmanifest in their beginning, manifest in their interim state and unmanifest again when annihilated.  So what need is there of lamentation?”  Explaining the purport of this verse, Srila Prabhupada says: “ Apart from the separate existence of the soul, the material elements remain unmanifested before creation.  From this subtle state of unmanifestation comes manifestation, just as from ether, air is generated; and from air, fire is generated; from fire, water is generated; and from water, earth becomes manifested.  From the earth many varieties of manifestations take place.”  The individual consciousness existed before its entry in the body and it will continue to exist after it leaves the body.  Sceptics ask ­ In that case, why is it that we are unable to remember our previous state of existence?  Consciousness is different from memory and the two together form the mind.
        In verses 4 and 5 of Chapter VII, the Lord says: “ Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego- all together these constitute My separated material energies.  Besides these, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is another, superior energy of Mine, which comprises the living entities who are exploiting the resources of this material, inferior nature.”  Remembrance is recall from memory.  Even in this life we are unable to recall our birth and early childhood.  When individual consciousness leaves the body on death, it dissociates itself from mind, intelligence and ego and loses all memory of its association with the perishable body.  However, in a few and very rare or exceptional cases, some individuals seem to remember their past existence in the first few years of their childhood and these rare instances  have been thoroughly investigated by parapsychologists and they have confirmed the correctness and reality of such remembrance of the previous state of existence.
      In verse 6 of Chapter VIII, the Lord states: “ Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kunti, that state he will attain without fail.”   Parapsychologists also consider the last words of a patient facing death as very important testimony and have been studying closely the deathbed visions.  In their book “At the hour of death” written by Dr. Karks Osis and Dr. Erlendur Haraldsson, they have the following to report:
     “ Although most patients apparently drift into oblivion without awareness of it, there are some, clearly conscious to the end, who say they “see” into the beyond and who are able to report their experiences before expiring.  They see apparitions of deceased relatives and friends.  They see religious and mythological figures.  They see, non-earthly environments characterised by light, beauty and intense colour.  These experiences are transformational.  They bring with them serenity, peace, elation and religious emotions.  The patients die a “good death” in strange contrast to the gloom and misery commonly expected before expiration.”
This passage brings to mind verse 25 of Chapter IX where the Lord declares: “Those who worship the gods will take birth among the gods; those who worship the ancestors go to the ancestors; those who worship ghosts and spirits will take birth among such beings and those who worship Me will live with Me.”  The passage also reminds one of verses 14 and 15 of Chapter XIV of the Bhagavad-gita where the Lord says: “ When one dies in the mode of goodness, he attains the pure higher regions of the great ones.  When one dies in the mode of passions, he takes birth among those engaged in fruitive activities; and when one dies in the mode of ignorance, he takes birth in the sub-human species.”
        The Vedic concept of transmigration of soul is absolute Truth and Reality and not fiction or myth.  In fact, it will be irrational, unscientific and even revolting to common sense to believe that saints, sinners and vilest criminals should reach the same destination of nothingness or oblivion.  In the light of the contents of Srimad Bhagavad-Gita and the research findings of parapsychologists it is quite evident that eternality of soul is an incontrovertible and irrefutable fact or life and death of the physical body cannot mean the extinction of individual consciousness.

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