Guest Scribe Jyothi Chalam: Traveling Soul
Is there a traveling soul distinct from the body?
One may wonder if the death of the body is the absolute end of the individual, or if there a soul that succeeds death. Let us first examine the former possibility.
If death of the body is the end of the individual, then the birth of the body would be the beginning. What, then, would’ve caused this individual’s existence?
Let us propose two scenarios to answer this question:
In order to create, one needs both an intelligent cause and a material cause. For instance, to make a table, one needs both a carpenter and wood. In the case of the universe, let us assume that a higher power is the intelligent cause. If so, then this "God" must be unfair because he has distributed vast inequalities in terms of circumstances, opportunities, abilities, and fortune across humanity. Therefore, if we assume that a creator cannot indeed be irrational and discriminatory, then this God is an unfit intelligent cause. Furthermore, assuming a beginning of life which is not regenerative but singular, there is also no apparent material cause for the creation of the individual.
Now let us instead assume that creation occurred not by an intelligent cause, but instead completely by chance. This scenario is equally defective because we end up with even more unanswerable questions. If creation itself were spontaneous and not intentional, then we would have to categorically reject the law of cause and effect. Therefore, we would not be able to explain how we reach conclusions such as that poor health results from bad eating, or that debt results from greater spending than income, or even further, that an action will have an effect and that a mango tree comes from a mango seed. We cannot be satisfied with this scenario, for within our understanding, everything we see is either a transformation or an effect of something else, and matter cannot spontaneously exist.
Now, let us consider the latter possibility of the existence of a soul that survives over the lifetimes of many bodies. In this case, the cause for the individual’s existence and the unequal distribution of circumstances across humanity can be explained as being the result of positive or negative actions from previous lifetimes. In this scenario, an intelligent cause can also be conceived of - a rational entity who creates a world in which the individual receives a perfectly economical set of circumstances, through which he or she will either reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of his or her previous actions.
In this model, creation is a cyclical process - matter is never created nor destroyed, but rather swells and collapses in a continuous stream of causes and effects, creations and destructions, and actions and consequences. God can be seen as the benevolent intelligence behind a balanced and self-contained macrocosm of elements, cells, and systems - a macrocosm which grows entropically until it compresses itself into its potential state and again begins this cycle of infinite iterations.
So, what can we take away from this understanding? If we assume that our lives do not truly end with the death of our body, then we can find meaning in the knowledge that if we act righteously, our actions will always be accounted for. In this balanced system of actions and returns, not even an iota of our good deeds will go to waste. We can also see any negative circumstances in a new light, and furthermore act to redress them with the knowledge that by taking responsibility for our actions today, we can shape our future for the better.
Jyothi Chalam is a scholar of Vedanta, the philosophy of self realization. Jyothi teaches workshops on the Upanishads at ashrams, yoga studios and yoga conferences. Jyothi is also an accomplished musician of the South Indian Classical tradition. Her music is the culmination of both her philosophical meditations and deep spiritual devotion.
Manoj Chalam uses humor and personal anecdotes in his workshops to illuminate Hindu mythology. An Indian-born scientist with a PhD from Cornell University, Manoj helps individuals find their archetypes in Hindu Yogic deities and teaches the 4 ways to work with their archetype. He has also compiled a book on the symbolisms of Hindu and Buddhist deities.