The Discovery of Real or True Self:
THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE BANYAN TREE:
The Hindu Scripture, The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XV known as Purusottama Yoga speaks about the nature of the Supreme Person. It metaphorically compares the Supreme Being to the popularly known Fig Tree or Asvattha.
I ask readers to visualize the Banyan tree called Ficus benghalensis rather than the holy tree called Ficus religiosa, or the Bodhi tree under which Lord Gautama Buddha experienced Enlightenment.
The first verse reads as follows: Sri Bhagavan Uvacha: “Urdhva-Mulam adhah-sakham Asvattham prahur avyayam, Chandamsi yasya parnani yas tam Veda sa Veda-vit.”The Supreme Lord Krishna said: There is a (Banyan) Asvattha Tree which has its roots upward and its branches down and metaphorically it is imperishable, and the Vedic hymns are its leaves. One who knows this Tree is the Knower of the Vedas ( the person attains the Knowledge of the Ultimate Reality or the Supreme being).
When we know the Banyan Tree and its apparent imperishable quality, we may understand the true nature of man. The man is a spiritual being. The truth or falsity of this proposition depends on the fact of man’s having a substance that is of spiritual nature. Such a substance of spiritual kind is perceptible to the senses, is amenable to direct observation, and could be subject to verification by experimental science. To establish the fact of man’s spiritual nature, it needs reasoning based upon scientific validity.
The structure and the behavior of things contribute to their individual being and function. If the man has a set of defining features based upon his structure ( Human Anatomy ), function ( Human Physiology ), and behavior ( Human Behavioral Science ), the spiritual nature of man could be proved on theoretical and practical reasoning and could be verified by scientific experiments. I am not seeking to discover a soul or spirit that could have an existence independent of man’s physical being. However, it will be important to note that it is not possible to conceive of a soul or spirit if it is never associated with its human body. My purpose is that of describing the spiritual nature of the human organism and of other living beings. To understand the true nature of human being, we need to ascertain the validity of Knowledge that pertains to the Spiritual Self.
MAN IS A MORTAL BEING:
The man’s greatest need is not only to know the world around him but also to know himself better. The man must understand what it is to be a substance and what it is to exist. The man is a physical being or thing with matter and form. The corporeal body of man is composite of two principles; matter, and form. What is called matter is a potentiality, and what is called form is the actuality. The corporeal substance or matter called protoplasm becomes an actuality and is recognized as a living person because of the uniqueness of its genome that operates its living functions and defines its size, shape, color, and external form or morphological appearance. However, life comes into existence only when matter or substance has the ability to acquire energy from its external environment. The human being comes to life when his corporeal substance uses its ability and power called ‘Nutrition’ to acquire energy and matter from its environment.
Life begins with fertilization, the union of sperm with an egg cell, and this event called conception proceeds to develop a human being after an important event called implantation. The life journey after conception continues if there is a connection between the energy seeking embryo and its maternal energy provider. To exist means that the living entity is maintaining a relationship, a partnership, a connection, or association with its source of energy.
The man leads energy-dependent existence deriving energy and matter from nature which supports other living forms with a similar corporeal substance called protoplasm. The mortality of man must be understood as the dissolution of man’s physical form. The dissolution of a living man into non-living molecules and chemical elements would not alter the potentiality of protoplasm to acquire energy and matter to create its own substance.
Things in Nature change with Time, but what is called Human Nature remains unchanged even under the influence of Time. As per the Laws of Conservation of Mass and Energy, as described in classical Physics, mass or energy remain constant. The potentiality of living substance to acquire energy and matter to form its own kind of substance has remained unchanged or unaffected by major natural calamities and other cataclysmic events. Life forms perish and yet life continues as new life forms. During the billions of years of existence, planet Earth has experienced several minor, and major Extinction Events described in its geologic history.
The Science of Paleontology offers information to support a hypothesis based upon theoretical and empirical evidence to propose that the substance called protoplasm is eternal, immutable, and indestructible as the Chemical Elements that constitute protoplasm have those defining attributes such as immutability and imperishability. At a fundamental level, it could be stated that the man is a mortal, physical being who derives his physical form because of its association with an imperishable substance. During any stage of its existence, the form called man cannot be separated from the eternal, immortal, and imperishable nature of its chemical elements.
WHAT IS SOUL OR SPIRIT?
Traditionally, man has been divided into two parts; body, and soul. In common usage, the term soul represents the immaterial aspect of a human being. The soul is further defined as that part of the individual which is considered to survive the death of the body. The term spirit is often used to describe a disembodied soul. On separation from the human body, the soul or spirit has a life of its own, a capacity for independent existence or self-subsistence which describes its immortality. I inform my readers to evaluate the possibility of immortality by understanding the immutable attributes of the Chemical Elements constituting the Living Matter.
THE CONCEPTIONS OF SOUL:
There are a variety of conceptions about the soul or spirit. Some of the traditional conceptions of the soul are the following:
1. The soul is the immaterial substance, form, or principle of self-motion, vitality, life force, or life in living things. The insentient body is completely distinct from the sentient soul.
2. Soul describes the Doctrine of the Self and is considered to be synonymous with the True-Self. In a human being, the soul confers the Individuality and its Human Nature.
3. The soul is often described as a thinking substance and is often equated with the mind. The soul has knowledge of itself by the reflection of its acts. The soul is the knower and it knows the physical, and mental acts of the human body where it resides.
4. The soul is important to maintain and to preserve life. The soul may not directly participate in the activities of the human body. However, the activities of the human body may have a polluting effect on the soul. If the soul is tainted or contaminated by the sinful acts of the body, the soul may obtain purification by its release from the body. Some form of human effort, activity, attitude, and behavior is essential to keep the soul in its natural, pure, and perfect condition.
5. The soul that has experienced the polluting effects by its association with a human body would be forced to experience perpetual reincarnation by a process called transmigration. The soul continues to reside as a prisoner in different bodies until such time it attains its original state or condition of purity and perfection.
6. The soul is a transcendental or noumenal object that is real but not visible and could not be detected by human sensory perception. The human body that is visible is, in fact, unreal or is a product of sensory illusion.
I ask my readers to attach a simple meaning to terms such as the soul or the spirit. It would be sufficient to describe the soul or the spirit as the vital, animating principle found in all living things.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SOUL AND HUMAN BODY:
Most religions and cultures speak about the soul and describe it as some incorporeal or immaterial substance/principle of human life that is distinct from the body. Despite the frequent acceptance of the existence of a soul, different religions and philosophers have developed a variety of theories as to the nature of the soul and its relationship to the human body. There are divergent views about the origin of the soul, when and how it gets implanted into the human body, and the mortality or when and if the soul dies. I would like to share the view that is attributed to Lord Krishna, the avatar or reincarnation of Hindu God Lord Vishnu.
ADHYATMA VIDYA – THE BHAGAVAD GITA:
The word ‘vidya’ is related to acquired knowledge or learned experience derived from studies or from instructions given by a teacher. The term ‘adhyatma’ pertains to the individual soul, Atma, or atman which describes the Spiritual Self. The phrase ‘Adhyatma Vidya’ could be described as the Knowledge of the Spiritual Self.
The legendary Indian Sage Veda Vyasa known as Krishna Dvaipayana was the author of the epic poem ‘The Mahabharata’ (Great Epic of the Bharata Dynasty). Veda Vyasa is recognized as the compiler of ancient Hindu texts known as the Vedas. The Book VI of Mahabharata narrates Lord Krishna’s conversation with Prince Arjuna while the warring parties of Pandavas and Kauravas had assembled at the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Lord Krishna reveals His views about the soul, the human body and their relationship in “The Song of the Lord” known as ‘The Bhagavad Gita’. These poems of The Bhagavad Gita give a synopsis of the religious thought and experience of Indians through the ages.
Chapter X of The Bhagavad Gita is titled ‘Vibhuti-Vistara Yoga’ and it describes the divine or transcendental attributes of the Supreme Lord. In verse #39, the Lord claims, “I am the generating seed of all existences. There is no being, moving or unmoving( “Chara-acharam” ) that can exist without Me.
Verse #32, the Lord proclaims, “….of all the branches of Learning and Knowledge, I am the Knowledge of the Spiritual Self (Adhyatma Vidya).
In verse #22, the Lord describes the nature of His connection with the living beings that He has generated, “…. and in living beings, I am Consciousness (“Bhutanam Asmi Chetana”).” He also clarifies that Consciousness or Chetana as a different characteristic and separates it from the mind, intellect, and organs of sense perception. The mind is traditionally viewed as the major organ of sense perception, the seat of thoughts, intellect, emotions, feelings, and self-ego. Consciousness or Chetana is associated with the characteristics of a living being.
The Lord also cites The Vedanta Sutra to make the distinction between the body, the soul, and the Supersoul. The Vedanta, the insights from Vedic Scriptures describe three manifestations of the Supreme Lord’s Energy. These are 1. Annamoya or dependence upon Food for existence, 2. Pranamoya or the manifestation of the living symptoms and life forms, and 3. Jnanamoya or the Knowledge of the distinction between the body, the field of activity and the Knower who resides in the body. If a living being needs food for its existence and performs its living functions in a state or condition called awareness or consciousness, it could be described as the manifestation of the Supreme Lord’s Energy.
In Chapter VII titled ‘Paramahamsa Vijnana Yoga’ or Knowledge of the Ultimate Truth, in verse #9 Lord Krishna claims: “I am the life (“Jivanam”) of all that lives.” He demonstrates a connection between life and consciousness to describe the spiritual nature of Self.
The Chapter XIII of The Bhagavad Gita titled ‘Kshetra – Kshetrajna Vibhaga Yoga’ deals with the dichotomy or distinction between the material body, immortal soul, and the Supersoul. It states the view that the material body is called the field of activity or Kshetra. One who knows this body, the field of activity is called the Knower of the Field or Kshetrajna. The Knower of the Field is the Owner of the body. The Supreme Lord is also the Knower of the field of activity in all bodies( verse #3 ).
इदं शरीरं कौन्तेय क्षेत्रमित्यभिधीयते ।
एतद्यो वेत्ति तं प्राहुः क्षेत्रज्ञ इति तद्विदः ॥ १३-२॥
idaṃ śarīraṃ kaunteya kṣetramityabhidhīyate
etadyo vetti taṃ prāhuḥ kṣetrajña iti tadvidaḥ
The Blessed Lord said: This body, O Kaunteya is called KSHETRA (the Field) and he who knows it is called KSHETRAJNA (the Knower-of-the-Field) by those who know them (KSHETRA and KSHETRAJNA) i. e. , by the sages .
In this human body, there is another indwelling Observer, a Sanctioner, a Preserver, an Enjoyer, and indeed ultimate Controller called ‘Paramatma’ or Supersoul. The Supreme Lord or Paramesvaram is residing equally in all living entities( verses # 23, 27, and 28 ).
The final Chapter XVIII of The Bhagavad Gita titled ‘Moksha-Upadesa Yoga’ comes to an interesting conclusion about the Single Reality that pervades all existence that is divided into innumerable forms. Verse #20 reads as follows:
“Sarva bhutesu yenaikam bhavam avyayam iksate avibhaktam vibhaktesu taj jnanam viddhi Satvikam.”
Understand that Knowledge by which one undivided, imperishable (Avyayam) reality is seen within all diverse living entities is in the nature of goodness (Satvikam).
What is that undivided reality that is imperishable that connects all the diverse, living entities?
THE BODY-SOUL DICHOTOMY:
In the Indian tradition, the individual soul is known as Atma or Atman. The Supreme Soul or the Supersoul is known as Paramatma, Paramesvaram, or Brahman, the Ultimate Truth, and the Reality. However, the concepts about Atma or individual soul vary and the Hindus belong to different schools of thought. While the concepts about the individual soul are different, there is general agreement among various Indian thinkers and philosophers about the distinction between the material, insentient, and perishable human body and the immaterial, sentient, and imperishable or immortal soul. The soul is independent and is not attached and it still requires the substance of the corporeal body.
However, I am not able to draw that distinction between the Body and it’s embodied Soul as I am not able to make that separation from the substance and its function. To describe a function, I need the substance. Man lives and functions with consciousness because of the fundamental nature of the corporeal substance called protoplasm, and this substance is apparently imperishable, indestructible, and immortal. We could destroy the physical form of man and several other living forms, but man or nature and the influence of Time have not demonstrated an ability to destroy this living substance which has survived on planet Earth continuously over billions of years. Man cannot create life and man cannot destroy life. Man can only live or exist because of the spiritual nature of his corporeal substance with which he can not seek separation until the time of dissolution of his physical form after an event called death. After physical decomposition, the chemical elements get eventually taken up by other living things. The substance has a life of its own and continues to create the new substance of its own kind and becomes visible as a living life form with a different identity or morphological appearance.
MAN IS A CREATED BEING:
The status of man in nature describes the man as a created object; a new object, one of its own kind, distinctive, and unique which cannot be duplicated by using any known reproductive technology such as cloning. Genetically identical twins can still be separated as Individuals with Individuality.
The Eternal Reality of Soul’s Immortality:
Religious thinkers have further defined Soul as that part of the individual which partakes of divinity. People of all races, cultures, and religions would like to investigate the nature of this God-Connection as they perceive the world and the universe in which they exist as a fact of Creation. I have not discovered evidence that would fundamentally deny the fact of Creation.
MAN IS A SOCIAL BEING:
Apart from being a created Physical being, the man is recognized as a Social being as he displays social instincts and social behaviors in all of his activities. A rudimentary understanding of Sociology or Theories of Social Science would clarify this matter. Social instincts and Social Behaviors are seen in all animals including bacteria. At a cellular level, the social function is called ‘Association’. Man is an association of trillions of cells. Each human organ and organ system represents an association of cells that display functional subordination to perform selective tasks. Life is just impossible without social structure and organization.
Matter, Energy, and Knowledge:
The Greek philosopher Aristotle had observed that corporeal substances are composite of two principles, form and matter. What is called matter is a potentiality, what is called form is an actuality. The totality of things has been divided in various ways. The three fundamental distinctions are 1. the distinction between the natural and the supernatural, 2. the distinction between the material and the spiritual, and 3. the distinction between the lifeless and the living. When we make the distinction animate/inanimate, living/non-living, and inorganic/organic, a question arises about the nature of that distinction. The difference, is that one of kind or degree? The Mechanistic View claims the continuity of nature in terms of the universality of purely mechanical principles.
I define Life as the organization of matter with implanted supernatural Knowledge. The establishment of supernatural Knowledge in matter describes the operation of ‘God Principle’, Spirit, or Soul. Life comes into existence when matter and energy come together with the establishment of ‘God Connection’.
Life and Consciousness:
The basic characteristic of a Living Cell or organism is the presence of consciousness. I recognize a cell as a Living Cell if it displays functions that characterize the presence of awareness or consciousness. The Living Cell or Living Object need not be aware or conscious of the Subject who may be investigating or observing the properties of that Object. The Living Object needs to be aware of its own existence and its condition called Living. Atoms and molecules display their properties and interact according to the Laws of Physics and Chemistry. Living organic molecules show individualistic behaviors under experimental conditions that could be repeated and be verified. The Living Cell is very selective and it responds in a variable manner to physical and chemical stimuli. It can communicate or send signals to other Living Cells present in its environment. It responds according to its internal condition in relation to the environment in which it exists. The interactions of non-living physical matter are not goal-oriented. The interactions of Living matter are goal-oriented and they specifically achieve the purpose of sustaining, preserving, defending, and continuing the Living functions.
LIFE AND DEATH IS A CONTINUOUS PROCESS:
When does Life begin? When does Life end? Every Living Cell is derived from a previously existing Living Cell. Life has not experienced the final event called DEATH. Life continues its act of Living through a function called Reproduction. A given species is considered to be totally extinct only if there is no surviving member to represent that particular species.
THE SOUL AND GOD CONNECTION:
There has been no clearly defined and universally accepted metaphysical conception of the term Soul. It is a term often used without a precise definition in philosophy, religion, or routine conversation. In this discussion, I face the problem of using words to which no definitive meaning is attached. If I make an attempt to define the word ‘God’, my readers may even speculate that I may belong to a new religious order. We need to come to a consensus even if an entity called ‘God’ does not exist.
A majority of life forms have synchronized their state of existence with an event that produces alternating periods of light and darkness while that source of light is not being turned ‘on’ and ‘off’. Rather we are forced to experience the effects of an illusion. Sunrise and Sunset is the reality that governs a majority of Biological Rhythms that control the life processes. The illusion is the necessary condition for the biological existence of Life.
SOUL AND DEATH:
The idea of ‘Soul’ always comes in the context of Death. If the man is immortal, we will not be spending our time and energy to verify the existence of an immortal principle.
In a multicellular organism, the consciousness works both at the level of each individual cell and to establish the functioning of the organism as an individual unit. Without functional unity, the organism cannot maintain its biological existence. Cell differentiation is the process by which the individual cells use adaptation to perform specific tasks. Red Blood Cells perform specific tasks.
THE NEUROBIOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF CONSCIOUSNESS:
In the Human Brain Stem, several neurons, and nuclei which are in an area called Reticular Formation are functionally adapted to compose the contents of human consciousness. The Reticular Formation gives the Capacity for Consciousness. The contents of this consciousness are read in the cortical areas of the cerebral hemispheres and described as Cortical awareness.
IDENTITY AND INDIVIDUALITY:
The issue of spirituality, the nature of Soul and consciousness must be explored in the context of arriving at an understanding of man’s Identity and Individuality. If the man is viewed as an association of trillions of cells, we need to know the Identity of that Subject who lives because of the functions of the trillions of cells.
Rudra Narasimham Rebbapragada