Is the size of the soul literal or metaphorical?
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1. Scriptures give measure of soul and also say that soul is immeasurable. eg. time in the spiritual world.
2. The soul is immeasurable in the sense that it can’t be measured materially and it has a measure in the sense that it is not formless.
Translation by Shalini Ahluwalia
Is the size of the soul mentioned in the scriptures, literal or metaphorical?
Infact, the scriptures give both conception of the soul. For example in the Bhagavad Gita’s second chapter the soul is described as ‘aprameya’ that means immeasurable and in that very section of the Bhagavad Gita Srila Prabhupada quotes in the purport from the Upanishads – the verse
Keshagra shatabhagasya shatadha kalpitashyacha
That the soul is one-ten-thousandth of the tip of a hair. So essentially, the scriptures say that the soul is immeasureable and also give a measurement of the soul. So therefore we need some hermeneutic, hermeneutic means a method of understanding scripture.So we need a hermeneutic, a method of understanding how both these statements – that the soul is immeasurable and that the soul has a measure of being very small – how can these two statements be reconciled? So some people even within the devotee community, some devotees, some scholars may take this measurement literally and others may take it metaphorically. But the important thing is not whether it is literal or metaphorical but what is the underlying principle. The underlying principle is that the soul is not formless. The soul is not just a hazy abstract light which somehow suffuses or pervades or permeates everything. The soul in the spiritual world is a person and even when the soul comes into the material world the soul retains personality and because the soul retains personality the soul in the spiritual world has spiritual dimensions. Krishna is of a particular height, Radharani is of a particular height, as described in the esoteric Gaudiya Vaishnav literature. Similarly the soul also has its own dimensions. A Gopa or Gopi swarupa has dimensions. So we should not think that spiritual realm means dimensionless realm. But still the spiritual dimension is not the same as material dimension. So when the scriptures want to emphasize this point that we should not confuse material dimensions with spiritual dimensions at that time they say that the soul is immeasurable just as there are many places in the scriptures where it is said that there is no Time in the spiritual world but at the same time we also know that there is Time in the spiritual world and the Time provides variety for Krishna’s pastimes. So why does scripture say there is no Time in the spiritual world because Time in the material world has the nature of controlling and destroying. Time has that nature in the material world but it does not have that nature in the spiritual world. Time does not deteriorate, it does not control. So when the scriptures say there is no Time in the spiritual world
Nimeshardhakhyo va vrajati na
Not even a nimesha passes. That means that there is no control of Time. There is no deterioration caused by Time. Its not that Krishna is performing pastimes with the Gopas and he thinks – oh now time is over, we have to go back. No. Krishna can prolong the pastimes as long as he wants. But in order to have different milieus and different rasas and to also have union and separation, he arranges for Time to flow. So the important point there is when the scriptures give contradictory statements like – is there Time, is there no Time – we have to understand the underlying principle that there is Time but it is not like the Time in this world.
Similarly, when the scriptures say the soul has no measure and the soul has measurement, we have to understand – in the spiritual world the soul is a person and he has a form and because he has a form that form also has dimensions and that form and personality is retained by the soul even when he comes to the material world. Of course, it is covered right now and that’s why we have a material personality but the soul has not become impersonal or formless even when he is in the material world. The spiritual personality and the spiritual form has just become covered. The spiritual personality is obscured and the spiritual form is covered in the sense that now the soul has got a seed-like, very minute form. So the important point again here, to conclude is that the spiritual realm is beyond material conception so in that sense material measurements don’t apply to the soul even if we open up the heart with a microscope or a scope which can measure one-ten-thousandth of a tip of a hair still we will not be able to detect the soul because material conceptions do not apply to the soul, material measurements don’t apply to the soul. In that sense the soul is immeasurable. And in that sense the measure of the soul in the scriptures can be called metaphorical. But at the same time the soul actually has a form and the form has dimensions and that dimension in the spiritual world has now become compressed in one beej-like form so that particular form has this particular dimension when it is in the material realm.
In that sense if we qualify our understanding by saying that material conceptions of dimensions don’t apply to the soul then we can say that one-ten-thousandth of the tip of a hair is literal.