Is there any way we can perceive the nature of the soul?

by April 25, 2012

Question: Is there any way we can perceive the nature of the soul?

Answer: Yes, we can by sustained reflection.

The Vedic wisdom-tradition states that the soul is by its very nature sat-cit-anand, eternal, full of knowledge and full of bliss. Is this eternal, enlightened and ecstatic nature of the soul expressed in any way in our present bodily existence? Let’s analyze.

  1. All of us normally long to live forever; we can hardly consider the prospect of a future in which we won’t have any part to play, in which we won’t exist at all. We instinctively recoil at the thought of our own mortality. And we are not alone in this. Even the tiniest of creatures display the most amazing skills to avoid death. This universal longing for life among all living beings is all the more remarkable when contrasted with the reality that death is the most unchangeable and undeniable of all the facts of life. All physical bodies are doomed to mortality; they are born with an expiry date, a death sentence written on them. If we were just our physical bodies, then why would we have such a deep-rooted desire for something – eternal existence – that is so utterly unnatural and even impossible for the physical body? How does this deep-rooted longing originate in a world that demonstrates its inevitable frustration ubiquitously in our own and others’ dying bodies? The Vedic wisdom-tradition answers that this longing comes from the innermost essence of our being, the soul, which is by nature eternal. We long to live forever because we as souls are eternal.
  2. All of us are insatiably curious. Some people are curious about the latest neighborhood gossip; others, about the breaking global news; still others, about the nature of the furthest stars. Though what we want to know varies from person to person, the principle of wanting to know more remains common. Again, we humans are not alone in being actuated by a curiosity drive; experiments have shown that monkeys work longer and harder to discover what lies on the other side of a trapdoor than to get food or sex. If we try to understand this curiosity drive in terms of the notion that we are just our physical bodies, we encounter a logical dead end. Our physical body allows us only few small windows to the outer world. Through these windows called senses, we can know only very little of what exists and occurs there. And these bodily senses allow us practically no knowledge of what happens inside our body: how the food we eat gets digested, how the blood is circulated and how the body is maintained functionally and structurally. If we were just our physical bodies, then why would we have a hunger for knowledge that we are physically so incapable of satisfying? From the Vedic perspective, our insatiable curiosity originates in the soul which is by nature conscious and knowledgeable.
  3. All of us are instinctively happiness-seeking. Be it through indulging in sensual pleasures, performing heroic feats, participating in life-risking sports, watching TV soap operas or playing video games, pleasure is what we constantly seek. Again, studies of animals by ethologists have shown that they too strive for pleasure. Yet, our physical body allows us very few avenues for pleasure; these avenues are limited to the contact points of the senses and the sense objects. And the same body can cause us pain through practically each one of our organs. The number of bodily pleasures are few; the number of bodily diseases, numerous. Indeed, the ways in which the body can inflict pain far outnumber the ways in which it can yield pleasure. If we were just our material bodies, then why would we have a thirst for pleasure that we are physically so ill-equipped to quench?  The Vedic wisdom-tradition responds that our thirst for pleasure originates in the joyfulness that is inherent to the soul.

Thus, by soberly reflecting on the contrasting natures of our innate longings and our bodily trappings, we can glimpse the nature of the soul.


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