Spiritual adulteration increases till at last the truth is entirely lost sight of, and the religion becomes irreligious.

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© 2004 - Hansadutta das
[Posted 19 September 2006]

transmigration of the soulTransmigration of Souls

Nimananda das Adhikary

The following essay was originally published in The Harmonist (Sree Sajjanatoshani), Vol 25, No 10, March 1928.

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"Of every religion the followers are divided into two classes, esoteric and exoteric. The esoteric section are sufficiently spiritualized to understand the prophet or the guru; and their number is very small. As time rolls on, their number becomes still smaller and smaller till it comes to nil. And as the number decreases, spiritual adulteration increases till at last the truth is entirely lost sight of, and the religion becomes irreligious. The followers now fight more for the sake of the name of the religion than for the truth it teaches; they fight more for the shadow than for the substance. They begin to twist and torture the sacred injunctions laid down in the holy scriptures and to serve their selfish ends, try to bring out a meaning that these do not and cannot mean.

"The most astounding and inappropriate rites that are now associated with our own religion are but results of flagrant violation of shastric injunctions; and for this none but the present so-called gurus, or rather the spiritual babblers, are mostly responsible."
Organized Religion

Without the self-realized soul at its head The Bhaktivedantas KRSNA WORLD Blog

Without a self-realised soul at the head of the institution, it would become nothing more than atheism disguised as its opposite, because in the absence of the self-realised, spiritually empowered leader, "Putanas" or impostors masquerading as spiritual leaders would inevitably hijack the institution for their own nefarious ends. "No human contrivance can prevent these Putanas from obtaining possession of the pulpits" (Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, in his essay "Putana"), and in the name of spirituality they would inevitably stoop to such depths of depravity that even "the worst of non-ecclesiastical criminals are found to recoil." more

What is the soul?

The theory of transmigration of soul is the special feature of Hinduism, and it distinguishes it from the other two religions—Christianity and Mahomedanism. In explanation of the diversities of the world this theory is propounded. The current idea about it is incomplete and in mamy respects erroneous. To remove this wrong idea we propose to discuss it in the light of the teachings of Sri Gaur Sundar [Lord Chaitanya].

As the knowledge of the subject is hinged on the knowledge of the soul that is supposed to migrate, we would first endeavour to find out what this soul is.

This is the subject upon which the philosophers of the world are racking their brains. And the result of this racking of brains is confusion. Everybody tries to interpret it in his own way, in the light of knowledge he has gathered by means of his senses, without caring at all for the revelation as recorded in scriptures. When we try to bring our intellect to bear upon a region where our intellect cannot go, such a confusion is but inevitable. The result of this confusion is obvious. We have lost the substance and are running after the shadow. In German folklore a story is narrated about a man who lost his shadow. Ah! The man was in a bad plight. He lost all, and was deserted by his friends and relatives. Now what are we to think of men who have lost not the shadow but the substance? There may be some hope for a man who has lost the shadow and has retained the substance. But what hope can there be for a man who has lost the substance and has retained the shadow? Quite an overwhelming majority of us, consciously or unconsciously, are running after the shadow, and are suffering all the more for that. We identify ourselves with this body and madly run after the gratification of material senses. We look upon worldly enjoyment as the only object of our life and care to live only for it. Herein we mistake. Instead of rendering dues of Caeser unto Caeser and dues of God unto God, we are rendering dues of one to the other who has no claim over them. We are mistaking the pleasure of the body and the mind for that of the soul. The latter is different from and far above the former. It has pleasures of its own, and they cannot be obtained and should not be sought for in this material plane of existence. All our material quests bring untold miseries on us, and the highest good that they propose to achieve defeat its own purpose. Hence in the Bible it is written, "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he who doeth the will of God abideth forever." (1 John, Chapter 2)

What is the revealed truth about our real self then? Vaishnavism has shown from our scriptures that our real self, or the soul, is a differentiation of the esoteric super-prakriti and as such it is in constitution the same as his Lord Vishnu, whereas the not-self (the body, the mind, etc. as they are at present) is a differentiation of the achit prakriti, which is the perverted reflection of the chit prakriti. The former—the real self—is ever spiritual, and the latter—the not-self—is ever material. The difference between these two kinds of manifestations is such as admits of no mutual partnership under any law of human conception. Yet under Providential dispensation the impossible has been made possible. Chit and achit now function together as a single whole. But none the less, the difference is there. Though ignored, it has not been obliterated so as to end in material triumph in negation of any spiritual necessity.

The real self coming of its own accord to manifest in this achit world has been compelled to put on two mortal garments, one physical and the other subtle, and thus crippled by Maya it ceases to function in the chit world and roams in this achit one as a helpless entity in various forms. Forgetful of its celestial character, it now runs after material achievements that constantly allure it but fail to bring it permanent relief when obtained.

A case of mistaken or false identity

Now, does the soul migrate? The answer is in the negative. It does not migrate, and it cannot migrate. In self, all exist in the chit world, Goloka [the abode of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna]. As real self, the soul is ever unchangeable and cannot admit of such changes as deaths and births. The latter cannot work out any change in the spiritual character of the soul. For instance, a man in the running train is said to perform a journey from one place to another. But the man does not actually move himself to go the way. It is the train to which is due the locomotion, and the journey that it makes is simply ascribed to him. So is the case with our soul, the real self. The changes wrought by deaths and births are ascribed to the soul, although it has itself nothing to do with them. And the cause of this ascription is our ignorance. Duped by Maya we forget our own self, and in ignorance thus imposed on us, we say "I am migrating, he is migrating, the cat is migrating, the tree is migrating, and so on."

But at the same time we cannot deny the existence of such phenomena as deaths and births; we cannot say we are not migrating. If our real self does not migrate, it must be something else. And what can this something else be! It is our apparent self. Our apparent self is responsible for this function, and we wrongly hold our real self responsible for its doings. All that we do as this man and as that woman, as a Hindu and as a Mahomedan, as a cat and as a dog, as a tree and as a stone, are the doings of our apparent self, our real self having nothing to do with them.

Now what is our apparent self? It has been made clear that Maya, although she has extended her sway over the real self of a jiva [spirit soul, living entity] in bondage, has in no way entered into its composition. But the apparent self, or rather its component factors—the present body and the mind—are entirely composed of Maya or the matter. How, then, the body and the mind which are achit, devoid of any animation, have come to be animated? Whence is their animation? In fact they are inanimate, and their animation comes from their being in close proximity to the real self. So long as the real self inhabits them, it animates them with its own animation. For instance, if a crystal be placed near a rose, it will be tinged with the colour of the rose. But as soon as it is removed away from the rose it assumes its own colour. In the same way, the body and the mind are animated with the animation of the soul or the real self and appear as a distinct entity with an ego.

As soon as the soul is set free from them, they return to their own nature. A further scrutiny will disclose a fact that of the body and the mind the body is merely a tool in hands of the mind and enables the latter to function in this gross material world. The mind, with the soul's animation, is then the apparent self that migrates.

Karma and the wheel of birth and death

What does make it migrate? It is jiva's own karma or action. The apparent self being the handiwork of Maya, falls an easy prey to her temptations, and acting up to these temptations it does certain things, the resultant force of which propels it for fresh and very often entirely new actions, which necessitate new births for their accomplishment. Thus action begets action, and birth begets birth, and the jiva is kept perpetually moving on the wheel of births and deaths. The jiva, who is a man now, may by his own action be born again as a cat, and vice versa. One birth controls another; and they are just in measure with one's own karma. This is the law of Nature that governs our births in this world. There is no modification of it, and there is no flying away from it. It is irrevocable and irresistible. From the highest man to the meanest protoplasm, nay, the most trifling sand grain, are all bound by this law.

Now, one question that may naturally arise in our mind is: "What karma did the soul do in its pre-mundane existence, and what bad deed could it do then that made it fall into this unhappy realm?" The existence in the soul itself of an innate tendency to do wrong is quite incompatible with the absolute purity of the soul itself. But the cause must be there in the soul itself. There lies in the soul some constitutional defect, and not any material external circumstance that is responsible for its worldly migration made up exclusively of chit element or atmik principle, the soul is free from all material impurity. But being anu-chit, or a minute particle of chit, it must, like the spark of a fire, have the defect due to quantitative smallness. Owing to this permanent defect, the soul may, in exercise of its own free will, come to be tempted by Maya or the achit world. It may, if it like, as well enter into chit world or the "Kingdom of God" and remain there forever in the service of its Lord, Krishna, without any fear of being tempted to journey worldward. Hence in the scriptures the jiva has been described as tatastha, capable of functioning in both the chit and achit worlds, and as such, its original place of abode has been located in the meeting line of these two worlds, where it gets the option of deciding for one or the other of them. When it decides for enjoyment, it becomes enslaved by Maya. Its decision for enjoyment of the material world is the first crime committed by jiva against Krishna that earns for it as punishment this perpetual bondage of Maya.

How does the apparent self migrate? It is clear from what has been discussed hereto that the apparent self propelled by motives commensurate with its perverted ego establishes, as enjoyer, wrong connection with matter, which results in certain actions on its part, to the fruit of which it is inextricably bound. It must reap as it has sown. The karma or action of one birth shapes and controls that of another. The subtle body, or the mind, stores up the seeds of actions of one birth in a subtle form and carries them over to another. These seeds of actions not only decide what sort of body the apparent self is to have in its next birth, but chalks out a new line of action to be followed by it in that birth. Thus action begets birth, and birth begets actions, and there is a never-ending succession of births and deaths as waves in the continuous stream of actions. This is the inexorable and inflexible law of karma. This apparently never-ending line of actions is arrested when the jiva returns to itself and takes to the service of his Lord, Krishna. Such a returning is possible only by devotion to Krishna and by no other means. On the strength of devotion he ceases to be allured by the material pleasures of the world, and follows a new line of action, which being divine in character does not only not become the cause of further births but automatically overcomes the intensity of actions of past births. This is called salvation. It means, on one hand, the complete dissociation of the soul from its material deflections, resulting in a complete cessation from the pursuit of worldly enjoyments, and on the other, the attainment of the service of Lord Krishna, eternally existing with Him as His associate in His eternal abode Vaikuntha.

What's the next destination?

Now, what becomes of the other people who follow religious practices other than krishna-bhakti, devotion to Krishna? In the Geeta Lord Krishna says that the devotees of gods and goddesses attain the region where gods and goddesses live, the devotees of the manes [forefathers] attain the region inhabited by them, the devotees of genii attain the region inhabited by genii, and His devotees attain the region where He lives [yanti deva-vrata devan pitrin yanti pitri-vratah/ bhutani yanti bhutejya yanti mad-yajino'pi mam: "Those who worship the demigods will take birth among the demigods; those who worship ghosts and spirits will take birth among such beings; those who worship ancestors go to the ancestors; and those who worship Me will live with Me." — BG 9.25] Of these four regions, the first three, the Devaloka, the Pitriloka and the Bhutaloka, are the subtle manifestations of matter where the denizens reside and enjoy for a time pleasures proportionate to their virtues acquired in their mundane existence. At the end of this time, however, they come again to be born in this physical world. The other Krishnaloka is a chit manifestation situated beyond these material regions, wherefrom no return to these material regions is possible. With the attainment of this region, all our pain and sorrow that naturally accompany our mundane lives come to a close.

About the followers of jnana cult who call themselves Brahma, Srimad-Bhagavat says that they, with great pains, soar up to a very high region where they, for want of krishna-bhakti, cannot get a footing, but there from they fall headlong down again to be born in this world. This time they are made to be born as apparently inanimate objects like a stone or a tree on account of the fact that they, in their endeavour to attain extinction, assayed to obliterate the three eternal principles of soul manifestation, namely knowledge, the knower and the knowable. The punishment thus inflicted is just commensurate with their foolish deeds.

About the yogins mention is made in scriptures that one class of them, by their attachment to Paramatma [the localised aspect of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, residing in the heart of every living entity], go to regions like Maha, Jnan, Tapa and Satya, enjoy there for a time pleasures proportionate to the degree of their devotion, and then return to this physical world to be born again in higher circles of men; and that a misguided class of them, aiming like the misguided class of jnanins at extinction, go to Brahmaloka and fall therefrom on this physical world and begin their life anew from the so-called inanimate object like a stone or a tree.

Imperfect Revelation or Wrong Interpretation or Both

The popular belief current among the Christians and the Mahomedans is against such a doctrine. They commonly believe that this world has been created by God once for all. The diversities that are visible here are all of His making. Jivas take and can take initiative in any action only after they are born in this world. They will be made to gather the fruits of their actions done only in this life. On the day of judgment they will be called upon by God to answer for their actions in this mundane existence. They will be rewarded or punished according as they did good or bad while on earth.

If this be the fact, then there is much room to talk of divine injustice. The law of equity demands that all souls ought to have been afforded, at the start of their respective mundane careers, equal opportunities to carry out the orders of God before they are called upon the answer, in common, for their violation or partial execution of them.

Again, the Mahomedan rhoo and the Christian soul are not the true equivalents of the Hindu jiva. The jiva, as has been said before, is a distinct and specialised part of God and is completely free from matter, which under no condition, not even when it seemed to be bound down to this physical world by the shackles of Maya, can enter into its composition, and once elevated to that eternal region, the Vaikuntha, it ceases to respond to the impacts of nature. The rhoo or the soul, on the other hand (the rhoo and the soul are the same thing), although a distinct entity, differs from God, its Creator, not only in quantity but also in quality; and carrying as it does the impressions of its mundane existence as a human being even after resurrection, it must be said to have in its composition the element of matter which only can receive and carry such impressions. The hold of matter on the rhoo or the soul is distinct up to the behest and the dajak or the heaven and the hell where the latter is made to enjoy or suffer according as it did good or bad actions in this physical plane. And beyond these regions—there being no other region of pure consciousenss—an existence of a pure, unalloyed soul is out of question. And if so, a soul can never be expected to approach and meet God in His plane of pure existence and render Him pure and unalloyed service as His eternal associate and servant.

We must therefore look for either imperfect revelation or wrong interpretation or for both. In fact, both are possible. The first: because the revelation of God's wisdom is made according to the spiritual fitness of those to whom it is made. Hence, Christ and Mahommed are known to have told their respective followers that there remained much more than what they were made to know. The second: because only those who are sufficiently spiritualised to be in direct communion with God know the ways of God and can correctly interpret scriptures that embody His injunctions.

Fanaticism and the Death of a Religion

Of every religion the followers are divided into two classes, esoteric and exoteric. The esoteric section are sufficiently spiritualised to understand the prophet or the guru; and their number is very small. As time rolls on, their number becomes still smaller and smaller till it comes to nil. And as the number decreases, spiritual adulteration increases till at last the truth is entirely lost sight of, and the religion becomes irreligious. The followers now fight more for the sake of the name of the religion than for the truth it teaches; they fight more for the shadow than for the substance. They begin to twist and torture the sacred injunctions laid down in the holy scriptures and to serve their selfish ends try to bring out a meaning that these do not and cannot mean.

The most astounding and inappropriate rites that are now associated with our own religion are but results of flagrant violation of shastric injunctions; and for this none but the present so-called gurus, or rather the spiritual babblers, are mostly responsible.


1.Prakriti means energy or nature of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Bhagavad-gita describes two types of prakriti: para-prakriti, here referred to as chit-prakriti (superior or divine nature comprised of the living entities, or jivas) and apara-prakriti, here referred to as achit-prakriti (material nature). Back to text

2.Chit v. achit: real versus illusory or temporary. Back to text

3.—Maya: the illusory energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who captivates the living entities in this world with the spell of forgetfulness of their original, constitutional identity as spirit souls, parts and parcels of Krishna. Back to text


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