The soul is one as well as a totality. In one there is always the delusion of many, and the totality does signify the existence therein of so many parts, as well as the whole are characterized by the similarity of the essential nature in them.
The essence of a thing has its own attributive nature and the two cannot be separated from each other. Just as the essence is both one and many, so is the case with its attributive nature.
The essence of a thing is its life-breath. It is the only primal principle that pervades everywhere and is the reality behind all forms and colors. This active life principle is the very source of creation and goes variously by the names of Prakriti in the subtle, Pradhan in the causal, and Maya or matter in the physical world.
The attributive nature of a thing is its integrated part and parcel in which its nature inheres. Just take the case of light. Can light be conceived of as apart from the sun, or radiant vitality apart from a gloriously healthy personality? One does not exist without the other as the two are inseparable and fully embedded in each other.
Any attempt to consider the two nature and its essence as separate, even if only in imagination, is bound to bring in the idea of duality. It is only in terms of this duality that one can conceive of the creation as distinct from the creative principle as being the result of the outer play of the twin forces of spirit, called matter and soul.
The scientific investigations have to now come to the irresistible conclusion that all life is one continuous existence at different levels and what we call inert matter is nothing but energy at its lowest stage.
In Nature itself, both in the subtle and causal planes, these two principles are always at work: God and Prakriti in the subtle, God and Pradhan in the causal, and soul and matter in the physical universe. The creation everywhere is but the outcome of the impact of the one on the other.
Soul then is the life principle and the root cause at the core of everything, for nothing can come into manifestation without it. It has a quickening effect and imparts its life-impulse to the seemingly inert matter by contact with it. It is by the life and light of the quickening impulse of the soul that matter assumes so many forms and colors with their variety of patterns and designs which we see in the Universe.
This life current or soul is extremely subtle, a self-effulgent spark of Divine Light, a drop from the Ocean of Consciousness, with no beginning and no end, and eternally the same, an unchangeable permanence, boundless, complete in Itself, an ever-existent and all-sentient entity, immanent in every form, visible and invisible, for all things manifest themselves because of It. Nothing is made that is not made by it.
Just as the sun spreads out its rays in the world, as an ocean carries on its surface bubbles, ripples, waves, tides and currents, and as a forest is made up of innumerable trees, so does Over-soul or God, when looked at through His creation, appear to be split into so many forms, exhibiting and reflecting the light and life of God in a rich panorama of variegated colors. Yet His spirit runs through all alike, just as a string through so many beads, while He, unconcerned, remains apart from all in His own fullness.
The first downward projection of the spiritual current, as it emanated from God, brought into manifestation ether (Akasha), which is the most subtle of the elements and spreads everywhere in space. This has two aspects. One is that of the spirit or soul remaining un-manifest in the ether, and the other that of the manifest ether, wherein
the two forces, positive and negative, which are inherent in it, further combined and brought into manifestation air (Vayu), and exactly in the same way the manifest air gave birth to fire (Agni), and the manifest fire produced water (jal), and the manifest water led to the formation of earth (Prithvi), while the spirit of each element which is essentially the same remained un-manifest throughout.
In the same way as above, what we call God has an essential Godhood, absolute and imageless, the life and spirit of the Universe, and at the same time the Universe itself with its varied creations full of and manifesting so many forms and colors, appearing and disappearing like ripples in the sea of life. The un-manifest and impersonal God is free from all attributes, while His individualized rays, as manifested in countless forms and colors by constant contact with Maya, Prakriti and Pradhan (physical, subtle and causal) feel themselves, through ignorance of their true nature, as limited and separate from each other and are thereby drawn into the ambit of the inexorable Karmic Law or the Law of Cause and Effect, which entails a con-sequence for every deed, every word, and every thought.
What is unfulfilled in one life is fulfilled in another, and thus the giant wheel of life and death, once set in motion, goes on perpetually by the force of its own inexhaustible momentum. Herein lies the difference between the individualized soul on the one hand, and the Great Soul of the Universe (called God) on the other, the one being bound and limited, the other being without bounds or limits.
Prakriti & The Koshas
The term Prakriti is a compound term and is derived from the Sanskrit root pra meaning “first,” and kara signifying “to act” and thus Prakriti stands for “original matter” (latent energy) which, when acted upon by positive spirit force, brings into being the many forms, patterns and designs in the vast creation of the Great Creator.
This is called Maya, and all that can be seen or felt by any of the senses falls in the category of matter or Prakriti. Matter, as explained above, is latent energy at its lowest level, which is quickened into activity (activated) and made to assume the many different forms that we perceive as a patent. This process from passivity into the activity of energy leads to creation or manifestation of the hitherto un-manifested spirit force.
Prakriti by itself, can neither be felt by the senses nor has it any existence of itself but comes into manifestation only when acted upon by the spirit force.
Just as the rays of the sun have no existence apart from the sun and appear only when the sun rises on the horizon, so does Prakriti, in conjunction with the life-impulse, assume innumerable shapes and forms beyond the human ken, and the One invisible soul seems to get diversiﬁed into individualized parts, with different names and varied species that baffle description and solution. Still, the yogins have taken into account the five koshas or the en-shrouding sheaths that have come to cover up the spirit current in its downward descent, and have devised and formulated ways and means to remove them.
These koshas or coverings may briefly be described as:
- Vigyana-maya Kosha : Covering of the mental apparatus or intellect with its two phases: one concerned with knowledge (gyana) on the physical plane, and the other with enlightenment (vigyana) on the spiritual planes. This is the first covering in which the spirit gets wrapped as it comes in contact with the subtle matter called Prakriti. The light of the soul, as it reflects in the intellectual center, brings into motion what is commonly known as intellect, consisting of inner spiritual perception and outer cognition. The soul, along with this reflected intellectual ability, becomes both cognitive and perceptive.
- Mano-maya Kosh : This is the second cover-ing or sheath that the intellectualized or the cognitive soul wraps around itself by further intensive contact with Prakriti, which now begins to reflect the mind-stuff as well; and with this added faculty the soul becomes inclined toward the mind and gradually gets mind-ridden.
- Prana-maya Kosha: The covering of the pranas (the vital airs) constitutes the third sheath around the soul. As the thinking (cognitive) and mind-bound soul presses still further upon Prakriti (matter), it begins to vibrate with pranas, which are of ten types according to their different functions. This makes the cognitive and mind-bound soul be Prana-Maya or impelled by a quickening effect.
- Anna-maya Kosha : When the cognitive, mind-bound and impulsive soul works upon the Prakriti, it forges therein yet another type of covering, that of anna-Maya. This is the last of the five sheaths, and for its maintenance, it begins to feel a continuing need for anna or food-stuff, and other sense objects. This anna-maya covering is just an inner lin-ing of the physical body (gross matter), which in fact is its outer manifestation; and it continues to wrap the soul even when its outer form, i.e., body, declines, decays and disintegrates. The existence of this coarse physical body depends upon the healthy condition of the Anna-maya Kosha on the inside of it. Some of the souls, even when they cast off the outer physical body, still hanker after food because of the Anna-mai Kosh, hunt after the pleasures of the world and continue to haunt human habitations in their wanderings for the satisfaction of their innate cravings. It is to satisfy these cravings of the physically disembodied souls that the Hindus perform offerings to the departed souls so that they may find rest and peace.
- Ananda-maya Kosha (Bliss) that is the foremost of these Koshas or coverings. This is almost an integral part of the soul itself. It is the most subtle sheath, like that of a thin covering over a lighted candelabra. One experiences it a little when in deep and dreamless slumber (sushupti), for on waking up he retains a hazy idea of the ananda or bliss that he experienced in that completely undisturbed state of rest.
The aim or purpose of all yoga is to gradually disentangle the soul from these coverings one by one until it is finally disengaged from all of them and is restored to its original and pristine glorious state of self-luminosity (Swayam Jyoti), which is no less than that of several suns put together.
This is the stage of Aham Brahm Asmi or “I am Brahman,” and when attained, one not only feels himself to be at oneness with God but actually hails God with the words ”O God! I am of the same essence as Thou art.”
Most of the yoga systems take this to be the be-all and end-all of all spiritual endeavors. This in fact is the highest and the last stage of self-realization, but is yet a halfway house on the spiritual journey — a stage of no mean consequence, for it is from here that a rare soul starts toward the much-coveted goal of complete realization of God since it is Self-knowledge) that gradually leads on to knowledge of God.
Self-knowledge and actual self-realization is the culminating point in the process of self-analysis, without which one cannot proceed Godward and enter into the Kingdom of God.
In this process of inversion and withdrawal of the spirit within by rising above body-consciousness and freeing the spirit from the tentacles of the body and mind, the easiest, quickest, and surest process is by communion with the Shabd or the Sound Current (the Holy Word), and this is the only means for God-realization.