Soul, heaven, and transmigration are some of the issues most of us ponder on. Do we have a soul? If yes, what is it? Is there a heaven? Where can you find this heaven? Does soul transmigrate from one body to another body? These questions have been debated and discussed ever since the evolution of humankind. Obviously, no consensus has been reached and the debate continues till today. Each tradition has its own understanding on these topics.
However, we are going to discuss these topics based on the knowledge provided by the Upanishads. We will first discuss Soul, then Heaven, and then Transmigration.
What does Soul mean? The Britannica Dictionary defines soul as “the spiritual part of a person that is believed to give life to the body.” It is the essence of any living being. It is understood as something other than the physical body because it gives life to the body. It is separate from the body; it is other than the body. So, what is that essence which is within each of us and not part of the gross body?
If you think correctly, the ego within you is the only essence which is separate from the body–mind complex. Everything else is either part of the body or the mind. We can therefore say that the ego is part of your soul. Please note, ego is not the soul, but part of the soul. To get a fuller understanding of our soul, we first need to investigate what we mean by ego. To do that, we need to answer the following questions:
- What is the profile of the ego?
- What is the container or body which contains the ego?
Ego and Seed Body
What is the best way to understand what we mean by Ego? The feeling of “I” within us is our ego. We all have this feeling of “I” and we call this our ego. Some examples:
- I am this body
- I am this mind
- I am happy
- I am a son
What is this “I am” feeling or ego? The best way to understand this is that ego is like your résumé, your biodata. It contains all the information about the “I.” It contains all the historical events; in fact, it is a repository of all your past lives. You may not remember your past lives, but your ego is the total of your past lives. Your cumulative personality traits make up your ego. The word used in Vedanta for this is vasanas. Vasanas are the tendencies which make up your personality. What you or your ego profile is today is because of your past.
If you go a step deeper, you will realize that this ego needs a box, a container, or body. To function, the ego needs a vehicle. How to understand this? What is the body which contains the ego? Vedanta teaches us that every living being is made of three bodies:
- Seed Body
- Subtle Body
- Gross Body
The Seed Body creates the Subtle Body. The Subtle Body is nothing but our mind. Then the Subtle Body creates the Gross or Physical Body.
For this essay, we will focus on the Seed Body. What is a Seed Body? We are all familiar with seeds for flowers, plants, and many other things. It is always mysterious how a plant comes out of such a tiny seed. It does seem that a potential plant or the blueprint of that plant is already stored within this seed. When the seed germinates, all aspects of the plant come out. If the seed is of a rose plant, only roses will grow and nothing else. This is what the blueprint will tell the seed—a rose plant from a rose seed. If this is true for plants, then why not for all living beings? This is only logical. This is what Vedanta teaches us. Every living being in the universe has a Seed Body. You have a Seed Body, I have a Seed Body, and so does every living being. The Seed Body is also called a Causal Body—because it is the cause or starting point for the living being.
This Seed Body contains your ego. The ego operates from this Seed Body. This Seed Body contains all the information about you. Some of the information it contains is the following:
- Feeling of “I” ness
- Your past history
- Your personality traits
- Your pending karmas, which still need to fructify
Put soil and water on a vegetable seed; the seed starts to germinate and a shoot for the plant comes out from the seed. Over time, this shoot becomes a full-fledged plant. In the same way, the Seed Body for living beings will start to germinate under the right conditions. The Seed Body has the source code for a living being.
Seed Body = Soul
From this discussion, we can conclude that the Seed Body and the soul are synonymous. Many texts that I have read mention that the Subtle Body is the soul. This is incorrect. The Seed Body creates the Subtle Body and, when you die, the Subtle Body also dies. The only thing which survives death is your Seed Body.
1. The soul or the Seed Body defines you. It must be understood that this soul is not static; it is dynamic. The Seed Body is being updated continuously. Whatever action takes place in your daily life, the result of this action influences your soul. These actions create grooves in the Seed Body. If the action is repetitive, the grooves will be deeper and longer-lasting. It is just like water flowing through the mountains creates grooves. The larger the volume, the deeper the groove. In the same way, if you practice music for 10 hours every day, this practice will make a deep impact on your Seed Body. It will significantly modify the personality traits in the Seed Body. If you practice intensely to achieve moksha in this life, it will not go waste. All this effort will modify the soul, and you will have a good jump-start in the coming births. Of course, this will work both ways. All your bad deeds will also modify the Seed Body. It is important to understand that all effort should be made to modify and improve the quality of your Seed Body in this life itself.
2. As the doctrine of Karma teaches us, every action the ego undertakes must have a result. There must be a karma phala (fruit of action) or results of any action. If you do a good deed, the phala will be positive. If there is a bad action, the results will be negative. The problem is that it is impossible to know when you will get the results of your actions. It could be immediate, it could be next year, it could be sometime in this lifetime or even in future lives. Nothing is known. However, one thing that is certain is that you will face the consequences of all your actions—good or bad. All the actions which are still pending results are stored in the Seed Body. The soul is the warehouse for all the actions which are pending results. When the time is right, these karma phalas will fructify and you will face the consequences. Till that happens, they are stored in the Seed Body and carried forward to future births.
3. What is the location of the soul or the Seed Body? The Indian scriptures talk about the spiritual heart. This spiritual heart is not your physical heart; it is the Seed Body/soul. The spiritual heart is the same as the Seed Body. Where is this located? The great saint Ramana Maharshi was very clear: it is two fingers from the center on the right side of the chest. Just think about it. Whenever you point to yourself, you usually point to that location only. You do not point toward your head, or hands, or stomach. This is not proof, but it is a good indication for the location of the soul within you.
4. There is a cosmic universe made of all the Seed Bodies. You can call this the cosmic Seed Body, which will contain all the Seed Bodies. Your Seed Body, my Seed Body, all the living things will be part of the cosmic Seed Body. At this moment, the cosmic Seed Body along with the individual Seed Bodies are inside you in some unknown dimension. How this cosmic Seed Body functions and operates is beyond our understanding.
Now let us discuss what we mean by Heaven. Merriam-Webster has two definitions for Heaven:
- heaven (small h): the expanse of space that seems to be over the earth like a dome
- Heaven (capital H): the dwelling place of the Deity and the blessed dead
For many people, it would seem the definition of Heaven (H) and heaven (small h) has got mixed up. Many people believe that God and the blessed dead “live” in the sky (or clouds) above earth. They point toward the sky when talking about God or what happens after you die. The souls of the dead travel to heaven somewhere in the sky. Is this possible? I do not think so. Out there is only space. There is no place for Heaven out there in space. Besides, everything in space is gross. This understanding of heaven is incorrect, but unfortunately it is propagated by many religious traditions.
We will look at Heaven as taught by Vedanta. The equivalent word for Heaven in Vedanta is Loka. Loka in Vedanta means plane or realm of existence. The most common division of the universe is the triloka (tri–loka), or three worlds (heaven, earth, netherworld). Sometimes 14 worlds are mentioned—seven above earth and seven below. We will discuss these lokas shortly.
The understanding in many religions is that Heaven is the abode of God and the blessed dead. At the other end of the scale, Hell is the abode of the damned. This understanding is incorrect. Based on the teachings of Vedanta, we will try to give a different perspective on these issues.
Abode of God
God is omnipresent. He is present everywhere. If He is present everywhere, does He have an abode? Yes, He does. He manages the universe from His abode. So where is His abode? The surprising answer is that the Seed Body is the abode of God. You have a Seed Body, I have a Seed Body, each living being has a Seed Body. God is present in each of these Seed Bodies. Wow! Is this even possible? How to understand this issue? We will make a step-by-step analysis to show this is the only truth.
Step 1—How is God created? Surprisingly, God is created by our ignorance. How? Please read my essay “Brahman and Ishwara,” at this website, which explains this process in detail. Here we will give a quick overview. As we have discussed in other essays, our innermost core is SatChitAnanda or Self-Awareness. This inner core does not do anything except radiate the light of Awareness. It is like a bulb shining Awareness. This inner core is full, non-dual, complete, and self-sufficient. It comes with the three powers of Awareness—Power of the Knower, Power of Knowing, and Power of the Known.
If our nature and inner core is Self-Awareness, why don’t we know it, why don’t we feel it? The simple answer is that we are ignorant of our inner core. Ignorance has the power to cover Self-Awareness. When we forget who we really are, ignorance pops up and covers our inner core. Ignorance is like a veil covering Awareness. Self-Awareness does not do anything; it just keeps shining. When this Self-Awareness is covered by ignorance, it gets reflected in this ignorance. Ignorance is like a mirror in which reflection takes place. What you get then is Reflected Awareness. When the Sun is reflected in a mirror, you still have the Sun, and you also have a reflected Sun. This is exactly what happens here. You have the non-dual Self-Awareness, and the Reflected Awareness.
This Reflected Awareness in ignorance is God.
It must be understood that in the presence of ignorance, there is no effect on Reflected Awareness. Reflected Awareness remains pure and unaffected. This does seem counterintuitive. It would be reasonable to assume that ignorance would rub off some of its ignorance on Reflected Awareness or God. Then again, we know God is pure, limitless, and just cannot have any ignorance. How should we understand this? The classic example that can be narrated here is, suppose you pour water in a red glass bottle. The water will appear to be red. It seems the redness of the bottle has affected the water. Our ignorance can lead to this conclusion. If you have proper knowledge, you will know that the water in the bottle is always colorless, and the red color of the bottle has no effect on the water. With this logic we can understand that Ignorance has no effect on Reflected Awareness, and God is pure, limitless, and with all the powers of Awareness.
Step 2—God and Seed Body: If you think about it, there are only two things in this universe. Self-Awareness and Ignorance. All the Seed Bodies mentioned earlier are part of this Ignorance. They function within Ignorance. If there were no Ignorance, there would be no Seed Body, no universe, no objects, no God; there would only be non-dual Self-Awareness. This does indicate that the Seed Bodies exist within Ignorance.
Both God and Seed Body operate in the realm of Ignorance. In fact, God is present within each Seed Body. How to understand this? Vedanta gives a classic example of the Sun and unlimited buckets filled with water. If you keep these buckets outdoors and the Sun is shining on them, what will you see? You will see the reflected Sun in each of the buckets. No bucket will be without the reflected sun, and each sun will be a complete version of the sun. There is one Sun but many reflected suns. In this way, the One God is reflected in each of the Seed Bodies. Each Seed Body has the reflected version of God.
It must be pointed out that the reflected sun does not have the properties, qualities, or intensity of the original sun. This does not apply to the reflected version of God. The God in the Seed Body has the same powers and is as limitless as the original God. Because of this, the presence of God in the Seed Body, the Seed Body becomes a powerhouse of action.
This is amazing–God is so close to us. It is operating within our Seed Body. It is powering each Seed Body to play out its blueprint. The Hindu religion has always been clear that the Divinity is always within us. The correct conclusion is that real “Heaven” is the cosmic Seed Body.
Abode of the Dead
So where does the soul travel after death? Frankly, it does not travel at all. Upon death, the soul or the Seed Body removes its connections with the Physical Body; the Seed Body remains a Seed Body but without a Physical Body. The only thing that happens is that the Seed Body stops germinating. It comes to a standstill; it is no longer active. The profile, personality traits, and pending karmas remain within this Seed Body or the soul. They do not disappear.
We have no clue what happens in the realm of the Seed Bodies. There may be multi-dimensions or lokas present. Maybe the inactive Seed Bodies move to one of these dimensions or lokas. Even if they move to a new location, one thing that is clear is that they are still operating in the realm of Ignorance. You may call it heaven or hell; all these dimensions must operate within the realm of Ignorance.
It is interesting to point out that the Seed Body never dies. It continues to live on. Vedanta teaches that we have had infinite births already, and this cycle will continue. The Seed Body or soul will continue its journey through all the future lifecycles. The only way to break this cycle is to remove our ignorance of our true nature. Once ignorance is removed, the Seed Body will disappear and the ego will disappear; what will remain is the non-dual Self-Awareness.
As mentioned earlier, the ancient Indian scriptures mentioned the existence of Lokas. One of the suggested ways for the division of the universe is the tri-loka, or three worlds (heaven, earth, netherworld). Some others suggest that there are 14 worlds—seven above earth and seven below.
So how do we understand the idea of lokas? As we have mentioned earlier, there are only two things in the universe—Self-Awareness and Ignorance. Therefore, the 14 lokas mentioned in the scriptures must be part of Ignorance. If there are 14 realms of lokas operating within Ignorance, it will not be incorrect to conclude that each realm must be operating at a different level of Ignorance. If you have a scale of Ignorance from zero level to 100%, at zero level there will be no Ignorance about your true nature, and at 100% there is total Ignorance of Self-Awareness. Everything else will be in between. The division of lokas indicates that there are different levels of Ignorance. Some levels are more ignorant and other levels will be less. If this is understood, we could divide the realm of Ignorance into 14 levels. Each level will represent a different loka. At 100% Ignorance, it would be the bottommost level, representing a loka for the worst of the worst demons and rakshasas. At the zero level of Ignorance, that loka could be the abode of the Gods, or the home of the Devas. At the middle level we have the earth; this loka is in the midrange for Ignorance.
We have no knowledge or understanding about these lokas. We can only speculate. We can speculate that the Seed Bodies or souls move about these lokas depending on the level of Ignorance they have. A one-star motel or a seven-star super-luxury hotel. Entry to these lokas would depend on the profile of your soul/Seed Body. It is possible that each loka has a fully functioning universe just like earth. Many mythology tales[S1] do indicate this possibility, but all this is speculative.
3. Transmigration of the Soul
What is Transmigration of the Soul? It means that after death, the soul moves to another Physical Body. It then lives a fresh life through this Physical Body. Reincarnation is another name for this. The soul remains the same, but the Physical Body undergoes change. This concept is not followed by the Abrahamic faiths. They believe in only one life. After death, the soul faces the judgment day, and it then goes to either eternal hell or eternal heaven. Then it remains there for eternity.
So, which is correct—the biblical way of “one life” or continuous reincarnation? To reach the correct conclusion, we must go back to the doctrine of Karma. As we have discussed earlier, every person must face the consequences of their actions (karma). Good actions must get good results and bad actions must face bad results. This is quite logical and reasonable. When the results of any action will fructify is an unknown factor. Nobody knows. It could be in this lifetime or in future lives. It is uncertain. While the results are awaited, all the pending karmas are stored in the soul or the Seed Body. As the results have not been received, these actions are still incomplete. The account book remains unsettled. All accounts MUST be settled. Therefore, these unsettled pending karmas are the strong driving force for future births. The soul needs a Physical Body so that it can receive the results of the actions. Without a Physical Body, the soul or the Seed Body is inactive. Reincarnation or the transmigration of the soul to another Physical Body is the only solution. Once a new Physical Body is received, the soul can face the results of the pending karmas—good or bad. As long as there are pending karmas, there will be rebirth. Nothing can stop this process. Therefore, reincarnation or transmigration of the soul is the only logical answer.
The goal is to exhaust these pending karmas. But it does seem like an impossible task. In every lifecycle you exhaust a finite number of karmas, but you also add an equal number of new karmas, which await their result. In this way, the balance of the pending karmas remains the same. Vedanta teaches us that we already have been through an infinite number of births trying to exhaust these pending karmas. This methodology is the wrong strategy, and it will never allow us to exhaust the pending karmas. So, what is the solution? The only way is to gain moksha or Self-Realization. Remove all Ignorance by gaining knowledge of your true nature. Once you remove Ignorance, there will be no Seed Body, no world, no objects—only Self-Awareness. You will merge into Self-Awareness. It is not easy but that is the only solution. This is the only way to get rid of the pending karmas.
How does transmigration take place? After death, the Seed Body detaches itself from the previous Physical Body. The germination or playing out of the blueprint of the Seed Body comes to a stop. The Seed Body becomes inactive. The Seed Body becomes dormant. In a way, you can divide the cosmic seed into two groups. One group has active Seed Bodies, which are attached to a Physical Body, and another group has inactive Seed Bodies, which have detached themselves from their previous Physical Bodies. These inactive Seed Bodies are on the lookout for a new Physical Body. What is the procedure to get a new Physical Body? Is there a queue in which the inactive bodies need to wait for their turn? Nobody knows how the system works. Knowing Nature, there must be a solid and a well-regulated procedure.
If you think about it, the conception of a Physical Body takes place in the mother’s womb. I am guessing this is true for most viviparous beings. The fetus is within the womb, while the soul or the Seed Body is waiting at the cosmic Seed Body. How is the connection made between the fetus and the Seed Body? There must a well-regulated procedure for this. The Garbha Upanishad gives a detailed timetable of when the different body parts emerge in the fetus. When the hands show up, when the heart shows up, etc. It is quite detailed. It will be nice for the medical community to confirm the timetable given in this Upanishad. This Upanishad indicates that around the seventh month, the soul or the Seed Body is integrated into this Physical Body. Once this is done, the soul becomes active and is ready to resume its activity of exhausting the pending karmas.
It is interesting to note that, as per this Upanishad, the fetus in the womb becomes a proper living human being only in the seventh month. Before this, the fetus in the womb is just like another piece of flesh in the body. So, it is not the heartbeat but the integration of the soul into the fetus which shows the fetus as a person. This happens around the seventh month. This is an interesting insight, worth reflecting upon.