[Advaita-l] Concept of soul

Mahesh Ursekar mahesh.ursekar at gmail.com
Sat Aug 25 06:52:38 CDT 2007

Pranams Shyam-ji:

You have a very valid point in that my definition of life seems (in some
sense) simplistic. I haven't taken too much trouble is accurately defining
it but have based it loosely on what all scientists agree is the basic unit
of life (see below). The purpose of this thread was to try and understand
how Vedantic thoughts fit in with evolution. And as you have rightly
observed, an understanding of what "life" is is crucial for this exercise.

Now you write:
>> Vedanta first defines the living entity - the jiva, and then this jiva
takes on gross bodies >> based on its karmic load.

Now I wish to turn the table on you and ask - what according to Vedanta is a
"living entity" or jiva?

Most members in this thread are of the view that life is born when a "subtle
body" enters a gross body. The theory of evolution is of the view that life
started with single cell. If Vedanta does not call it life, then
a> Is the first cell a mere chemical automaton ? This would put Vedanta in
direct opposition with science which says: "(a cell) is the simplest unit of
an organism that is classified as living, and is sometimes called the
"building block of
Reference: (
b> At what point did the first born cells actually form a "living entitiy"?
In other words, at what point can we say a the "subtle body" animated the
"gross body"?
c> Is Vedanta opposed to Jaina thinkers who put masks over their mouths so
that they do not harm microbes (aka bacteria) in the air?

As regards your observation that the news in the link posted on the start of
this thread is mere "sensationalism": Possibly - it is hard for us to say
with any authority since most of us are far removed from the field.

However, as you may have noticed, the thread has drifted slightly from the
original post in such a way that we do not need to base anything on that
claim right now. We are now trying to understand what "life" is. Based on
that we examine what role the "subtle body" plays. My view so far is that
the nobody has given a convincing or consistent account of how and when a
"subtle body" or soul animates life. Maybe if you address my questions
above, we can arrive at some consensus.

Thanks, Mahesh

On 8/24/07, Shyam <shyam_md at yahoo.com> wrote:
> Pranams Mahesh-ji
> When you say "something that can grow and reproduce" is life, it is one
> way of looking at it, but it is not simple as that. There are many cells in
> the body - some neurons in your brain for example, which never grow either
> in size or structure, and which never reproduce. They of course can easily
> disintegrate and "die". Mere osmosis can make even a dead cell "grow" and
> not every "living cell" has a capacity to reproduce - a female egg for
> example - the very origin of species - patiently waits every cycle for an
> impregantion, failing which it simply disintergates and dies.
> The point is "life" relates to a "living entity".
> When I cut my finger, a million white blood corpuscles fall to the floor.
> Now, upto the point that these WBCs lying on the floor "die" they can be
> said to be "alive" - in fact many of these cells will interact in forming
> the fibrin gel that will eventually result in that drop of blood clotting -
> But - can we say "there is a life" in either that drop of blood or in each
> individual blood cell.
> By the same token if you enucleate a cell, and provide certain conditions
> to the nucleus to survive, it may for some time continue to "live". Now is
> this nucleus "alive"? And so on...
> Same thing with your cells in a petridish. Yes - they are said to be
> "alive" till they die, but do they constitute life.
> "Life" pertains to an individual entity that is alive.
> In that sense our white blood cells are not separate living beings. On the
> other hand the trillions and trillions of flora in our colon are all vitally
> important to our digestive function but each one of these gazillion bacteria
> can be construed as one "living entity" - if you try to kill them they will
> attempt to mutate and develop certain characteristics that build in them
> resistance to the medicine you are using. They fight wars and vanquish
> certain pathogenic bacterial colonies that may try to invade your gut.
> Similarly on our skin, there are trillions and trillions of skin flora -
> again vitally important for the functioning of the skin - but they are not
> you and you are not them. Each one of these bacteria is a living entity.

There is a "you" that pervades your gross body and stops pervading it when
> certain cells leave your body. When one kidney is transplanted from one body
> to the other - it does not take with it a part of the original "living
> entity" - that whole "living entity" continues to be whole. And again, if
> instead of putting the kidney in another body, you put it in a preservative
> container, yes the kidney is being kept alive, but does "it" have "life" ??
> - this is the difficulty defining life, in the absence of first defining
> what a living entity is. Same thing is true with a "nerve-muscle"
> preparation - I can take a nerve cell attached to a muscle and keep it alive
> and conduct experiments with it - i can even get the muscle to contract, to
> fatigue, etc by manipulating their environment - these cells are certainly
> not "dead" but do they constitute a living thing or a living entity?
> Vedanta first defines the living entity - the jiva, and then this jiva
> takes on gross bodies based on its karmic load.
> Lastly, the issue of sensationalism has nothing to do with the quality of
> the researchers - but a default process that the press resorts to - if you
> read the article carefully, you realize these guys, undoubtedly brilliant,
> are eons away from coming close to creating a living cell, and yet the
> headliner would make it appear as if they pretty much have everything
> figured out. I would hope that this was not the intention these researchers
> meant to convey when they were interviewed - there is this small thing
> called scientific integrity, and that includes refraining from making tall
> claims wihen the ground realities are starkly contrary.
> Again, I doubt you will find any answers in the spiritual realm that would
> satisfy you from a scientific perspective AND vice vera - the sum total of
> all of the scientic knowledge in the world is infinitesmally infinitesmal to
> what is "scientifically" unknown.
> yad yad vibhUtimat sattvam srImad Urjitam eva vA
> tad tad evAvagaccha tvam mama tejo-'msa-sambhavam
> Know that All Magnificence, All Glory, and All Opulence in this Universe
> springs from but a spark of My splendor alone.
> Anything that gets "created" - be it a swiss clock, a spacecraft or a
> human cell - will always be His Splendour and His Sport alone - it is simply
> recycling of what is manifest.
> My prayers and salutations to Him who is beyond what is manifest and what
> is unmanifest - ananta devesa jagan-nivAsA tvam aksaram sad-asat tat param
> yat!
> Hari OM
> Shri Gurubhyoh namah
> Shyam
> Mahesh Ursekar <mahesh.ursekar at gmail.com> wrote:
> Pranams Shyam-ji:
> First off, let me address some of your concerns about "sensationalizing
> that
> research". I was afraid of the same and so I had already done some basic
> spadework. One of the scientists mentioned in my article link, Jack
> Szostak,
> is associated with Harvard Medical School - a reputed institution. The
> other, Mark Bedau, has considerable publications in an area called
> Artificial Life - something we are talking about here (
> http://www-users.cs.york.ac.uk/susan/bib/nf/b/markabed.htm ).
> As per your very pertinent question as to what is life, I agree that is
> hard
> to answer. I have been thinking along the same lines too. I came up with a
> working definition "something that can grow and reproduce ( i.e. create
> more
> of its kind)" is life. The cell that is being created falls into this
> category.
> Lastly, like you, I agree that Vedanta is supremely elegant, fullfilling
> and
> profound (otherwise I wouldn't be on this list). I also agree that it does
> not have a quarrel with science or for that matter any other discipline.
> The
> orignal post was to resolve certain holes that arise in Vedantic (or for
> that matter any religious) thought when we attempt to define the concept
> of
> the soul. The whole point was to remove my doubts by sharing this
> information with the more knowledable members on this list.
> Thanks, Mahesh
> On 8/24/07, Shyam wrote:
> >
> > Pranams Mahesh-ji
> > Sadananda-ji has already provided some very insightful and meaningful
> > thoughts in answering this.
> > I would like to add a few thoughts.
> >
> > First of all, as anyone who has had to talk to reporters about his or
> her
> > research findings will tell you, the reporter is interested not in your
> > research but in "sensationalizing" that research to draw eyeballs -
> hence
> > ridiculous headlines such as this one.
> >
> > Now, if any scientist were to actually claim "I can create life within
> 10
> > years" our very simple question to them would be "Respected Sir, It is
> > wonderful that you have such fervored optimism, now, pray, please tell
> me
> > what IS life?"
> >
> > The plain honest answer which any scientist will give you is "I do not
> > know".
> >
> > If Science does not even know "what" life is, is it not perhaps a little
> > premature to claim to actually "create" life?
> >
> > From a scientic perspective, we somewhat know what is sentiency, we have
> > some idea of what is conscious and what is consciousness, - but what
> exactly
> > is life>is there a thing we point to and say "this particular thing here
> is
> > what is life" - absolutely not.
> >
> > We know life when we see it. We know a person is alive or dead (well,
> most
> > of the time) We know a cell is alive or dead.
> > But what is life? We only know life it by its absence, when we fail to
> > detect its presence, but we have no idea what it actually is to begin
> with.
> > It seems "self"-evident, but hard to define.
> >
> > Take a live person. He is a conglomeration of trillions and trillions of
> > cells - all of which "die" and "get replaced". Let us say i coated all
> his
> > cells with a colour blue. Some period of time later in this live person,
> i
> > may not find a single blue cell as they have all been replaced. So the
> > person was more than the sum total of all his cells put together. Then
> who
> > was the "person". Who do you say is "alive" - and - how do you say he is
> > "alive" - is he alive because his heart is beating - well i can always
> pace
> > his heart - his brain - science can invent a brain pacemaker in another
> 100
> > years - maybe less - but does any of that answer the question who is
> this he
> > who is alive?
> > Now take one cell of this person.
> > Give it some food in a petridish and you can say it is "alive" - why -
> its
> > metabolism continues.
> > But "what" is it that is alive? The protoplasm, the nucleus, the Golgi
> > bodies??
> > Let us say we take the nucleus and culture that and say the nucleus is
> > still alive.
> > Well "what" in the nucleus is alive? the strands of dna?? take them
> apart?
> > nucleotides, and so on....
> > Take the case of a prion - it is a strand of protein that not only is
> > "alive" - but can cause a debilitating incurable disease such as
> Creutzfield
> > Jacob. So it is alive, but has no cell wall, no protoplasm, no nothing -
> > just one strand of protein!
> >
> > This way if we go on analyzing subcomponents of what appears to be a
> > "whole" live entity such as cell, we finally reach a stage where we are
> > dealing with nano-particles and chemical bonds, and so on in infinite
> > regress.
> >
> > We basically arrive at that frontier of science which by default cannot
> be
> > broken - the barrier of infinity.
> > And it is precisely at this barrier that Vedanta starts and ends.
> >
> > Vedanta is not opposed to science - but is not related to science. The
> two
> > work in different non-overlapping domains - the secular and the
> spiritual.
> > Yet, you will find a disproportionate number of vedantic students are
> "men
> > of science" - so-called intellectuals, physicists, mathematicians,
> > logicians, physicians, astronomers, microbiologists, engineers, etc.
> Why?
> > Because Vedanta is extremely scientific in its approach. As one
> progresses
> > in any scientific discipline one feels drawn to the factual underlying
> unity
> > that Vedanta asserts.
> >
> > And that brings me to the main point. Vedanta deals with a fact, not a
> > theory. It is a fact about one's own self-identity. It cannot be proven
> by
> > any scientific enquiry. It cannot be disproven by any scientific
> enquiry.
> >
> > A study of vedanta is not menat for armchair leisure reading - it is a
> > serious pursuit meant to understand my self. What is an essential and
> > indispensible requirement is shraddha in the Shruti - so when the Shruti
> > talks about samsara, rebirth, punya-papa, - we accept it as a fact, not
> as a
> > theory. If it is a mere theory, then yes, every other headline in the
> Daily
> > Mirror talking about life being created or a magic potion for
> immortaility
> > etc etc will seemingly have us vaccilating in our own convictions - "if
> > Bhagwan Krishna is wrong about vaasamsi jeernani yatha vihaya, then why
> > should i believe anything he says about kshetra-kshejna?"
> >
> > Which again brings us back to the whole issue of blind faith and
> shraddha
> > and the subtle but crucial difference between the two - which is a whole
> > topic by itself.
> >
> > If man and science get to the point where they align matter to enable it
> > to be an appropriate upadhi to manifest consiousness, which is
> > all-pervasive, they would have precisely succeeded in doing what a
> mother
> > hen already does, which is create a mass of protein called an egg,
> incubate
> > it, and wait for life to get "created" - only thing is you wont be
> hearing
> > the hen crowing about its wondrous accomplishment of "creating life."
> >
> > My humble pranams,
> > Hari OM
> > Shri Gurubhyoh namah,
> > Shyam
> >
> >
> >
> > Mahesh Ursekar wrote:
> > The theory that, after the death of a human being, there exists an
> entity
> > called the soul that persists and continues to take a new birth. If we
> > create life using chemicals in a laboratory, it appears that the human
> > being
> > is nothing but matter and after death the result is "ashes to ashes,
> dust
> > to
> > dust".
> >
> > On 8/23/07, Ramesh Krishnamurthy wrote:
> > >
> > > On 23/08/07, Mahesh Ursekar wrote:
> > > >
> > > > If we manage to create life from scratch, does that debunk the soul
> > > theory?
> > > > See below:
> > > > http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20249628/
> > > >
> > >
> > > ** And what is the "soul theory"?
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