Size of soul and its semantic understanding

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    Sivabalan Muthu

    Hare Krishna Prabhu,

    When Srila Prabhupada used to say that atma is smaller than Paramatma, I understand it means the atma is having fractional quality of the whole (Paramatma), like the quality ‘cow’ is fractional part of the ‘mammal’. Thus the smaller atma is fully dependent and controlled by bigger atma. Prabhupada used to say that the atma is conditioned by maya because it is smaller than maya. Until I read your books I was thinking physically that maya is big size and atma is small size, so previously I wondered why a small sized atma be controlled by a big sized atma. Now I got the clarity that maya is hierarchically higher than the the soul.

    But the problem gets complicated, for a naive person like me, in the purport of Bhagavad Gita 2.17, where Srila Prabhupada quotes a sloka from Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad which says as follows:

    “When the upper point of a hair is divided into one hundred parts and again each of such parts is further divided into one hundred parts, each such part is the measurement of the dimension of the spirit soul.”

    I could not figure out what does this exactly means. Prabhupada says in the purport that the individual particle of spirit soul is a spiritual atom smaller than the material atoms. Based on what I learnt from your books, an atom is the smallest / simplest idea or information. So I think this spiritual atom (soul) is smallest fraction of desire / ananda component of the supreme soul. But why they have compared it to the tip of the hair? what does it mean qualitatively? It creates more confusion when Prabhupada says that material scientist could not measure the soul because it is very small. It creates a misunderstanding for a naive person that the soul is some objective physical particle. Please shed some light on this.

    Ashish Dalela

    The hair is also atoms, and the hair’s thickness is 10,000 atoms, while the soul is one atom. For an ant walking on the hair, the hair would appear as a rope appears to us. The ant would subdivide that rope into individual perceivable qualities. This is because the ant “zooms into” the hair.

    Atom means the smallest sensation that can be had. The faintest smell, the softest touch, the lightest glimmer, the minutest sound. Our senses are not that capable of perceiving everything. Dogs can smell much fainter smells; they can also hear the minutest sounds. Bats can also hear better.

    Similarly, within humans, some people have refined taste buds. There is a profession called “wine tasting” in which people taste minor variations in the flavor of the wine. For most people, such variations do not exist. The wine tasters, therefore, have much more refined taste buds.

    So, the 10,000th part of a hair means that the hair is 10,000 sense-perceivable quality atoms, while the soul is one atom. That doesn’t mean that everyone can perceive the hair in such a fine-grained manner. But fine-grained perception is possible. The soul on the other hand is just one atom.

    The word ‘atom’ has two meanings: (a) indivisible, and (b) small. All atoms are indivisible, but all atoms are not small. God is also an atom, which means He is indivisible. But He is not small. The universe is also one atom, but it is not small. Then some atoms are both indivisible and small. The soul is such an indivisible and small atom. Likewise, the tip of the hair being talked about is also 10,000 indivisible and small atoms. We can also call these the “smallest atoms” because indivisibility and smallness are not the same. And then there is a comparison between two such atoms.

    As I have said many times, matter is not “dead”. Matter is also a soul, and parts of matter, or atoms are also souls. But there is a difference between jīva and ātmā. Jīva means living and ātmā means an individual self. Material atoms are also ātmā but they are not considered jīva. This is because jīva is identified by a unique emotional quality, but that quality is dulled in matter. Of course, matter is never totally dead. Like I have explained many times, matter is like a servant which will execute orders but never do anything voluntarily. The soul on the other hand will work voluntarily. The servant, however, is not dead or inert. It is just not voluntarily active. So, both matter and soul are ātmā, but the material ātmā is not considered jīva while the spiritual ātmā is called jīva.

    So, it is not wrong to compare one ātmā to another. All this confusion arises because matter is believed to be inert, dead, and physical, while the soul is supposed to be conscious and alive. That is not a fact. Aliveness simply means an emotional quality. Even material atoms have an emotional quality due to which there is a proclivity in different atoms to acquire different cognitive properties and then be situated in different relations to other material atoms. Material atoms are also “alive” but that aliveness is imperceptible to us. Emotion is not the result of a complicated development of matter, as modern science says. Emotion is a fundamental property of everything. Matter is different from the soul primarily due to a different emotional state. If our emotional state is dulled, then we become just like material objects–e.g., we cannot perceive their unique personalities.

    This emotional state is more developed in the soul, such that the distinction between two souls is far easier to make than the distinction between two material atoms. Similarly, when someone is more emotional, then they can perceive minute distinctions even between material atoms, which are not seen to emotionally insensitive people. An emotional person can see more shades of color, more nuances in taste and smell, the differences between various kinds of touch, and so on.

    Thereby, there is an objective notion of “smallness” which is cognitive in nature. For example, bitter is objectively smaller than taste. But each individual instance of bitterness and taste is an ātmā which means that they have an emotional nature, however dulled. Then, there is a jīva that can perceive individuality due to its emotional sensitivity because individuality is emotional.

    I have explained in many places how counting things is based on three factors–(a) identification, (b) differentiation, and (c) ordering. For example, if you see an apple kept on a table, then the first step is to identify that there are two things. The second step is to say that one is a table and the other is apple. And the third step is to say that apple is foreground and table is background. That identification is based on emotional sensitivity, differentiation is based on cognitive sensitivity, and ordering is relational sensitivity. These three are combined in any ordinary perception.

    There are situations in which someone stares at you from behind, and you can “feel” their stare, even though you don’t know who they are, or what they look like. Emotionally sensitive people can feel such stares more easily. This is the state in which you have identified that something is present. Then, you look at it, and then you identify the person. Then, you assess the relation to you. Since these things happen so fast in ordinary perception, we are not able to distinguish between them.

    Likewise, even the perception of individual atoms requires a capacity to individuate which depends on emotional sensitivity. Then cognitive sensitivity requires us to see their separate qualities. Finally, we need to be able to see which atom is closer or farther. So, when it is said that the hair is 10,000 atoms, it is based on the perceptive capacity of an advanced soul who can see 10,000 individual quality atoms on the tip of a hair. Then, the tip of the hair is not small, nor is it indivisible.

    Sivabalan Muthu

    Thank you Prabhu. I can now understand why jiva is compared to the tip of the hair.

    Further doubts for clarification:

    1) Lets say that there is an atom of a minute sensation / variation of color red. This single atom / atma will be present simultaneously in innumerable hairs of innumerable bodies. Am I correct?

    2) if a jiva gets liberated as a friend of Krishna, will the jiva’s spiritual body also has many such jiva / atom?

    Ashish Dalela

    This single atom / atma will be present simultaneously in innumerable hairs of innumerable bodies. Am I correct?

    No. An atom is the combination of three things: individuality, universality, and contextuality. Each atom is a separate individual. But it has a universal type. And that type-individual is combined with other type-individuals in a structure. Have you read the Sankhya Sutra and Vaisesika Sutra?

    if a jiva gets liberated as a friend of Krishna, will the jiva’s spiritual body also has many such jiva / atom?

    It is one and many. The spiritual body is manifest from within the soul, unlike the material body which is imposed externally. The spiritual body is called internal energy while the material body is called the external energy. One quality can manifest many qualities. Similarly, each individual soul is a unique quality and it can manifest a full body. The soul is one and the manifest body is part of the soul, which has many parts. They are all parts of the soul, so it is one and many.

    Sivabalan Muthu

    It is clear now. I have planned to read your six system of philosophy series in the same order you have published. Currently I am reading Vedanta Sutra.

    one more doubt: does each state of this material body (eg: body sitting, body standing etc) is an individual atma or the ensemble of all states of body is an individual atma?

    Ashish Dalela

    one more doubt: does each state of this material body (eg: body sitting, body standing etc) is an individual atma or the ensemble of all states of body is an individual atma?

    Just because dog is an individual concept, does that mean mammal is not an individual concept? Just because a person is an individual thing, does that mean the society is not an individual thing? Just because red is an individual quality does that mean color is not an individual quality? Just because the soul is a part person, does that mean that God is not a whole person? How many such examples do we need to make it clear that both whole and part are real, individual, and atomic?

    I have said above that God is an atom, and the universe is an atom. But is that comprehended? The universe is called a mustard seed, however big it may seem to us. God is also an atom. And I have explained how one atom expands into other atoms. Many universes are expanded from God like many atoms from one atom. And each universe then expands into many atoms like our bodies. Then that body atom expands into many atoms like standing, sleeping, walking, eating, tired, etc.

    Just the idea that God is one atma and the souls are innumerable atma, and the soul-atma is a part of God-atma is sufficient to understand everything because then we can see how one atom expands into other atoms. If that simple thing cannot be grasped, then there is no point in spending time anymore because I cannot cure a person’s inability to understand. The problem is that you are relying upon reductionism in which the reality of the part implies the unreality of the whole. That leads to questions like if the standing body is an atom then the collection of bodies cannot be an atom. By that measure, if soul is atma, then God cannot be an atma.

    All your questions have become extremely demoralizing for me, because I am first spending the time writing the books, then elaborating on each sentence for you, then doing question and answer, and the result is still nothing. You ask the same question in hundred ways, and I’m bearing the burden of your repeated questions. All this has to stop, and this is the point for that. Based on conversation with you, I can see that you are not going to fathom this soon, and I don’t have the time.

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