For millennia, humanity has argued and struggled attempting to define the purpose of life and existence. Often people ask, 'Why did God create a world of such suffering?'. In fact it was this very observation that inspired Gautama Buddha to begin the exploration of human existence. Christianity often taught that the world was evil and relief would only come in the after life; a time that promised great riches, happiness, and absence of suffering. Clearly this idea was quite appealing to the Greeks, especially since they felt life was the pinnacle of existence and the afterlife somewhat lacking. Many theories and observations have been offered, ranging from the Christian teachings that the actions of the person shall result in peace or eternal damnation of the soul; to the eastern systems with teachings ranging from almost atheistic, to dualistic and non-dualistic teachings. While others speak only of the immortality of the soul. The personal defining or realization of the Self or souls purpose is the single most important activity that one will ever participate in. In fact, it is the very purpose of existence.
Within many of the oldest teachings of eastern traditions we find a clear, sophisticated approach to the great questions presented by mankind. What if suffering is an illusion? What if God did not create a world of suffering, but it is a by-product of our own thought? What if suffering is the motivator to change within the physical world? And most importantly what is the soul/ego relationship?
To begin this exploration one must consider two important points.
1. Is the ego the soul, or is it separate of the soul.
2. Who pays the price, if any, for actions within the earthly body?
Our primary focus will be to explore question number one, several different systems can be tapped to provide clarity relating to the relationship between the soul and the ego. First we will explore the Yoga sutras of Patanjali. Patanjali was not the author of the sutras that comprise the eight-limbed system of yoga called ashtanga[i]. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a compilation of teachings that were probably much older than Patanjali the person. Within the yoga sutras we see two important attributes revealed, the Seer and the Seen. The seen is often referred to as nature, but it is also a reference to the ego (ahamkara). The seer is a reference to the soul (Purusha or Atman). Within the sutras, Patanjali is very clear in the fact that the soul is an observer and not touched or stained by the actions of the ego or physical self within the world. Patanjali has, already answered the previous two questions, the ego is not separate from the soul, but has evolved or manifested from the soul. It is the ego that suffers due to its perception of being separate from the soul. The soul as the seer does not suffer due to the actions of the ego. But it is the ego that suffers due to its sense of separation from the soul. In fact, in several Tantric systems it is taught that the purpose of reincarnation is for the purification of the ego. The journey of life in essence is cultivating the ability of the ego to look inward and perceive its true essence (soul).
Does this teaching or concept exist in older teachings? Yes. The same teaching can be found in the Rg Veda. Within the Rg Veda is the battle between Indra and Vrtra. Indra must defeat Vrtra who withholds the waters; Vrtras defeat will allow the waters to flow again. While such important works can be read on a variety of levels, one practical interpretation would be that Indra represents the soul, and Vrtra the ego. Vrtra is sometimes referred to as the brother of Indra or the shadow of Indra.[ii] Does this teaching exist in other systems?
It is quite possible that the Biblical story of Cain and Able is the same teaching. There is much research being conducted that suggests the earliest Hebrews, or at least some tribes, were part of a greater Vedic culture. Cain and Able being the first levels of the mind could represent the ego and its identification with its self. In other words, the ego (cain) began to think of itself as the only being. If we explore the etymology of the name Cain we find the following:
' Cain - elder son of Adam and Eve, from Heb. Qayin, lit. "created one," also "smith," from Sem. stem q-y-n "to form, to fashion." To raise Cain is first recorded 1840. Surnames McCain, McCann, etc., are a contraction of Ir. Mac Cathan "son of Cathan," from Celt. cathan, lit. "warrior," from cath "battle.'[iii] From the etymology we clearly see that cain was the created one (ego), and has attributes of warrior or battle in later times.
The etymology of the word cain, clearly indicates that this could be a reference to ego, or the destructive power of the ego. In the Old Testament, Adam and Eve could have easily represented the masculine and feminine attributes of the supreme consciousness. The word Adam in Hebrew literally means man[iv]. Adam can also mean earth. Dr. Samar Abbas provides great insight into this in his work 'Hebrews and Vedic Brahmins'. In his research into the work of Prof. Madan Mohan Shukla, it is revealed that adam may have been derived from the word Sanskrit word Adityam. Using Haplology[v] he reveals the following formula for the transformation of the Sanskrit Adityam to the Hebrew Adam:
'Adityam>Adatam>Adadam (t=d) = Adam'[vi]
While Aditya can be a reference to the earth, more importantly it is also a reference to the abstract supreme consciousness. The children of Aditi are the Sun Gods in the Vedic system. The sun representing the Supreme consciousness, on a personal level it would also represent the manifestation of the different layers of mind. With Adam representing the Mahat or cosmic consciousness and Cain (the created one'lower forms of consciousness) being born of Adam (Sun God-Supreme or cosmic consciousness), in other words the formation of the ego and emotional mind. This is a clear example of the similar process as explained in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (The seen and the seer).
We see within the Christian tradition a negative view toward this, as it is viewed that we are paying for the sins of Adam and Eve. But it is quite possible that we are not paying for sins, but are being taught the process of creation of the different fields of the mind. This is illustrated by Adam and Eve being thrown out of the Garden of Eden. This could be a representation of a stage being set for the formation of the lower forms of mind. Which was marked by the birth of Cain and Able. The key seems to be in not becoming literal and realizing that a story is being given, not a historical story in a fact-by-fact presentation. This is quite difficult for the western reader. Being literal regarding the Christian Genesis makes little or no sense, especially since the common complaint is that when Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden, there were people present on the earth. Doesn't it make more sense that this is a reference to temporary loss of self-realization? Taking this view we realize that each of us is experiencing our own Genesis, and our personal Adam/Eve Cain/Able story. It is important to remember that these writing are multi-dimensional and are subject to several different interpretations based on the consciousness of the interpreter and the consciousness of the audience.
It is interesting to note, in Sanskrit man is a reference to mind. This could be a reference to the manifestation of the mind in the physical world. Do we discover other Biblical references to the journey? Yes in the Jewish tradition we find the following quote: 'the dust shall return to the earth'and the spirit shall return [to] God who gave it (Eccl. xii. 7). Here we see another example of the spiritual journey, but the details remain hidden. The explanation is provided in the first book of Genesis with Adam/Eve and Cain/Able. Within Genesis we see the first reference to dust and coming forth of physical form. With Adam possibly representing the higher levels of the mind such as Mahat in the Samkhya philosophical model.
One might ask, what about the Indian dualistic and non-dualistic systems of religion and spirituality. Clearly there could initially appear to be conflicts between these systems. This commonly appears as debates between personal and impersonal spiritual principles, commonly referred to as form and non-form religious teachings. It is important to note that neither system is incorrect or better than the other. They are merely different ways of relating to the same point (Brahman). We see this with the teachings of Ramana Maharishi[vii]. Certainly with his teachings regarding self-inquiry, one might be tempted to say that he is oriented toward the impersonal form. But we do not find any conflicts within his writings regarding form. In fact, it appears that he was supportive of form, if it was beneficial to the student. Even Adi Shakara Acharya[viii], composed numerous hymns to deities. Careful study of numerous systems reveals the same principles presented differently, to match the different temperaments and levels of consciousness. Instead of an area to disagree over, this should be cause for celebration. It literally means that there is a system for each person, so that they can grow on their inward journey of the seen perceiving the seer. Not everyone can relate to 'Tat Tvam Asmi', or 'Om Tat Sat', but they may relate to Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu, or other deity. Others may relate to the sunrise, or natural objects. The great teachers understood this need for variety to match the levels of different students.
A similar process appears in numerous Upanishad teachings. With the goal often appearing to be the realization of the oneness with Brahman. Though terms are changed, we can easily see that the writing is for the ego, which is working toward realization of its oneness with Brahman. Who else can the writing be for, if not the ego. This same view can be taken from the Bhagavad Gita. While there is no doubt regarding the existence of Krishna, or his historical and religious significance to India and the world. It is important to note that the term Arjuna can be a reference to the heart, or the heart of man (humanity). One interpretation of the beginning of the Bhagavad Gita can be the struggle within the heart of mankind. With Krishna representing the Godhead, or soul depending on the system one is interrupting from, and Arjuna representing the lower manifestation of humanity.
Within the Sankhya philosophical system, we see the same information presented. In the 25 elements of the Sankhya system following Purusha (soul) and Prakrti (primordial nature) we find the four levels of the mind:
Mahat (Cosmic Intelligence)
Manas (Emotional mind)
After the layers of the mind, the elements to follow are the Tanmatras, the organs of action, organs of perception, and the elements. In other words, the layers of the mind are subtler than physical form. This can indicate that the layers of the mind survive death (loss of physical form) and continue to reincarnate, as they are subtler than the last 15 elements. In addition, Purusha represents the soul or cosmic essence, Prakruti the primordial nature, and ego evolving out of their interaction much later. Within the Samkhya philosophical system, especially with Ayurveda psychology, the ego (Ahamkara) and the emotional mind are unable to digest experience. Therefore, they can only react to experience but not resolve experience. In Ayurvedic psychology the goal is to use spiritual teachings and techniques to cultivate the Buddhi and later the mahat. The Buddhi is the first layer of the mind that can actually digest or resolve experience. We see this same approach within numerous Vedic teachings such as the form of the deity. Which helps to awaken or strengthen the Buddhi. This is clearly the process of turning inward so that the seen may perceive the seer, as mentioned in the Yoga Sutras ofPatanjali.
It would appear from all of these different systems, that the soul is never touched by actions within the physical realm (karma), or at least in most of the eastern teachings. Depending on interpretation of words, we clearly see a common thread of a journey of the ego (self) toward the soul (Self). The soul remains free, but the ego experiences the karma. It is the ego that must resolve the karma and conflict within. Karma is the mechanism by which the ego is able to turn inward and perceive its true essence. In return once completing this process the seen realizes its oneness with the seer and proclaims, 'Aham Brahmaa Param Jyotir...' which means, 'I am Brahman, the supreme Light...'[ix]
The journey of the soul is a vast, deep, simple, and complex issue. It is literally what a majority of religious teachings have tried to explain. Literally books could be written and have been written on the subject. Many points and interpretations are beyond the scope of this paper. The goal is entice the reader into further study and exploration into the journey of the soul. What has been covered are just a few of examples of how the same teaching has appeared in several different religious teachings. Careful analysis will reveal that the spiritual journey is truly not for the soul, though it may have began that way, but becomes more of journey of the ego returning to it source.
In conclusion, careful analysis will reveal that the journey of life may have begun as a journey for the soul in some great primordial distance time. Due to karma and conflicts between the conscious and subconscious mind, it has become a process of reincarnation with the goal the purification of the mind and ego, so that the seen (mind/ego) can turn inward and perceive its true essence the seer (soul-atman-purusha). This system exists in a variety of different religious teachings from Biblical to Vedic, Yogic philosophy, Samkhya, to even Buddhists teachings. It is starting to appear as more research is conducted that the Vedic civilization planted these seeds within the majority of the world's religions.