God and Soul, Atma and Paramatma, in Hinduism
In Hinduism God is known as Brahman, Isvara, Paramatman or Supreme Self. He is also often addressed as Bhagavan, Parabrahman, Siva, Vishnu and Yaksha.
The soul is known as Atman or Self or the individual Self. The Self and Supreme Self are the two eternal entities of creation.
One is enjoyer and the supreme Lord of the macrocosm and the other is the enjoyer and lord of the microcosm of a living being.
In Hinduism, the phenomenal world, which we call Samsara, is transient, where as the world of Brahman is eternal and imperishable. In samsara a being is subject to modifications, aging and death.
This is the suffering from which one must escape finally into the realm of Brahman and become free from the shackles of mortal existence.
There are several theories and schools of speculative philosophy in Hinduism which try to explain the relationship between God or the Supreme Self and soul or individual the Self, but there is no unanimity among the them.
In a wakeful state, no one knows for sure the true equation between God and His creation. We cannot say conclusively whether they are the same or different.
Philosophers and scholars have been exploring and speculating about it since the ancient times, but as history proves they have not able to reach a conclusion.
Since, both the Self and the Supreme Self are beyond the mind and body, neither of them can be grasped with the senses or the intellect.
Hence nothing can be proved about them empirically or in a wakeful state, except through an inner personal spiritual experience.
In Hinduism, there are essentially three views regarding creation: projection, transformation and super imposition.
According to the first, creation was a projection of God's power just as light is projected by the sun in all directions.
According to the second, creation is a transformation of God's materiality and mutable aspects.
According to the third, creation is a superimposition, just like a movie on a silver screen or a dream on a resting mind.
These three views in turn influence our views regarding the relationship between God and His creation.
According to one school the whole universe is one and only one reality. Brahman or God is the only truth. The rest is His maya or His concealing and deluding power.
There is no distinction or duality between God and the soul except in our perception. God and the soul are one and the same.
There is nothing like a soul separating itself from God and then entering the body as a separate entity.
The soul has never been separated from God and would never be. When the light of the sun spreads, it enters into everything. So is the case with Brahman.
The same Supreme Self pervades all beings like space and envelops them all.
The same Supreme Self acts as individual souls without undergoing any change or division.
This is the Advaita or non dualistic school of philosophy.
According to another school of philosophy, there is no actual division or separation between God and Self. But as He comes into contact with His own Nature or Prakriti, He becomes reflected in various gunas and aspects of the latter, resulting in the creation of diversity and numerous life forms.
In truth there is no diversity. It is just a reflection of God, just as your reflection appears in water, glass or in a mirror.
The reflection of God in sattva is Isvara, the Supreme Lord.
The reflection of God in rajas is Hiranya Garbha (Cosmic Egg), the soul of creation of which all the individual souls are a part.
The reflection of God in tamas is Viraj (the shining one), the body of creation of which all the elements, objects and beings are a part.
These are the triple aspects of Brahman in creation. In reality they are His reflections and disappear when He steps away from Nature. You may call the Father, the Holy Ghost and the Son.
In other words, God and His creation are identical whatever difference arises is notional and temporary. This is called Vishishtadvaita or qualified non-dualism school of thought.
According to the third school of thought, known as the Dvaita, popularized by Sri Madhvacharya, there are two sets of reality and they are eternally different and never the same.
God and His creation represent two distinct and eternal realities. The liberated souls may come into the presence of God but never merge into Him. The souls are also not created by God.
Like God they are eternal, but unlike Him, they are dependent entities in various stages of liberation and bondage. The bound souls are caught in Samsara, the cycle of births and deaths due to their delusion and desire ridden actions.
When they are liberated, they reach the highest heaven of God and live forever in His company, with no prospect of rebirth or bondage again.
These are the major currents of thought in Hinduism that are speculative in nature but provide a glimpse in the nature of reality with their own set of beliefs and justifications.
Each of the three schools draw their conclusions and validations from the same Vedas, the Brahmasutra and the Bhagavadgita, interpreting the verses according to their beliefs.
These speculative philosophies are beyond the understanding of ordinary Hindus. It does not deter them from worshipping God in their own ways. Indeed, existence is such that no one can tell us what is the ultimate nature of reality and whether what we experience is real or an illusion.
A subject like this cannot be clarified or explained by any one to our complete satisfaction. One has to arrive at the truth by Himself and experience the transcendental state personally.
Only then perhaps one can transcend the speculative thinking and enter into the light of true knowledge.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- Hindu Gods - Lord Ganesha
- God and Self in Hinduism
- Goddesses of Hinduism, Their Symbolism and Significance
- Purusharthas in Hinduism
- The History, Antiquity and Chronology of Hinduism
- Ashrama Dharma in Hinduism
- Hinduism and Buddhism
- Death and Afterlife in Hinduism
- Hinduism and Divorce
- Hinduism and Adultery
- Hinduism, Food and Fasting
- The Future of Hinduism
- Good and Evil in Hinduism
- The Hindu Marriage, Past and Present
- What is Maya in Hinduism?
- The Origin and Definition of Hindu
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- Hinduism - The Role of Shakti in Creation
- Significance of Happiness in Hinduism
- Hindu God Lord Shiva (Siva) - the Destroyer
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- Hinduism - Gods and Goddess in the Vedas
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