The Qualities of Soul- Adi Shankaracharya
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The Qualities of Soul- Adi Shankaracharya

In the earlier seven blogs, we considered a verse from the Kathopanishada, which underscores the importance of the soul by comparing it with the things like the mind or the intellect. Many other verses in the Kathopanishada bring out the importance of the soul in their own ways. We are going to discuss one such verse in the present blog and the next ones. The first part of the first line will be dealt with in the present blog. It runs like this :

‘अणोरणीयान्मह्तो महीयानात्मास्य ‘.

It means something to the effect: the soul is subtler than the atom of an atom, which means the subtlest things in the world, and yet it is greater than the greatest things in the world. In what ways it is greater than the greatest things in the world? In his comments upon the verse, Adi Shankaracharya says, लोके वस्तु तत् तेन एव आत्मना नित्येन आत्मवत् संभवति, which means something to the effect: everything in the world can be आत्मवत् constantly because of this soul only.

What is आत्मवत्?

The word has three meanings, out of which each one is applicable here.

First Meaning:

The first meaning of the word is ‘Self-Possessed’. If this meaning is applied to the word, the line may mean that the soul constantly keeps us self-possessed. How?
In the course of his elaboration of the verse, Adi Shankaracharya mentions four लिङ्गानि, qualities, of the soul:
  • Darshan (the ability to see),
  • Shravan ( the ability to hear),
  • Manan( the ability to understand),
  • Vidnyan (the ability to know specially).

It is these four qualities that make us constantly self- possessed. In the absence of these qualities, no one can be self-possessed. The blind, the deaf, and the insane can never be self-possessed: they need to be looked after. We have these qualities so long as the soul is present within us-we lose them the moment the soul leaves the body. In this sense, the soul makes us self-possessed. The greatest in the world can not exercise their authority without the soul: if they can not govern themselves, how can they govern the world? So they owe their greatness to the soul. They lose their greatness the moment the soul leaves them: that is the greatness of the soul.

Second Meaning:

 The second meaning of the word is ‘Wise’.If that meaning is applied to the word, Adi Shankaracharya’s mind is that it is the soul that makes us wise, which is certainly true. In the absence of the qualities of the soul, no one can act wisely. So it is the soul that is behind all the wise actions done in the world and that is the wisdom of the soul.

Third Meaning:

The third meaning of the word is ‘Like the Self’.If that meaning is applied to the word, what Adi Shankaracharya wants to say is that the soul always makes us like the self. How? The qualities of the soul are certainly greater than ours. We all can see but the soul can see deeper than us. We all can hear but the soul can hear even the things that are inaudible for us- it can hear even the words that are uttered in the mind. We all can understand but the soul can understand better than us. We all can know but the soul can know specially -that is why Adi Shankaracharya names this quality of the soul as vidnyan, the ability to know specially, rather than Dhyan, the ability to know.

We can acquire these greater qualities of the soul through spiritual sadhana. So the soul can impart its greatness to us- even if not in full measure but at least to a large extent. Many other great things in the world can not impart their greatness to others but the soul can. The sun can never impart its effulgence to anybody but the soul can and that makes the soul greater than the sun.

Conclusion:

So the soul is subtler than the subtlest and yet greater than the greatest for these three reasons -first, it is behind all the greatness in the world, secondly, it is behind all the wisdom in the world and thirdly, it can impart its greatness to the world. The third reason is the best part of it all because the real greatness of the great lies in making others great, doesn’t it?

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