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The difference between mind, soul, spirit and consciousness || Acharya Prashant (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
16 min
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Questioner (Q): Would you please be able to explain to us the difference between the mind, the soul, the spirit, and consciousness?

Acharya Prashant (AP): There is just consciousness; that consciousness requires physical support. That consciousness requires a physical support, right? That physical support is called: the man. When we say consciousness, we talk of our consciousness. Our consciousness requires brain. So, that which we call as our consciousness is necessarily something dependent on the physical, which is, this body; but not quite settled or satisfied with the physical. Right?

This consciousness keeps on forming concepts, thinking, visualizing, and ideating. The ‘soul' and the ‘spirit’ are two such ideas. They are ideas in consciousness; they do not exist as such. All existence is just a dualistic game of consciousness. Consciousness that entails: the ‘I’ that is conscious, and the ‘other’, the ‘world’ that this ‘I’ is conscious of. Right?

The ‘I’ looks at the ‘other’ and immediately forms an idea. The ‘I' is not capable of truth, but it is very efficient with ideation. The ‘I' looks at the ‘other' and forms an idea. We live in ideas. Right? 'The soul', 'The spirit', 'The afterlife', 'God'– all the words in our material as well as spiritual vocabulary are just ideas in consciousness. So, of primary importance, is only the consciousness. This consciousness, you could broadly call as mind. Right?

What is the mind? Or what is consciousness? All that you see, all that you feel, all that you are; all that comes, all that goes; all that rises, all that falls; all the colors; all presence, all absence; all past, all future; all of it is consciousness. Whatsoever can be thought of, is an element of consciousness. Whatsoever can be talked of, or even imagined, is an element of consciousness.

So, the moment you give a name to something, it just gets reduced to a small element within consciousness. Therefore, what is even ‘God’? Something little within consciousness. And then there is that, which cannot be named, but is so vast that consciousness itself is eager to move, settle, relax and disappear into it. That, in the spiritual jargon is referred to as ‘THAT’, or ‘Truth’, or nothing, or everything. Don't be taken in by the charm of the words – soul and spirit and such things. They are just decorated names for the mind. Nothing else.

When you say something is coming from your soul, it's only coming from the same place where everything else comes from. There are no two places from where stuff can arise, or to where stuff can go. Even when you say somebody is your soulmate, the fellow is actually, just your mindmate. You could have included another word – heart.

What is the heart? The way we use it, it is just a thing in consciousness. The way the masters have used it, Heart is synonymous with that, which the consciousness wants to merge into. Otherwise, referring to the general, popular usage of soul, spirit, heart – all of them are one. And all of them are just the same as the mind.

So, you could say, 'I really want this from my heart,' or 'from the depths of my heart, bottom of my heart', doesn't make any difference. Or you could say, 'My emotions are arising from my heart, whereas, the mind gives only thoughts.' Makes no difference. Thoughts, emotions, heart, mind – they all really exist in the same dimension. It's a fallacy to see a dimensional difference between them. They are different; but only in the degree of mental excitation involved. If the degree of mental excitation is upto a certain point, then it is a mere thought.

When that excitation exceeds that limit, then you start calling it emotion. When that excitation, not merely exceeds the limit but also becomes almost permanent for a while, then you start calling it passion. Nevertheless, this distinction is meaningless when it comes to the place all these things are coming from. The screen on which all these events are happening. The screen is the same; it's the mind.

Q: When we talk about the reincarnation of life after life, what's that reincarnates if there is no soul, no mind? Is it just consciousness? Of one being that reincarnates in another?

AP: The tendency for existence reincarnates. A wave rises in ocean, and subsides, right? From where does the next wave come? The ocean has a tendency to wave. The ocean itself is reincarnating again and again. It's not the previous wave that has reincarnated. The previous wave came and disappeared for good; it won't ever return. But the ocean has a constant tendency to keep waving. Similarly, this earth, the soil, or that which you call as existence, has a tendency to keep presenting itself in one form after other.

So, it's never the person who reincarnates. One fellow is gone, and he is gone for good. He would never return. He leaves no residue behind. Prakṛti reincarnates. If you go to the Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna will say, ' Jīvātmā reincarnates.' ( Jīvātmā : The vital principle or spirit; that spiritual essence which renders bodies susceptible of motion or sensation) And Jīvātmā is not ātmā (the Self); Jīvātmā is prakṛti. Jīvātmā is the Ātmā of Jīva (individual, living entity). And the jīva cannot really carry an ātmā . So, Jīvātmā is really just the jīva –the tendency of prakṛti to keep producing jīva . That is what reincarnates.

Nothing moves from one person into another person. That is not merely unscientific, but also not spiritual at all. Unfortunately, the way many people have interpreted it, and comprehended it–this story regarding one person taking rebirth as another person–has become quite popular. This story is good entertainment. But not much beyond that. Persons don't reincarnate. Prakṛti reincarnates. Do you understand ‘prakṛti’? All this physical nature.

So, an instance of a tree might be hacked down, but the tree by itself remains. When you say you have brought down a tree, what is it that you have brought down? An instance of a tree. But, the tendency to keep ‘tree-ing’ remains, right? The tendency of the earth to keep tree-ing, remains. That's reincarnation.

You can hack down an entire species; something else would come up. That's reincarnation. In fact, if you could somehow destroy this entire universe, it's quite likely that after an indefinite period of time, another universe might spring up. That's reincarnation. The universe itself has reincarnated. There is an underlying tendency.

Q: Does this tendency, like, just keeps on lasting, because we figure out there is time, or.. it's just like, it does not actually, is not even..

AP: As long as there is time, there is this tendency.

Q: Follow up, a little bit. So, can you explain to me, what are people looking for when they go to Varanasi to get buried when their physical body is dead? Because they say to us they want to stop the cycle of reincarnation.

AP: I didn't get you.. what are people looking for when they go to Varanasi, to?

Q: To be cremated.. how do you say it? Cremated?

AP: Okay! Why do they cremate the dead preferably at Varanasi? That's what you are asking?

Q: I think it is about– they reaching the mokṣa (Liberation).

AP: Okay. So, he is referring to the belief among Hindus that if the dead are cremated at Varanasi, then it helps them attain salvation. Right? The best that it does, is that it helps the relatives reach Varanasi.

Maybe they would have never quite met the Ganga and magnificent temples of Varanasi otherwise. So, the ones who improvised all these customs knew the art of, you know, somehow bringing people to the place where they need to be. So they instituted these things. They said if somebody is born, or if a few ceremonies are to be performed on the little kid, it is preferable if you do that on the banks of the Ganga, or other holy rivers.

Or you go to some holy mountain, or to a temple. The intention is obviously clear. The parents are such stubborn people that they would never ever visit that mountain on their own. But now, the child is there, and it is a religious requirement that they have to go to those temples. And the Hindus made their temples on the most beautiful mountains.

So, now you have to go to that temple, and in that process you will visit the mountain as well. It's funny but, you know, that's the way it is. Think of the mundane life of the ordinary individual, caught in his daily job, daily routine – or if he is a farmer, the annual cycle of sowing, reaping, selling– that's what the life of the common man is. And your sixty or eighty years can fly away in a wink.

Therefore, you need these institutional interventions. There is a marriage in the house; it has to be accompanied by a visit to a pious place. Or it has to be accompanied by some kind of an activity performed by a priest–and I am assuming that the priest is not a fraudster–and if the priest is a real priest, then the company of that priest would give you certain relief and illumination. So, these customs were formed.

You know… you have heard of Saint Kabir? No? So he lived all his life in Varanasi. He is my favorite. His entire life, he was in Varanasi. And there is a place near Varanasi where it is forbidden to give up your ghost. If you are dying, then you should not be at that place.

What's the name of that place? Magahar. And you have to be at Varanasi at the moment of your death, if you are to attain salvation, mokṣa. So now, Saint Kabir knew that his end was approaching; he said, 'Take me to Magahar.' He said, 'Take me to Magahar.

I will not die in Kashi.' Kashi is Varanasi. 'I will not die in Kashi.' People said, 'But what are you doing? Your entire life you have lived in Varanasi. Now, in the exact moment when you should be in Varanasi, and attain salvation, you are saying that you want to be at Magahar.

What is this?' So, he said, 'Jo kabira kashi mare, to Ramahi kaun nihora.' I will translate that for you. He said, 'If even I have to use Kashi for my salvation, then what's the use of Ram?' Only those who are ‘Ram-less’; Ram-less meaning truth-less, God-less. Only those who are Ram-less come to Kashi. Because their entire life they never cared for Ram, so in their last moment they come begging to Kashi that, 'You know, we couldn't do anything else in life.

So finally, we have come here to die. This is the maximum that we can do.' Kabir said, 'No. I do not need Varanasi for my salvation. Instead, I am going away to the most forbidden place.' So, it's not quite essential to die in Varanasi, or to be cremated in Varanasi. It's just a custom.

Q: So, as you were saying in the beginning, you know, the points where we are now with humanity destroying the earth.. and, we might not get very much further. I wonder, as you were also saying about the waves, you know, like existence–or if you have a different word for it– you know, keeps creating the waves. So, could you speak about what's lost, if indeed we are destroying our lives, and the life…

AP: Your life is lost. Nothing is lost in the absolute or existential sense, everything is lost only in the personal sense. You come, you go; the existence cares two hoots! So, spirituality is not to help existence better itself. Spirituality is for the one who suffers; existence never suffers. Spirituality is for you. (20:19) [Inaudible] that there is the waving of the ocean.

So, even if one person goes, there would be the next wave. Even if one species goes, there would be the next wave. Even if one planet goes, there would be the next wave. And, even if the entire universe goes? There would be the next wave.

So when you look at it from that dimension, obviously there is no need to do anything. But then, we have to be honest about that. Do we really belong to that dimension, where we do not care about our coming and our going?

The fact of our life is that every small thing manages to be significant to us, and disturbs us. Is that not so? On the one hand, the fact of our daily life is that even a small headache is a problem.On the other hand, when it comes to the global issues and things like climate change, or such things, many people say, 'How does it matter? So many species have so many times, came and gone. So if a few thousand more species are disappearing every month, how does it matter?'

Would you say the same thing if your son or daughter were to disappear the next day? Now, if I am somebody who does not care about his own disappearance, then it is perfectly alright if I also do not care about the disappearance of ten other species. But, I would be a hypocrite if I care about my own personal disappearance, but when it comes to the disappearance of that endangered species, I say, 'Oh.. but that is just another species. Since the advent of time, millions of species have come and gone.' How about your own disappearance then? Right?

So the thing is relative to who you are. If you could immediately be someone who has no self concern left, then obviously, you are liberated. And to the liberated one, there is no obligation to save the planet.

To the liberated one, it does not matter if there is an all out nuclear war and everything is annihilated. Fine. His peace would still not be disturbed. But are we liberated ones? To us, our personal concerns do matter. And if personal concerns do matter, and till personal concerns do matter, let us just broaden the scope of what we call as 'personal'.

Right now, personal to us probably means only this body (pointing towards himself), or the bodies of our family members. Why can't personal become a little more inclusive? And include the bodies of people of other countries, bodies of other species, you know, even bodies of those who are yet to be born? And that broadening of the ego boundary is called: compassion.

Now you have more and more in your fold. Right? 'I am not terribly identified only with this self. I am identified with more and more. Therefore, I am talking of the planet earth. I am not merely talking of my household, or my locality, or my little district, or my country. I am talking of the entire planet. And probably, I am prepared to go even beyond my planet.'

The thing is, if you want your own welfare, it is impossible to have it without caring for the welfare of others. So, even in your own self-interest, you will need to take care of others. Right? These are absolutes. See, Advaita Vedānta, for example, says that the entire world is just an illusion. The entire world is just an illusion. And, one could very well use this kind of an assertion to say that, 'If the entire world is just an illusion, then what's the harm in killing him or her?

After all, they are just.. illusory. They are, at most, like dreams. Characters in somebody's dreams. And do you suffer a penalty if you kill somebody in your dream? No, you don't.' 'And Acharya Shankar has told me that Jagat Mithyā (the world is illusory). So, I am just killing him and killing her.'

That would have been very much alright, had you made the same treatment to yourself. But I say, 'I am real. He is illusory.' Now, there is a problem. If you want to say that,' The entire world is illusory, so, I don't want to care for it.'

That is great! But, before you say that the entire world is illusory, you should be honest enough to say..? You too are illusory. That we do not want to say. 'I am real. But everything else is an illusion. So, everything else can be hacked down for my sake, because I am real, you see.' That won't do.

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