World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts
Editor, Andrew Wilson
The Immortal Soul
In this section are passages about the soul or spirit of the human individual, which may be characterized variously as the divine Self in Hinduism, or as the product of conditions and causes in Buddhism, or as the core of the individual person, partaking of his or her choices and deeds, in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. From the perspective of ontology, we note that Buddhism does not conceive of the soul as ultimately real; it parts company with the Hindu and Jain concept of the soul as identical with the divine Self (Atman). Such a distinction might well be seconded by the Abrahamic religions' understanding of God as fundamentally Other and distinct from his creatures. But ontology is not at issue here; one may refer to passages under Formless, Emptiness, Mystery, pp. 85-92, and Original Mind, pp. 217-23. In this chapter we are only concerned with the soul as a phenomenological entity which carries the destiny of the individual person.
First of all, the soul, in any of these varied conceptions, is more essential to a person's identity than his body, which is made from clay and is but a vestment, a possession, something one has rather than what one is. Next, we examine notions of eternal life: how the soul survives the death of the physical body. Although the manner of its survival varies among the religions--it may remain close to earth, ascend to Heaven, descend into hell, participate in a general resurrection, merge into the Godhead, or transmigrate into another body--the fact of its survival is a common thread that unites them all. These texts include descriptions of a new 'spiritual body' which will clothe the soul in the next life. Finally, we have several passages which liken the transition to the next life to waking up from a dream.
The body is the sheath of the soul.
Judaism. Talmud, Sanhedrin 108a
The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Ecclesiastes 12.7
Then the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Genesis 2.7
And He originated the creation of man out of clay, then He fashioned his progeny of an extraction of mean water, then He shaped him, and breathed His spirit in him.
Islam. Qur'an 32.8-9
The union of seed and power produces all things; the escape of the soul brings about change. Through this we come to know the conditions of outgoing and returning spirits.
Confucianism. I Ching, Great Commentary 1.4.2
Now my breath and spirit goes to the Immortal, and this body ends in ashes; OM. O Mind! remember. Remember the deeds. Remember the actions.
Hinduism. Isha Upanishad 17, Yajur Veda 40.15
The outward form, brethren, of him who has won the truth stands before you, but that which binds it to rebirth is cut in twain.
Buddhism. Digha Nikaya, Brahmajala Sutta
The soul is characterized by knowledge and vision, is formless, an agent, has the same extent as its own body, is the enjoyer of the fruits of karmas, and exists in samsara. It is also enlightened and has a characteristic upward motion.
Jainism. Nemichandra, Dravyasangraha 2
Matter has no life, hence it has no real existence. Mind is immortal.
Christian Science. Science and Health, 584
I Ching, Great Commentary 1.4.2: Birth and death form one recurring cycle, like the alternation of the seasons. Spirit comes from the invisible realms to the visible, then returns to the invisible realms again. Isha Upanishad 17: Also found in Yajur Veda 40.15. Brahmajala Sutta: With liberation, the existential state of the soul may change without any alteration of a person's external bodily appearance. Dravyasangraha 2: This speaks of the jiva, the individual soul. Science and Health, 584: Cf. the Buddhist doctrine of 'Mind Only' in the Lankavatara Sutra 61-64, p. 155.
A man is his own immortal soul.
Scientology. L. Ron Hubbard, A New Slant on Life
Knowing that this body is like foam, and comprehending that it is as unsubstantial as a mirage, one should destroy the flower-tipped shafts of sensual passions [Mara], and pass beyond the sight of the King of death.
Buddhism. Dhammapada 46
Know that the present life is but a sport and a diversion, an adornment and a cause of boasting among you, and a rivalry in wealth and children. It is as a rain whose vegetation pleases the unbelievers; then it withers, and you see it turning yellow, then it becomes straw. And in the Hereafter there is grievous punishment, and forgiveness from God and good pleasure; whereas the present life is but the joy of delusion.
Islam. Qur'an 57.20
Behold this beautiful body, a mass of sores, a heaped up lump, diseased, much thought of, in which nothing lasts, nothing persists. Thoroughly worn out is this body, a nest of diseases, perishable. This putrid mass breaks up. Truly, life ends in death. Like gourds cast away in autumn are these dove-hued bones. What pleasure is there in looking at them?
Of bones is this house made, plastered with flesh and blood. Herein are stored decay, death, conceit, and hypocrisy.
Even ornamented royal chariots wear out. So too the body reaches old age. But the Dhamma of the Good grows not old. Thus do the Good reveal it among the Good.
Buddhism. Dhammapada 147-151
Man's real nature is primarily spiritual life, which weaves its threads of mind to build a cocoon of flesh, encloses its own soul in the cocoon, And, for the first time, the spirit becomes flesh. Understand this clearly: The cocoon is not the silkworm; In the same way, the physical body is not man but merely man's cocoon. Just as the silkworm will break out of its cocoon and fly free, So, too, will man break out of his body-cocoon and ascend to the spiritual world when his time is come. Never think that the death of the physical body is the death of man. Since man is life, he will never know death.
Seicho-no-ie. Nectarean Shower of Holy Doctrines.
Dhammapada 46: Cf. Sutra of Hui Neng 10, p. 437. Qur'an 57.20: Cf. Qur'an 17.18-19, p. 336; 102, p. 340. Nectarean Shower of Holy Doctrines: As in popular Japanese Buddhism, the scripture of this new religion contrasts the realm of appearances and sense impressions with the realm of Reality. The body belongs to the realm of appearances, but the spiritual life belongs to the order of Reality.
Ts'ai-wu said, "I have heard the names kuei and shen, but I do not know what they mean." The Master said, "The [intelligent] spirit is of the shen nature, and shows that in fullest measure; the animal soul is of the kuei nature, and shows that in fullest measure. It is the union of kuei and shen that forms the highest exhibition of doctrine.
"All the living must die, and dying, return to the ground; this is what is called kuei. The bones and flesh molder below, and, hidden away, become the earth of the fields. But the spirit issues forth, and is displayed on high in a condition of glorious brightness. The vapors and odors which produce a feeling of sadness,[and arise from the decay of their substance], are the subtle essences of all things, and also a manifestation of the shen nature."
Confucianism. Book of Ritual 21.2.1
Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.
Christianity. Bible, 2 Corinthians 4.16-5.10
Look upon life as a swelling tumor, a protruding goiter, and upon death as the draining of a sore or the bursting of a boil.
Taoism. Chuang Tzu 6
You prefer this life, although the life to come is better and more enduring. All this is written in earlier scriptures; the scriptures of Abraham and Moses.
Islam. Qur'an 87.16-19
Onyame does not die, I will therefore not die.
African Traditional Religions. Akan Proverb (Ghana)
Akan Proverb: 'Onyame' is the most common Akan name for the Supreme Being. It means, roughly, 'the One who gives fullness.'
Do not say, "They are dead!" about anyone who is killed for God's sake. Rather they are living, even though you do not notice it.
Islam. Qur'an 2.154
Those who are dead are never gone: they are there in the thickening shadow. The dead are not under the earth: they are there in the tree that rustles, they are in the wood that groans, they are in the water that runs, they are in the water that sleeps, they are in the hut, they are in the crowd, the dead are not dead.
Those who are dead are never gone: they are in the breast of the woman, they are in the child who is wailing, and in the firebrand that flames. The dead are not under the earth: they are in the fire that is dying, they are in the grasses that weep, they are in the whimpering rocks, they are in the forest, they are in the house, the dead are not dead.
African Traditional Religions. Birago Diop, Poem (Mali)
Who is whose mother? who the father? All relationships are nominal, false. Ignorant man! why do you babble as in a dream? Know, by conjunction made by God, by His Ordinance, you have come into the world. All from one clay are made; in all one Light shines. One breath pervades all, what point is any weeping over another? Man wails over the loss of what he calls his: Know, the Self is not perishable.
Sikhism. Adi Granth, Gauri, M.5, p. 188
One man believes he is the slayer, another believes he is the slain. Both are ignorant; there is neither slayer nor slain. You were never born; you will never die. You have never changed; you can never change. Unborn, eternal, immutable, immemorial, you do not die when the body dies. Realizing that which is indestructible, eternal, unborn, and unchanging, how can you slay or cause another to be slain?
As a man abandons his worn-out clothes and acquires new ones, so when the body is worn out a new one is acquired by the Self, who lives within.
The Self cannot be pierced with weapons or burned with fire; water cannot wet it, nor can the wind dry it. The Self cannot be pierced or burned, made wet or dry. It is everlasting and infinite, standing on the motionless foundation of eternity. The Self is unmanifested, beyond all thought, beyond all change. Knowing this, you should not grieve.
Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 2.19-25
Qur'an 2.154: This refers specifically to the martyrs, those killed in the struggle for God. Cf. Qur'an 3.169-74, p. 880; Hadith of Muslim, p. 878. Gauri, M.5: Cf. Acarangasutra 4.32, p. 956; Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4.4-5, p. 957.
One who identifies himself with his soul regards bodily transmigration of his soul at death fearlessly, like changing one cloth for another.
Jainism. Pujyapada, Samadhishataka 77
Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
Christianity. Bible, Acts 26.8
Just as the womb takes in and gives forth again, so the grave takes in and will give forth again.
Judaism. Talmud, Berakot 15b
It is We who give life, and make to die, and to Us is the homecoming.
Islam. Qur'an 50.43
And among His signs is this: you see the earth barren and desolate, but when We send down rain to it, it is stirred to life and yields increase. Truly, He Who gives life to the dead earth can surely give life to men who are dead. For He has power over all things.
Islam. Qur'an 41.39
Some day the Great Chief Above will overturn the mountains and the rocks. Then the spirits that once lived in the bones buried there will go back into them. At present those spirits live in the tops of the mountains, watching their children on earth and waiting for the great change which is to come. The voices of these spirits can be heard in the mountains at all times. Mourners who wail for their dead hear spirit voices reply, and thus they know that their lost ones are always near.
Native American Religions. Yakima Tradition
Bhagavad Gita 2.19-25: The Self--which is all-pervasive Spirit--pre-exists its incarnation in the physical body, and will continue to exist through eternity, clothed in body after body. A different notion of pre-existence, whereby what pre-exists is the individual soul, is found in the Latter-day Saints; cf. Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 3.22-4.1, pp. 368f. Acts 26.8: Cf. 1 Corinthians 15.52-57, p. 583. Berakot 15b: Cf. Ezekiel 37.1-14, pp. 583f. Qur'an 41.39: Cf. Qur'an 3.27, p. 583; Ezekiel 37.1-14, pp. 583f. Yakima Tradition: Cf. Ghost Dance, p. 1117; Ezekiel 37.1-14, pp. 583f.
The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother. When the soul attains the Presence of God, it will assume the form that best befits its immortality and is worthy of its celestial habitation. Such an existence is a contingent and not an absolute existence, inasmuch as the former is preceded by a cause, whilst the latter is independent thereof. Absolute existence is strictly confined to God, exalted be His glory.
Baha'i Faith. Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah 81
Birth is not a beginning; death is not an end. There is existence without limitation; there is continuity without a starting point. Existence without limitation is space. Continuity without a starting point is time. There is birth, there is death, there is issuing forth, there is entering in. That through which one passes in and out without seeing its form, that is the Portal of God.
Taoism. Chuang Tzu 23
Yama was the first to find us our abode, a place that can never be taken away, where our ancient Fathers have departed; all who are born go there by that path, treading their own.
Meet the Fathers, meet Yama, and meet with the fulfillment of wishes in the highest heaven; casting off imperfections, find anew thy dwelling, and be united with a lustrous body.
Hinduism. Rig Veda 10.14.2,8
But some one will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is alike, but there is one kind for men, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So it is with the resurrection from the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown in a physical body, it is raised in a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.
Christianity. Bible, 1 Corinthians 15.35-44
Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah 81: Personal immortality is strictly distinguished from the Absolute in itself, in contrast to the Hindu conception of the eternal Atman which is Brahman. Chuang Tzu 23: Cf. Chuang Tzu 6, p. 584. Rig Veda 10.14.2, 8: On Yama, King of the dead, see p. 350.
It comes from the origin, It returns to the original land in the Plain of High Heaven-- That spirit is one and the same, not two.
The Way of death Is found in one's own mind And no other; Inquire of it in your own heart, In your own mind.
Leave to the kami The path ahead; The road of the returning soul is not dark To the land of Yomi, To the world beyond.
In all things Maintaining godly uprightness: Such a one at last will see All dark clouds cleared away.
All humanity born into The land of sun-origin, this Land of Japan, Come from the kami, And to the kami will return.
Shinto. Naokata Nakanishi, One Hundred Poems on The Way of Death
God takes the souls of men at death; and those that die not He takes during their sleep. Those on whom He has passed the decree of death He keeps back, but the rest he returns to their bodies for a term appointed. Verily in this are signs for those who reflect.
Islam. Qur'an 39.42
While one is in the state of dream, the golden, self-luminous being, the Self within, makes the body to sleep, though he himself remains forever awake and watches by his own light the impressions of deeds that have been left upon the mind. Thereafter, associating himself again with the consciousness of the organs of sense, the Self causes the body to awake.
While one is in the state of dream, the golden, self-luminous being, the Self within, the Immortal One, keeps alive the house of flesh with the help of the vital force, but at the same time walks out of this house. The Eternal goes wherever He desires.
One Hundred Poems on The Way of Death: All people, not only the Emperor, are children of the kami, find their roots within the kami, and are destined to become kami.
The self-luminous being assumes manifold forms, high and low, in the world of dreams. He seems to be enjoying the pleasure of love, or to be laughing with friends, or to be looking at terrifying spectacles.
Everyone is aware of the experiences; no one sees the Experiencer.
Some say that dreaming is but another form of waking, for what a man experiences while awake he experiences again in his dreams. Be that as it may, the Self, in dreams, shines by Its own light....
As a man passes from dream to wakefulness, so does he pass at death from this life to the next.
Hinduism. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3.11-14, 35
How do I know that the love of life is not a delusion? How do I know that he who is afraid of death is not like a man who left his home as a youth and forgot to return? Lady Li was the daughter of the border warden of Ai. When she was first taken captive and brought to the state of Chin, she wept until the bosom of her robe was drenched with tears. But later, when she went to live in the royal palace, shared with the king his luxurious couch and sumptuous food, she regretted that she had wept. How do I know that the dead do not repent of their former craving for life? Those who dream of a merry drinking party may the next morning wail and weep. Those who dream of wailing and weeping may in the morning go off gaily to hunt. While they dream they do not know that they are dreaming, In their dream, they may even try to interpret their dream. Only when they have awakened do they begin to know that it was a dream. By and by comes the great awakening, and then we shall know that it has all been a great dream.
Once upon a time, Chuang Tzu dreamed that he was a butterfly, a butterfly fluttering about, enjoying itself. It did not know that it was Chuang Tzu. Suddenly he awoke with a start and he was Chuang Tzu again. But he did not know whether he was Chuang Tzu who had dreamed that he was a butterfly, or whether he was a butterfly dreaming that he was Chuang Tzu. Between Chuang Tzu and the butterfly there must be some distinction. This is what is called the transformation of things.
Taoism. Chuang Tzu 2
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3.11-14, 35: The thought comparing the passing over to the next existence at death to a sleeper waking from a dream continues in verses 4.3.34-4.4.4, pp. 342f. Cf. Bhagavad Gita 5.15-16, pp. 535f.
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