Can you shed some light on the nature of the “soul”, once it achieves Moksha. Correct me if I’m mistaken, but to my mind it appears Adi Shankara implies that the soul once liberation is attained merges back into a state of Oneness, and loses all sense of individuality, like a wave merging back into the ocean. Is soul individuality a phenomenon solely reserved for this world of names and forms, when that pure consciousness is imprisoned in a human body or is it retained in some way after Moksha?
Paramhansa Yogananda brought clarity to this long standing conundrum: Christians will insist that not only does the soul remain eternally separate in heaven (or in hell) but even gets to have its earthly body back at the time of Judgement Day! Buddhists will tend to say that once ego is dissolved there’s NO-THING left: puff, we vanish! Preferring as they might naturally do, to focus on the immediate goal of having a better lifetime next time around! So also do the Hindus who, nonetheless, have the teaching of Moksha (liberation and soul freedom in God): the only faith tradition that does have this precept. That having been said, all great saints of all faith describe the beatitude of bliss that accompanies the beatific vision or union with God. But, your question remains: do we lose our individuality?
Paramhansa Yogananda said, well, yes, and, well, no! (joking). Here’s my understanding of this question. (Ananda’s founder Swami Kriyananda would often take pains to make this clear as he could to us.)
Let us start with “What is Infinity?” Oh that’s easy: it’s everything, right? The fact that until I achieve moksha (liberation) I have identified with a body and ego — this fact — a subjective reality to me — is also part of infinity? Right? Even after I dissolve into union with God, the memory of my prior ego identification remains as much in Infinity eternally as it did in time and space. And, the teaching goes further, also. Because all of my past lives remain in the “here and now” of Infinity (the Eternal Now), one could say that “I” still exist! Yogananda said that after I (as an ego imagining I am separate from God) have merged back into God (Infinity) and I am by definition a saint and have achieved Self-realization. I will have, in my becoming a saint, helped many souls (the “price of admission” you might say). If a close disciple prays to me deeply, that soul may have a vision of me or an actual bodily visitation by my form even though I have shed all vestige of separateness.
Yogananda also said that in the realm of duality (name and form), every atom is dowered with individuality. Our souls, too, stripped of all karma, nonetheless have a uniqueness akin to that of every snowflake. But when our “little” consciousness expands into Infinite consciousness it no longer either identifies with a body or personality nor functions independently. But because the “memory” of my uniqueness remains in Infinity, it can be sent back into form (as an avatar — a savior) or called back into vision or form by devotion of an aspiring saint who has that kind of spiritual connection with my soul.
In short, the answer is, one could say, both–and. We vanish and yet we remain! In God, nothing is lost because in Infinity everything, every state of consciousness, exists simultaneously. And our achievement, by the way, is permanent. Most souls never re-take a form but those who do come back, as I indicated above, return as an avatar or savior to fulfill some mission (public or private) according to the decree of the Infinite Consciousness.
Now, admittedly, using words (subject-verb-object) to describe a reality that is inherently non-dual is impossible or at least very unsatisfying. I hope, nonetheless, to have done some justice to Yogananda’s “ground-breaking” clarification of this ancient dilemma.
“May the Force (of divine light) be with you!”