What Is the Soul?


Does the term higher Self refer to our individual soul? and lower self refer to our human personality? In the Bhagavad Gita, it is written that God exists as the supersoul or Paramatman along with the individual soul or jivatman. can you please explain?

—SS, United States


Dear Friend,

In general terms, yes, “higher Self” refers to the individual soul and the “lower self’ is the ego and personality identified with the body. While different schools of thought may place different emphases on specific words, like “atman” or “jiva,” let us simply say in our more general discussion that the soul is that spark of God, the Infinite Consciousness. In the process of its creation, however, the soul is stamped with individuality with which it remains, so long as it is not merged back into Spirit. (Even when merged, the Infinite, being “infinite,” retains all knowledge of the past, present and future including the memory of that now-free soul’s past lives and individuality. Nothing is destroyed.)

The soul’s unique stamp of individuality differs, however, from the personality of the ego with its many layers of karma (effects of past actions), samskaras (tendencies and inclinations consequent upon repeated action), and vasanas (sub-conscious impressions) that are built up over many lifetimes. The ego is, Paramhansa Yogananda explained, the “soul (to the extent) identified with the body.” By contrast, the soul’s primordial uniqueness is like the uniqueness of each snowflake, clearly stamped from the eternal, undifferentiated Bliss of God but stamped with unique characteristics. This is not the same as personality. It is something far more basic and fundamental.

Just as a part of the Infinite Spirit “moved upon the face of the deep” as the primordial Word (Aum) and impregnated that vibration with its seed (kutastha chaitanya) while yet remaining apart from and untouched by its creation, so a “part” of our soul remains free, eternal and untouched by maya while a “part” is attached to the body, personality, and the karmas (etc.). The “Trinity” of Christianity is thus the same “Trinity” of Aum, Tat, Sat: Father (Sat), beyond creation and untouched by it; son (Tat), the indwelling but invisible intelligence within creation, and the Holy Ghost (Aum), the visible and vibratory creation itself.

At night in sleep, we are free from the burdens of the body and personality. To a small degree, we experience in dreamless sleep the “pure” aspect of the soul. During the day, we are identified with our body and its personality. The free and eternal soul thus co-exists with the maya-bound ego. By effort (guided by wisdom) and grace (of God and guru) the ego can become free and reunite with the soul. Through ever-deeper meditation, the ever-existing, ever-awake, ever-joyful soul reveals its shining Self to all parts of the mind, which gradually becomes increasingly identified with its original nature.

My apologies for the somewhat lengthy and esoteric response, but I could think of no shorter way to respond to your questions.

I hope this is helpful!

Nayaswami Hriman