What Is the Soul?

Definition from the Teachings of Self-Realization

The word “soul” can be used in different ways. There is the pure soul, the Spirit of God in each individual, which is ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss. The soul, as God’s reflection, has the same qualities as God.

However, the soul can become identified with the physical body, and take on its nature. References to “spiritual progress” or “soul evolution” use this definition, because the soul that is aware of its true identity as part of God is already perfect. Souls only evolve or progress in the sense that they go from identifying with their physical bodies to identifying with God. This can also be called the ego. (1)

Merriam Webster Dictionary Definition

The definition of the word soul in the dictionary is defined as:

Soul /sōl/ noun

  1. the spiritual part of a person that is believed to give life to the body and in many religions is believed to live forever
  2. a person’s deeply-felt moral and emotional nature
  3. the ability of a person to feel kindness and sympathy for others, to appreciate beauty and art, etc. (2)

In many traditions, the soul is referred to as the incorporeal essence of a human or other sentient being.

In the first few pages of The Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda suggests that the most substantial part of man is not the body but the immaterial soul:

But if prophets down the millenniums spake with truth, man is essentially
of incorporeal nature.

Do Other Creatures Have Souls or Only Humans?

Reincarnation starts from crystals and reaches the human sphere of existence. After eight million lives, the soul passes to the body of a man. Matter suppresses the Spirit, which is trying to reform matter from within by evolutional coaxing.

A metallic soul, a vegetable soul, and a human soul: the bodies are different, but the soul is the same. Reincarnation is the process through which the Spirit returns to Itself — from the many to the one.

—Paramhansa Yogananda, Karma and Reincarnation

Do Souls Reincarnate After Death?

The body is the residence and the soul is the resident. The fleshly house is perishable and the soul, being the image of Spirit, is imperishable. Therefore, when the body dies, the soul has to shift somewhere else for shelter. Because of the soul’s intimate contact with the body, it develops physical desires. These imperfect material attachments cling to the disembodied soul and prevent it from returning to the Spirit. Thus, the immortal soul has no other alternative but to come back to the mortal school of life to work out its imperfections.

—Paramhansa Yogananda, Karma and Reincarnation

According to Paramhansa Yogananda, the way to stop ourselves from reincarnating is through meditation and getting rid of all our earthly desires. (3)

Qualities of the Soul
From the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, Verses 18–29

The Bhagavad Gita, or “Song of God,” is the most widely known and loved scripture in India. According to Parahmansa Yogananda, it is the quintessence of India’s ancient teachings. (4)

In it, Krishna tells his disciple, Arjuna,

That indwelling Self is ever changeless, imperishable, and without limitation. Only these fleshly garments can be destroyed. Therefore, O Offspring of Bharata, accept your duty (in this body), and fight!

One who considers his true and eternal Self to be the slayer (of anything), and who believes that he himself, in essence, can be slain, does not know the truth. The true Self can neither slay nor be slain.

This Self is not born, nor does it perish. Self-existent, it continues its existence forever. It is birthless, eternal, changeless, and ever the same. The Self is not slain when the body dies.

How can one who knows the true Self to be imperishable, everlasting, unborn, and unchanging imagine that this Self can cause destruction to another Self? O Partha (Arjuna), who is slaying whom?

Just as a person removes a worn-out garment and dons a new one, so the soul living in a physical body (removes and) discards it when it becomes outworn, and replaces it with a new one.

Weapons cannot cut the soul; fire cannot burn it; water cannot drown it; wind cannot wither it away!

(2:24) The soul is never touched; it is immutable, all-pervading, calm, unshakable; its existence is eternal.

The soul cannot even be pondered by the reasoning mind. It (the Self) is unmanifested and formless. Realize this truth, and abstain from lamentation.

Even, however, if you prefer to think of the Self as perishable, why grieve? What is born must die. Whatever dies must be born again. Why lament that which cannot be avoided?

(The periods) before birth and after death are veiled from your gaze. You are conscious only of that which is visible to your senses. Why lament a thing you cant see?

Some (people) behold the soul in amazement. Others describe (the experience of it) as marvelous. Still others, hearing it, listen, and proclaim it wonderful. The rest, even if they hear all about it, comprehend it not at all. (5)

The Unique Essence of Each Soul

  1. Paramhansa Yogananda, Inner Culture magazine, September 1939
  2. Merriam Webster definition of “soul,” found November 12, 2015.
  3. Karma and Reincarnation, Paramhansa Yogananda. Chapter 5, “Reincarnation”
  4. The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, Swami Kriyananda. Chapter 1, “What is the Bhagavad Gita?.”
  5. The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, Swami Kriyananda. Chapter 2, “The Nature of Death Allegorical.”