Soul and its illusion

Atma, or the soul, is in reality identical with Paramatma the Oversoul — which is one, infinite, and eternal. The soul is in fact beyond the gross, subtle and mental worlds. But it experiences itself as being limited owing to its identification with the sharir (sthul sharir, or gross body); the pran (sukshma sharir, or subtle body, which is the vehicle of desires and vital forces); and the manas (karan sharir, or mental body, which is the seat of the mind). The soul in its transcendental state is one — formless, eternal and infinite — and yet identifies itself with the phenomenal world of forms, which are many and finite and destructible. This is Maya, or cosmic Illusion.

States of phenomenal world

The phenomenal world of finite objects is utterly illusory and false. It has three states: the gross, the subtle, and the mental. Although all three of these states of the world are false, they represent different degrees of falseness. Thus the gross world is farthest from Truth (God), the subtle world is nearer Truth, and the mental world is nearest to Truth. All three states of the world owe their existence to cosmic Illusion, which the soul has to transcend before it realizes the Truth.

Purpose of creation

The sole purpose of creation is for the soul to enjoy the infinite state of the Oversoul consciously. Although the soul eternally exists in and with the Oversoul in an inviolable unity, it cannot be conscious of this unity independently of creation, which is within the limitations of time. It must therefore evolve consciousness before it can realize its true status and nature as being identical with the infinite Oversoul, which is one without a second. The evolution of consciousness requires the duality of subject and object — the center of consciousness and the environment (that is, the world of forms).

Cause of cosmic Illusion

How does the soul get caught up in Illusion? How did the formless, infinite, and eternal Soul come to experience itself as having form and as being finite and destructible? How did Purusha, or the supreme Spirit, come to think of itself as prakriti, or the world of nature? In other words, what is the cause of the cosmic Illusion in which the individualized soul finds itself? To realize the true status of the Oversoul — which is one, indivisible, real, and infinite — the soul needs consciousness. The soul does get consciousness; however this consciousness is not of God but of the universe, not of the Oversoul but of its shadow, not of the One but of many, not of the Infinite but of the finite, not of the Eternal but of the transitory. Thus the soul, instead of realizing the Oversoul, gets involved in cosmic Illusion; and hence, though really infinite, it comes to experience itself as finite. In other words, when the soul develops consciousness, it does not become conscious of its own true nature but of the phenomenal world, which is its own shadow.

Evolution and degrees of consciousness

In order to become conscious of the phenomenal world, the soul must assume some form as its medium for experiencing the world; and the degree and kind of consciousness are determined by the nature of the form used as the medium. The soul first becomes conscious of the gross world through a gross form. The consciousness of the gross world that it has in the beginning is of the most partial and rudimentary type. Correspondingly, the soul assumes the most undeveloped form, that of stone. [For earlier identification of the soul with gaseous forms see GOD SPEAKS by Meher Baba. — Ed.]

Driving force of evolution

The driving force of evolution consists in the momentum consciousness receives owing to the conservation of the impressions (sanskaras) left by diverse desires or conditions. Thus the sanskaras cultivated in a particular form have to be worked out and fulfilled through the medium of a higher form and a correspondingly more developed consciousness of the gross world. The soul, therefore, has to assume higher and higher forms (like metal, vegetable, worm, fish, bird and animal) until at last it assumes a human form, in which it has fully developed consciousness — in all the aspects of knowing, feeling, and willing — of the gross world.

The manner in which sanskaras result in the evolution of consciousness, and the corresponding forms, has a useful analogue in ordinary experience. If a man has the desire to act the part of a king on the stage, he can only experience it by actually putting on the garb of a king and going on the stage. This is true of aspirations and desires; they can only be worked out and fulfilled by bringing about an actual change in the entire situation, as well as the medium, through which the situation may be adequately experienced. The parallel is very helpful in understanding the driving force of evolution, which is not mechanical put purposive.

Identification with forms

The sanskaras are not only responsible for the evolution of the form (body) and the kind of consciousness connected with it, but they are also responsible for the riveting of consciousness to the phenomenal world. They make emancipation of consciousness (that is, the withdrawal of consciousness from the phenomenal world to the soul itself) impossible at the sub-human stage and difficult at the human level. Since consciousness clings to the previous sanskaras, and experience of the phenomenal world is conditioned by the use of an adequate form (body) as a medium, the soul at every stage of evolution comes to identify itself with the form. Thus the soul, which in reality is infinite and formless, experiences itself as finite and thinks of itself as being stone, metal, vegetable, worm, fish, bird, or animal, according to the degree of the development of consciousness. Finally, while experiencing the gross world through the human form, the soul thinks that it is a human being.

Reincarnation and law of karma

The soul has fully developed and complete consciousness in the first human form, and therefore there is no need for any further evolution of the gross form (body). The evolution of forms thus comes to an end with the attainment of the human form. To experience the sanskaras cultivated in the human form, the soul has to reincarnate again and again in human forms. The innumerable human forms through which the soul has to pass are determined by the law of karma, or the nature of its previous sanskaras (whether of virtue or vice, happiness or misery). During these lives the soul, which is eternal, identifies itself with the gross body, which is destructible.

Subtle and mental bodies

While developing full consciousness of the gross world, the soul simultaneously develops the subtle and mental bodies. But as long as its consciousness is confined to the gross world alone, it cannot use these bodies consciously in wakefulness. It becomes conscious of these bodies and the corresponding worlds only when its full consciousness turns inward, that is, toward itself. When the soul is conscious of the subtle world through the subtle body, it identifies itself with the subtle body; and when it is conscious of the mental world through the mental body, it identifies itself with the mental body; just as it identifies itself with the gross body when it is conscious of the gross world through the gross body.

Spiritual path

The homeward journey of the soul consists in freeing itself from the illusion of being identical with its bodies — gross, subtle and mental. When the attention of the soul turns toward Self-knowledge and Self-realization, there is a gradual loosening and disappearance of the sanskaras that keep consciousness turned toward the phenomenal world. Disappearance of the sanskaras proceeds side by side with piercing through the veil of cosmic Illusion, and the soul not only begins to transcend the different states of the phenomenal world but also to know itself as different from its bodies. The spiritual path begins when the soul tries to find itself and turns its full consciousness toward Truth (God).

At the first stage the soul becomes totally unconscious of its gross body and of the gross world, and experiences the subtle world through the medium of its subtle body, with which it identifies itself. In the second stage the soul is totally unconscious of its gross and subtle bodies, and also of the gross and subtle worlds, and experiences the mental world through the medium of its mental body, with which it now identifies itself. At this stage the soul may be said to be face to face with God, or the Oversoul, which it recognizes as infinite. But though it recognizes the infinity of the Oversoul, which it objectifies, it looks upon itself as being finite because of its identification with the mental body, or mind.

Thus we have the paradox that the soul, which in reality is infinite, sees its infinite state but still continues to regard itself as finite; because while seeing its infinite state, it looks upon itself as the mind. It imagines itself to be the mind and looks upon the Oversoul as the object of the mind. Further, it not only longs to be one with the objectified Oversoul but also tries hard to fulfill that longing.

The goal

In the third stage the full consciousness of the soul is drawn still further inward toward itself, and it ceases to identify itself even with the mental body. Thus in the third and last stage, which is the goal, the soul ceases to identify itself with any of the three bodies that it had to develop for evolving full consciousness. Now it not only knows itself to be formless and beyond all the bodies and worlds but also realizes with full consciousness its own unity with the Oversoul, which is one, indivisible, real and infinite. In this realization of the Truth it enjoys infinite bliss, peace, power and knowledge, which are characteristics of the Oversoul.

Summary of soul’s journey to Oversoul

In the beginning, because the soul has not yet evolved full consciousness, it is unconscious of its identity with the Oversoul. Hence, though intrinsically inseparable from the Oversoul, the soul cannot realize its own identity with it or experience infinite peace, bliss, power and knowledge. Even after the evolution of full consciousness, it cannot realize the state of the Oversoul — although it is at all times in and with the Oversoul — because its consciousness is confined to the phenomenal world, owing to the sanskaras connected with the evolution of consciousness. Even on the path, the soul is not conscious of itself but is conscious only of the gross, subtle and mental worlds, which are its own illusory shadows.

At the end of the path, however, the soul frees itself from all sanskaras and desires connected with the gross, subtle and mental worlds. It then becomes possible for it to free itself from the illusion of being finite, which came into existence owing to its identification with the gross, subtle and mental bodies. At this state the soul completely transcends the phenomenal world and becomes Self- conscious and Self-realized. To attain this goal, the soul must retain its full consciousness and at the same time know itself to be different from the sharir (gross body); the pran (subtle body, which is the vehicle of desires and vital forces); and the manas (mental body, which is the seat of the mind) — and also know itself as being beyond the gross, subtle and mental worlds.

The soul has to emancipate itself gradually from the illusion of being finite by liberating itself from the bondage of sanskaras and knowing itself to be different from its bodies — gross, subtle and mental. It thus annihilates the false ego (that is, the illusion that “I am the gross body,” “I am the subtle body,” or “I am the mental body”). While the soul thus frees itself from its illusion, it still retains full consciousness, which now results in Self-knowledge and realization of the Truth. Escaping through the cosmic Illusion and realizing with full consciousness its identity with the infinite Oversoul is the goal of the long journey of the soul.

DISCOURSES, pp 222-227
Copyright 1987 Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust