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The first important thing we learn from Bhagavad-Gita 2.13 is that “just as the soul passes from childhood, to youth, to old age, in the same way, the soul passes to a new body at the time of death”. Most people take this to mean that after death there will be another life, which is true. But that is not all that this Bhagavad-Gita verse says. It employs two terms—yatha and tatha. Yatha means “just as” and tatha means “in the same way”. So, the transmigration of the soul is not just between lifetimes, it is also within a lifetime. The correct understanding of the verse is “just as the soul is transmigrating from one body to another in this life, similarly, there is transmigration after death“.

Soul Motion vs. Body Motion

The bodies are discrete states and the soul is the continuity between those states. Each body is like a point in space, and the soul is like a particle that moves to construct a trajectory that connects these points. The laws of motion, therefore, apply to the soul, although we would call this the change of body rather than the motion of the body. The body is not an object. It is rather a state of the object called the soul. Childhood, youth, and old age are such states of the soul. Modern science is based on the idea of body movement and everything in the Vedic system is based on the motion of the soul from one body to another.

This difference influences all other areas of movement. For instance, the sun globe is not moving in the sky. Rather, the sun-soul is moving from one sun-body to another. The trajectory of soul motion involves meanings (qualities) and the trajectory of an object of motion involves physical points (quantities). The sun-soul moves through qualitative states around the year (which is a day for the sun-soul in Vedic cosmology) like our bodies cycle through the morning (refreshed), afternoon (hungry), evening (relaxed), and nightly (tired) states. By drawing such quality trajectories, we understand how the soul moves from one body to another. The study of sun-soul, and its interaction with other planetary souls, therefore is considered “scientific knowledge” although it is not opposed to “religious belief”.

The material universe is now a space in which each location denotes a bodily state. This space can expand or contract. When it expands, more bodily states become accessible; for example, new species or new subdivisions within a species become visible. When it contracts, then fewer bodily states are accessible; for example, previous species or subdivisions within those species disappear.

That expansion or contraction of space is the motion of matter. Hence, material dynamics is described in terms of five kinds of changes called creation, destruction, maintenance, revelation, and hiding. No motion! Why? Because the dynamics of the material energy constitute the expansion and contraction of space, making some parts of the space accessible or inaccessible to the soul, and maintaining that space in a certain contracted, expanded, accessible, or inaccessible state, for a certain duration of time.

The Philosophy of Buddhism

Unlike in Vedic philosophy, where a soul (as a particle) moves to construct a trajectory, in Buddhism, there is no particle although there is a trajectory. That trajectory constitutes transmigration without a soul. This is called anātma-vāda soulless consciousness. So, when a Buddhist talks about consciousness, he means that there is a trajectory that connects discrete points. Now, if we remove all the points in space, and just leave trajectories, then there will be no sense of the passing of time. You can imagine flying in space that has no planets, galaxies, light, or anything else. It is just an empty space. You can be going a million miles a second, but you will feel no wind on your face, no change in scenery, and no sense of time. Time, according to the Buddhist, arises because there are things that we seem to pass by.

Similarly, the Buddhist will say that if we enter empty space, then we can stop all experience and hence the passing of time. That timeless state is nirvāna. To go to that empty space, we have to practice detachment. By withdrawing consciousness from the world, we get a trajectory disconnected from all points. We remove the points from the trajectory, then the continuity is already there.

One of the peculiarities of Indian languages is that negations like anātma mean non-self, rather than no-self. A trajectory is an individual thing, so it is not “no self”. We have to say that it is non-self, which means that there is no moving particle. A Buddhist does not have a mind-body interaction problem, because the bodies are discrete points, and the mind is the continuous trajectory that connects these points. Moreover, the trajectory can exist without points. It is a continuous thing already. It just appears to be passing through discrete states because we are attached to worldly experiences. If we practice detachment, then discreteness disappears and eternity returns.

The Philosophy of Impersonalism

In this broader context of Buddhist thinking, impersonalism appeared in India to say that there isn’t even a trajectory; there is just space, which is called Brahman. From this space, emerge individual trajectories. Yes, there may be no sense of passing time for a trajectory in empty space, but so is the case when a person enters deep sleep. The absence of passing time is not the absence of individuality. To completely destroy that sense of individuality, we have to say that even timeless trajectories emerge out of Brahman. That will destroy the sense of individuality that seems to exist in the timeless deep sleep, although it is not experienced as passing time. This obsession with the destruction of individuality makes impersonalism a place further down the same road as Buddhism. In Vedic philosophy, Brahman is therefore considered beyond the deep sleep state. It is a sense of timelessness without there being a sense of I and mine.

The debate between Buddhism and Advaita was not about whether material objects are moving because it is agreed that they are not moving. It also wasn’t about whether the soul is moving because both voidism and impersonalism agree that there is no soul. Their debate was about whether there are an infinite number of timeless individual trajectories or one space that temporarily produces these trajectories.

The Position in Vaishnavism

Whatever impersonalism called Brahman was redefined as a form of God in Vaishnavism. The creation emerges out of God, like speech from a speaker, and it comprises the souls and material states. Material states expand and contract, and become accessible or inaccessible, constituting the dynamics of matter. The soul moves over these material states constructing its trajectories. The Bhagavad-Gita describes matter and soul as Kṣetra (material field) and Kṣetrajña (the knower of the field). The Kṣetrajña moves over the Kṣetra to know it.

Just as we can walk in a park, similarly, the soul is moving over the park called the material field. The park is not moving, rather, the soul is moving. But by that movement, new things are perceived at every moment. The bodies are the Kṣetra in which the soul is walking.

This walk can involve big or small changes. The change at the time of death is big and the changes during life are smaller. But they are always discrete. Unlike impersonalism and Buddhism, where soul and God are unreal, and even experiences are also unreal in some sense, in Vaishnavism, the world is real as a combination of Kṣetra and Kṣetrajña. However, it is not Realist in the modern scientific sense that the body moves in space. Matter is real and eternal, but matter is not moving. Rather, the soul is real and it moves from state to state.

Confirmation by Yoga Practice

The practice of yoga is designed to bring this philosophy into experiential confirmation. This is achieved by stopping the movement of consciousness to stop the changes occurring in the mind and the body. For example, in the aśtānga-yoga system, the practitioner first stills the body via āsana. The Pātāñjali Yoga Sutra describes a single āsana called the sukha-āsana or quite simply “a comfortable posture” to still the body. The body is considered stilled if it is perfectly relaxed, and we stop feeling pains and aches. Then, a yogi stills his breath through prāṇayāma. Then they still their senses, which is called pratyāhāra. Then they still their mind, which is called dhārana. Then they concentrate their consciousness on one thing which is called dhyāna. When that consciousness is perfectly stilled, then, it is called samādhi.

Through the progressive steps of stilling that culminate in the fixing of consciousness, the yogi stops aging because aging is the soul moving from child body to youth body to old body. He enters a trance that can last thousands of years. The Kṣetrajña stops walking in the Kṣetra and the Kṣetra was never moving. This is akin to a person standing in one part of a park and watching it. A fixed consciousness leads to a fixed body. The body will start changing again if the Kṣetrajña started moving in the Kṣetra. Until then, there will be no bodily changes.

Even temporary conscious states like hunger, thirst, lust, sleep, etc. involve the movement of consciousness. If we stop the movement of consciousness, then we will not feel hungry, thirst, sleepy, or lusty. Lust is not coming to us; we are going to lust. Hunger and thirst are not coming to us; we are going to hunger and thirst. Sleep and tiredness are not coming to us; we are going to them. Thus, if someone doesn’t believe that the soul is moving from one body to another, then they are given the practice to conquer their hunger, thirst, sex, and sleep. As they conquer all these feelings, they realize: The soul is moving from one body to another. However, the body is not moving.

Confirmation by Mantra Chanting

The bhakti-yoga system inverts this process by focusing the consciousness on the sound of a mantra. If the consciousness is focused, then the emotions are stilled. By the stilling of emotions, the thoughts are stilled. Then the senses are stilled, and finally, the body is stilled.

This is a matter of realization by practice, by which we reach the same conclusion: The body is moving because the senses are uncontrolled; the senses are uncontrolled because the mind is disturbed; the mind is disturbed due to the ebb and flow of emotions; this ebb and flow of emotions occur because consciousness is not focused. However, by concentrating the consciousness, everything else is stilled.

The body is not moving. Instead, the soul is moving from one body to another. If the soul is stilled, then the body change stops. By stopping the soul’s motion, we stop bodily motion. This is explained through philosophy, but it can also be confirmed by sincere practice.

The “Movement” of Material Objects

Even when we see the sun moving in the sky, the soul is moving from one body to another. The zodiac signs like Capricorn and Sagittarius are like the bodily states of the sun-soul. The sun-soul changes these states. The observed movement of the sun is not the movement of a body. It is the movement of the sun-soul from one body to another. If we think of this movement as the motion of a body, then we cannot explain the qualitative differences between the months of a year, the times of day, etc. The time of birth would not matter. These are naturally implied in modern physics, but they are rejected in Vedic cosmology. The reason is that the sun-soul changes his body.

This idea of body movement is entrenched in modern “primary education”. As children grow up, they try to solve every problem in terms of some body movement. If the mind is changing from one thought to another, then it must be molecular movement. If our emotions are changing from happy to sad, then it must be some electrons moving. If we perceive a world, it must be due to photon movement.

But there are hundreds of types of changes—the evolution of ideas, the rise and fall of societies, the changes in political ideologies, the shift in cultures, the evolution of language, the changes in fashion styles, the rise and fall of the economy, and so on. In such cases involving collective movement, we cannot even find a moving object. For example, when the economy rises and falls, what is actually going up and down? Can we find an object called the “economy” that is going up and down? Likewise, when some fashion styles cyclically go in and out of fashion, can we find an object called “fashion” that is going around in circles? If we cannot find such objects, then we cannot construct laws of motion. We cannot draw their trajectories. Even if we construct heuristic laws, they will be anti-realist because there is no identifiable object called “economy” or “fashion” and everything does not move in the same way with the “economy” and “fashion” changes.

This is when we have to say that “economy” and “fashion” are not objects but states. The soul moves through these states. The economy is rising or falling not due to laws about money and value, but due to laws about the soul movement. The evolution of ideas, societies, and cultures is also about the movement of the soul. And this would be consistent with identifiable objects such as our body or the body we call the sun. Therefore, we can extend the idea of soul-movement to every possible kind of evolution. But we cannot extend object movement in this way because we cannot identify a moving object. This is why object motion is a bad idea and soul motion is a good idea.