Armenian definition of soul – the center of the senses and longings, desires and wishes, the individual or person
hokee – eghtzehrou yehv uhzkahtzoumnehrou gehtrohnuh, ahntzuh
How do we know that the soul exists in our physical body and outside of it after death of the body? What proof is there?
This is a serious question that needs an exact response for one to even consider accepting spiritual life seriously. Finding the answer to this question can determine whether a person will accept spending time and energy researching spiritual truth and values and living by them. Without such an answer one may ignore spiritual reality and completely busy oneself with material accumulation and sense enjoyment.
I looked up the definition of soul in my little Armenian dictionary and I found the following succinct meaning: the center of the senses and longings, desires and wishes, the individual or person(ahntz). We can compare this Armenian statement to an English dictionary statement.
1.the principle of life, feeling, thought, and action in humans, regarded as a distinct entity separate from the body, and commonly held to be separable in existence from the body; the spiritual part of humans as distinct from the physical part.
2.the spiritual part of humans regarded in its moral aspect, or as believed to survive death and be subject to happiness or misery in a life to come: arguing the immortality of the soul.
3.the disembodied spirit of a deceased person
The English dictionary definition clearly makes the distinction between the soul and the physical body. The short Armenian definition does not clearly differentiate between the soul and the material body. I am sure if I had a bigger Armenian dictionary, it would make the same differentiation. The correct understanding of the soul is the first big step toward cultivating spiritual life.
There are different theories about the soul. In western philosophy, the materialistic theory of the soul may be attributed to Aristotle. He differed from Plato who claimed the soul can exist apart from the body. Aristotle argued, the soul is inseparable from the body, and comprises whichever capacities are required for a body to live, perceive, reason, and act. Later, the English philosopher Hobbes theorized that human reasoning along with imagining, sensing, and deliberating about action proceed according to mechanistic principles like a machine. He wrote, “why may we not say that all automata (engines that move themselves by springs and wheels…) have an artificial life? For what is the heart but a spring; and the nerves but so many strings, and the joints but so many wheels…” (Leviathan, Ch. 5)
In the 20th century, A.M. Turing proposed the question, “Is it theoretically possible for a finite state digital computer, provided with a large but finite table of instructions, or program, to provide responses to questions that would fool an unknowing interrogator into thinking it is a human being?” Turing speculated that the answer was yes. Therefore, he identified thoughts with states of a system defined solely by their roles in producing further internal states and verbal outputs.
The speculative materialist theories circumvent the existence of a non-material soul as existing independent of the body. They try to give a plausible explanation that thoughts, feelings and desires that eventually lead to actions are all produced by interactions of the physical body and thus can be explained by mechanistic principles. They purport that the soul or the living force in the body represented often by consciousness of the body that manifests the living symptoms is a result of material combinations of atoms or chemicals or electrical impulses, or springs and wheels, etc.
Returning to the original question, “What proof is there of the existence of the soul separate from the body and after death?
The soul is experienced as the living force or consciousness which gives the body life. As long as the living force remains in the body, the life symptoms are experienced or seen. At the moment of death, a doctor takes the pulse of the patient and then it stops. He says, “He or she is gone.” Who or what is gone? The entire body, the mechanism of wheels and springs is still lying on the bed. But something has left and the machinery stops working. The non-material soul has left. The presence of the soul is understood by the life symptoms. When the soul leaves the body, there are no more life symptoms in the body.
Similarly, a machine functions as long as there is electricity or some power supply going into it. As soon as the electricity is cut off, the machine stops working. We know that electricity in the machine is making it run. We also perceive that the electric force is absent when the machine stops functioning. Any thoughtful person can understand the presence of the soul by the consciousness manifest in the body. Total absence of consciousness means the soul has left it.
I recently spoke to a father who lost his twenty four year old son. He dramatically understood the existence of the soul when he saw the dead body of his son. It was completely lifeless, cold and unresponsive. He remembered his son when he was alive and conscious. He could see the stark difference while looking at the dead body. The difference was the consciousness which is the symptom of the presence of the soul and the cause of the life symptoms in the body was absent.
There are many things that exist that we do not see with our eyes but we know they exist. For example, one hundred fifty years ago, if I explained to another person that there are invisible electromagnetic waves or radio waves present in the atmosphere, they would think I was crazy. Such waves are not visible. But today, no one who has listened to a radio or watched television or used a cell phone would doubt the existence of such waves even though they cannot be perceived normally. In this modern world of technology, we believe in the existence of many things that we cannot perceive directly with our limited senses. But, we understand their existence by the effects they cause on machines or by their absence when the machines stop functioning. A car without a battery will not run even though it has a full tank of gas.
If we accept that the material body functions exactly like a machine with wheels and springs, then we must also accept that it needs a source of energy to function and a catalyst to ignite the energy. The energy of the material body is food, but the catalyst that ignites the fuel is the soul. Without the presence of the soul, one may feed the body continually but it will not come alive with energy.
It is possible to chemically analyze a body right before death and right after death to determine if there is something missing. One can measure the weight, the chemical composition of the blood, the oxygen content, etc. Whatever is missing can be injected into the body by the doctors or chemists. Still, the body will not come back alive. The reason is that the body is more than simply a material machine. If it is only a machine, the missing chemicals or body parts could be replaced and it could come back alive. But this is not possible. There is more to the living body than mere chemicals and organs.
Although we cannot see the soul, we do perceive its presence by consciousness. Similarly, on a cloudy day we do not see the sun, but the light of the sun comes through the clouds. It indicates that the sun is above the clouds. A little light in the sky early in the morning heralds the rising of the sun and the beginning of the day. Since there is consciousness in all bodies of living entities, we understand the presence of the soul.
Some form of consciousness is manifest in microscopic living entities to gigantic animals.
The reason we cannot see the soul is because it is infinitely small. This is stated in the Svetasvatara Upanisad (5.9), “When the upper point of a hair is divided into one hundred parts and again each of such parts is further divided into one hundred parts, each such part is the measurement of the dimension of the spirit soul.” The soul is one ten-thousandth of the tip of a single strand of hair. The individual soul is a spiritual atom much smaller than material atoms. Such atoms are innumerable. Therefore there are an infinite number of living entities or souls.
The very small spiritual soul is the source of life and energy in the material body. It spreads consciousness throughout the body. We can imagine how powerful the tiny soul is. Because it is much smaller than a material atom, it is impossible to see with our present instruments such as microscopes. But we can perceive its presence by the symptoms caused by its presence. Similarly, if a person swallows cyanide unwittingly, he will know very quickly by the symptoms; he begins to choke and die! He cannot see, smell or taste it, but know he has consumed a poisonous substance. The effects of the unseen substance are undeniable.
The Vedic scripture, Katha Upanisad (1.2.20), states that there are two kinds of souls, namely the minute particle soul (anu-atma) and the Supersoul (vibhu-atma). It says, “Both the Supersoul and the atomic soul are situated in the same heart of the living being, and only one who has become free from all material desires as well as lamentations can, by the grace of the Supreme, understand the glories of the soul.” The body is made of matter. There are two souls present in the body, the Supreme God who oversees and controls both matter and all minute souls, and the individual small soul who is endowed with limited free will. By misuse of free will, the small soul tries to dominate nature and becomes conditioned by the laws of nature instituted by God, which results in material strife and frustration. The material body is simply a temporary vehicle. The small soul can misuse it by acting independent of God, or with proper education and enlightenment about its intimate relationship with the Supersoul, use it to serve God and become liberated from the cycle of birth and death.
The Armenian definition of the soul is useful to understand the destiny of every human being. There are two possible destinies. Each depends on the use of the senses and the quality of the longings, desires and wishes of the individual or person(ahntz). Desiring to serve God, the individual employs the senses in the service of God and gradually is liberated from material ignorance and the cycle of birth and death. He attains eternal life in his spiritual body. By rebelling against God and ignoring His instructions, the individual becomes entangled in material life. Due to selfish material desires, he performs all sorts of activities, both sinful and pious, that results in a deluded state of mind, much suffering and continual rebirth and death in the material world. Since the individual soul is eternal, it can continue eternally suffering in the material world or return to the kingdom of God and enjoy eternal life there in his spiritual body without suffering and death.
To understand that the soul exists after the body dies is a more difficult question to answer. We can only understand the soul’s existence after death on the authority of the Vedic scriptures. Most if not all the knowledge we receive is by accepting someone as an authority and believing what such a person teaches us is the truth. For example, if a tree falls down in Siberia and kills someone, how do I know it actually happened? If there is an evening news report of the tree falling or if I read about it on the internet or a newspaper then I receive knowledge of the event. I must accept the authority of the news media and then I believe that it really happened.
I will most probably not verify if the tree fell down in Siberia because I will not travel there to examine the fallen tree. The most crucial decision I must make everyday is who do I accept as an authority from whom I receive information about things I cannot independently verify. Once I determine the answer to that question, I begin to learn things. It is important to receive knowledge from an honest authority who knows the truth of life and speaks it honestly. Otherwise, I will be constantly misled.
What happens to the soul after the body dies cannot be understood by our own endeavors of research or speculation. Such a process of acquiring knowledge is called the ascending process or using techniques of scientific research and speculation. Due to the four defects inherent in every living entity, it is not possible to attain knowledge of soul by the ascending process. These defects are: we make mistakes due to imperfect gearing or seeing, we easily are subject to illusion to believe something is true that is not true, our senses are limited, and we have a cheating propensity.
It is possible, however, to attain perfect knowledge by the descending process which is by hearing knowledge from a perfect source. For example, Mr. John was the great, great, great, great grandfather of Mr. George. Is it possible for Mr. George to know about his very distant great grandfather, Mr. John by speculating? The answer is no! Mr. George can only learn about his distant relative by hearing oral histories or reading books written by relatives or biographers who actually knew Mr. John. Similarly, God is the Supreme Father, so if anyone wants to know about God, he must try to understand Him through the history of creation. This history has been passed down from antiquity by oral transmission (parampara) of guru to disciple and written history of Sacred Books. The 5000 year old text called the Bhagavad-gita is spoken by God Himself, Lord Krishna. He reveals knowledge of Himself in his dialogue with His devotee Arjuna.
God cannot be known by our limited senses which are not able to understand the many mysteries of this material world. How then can our limited senses understand the profound mysteries of the transcendental, eternal world? Even though our senses are limited and imperfect, we can still receive perfect knowledge by submissive oral reception like a child. If the mother point to a dish and says to her child, “This is a dish.” The child sees the dish and repeats, “This is a dish.” The first day the child goes to kinder garden, the teacher holds up a dish and asks, “What is this?” The child says, “It is a dish.” Th child correctly answered the question of the teacher by simply repeating what her mother taught her. Simply by instruction by an honest authority like the mother, the child received perfect knowledge.
Lord Krishna explains the nature of the non-material or spiritual soul by affirmative statements and negative statements. The affirmative statements must be accepted such as the following:
“For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.
As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Bhagavad-gita 2. 20,22)
The negative statements or statements of what the soul is not follow:
“The soul can never be cut to pieces by any weapon, nor burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.
This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, present everywhere, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.
It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable and immutable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body. (Bhagavad-gita 2. 23,24,25)
Both the affirmative and the negative statements about the soul give us specific information. The soul is not created. It is an eternal part and parcel of God, therefore it cannot be created by a combination of material elements contrary to the belief of Aristotle, Hobbes or Turing and other philosophers or scientists. This statement is implied in the first verse quoted above. It is stated with more emphasis later in the Bhagavad-gita, “The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.”
The soul being the eternal part and parcel of God was never created and never dies. Birth and death in a temporary and continually changing material body is due to the misuse of limited free will of the soul. By choosing not to serve God, one is placed in a temporary material body to pursue desires that are separate from serving God. The living entity is meant to serve God. When he chooses to serve his own selfish desires, he is placed under the influence of the three modes of material nature (goodness, passion and ignorance) and begins the struggle for existence. In the material conditioning the soul forgets his relationship with God and thinks he is a product of material nature. Whatever he seeks to accomplish in the material world is a struggle because he is in a hostile atmosphere like a fish out of water.
The soul conditioned by matter is bound up by the false ego. The materially affected mind drives the soul in material existence. When the mind is in the mode of goodness, his activities are good; when the mind is in the mode of passion, his activities are troublesome; and when the mind is in the mode of ignorance, he travels in the lower species of life. In material life the soul is covered by the material body, mind and senses. When he is liberated, this material covering is discarded and the eternal spiritual body manifests itself as the pure embodiment of the soul with spiritual senses capable of seeing and acting in the spiritual reality.
One hundred fifty years ago there was no radio, television, computers, etc. We could not transmit voice, or pictures or information as we do today because we did not have the technology. Today, in spite of so much technological advancement, we are still confined to very limited perception of reality due to the covering of the senses and material body of the pure soul. Once this temporary covering is removed, the soul can perceive again the spiritual reality that is present before us but not accessible at present. We cannot see the spiritual reality with materially contaminated senses. But, when we are purified by continual service and dedication to God, our spiritual senses awaken and we are capable of directly experiencing the presence of God. We come to understand the eternal existence of our individual soul apart from the temporary body and its relationship with God.
Without help from the Vedic literature, there is very little possibility of understanding the existence of the soul and its eternal relationship with God. Similarly, without the help of history books, it is very difficult to understand what happened before we were born. The testament of honest people who recorded events that they actually experienced is the only way to understand the past. The most reliable testament of our past is the Bhagavad-gita that gives irrefutable information of who we are, who God is, what is time, the material creation and man’s factual duty in life. These five subjects make up the body of spiritual knowledge we need to know to find our real path in life.
What you do for your soul will better your heavenly goal
eench dahss hohkout, ehn gehrtah ahrehvout
Literally this proverb says, “What you give to your soul, goes to your sun.” Goes to your “sun” in Armenian implies “makes your life and destiny better.” The sun is the source of light. Knowledge comes from the light of God’s words. There is a play of words in English and Armenian when one refers to the sun. One can say in English that the similarity in the pronunciation of sun and son implies that the sun is a metaphor for Jesus Christ, the son of God. And in Armenian, the implication is that light emanates from the sun as Jesus came from God as His son to enlighten the world. Therefore, we can say that man’s destiny and eternal life is related to the sun (ahrehv in Armenian) which symbolically points to Christ the source of light for mankind. This is demonstrated by the Armenian sharaghan or holy chant that says ahrekaguhn ahrtahr ahrehv louiyss dzakyia/ pughouhm ee hohreh/ pughyia ee hohkoiyss/ pahn kehzz ee hahjouyss which means The sun has risen and lighted the firmament (implies Jesus has arisen from the dead to spread light) and we (as souls) have all come from God to serve and please Him (following Jesus).
God gave us our soul, it cannot be taken from us (by anyone)
astduhvadz hokeen duhvehr eh, (meguh)chee guhrnahr ahrnehl
This proverb makes the statement that a person, as cleaver or powerful as he may be, cannot take away the soul of a humble, honest, Godly man (or woman).
Poor people may not have much material means. They have their self respect and personal dignity which, for them, remains inviolable and precious. If anyone tries to undermine this, that person becomes the vilest being in the world.
In ancient times there was a Roman Emperor named Diocletain who desired to marry the prettiest maiden in the Roman Empire. He found a Roman woman in a Christian convent. When the sisterhood heard of the Emperor’s request they decided to leave Rome. They eventually found refuge in Armenia in the town of Vaghgharsabad which is known today as Etchmiadzin.
The Roman Emperor sent word to Drtad (King of the Armenians) to find these young maidens and send them back to Rome.
The Armenian King found her and the other virgin girls. He was overwhelmed by her beauty and decided to take her for himself.
The girl refused because she was a member of the Christian sisterhood and desired to live a life of piety. King Drtad was already married.
Drtad summoned the leader of the sisterhood and requested that she persuade the beautiful virgin to accept his proposal of marriage. She returned and told the maiden to refuse the King and remain faithful to her vow “not to trade the joys and pleasures of heaven with the glories of this world.”
The mother superior was tortured, beaten and imprisoned with two of her sisters for going against the will of the King.
The beautiful maiden escaped with the rest of the sisters. King Drtad ordered his soldiers to find the maiden. They found her and brutally tortured her until her bones were broken and she died. When the other maidens, who numbered 32, came to pick up her body for burial, the soldiers killed them. King Drtad ordered the three maidens in his jail to be killed as well.
Very quickly, after the bloodbath, the King was plagued by mental disorder and began to act as if possessed by an animal spirit.
Due to this severe mental state of the King, St. Gregory, who was previously imprisoned by the King in a dungeon cave (called khor-virab in Armenian) for over 14 years, was released by the King’s order in order to heal him. St. Gregory had been imprisoned for preaching Christianity in Armenia. The Saint healed the King miraculously. The King was overwhelmed and convinced of the power of Jesus Christ. He declared that Christianity become the state religion of his kingdom of Armenia in 301 A.D.
Because those maidens were sacrificed on Armenian soil they were given Armenian names. The beautiful maiden was named Hripsime
and the mother superior was named Gayane. One of the first things that St. Gregory did was build a shrine on their graves. In the 7th century, Catholicos Gomidas built a church on the remains of St. Hripsime and Catholicos Ezra built a church on the remains of Gayane. Today, those two monasteries are still standing in Armenia.
Due to the tremendous sacrifice of these virgin maidens, especially Gayane and Hripsime, Armenia became a Christian country. Their slaughter caused the mental disorder of the King and the subsequent release of St, Gregory who converted the King to Christianity. Men and women of virtue, who steadfastly live by the principles of spiritual life are able to work miracles in the course of their lives. They evolve, by the mercy of God, a power of purity stemming from their chastity and devotion. This power of purity that is the inherent nature of the eternal soul can overcome the most insurmountable obstacles in life.
The eternal soul, once liberated from the ignorance of false identification and pride, manifests its eternal nature of surrender and goodness in the service of God. No earthly power can infringe on this sacred nature of the servant of God. God has given every living entity an eternal soul and no one can annul it. However, if an individual misuses one’s free will and makes the wrong choices in continually life after life then the eternal soul my suffer indefinitely until he comes to knowledge.