What has science revealed, perhaps unwittingly,
about the existence of the soul?
Five thousand years ago, on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra, the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna, was astonished when His distinguished friend Arjuna revealed his ignorance of life's most basic truth the eternality of the soul by lamenting the inevitable death of his relatives. "My dear Arjuna," the Lord exclaimed, "how have these impurities come upon you? They are not at all befitting a man who knows the value of life." To enlighten Arjuna, Lord Krsna then took the role of his teacher. Using strong reason and clear evidence to prove the existence of the soul. Krsna began speaking theBhagavad-gita.
Like Arjuna, most people accept the body as the self. To prove the existence of the soul means to first show that the self is distinct from and superior to the body. Lord Krsna reasons thus: "As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change."
We can consider in this way: Formerly we had a child's body. As that body no longer exists, we must be in a different body. Similarly, in the future we will have an old body on the verge of death, and the body we now occupy will be gone. Lord Krsna's reasoning is clear: Even within this life our soul is transmigrating through different bodies; therefore our conscious self has the quality of permanence: it has survived even though our different bodies in this lifetime have been destroyed.
One might argue that we are not accepting different bodies within our lifetime; our body is just growing. Yet even modern science supports the Lord's claim by recognizing that the cells of our body are constantly changing, and therefore our body is different even from one moment to the next And after a certain period, the whole body has changed.
In fact, according to the Bhagavad-gita, the body can even be considered "nonexistent." Like the waves of the ocean, it has no enduring identity, and in time it disappears. Lord Krsna thus asks Arjuna to consider the obvious difference between the soul and the body: "Of the nonexistent [the body] there is no endurance, and of the existent [the soul] there is no change."
The soul's quality of permanence, distinct from the changing body, can also be verified by our own experience. Srila Prabhupada writes, "The soul does not at any time become old, as the body does. The so-called old man therefore feels himself to be in the same spirit as in his childhood or youth."
Although reason and even physiological experience can help us understand the soul, the strongest evidence for any imperceptible reality is its influence or symptoms. For example, on a cloudy day we may not see the sun, but we can know of its presence by the sunlight. A strong medicine taken unknowingly can be identified by its influence, which pervades the body. Similarly, the infinitesimal spirit soul, which according to the Svetasvatara Upanisad is smaller than the atom, can be perceived by its influence, which pervades the body as consciousness.
Srila Prabhupada states in his commentary on the Bhagavad-gita. "Anyone can understand what is spread all over the body: it is consciousness. Everyone is conscious of the pains and pleasures of the body in part or as a whole. This spreading of consciousness is limited within one's body. The pains and pleasures of one body are unknown to another. Therefore every body is the embodiment of an individual soul. and the symptom of the soul's presence is perceived as individual consciousness."
The phenomenon of death also reveals that the soul is the active principle within the body. Upon losing a loved one, even an atheist will exclaim, "My mother is gone" or "My father is gone," although the body, with all its parts and chemicals, is still before him. Anyone can see that the body is useless when devoid of its active principle. Furthermore, because consciousness cannot be revived at death by any mechanical adjustment or scientific expertise, we can reasonably conclude that consciousness is due to a nonmaterial phenomenon: the eternal soul.
Modern science indirectly supports Lord Krsna's analysis of the soul by its failure to explain the conscious self through physical laws. Many great scientists, such as Einstein and Neils Bohr, have stated that consciousness is beyond the realm of physical phenomena. In the same spirit, Nobel Laureate in physiological medicine Albert Szent-Gyorgyi lamented, "In my search for the secret of life I ended up with atoms and electrons, which have no life at all. Somewhere along the line, life has run out through my fingers. So, in my old age, I am now retracing my steps."
The presence of the soul can even be understood by the anatomical fact that the heart, which according to the Mundaka Upanisad is the seat of the soul, is the source of the body's animation. It is due to the soul that the red blood corpuscles, which carry oxygen from the lungs, become energized in the heart. Therefore the blood-generating fusion ceases when the soul leaves the body at death. Although medical scientists have not discovered the source of the body's energy, by ascertaining the region of power to be the heart they indirectly support the Vedic version mentioned above: that the source of the energy is the soul.
Finally, our instinctive awareness of the presence of the soul is reflected even in our common speech. We say, "This is my finger," and not "I finger," because we can innately distinguish between the knower, or possessor, of the body and the body itself.
Lord Krsna's first instruction to Arjuna was the most basic and important fact of life: "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."