Continuing our short series on ‘Who Am I’, let us now understand the characteristics of the soul. Scriptures talk about two types of characteristics; Svaroop and tatastha (marginal) characteristics. Svaroop means the natural characteristic of the soul. The soul is conscious; it is a power of God. At the same time, the Darshan Shastra as well as the Kenopanishad point out that the entity called ‘I’ is beyond the intellect, and as such, it cannot be understood by the intellect. The ‘I’ is beyond the grasp of the senses, the mind and the intellect since these are material and non-conscious.
Ved-Vyas says in Vishnu Puran that God has three main powers. The first is para shakti, the second is kshetrajna shakti (tatastha or marginal) and the third is called maya. Para shakti is God’s own personal power. It is also called as Svaroop shakti or Yogmaya shakti. God’s marginal power (tatashta) refers to the individual soul. God’s external power is called avidya, i.e. maya. What function does avidya perform? It creates the world. Maya includes God’s power ‘maya’ as well as the world. So, there are three powers – Yogmaya, Maya and the individual soul.
The individual soul is a fraction of God. It is the marginal power of God (tatastha shakti). What is the marginal characteristic of the soul? It is an eternal servant of God.
Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says,
The soul’s true nature is God’s servitude
The Puranas, Shastras and God-realized saints say the same thing. The Vedas, the Shastras and the saints, say that there is a difference as well as a ‘non-difference’ between God and the individual soul. It is a very unique relationship indeed.
God is conscious, and so are we. From this point of view, we are equal to God. But there are differences between God and the individual soul. God is unlimited consciousness and we possess limited consciousness. In other words, God’s consciousness pervades everything, and our consciousness pervades only our own body. The soul pervades a small body; that of an ant, and it pervades a big body, that of an elephant. There is no body bigger than that. God is omnipresent; He is unlimited consciousness, and the individual soul is very small, very subtle.
How small is the soul? The very definition of the soul is that it is the smallest. Every Veda and Shastra says that the soul is so small that there is nothing smaller. Thus, God is unlimited consciousness and the soul is minute consciousness. This is a very big difference indeed. Let us look at the second difference. God is the controller; the individual soul is controlled.