The topic of souls came up in conversation with friends. In the west, we debate if animals have souls and talk of loosing one’s soul, splitting the soul, and so forth. A lot of that is confusing a sense of self driven by mind with the eternal, untouchable soul.
The Vedas contain several philosophies with some variation on this topic. But generally, soul is seen as equivalent to jiva, a living being with life force. In other words, a dog and a plant have a soul but a chair does not. Even though everything arises in and of consciousness, it takes a jiva to activate a chakra system and allow life force to move through a being. When we die, the jiva leaves and the body becomes inert and lifeless.
But a dog or plant have different levels of expression of a soul. For example, how many senses does a life form express? How much self-awareness does it have?
As humans, we can do well on that count. We can experience our soul as breath and as a light in the heart. But the second requires some refined perception and some clearing of protective resistance.
Jiva or soul is distinct from ego. Ahamkara is the sense of individuality that comes from the intellect recognizing the distinction of self and other. This arises as a process in childhood as we distinguish ourselves as distinct from objects and mother.
The difficulty arises when we identify with that distinction; when our sense of self is driven by our sense of individuality. This leads to separation, conflict, and so forth. Based in the mind, it also leads to a lot of stories.
The Vedas see Jiva as a subset of Atman, the universal Self or universal soul. Atman is defined here as universal consciousness aware of itself.
In the experience here, Consciousness (atman) is aware of itself both globally and at every point. Each of those points has the potential to become a jiva, expressed into a living being – but not all of them are.
What determines which become jivas? I’d describe that as divine shaktis, the flows of divinity that bring intelligence, direction, and form into neutral consciousness.
Shakti stirs Shiva. Consciousness awakens to its own fullness.
Without a jiva, there is no life. Without consciousness, there is no jiva. Without Divinity, there is no alive consciousness which creates life. Our very breath depends on Divinity.
Note that our soul is joined to divinity by a thread that comes down through the top of the head within sushumna. It comes down through the layers of creation, connecting us together. It’s like the soul is a leaf on a massive tree. There is also a second thread that comes in directly from divinity into the chest, grounding the soul in this form.