Soul-Unity (ஆன்மநேய ஒருமை): A Great Ideal of Suddha Sanmargam (1)

17th-century depiction of the Tree of Life in the Palace of Shaki Khans, Azerbaijan

17th-century depiction of the Tree of Life in the Palace of Shaki Khans, Azerbaijan

Ramalingam has said that the realization and practice of soul-unity (ஆன்மநேய  ஒருமை) or the kinship and unity of all sentient beings based on our essential and fundamental status as embodied souls and living beings, regardless of the form of embodiment or form of body, is the central and foundational value and ideal of Suddha Sanmargam.

Each individual sentient being is a soul. Evidently, soul-unity and kinship presuppose the existence of a plurality of souls.

What, then, is a soul?

According to Ramalingam, souls are subjects, i.e., bearers of experiences and qualities, and agents, i.e., intentional doers, essentially characterized by consciousness and its attributes, e.g., self-consciousness, volition, intelligence, cognition, affect, and action.

A soul is the locus and bearer of all the attributes of consciousness and of the “personality” of an individual. It is also the “renter” of the body in which it dwells, a body formed by Arutperumjothi to enable that soul to lead a sentient life and manifest and develop its potentialities.

Souls are innumerable. They become embodied, and, consequently, identify and interact with various types of bodies made of material constituents, but they are always distinct and different from those material bodies.

In Ramalingam’s view, material bodies are created and perishable, but souls are uncreated, and, hence, eternal.  It follows that the destruction of the body does not involve the destruction of the indwelling soul.

Material bodies inherently lack consciousness, intelligence, volition, affect, and intentional action, but souls essentially possess these properties.

Material bodies are complex and divisible. Souls are simple and indivisible.

Ramalingam holds that all souls are potentially the finite loci of the manifestation or expression of the boundless compassion of Arutperumjothi, the ultimate being.

All compassion expressed by individuals is a finite and partial manifestation, instantiation, or reflection of the boundless compassion of Arutperumjothi. Hence, the manifestation or expression of the latter is in proportion to the development of compassion in the individual soul.

As an individual soul grows in its capacity for compassion and knowledge of soul-kinship, it also grows to participate in the boundless compassion of Arutperumjothi.

As Ramalingam sings in his magnum opus Arutperumjothi Agaval:

எங்கே கருணை யியற்கையி னுள்ளன
அங்கே விளங்கிய வருட்பெருஞ் சிவமே!

(Agaval 961-962)

Where there is compassion in nature,

there is the lustre

of the boundless light

of pure intelligence and goodness!” (Trans. Thill Raghu)

However, due to the influence of Anavam (Tamil: ஆணவம்) or egoism, a potentiality of individual consciousness which constitutes the disposition to self-assertion and a separate and exclusive existence, souls become immersed in a dark and endless abyss of ignorance of the existence of Arutperumjothi and of their own original nature.

As a consequence, they are also subject to an occlusion, obscuration, or veiling of their essential properties of consciousness, intelligence, volition, cognition, affect, and action.

These shared essential attributes, or shared original nature, and the shared predicament of all souls constitute their kinship in just the way shared genes, features, predicament, and common origin constitute the kinship of all sentient bodies.

The kinship of all living bodies at the fundamental biological level is but a reflection of the kinship of souls which are embodied in them.

Arutperumjothi’s boundless compassion makes possible the gradual and law-governed emancipation of souls from this abyss of ignorance by means of successive forms of embodiment, i.e., a process of rebirth or reincarnation, which enable the development and expression of the latent properties and capacities of souls, e.g., intelligence, cognition, affect, volition, action, etc.

This process of emancipation is law-governed in the sense that it is shaped by causality, the essential nature of things, and the actions (karma) of the souls. It inevitably involves subjection to the law-governed processes of birth, death, and rebirth and their attendant sufferings.

But it is ultimately and irrevocably directed toward and culminates in the emergence of conditions, e.g., embodiment in human form, which make possible a unitive experience and knowledge of Arutperumjothi and the attainment of Siddhi or Adepthood, a form of individual existence free from ignorance, death, suffering, and other limitations.

Therefore, enlightenment or liberation from ignorance by means of attainment of unitive experience and knowledge of Arutperumjothi is the ultimate purpose of sentient and conscious existence, in whatever form, and the “meaning” of the cosmos from whose womb it is born.

This does not imply that any sentient body affords an equal opportunity for the indwelling soul to attain enlightenment.

Ramalingam affirms a gradation of sentient bodies and accords a special status to the human body because this type of body with its advanced capabilities of  manifesting and developing a soul’s potentialites affords a rare opportunity to attain enlightenment.

All the same, embodiment in each type of sentient body makes its own contribution to the development and expression of the potentialities of consciousness, cognition, volition, affect, and action in the indwelling soul.

Soul-unity based on kinship of souls must be carefully distinguished from incoherent monistic metaphysical claims of identity or oneness. Ramalingam accepts the reality of plurality and diversity of souls, a diversity based on their different patterns of karma.

The monistic metaphysical claim of identity or oneness of souls is incoherent because it violates the law of identity which implies that each individual being or soul is what it is and not identical to another.

The claim that “All souls are one” is incoherent in just the way “All individuals are one” is incoherent. These claims identify or pick out a plurality of individuals and at the same time deny that plurality.

Should we rather construe these claims as asserting that plurality is an appearance and oneness or identity is the reality underlying that appearance?

If so, two questions arise: “To whom is it apparent that there is a plurality of individuals?” and “Who discerns the reality of oneness underlying the appearance of plurality?”.

Inevitably, the answers to these questions must refer to, or imply, a plurality of individuals who perceive the appearance of plurality and are subject to the ignorance of the underlying oneness, or a plurality of  individuals who discern the underlying reality of oneness, and, consequently, render the denial of plurality and assertion of oneness or identity incoherent.

I will continue to explore Ramalingam’s views on soul-unity and its realization and practice in my next post.