The “Soul” According to Eastern & Western Religions
The idea of the soul varies widely in religious tradition. While these variations exist, its basic definition is unvarying. The soul can be described as the ultimate internal principle by which we think, feel, and will, and by which our bodies are animated. The soul is seen as the core principle of life or as the essence of a being 1. Views on the permanence of the soul vary throughout religious tradition as well. While some view it as a mortal entity in flux others believe the soul is an immortal and permanent unit. These interpretations vary from time period to time period and between religions. These characteristics of the soul are interpreted differently through an Eastern or Western perspective. In general, Eastern and Western Religions, with the exception of Buddhism, consider the soul to be a permanent entity, which is either reborn or sentenced to a permanent heaven or hell.
Christianity views the soul as the permanent entity within oneself, which is judged by God. The purity of one’s soul decides whether it passes to heaven or hell. Christianity shares this basic belief with both Islam and Judaism which also say heaven or hell is the final resting place of the soul. The Eastern religion, Hinduism, preaches that Atman, or permanent soul, is in every being and is the embodiment of the ultimate divine, Brahman. Buddhism, on the other hand, believes in Anatman, or impermanent soul, because everything in the world is changing, making the idea of a permanent soul improbable.
Atman, the deepest self or inner soul, is the totality of the universe that is present in an individual 2. Hinduism believes that realizing the soul is the embodiment of Brahman is essential to being released from the cycle of rebirth, Samsara. Hindus understand that the soul, atman, is permanent and only inhabits a physical shell which dies and passes the soul on to the next mortal shell, which can be better or worse than the previous depending on karma. With that said, Hindus believe in rebirth until one realizes the ultimate divine at which point they would be free from the punarjanma, the transmigration of the soul, liberating their souls to achieve moksha. Buddhism, on the other hand, challenges Atman with the belief in Anatman, which is non-self. Buddhists believe that the world is constantly changing, nullifying the concept of the permanent soul, Atman. There is no reason the soul remains unchanged in a perpetually changing environment.
Anatman is the idea of “no permanent soul” 3. A common misconception is that Anatman means people have no soul. In reality it describes the constant change of the soul during its time on earth. Buddhism holds that...