Article: Soul

Contributed by Jasmine Kelly

Liberated souls

At the peak of the universe, the crescent-shaped siddha-śilā is where liberated souls – siddhas – exist in neverending bliss.

Siddha-śilā
Image by Anishshah19 © CC-BY-3.0

Souls emancipated from the cycle of birth are siddhas. They have reached perfection and are thus free of the flesh into which their karmas have bound them.

When they reach full spiritual development, souls are free of all karmas. This means that when the human being's lifespan ends, fulfilling its āyus-karma, and the body dies, the soul leaves the body permanently. It regains its original purity, realises its true nature. Therefore, instead of being born into another body again, the perfected soul rises to the siddha-śilā.

The siddha-śilā is also known as the siddha-loka or īśat-prāgbhārā-bhūmi. It is a space at the top of the universe, in which all the siddhas dwell for ever. They remain separate beings here, each experiencing absolute bliss.

Other terms for siddha – perfect, liberated soul – are:

Indian religions and the soul

Along with other religions that originated in India, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, Jains believe that souls:

  • are trapped in the neverending cycle of rebirth – saṃsāra
  • are reborn in different bodies according to the karma they have collected
  • can only break out of the cycle of rebirth by being born a human being, achieving enlightenment and then, leaving the body behind, reaching liberation
  • with karma attached to them can never be enlightened – the bondage of karma.

The Jain concepts of the soul and karma differ from those of the other Indian faiths, however. In Jainism souls are individual with the same innate qualities. They accrue karmas that are bound to them throughout the cycle of birth until they mature and fall away. Souls remain individual once they are perfected.

Followers of the Buddha do not believe in a soul in the same way as Jains and Hindus. The Buddha preached anatta – the doctrine of no soul – and that the cycle of birth involves a transfer of consciousness from one body to another, influenced by karma. Nirvāṇa is the term usually used for liberation or salvation – in which followers of the Buddha realise that there is neither self nor consciousness. It describes the extinguishing of the 'fires' of attachment, aversion and ignorance that cause suffering. Enlightened souls thus gain release from the cycle of births when they die – mokṣa – instead of another rebirth.

There is a variety of belief among Hindu traditions, although most Hindus believe in the soul or self – ātman – and liberation. Broadly, for Hindus ignorance of the true self or soul creates desire for and enjoyment of the world, which traps the soul in the cycle of birth. Karma comes from thoughts, words and deeds, and influences future lives. Between two births, the soul goes either to hell, to be punished for bad actions, or to heaven, where it enjoys rewards for good actions. Hindu mokṣa is the perfecting of the soul and release from the cycle of rebirths, although various schools differ on whether realisation of the soul can be achieved during or after life.

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