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The Immortal Soul


Prof Andrew Wilson

from his book Readings from World Scriptures
(slightly modified)

The soul or spirit of the human individual may be characterized variously as the divine Self in Hinduism, or as the product of conditions and causes in Buddhism, or as the core of the individual person, partaking of his or her choices and deeds, in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  From the perspective of ontology, we note that Buddhism does not conceive of the soul as ultimately real; it parts company with the Hindu and Jain concept of the soul as identical with the divine Self (Atman).  Such a distinction might well be seconded by the Abrahamic religions' understanding of God as fundamentally Other and distinct from his creatures.  But here we are only concerned with the soul as a phenomenological entity which carries the destiny of the individual person.

First of all, the soul, in any of these varied conceptions, is more essential to a person's identity than his body, which is made from clay and is but a vestment, a possession, something one has rather than what one is. Next, we examine notions of eternal life: how the soul survives the death of the physical body.  Although the manner of its survival varies among the religions--it may remain close to earth, ascend to Heaven, descend into hell, participate in a general resurrection, merge into the Godhead, or transmigrate into another body--the fact of its survival is a common thread that unites them all.  These texts include descriptions of a new 'spiritual body' which will clothe the soul in the next life.  Finally, we have several passages which liken the transition to the next life to waking up from a dream.
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content by M.Alan Kazlev,
page uploaded 14 October 1999, last modified 30 May 2004