Hindu Metaphysics


    "The embodied spirit similarly transfers into another body after death, just as the embodied soul continually passes in this body from infancy to youth to old age." 

      ~ Bhagavad-Gita verse 21. 


    Hindu philosophy is not attempted to be summarized in this text, since such an effort would get lost in the maze of millennia of knowledge. 

    We shall examine certain philosophical tenets that provide the basis for the remainder, however. 

    Three fundamental concepts in particular make the tenets of Hindu practice abundantly clear: 

    (1) the Hindu notion of identity, which holds that there is a soul separate from the body; 

    (2) the teaching of karma, which holds that every action has an equal and commensurate reaction; and 

    (3) reincarnation, which holds that the soul transitions from body to body until it achieves perfection. 

    These three principles serve as the foundation for all Hindu practice. 

    Furthermore, these teachings represent the essential principles that early Hinduism learnt via its scriptures and traditions. 


    People often associate themselves with their gross and subtle bodies—their physical shape and its supporting mind or intellect. 

    Most individuals provide their name, their occupation, a description of their religion (i.e., their inherited faith), or their political connections in response to the question, "Who are you?" They sometimes identify with their origins, their ancestry, or their ties to their families. 

    Some people's viewpoints are more psychological, such as "I am sensitive; I would never injure anybody; I am honest and sensible; and I have strong relationships with individuals who share my traits." 

    The majority of readers might relate to the aforementioned personality characteristics or any of their many permutations. 

    And initially, at least in a practical, daily sense, it could seem reasonable to describe ourselves using such terms and notions. 

    But if we change our name, do we no longer exist? If our employment is lost? Or what happens if we change our religion? Do we lose our identity if our sense of morality or ethics is violated? Although our identity may alter in certain ways, aren't we still essentially the same person? 

    The issue yet remains: Beyond these mutable, tangible identities, who are we? All Vedic scriptures and Hindu practice revolve on this resounding issue. 

    What is life truly all about if we are only the physical body—flesh, bile, mucous, and so on? In truth, once our body is separated from the inner life spark, what worth do we assign to it? Not a lot. 

    Then, it is only a hollow shell. 

    According to Hindu philosophy, life is about discovering our true selves—the entities that exist independently of our bodies and minds—and nurturing them. 

    In this universe, existence is what Plato called metasy, or "an in-between condition." To him, living things were a mix of matter and spirit, a glimmer of eternity trapped in a web of time, and a quantum of wisdom wallowing in a sea of ignorance. 

    This viewpoint is shared by most Eastern philosophical traditions. 

    In accordance with the Vedic literature of ancient India, all living things are fundamentally spiritual entities who entered the realm of matter as a result of a number of intricate but subtle wishes. 

    Such embodied spirits are referred to as tatashtha-shakti in Sanskrit. 

    The line that theoretically separates land from water is represented by the root tata. 

    Sometimes the land is submerged under water, which later retreats. 

    Living things in our universe sometimes conceal their actual nature by forgetting it, and sporadically, they are revealed. 

    The goal of the believing Hindu is self-realization, which is the process of discovering one's own self. 

    An old Vedic scripture called the Chandogya Upanisad (8.7-8.12) tells a well-known tale of discovering one's actual identity. 

    The moral of this story is not only how important it is to know oneself, but also how difficult it is to do so. 

    Because of the philosophical implications of this narrative, which are fundamental to Hindu practice, all Hindu traditions accept it in some way. 

    This is the tale of two particularly endowed creatures from a higher planetary system, Indra and Virochana. 

    The head of the heavenly demons was Virochana, and Indra was regarded as the ruler of heaven. 

    At the beginning of creation, both went to Lord Brahma, the demigod sent by the Lord to construct the heavens and the earth, and inquired as to how they may have unmatched delight and utter contentment. 

    According to Lord Brahma, experiencing ultimate bliss requires understanding one's true identity—that is, one's soul. 

    Brahma assured them that since energy cannot be generated or destroyed, the energy present inside the body is everlasting. 

    Additionally, it is free from hunger, grief, sin, and material desire. 

    It is also free from birth, death, old age, and sickness. 

    Indra and Virochana lived in Brahma's company for 32 years while engaging in strict penance and reciting the Lord's holy names in order to understand the veracity of his claims. 

    They questioned Brahma to elaborate on the soul at the conclusion of this time. 

    In answer, Brahma said: "Know for sure that this entity is fearless and eternal, and that which you are now witnessing with your own eyes is the ultimate self, the soul." 

    As they approached ultimate enlightenment, Indra and Virochana confidently questioned, "Is the soul the same person we see when we gaze in water or in a mirror? 

    To put it another way, "Is the mirror we perceive in front of our eyes the soul?" With a grin, Brahma directed their attention to two separate, water-filled clay pots. 

    Then, he inquired more about what they had seen. 

    "O Lord, we see the full Self, the soul, precisely as it is, down to our sparkling toenails," they said to Brahma. 

    Brahma encouraged them to trim their nails and hair, as well as dress themselves in new clothing and accessories. 

    He leaned down as if to whisper a secret in their ears. 

    He then prompted them to examine the clay pots once again. 

    What do you see right now? Brahma enquired. 

    Indra and Virochana happily replied, "We observe that the two personalities in these reflections have trimmed their hair and toenails just as we have, and they are newly clothed in new garments and jewelry, too."

    These reflections are essentially the brave and eternal soul, Brahma stated as he gave them a direct glance. 

    Indra and Virochana departed Lord Brahma's presence glad in their hearts because they now understood that they had seen the soul, or their true, unchanging selves. 

    The leader of the demons, Virochana, returned to his people and said, "The body you see before you is nondifferent from the soul. 

    The person who correctly worships their body finds pleasure both in this life and the next. 

    He achieves the height of fulfillment and all of his wants are satisfied. 

    Indra, who told Brahma about Virochana's experience, reached a different conclusion. 

    He reflected on what he had heard from Brahma as he traveled back, and he reasoned as follows: 

    "This body gives birth, dies, goes through changes, is prone to illness, and so on. 

    Then, how can the genuine self, which is fearless and everlasting, be the same as the body? 

    Indra instantly went back to Brahma after having this thought and proceeded to inform him of his uncertainty. 

    Indra was welcomed to remain and study with Brahma in order to get a better understanding of one's true nature. 

    Brahma grinned. 

    Indra continues his strict austerities with his instructor Brahma for a further 32 years. 

    Finally, Brahma reveals a secret to him: "That one who you perceive to be your dream self—it is this person who is fearless and eternal. 

    Indeed, the "I" in your dreams represents the real spirit you are seeking. 

    Indra went after hearing this, certain that he now knew what the soul was. 

    But while he was making his way back home, he had the notion, "The self in my dreams is temporary—he disappears as the dream ends. 

    Additionally, he is a made-up, constantly shifting character; in one dream, he may be blind, in another, he might have many heads, and in a third, he might be a monster. 

    How such a self might be the courageous, eternal soul escapes me. 

    Just doesn't make sense, really. 

    With these ideas in mind, Indra went back to Brahma, who urged his now bewildered student to continue studying under him for a few more years. 

    Brahma promised him that if he did this, he would finally comprehend the essence of the soul and therefore experience complete satisfaction. 

    After another 32-year cycle, Brahma revealed to Indra that the soul is veiled during profound sleep, submerged in the unconscious mind, where neither vision nor dreaming is experienced. 

    Indra, like previously, was uneasy with his acquired information, questioned its accuracy, and went back to Brahma for more thorough instruction. 

    "I must inform you, dear Brahma, my master, that this idea of the soul as it is now understood fails, just like the others. 

    It is incomprehensible to reason or logic that one cannot comprehend or sense their identity when they are asleep. 

    In many respects, this profound sleep condition obscures the self-issue more more than preconceived notions did. 

    Brahma informed Indra that he was almost prepared to comprehend the soul in its entirety. 

    Brahma summoned him to his side after five more years of rigorous study and strict fasting and said, "Indra, now I will teach the ultimate truth about the real self. 

    The soul, which is hidden inside the physical body and is susceptible to death, only has a home there. 

    Similar to how a bull is tied to a cart, its spirit is bound to the body. 

    To know one's inner self and release oneself from this restraint is to achieve self-realization. 

    The soul really has wants, such as "I shall sight," "I will hear," or similar expressions, which are satisfied by the impure outward senses. 

    However, the soul also has a transcendental existence connected to God that exists outside of the body. 

    I was unable to share these facts with Virochana because of his demonic mindset, which was unable to comprehend the intricacies of the true self and required identification with the body in order to enjoy the trivial pleasures he desired. 

    Furthermore, I wanted you to remain with me and do austerities so you could understand the reality of the soul as an obvious fact rather than just hearing me describe these things to you through reasoning and argument. 

    The subtle body, which is often divided into the two states of covered consciousness, as in the story above, and the gross body, which refers to the mind, intelligence, and one's sense of identity, are three manifestations, if you will, of the soul that correspond to the three sheaths of consciousness described in the Vedic literature: 

    (1) the gross, physical body; 

    (2) the subtle body; and 

    (3) the Self, or the actual person within all external material coverings. 

    More than any other Hindu literature, the Bhagavad-Gita attests to the following truths: "There is no birth nor death for the soul. 

    He never existed before and will never exist now. 

    He never ceases to exist and is not killed when the body expires. 

    (2.20) The soul accepts new material bodies in a similar way to how a person puts on new clothes and discards old ones that are no longer functional. 

    (2.22) "The embodied spirit similarly transfers into another body after death, just as the embodied soul continually passes in this body from infancy to youth to old age." 

    (2.13) Such well-known words from the Gita convey a lot about Hindu beliefs concerning rebirth as well as the nature of the Self (that it is in fact distinct from the body). 

    However, it would be smart to quickly examine the related idea of karma (action and response), which is sometimes misinterpreted in the study of Hinduism, before delving into this later belief. 


    The Sanskrit root kri, which means "activity," is where the term "karma" originates. 

    But it also suggests the causality, or "what goes around, comes around," of activity. 

    In other words, karma is a metaphysical application of Newton's Third Law of Motion, which states: There is an equal and proportionate response to every action. 

    It is a global rule that appears in an infinite number of manifestations. 

    According to author and academic Mark Mathew Braunstein, the Western definitions of the Eastern concept of karma include supply and demand, action and response in science, cause and effect in epistemology, sowing and reaping in the Bible and in nature, and even supply and demand in economics. 

    1 In other words, karma refers to the unavoidable outcome of previous decisions—previous attitudes and ideas that produced earlier behaviors. 

    These behaviors inevitably have endlessly repeating effects, until ultimately the offender becomes aware of the reasons for his behavior and decides to alter it, if required. 

    In this sense, contrary to what some people believe, karma is not a punishment but rather a chance to break bad habits and enrich our lives. 

    So Karma is a teacher. 

    We gradually learn to stop doing bad things by realizing the effects of our actions. 

    Karma functions as a system of justice in this way by assisting us in gradually learning from our mistakes at first on an unconscious level and later when we are fully aware of right and wrong. 

    Life after life, behaving in certain ways helps us progressively get a sense of direction and the ability to recognize prior errors. 

    As self-realization progresses through time, we get a clear understanding of what should be done and what shouldn't be done. 

    Because of this, karma aids people in realizing their mistakes and changing their conduct, even if this "refining" process might take a very long time—sometimes several lives. 

    However, once the lessons that karma seeks to teach have been learnt, the realized truths become profoundly ingrained in the brain. 

    To be clear, Karma teaches us that every action has a corresponding reaction—all action has inherent repercussions. 

    And if we take anything positive away from these repercussions, then karma has fulfilled its purpose and we may continue on our path to spiritual perfection. 

    According to Hindu philosophy, an individual's karma is the culmination of all they have done, are doing, and will do in the future. 

    It would seem that there is little opportunity for free choice given the all-encompassing character of karma, but this is not the case. 

    Since we made the decision to behave in a certain manner, free will both produced and may modify our karma. 

    Therefore, karma is not fatalistic, despite what a cursory reading of it might imply. 

    Instead, human beings have the capacity to alter their own conduct, affecting outcomes that initially would have looked irreversible. 

    That is to say, the karma philosophy pushes us to rise beyond our conditioning and our propensity to behave in certain ways while paving the path for a better future. 

    But it also teaches us that if we don't make a concerted effort to break negative habits—inclinations accumulated over many lifetimes—these same deeds will disclose the darker side of karma, displaying strict rules that are as binding as our propensity to cling to conditioning. 

    Manly P. Hall (1901-1990), a prolific author and the founder of the Philosophical Research Society (1934), succinctly stated the concept in his essay: "Karma does not entail fatalism, but rather, recompense. 

    When a man purchases anything on credit, he incurs a debt, which is required to be repaid by law. 

    This would not be seen as fatalism in a practical, commercial transaction, but rather as responsibility. 

    2 The philosopher, politician, and former president of India Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888–1975) provides more insight on how karma may be seen in terms of fatalism but that it really more truly reflects an exercise in choice: The game of life is bridge. 

    The game and its playing cards were not created by us. 

    Both the rules and the dealing are outside of our control. 

    Whether they are good or terrible, the cards are dealt to us. 

    That much is determined by determinism. 

    But we have the choice to play the game well or poorly. 

    Even with a weak hand, a skilled player may still win the game. 

    Even with a strong hand, a lousy player may ruin it. 

    Our lives are a blend of need and choice, chance and necessity. 

    By wisely using our freedom of choice, we may completely dispel the determinism of nature and maintain steady control over all the components. 

    3 Karma is obviously complicated and has a wide range of possible meanings due to the many circumstances. 

    There are actually three fundamental types of karma, which we will briefly discuss below. 

    The idea will then be expanded upon in six more ways, in two sets of three, which will aid in illuminating the process by which karma operates. 

    To fully grasp the idea, it is vital to comprehend all nine of these karmic dimensions since they provide light on how karma's rules are not unchangeable and how it does not contradict the idea of free will. 

    The three main divisions may be broken down as follows to start, if the complicated Sanskrit language that generally goes along with these explanations wasn't there. 

    (1) The term "good acts" or "ordinary karma" refers to actions that are morally upright and in line with scripture. 

    Such karma produces positive outcomes. 

    (2) Negative deeds are referred to as a second kind of karma. 

    Such behaviors always result in bad outcomes, which are often proportional to the original action. 

    (3) "Freedom from works" is the exact name for the third category of karma. 

    The Bhagavad-Gita describes this: If one works as the Lord's agent, one does not partake in or experience the consequences of one's deeds. 

    Instead, even while still in this existence, one transcends the duality of action and response and finds themselves in transcendence. 

    The second category of karma's nine dimensions is more technical and deals with the time frame in which a certain action could have taken place and whether or not its results have matured. 

    In plainer terms: 

    (1) The first is the collected collection of deeds from previous incarnations, both good and harmful. 

    These have not yet been resolved and often manifest in this world as cravings, or, to put it another way, as conditioning and inclinations. 

    (2) Next is "Detained" karma. This is the outcome of decisions made in a past life. 

    They manifest in the shape of what truly occurs to us in our current existence. 

    They influence the circumstances and events of our current experience, as well as the make-up of our body, our inclinations, and our objectives. 

    (3) Then there is our current karma, which is continually produced by our constant motions in the physical world and determines what will happen to us in the future. 

    It's common to compare the first of these three types of karma—the leftover effects of all of one's cumulative actions—like rice that has been harvested and kept in a granary. 

    A little amount of the stored rice has been separated, husked, and ready for cooking and consumption. 

    This is akin to the second phase, in which the outcomes of the past are influencing the present. 

    Likewise, fresh rice is being planted in the land that was taken from the most recent harvest; this will ultimately produce a crop and be added to the grain stockpile. 

    The last three karmic factors provide valuable insight: 

    (1) Versatile—This kind of karma is readily redirected. 

    (2) Middling – This kind of karma is combattable with much effort. 

    (3) Fixed: This form of karma cannot be eliminated by human action. 

    Instead, one might liberate themselves by calling upon God's compassion via spiritual discipline. 

    4 According to the list above, the majority of karma is irrevocable or "Fixed," and can only be overcame by the Lord's grace. 

    Hinduism as a whole is based on the idea that because of our lives of selfish desire, we have constructed an intricate network. 

    And only by consistent prayer and daily devotions will we be able to draw the Lord's attention while also reconditioning ourselves to a more selfless and pure temperament. 

    By doing this, we may be able to clear the karma from our past—both good and bad—and achieve spiritual knowledge. 


    If every action has a matching and equal response, what happens when a certain individual doesn't appear to get their just reward? 

    How is it possible that a criminal, for instance, may live a long life without getting just punishment for his awful deed? 

    Reincarnation is the Hindu explanation for this: If a villain doesn't pay for his wrongdoings today, he may always make amends in the future. 

    The soul is a quantum of energy, and according to the First Law of Thermodynamics, a quantum of energy cannot be generated or destroyed. 

    In this way, the soul survives death. 

    Where does it go, though? The Hindu replies by posing the following query: Is it more fitting for the majority of people to go to heaven or hell? No, is the answer. 

    Most are neither angelic nor evil. 

    Instead, these are individuals who are solving their issues by identifying their strengths and making an effort to outperform their weaknesses. 

    Therefore, a forgiving God would offer people plenty of chances to right their wrongs and care for their assets. 

    Reincarnation comes into play since this can need more than one life. 

    This theory is supported by the oldest Vedic scriptures. 

    For example, the Yajur Veda (12.36-7) says, 

    "O knowledgeable and patient spirit, after wandering through streams and plants, a person enters the womb and is born once again." 

    O soul, you are born in the form of all living things, including plants, trees, and water. 

    O soul, blazing like the sun, you are born anew after being cremated, having arrived at the fire and the ground for rebirth, and dwelling in the womb of your mother. 

    O soul, after repeatedly entering the womb, you blessedly laid in your mother's body like a baby dozing on her mother's lap. 

    Insight into the nature of reincarnation is provided further in the Shvetashvatara Upanishad (5.11). 

    The individual self takes on successive shapes in line with its activities, just as the body is supplemented by food and drink. 

    It is also increased by its desires, sense contacts, visual impressions, and delusions. 

    The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (4.4.1-4) describes reincarnation in much more detail: 

    When a person dies, the region around his or her (the soul's) heart illuminates, and the light guides the soul as it leaves the body by the eye, the head, or other bodily openings. 

    When he leaves, the different life airs follow him to his new location. 

    His previous wisdom, as well as his actions and knowledge, follow him. 

    The soul gathers itself after letting go of the previous body and its ignorance and hooks onto the new body, much as a caterpillar collects itself together when it reaches the end of one blade of grass and after appropriately approaching another one. 

    And just as a goldsmith may transform a piece of gold into another, more attractive shape, so too does this soul, after discarding the old and worthless body, create newer and, ideally, better bodies for himself in accordance with his prior deeds, skills, and goals. 

    Reincarnation is so engrained in the Indian subcontinent at a fundamental level. 

    Hindus often hold to one of three perspectives on rebirth: The first perspective is Vedic. 

    According to this tradition, most people are involved in materialistic pursuits, and after passing away, they travel to the Yamaraja realm, also known as the nether world. 

    There, their only chance of survival depends on food and water provided by the deceased's children and grandchildren over the course of several generations. 

    Even today, the majority of Hindus who practice their religion make this customary offering during a ceremony called Pinda

    A ball of rice is offered to the deceased parent as part of a complicated series of rituals that grants them access to the ancestors' group. 

    The soul remains in a subtle ghostly form until that point (either 12 days or 12 months after death, depending on which texts one refers to), and only this ceremony allows the departed soul to enter the next stage of existence. 

    One "dies again" after an unspecified period of time in this state and passes through the various material elements (earth, water, air, fire, ether, and other, more subtle elements as well), before being "recycled" through the food chain and ultimately giving birth to one of the 8,400,000 species that make up the universe. 

    This could be a reference to the soul's ongoing journey toward its next incarnation through various intermediary way-stations. 

    A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, a Vaishnava scholar and exemplary practitioner, expressed this unusual early Vedic concept of transmigrating through the food chain as follows: 

    The living being performs certain sacrifices throughout the process of sacrifice [described in the Vedas] in order to reach particular celestial planets, and as a result, reaches them. 

    When the benefits of sacrifice are used up, the living thing descends to earth in the form of rain, then changes into grains. 

    The grains are then consumed by men, who then eat them and turn them into semen, which impregnates women. 

    The living thing then regains its human form and performs sacrifice once more, continuing the cycle. 

    In this manner, the living thing travels along the material path continuously coming and going. 

    However, the Krishna conscious person shuns such offerings. 

    He immediately enters Krishna awareness, putting himself in a position to return to Godhead. 

    6 The other two viewpoints held by Hindus are as follows: The Puranic View, and the Vedic viewpoint. 

    The Puranas ("ancient histories") added the idea of an infinite variety of heavens and hells where the dead are rewarded or punished depending on their righteous or impious deeds to this early Vedic viewpoint. 

    Before being reincarnated in a new body, the Puranas claim that the soul travels among many subtle domains of existence, giving the opportunity to work toward self-realization. 

    The Samsara perspective. 

    The Vedic and Puranic ideas are combined in this sophisticated Hindu theory of death. 

    According to Samsara, the soul is reborn into the material world right after death and repeats the cycle until it attains a purified consciousness free of material desires. 

    At that point, the cleansed soul returns to the spiritual world, which is where all souls are born. 

    In the presence of God, one resumes their natural, constitutional life there. 

    This viewpoint is held by contemporary Hinduism, which includes Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, and a variety of other well-known East-Indian traditions. 

    It is seen as the fundamental reality of all earlier teachings. 

    7 Thus, this is roughly how Hindus think: The soul, in its desire to rule over its own domain, departs from the spiritual realm, where God is sovereign, and enters Brahma's world as an angelic creature (which is considered the highest heavenly planet of the mundane universe). 

    A tiny number of souls may then go from there to their celestial condition. 

    However, the majority sink to the lowest species on lesser planets because of illogical impulses related to the body and because of jealousy brought on by living in a self-centered universe. 

    Then they progressively progress through all 8,400,000 kinds of life until arriving at the human form, which serves as a portal to the spiritual realm. 

    The soul learns its lessons while accumulating karma via several births and rebirths as people with different degrees of awareness. 

    These many embodied lives are intended to educate us that severing our relationship with God is terrible and that our constitutional status entails serving him again in his realm. 

    After several births and deaths, the one who is genuinely in knowledge surrenders to Me [God], knowing that I am the origin of all origins and the source of everything that is, according to the Gita (7.19). 

    Such a wonderful soul is quite uncommon.

    ~Kiran Atma