Tag Archives: spirituality

Souls and Cells

Question: What happens at the time of conception? How does an ātmā choose a sperm or an egg cell? Does each sperm cell have an ātmā?

Answer: There are certain mysteries in this universe, which are not known to human beings. Karma, birth, and death are three such mysteries. These mysteries are under the control of Paramātmā, who is the regulator of this universe. How karma gets attached to a particular jīva and how it unfolds in future lives is not known to human beings. They will never be able to have complete understanding of these mysteries, even though science is presently trying hard to understand them.

The mechanism of birth and death, that is, how a particular ātmā takes a particular body, and how a particular ātmā gets a new birth after death, are two major mysteries about life. They can only be known by the sages. There are some hints of these mysteries in śāstra, but there is no detailed explanation available. 

The answer to your questions is hinted at in a Bhāgavata verse spoken by Śrī Kapila. (SB 3.31.1)

karmaṇā daiva-netreṇa jantur dehopapattaye

striyāḥ praviṣṭa udaraṁ puṁso retaḥ-kaṇāśrayaḥ

“By the action of daiva or Īśvara/Paramātmā, the impeller, a particular living being, taking shelter of the sperm of a man, enters into the womb of a woman for accepting a body.”

The important words to be noted in this verse are karmaṇā daiva-netreṇa. Karmaṇā means by action, daiva refers to Paramātmā, and netreṇa means “under the guidance” or “being impelled.” So the meaning of this verse is that an ātmā enters into the womb being attached to the sperm of the man. It is not that the ātmā, which is inside the sperm, takes the human body, but a specific ātmā is attracted to the sperm cell, being impelled by Paramātmā. This ātmā may enter inside the womb even without the sperm, if Paramātmā so wills. There are many stories about kings who had no progeny and then performed a yajña or whose wives were given a specific fruit to eat and then became pregnant. In the 6th chapter of the Ninth Canto, we find such a story about King Yuvanāśva: 

This king married one hundred wives, but he had no sons, and therefore he entered the forest. In the forest, the sages performed a sacrifice known as Indra-yajña on his behalf. Once, however, the king became so thirsty in the forest that he drank the water kept for performing yajña. Consequently, after some time, a son came forth from the right side of his abdomen (SB 9.6.25–30).

Another interesting story relates the birth of sage Jamadagni, the father of Paraśurāma:

There was a king named Kuśāmba, whose son Gādhi had a daughter named Satyavatī. Satyavatī was married to sage Ṛcīka. Once Satyavatī and her mother both requested Ṛcīka to bless them with a son. Ṛcīka took two pots of rice cooked in milk and empowered them with mantra. In one pot of sweet rice, he infused brāhmaṇa potency, and in the other, he infused kṣatriya potency, because he was a brāhmaṇa himself and wanted a son with brāhminical character for his wife Satyavatī. As her mother was a queen, he wanted a kṣatriya son to be born to her. Therefore, he made two separate pots for them. However, when Satyavatī brought the pot for her mother, the mother thought that the sage Ṛcīka favored his own wife and must have given a special pot of sweet rice to her. Therefore, she asked the daughter to exchange the pots. The daughter, being obedient to her mother and being ignorant of her husband’s intentions, gave her own pot to her mother and ate the sweet rice meant for her mother. 

As an outcome, Satyavatī and her mother both became pregnant. As the pregnancy advanced, Ṛcīka Muni could sense that the face of Satyavatī carried the radiance of kṣatriya potency. Upon inquiry, she innocently told her husband that she exchanged the pot with her mother. Hearing this Ṛcīka was upset and said that a kṣatriya son would be born to her. Satyavatī did not like that and begged her husband for a solution Being thus implored, Ṛcīka said that she would have a brāhmaṇa son, but her grandson would be of kṣatriya character. By the grace of sage Ṛcīka, Jamadagni, who had brāhminical character, was born to her. However, his son Parasurāma had the nature of a kṣatriya. Satyavatī’s mother, on the other hand, gave birth to Viśvāmitra who did very severe penances and acquired the status of a brāhma-ṛṣi. 

Another such incident is related in the Rāmāyaṇa with King Daśaratha:

As King Daśaratha was originally unable to have children, he reached out to the gods by performing an Aśvamedha, a horse sacrifice, and asked them to bestow a child upon him. King Daśaratha gained this magical substance that would ultimately lead to the birth of his sons.All three of his wives received portions of it. Instructed to divide the potion between his wives, King Daśaratha gave half to Kauśalyā due to her seniority, and the other half to Kaikeyīdue to his fondness for her. Unfortunately, this did not leave any for Sumitrā which caused Kauśalyā and Kaikeyī to each give her half of their portions. As Sumitrā technically received two servings, she bore two sons. Kauśalyā bore Rāma, Sumitrā bore twins, Lakṣmaṇa, and Śatrughna, and Kaikeyī bore Bharata.

 Although Lord Rāma is Bhagavān Himself and does not depend on such technicalities, still the stories convey the point that it is not just the semen that carries the soul. Similarly, there are stories that kings would do yajña to get a child (putreṣṭiyajña). One such example is King Drupada, who did such a yajña to get a son to kill Droṇācārya. As an outcome of this, Drṣṭadyumna and Draupadī were born from the fire of the yajña. Another example is Vṛtrāsura, who was Viśvāmitra’s son. He came out from the fire to kill Indra. 

From the above stories, you should understand that a separate ātmā takes shelter of a specific sperm and then combines with the ovum to become a zygote.

Question: If all cells have souls, when a sperm and an egg cell combine, what happens to the soul in the egg cell? [As the body gets the soul from the sperm].

Answer: The soul of the sperm and the ovum remain together in the zygote. The presiding soul of the body also remains there, separate from these souls. 

Question: Also, as the zygote divides to form the embryo and then the full body, by what program or mechanism do new souls get into the newly formed cells? Which of these daughter cells has the original soul (from the sperm)?

Answer: The new souls that come into the cells may come from the food eaten by the mother. None of the daughter cells have the original soul, which is separate.

Question: How does the master soul end up in the praṇavāyu area (near the heart), given that it was originally in a cell?

Answer: It was originally not in a cell, but outside, and it is already with praṇavāyu because every conditioned soul is attached to a subtle body, which contains the praṇavāyu. This is hinted at by Kṛṣṇa in Gītā 15.8–10. In fact, in 15.11, he also says that only yogīs can see this and not ordinary people. 

Question: Since the souls in individual cells suffer or enjoy according to the karma of the main soul, are these souls karmically linked somehow?

Answer: Yes, they are linked and therefore they end up together in the body provided by the main ātmā. 

Dissatisfaction Leads to Perfection

By Satyanarayana Dasa

I have never met anybody in my life who was fully satisfied with his or her situation, environment, condition, position, relations, health, wealth, or possessions. The poor are hankering to be rich, and the rich want to be richer. An overweight person wants to lose weight, and a thin person wants to gain a few pounds. Married couples think that it is better to remain single, and single people are dying to find a partner. The East looks towards the West, and the West is enamored by the East. People in villages dream to come and live in the cities (especially in India), and city dwellers cherish the simple and calm village life.

Deep dissatisfaction with life and the conditions of everyday experience are universal among mankind. These are not the characteristics of a particular age, race, or civilization. Nor is it a defect of any individual person, although some people seem more content, or rather less dissatisfied, than others.

Why Dissatisfaction Exists

The root cause of dissatisfaction lies in the very design of human beings,  and this dissatisfaction exists for a reason. The reason is to spur the individual to attain the ultimate purpose of human life, that is, emancipation from the cycle of birth and death. This dissatisfaction does not appear to exist in the other species of life. The myriad creatures of the world seem completely content if their basic needs of food and shelter are satisfied.

It is only we humans who are never satisfied. No matter how good our situations may be and no matter what things we possess, we eventually become bored and begin seeking change. (Companies capitalize handsomely on this flaw by producing new models of their products every year, leading consumers to believe that their latest creations will bring them the permanent happiness they are seeking.)

Searching for a Solution

Very few people are acutely conscious of this innate unhappiness. Most people are caught in the rut of regular duties and never stop to think about it. Those who are conscious of this dissatisfaction try to find a solution for it. Such people can be divided into two groups. The first group, the larger one, includes those who are not concerned about the ultimate cause of this problem.  They are consumed by the problem itself, and look only to redress their own dissatisfaction.  They are not concerned about others.

The people in the second group spend their lives in a prolonged endeavor to find the remedy for this problem, though they keep the welfare of others in mind. This group can be further divided into two. The first consists of people who take to fields of science and technology and devote their lives to research and finding solutions to alleviate the problems of humanity. This group has been more active in the last few centuries and has made commendable efforts to make humanity happy, peaceful, and free from disease.

The second group of people includes those who look for the solution in the realm of metaphysics. These pioneers have been, for the most part, founders of religions and of philosophies, and their search has usually been connected to an experience of or contact with something that they call God. They have unanimously maintained that in the experience of union or relation with God lies the only assuagement of human unrest. This group was very prominent in the past and has held ground for a long time. But as science and technology have progressed, religion and philosophy have taken a back seat. In the past few decades, however, a new trend is setting in. Scientists, religionists, and philosophers have begun a dialogue.

Science or Religion?

In search of answers to life’s mysteries, modern scientists have investigated the depths of our world. Because they have been unable to find satisfying conclusions through minute analysis and deconstruction, however, they have been forced to explore realms of life that seem unscientific or metaphysical. Science and religion are no longer seen as absolutely exclusive fields. There is now a trend towards synthesis. Science, by nature, is analytical, while religion is synthetical. But it seems that science cannot completely ignore the principles and experience of religionists. Otherwise, it will fail in its mission: to give peace and satisfaction to humanity.

The Vedic scriptures discuss very explicitly the cause of dissatisfaction, and tender a permanent solution for it. They categorically state that without realizing the supreme Absolute— call it God, Brahman or Allah—no human being can attain complete satisfaction. This, indeed, is the purpose of human life. Unless people attain this goal, they can never be satisfied. The human body is designed only for that. All other activities are at the animalistic level. They do not make one worthy of being called a human being.

Human beings, therefore, will always remain dissatisfied if they do not act towards the purpose for which they have been granted the human body. No amount of technological advancement will keep them satisfied. They can choose different professions or jobs, but dissatisfaction will not leave them. They can travel to any part of the globe or go to the moon, but they cannot get rid of this unhappiness. Even material advancement in different fields is the outcome of dissatisfaction. But, unfortunately, material progress cannot give lasting peace and happiness. The satisfaction one experiences from material objects, material relations, material knowledge, material possessions, etc., is ephemeral. It sublimates like a ball of camphor, leaving some impressions behind.

The True Solution

The Gita clearly mentions the path and process to end this dissatisfaction. It states that a person who has faith in God, is devoted to Him, and has control over his senses attains true knowledge. Having attained true knowledge, such a person attains supreme peace without delay. On the other hand, one who is ignorant of the Absolute, one who is faithless and doubtful, is lost. Such a person is neither happy in this life nor after death.