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The Concept Of The Soul In Major World Religions

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The Soul

The soul being an unseen entity, has been defined in many terms. In the overall sense it is defined as a an entity that is separate from the body (Dictionary.com, 2019), and the descriptions as to what, in a human this immaterial part consists of or signifies, includes human feelings, thoughts, actions (Dictionary.com, 2019), personality, intellect and will (Collins Dictionary, 2019) which is “believed to exist after death (Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, 2019).” The major religions of the world, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism have their own concepts of the what the soul, what role it has in the life of a person and what happens to the soul when the body dies.

Buddhism

Buddhism is a religion that views life as ‘suffering’ due to attachment to worldly desires. It believes in the existence of a human consciousness that experiences many rebirths before it reaches the state of enlightenment by detaching itself from the material world (The Buddhist Concept of the Soul, n.d.). This state of enlightenment, known as Nirvana, puts an end to the suffering and halts the cycle of birth and death (Buddhist, 2019). However this doctrine of rebirth is not the same as reincarnation (where the souls transmigration leads to a material birth) as in Buddhism there is no existence of a divine God or eternal soul (Paramatma) (Thera, 2019). “The Buddha repudiated any belief in an immutable and abiding soul (Narain, 1984).” According to Buddhism what is taken as an eternal soul is actually a “temporary composite of matter sensations, perceptions, thought and consciousness (The Buddhist Concept of the Soul, n.d.),” that are constantly changing. When the body dies this all the mental energy transfers to another body.

Judaism

Judaism belief is of one God, Yahweh. The one God is the creator and controls the Universe who choose the Jewish people to be an example for the rest of mankind in “holiness and ethical behavior (Religions-Judaism: Jewish beliefs, 2009).”

The human creation according to Judaism is explained in Genesis “Then the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being’ (Genesis 2:7) (Encyclopedia Judaica: Body and Soul, 2019).” This living soul is known as “nephesh (Encyclopedia.com, 2019).’ This soul is from the world of the divine , when the physical body is asleep, the soul leaves and after being spiritually refreshed “from on high (Encyclopedia Judaica: Body and Soul, 2019).”

The scriptures of Judaism focus mainly on the living period of humans and there is very limited text to explain what happens to the soul after the body dies and there is no agreed upon view (The Afterlife in Judaism, 2017). Generally, the belief is that when the body dies, the soul will continue to exist (Encyclopedia.com, 2019) and the body and soul will reunite at the time of resurrection (Encyclopedia Judaica: Body and Soul, 2019). Until the time of resurrection, it the soul will exist in another realm and the body remains in the grave.

Christianity

Christianity’s definition of soul according to Collins Dictionary is “the spiritual part of a person, capable of redemption from the power of sin though divine grace (Collins Dictionary, 2019). The soul in Christianity is central to the existence of a person, it is separate from the body and continue to exist after the physical body is dead. There isn’t much clarity as to the state of the soul, however the final destination of the soul will be through resurrection on the day of judgement.

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In the Bible the soul is explained as being created by God and being a separate entity from the heart, the spirit, the mind, strong or unsteady and can be saved or lost that is need of atonement which is the work of the human spirit (Got Questions (your Questions, Biblical Answers), 2019).

Hinduism

Hinduism in general terms is a henotheistic religion; the worship of the supreme deity “Brahman” but also acknowledging and worshiping other gods (Hinduism, 2017). Life is seen as a continuous cycle of life, death and reincarnation, known as Samsara (Hinduism, 2017).

One of the key thoughts of Hinduism is “atman,” or the belief in soul. Hindu belief in the atman, holds that every living being has a soul which is part of a supreme soul (Hinduism, 2017). In the Bhagavad Gita (Hindu religious text) the nature of the soul is defined: ‘It is born not, nor does it ever die, nor shall it, after having been brought into being, come not to be hereafter. The unborn, the permanent, the eternal, the ancient, it is slain not when the body is slain (Encyclopedia.com, 2019).’

The atman, the same soul, is reincarnated into a new body that is human, animal or any non-human as well. The main aim of a Hindu is to attain ‘Moksha’ a release for the endless reincarnation to connect with the universal Brahman (Beliefs of Hinduism, n.d.). The transition of a person’s soul into another body is reliant on the fundamental principle of karma. Karma is the belief that a person’s reincarnation is dependent on their actions. The karma of a person defines the path that is taken to achieve Moksha, release from continuous reincarnation (Hinduism, 2017).

Islam

Islam is based on the belief of one God-Allah, who is the creator of everything, sustainer and sovereign. According to Islam, people consist of a body and soul, both are different entities (al-Kanadi, 2019). It says in the Quran that Allah created Adam-man and breathed the soul into him “[So mention] when your Lord said to the angels, ‘Indeed, I am going to create a human being from clay. So when I have proportioned him and breathed into him of My [created] soul, then fall down to him in prostration (38:71-72) (Sad, 2019).” The soul is called Ruh here and is clearly a created entity separate from the body, but which flows through the body and is essential for “existence of life (Philips).” The soul is breathed into the human at the stage when it is a fetus. The soul is said to be separated from the body in two circumstances, one during sleep and the other at the time of death (al-Kanadi, 2019). After death the souls are returned to their place of origin known as the Barzakh until the day of resurrection (Philips) when each soul will be judged according to the way it lived itself life.

Conclusion

The religions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism all believe that the soul is a created entity that will survive when the body dies. Buddhism and Hinduism believe the soul is an eternal entity not created. All three Abrahamic faiths believe that the soul is in an interim state waiting for the day of judgement. The deeds of the soul when it was in the world will decide the ultimate destination of a good or evil eternal abode. Hinduism and Buddhism are similar in their belief that the soul will continue to be reborn or reincarnated until it reaches enlightenment, there is no concept of an ultimate destination. The difference in the concept of the soul between Hinduism and Buddhism lies primarily in that Buddhism does not consider the soul to be permanent, and rebirth occurs with the transference of energy of consciousness. The similarity in all the religions is that the soul, atman, anatta exists after death of the body and that the next existence is incumbent upon the way life has been lived in the current world.

Bibiliography

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  4. (2019). Retrieved from Collins Dictionary: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/soul
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  6. (2019). Retrieved from Got Questions (your Questions, Biblical Answers): https://www.gotquestions.org/human-soul.html
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