Problems with the Hindu concept of the soul…

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The beauty of Hinduism is that its extremely hard to refute as even their followers don’t seem to agree upon a definition. Some call it a religion, some a way of life. The word ‘religion’ has recently acquired a lot of negative connotations to it, which is why you’ll find people rushing at the opportunity to shy away from that label. Of course, when it comes to being able to receive special favours from the government (reservation) and finding excuses to persecute people they hate, which is people from every other community, Hinduism becomes a religion again. It’s a matter of convenience really; they have an algorithm and everything.

I’m sorry if you think that that bit of bashing was unwarranted. In my opinion, no religion is as ridiculous as Hinduism. While they exhibit all the hallmark traits of a religion, they crank it up a notch with their 330 million gods, intensely pseudoscientific approach to diseases – both real and imaginary, extreme mass delusion, and an abundance of people out in the open, best described as clinically crazy.

We’ll be dealing with a lot of those mind numbingly idiotic beliefs in the future. For now let’s discuss the Hindu concept of the soul.

The concept

A belief in the soul is integral to Hinduism. Their entire existence depends on it. To a Hindu, the soul is just a temporary passenger in their host – their body. Expelling one’s soul from their body will kill them. It’s the prime functionary of the being and no living being is said to exist without one – including plants. Of course, there is no clear consensus on whether or not they think micro-organisms have souls.

Another equally, if not more, important concept that’s closely tied with the idea of souls is the concept of reincarnation. If a person dies, their soul leaves the body and inhabits an infant before they’re born again. In a way, they live over and over. The exact number of times that happens varies with their schools of thought. Some believe souls inhabit a total of 8.4 million (or 84 lakhs as they say it) beings one by one. The last life they’ll ever live is as a human. Another belief is that a soul lives in a human being 8400 times at a stretch. Both are equally ridiculous, if you ask me.

In transition between bodies, the souls forget everything about the lives they left behind. Some people claim to remember their past lives. Those who remember only the preceding life tend to have been people in power – kings, rulers, monarchs, that sort of thing. Those who remember more than one or their previous lives, however, are a little more willing to admit they could’ve in a few of them been a pedestrian no one cared about. There do exist practices that claim to grant the ability to let one remember their past lives if they so wish.

Problems

Oh! Where do I begin. There is so much wrong with the idea of the soul alone. Add to that the specific Hindu beliefs and you have enough material for a sitcom. Let’s go over them one by one.

Reincarnation

Reincarnation is a fictional concept. It does not happen in the real world and neither does there exist any mechanism that would allow such a thing. Those who say they’ve reincarnated are lying, end of discussion.

See, the beauty of the idea of reincarnation is that truth claims made around it are unverifiable. I could claim I was a great king a few hundred years ago. All I’ve got to do is read up on all the literature that exists about the king and parrot it out to prove I’m right. Better still, if I claim I was a commoner, no one would bother to check as there would be no mention of my character in history. A believer would believe while a sceptic simply ignored all of it. It is unfalsifiable and claims like that need no scrutiny, they’re taken to be false by default.

The brain is where one’s memories reside. Unless there comes up an effective method of brain transplants, or a way to upload and download the contents of one’s brain, it would be impossible for a person to have another’s memory. Considering the soul is intangible, it shouldn’t be able to actually interact with the brain, much less carry information around unnoticed.

Concerned ghosts

Reincarnation is not really a big deal compared to this. Some Hindus believe their dead don’t go too far away. They stick around and watch their still living loved ones. Shouldn’t that contradict reincarnation? A person cannot be reborn and still watch what’s happening with their families.

Besides, what does watching over really mean here? When a person is living, any damage to their eyes or the visual processing parts of their brain can lead to partial or complete blindness. Problems with one’s ears or audio processing can impair their hearing. All of one’s senses are susceptible to such issues. They can, in some cases, be partly or fully fixed by bioelectronic enhancements or brain surgery. Either way, it involves physically altering one or more of that person’s organs to accommodate their lost abilities.

How can a soul, that could not see or hear or generally perceive their environment while residing in a damaged live body, be able to do all of that without a body? How can a ghost see without physical eyes, hear without ears, feel without the nervous system, and think without a brain? I know I’ve ruined quite many fiction stories by overanalysing the plot, but this is religion we’re talking about. It makes claims about reality; it’s supposed to make sense. But it doesn’t.

Karma

It’s not over yet, there’s more. Hinduism also requires belief in the concept of Karma. Some know it as a version of the proverb, ‘As you sow shall you reap’, stretched over extremely large time scales. Personally, I’d define that as the notion that nature actively tries to screw you for your evil deeds of the past.

Like reincarnation or ghosts, the concept of Karma too is fiction. There is no evidence for it, but that’s not even an issue. The real problem occurs when people seriously believe in Karma. The philosophy suggests that if one does good deeds in their life, they will be rewarded later. If they’ve done evil, they will be punished. The truth, however, is people just get what they get. Many don’t get what they deserve. There is no cosmic record keeping going on.

Of course, not many give it much thought. If a person does bad, people wait for them to be struck by some kind of a misfortune. If one does good and happens to subsequently find success, people attribute that new found success to their good deeds. The concept of Karma relies on confirmation bias. Here’s the funny part: if a person, who is considered evil, doesn’t suffer during their life, people would just believe they’ll suffer in the next life. This wherein the problem lies.

With the concept of Karma, one can easily come to believe that those suffering from diseases, disabilities, poverty and any long term problem are doing so as a payment for the evil they’ve done in their past life. It becomes extremely easy to dehumanise them as “they’re just sinners”. Here’s the thing. Since past lives don’t exist, people are just needlessly suffering. There is no deeper meaning behind it. They do not get what they deserve, but Karma would have you rest assured that suffering of all kinds is cosmically justified.

I’ve been told many times that this is just not the way a Hindu thinks. To that I say: bullshit! I’ve been complimented a lot for possessing a somewhat higher intellect, for scoring well on my exams, for winning competitions involving mathematics, but it’s nearly always followed up with, “You must’ve been a good person in your past life.” That was flattering for a moment. However, they’ve basically denied me the credit for working hard to arrive at such a state, in my one true and real life. I did good in my current life and I’m reaping its well deserved benefits, but that meant nothing to them.

I know a person who has a son who was sick in infancy. The child was blind in the left eye and suffered from bleeding and tissue damage in the brain. He was told by devout Hindus that his son was suffering because he must’ve committed grave sins in one of his past lives. Try and put yourself in those shoes for a moment. How would you feel if you were told one of your loved ones was suffering because they were bad in a past life?

This is a pernicious belief that seems to have been created for the express purpose of dehumanising sufferers and absolving one of any responsibilities to their fellow human. A human with empathy would do everything in their power to help those in need even if it meant going against the imaginary laws set forth by nature, but a Hindu would not give it a second thought. Hinduism is just state sanctioned sociopathy.

Sin cleanse

It gets better. On the stupidity scale, that is. Somehow, despite all that confusion with reincarnation, they believe that a dip in the river Ganga will absolve them off their sins. How exactly is that supposed to work now? The body can be submerged in water. How does that remove the imprint of sins on the soul?

Seriously, I need an answer to that. The soul has been defined as an intangible thing. How can something intangible interact with something physical? It shouldn’t be affected by a body of impure liquid – that’s nothing more chemically than water. So, the soul makes exceptions for the brain and water, but only water from Ganga? They’ve never explained why water from the municipal supply couldn’t do the trick.

Wait! A dip cleanses your sins away? Why wouldn’t every person dip their newborn in this river to ensure their children are not haunted by the demons of their past? That’s like the first thing that a parent should think about. I understand they’ve got a lot on their plate. The anxiety of having a kid with your spouse, a person who was a stranger a year ago, should be quite daunting, but wouldn’t it be better if they got all the accumulated sins out of their child before the kid started to spontaneously combust for having lit their pet dog on fire in a past life?

Some elders ask their descendants to bring a container filled with water from the river to consume in their final moments. What purpose does that serve? Are their sins warded off when they drink it? If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be easier for people to just fill tanks full of the water to be consumed every time they committed a sin? How is it that the most innovative of ideas skip the minds of the people whose ancestors had flying machines that traversed interplanetary space?

Some ask for their ashes to be sprinkled in certain “holy” rivers so that their soul attains peace. Why would the soul still occupy the body after death and cremation? Doesn’t it have to go reincarnate somewhere? Why can’t the soul just escape the body and dip itself in the river before reincarnation to avoid the horrendous phenomenon that is karmic retribution? Think about that.

Wedding vows

The marriage ritual requires each of the participants to vow that they’ll be together for seven lifetimes. Now, do they expect that their significant other simply finds them in the next life? If not, aren’t they breaking their vows by marrying another person? What if they’ve already broken it? What if the reason they are unfortunate is because they did not put in the effort to find the person they vowed to be with?

It gets weirder. A reincarnated person of this kind would technically be already married, which gives a whole new meaning to child marriage. That’s creepy, isn’t it? Let’s say a couple managed to beat the odds and meet each other in the next life. Do they vow to stay together for six lives seven? That’s like reloading a machine gun after shooting once. In any case, that sounds like a raw deal. It’s bad enough to be stuck with one person for a few decades, especially when you don’t get to choose your life partner. Imagine being stuck with one other soul for eternity simply because you couldn’t remember how many times you married them. That’s one kind of subscription, trust me, you don’t want to renew.

That’s enough

I could write on endlessly, but I think this is enough for now. If I’ve offended you, you have my sincerest apologies for having such ridiculous beliefs. The only way you can grow out of them is by giving it some hard thought.

Let me know what you think about the Hindu belief in souls. Is the article expandable? Tell me how. If there are any factual errors, point them to me via comments, where you can also leave suggestions as to what I should discuss next.

Think!