The Jivamala
Historical and Philosophical Perspectives on the Doctrine of Anatta

The Jivamala  Logo

Historical and Philosophical Perspectives
on the Doctrine of Anatta

The Buddhist tradition does not believe in an underlying soul or self. This idea is expressed in the doctrine of anatta (Pali) or anatman (Sanskrit), which is usually translated as "no soul". This doctrine was an attempt to dispute the Hindu belief in an atman or eternal soul. This atman is sometimes also denoted by the term "monad" in Western interpretations of yoga philosophy, since it stands independent and alone without need of a physical environment or body to support it.

Since the underlying nature of everything is emptiness, an eternal soul would violate this idea by claiming the existence of something eternal outside this spiritual emptiness or Void.

In the Jivamala practice, there are many references to both "jiva" and "soul". How can this be explained?

The soul in the Buddhist tradition is an illusion, and is in fact only a collection of karma (skandhas), which is bound together temporarily to form the person. This collection is said to transmigrate going from life to life, taking on new bodies until correct action leads to its dissolution. At this point, the individual (or more accurately the Buddha mind) perceives that there is no eternal soul and becomes enlightened.

The use of the term jiva at this web site refers to a sub-collection of karma associated with a single life (as opposed to the sum total of karma associated with an individual across lives). The jiva is the personality of the individual during a single life and after death.

The Bhairava takes a somewhat historical approach when describing what is meant by the term jiva:

At the time of the Buddha's enlightenment, he was still a Hindu in terms of his assumptions about the world, and its structure - he would have understood the individual self as jiva, and even as atman. The Buddhist doctrines of anatman and skandhas had not yet been elaborated.

Hindus who learned of the suffering inherent in life and believed that an end to suffering was possible through correct action, did not necessarily all disbelieve in a self. Even when the no-self doctrine became widespread, many Buddhists continued to believe in a jiva (defined as an individual personality associated with a single lifetime) even if there was no atman (eternal self). Because there was no organizing deeper self, it was possible for the jiva to fragment, and therefore to have pieces of karma in several selves at once.

This fragmentation of karma was associated with strong emotion where because of its intense passion, part of the self lived on in the afterlife while another more dominant part (i.e. the full self) reincarnated in a new body.

One important question to answer is: "What is the meaning of a complete or full self?". This full self is contrasted with the partial self which lives on in the afterlife after a split occurs and the full self reincarnates.

In relation to the more spiritual personalities, a second question also arises as to what is added to them by deities to make these partial selves full or complete. This occurs in two of the biographies which are located on the Lives of Spiritual Awakening page at this site.

The Bhairava answers these questions in the following way (after first describing various kinds of karma),

There are many types of karma. There is the karma of time - of past, of present, and generated for the future. There is the karma of source and place associated with space and astrology. There is individual and group karma. There is intentional and accidental karma associated with the will and the passions. There is superficial and deep karma.

The karmas that continue over lifetimes are associated with deep passions. The more emotionally intense the person's response, the more likely the response is to continue when the person dies. Memories and habits scatter. Emotions hold together memories, acting as a sort of glue for the karmic components. Normally, it is intentional karma that is the strongest, but in some cases, trauma that results from unexpected difficulties can be very powerful.

Events affect people at different depths. There can be overwhelming experiences of fear and horror, or of desire and lust. That which overwhelms the person, and which the person affirms as important tends to affect future lives. If the person does not affirm the event, it may dissipate, or survive as hidden or repressed karma. It is passion that determines longevity of karma.

As for partial selves, all selves are organizations of karma. Normally, the emotional glue, which brings will, impulse, and consciousness, and generates the skandhas, causes a set of reflections, which echo into the Void. The self-organization is linked with the Void through echoes and resonances. When the self is fragmented, these echoes become less powerful and only reach partly down to the source. Entities who are separated from the source are partial selves.

This state of partial identity need not be permanent. The partial self may grow spiritually and regain its link with the source, or a deity may intervene, and through grace, it may create a link with the source.

Such a link may increase the resonance with the existing karma, or it may generate a link separately. In either case, the partial identity once again has a spiritual grounding, and thus may evolve spiritually.

This is a real problem today, especially in materialistic cultures. People are encouraged to lose touch with their spiritual dimensions, to amputate that part of themselves in the name of status or power or modernity. As a result, there are many isolated and alienated people. A variety of substitutes for an absolute have been generated - various addictions, compulsions, projections of the unconscious in violent movies and pornography and comic books. It is hard not to have an absolute to cling to - one must be a nihilist or in satori.

Compassionate bodhisattvas may repair selves that are broken or warped, or they may have paradises in which the individual's fantasies are given free reign and eventually sort themselves out. Bhairavas are wisdom beings rather than compassionate ones - we help by destroying illusion, ignorance, and attachment.

Thus we see how terms like soul or jiva as well as phrases like partial, full, split, and fragmented soul can be defined in a way that does not conflict with the doctrine of "no-soul" common in Buddhist philosophy. Because there is no underlying atman, the karma of the individual may be split into many personalities. It is passion or strong emotion that leads to this split which occurs when a part of the self is left behind in the afterlife when the full self reincarnates.

While there is no "over-soul" or atman in the system described at this site, the simultaneous existence and interconnection of a group of jivas provides a kind of group identity consisting of an array of personalities which can, in exceptional circumstances, communicate and affect each other. It is the commonality and sharing of karma that binds together this group of jivas. Karma is the thread which holds the beads together in the Jivamala or necklace of souls.

Introduction | The Bhairava or Spiritual Guide | Lives of Spiritual Weakness | Lives of Spiritual Awakening | Conclusion


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