Soul Is Neither Sat Nor Asat


Siddhantarathnam K.Ganesalingam


The Indian philosophical systems, in general, classify all things, known and unknown, into two categories, Sat and Asat. These two words, sat and asat are interpreted to give different meanings by different schools of thought. They relate to pair of opposites, such as real and unreal, eternal and non-eternal, permanent and impermanent, animate and inanimate. The three entities, God, soul and cosmos are included in these classifications.

While considering these classifications, Saiva Siddhanta speaks of soul as one which cannot be accommodated into any of these two categories. It places it in a third category and names it as Sadasat . Also the interpretation given to sat and asat in Siddhanta philosophy varies from those in other systems.

To understand and appreciate the concept of sadasat, an understanding of the Siddhanta view of God, Soul and Universe is necessary.

Saiva Siddhanta is a philosophy of pluralistic realism, the concept of the triple realities of Pati, Pasu and Pasam is the bedrock of the Siddhanta tradition. Although these words are interpreted to mean God, soul and bondage (or material of bondage) respectively, their import and connotation are not exactly the same. Pasam which consists of anavam, kanmam and maya is sometimes referred to mean anavam only because of its capacity to obscure the soul and keep it in bondage from the beginning. Pasu and pasam are as real and without beginning as God Himself. This is a significant Siddhanta concept which is clearly told by Thirumoolar in his Thirumanthiram verse l 115 as follows:-

"pathipasu paasam enappakar muundrin

Patiyinaip poolpasu paasam anaathi"

The basic difference between Saiva Siddhanta philosophy and other Indian philosophical systems can be traced to this concept.

While Siddhantins speak of these three entities as real, there are others who consider two or one or none of these as real or meaningful. A branch of Buddhist thought does not accept any as real. Sankhya system of philosophy accepts pasu and pasam as real with certain variations. Materialists do not believe in God or soul. For them the phenomenal world and its materials of enjoyment are the only real and meaningful entities.

The interpretations and classifications of Sat and Asat by various traditions, to a large extent, have relevance to their interpretation and acceptance of the three entities, viz, God, Soul and the Universe. (or matter).

In the Vendanta philosophy, sat and asat mean real and unreal respectively. The Brahmam or God is the only reality and is therefore sat. All other things are its appearances and are neither real nor unreal (Sadasat vilakshana). This is not acceptable to the siddhanta system, as Maya from which the body organs, world and materials of enjoyment (dhanu, karana. bhuvana and bhoga) manifest, is neither non-eternal nor unreal.

The concept of maya in Vedanta is quite different from that in Siddhanta. While Vedanta interprets it to mean as illusion or indeterminateness, it is real in Siddhanta. According to Saiva Siddhanta, maya is the primordial cause from which the entire universe including the physical bodies with their mental and psychological faculties are evolved. Arulnandhi Sivachariyar refers maya as a seed of this work. It is called maya because all objects emanate from it and go back to it. The formation of the word maya in Tamil is illustrative of this: "ma" stands for decay or involution and "ya" stands for birth or evolution.

One of the important concept of Saiva Siddhanta is "What is in existence cannot die and what is non-existent cannot be born". ("ullathu azhiyaathu, illathu thondraathu") This is called Satkaryavada which takes a dominant place in Sankhya and Siddhanta philosophies. A parallel to this can be found in the theory of conservation of energy in science. Energy can only be transformed from one form to another, it cannot be destroyed or created. Destruction and creation in common usage is only a transformation. Saiva Siddhanta speaks in the same way in its theory of Satkariyavada. Birth and death are considered as mere trasformation of Maya from one form to another (sukshma to sthula and vice versa).

Any definition of sat or asat should be consistent with this principle of satkaryavada. Accordingly asat is that which is liable to change, origination and decay. By this definition the concept of satkaryavadha is taken into account and the eternality of pasam is neither denied nor compromised with for its everchanging nature. It also follows that the only unchangeable entity, Pathi or God is sat.

Another quality identified with asat is that which is known by being pointed out (sutti arithal). All wordly things which are known in this way are, therefore, asat and God which cannot be known in this manner is sat. So this way of knowing by pointing out and the everchanging nature are two characteristics by which sat and asat are distinguished.

Though the phenomenal world and other components of pasam are said to be asat, Siddhanta philosophy does not dismiss them as unreal. They are just as real as God, the sat.

So far, in the analysis of sat and asat, the place of soul has not been discussed.

Almost all religious traditions appear to have more complications in comprehending the nature of souls, than that of God or the cosmos. This may be because of the soul’s apparent elusive association with the visible physical body, the knowledge formed regarding its identification with or separateness from the body and its activities, realisation of its subtle presence, its limitations etc. This has resulted in a diversity of definitions, explanations and arguments regarding it.

These diverse views include identification of soul with one or many of the entities such as God (Brahmam) senses, mind, body, breath and paradoxical definitions such as "neither real nor unreal", "both real and unreal", etc. Siddhanta philosophers have given thought to all these views and established their own doctrine relating to soul. Arulnandhi Sivachchariyar has written extensively in his Sivagnanasiddhiar Parapakkam about various doctrines prevailing during his time and refuted their claims.

Based on theoretical analysis and practical experiences (of saints and sages), Siddhanta philosophers found that the souls cannot be grouped as sat or asat.

An essential or primary quality of the soul is to exhibit the nature of things with which it is associated. Also it has a dependent nature. It depends either on God which is sat or things which are asat. When associated with asat it exhibits the characteristic of asat, and while in release (from its bondage) it reflects the character of sat which is Siva. It is for these reasons the soul is often compared to a crystal which reflects the colour of its environment.

Although the soul, in its wordly state, exhibits the character of asat when in association with it, it does not loose its inherent nature and become one with it. This and other Siddhantic views were in existence in the Tamil land long before a systematic Saiva Siddhanta treatise like Sivaganabhodam was formulated.

The view that the soul is in association with the body ( a product of maya) which is asat, and it exhibits its (body’s) quality, but retains its (soul’s) inherent nature is clearly reflected in the following sutra of Tholkappiam.

"meyodu iyayinum uyiriyal thiriyaa"

This ancient Tamil text of Tholkappiam, in describing the nature of Tamil letters and the grammatical formation of words, has given a glimpse of the siddhanta philosopohy relating to God, soul and the cosmos. Usageof words such as iraivan, katavul, uyir, mei, vinai in Tholkappiyam is itself a proof to an already developed philosophy of the Tamils, which is Siddhanta philosophy. The following words of Marai Malai Adikal explains this:-

"At the very dawn of Tamil civilization of which we catch a glimpse through Tholkappiam, the oldest Tamil work extant, we find the views about God, soul and matter and salvation to have become thoroughly sound and complete".

Similar views were expressed by scholars from both West and East. From these, one can infer that there was a system of philosophical thought developed in Tamil land and it was not studied and given due recognition. The unique quality of the soul exhibiting the characteristic of sat or asat, and retaining its inherent natures, does not allow it to be grouped into either sat or asat.

Another two words which are somewhat related to sat and asat and used to classify things differently are cit and acit. God and soul have one quality in common. Both have intelligence, but of varing grade. God’s intelligence is all pervasive, while that of the soul is limited. Because of this, God is sometimes referred to as sukshma cit and soul as thula cit. God is intelligence or wisdom personified and does not need any agency (or instruments) to know the things. Compared to God’s wisdom (cit) the soul’s wisdom is almost nil. So relatively, the soul is acit. Because of this the soul is sometimes described as citacit. Sivagnanasiddhiyar (verse 203) describes God as arulcit and soul as cit which gets his grace.(arulserum cit)

Although the soul is a cit having intelligence, it is enshrouded by anava malam which obscures its knowledge and induces ignorance. The anava malam is attached to the life potential of the soul from the beginning like verdigris, the green rust in copper. The Lord or Pathi, by his infinite grace or Cit Sakthi helps the soul to evolve.

In the process of evolution the soul gets attached to the products of maya (dhanu, karana, buvana and bhoga). The God’s citsakthi awakens the soul’s citsakthi, which in turn acts through its physiological and psychological instruments. In this condition the soul see things which are asat and cannot see God which is sat.

It is a quality of the soul to gain knowledge only by deep experience. It experiences asat and know it as asat. God cannot be experienced or known in the manner in which worldly things are experienced or known. To know or to realise God, a change in perception is required. This involves certain discipline or procedure in every stage of development of the soul. Saiva Siddhanta speaks extensively of these disciplines and procedures for change of perception. (An explanation of these is beyond the scope of this article). The important thing is that the soul has the capacity to experience both sat and asat and to know them as sat and asat.

These two kinds of knowledge (knowledge of sat and knowledge of asat) are not in the nature of entities which are sat and asat. For God who is Satchitananda (sat=cit=ananda) and whose knowledge is all pervasive, there is no necessity to know as asat. As for asat, it is unintelligent and hence cannot know sat. It is only the soul or Anma which has the knowledge of both sat and asat. This is explained by Umpathi Sivachchariyar in his Thiruvaruptpayan couplet.""cat acatai saarathu,

asaththu ariyaathu angkan avai

uyththal sathacatam uyir"

This quality of the soul to know sat and asat, but being neither of these two is clearly explained in few fords in Sivaganabhodam Sutra 7.

"iruthiran ariula irandalaa aanmaa"

Going by its literal meaning, sadasat is interpreted by some scholars to mean both sat and asat. This confusion is cleared in the above quoted sutra as "Anma which is neither of the two". The name sadasat is given to the soul because of its capacity to know both sat and asat.In itself it is neither sat nor asat.


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