I am trying to understand from a spiritual point of view what distinguishes the dead from the living. I read in Bhagavad Geeta 7.5 that there is an inferior and superior nature of the self. The superior living on the inferior. But what exactly is the difference? I am confused because this implies that only living beings such as humans, animals, cells, etc. have a soul and dead matter doesn't. But then in the Upanishads it is stated that the Self (Soul) is everything.

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    Only living beings have a soul, and material objects are dead. A soul is that what makes a living being live and conscious entity. So obviously inanimate objects do not have a soul. And that statement from the Upanishads doesn't mean that everything is living, but it just means that the Supreme soul has expanded itself into everything and has become this world, living beings, inanimate objects, etc, thus producing this whole world. Thus since the world has emerged from the Supreme soul and is an expansion of it, in some sense we can say the Supreme soul is this world and everything. Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 16:27
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    Onephys- "Does that mean that I as a human being am one soul or a agglomeration of many souls of each and every cell? " I can tell you that pursuing this question with vigor will result in viswa roopa sandarsanam. To address your original question : the difference is chaitanya or consciousness aka chitshakti. Yes, non-living entities are also distortions of the supreme but they are manifestations of jadashakti not chitshakti.
    – user1195
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 15:29
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    @moonstar2001 Thank you very much for your comment. Could you please refer me to literature (scriptures, commentaries, etc.) which talks about chitshakti and jadashakti. I am very keen on understanding this in depth. Thank you
    – onephys
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 17:30
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    Onephys- I recommend starting with Madhava Vidyaranya's sarva darsana sangraha archive.org/details/Sarva-darsana-sangrahaOfMadhavacharya and sanskritebooks.org/2009/11/… . Specifically sankhya and vaiseshika discuss the physical aspects of the universe. Also read commentaries on Chandogya and lalita sahasra nama bhashyam, Specifically, commentary on the names "chicchaktischetana rupa jadassaktir jadatmika" Bhaskara raya's Lalita Bhashyam is the most authoritative.
    – user1195
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 2:45
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    It could be that every single cell of your body has a soul of their own, but you have nothing to do with that. Every soul is one individual, one living being, and you are just one such spiritual soul in your body responsible for your human body, while millions of other souls of your million cells are not living life of a human as you are, they just live as a cells of your body. Of course every soul got appropriate type of body according to his merits and demerits, ie karma, so it's not by chance that you got a human life, and other souls in your body got simple cell live to live. Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 9:41

2 Answers 2


First, your interpretation of verse 7.5 is almost there, but not quite, which leads to your confusion. It is best to read verses 4-7 together and not separately. Verse 4 refers to the apparent division of Brahman, the Self, when seen through Maya. According to Sankara’s commentary on this verse, the elements referred to in the verse are the subtle elements and not the gross elements (Bhagavad Gita with the Commentary of Sankaracarya, Swami Gambhirananda translator). These are the apparent divisions of Mahamaya.

Verse 5 refers to the fact that it is really Brahman alone that is behind Maya and is the real cause and upholder of the universe. The two verses are meant to contrast that the perceiver of the universe, the individual jiva, is identified with the only real Perceiver of the universe, the universal Jiva, Brahman (verse 5); and that the universe being perceived is due to egoism, one of the eight-fold divisions of Maya referred to (verse 4). Sankara says in his commentary on this verse:

...By anankarah, egoism, is meant the Unmanifest, associated with (Cosmic) ignorance. As food mixed with poison is called poison, similarly the Unmanifest, which is the primordial Cause, is called egoism since it is imbued with the impressions resulting from egoism; and egoism is the impelling force (of all). It is indeed seen in the world, that egoism is the impelling cause behind all endeavor.

Verse 6 and 7 then tries to spell it out more succulently by stating that these two Prakritis are only Brahman.

To understand this more clearly, Sri Vidyaranya Swami says in his Pancadasi 15.7-8 (Swami Swahananda translator):

(Another Sruti says): ‘The supreme Self, though one only, exists in every object. Like the moon reflected in water, though one It appears as many.’ (Amrtabindu Upanishad 12.)

The moon which is reflected in water is faint in muddy water and clear in pure water. Similarly Brahman is two-fold according to the quality of the Vrittis (modification) of the mind.

Does this imply that only living things have souls and dead matter doesn’t? Yes and no. Pancadasi 15.20 says:

Existence, consciousness, and bliss—these are the three-fold nature of Brahman. In objects like clay, stone, and so forth, only existence is manifest, whereas the other two are not.

And verse 23:

The two, absence of consciousness, and misery, and non-existence—these are the three forms of Maya. Non-existence is illustrated by such expressions as ‘the horns of a man’; absence of consciousness is seen in such objects as wood, stone, etc.

What is consciousness and misery? These two are egoism, referred to in Gita verse 7.4. Without these two present, then you have only matter—stone, wood, etc. which are constituted from the other subtle elements referred to in the same verse.

Finally we read again in the Gita (9.4-5, Swami Gambhirananda translator):

This whole world is pervaded by Me in My unmanifest form. All beings exist in Me, but I am not contained in them!

Nor do the beings dwell in Me, Behold My divine Yoga! I am the sustainer and originator of beings, but My Self is not contained in all beings.

So Brahman pervades and sustains all, is omnipresent in all—but Brahman unmanifest remains separate from Maya. This is the eternal divine mystery.

  • How is consciousness egoism? After all, Nirguna Brahman is nothing but pure consciousness.
    – Pinakin
    Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 17:02
  • @ChinmaySarupria don't get it confused with the Western concept of egoism. See Sankara's definition of anankarah - egoism - as quoted above. It is the Unmanifest (Brahman) associated with Cosmic ignorance (maya). Commented Aug 21, 2016 at 3:56
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    @SwamiVishwananda Yes. I meant dead "gross" body. Can infer the same to rocks or sand particles? Does concept of "rebirth" apply to those things which have only "sat" without "chit" and "Ananda" (at Vyavaharika level only)?
    – The Destroyer
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 10:56
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    @Swami Vishwananda Does concept of "rebirth" apply to those things which have only "sat" without "chit" and "Ananda"(like sand and stones(continuation of The Destroyers Qn....)? Also what sources would u recommend to read more about how Advaita explains consciousness, soul, rebirth/reincarnation and related concepts? Commented Nov 21, 2022 at 11:17
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    @devibhakt Feel free to disagree with any philosophy not just Advaita! It is generally considered the last level as one moves from duality(Dvaita) towards non-duality and many people often misinterpret the verses and misunderstand the interpretations due its difficult nature.Also right from birth we are heavily conditioned by Prakriti Devi to be attracted towards forms, so it is in-fact extremely hard to break the bonds of duality and completely understand Advaita. Sure i am also really interested in another perspective on this topic(highly interested in Tantra btw :) )! Commented Nov 21, 2022 at 15:28

You're right that living beings have soul and dead matter hasn't. Let me clarify your following confusion:

But then in the Upanishads it is stated that the Self (Soul) is everything.

According to Upanishads and Brahma Sutra, Brahman (ब्रह्म) is निमित्तोपादान कारण (material & sufficient cause) for all the creation i.e all these are made from and made by Brahman.

Now when you're refereeing to the self (soul), there are two meanings:

  1. Individual Self, also called Jivatma
  2. Supreme self, also called Paramatma

And the verse you've mentioned (7.5) clearly say about Jiva (Individual soul) using jīva-bhūtāṁ.

You may find in many scriptures which say 'Only one fourth of Brahman makes up the world.' Aitareya, Taitteriya and Chhandogya Upanishad discuss how the world is made from (and by) Brahman.

Now, How the self (soul) is everything is explained with the help of Advaita and Vishishtadvaita Vedanta as follows:

  • According to Advaita, the Universe/World and the individuality of the self appears because of ignorance (अज्ञान)! and there is only one truth - Brahman (Supreme Self) (You may be aware of Advaita Sound : ब्रह्म सत्यं जगत् मिथ्या means Brahman is the only truth, the world is unreal, and there is ultimately no difference between Brahman and individual self!)

    You can read Vivkekachudamani (विवेकचूडामणि) verse 226-231 that demonstrate how everything is verily Brahman. And verse 241-249 states the non-duality of Atman (Individual Self) and Brahman (Supreme Self). Fore more explanation/understanding you can read Aparokshanubhuti.

    And hence the clarification to your confusion is explained how the Self (Soul) is everything!

  • According to Vishishtadvaita, universe/world is real and created by and of/from Brahman (The Supreme Self). In other words, Brahman transforms one fourth of the self into creation as explained earlier. And talking about Jivatma (Individual Soul), Brahman (Supreme Self) dwells inside Jivatma (Individual Self). There is body-soul (Sharira-Shariri) relationship between world and Brahman and between Jivatma and Brahman. So while talking about the Self (Soul) is everything, it should be interpreted as the Supreme Self (not Individual Self). So, Brahman (Supreme Self) is everything because it is in world/universe as well as in Jivatma and everywhere outside them also.

The verses (You've mentioned in question) 7.4 and 7.5 talking about insentient (जड़) and sentient (चेतन) receptively and said are प्रकृति of Krishna which is explained with the help of Advaita and Vishishtadvaita above.

Conclusion: सर्व खल्विदं ब्रह्म । (Chhandogya Upanishad 3.14.1)

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