There are two kinds of schools of Indian philosophy, Astika and Nastika. Astikas accept the authority of the Vedas, whereas Nastikas reject the authority of the Vedas. The Astika schools are part of Hinduism, while the Nastika schools fall under the broader category of Dharmic faiths. Now there are six Astika schools: , Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva Mimamsa, and Vedanta. (They're all dead other than the Vedanta school, which encompasses most Hindus today as I discuss here.)

Now the Astika schools don't agree on much beyond the authority of the Vedas, but one thing they do agree on is the existence of the soul and the fact that it's different from the body. But my question is, what is the size of the soul according to the different Astika schools? Do they think it's atomic in size, or the same size as the body, or omnipresent, or what?

EDIT: To be clear, I am talking about the size of the Jivatma. I am not talking about the size of Paramatma, although of course Advaitins think they're one and the same.

EDIT 2: My question is not a duplicate, because it's about the views of the different Astika schools.

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    Related or could be duplicate Size of soul in Hinduism texts
    – The Destroyer
    Commented Nov 12, 2017 at 5:15
  • Soul is considered part (or full) of super soul only, which is formless hence sizeless.
    – iammilind
    Commented Nov 12, 2017 at 8:56
  • @iammilind Well, different schools of Hindu philosophy disagree on this issue. As I document in my answer, the non-Vedantic Astika schools consider the Jivatma to be omnipresent. Whereas most members of the Vedanta school consider the Jivatma to be atomic in size. Commented Nov 12, 2017 at 8:58

1 Answer 1


Non-Vedantic Astika schools think the soul is omnipresent, whereas most Vedantins think it's atomic in size.. Let me address each of the six Astika schools:

  1. Samkhya: The Samkhya school believed that the soul is omnipresent.  Here is what Kapila says in Adhyaya 1 Sutra 50 of the Samkhya Sutras:

    mūrttatvādghaṭādivat samānadharmāpattāvapāsiddhāntaḥ

    If the Purusha were сотрогеаl (апd, therefore, limited or finite), like the water-pot, etc., then he would possess properties similar to those of the latter, and hence the reverse collclusion (would follow).

    Here is what Aniruddha says about this Sutra in his Samkhya Sutra Vritti:

    Corporeal or finite things, the water-pot, etc., undergo change. If the Purusha possess a like property, he would also perish. But the mortality of the Purusha is the reverse of truth. Moreover, in the course of migration into different births, the Purusha would have, according to the supposition of his having finite size, to adapt himself to the size of the body of the slophant and the worm. If he this undergoes contraction and expansion, he must be a whole made up of parts, and therefore, non-eternal, (which also is the reverse of truth).

  2. Yoga: So far as I can tell, neither Patanjali's Yoga Sutras nor Vyasa's Yoga Bhashya discuss the size of the soul. But the Samkhya and Yoga schools agreed in all their philosophical views except for the existence of God, so that means the Yoga school also believed that the soul is omnipresent.

  3. Nyaya: The Nyaya school also believed that the soul is omnipresent.  Here is what Vatsyayana says in this excerpt from his Nyaya Sutra Bhashya:

    "The Soul, being all-pervading, would be in contact with all the Sense-organs at one and the same time; so that there would be a possibility of several Cognitions appearing simultaneously." ... In the cognition of Odour, etc., the contact of the Sense-organs with the Mind is as much a necessary cause as the contact of the Sense-organs with the objects; and inasmuch as the Mind is atomic, it is not possible for its contact with all the Sense-organs to appear at one and the same time.  And by the reason of the non-simultaneity of this contact (of the Mind), it is not possible for several cognitions to appear simultaneously, even though they are the qualities of the (all-pervading) Soul.

  4. Vaisheshika: The Vaisheshika school also believed that the soul is omnipresent. Here is what Kanada says in the Vaisheshika Sutras:

    vibhavānmahānākāśastathā cātmā

    Ether, in consequence of its vast expansion, is infinitely large. So also is the Soul.

    Here is what Shankara Mishra says in his commentary on this Sutra:

    As Ether is immensely vast, since it possesses universal pervasion, that is, the characteristic of being in conjunction with all dense bodies, so is also the Soul immensely vast. Did not the characteristic being in conjunction with all dense bodies belong to Soul, then action would not be produced in the respective dense bodies, as a result of conjunction of the Soul carrying its Adrishtam or destiny, inasmuch as Adrishtam, being present in a different substratum, is de,pendent upon or stands in need of, "proximity," (or a common platform), in order that it may be productive of action; and that "proximity" is nothing but conjunction of the Soul carrying its Adrishtam. Likewise, as the body moves on, the production of knowledge, pleasure, etc., in particular situations, is impossible or incapable of proof except on the theory of the universal pervasion of the Soul. Consequently, the Soul also is all-pervasive.

  5. Purva Mimamsa: The Purva Mimamsa school (you guessed it) also believed that the soul is omnipresent. Here is what Shabara Swami says in this excerpt from his commentary on the Purva Mimamsa Sutras:

    [A]s a matter of fact, that alone is called an "act" which transposes its substratum from one place to another; and no such transposition is possible for the Soul, - because the Soul is omnipresent; that the Soul is present in all places is indicated by the fact that its functioning (in the shape of experiencing pleasure, pain, etc.) is found everywhere. "That same fact may be a sign of it's going from one place to another." [W]e perceive no incongruity in the view that the Soul does not move from place to place [while there are several incongruities in the view that it does so move].

    See my question here for more details about the Purva Mimamsa arguments concerning this subject.

  6. Vedanta: Finally, a different view! Here is what Vyasa says in Adhyaya 2 Pada 3 of the Brahma Sutras:

    1. (The individual soul must be atomic in dimension owing to the mention in the Vedas) of its departure from the body, going (to the next world by following a course) and coming back (from there).
    2. (The soul’s atomicity stands confirmed) owing to the relation of one’s own soul with the latter two facts (viz., following of a course and coming back).
    3. If it be objected that the soul is not atomic because its size is heard of as not being so, we reply, no, since that context relates to the other (i.e., the supreme Self).
    4. And the individual soul is atomic because of the direct Upanishadic use of the word as well as mention of infinitesimality.
    5. (The soul’s atomicity and its feeling over the whole body involve) no contradiction, just as in the case (of a drop) of sandal paste.
    6. If it be objected that (the argument holds good in the case of sandal paste) owing to its peculiarity of position, (but that is not evident in the case of the soul), then we say, no, (a peculiar location) for the soul is admitted in the Upanishads, for it exists in the heart.
    7. Or on the analogy of what is seen in the world, (the soul may pervade the whole body) through its attribute (of sentience).
    8. (The quality of sentience can have) separate existence like smell.
    9. And the Upanishad also show this.
    10. (The soul and its intelligence are separate), since they are taught separately (in the Upanishads).
    11. But the soul comes to have such appellations because of the dominance of the modes of that intellect; this is just as in the case of the supreme Self.
    12. And because the contact between the soul and the intellect persists so long as the worldly state of the soul continues, there can be no defect, for this is what is met with in the scriptures.
    13. Rather because that contact (with the intellect etc.,) which remains latent (in sleep and dissolution) can become manifest (during waking and creation) like manhood etc., (from boyhood etc.,).
    14. Else (if the existence of the internal organ be not admitted) there will be the possibility of either constant perception or non-perception or it will have to be admitted that either of the powers (of the soul or of the organs) becomes (suddenly) debarred (or delimited or lost).

    Note that this translation is written from the viewpoint of the Advaita philosopher Adi Shankaracharya, who believed as the non-Vedantic Astika schools do that that the soul is omnipresent. He believed this because he thought that the Jivatma is the same as Brahman, whom everyone agrees is omnipresent; see this section of his Brahma Sutra Bhashya:

    The soul is not of atomic size, since scripture does not declare it to have had an origin. On the contrary, as scripture speaks of the highest Brahman entering into the elements and teaches that it is their Self, the soul is nothing else but the highest Brahman. And if the soul is the highest Brahman, it must be of the same extent as Brahman. Now scripture states Brahman to be all-pervading. Therefore the soul also is all-pervading.--On that view all the statements about the all-pervadingness of the soul made in Sruti and Smriti are justified, so, for instance, the passage, 'He is that great unborn Self who consists of knowledge, is surrounded by the prânas &c.' (Bri. Up. IV, 4, 22). Nor again could the soul, if it were of atomic size, experience sensations extending over the whole body.

    But most other commentators on the Brahma Sutras interpret these Sutras as saying that the soul is atomic in size. I could quote almost any commentary on the Brahma Sutra, but let me quote this section of Ramanujacharya's Sri Bhashya as a good representative:

    The Self is not omnipresent, but on the contrary, of atomic size (anu).--How is this known?--Since Scripture says that it passes out, goes and returns. Its passing out is described in the following passage 'by that light this Self departs, either through the eye, or through the skull, or through other parts of the body' (Bri. Up. IV, 4, 2). Its going in the following text 'all those who pass away out of this world go to the moon,' and its returning in the text 'from that world he comes again into this world, for action.' All this going, and so on, cannot be reconciled with the soul being present everywhere.

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    @OnkarKarambe I think the question is about individual self or Jivatma only.
    – Pandya
    Commented Nov 12, 2017 at 7:23
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    @OnkarKarambe Atman can refer to jivAtma or ParamAtma or even Manas depending on context. Commented Nov 12, 2017 at 7:37
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    In all those block quotes how can one be sure if what is written as soul is the Jivatma only? @KeshavSrinivasan
    – Rickross
    Commented Nov 12, 2017 at 9:00
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    @Rickross Well, it's clear what's being referred to from the surrounding context that these quotes are from. But if you'd like the Sanskrit text of one or more of these quotes, tell me and I can find it for you. Commented Nov 12, 2017 at 9:02
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    @Rickross I think it's abundantly clear if you read the larger passages. If anything is vague I can explain it to you. Commented Nov 12, 2017 at 9:04

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