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An Ancient Soulful Connection

According to the metaphysics of Hinayana the soul is a series of fleeting ideas. As per Nyaya, the individual souls are co-eternal with earth, water, fire and air. According to Ramanuja, soul is different from the body, sense-organs, mind, vital breaths and cognition.

In general according to Indian Philosophy, Atman, which originally meant life breath and later acquired the meaning “soul”, transmigrates and is different from the body. Thus the Bhagavad Gita says, “Just as old clothes are cast off and new ones taken, the soul leaves the body after the death to take a new one.” In ancient Egypt too, it was believed that the life force, Ka, left the body after death.

Compared to Indic and Egyptian religions, the Semites  believe that the body and soul are inseparable, thus disallowing cremation. Now archaeology has found evidence of the concept of a soul separate from the body in  Turkey dating to 800 B.C.E. In this case, the soul of the person, a royal official, Kuttamuwa, rests in a stele (stone or wooden tablet).

A translation of the inscription by Dennis Pardee, a professor of Near Eastern languages and civilization at Chicago, reads in part: “I, Kuttamuwa, servant of [the king] Panamuwa, am the one who oversaw the production of this stele for myself while still living. I placed it in an eternal chamber [?] and established a feast at this chamber: a bull for [the god] Hadad, a ram for [the god] Shamash and a ram for my soul that is in this stele.”[2,800-Year-Old Monument to the Soul Is Discovered in Turkey – NYTimes.com]

It would be interesting to see what the researchers find about this kingdom and who their influences were. Though an Egyptian influence seems rational, considering the proximity and the enormous Egyptian influence during that period, there seems to be no historical or archaeological evidence for this hypothesis.

The site, near the town of Islahiye in Gaziantep province, was controlled at one time by the Hittite Empire in central Turkey, then became the capital of a small independent kingdom. In the eighth century, the city was still the seat of kings, including Panamuwa, but they were by then apparently subservient to the Assyrian Empire. After that empire’s collapse, the city’s fortunes declined, and the place was abandoned late in the seventh century.[2,800-Year-Old Monument to the Soul Is Discovered in Turkey – NYTimes.com]

The Hittites knew about Indo-European speaking people as one of the earliest references of Vedic gods come from a treaty signed by Hittites and Mitannis dating to the fourteenth century BC which calls upon Indara/Indra, Mitras(il)/Mitra, Nasatianna/Nasatya and Uruvanass(il)/Varuna. Did Kuttamuwa’s people learn about this concept of the soul from the Indo-Europeans?

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2 Responses to An Ancient Soulful Connection

  1. froginthewell November 25, 2008 at 8:55 am #

    Is there any evidence to believe that Atman originally meant life-breath? I think pan~cadashi refutes a point of view of those who claim so ( implying there must have been people who subscribed to Atman=prANa ).

    BTW “Atman” can refer to two distinct “entities” – the paramAtman and the jIvAtman. People seem to sometimes refer to jIva as a composite entity containing avidyA ( and perhaps mind ) etc., and sometimes the situation after “stripping off mAyic/avidyA-ic identifications” – in which case you have “jIvO brahmaiva nAparaH”.

  2. jk November 26, 2008 at 8:24 am #

    froginthewell,

    I got the statement that Atman originally meant life-breath from Chandradhar Sharma’s Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy. He says that Shankaracharya, in his commentary on Katha quotes an old verse giving different connotations of the word Atman.

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