|"A one-hundredth part of a hair's tip, and again split into hundred,|
this fragment is the living self or soul, also conceived of as endless."
(Svetasvatara Upanisad, 5.9)
Oxymoron of Metric Soul
The soul, if we choose to believe in one that is, being an immaterial spirit-substance, cannot have a scale of comparison with matter. It is no more the size of a proton than it is the size of a hamburger or a Polish truck-driver. It is neither proportionate nor disproportionate to the object it appears to animate, for it has no proportion in common with inanimate matter.
Of course one might compare the soul to a lamp and the pervading of the body to its rays in a room, and that's a rather appropriate analogy as long as we forget about our attempts to pin it out on the metric scale. Both the lamp and the rays are finite objects, as are the individual jiva-soul and his field of awareness; hence the metaphor works in this application.
Technically speaking, the soul pervades and animates the body through the conscious mental functions (citta) filtered through the medium of ahankara conjointly with Antaryamin, the Inner Regulator or the so-called "super-soul" (paramatman). The antaryamin is variously identified as Ishvara (Supreme God) or Atman (Supreme Self) in differing schools of thought.
Atisayokti - Literary Exaggeration
Everything in the scriptures is a mixture of literal and metaphorical. There is svabhavokti or statement (ukti) reflecting or object's own (sva) nature (bhava), and there is atisayokti or excessive (atisaya) statement. All the four standard atisayoktis in the alankara-shastra (e.g. Alankara-kaustubha: 8.23), or the classical Indian corpus of books on literary composition and criticism, feature departures from the literal or face-value meaning.
The third excessive metaphorical statement, where the impossible is being stated, is the one we are primarily after at the moment, for the soul has no material scale. Therefore, the statement of comparison is an impossibility. The two first atisayoktis are comparisons to other objects (and I suppose taking this as a hyperbolic diminutive would be every bit as valid), the other overt and the other covert, and the fourth features effect as simultaneous with or preceding the cause.
If we were to indeed indeed pursue this literally, as fundamentalists frequently do, we would have to first ask whether this proverbial hair is Afro-American, French or Vedic Indian — perhaps the sage in question split his own hair tip into 10,000 pieces and compared it to his soul, discovering it was an exact match under his microscope? Did he split it with a Vedic hair-splitter? Perhaps everyone's soul is 10,000 tip of their own hair? This again is problematic for men with thinning hair or baldness; their souls must be approaching limbo...
God and Souls - Divided Minds
A related field of paradox is in the supposed division that exists between the Jiva-Atman and the all-pervasive Brahman or ultimate God. From where I look at things, Advaita-vedanta is quite right in insisting that the atman (which is equated in the realization-stage with the brahman although brahman and brahman alone was the atman was all along) cannot be factually divided into individual soul-units, and that the individuality in question is only a temporary illusion rooted in Avidya or primal ignorance. This is naturally solved with the acquisition of Jnana or knowledge proper.
Let us assume the presence of an individual "soul fragment", a separate conscious unit. Fragments by definition cannot have the same quality as an unbreakable whole, for they differ in the quality of being fragmentable. Again, if the great whole can be divided into fragments, a second is thereby posited next to the non-dual, leading to a number of questions on the unique nature of the supposed one and the greatest non-dual spirit proclaimed across the Upanishads.
The Theory of Simultaneous Difference-Nondifference
Gaudiya Vaishnavism proposes an inconceivable symbiotic difference-cum-non-difference solution to the issue under the heading of acintya-bheda-abheda. Aristoteles would insist things either are or are not, for they cannot be both. A follower of Jiva Goswami's would then employ the acintya-shakti defence: You need to believe that God has the power to not make sense to make headway with the dilemma.
All too often, the inconceivability card is a handy answer to each and every equation that doesn't exactly add up because a transcendent object is beyond logical derivation and accessible perception. This leaves me wondering whether this God does not become irrelevant altogether, stretching entirely out of our objective human grasp and contact as he does.
Of course we also have the standard explanation with the shakti-vada and the nonduality between the energy (shakti) and the energetic (shaktiman), the former of which would include all of us and the inanimate world. Not the least of the problems is the fact that shakti-vada has nothing to do with Vedanta and everything to do with the tantric tradition.
Setting aside doctrinal purism and strict Vedanta interpretation for a moment, the tradition of Kashmiri Saivism which is the root of the shakti theory also features an extensive existential grid, in many ways unique, and in many others parallel to the Vedic Sankhya and its model of causal derivation.
All of that notwithstanding, the problem of evidently divided consciousness between us and God remains. I for one do not possess all the knowledge of God, indicating we are clearly separate units of consciousness. There is little practicality to the proposal of the every-day experience of me being one with a personal and actively omniscient God.
Like Sun and Sunshine?
Omniscience indicates a flawless and all-pervading entity or state of being. This one, all-knowing and all-encompassing God is all that is. Shakti cannot be classified as a second separate unit, even as dependent and subordinate, for this would be introducing dualism, the existence of a second beside God; assuming the non-duality of God and creation, one would expect us souls to share of the same pristine strata of undivided and omniscient existence.
The simile of the sun and the sunshine should be understood for what it is: a simile. A simile does not constitute proof in and of itself, it is a manner of illustrating a more abstract principle. The problems we run into applying this to the case at hand are manifold.
The most obvious of all is the fact sun and sunshine do not feature a known conscious property, whether unified or divided; both are mechanical, passive factors incapable of decision-making, unlike soul and god. Independent decision-making and limited or unlimited fields of awareness, in turn, are the very factors begging the question to begin with.
If a simile is employed in illustrating simultaneously one and different consciousness(es), and especially in the capacity of proof, it should be a comparison of strict equals.
A Monistic Angle
There is a very vivid and distinct duality here, indicating we need to either admit to the non-reality of duality and divided consciousness, labeling them as a mere illusion (and moreover an illusion occuring in Brahman with no existence to its occurence), or do away with an undivided and omniscient, yet eeriely antropomorphic God.
Advaita-siddhanta considers Isvara (personal god) to be the most you can see of the nondual absolute through the veil of maya; as ajnana or individual ignorance is dispelled, the ignorance concerning duality is dispelled, and the one atman alone remains aglow. The doctrine of atman then becomes a de-facto doctrine of anatman, for there was no everlasting individual soul to begin with.
Neither duality nor nonduality are entirely satisfactory for a philosophical answer. I don't have an exact answer for the way all stuff works, though I do have some cool ideas I need to explore a bit further. The citta-matram doctrine of the Yogacara-school of Buddhism, the theory of an unified mind-field and repository consciousness or alaya-vijnana, comes across as rather fascinating to me, and also correlates with some of my experiences.
My preferred approach to the question, independent of any scriptures, is to conceive of a single mental field in which both the Ishvara and the jivas are fluctuation in greater or smaller degrees. The only factual omniscient potential is in the universal mind-field, an uninvolved, egoless all-containing entirety, where no catalyst (ahankara) for individuality exists; hence seeing without a seer is actualized. The concept appears to make seamless sense to me, independent of conformance to any ancient or contemporary theories.
In the end, fiddling with lofty philosophical formulations amounts to little more than an entertaining mind-game fulfilling our intellectual urges. Otherwise, assumptions of mastery of a theory may help one to comfort himself and bring order into the surrounding chaos, or to command and conquer existence through comprehension.
Nirvana and God remain lurking in the fabric of the harmony, peace, clarity and joy of an independent nature we discover within ourselves through personal experience, introspection and natural immersion. Even if we all have our respective philosophies and mythologies with diverging particulars, it really doesn't matter a damn thing as long as you arrive at the conclusive non-dual One-Zero paradox at the end.
Related satire from Dissociated Press: Hare Krishna Swami Loses Soul - Downtown Helsinki (DP)