Is there an individual soul, a grain that is carried through endless time, which is me, each one of us; that is reincarnated time and again, preserving some essence? Or is the breath of life we receive when we are born, that carries us through this life, and that leaves us when we pass on, has no unique essence in the simplified meaning of the word? Is it a form of spiritual energy that comes back to a larger pool, only to reform into another body, like a drop of water in the ocean of life?
This question is at the base of many philosophies and religious traditions. While many believe they have the conclusion, none can prove that theirs is the true and only answer. I, for one, do not know. I choose to believe that we have an essence, but it is what I wish to believe.
Contemplating this question, I looked at how the possible answers affect my everyday life. For some, their actions day to day may be affected by a wish for heaven, for good karma, for some sort of a future reward. For others, the approach is that we only have one life to live, thus we may as well make the best out of this life for ourselves. This can lead one to a life of a sage, or a life of a hedonist.
I looked at what makes me feel good. I know that when I do good deeds for others, it not only feels right, it also leaves me feeling great. When I am being reactive, when someone insults me and I respond in a negative manner, I may have short-term satisfaction, but in the long run, I usually do not feel I honored myself. Same when I indulge. It carries short-term satisfaction, but long-term ramifications.
Whether my soul is, as the Bhagavad-Gita 2.20. states, “For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain,” or whether my soul is that drop in a large ocean of energy, without everlasting existence of its own, I choose to offer service to others with the best of intentions. If I would be rewarded for that in the after-life, in the next life, or if I would never see benefits beyond this life, all this is irrelevant. Either way, doing good deeds serves me best whatever path I choose to believe.