I clearly remember reading somewhere about (some branch of) Buddhism believing that there is a soul and that it splits in seven parts when dying. The article mentioned that four of these parts are believed to return when reborn, the other three will merge with Nirvana.

My recent reading has taught me that the individual soul/ātman does not exist per se, it is a false assumption and what one might perceive as "I" is just a piece of the a bigger consciousness (God, if you like).

Can anyone shed any light on the splitting? And is my current understanding correct, incorrect or oversimplified?

  • Re. your last question ("is my current understanding oversimplified"), are you asking for answers to that question from everyone or every school of Buddhism? Or are you exclusively asking for answers from within the perspective of a/the school which teaches that there is a soul with seven parts? Because I think maybe there's a school which doesn't teach that there's a soul at all, but I'm not sure whether that kind of view/doctrine is on-topic for this question?
    – ChrisW
    Jan 8, 2016 at 12:02
  • Its good to ask about Buddha-Dhamma and not schools, so Atma would say the question is well put. Jan 8, 2016 at 12:05
  • @SamanaJohann Yes, Bhante. I posted that comment because whenever the OP's topic is a subject on which different schools may disagree (and this topic, "there's a soul with seven parts", is a topic schools might disagree with), then the policy on this site has been to try to ascertain which school the OP is asking about: partly, in order to answer their question (about the doctrine of a specific school); and partly to avoid disagreement (disagreement on this site between people who may argue from the perspectives of different schools).
    – ChrisW
    Jan 8, 2016 at 12:15
  • It would be better to unite and seek for Dhamma as to make interpretation pulling and keep "harmony"... Valued Upasaka ChrisW. Why force somebody to select a splitter sect at first place? And it might be the policy of some moderators, Atma does not think that it is the sites policy since the owner will less care about it. But like allways and ever, just a suggestion. Jan 8, 2016 at 13:33
  • 1
    Can't resist - what about the horcruxes?? Voldemort split his soul seven times! ;-)
    – user698
    Jan 10, 2016 at 1:24

2 Answers 2


Mr. Jonas Bystöm might read Alagaddupama Sutta: The Water-Snake Simile especially the introduction, which gives a good overview and the "Six View-Positions" section. The seven parts soul thing is a common folk believe even is SEAsia and has Tantric roots, one could say Hindu, and has influence especially many Mahayana approaches.

To be or not to be is no question. There is no such as any self-theory to be found in Dhamma since it has simply the liberation form suffering, so to understand its cause, as objective and aim. Do not waste your time with such, 99% of beings do so.

(Note: this answer has not been given with the agreement to be means of trade or the purpose of/for trade and/or keep people trapped and bound. How you handle it lies in your sphere, but does not excuse the deed here either.)

  • On the spot answer!
    – Theravada
    Jan 8, 2016 at 23:18
  • Do you have any source for that folklore? I unfortunately can't seem to find any. Jan 11, 2016 at 7:45

Can anyone shed any light on the splitting?

In the same way as Martin I haven't been able to find a reference to "seven souls" within Buddhism.

In vaguely related traditions,

  • Hun and po

    Hun (Chinese: 魂; pinyin: hún; Wade–Giles: hun; literally: "cloud-soul") and po (Chinese: 魄; pinyin: pò; Wade–Giles: p'o; literally: "white-soul") are types of souls in Chinese philosophy and traditional religion. Within this ancient soul dualism tradition, every living human has both a hun spiritual, ethereal, yang soul which leaves the body after death, and also a po corporeal, substantive, yin soul which remains with the corpse of the deceased. Some controversy exists over the number of souls in a person; for instance, one of the traditions within Daoism proposes a soul structure of sanhunqipo 三魂七魄; that is, "three hun and seven po". The historian Yü Ying-shih describes hun and po as "two pivotal concepts that have been, and remain today, the key to understanding Chinese views of the human soul and the afterlife."[1]

    The above seems to be seven bodily souls and three spiritual souls, which is more-or-less what you said in the OP.

    The same articles says,

    Hun 魂 and po 魄 spiritual concepts were important in several Daoist traditions.

    ... and I think there's some historical connection between Daoism and Buddhism in China. Signification of Buddhism and Taoist influences says,

    When Buddhism came to China, it was adapted to the Chinese culture and understanding. Theories about the influence of other schools in the evolution of Chan are widely variable and rely heavily on speculative correlation rather than on written records or histories. Some scholars have argued that Chan developed from the interaction between Mahāyāna Buddhism and Taoism,[19][20] while others insist that Chan has roots in yogic practices, specifically kammaṭṭhāna, the consideration of objects, and kasiṇa, total fixation of the mind.[21] A number of other conflicting theories exist.

    So maybe if you do "clearly remember reading somewhere about some branch of Buddhism", then possibly it was a branch with a Chinese influence.

  • What is seven constituent parts of the human soul?

    From Theosophy by Rudolf Steiner

    1. Physical body
    2. Life Body
    3. Astral Body
    4. The "I" as the soul's central core
    5. Spirit Self as transformed astral body
    6. Life Spirit as transformed life body
    7. Spirit Body as transformed physical body

    If the above is an accurate quote, maybe (who knows) it might be a match for your OP.

    And if I understand correctly the hints in this answer (I don't know much more about it than that), the Theosophists wanted to define or synthesize a "universal religion", perhaps by including bits from Buddhism.

    I think there have been other historical connection between Buddhists and Theosophists, so perhaps you were reading something Theosophical and conflating it with Buddhism somehow.

And is my current understanding correct, incorrect or oversimplified?

I think that Buddhism traditionally teaches that there isn't any (permanent) 'soul' at all. The/a non-Buddhist doctrine was/is of Atman (Self) and Brahman (Divinity), and (in contrast to that) the Buddhist doctrine was/is, instead, of Anatman.

I think that an example of that is as stated in this recent answer of mine about Milinda, Nagasena, and the parable of the chariot.

I find it a bit metaphysical: talk of karma and rebirth and so on.

There are a lot of topics about that kind of thing on this site, for example, , and .

Instead some people prefer to focus on the practice of Buddhism within 'this life'.

  • And what is practicing? "And how is right view the forerunner? One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view. And what is wrong view? 'There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no brahmans or contemplatives who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.' This is wrong view... Jan 9, 2016 at 0:03
  • "One tries to abandon wrong view & to enter into right view: This is one's right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong view & to enter & remain in right view: This is one's right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities — right view, right effort, & right mindfulness — run & circle around right view." MN117 Jan 9, 2016 at 0:04

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