Friday, 3 October 2008
I'M A SOUL MAN: SOME THOUGHTS ON THE BODY, SOUL & SPIRIT: PART ONE
"There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another" - 1st Corinthians 15:40
Pretty much a bottom line with any interest in spirituality/ mysticism/ esotericism is the belief in the Soul. Fascinatingly, every culture in the world has a word for the Soul but not every culture has a word for war or money. I find that interesting as it suggests that, since anyone can remember, human beings have felt the need to invent a word for something we can't touch, smell, taste, hear or see with our physical bodies, but not for two things (war and money) that we nowadays think of as integral to human existence. Of course, Dawkinsians would say the word 'unicorn' exists but that doesn't mean there were ever unicorns. That's very true, but unicorns are a concept pretty much localised in European culture and its offshoots. There are no African or Aboriginal unicorns, for instance, but the Soul seems to be everywhere. It is universal in nature.
Of course, this still doesn't mean that we have Souls, only that all cultures have or have had a sense that there is something within us which is more than physical and which operates in a different way to the mind or any other part of our organism. The Soul is somewhere where we feel and experience things differently. It is a place of intense feeling. It doesn't grow old and seems to exist outside Time and Space as well as within them. Often it feels like a repository of wisdom of a kind we don't always have access to. When we refer to someone speaking 'from the bottom of their Soul' we mean they are speaking from the very depths of their being, from somewhere very profound. Even if we don't believe in the literal existence of the Soul we all know what it means as a metaphor. It is the deepest part of who we are. When one is in touch with one's Soul, as most people who are interested in the kind of thing this Blog is all about are or have been in some way, the experience is deeply beautiful, very moving and utterly fulfilling. Any sensation of feeling deracinated, alienated, unsettled vanishes and one feels connected to who one really is. This, universally, is how Mystics describe oneness with the Soul. It is Gnosis, Satori, Moksha, the Yichud, Union, whatever one wants to call it. Its what T S Eliot said when he spoke of the point of intersection 'between Time and the Timeless'. Once you have experienced it, you want to know more, you want the connection to BE more until it informs one's whole being on this planet. Its what Djwhal Khul called 'the Soul-Infused Personality' and the Medieval Beguine Mystic Hadewijch, 'Fruition'. I am sure anyone reading this will know what I mean...
Of course, the idea of the Soul has gone out of fashion in our well-adjusted, non-materialistic, unneurotic West. Apart from the scientific view argued by people like Senor Dawkins that if you can't see it it ain't there and if it can't be 'proven' in the lab it doesn't exist, there is the obvious reason that until recently a Soul wasn't a very desirable thing to have. After all, haven't we been told for centuries by different (but not all) Churches that in all likelihood our Souls are going to go to Hell? Who would want one if such were its fate? And who would want one if to avoid that fate you had to pay obedience to a lot of hideous and anti-life rules and regulations made up by men in funny hats who didn't follow them themselves? The existence of the Soul should enable one to experience Eternity. It should be a source of joy, 'like a sun in splendour' as the UPANISHADS say. How can it be if for the majority that Eternity was probably going to be spent burning in firey damnation? No wonder we have rebelled and identified purely with our material forms... The Soul has a lot of catching up to do! If we are to get it back, we perhaps need to look at what it REALLY is, not what we have been told.
The Greek word for the Soul was 'Psyche'. Right away we have something interesting there, for we have borrowed that word for our modern concept of Mind or Consciousness. For the Greeks, the Psyche was part of the threefold nature of Man in his earthly state, the other two being 'Soma' (Body) and 'Pneuma' (Spirit). Interestingly, the Pneuma was the highest part of the three, connecting us with the Eternal while the Soma was the most material, being the vehicle with which we operated in this world. The Psyche was the mediating principle which united the two. Thus the three elements of the Self became one. Soma was suffused by Psyche and connected to Pneuma and vice versa. Without the Psyche, the Pneuma could never experience the world through the Soma etc etc.
In the design of their theatres the Greeks reflected this threefold idea of humanity by the layout of their stages. The Chorus, representing the Soma, was by far the largest part, fanning out into the audience in a semi-circle. The Psyche was just above this and was the area of the stage in which the Heroes (ie Oedipus, Heracles, Antigone etc) operated. Above this again was the area known as 'the Gods', representing the Pneuma. It was here that the Olympian Deities appeared (eg Dionysus, Athena, Apollo etc). Thus the Greek stage constituted not only a complete vision of their view of the Cosmos (or Kosmos) but also a complete vision of the human organism. The Mystical meaning of this, of course, was that the Soma was as much part of the Psyche and the Pneuma as anything else. There was no dualism here. Equally important, though, was that the Gods were manifest in the Pneuma of humanity or that the Pneuma of the individual was part of the overall Pneuma of the Universe. This is something it is easy to forget. Thus the Greek Drama, which was a form of religious worship in itself, recognised the holistic relationship between Gods and Men. It is not Apollo who screws up Oedipus but the Apollo IN Oedipus, or the Apollo that IS Oedipus - ie his Higher Self that simply wants to be known at all costs. At the end of Oedipus' story he is taken up to Olympus by the Gods. In other words he moves from 'Psychic' knowledge to 'Pneumatic' knowledge having emerged from 'Somatic' knowledge when he answered the Sphinx's riddle. Thus the Oedipus Plays are not cruel dramas of the blind injustice of the Gods but an Initiatic Ritual into Higher Knowledge as Oedipus moves up the scale to the highest Insight, even though he suffers horribly in the process (largely because he resists it, interestingly).
Kabbalah has a similar threefold vision of the Soul. For the Kabbalists, we operate on three primary levels, all of which are poured into the human form, the 'Tzelem'. The lowest part of the Soul, that which compares to the Soma, is known as the Nefesh. This is sometimes called 'the Animal Soul' or 'the Vegetable Soul'. This is the part of the Soul which is intimately interwoven with every cell of our physical form. It experiences the passions, the emotions, the desires of earthly life with most vividness. It feels pleasure and pain. Kabbalists say that, at death, the Nefesh takes the longest of the three parts of the Soul to return to the Godhead. Stories speak of cemetaries full of the Nefeshes of the dead standing over their graves, mourning the beauty and intensity of what they have lost (the most powerful and convincing explanation of what we call 'ghosts' I have heard). The next level of the Soul is called the 'Ruach' and corresponds to the Psyche. It performs a similar function of mediating between the Nefesh and the third level, the Neshemah which is the highest level and the equivalent of the Pneuma. Interestingly, both Ruach and Neshemah are words with similar meanings: 'Breath' or 'Wind'. Pneuma, by no coincidence, means the same. All refer to the idea of the Breath of God or Spirit. If we remember, the book of Genesis speaks of God breathing his essence into clay to make Adam. In Christianity the original Greek word for the Holy Spirit was the Haghia Pneuma or Holy Breath. 'Spirit' itself is based on the Latin word 'Spiritus' which also means breath, so the meaning is the same everywhere. Somehow, Greek, Hebrew and Latin all identify the Spiritual aspect of humanity with the Divine Breath which is everywhere and passes through everything. It is exactly the same idea as Prana in Hinduism and indeed in all cultures. The Spirit and Soul partake of the very Divinity that is everywhere. As Meister Eckhardt, the greatest of all the Rhineland Medieval Christian Mystics, said:
"Know that God loves the soul so powerfully that it staggers the mind. If one were to deprive God of this so that he did not love the soul, one would deprive him of his life and being, or one would kill God if we may say such a thing. For that same love by which God loves the soul is his life, and in this same love the Holy Spirit blossoms forth; and this same love IS the Holy Spirit. Since God loves the soul so powerfully, the soul must be something very great." - Sermon 69
I've spoken of the threefold nature of the Soul/Human Organism as espoused here in Kabbalah and Greek cultures. Again, keen Jungians will be reminded of the Threefold Form of Buddhism in which the Buddhist experiences his connectedness to the Greater Consciousness which is everywhere and of which he is part through his own Lesser Consciousness and Body. In Christianity the same threefold nature is present in Body, Soul and Spirit (doesn't sound as good in English, does it?), although you wouldn't know it when you hear most Christians talk about it. Nor are they brilliant at seeing them as a whole. If the Body is as much part of the Spirit as the Soul or at least partakes of it most Christians, in the West at least (less so in the East) tend to want to cut the Body out of the equation. As we can see, if the Body contains the Breath of God, this is a fatal error. People need to read their Scriptures more. Here, surprisingly, is Paul on the subject:
"Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth within you?" - 1st Corinthians 3:17
"So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nouriseth it and cheriseth it, even as the Lord the church... This is a great Mystery." - Ephesians 5:28-29
In fact the threefold nature of the Soul/Human Organism is only part of the world's thinking on this. The Triune idea of Being actually only really deals with our existence in this world, which is suffused with Divinity enough in its Body/Soul/Spiritual dimensions. In reality, all the above mentioned cultures go much further, connecting us all to the Godhead/Cosmos/One in a much more profound way. When these other levels of the Soul are explored one realises that we have, in fact, never been severed from the Divine. In truth we are walking with it now. This is the most revolutionary aspect of the Soul I can think of and why, perhaps, we need to be thinking about it more...