Nicholas
Nicholas at Treryn Dinas

The Challenge for the Soul in the Sixth Great Extinction

 

 The soul can never be cut into pieces by a weapon, no fire can burn it, no water can moisten it, nor can any wind wither it… The soul is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable – eternally the same.

Bhagavad Gita 2:23-24

 

As we enter the sixth great extinction of life on earth, it is important to keep in mind that the universe or cosmos is infinite; the dimensions we see with our senses and detect with our instruments do not limit it. None of the great spiritual traditions of the world limit our existence to earth evolution and the body, all say we have a soul that is connected to a dimension we might call eternity. For many of these traditions, the journey of the soul is not limited to one lifetime and one evolutionary pathway. The soul has many lives, not just in this world but in the multiple dimensions of the cosmos.

If we accept these assumptions concerning the infinite nature of both the cosmos and the soul, then we are in a better position to understand and find an appropriate response to this imminent mass extinction event. While we need to accept our share of responsibility for the loss of species and habitat and all the pain and sorrow that comes from that, ultimately these are lessons for the soul.

During our life on earth we have the opportunity to experience many lessons. Indeed, if we believe in reincarnation we might say that every lesson has been available to us: of wealth and poverty, sickness and health, joy and suffering; although in the brief history of humanity not all of us could have been kings or queens, billionaires or bushmen! However, there is no escaping the lesson this extinction will bring all of us. The immense challenges of this looming event cannot be denied or avoided and will be experienced by us all. How we respond to these challenges will also be indelibly imprinted upon our soul-memory and thus determine our future lives wherever these may be.

It is entirely possible that we have done this before: that is, passionately pursued our desires until reaching ecological limits, so destroying ourselves and our environment. Do our mythic stories of previous worlds, of Atlantis and great inundations, represent dim memories of these occasions? Perhaps we will be compelled to undergo similar experiences many times until we have learnt the lesson of living in balance with life and with compassion for each other. The soul will grow, however long and however many worlds it takes.

 

The notes that follow glean knowledge about the soul from the great spiritual traditions of the world.

 

Summary

 1. We are eternal souls.

 2. We come from a single Source that is unconditioned and unconditional, beyond all qualities and names, the origin of the manifold cosmos.

 3. As embodied beings we live within the manifold cosmos but our true soul home is the one Source.

 4. There are advanced souls who have realised their true nature and are one with the Source, yet remain within the cosmos to teach and help us.

 5. We spend lifetimes in forgetfulness of our true nature and origin, due to over-identification with the body and the world, and with our equally ephemeral personalities or egos. Caught up in this material world, conditioned by our biological evolution and the social order, as well as by our actions in this and other lives, our restless minds are subject to the desires and ever-fluctuating polarities of physical existence: joy and sorrow, birth and death, and so on.

 6. We need the spiritual guidance of a realized teacher – a Master or saint – gradually to break free from this identification with the body, the personality, the world, and the cycle of lives; to connect with the higher mind or true spiritual intuition; to ameliorate and eventually dissolve our karma; and finally to obtain the summum bonum, the ‘highest good’: that is, unity with the streams of wisdom, intelligence, truth, love, devotion, bliss and power that emanate from the Source.


 

The Nature of Consciousness

The soul or spirit is quite separate from the body and mind, although it appears they are merged. But if you stop for a moment, it is possible to be conscious, quite awake, aware of the body and of the mind – which is likely to be clamouring for attention. The challenge is to disengage soul awareness from the body, with which it has become identified, and quieten the mind, that is, the constant stream of thoughts and feelings which claim identity and consciousness.

The first thing to notice is the arising of thoughts. Thoughts appear on the periphery of consciousness before entering fully into it. Some thoughts may never fully enter consciousness if you want to dismiss them, some you may want to dismiss but they enter anyway. Whether you can control them or not, the point is that thoughts are not consciousness. Thoughts enter consciousness and you become aware of them; you can either stop their chatter or deliberately direct them.

As an exercise, in the moment before thoughts fully enter consciousness, stop thoughts as they arise by choosing to not give them attention. If you cannot refrain from giving them attention, by noticing how powerless you are in the face of each overwhelming thought, you can still be aware that although the thought has entered consciousness, it is not consciousness, and you, the conscious soul, remain quite separate from it. Eventually, the thought will pass – although it may return.

The next thing to notice is that the state of the body, its sensations of touch, taste, vision, hearing and feelings of pleasure or pain, do not constitute consciousness. You can see things, hear things, feel things and so on, but, like thoughts, consciousness is not these things. As one ages, trains of thought and feeling based upon personal and physical experience become locked into the mind and body and present themselves as the self or your identity. Yet, as consciousness is not these things, it is here that there is a serious problem. As you are born, named, develop and have physical, emotional and mental experiences that form your language, skills, memory and so on, these experiences become ingrained so deeply and repeat themselves so much, that they become the ‘self’ and assume the place of consciousness, your real soul identity. In fact, in our society we are encouraged to individuate so much, to achieve, aspire and become ‘someone’, that we forget the body is entirely merged with the physical world which will die, that the mind is entirely a product of the culture which will disintegrate, and that the identity we assume is entirely transient.  We have forgotten our true, eternal, undying self, the soul.

So, breathe quietly. You are awake, aware. You are not the stream of thoughts and feelings, nor are you the patterning of your ingrained physical and sociocultural experiences. You are pure consciousness: 'Empty'. Unattached. Unchanging. You will go through death and rebirth – if not on Earth then in many places – until you become aware enough of your true soul nature to make the effort to awaken further.

At some point in the process of awakening you will become aware that the ingrained patterning of thoughts and feelings goes beyond the experiences of the body, reaching back into previous lives. The soul has incarnated many times and will continue to do so until it disengages from these patterns, quietens and learns to control them. Although the experience of great autodidacts like Sri Aurobindo and Anadamayi Ma show it is possible to self-realise alone, these patterns are so deep and controlling that most of us will need a teacher to accomplish this task.

 

The Soul

The soul is the cause or source
of the living body.

Aristotle, De Anima II, 4

 

As we have a body, we also have a soul, an 'anima', a vital force.  But it is far better to say, along with our many spiritual teachers, that we are a soul who has a body than we are a body who has a soul.  The soul is the primary anima.  Aristotle points out that it defines the ability of the body to live.  Without this principal force, the body cannot metabolise, the heart cannot beat, the lungs cannot breathe and the brain cannot function. 
 
Despite physical mortality, the soul, pneuma, psyche or anima never dies.  Of whatever subtle substance the soul is made, it is immortal.  It does not die.  As soul we pass through life again and again until we remember our origin, cause and final destination in the Eternal Soul, the Divine Source or Supreme Being.  But bear in mind that in this unique moment of the continuum of time, the Earth in all its beauty, complexity and power, is the ground of our mortal being.  It provides us with the body whose development is part of the evolution of all Life on Earth.




The Divine Mother
 

This world is a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence...
a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.

Plato, Timaeus 29-30

 

An academic asked Ramakrishna,
“What are knowledge, knower,
and the object known?”
To which he replied, “I do not know these niceties of scholastic learning. I know only my Mother Divine, and that I am her son.”

 
We are one with the universal Divine Mother in her manifestation as Life on Earth.  As the minerals of the body will return to the Earth, so our thoughts, egos and personalities will dissolve back into her.  Because we do not create ourselves—we only shape what we have been given—we have no real substance, no real self-existence.  We are like a wave moving through the waters of a sea.  Whatever substance we have is a gift from that which we are a part.  Although the Divine Mother carries natural, ancestral and karmic patterns of great complexity, beauty and power that can inspire wisdom, she also carries human made patterns, beliefs and behaviours that keep the soul identified with physical existence, forgetful of its true consciousness, home and origin in the Eternal Soul.
 
                                                                                            Anandamayi Ma, one of the great incarnations of the Divine Mother
 


The Eternal Soul
The Soul (Atman) is one, ever still, quicker than the mind.
Though motionless it outruns the devas who move and run the world.

Isha Upanishad 4
 
The Eternal Soul, the Supreme Being, God or Spirit, is unconditioned by the body soul, the ancestral or karmic soul, the ego, the World Soul, the mind or self and even the Divine Mother.  It is ‘other’ than the soul in the sense that we are always subject to its object, never vice versa.  It is the absolute cause of all.
 
The Eternal Soul has no object of awareness, nor does it not have any object of awareness.  It is awareness—pure consciousness.  It is soul entirely free of ego.  The prime Islamic axiom, la’ illaha illa’ Allah ‘there is no god but God’, shows that the Eternal Soul cannot be framed by words and we must perpetually remove any mental conception we may have of it.

Buddhism says that as all words and concepts are essentially empty it is beyond our ability to describe the state of enlightenment, that is, the Eternal Soul.  Taoism states ‘the Tao that can be named is not the Tao’.  It seems we may only know the Eternal Soul after the death of the body soul or indeed after many lifetimes; but dedicated spiritual practice and the guidance of a teacher can lead us to It, and some become enlightened in their lifetime.



Three-fold Soul
Man is a soul, and has a body.
Swami Sri Yukteswar

The soul, while ultimately indivisible or whole, appears to us to have a tripartite form or exist in at least three realms.
 
The first realm to consider is that of the life or body soul as constituted by the information, intelligence, codes, proteins, enzymes and cells of the universe.  Each unique, three dimensional body, mind and ego incarnates within the greater four dimensional body of the Soul of Life on Earth, according to the natural cycle of birth and death.  Although the mind and egoic self-awareness are the creation of the one Soul of Life, as it grows the body soul mistakenly sees itself as an independent physical entity.  It is encouraged to develop a strong sense of self-identity and separateness.  In most societies today, a strong self-image, ‘I’ or ego, is upheld, a culture of individuality prevails, and consciousness is seen as a function of the brain rather than of the soul.
 
Upon reincarnation therefore, and the dawning of egoic consciousness, we habitually fail to realise, firstly, the inherent emptiness of the self and its concepts, secondly, our dependency upon and existence within the Soul of Life, the Divine Mother, and finally, the derivation of our ultimate consciousness and being in the selflessness of the Eternal Soul.  We live in an unhappy state of unfulfilled and unfulfillable material identification, selfishly follow our physical impulses and desires, and believe that this is all there is until we die.  The soul can live a happy and fulfilling life on Earth, but because of the trauma of birth, human attachment, ignorance, desire and the changing nature of material existence, more often than not we suffer and cause others to suffer.

The second realm to consider is the Divine Mother.  According to this terminology, the Divine Mother is the multi-dimensional body of Life in the universe.  She forms the sum of the living organisms of the Earth’s evolving biosphere as well as the information-bearing forces of the five dimensional Cosmos: that is, light, sound, the elements, amino acids, genetic codes, subatomic particles, protons (each with the lifetime of a universe), gravity, geometric structure, celestial cycles, consciousness and so on.  As the Cosmic Vibration, She is the Holy Ghost, the Aum, the Prakriti, the material world.  Accounts of these generative forms, root-causes or principles, known in India as tattvas, gunas, devas or devatas and in Buddhism as skandhas, reveal their direct dependency upon a supreme causal source.  As giants (Gaians) and angels in the Western world, these powers are the agents of and in undeviating service to the Eternal Soul.
 
The devic principles function according to the law of karma, that is, action, with its chains in time of cause and effect.  Scientists describe these in terms of their cosmological models of general relativity, quantum mechanics and the laws of conservation and thermodynamics.  Devic information as elemental, atomic and genetic encoding is embodied and imprinted by the actions of souls to produce a particular ancestral inheritance—an evolutionary karma existing over time.  Each body soul acquires aggregates of this ancestral karma from the Divine Mother, which therefore can be said to have reincarnated within the body soul as the ancestral karmic soul.  As this four dimensional information is so highly definitive it raises the question whether the body soul has any independent existence.  Although this information can be transformed by souls who live under Cosmic Law and realise their true self within the Eternal Soul, it is ultimately subjective and thus, in a sense, it is empty and is often known as Maya or ‘illusion.’


 Anandamayi Ma with Paramahansa Yogananda in 1936
 
Clear of ancestral karma and aided by a spiritual teacher who shows us how to control our desires and mental restlessness, we can, however, experience the ecstasy of living within the many devic dimensions of the Universal Divine Mother.  When we can act without attachment to the result of our actions in the material world then we are truly free.  The blissful sensation of unity with all life on Earth and the quieting of the thoughts, desires, delusions and material attachments of the body soul can allow us access to the divine sources of inspiration, wisdom and love, not just in the fourth, but in the fifth dimension and beyond.
 
Soma, Rita, bodhicitta, awen, manna, 'honey' and enlightenment, are the traditional gifts of the third and final realm of the soul: the Eternal Soul.
 
Following this terminology, the Eternal Soul is the cause of the infinite Cosmos.  It is the realisation and actualisation of all the potential dimensions of being.  It is the mathematically incomprehensible infinite of infinites—the causeless cause.  It is the undifferentiated, unconditional, creative consciousness beyond time, space, light, sound, action and karma.  Although nameless, it is known as Sat, God, Allah, Para-Brahman, Para-Purusha, the Tao or the Great Spirit, it is the Divine Source, Divine Power, or Infinite Love.  Devotion to the Eternal Soul, and the teacher who reveals It, promotes knowledge, discipline, morality, ethics, and ultimately, complete happiness, self-realisation and liberation.
 
The Eternal Soul is, ultimately, our true self.  It is our true, spacious, loving, peaceful, ecstatic, wise and everlasting soul nature: the Eternal Soul beyond our human consciousness.  It is consciousness—perpetual, cosmic, wise and creative—of a far higher power.  Uncreated, formless and thus indescribable and indestructible, the Eternal Soul is the origin and cause of the soul, the Divine Mother, Para-Prakriti and Cosmos.  One taste of its infinite presence and we begin to remember our formless origin and spiritual nature.  As we learn to love the Divine Mother, endure the suffering of reincarnation and karma, and start to understand our undying relationship with the Eternal Soul, the guidance of a teacher can intervene and lead us to enlightenment.


 
Soul Realisation or Enlightenment
 
The Soul (Atman) is everywhere, all pervading, whole,
indivisible, pure, sinless, resplendent, immanent and all transcending—
giving the devas their duty of ordering all things in time and space.

Isha Upanishad 8
 
Enlightenment is the most peaceful, calm, compassionate and powerful state in which to be.  As we cultivate concentration and dedication, come to understand the impermanence of the body soul and our ancient, ancestral and karmic path through the universal and terrestrial Divine Mother, so we realise our origin and true nature in the causal, undying and selfless nature of the Eternal Soul.  In the Eternal Soul we clear conditioning karma, become free of attachment to concepts and the results of actions, and are in loving communion with the Divine.  We have come home.
 
Yet, in a sense, enlightenment never comes.  It is neither won, nor is it achieved.  It is the only constant, yet it is never still.  Being self-existent it has no cause.  Being causal it appears to act from another dimension; but being dimensionless it has neither beginning nor end, neither origin nor consequence.  Enlightenment is unconditional, spacious, ‘empty’ and thus free of karma; yet its streams of spiritual wisdom, healing, kindness, love and compassion can be aspired to, and, when carefully cultivated, can fill us with the results of good karma.  Although heaven can never be established upon the Earth, it can, at times feel like it is!
 
Enlightenment is in each breath we take; for breath is the microcosm of the great pulse of the Cosmos.  The words for the life principle in many languages: pneuma, chi, qi, prana, lung, mana and so on, mean ‘breath’ and ‘air’ as well as ‘soul’.  The inbreath follows the outbreath and the exhalation follows the inhalation in the same way as the created world gives itself to the Divine and the Divine—pure, vast, unconditioned, selfless, loving, yet invisible and indecipherable to us—gives itself to the world.
 
Enlightenment is the impossibility that breaks the barrier of human possibilities.  It is the power, not of this world, that guides and shapes all worlds.  It is the power, not of the soul, that shapes all souls.



The Soul Journey
 
Neither knowing nor unknowing, nor both together, invisible,
unthinkable, unnameable, Its essence is of its Self, being still, tranquil,
benign, non-dual. That is the Atman, the soul to be realised.

Mandukya Upanishad 7

In sum, the soul is born in the terrestrial Divine Mother as the body soul: the body, senses, mind, emotions, personality, self-awareness and the ‘I’ or ego.  The body soul originates within, is entirely dependent upon, then dies within the Divine Mother.  The richness and complexity of the body soul mirrors that of the Divine Mother, while its ‘emptiness’, apparent free will, consciousness and devotional longing mirrors the selflessness and love of the Eternal Soul.  The inability of the soul to escape the consequences of its actions is reflected in the interminable chains of cause and effect among the myriad cosmic forms of the universal Divine Mother, while its apparent ability to choose its actions is a reflection of the infinitely free creative power of the Eternal Soul.  The Divine Mother, the anima mundi, the Soul of Life on Earth and the devic realm—the information and energy holders of the universe which include the planetary, solar, lunar and zodiacal powers—are in direct and dutiful service to the Eternal Soul.  The life of the soul is one with the Soul of Life.  Its task is to learn to act in harmony with all.
 
At birth, the soul inherits or activates the karma held within the ancestral soul.  This is the pattern of forces and information held in the Divine Mother that are peculiar to humanity, which evolve, and are carried through time over countless lives.  They are the accumulative result of past actions which determine our present and future actions.  Between the karmic soul and the culturally encouraged identification with the body soul—the secular teaching that the ego is all there is—it is very difficult for the soul to remember and realise its true nature, origin and home in the immortal realm of the Eternal Soul.  The soul is caught in the egoic web of desire and aversion, attachment and indifference, and it is usually the case that it only finds release at the time of death.
Prakriti
(bearing Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva)
"Without Him I exist not, without me He is unmanifest."
 

Once we realise the impermanence, inherent emptiness and interdependency of the ego and body soul, and as we learn to meditate and begin to clear karmic obscuration, we can start to move deeper into awareness of the universal forms of the Divine Mother and the great devic powers.  From there on, an appreciation of the gift of life begins to develop.  With the realisation of our dependence upon and our fundamental unity with all things comes the beginning of wisdom, love and compassion.  As soul awareness grows, it becomes possible to overcome karma, good and bad, find a spiritual teacher, release attachment to material things, sensory desires and the outcome of our actions, and so quieten and even still the mind.
 
Finally, there comes the realisation or awakening to the nameless Eternal Soul, which, in the terms used here, stands to the universal Divine Mother as the terrestrial Divine Mother does to the soul.  As the soul remembers its love for the Divine, both transcendent and immanent, it becomes able to appreciate the limitless wonders of the Divine Mother, and fulfil its duty to serve the increase of the Soul of Life wherever it appears in the cosmos.
 
In this state of realisation the soul understands the ultimate union of God / Goddess, Purusha / Prakriti, the transcendent and immanent Divine, and their creative power.  As the Mother (the spiritual partner of Sri Aurobindo) said: "Without Him I exist not, without me He is unmanifest."


The Breath of Life
 
Without full awareness of breathing, there can be no development of meditative stability and understanding.
Thich Nhat Hanh

A vital key to soul realisation is the breath.  Buddhist breathing meditations can be very helpful here.  In India, pranayama or breath control is central to the practice of yoga.  A practice such as Kriya Yoga shows how pranayama not only brings soul realisation but also undoes lifetimes of obscuring karma.  Without dissolution of karma, even after experiencing states of enlightenment, we easily slip back into habitual body consciousness. The spine is our personal Tree of Life.  By centering our consciousness in the spine through the breath we can still the mind and release all attachments, until we arrive at the Divine, our ultimate home.