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Holding as we do that, while knowledge of any kind
is a thing to be honored and prized, one kind of it may,
either by reason of its greater exactness
or of a higher dignity and greater wonderfulness in its objects,
be more honorable and precious than another,
on both accounts we should naturally be led to place
in the front rank the study of the soul.
The knowledge of the soul admittedly contributes greatly
to the advance of truth in general,
and, above all, to our understanding of Nature,
for the soul is in some sense the principle of animal life.
Aristotle On the Soul, I:1
The subject of this book is of ultimate importance to us, for the soul is not only the principle of life and the source of consciousness, but it is in reality our own life and the very beingness of who we are, What could possibly be more important for us to understand than who and what we are? Nevertheless we must also realize that the verbal descriptions of any book can only attempt to describe or point to a reality which inevitably lies behind or beyond the words. Yet by the freedom of our consciousness we can transcend the words and perceive the experience of reality which the words refer to. Books are merely a medium of communication which may link together the consciousness of individuals in shared concepts. The validity of this process depends upon the writers' abilities to express their experience in clear ideas and the readers' skills in recognizing the truth in their own experience. As we shall see, this is especially difficult and paradoxical in regard to the soul because to reify (“thingify”) it as an object becomes a falsification, since it is the pure subject, our being. Ironically people often fail to recognize the soul as the beingness of who we are because it is always present and therefore not noticed; in its perfection and subtlety it is completely non-interfering and never troublesome. Even when the person consciously denies the concept of its existence, the soul continues right on sustaining the energy of the person's life and consciousness; the soul is eternal life and is not bothered by the temporary ignorance of the mind.
By this time the reader may be wondering why the author appears to be assuming the existence of the soul rather than entering into an intellectual debate on whether it does exist or not. Those who are interested in such a discussion are referred to the book Scientific Evidence of the Existence of the Soul by Benito F. Reyes. In that work Dr. Reyes criticizes the scientific methodologies which attempt to limit psychology and the experience of consciousness to physical evidence and data.
All arguments against the existence of the soul
generally originate from the confusion
Reyes, Scientific Evidence of the Existence of the Soul, p. ix
Materialistic science has cut itself off from spiritual experience and the more subtle realities of human life, causing the split between religion and science.
When orthodox science abolished the soul-concept
from psychology, it accomplished two things both undesirable:
it struck at one of humanity's most vital beliefs, religion;
and it has arbitrarily and unnecessarily
widened the gulf between religion and science,
Reyes, Scientific Evidence of the Existence of the Soul, p. 12
This split indicates a failure to synthesize the two areas of human experience into a unified whole. In fact there has been a progressive alienation of the belief in God in the last 500 years as science has shattered some of religion’s major articles of faith. Humanity has been disillusioned by the Copernican, Darwinian, and Freudian revolutions.
Humanity has in the course of time had to endure
from the hands of science
two great outrages upon its naive self-love.
The first was when it realized that our earth
was not the center of the universe, but only a tiny speck
in a world-system of a magnitude hardly conceivable;
this is associated in our minds with the name of Copernicus,
although Alexandrian doctrines taught something very similar.
The second was when biological research robbed man
of his peculiar privilege of having been specially created,
and relegated him to a descent from the animal world,
implying an ineradicable animal nature in him:
this transvaluation has been accomplished in our own time
upon the instigation of Charles Darwin,
Wallace, and their predecessors,
and not without the most violent opposition
from their contemporaries.
But man’s craving for grandiosity is now suffering
the third and most bitter blow
from present-day psychological research
which is endeavoring to prove to the ego of each one of us
that he is not even master in his own house,
but that he must remain content
with the veriest scraps of information
about what is going on unconsciously in his own mind.
We psycho-analysts were neither the first nor the only ones
to propose to mankind that they should look inward;
but it appears to be our lot to advocate it
most insistently and to support it by empirical evidence
which touches every man closely.
Freud, General Introduction to Psycho-Analysis,18th Lecture
All three of these radical changes in perspective were disillusioning to people because they destroyed certain false concepts of pride and ego. However, if we examine these discoveries from a spiritual perspective we will see that they confirm the spirituality of our deeper beingness.
First, the human view that the Earth is the center of the universe is obviously an ego-centric position. Is the Earth really so grand? Is it not a speck of dust in the midst of the galaxies of stars? The cosmic symbolism reveals something about humans. If the sun as an individual center and source of light, energy, and life represents the soul, and Mercury and Venus represent the mind and the emotions, then the Earth may be analogous to the physical body; it is indeed the planet on which we incarnate physically. The revelation of the symbolism is that our physical bodies are not the center of who we are, but rather the soul as the source of life and consciousness is our true center.
Darwin’s theory of evolution came into conflict with the belief that God created all the life forms on the Earth within a short time (literally in six days, although an allegorical interpretation of Genesis can show creation as evolutionary stages). What bothered many was that humans were supposed to have originated from lower animal forms. Again people have confused their beingness with the temporary veil of flesh. Evolution can also be understood as our souls being involved in the process of creation and evolution instead of just as the object of some Creator outside of ourselves. Secondly, evolution implies progression toward more complex and advanced forms of life which means that we could improve and move toward greater perfection in our experience on Earth.
Freud shocked people by pointing out the unconscious motivations which influence people’s behavior. Many were disillusioned because they thought they really knew why they acted as they did. Like Copernicus and Darwin, Freud did not really change the way things are, he just discovered more accurately how things really are. Freud’s emphasis on animalistic instincts followed up on Darwin’s biological theories. Yet Freud’s insights give us greater awareness of how we can handle these drives which had been influencing people even before they had recognized them. Furthermore, the discovery of the unconscious may also open up the possibility that higher levels of human spiritual consciousness may also lie hidden from the conscious ego.
Modern psychology will influence the religious development
of humanity in no less a degree than did modern astronomy.
At first sight the new truth seems to destroy the soul itself;
but it does not. It destroys a false view only of the ego.
To those who have not as yet fully grasped the new conception
it appears difficult to renounce the ego-centric standpoint.
However, a closer acquaintance with the modern solution
of the problems of soul-life shows that
instead of destroying religion
they place it upon a firmer foundation
than it ever before possessed.
Carus, The Soul of Man, p. 434
The hypothesis of the unconscious
puts a large question-mark after the idea of the psyche.
The soul, as hitherto postulated by the philosophical intellect
and equipped with all the necessary faculties
threatened to emerge from its chrysalis as something
with unexpected and uninvestigated properties.
It no longer represented anything immediately known,
about which nothing more remained to be discovered
except a few more or less satisfying definitions.
Rather it now appeared in strangely double guise,
as both known and unknown.
In consequence, the old psychology was thoroughly unseated
and as much revolutionized as classical physics
had been by the discovery of radioactivity.
Jung, Structure a Dynamics of the Psyche, p. 167
The word “psychology” originally meant the study of the soul; but as of 1980, when this book was originally compiled, the soul is rarely if ever even mentioned by most of those who are studying and working in the field of psychology. The tragic consequences of this are seen in modern humanity’s failure to know ourselves as spiritual beings and in the anxiety and lack of fulfillment experienced in a materialistic life-style.
All questions concerning God, death, survival, immortality,
salvation, morality, perfection, origin and destiny, education,
knowledge and values will probably remain unanswered
until the more fundamental question
“What is Man?” is answered first.
If the answer is “Man is the Body—a physical being,”
then a materialistic civilization will result.
If, on the other hand, the answer is “Man is the Soul—
a spiritual being,” then a different civilization will develop.
Reyes, Scientific Evidence of the Existence of the Soul, p. 8
The movements within psychology of the humanistic and transpersonal schools along with the religious and philosophical awakenings developing in those people who are turning toward Christ, Eastern and mystical philosophies, and New Age awareness teachings are beginning a ground-swell for a spiritual psychology centered around the reality of the soul. These approaches all appeal to the evidence of personal experience rather than the so-called objective experimental data of academic investigations. To really be scientific it is necessary for us to be open to evidence from all realms of experience.
The science of psychology is going through a crisis; but it is a constructive crisis, indicating growth and the overcoming of limitations. The existence of higher faculties, of spiritual powers, of a higher self or soul are beginning to be recognized by the more open-minded and unbiased scientists and by many thinkers and students throughout the world. Intuition is being again recognized and honored as a genuine psychological function, as a direct means of acquiring knowledge. Illumination is also beginning to be considered as being not abnormal, but supernormal—not an emotional exaltation, but true revelation of hidden realities.
Therefore it can confidently be expected that the fact of the Soul
will before long be generally accepted,
even if not, of course, fully realized.
Its mere acceptance and recognition
will have far-reaching effects.
It can, and should, revolutionize our whole attitude
towards ourselves and our fellow-men.
Assagioli, “Loving Understanding,” p. 4
The study of the soul will before long be as legitimate
and respectable an investigation as any scientific problem,
such as research into the nature of the atom.
The investigation of the soul and its governing laws
will before long engross the attention of our finest minds.
The newer psychology will eventually succeed
in proving the fact of its existence,
and the paralleling intuitive and instinctive response of mankind
to soul nurture, emanating from the invisible side of life,
will steadily and successfully prove
the existence of a spiritual entity in man—
an entity all-wise, immortal, divine and creative.
Bailey Esoteric Psychology, Vol. I, p. 105
To attempt to treat the soul as if it were a finite object in the world would be a gross misrepresentation if not futile. How can we have objective proof of a subjective reality? Even though the soul must be the cornerstone of any true psychology, because of the realm of being where its reality exists, the method of presentation asks for a philosophical approach. Holistically the metaphysical realities and the ethical “oughts” must somewhere merge or be synthesized with scientific description of the phenomenon that “is.”
Every psychology presupposes metaphysical assumptions as to what is real and has ethical implications in its practice. This work is based on the perspective that what has been classically called “the soul” is the true reality of who we are and the center of our consciousness and life. The approach is not to try to prove verbally that this is true because each person must decide for oneself. Therefore the aim is to reveal descriptions of what the soul is in Part I, how it relates to human consciousness and experience in Part II, and how one may arrive at the full realization of the soul in Part III by presenting the expressions of many mystics, philosophers, religious teachers, and psychologists from various cultures and historic periods.
In a sense, the author of the book is using about a hundred voices of those who have had enlightening experiences and insights to share via the written word. The author has selected what his intuition has recognized as true and perceptive observations and has bypassed statements on this theme which did not seem to be accurate or which were not particularly original. The process of refuting false views of the soul has been avoided as an unnecessary intellectual exercise which would bear little fruit. The positive approach of presenting what the author believes are correct and helpful ideas is an appeal to the readers’ intuitions to recognize what is true.
The soul is the perceiver and revealer of truth.
We know truth when we see it,
let skeptic and scoffer say what they choose.
Emerson, “The Over-Soul”
Although this survey of ideas on the soul is wide-ranging, it is by no means complete; it is hoped that it is at least somewhat representative of the diverse religious and philosophical cultures and approaches. The subject is obviously religious as well as philosophical and psychological, particularly Part III which discusses the methods of liberation. Yet philosophy which is spiritual also has this upward thrust toward more enlightened consciousness. Thus the holistic approach combines psychology, philosophy, and religion in order that we may better discover the whole truth.
I have written introductory paragraphs for each chapter to summarize the main points and then present the quotes from religion, philosophy, and psychology in what I call “phrase-form” or a meaningful group of words on each line. All the introductory paragraphs are gathered together in the Summary at the end. Remember, in God there is no end.
Origin of the Soul in God
The Soul is divine
Proofs of Immortality
Soul and Body
Levels of Consciousness
Functions of the Psyche
Soul and Mind
Cause and Effect
Progression and Evolution
Desirelessness and Non-attachment