Body, Soul and Spirit 2: The Way of the Soul

3614955279_1404b6dde5_oaIn my second posting (1st here) on this beginning exploration and reassessment of what I’ve come to see as true, beautiful and good I’m going to look more into what Soul is and does. And again, I’m just going to go with my meanderings and contemplations; I’m not trying to be comprehensive and go through the history of that idea, or into explaining what distinguishes it from psyche etc. Much of that you can find by googling it and looking it up in the wikipedia and similar.

There are a couple of aspects of Soul that are important to me, now, aspects that can be put into these questions:

  • Reincarnation being a reality (will get into that a bit in just a minute), what is it that becomes – or is embedded in – flesh?
  • Given the very long duration of the Soul’s existence (don’t want to call it eternity until I’m sure it is), why would it incarnate in the first place? What is so interesting about hanging out in an embodied and matterful dimension?
  • And what about evolution, oneness, enlightenment in the light of the ‘never ending story’ (at least from an incarnated point of view) of the Soul?

I already mentioned my friend from Basel, Switzerland, who does remember a long line of incarnations and can actually see those of others as well. I haven’t mentioned that I’ve not taken reincarnation serious for most of my life – actually I considered it off and on, but I didn’t think it was relevant for this life. I rather liked the metaphor of Alan Watts, that an individual life is akin to a vortex in a river that can stay there for a very long time. And then it dissolves again. As long as it exists it evolves and even develops a sense of unique and separate existence, whereas it obviously is simply water whirling in a very particular way…

I’m not reconsidering because of the fear of dying and the desire to last any longer than my allotted (if it is allotted) time on earth. Some years ago, when on the Czech country-side, all alone by myself, I felt like I was having a heart-attack and seriously thought, “This is it!” And apart of not being able to say good-bye to my family and friends and telling them that “all is very good, and thank you for hanging out with me,” I felt very fine with dying, and was at peace with the what I then believed to be true – that I would end definitely; no further existence, an absolute end from my point of view, and a slow fading into oblivion in the larger context of the people who live on. There was no desire to stay and hang on to life or survival of my person or soul in any way.

graveThis is the conviction my father died with in January this year. But spontaneously, at the ceremony before his cremation, I said, “He’ll be surprised that death is not the end. Actually, they’ve got specialists in the next dimension for souls who were sure that there was nothing after death, to help them overcome the shock of post-mortem existence.” I don’t know where that came from, but I do tend to trust such matters. So I guess that was the beginning of opening up to the possibility of – at the very least – ‘surviving’ death in some way or other.

Looking into the research by Ian Stevenson and seeing some interesting videos on the topic it’s now quite clear to me that, as professor Dr. Robert Almeder puts it, “It would be irrational not to believe in reincarnation … if you have a very commanding argument that you cannot refute, not to accept the argument is irrational.” But, whatever the case may be, the material I’ve seen has convinced me that reincarnation is a matter of fact. But why does that matter?

It talks to me about what a human person is, at least what a person is giving expression to. It tells me that it is the Soul that reincarnates and sounds through you and me (old Greek: per sona, through sound). Obviously this gets me into philosophical trouble with materialists who believe that a person, consciousness and mind are phenomena caused by and utterly depend upon an embodied brain… but frankly, I don’t care. I go with the evidence as it presents itself, and then discuss, if one of my monist friends wants that.

underwater15aAfter this ground work on why reincarnation is obviously real I can come to my first question, “What is it that becomes – or is embedded in – flesh?

I will try to illustrate my thinking with two metaphors, music and character.
Imagine an orchestra. We hear a few instruments, then more, tuning to a common note, and when all instruments are tuned the conductor ticks on his desk and everything goes silent. He looks at the score, just to be sure, and starts conducting. The first notes of the music break through the hushed expectations and off we go: A new life, a new self is born, a new orchestral work sounds.
In it’s first notes it might be remniscent of some earlier music, some melodies half forgotten, and somehow – if we knew what came before – we might recognise a theme, or the way the composer goes about writing his music, or the style of the conductor. But then we embark upon the new work’s opening sequence and we are taken by the polyphony or symphony, or whatever our destiny sounds like.
In this metaphor reincarnation is like moving from orchestra to orchestra. Does it depend on the orchestra, how the sym-/polyphony sounds? Certainly it does. Do the instruments and voices matter? Certainly they do. Is the score, the music created by the orchestra? No; it has been written by a composer. Does the orchestra determine what is played? Not really; it is the conductor and the leadership of the orchestra that does that. In our metaphor it is the Soul and whomever the Soul consults with when it chooses the particular incarnation for this musical work.

Character is an ambiguous word as it refers to both persons and letters and words. Which is why I like it as a metaphor for what is embedded in flesh, what is incarnating. A body of writing, a poem, a story comes as characters on paper or screen (or sounds in the air, but let’s stick with the written word as we’ve already covered music and sound). Are the characters causing the poem? No, they embody it. Their embodiment certainly influences the reception, but that’s about it. It is the way the story is told, or the poem is composed that makes all the difference in the world, not what are its constituent letters – except, maybe, that a well readable typography is a good thing…

symph1Both these metaphors illustrate two aspects of reincarnation and a Soul’s Way – we cannot hear a symphony or polyphony without voices and instruments embodying it, and neither can we read a story or poem without the use of letters or ideograms. I’ve used both metaphors as if the embodied music or poetry pre-exists, but that doesn’t need to be so. Not being a composer I just know a bit about writing. Writing, in my case at least, develops as I’m writing and re-reading what I’ve written. And so our metaphors do not only answer what it is that incarnates but also if there needs to be a pre-existing fate or destiny. Does the end of the story already exist when we start with the first lines? It depends on the writer. In reincarnation it might depend on the maturity and artfulness of the Soul that composes the life; maybe it is already quite accomplished and has composed enough previous lives to be confident enough to ‘free-style’ in this life. Maybe it already knows the plot, and maybe not. I think we’ll know in the very end…

So does the Soul incarnate? Well, I’d say as much as an artist incarnates in a piece of art. While s/he’s in the act of creation, s/he’s absorbed by creating; maybe once in a while taking a few steps back, but that’s all there is for the time being… (Writing this I suddenly understand why great art touches us so deeply; the Soul is very much of an artist.)

Which brings us close to a possible answer to, “Why incarnate in the first place? What is so interesting about hanging out in an embodied and matterful dimension?” The richness of using a restricted palette is fascinating – matter, 3 space dimensions and 1 or 2 time dimensions, first-person perspective, impermanence, fallibility, spirit etc.
The view from a mountain top is amazing. We can see very far. We’re above the clouds. We can breath free. All is clear. This is very different from moving about in the valley, the jungle were we can see just a couple of meters, maybe. We’re right in the middle of the blood, sweat and tears, the parties, joys and beauties of deep immersion.
It seems to me incarnation expresses the unending creativity of Soul and it’s fascination with limits, impermanence and diversity.

Which brings me to the third and last question for now, “What about evolution, oneness, enlightenment in the light of a ‘never ending story’ of the Soul?”
Since a human life, a given incarnation, is very much akin to a symphony or a poem, a piece of art, it doesn’t make much sense to insist on the bourgeois imagination that the Soul is learning and moving to some superior state of enlightenment, divinity or some such, taking reincarnations to be a kind of school where with every life we have to learn some lessons or repeat them in a next one.
Obviously, in life, there is learning. And, obviously again, the orchestra and instruments have been evolving on this planet since it came into existence billions of years ago. And, even more obviously, human kind has been developing as a society in a more or less wholesome direction in spite of the numerous challenges we face. But to take that to mean that there is a goal to the Soul’s incarnating activities, and that this goal is some sort of unembodied existence as a post-enlightened being seems to be much more part of a heroic story-line than connected with the ‘goal’ of reincarnating.
Every piece of art is the artist expressing hirself – and possibly getting better at doing that with the given medium of expression – so a human person and particular life is the Soul’s expression, it’s writing in flesh and behavior, dreams and visions, joys and fears and everything else that comes with being alive.

Tat tvam asi! That thou art!Keizaburo Tejima, Swan Sky, 1983a

4 Replies to “Body, Soul and Spirit 2: The Way of the Soul”

  1. Goodmorning dear brother,

    I would rather speak of consiousness then of Soul or Atman.
    But, ofcourse it would be nice to alleviate the sufering in practical matter, if one feels like it. More essential is that one alleviate ones own true suffering by realization. This is what I see could be our journey, our evolution. Only one can help him or her self, we (Bodhisattva’s) can and must not do it for them, it is simply impossible.

    I took the Bodhisattva vow by H.H. Dalai Lama. What I always find reassuring is it says. You reincarnate until all beings are enlightend, (wow dude!) But it also says it’s ok if you can not longer do it…all good ; )

    This great animation movie from Karl Jacobs that you posted some days ago is a nice visualization of what I mean. Consiousness at peace, when it starts to play, also suffering kicks in. That’s ok, that’s life, birth and rebirth, Samsara in full effect, but you know what happens if the suffering is getting to big (todays human world, polution, everyting that not so nice).

    They animal world is a different realm of that of humans. All realms are perfect, and we should not want to change that. But in this human realm we can make a change. And if I see the result of the suffering of most humans, I think we should try and make a change, because else humans will be no longer…

    After awakening, one simply has compassion for everything that is in existence because they just simply exist…

  2. Brother Mushin,

    Having embraced the cylcle of beings in the form of reincarnation and recognizing a “learning” “evolving” pattern. I would like to share my thoughts with you.

    Obviously there are so many different beings, far more than “human” beings. So many countless, endless beings…. So having a human vessel (if I may), is what you can say very special. Now thinking you have obtained a (good) human vessel and probably will in your next life, is most likely….

    Your human intellectual mind makes it possible to think and talk about this topic, and you may say: ” what does it all matter, what’s the goal here it’s all just fine for me”. Offcourse that is fantastic, but are you really sure it’s all fine…? Considering the suffering of all these (other) beings…
    If you look only at those who are poor, sick, fighting for their lifes and loved ones. The animal world is constantly fighting for survival, existence, killing, suffering, etc.

    What happends when your conciousness is in a vessel of a person who is being sexually/mentally abused, beaten and hated….
    Does your mind have the power to overcome this suffering and not to harm yourself and others. Can you develop compassion for those who harm you? Can you imagine the live of a street dog…

    I think you now what my point is. It is this suffering what is the problem. We have the potential to transform our minds and the suffering with every life we have. This should be our “goal”, our “evolution”…
    Being human, having the perfect vessel to do it.



    1. Hi Wouter, my dear one,

      yes I hear the sound of a Bodhisattva in what you say, “Alleviate the suffering of all beings.” And yes, I think that is a worthy goal to go for, and still – exploring the voice of the Healer, the fixer inside and seeing what it is he wants in life; it is just that, healing all suffering and all dreadful happenings. And right, when I hear of the suffering some of the teachers cause Felicia (daughter of my girlfriend), or the suffering people cause each other in workspace or in the supermarket I visit, or on the street, or in the park – or when I think of all the animals that are made to suffer every day for the food industry, and the cosmetic industry and pharma…
      Yes, there is a never ending stream of suffering that seems to be in need of help, healing and all kinds of support.
      And yet… life taught me that many humans, if you help them in one place, they’ll create two new places where they would need help. It’s like the helper and healer is taking away something from them that they dearly love and need. So never help anyone that doesn’t ask for help, and if they ask for help, look very good if you’re not just helping them to replacement-suffering; and then, finally, ask your heart if you really feel right in that situation… often helping is done to feel better about yourself.
      Having said all that; in practical life I often don’t care, I just help if I feel so moved. There are no rules I follow, just insights of the moment and my heart’s feelings.

      Regarding animals causing each other suffering; if this in nature, don’t do anything, I’d say. If it’s cause by humans for food and other industries – I’m mostly vegetarian because of that, not total, as you know; I sometimes profit from this inhumane behavior of industry, and I shouldn’t…

      Actually, I don’t really think that it needs to be a goal – to end suffering – I think it’s naturally part of the intrinsic nature of having a brain and being able to mirror other being’s feelings. It seems to be evolutionary advantageous to have (some) compassion. I do think that Soul doesn’t have such a ‘goal’ at all; for Soul everything, all happenings, are the stuff it forms lives from. Like an artist using all colors of the palette, or a composer also using Moll and dissonances to embody hir art. So I wouldn’t say that Soul has any other problems than artistic ones, if at all…

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