When we speak of religious beliefs we mean its theological tenets. Christianity and Islam share common ideas and beliefs having their roots in a common source–Judaism. This religion in turn derived many of its doctrines and beliefs from the Persians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Chaldeans, and the Sumerians. Perhaps it would be true to say that almost every religion is syncretic, though they may try very hard to cover this up.
Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Taoism are more mystical in nature and differ greatly from the Semitic religions in many basic principles; Hinduism comprising of many philosophical schools of thought, embraces various theological ideas. Some schools of Buddhism teaches that there is no permanent entity called the soul; that what is thought to be the soul is simply a collection of karmic tendencies transmittable from one incarnation to another. Their extreme views are nilhilistic in nature; however, it is doubtful whether this was implied in the teachings of the Buddha. For instance, if there is no Self, then there is also no Gautama Buddha in existence; and yet, prayers are still being directed by the faithful to this exalted being. Fundamentally, although these religions have diverse concepts regarding the soul they all point or refer to the One where all sentient beings originate. All have their own particular name or names for this Source, and all have their personal ideas regarding this Divine Essence.
Theological precepts are often tainted with the frailties of the human ego and intellect and thus offer a poor basis for the study of true religion and its revelations concerning the soul. Nevertheless, we will strive to present its beliefs with as little bias on our part as possible. This section will be brief, for to do justice to the subject would require many pages and go beyond the scope of this work.
In Christian theology it is believed that the soul prior to birth is devoid of any individuality or personality. It is only when God breathes through the nostrils of man that the soul acquires self-consciousness, and is a “living” being–and this condition of being alive is believed to remain with the soul after death. In the Book of Genesis it is recorded that,
“God made man out of the dust of the earth, breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and made man a living soul.” (Gen 2:7)
The phrase “living soul” is equated to the state of being self-conscious. According to this notion unless there is an awareness of the existence of an ego, or a self, a person or being does not truly have a soul. Such a creature is “soulless.” A person may be alive imbued with the soul-essence, the life-force, and yet remain soulless, in the sense that it is not self-aware. Some states of insanity may represent beings who are “soulless.” While the living soul is associated with the awareness of the ego, immortality is associated with the awareness of the superego, the Higher Self. This idea, though, falls in the province of metaphysical thought.
Basically, theology consider the soul to be a substance implanted in man. It is believed to be an entity divinely created and bestowed upon man when man takes his first breath. Christian theology formulated the idea that man is a divine creation, the highest of all beings, and that the whole universe was created for man alone in support of his existence.
In Christianity the terms “lost souls” or “degraded souls” are often expressed. The moral quality of a person’s life is believed to be able to affect the soul. However, from the metaphysical point of view soul-essence is immaculate, perfect, immutable and divine. What may be affected is not its essence but its conscious expression. The consciousness arising from soul essence is that which evolves and strives to reflect the image, archetype or blueprint that God created for man. This is stated emphatically in Genesis; however the statement is often interpreted literally. This blueprint is the image or divine qualities of God. It does not refer to form but to the inner nature of the life-essence.
The Hindus, generally speaking, believe the soul to be an entity that resides in the physical body and is subjected to reincarnation in accord with its karma. The Upanishads says that, “The Supreme Person, of the size of the thumb, dwells forever in the heart of all human beings.” Its esoteric wisdom, moreover, tells us that the immaterial man is constituted of various principles each having their own particular function. The highest principle within the microcosm of man is the Atma, or according to others, the Paratman.
In the Bhagavad Gita, the microcosm is represented by Krishna, Arjuna, the carriage, and the horses. Krishna is the Spirit, the highest aspect of man; Arjuna the evolving soul; the carriage the mind; and the horses the senses. Graphically five horses are often represented. They represent the senses of man through which the vital force escapes and runs uncontrolled. In yoga and esoteric practices the senses are subdued so that the vital force may be directed within to awaken the sluggish Arjuna. Krishna is the guide that assists Arjuna in this project.
As we mentioned before, the belief in the survival of the soul after death goes way back to the earliest development of humankind. Primitive Neanderthal tribes, for instance, would bury food, tools, and weapons along with the corpses of their departed in order to provide them with the bare necessities in the afterlife. This custom still survive in some cultures and is a clear indication that not only is soul survival believed in but that the afterlife as a continuation of the sort of life lived in the physical world is likewise presumed.
Animism was the prevailing belief among prehistoric man. Everything was considered alive and pervaded with a soul-force that even gave inanimate objects a consciousness and an intelligence of some kind. Stars in particular were believed to be souls long dead and living in heaven. To the primitive mind, the sky or firmaments were considered to be heaven, just as hell was thought to lie beneath the earth.
That the soul “resided” and functioned in the physical body, a location was sought for its residence. Some believed the heart to be the organ of the soul, others pointed to the head. Some primitive cultures thought that the blood was the vehicle of the soul–that the blood carried soul-substances to every part of the body. The demon Mephistopheles in a play written by Goethe (1749-1832) declares the blood to be a “curious thing.” The belief that the blood is the vehicle of the soul is not without foundation, however. If the soul in this context is considered to be the life-force, prana, chi, or even oxygen, one can only surmise how the primitive mind intuited this scientific fact. Scientifically, it has been noticed that blood-transfusion often causes a temporary change in character in the person receiving the donor’s blood. Could it be that blood is impregnated with one’s soul-characteristics? As the blood was associated with the soul, many primitive tribes such as the Scythians evolved the custom of drinking the blood of their enemies or victims in order to absorb their courage, strength, power, and abilities. The custom of forming blood-brothers is also based upon the belief in the importance of the blood as related to the soul, and its transcendence over fleshly ties. Members forming blood-brothers would drink the blood of fellow members thus forming a soul-bond overriding the normal flesh-and-blood relationships.
The ancients often depicted the soul as a bird often human headed, perhaps referring to its ability to fly. The Aztecs, ancient Greeks and Egyptians among the many ancient races, for instance, often portrayed the souls of their dead in murals and pottery as a winged bird taking flight from its lifeless corpse. Eagles, hawks, doves, peacocks and phoenixes were often used to represent the soul.
Not only the head, heart, and blood were believed to be the seat of the soul, but likewise the breath. Believing that the breath is associated with the soul and life, the aborigines of Papua New Guinea would breathe through tubes into effigies of their forefathers in order to confer a certain vitality to their departed souls. This is a magical practice based on the law of similarity. Many tribal cultures practiced the placement of obstructions in the nostrils of their dying ones as a last effort to saving their lives. This they believe would effectively prevent the soul from escaping and causing the death of the body.
It is believed among ancient and savage people that the soul being associated with the life force, illnesses or feebleness of the physical body are caused by the escape of the soul from the gross form. In extreme cases the soul force was “captured” by some evil spirit and it was the task of the shaman, the tribal witch-doctor to recapture the soul and restore it to the corporeal body. The ability of the shaman to dissociate his incorporeal aspect from the gross form supposedly facilitated this sort of work.
The Ancients’ concept of the soul has evolved throughout the ages, and even now our scientific understanding is constantly in a state of change. Our conceptions regarding the soul is associated with our various notions regarding God. As man evolves so does his awareness of the soul and his Source. Man has formed many ideas regarding the nature of his creator. In this context it can be seen that the phrase, “God creates man, and man creates God” has a basis in truth.
Among the ancient cultures, the Egyptians and Hindus were the most advanced in their understanding of the soul. We in particular refer to their mystics, hierophants, and sages. They regarded man as a microcosm with many aspects, both material and incorporeal, with each aspect having its own function to play in the life and destiny of the soul. Their many teachings live on today in contemporary metaphysico-occult philosophy. The ancient Greek philosophers and sages such as Thales, Plato and Pythagoras derived much of their occult knowledge from these wise priests of the Orient.
Along the scientific vein, certain schools of thought believe the self or ego to be a by-product of a brain function, and yet what gives rise to this function is not known, and only given an educational guess. The section of the brain that “causes” a sense of self is likewise not yet discovered. This concept of the “brain causes consciousness” is fundamentally the viewpoint of the mechanists that sees man as merely a machine. The above concept is flawed, however, because portions of the brain have been known to be destroyed and yet the presence of a sense of self still remained. In the condition known as hydrocephalus, for instance, large sections of the cerebral cortex may be destroyed or missing, being filled instead with cerebro-spinal fluid, and yet individuals suffering from such a condition may lead normal lives without suspecting their blight. They may even have an I.Q. above average.
The mechanists, Freud (1856-1939) among them, claim that our behavioral actions are automatic responses to external stimuli, and that life is a result of the right combination of chemicals derived from food and oxygen. That an animating force exists to vitalize the organism they may concede but this force is looked upon as a physical energy akin to electricity. The mechanistic theory describes how perception takes place through the stimulation of the senses that creates nerve impulses, and how these nerve impulses travel to the sections of the brain related to the senses, and how they form sensations; but the theory does not consider the real perceiver that tries to make sense of the sensations. To mechanists, the perceiver is thought to be one of the functions of the cerebral cortex. In short, the mechanistic concept leaves no room for the existence of the soul. To a mechanist the purported existence of the soul is considered as an absurdity.
If the eminent neuropsychologist Karl Lashley (1890-1958), author of Brain Mechanisms and Intelligence, after years of research could not discover the seat of memory in the brain, how much more difficult would it be to discover the seat of the self or soul–not withstanding Descartes’ (1596-1650) assertion that the pineal gland is its locus. This French philosopher and mathematician also declared, “cogito, ergo sum,” or “I think, therefore I am” thus implying that the Self arises into existence as a result of thought, or as a function of the mind. Nevertheless, mystics have proved to themselves the possibility of transcending thoughts and yet remaining in existence, and possessing an exalted sense of Self, unified with the Cosmos. The mystic’s standpoint is supported by Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), French philosopher and writer. To Sartre, existence does not depend on the functions of the mind, that a being does not exist simply because it thinks. According to Sartre, existence precedes the mind–or thinking.
Rene Descartes’ statement is therefore erroneous, or perhaps our interpretation of his statement is wrong. “I think, because I am” would be closer to the truth. In spite of this, Descartes was somewhat accurate in believing that the pineal gland plays an important role in man’s occult physiology as we shall see later when we discuss the metaphysical purview.
Mainstream science may disavow the existence of the soul on the pretext of its immateriality, undetected by their instruments; and yet, matter in its actual state in similarly immaterial. This was the proposition of Leibniz (1646-1716), the German philosopher, who considered matter as a manifestation of Mind–“a stupid variety of mind.” To explain this graphically, for instance, what we call concrete matter is actually made up of moving molecules. Molecules in turn are made up of whirling atoms, and these are composed of even smaller particles. Should these sub-atomic particles be magnified “nothing” would be found. Matter, is therefore, made up of “emptiness.” We may call this void “energy,” “mind,” or “spirit,” but whatever we call it, the fact remains that matter is actually as insubstantial as the soul. If the reality of one is accepted why not the other? The many particles composing matter are filled with this “nothing,” or space. Another curious fact is that if we were to remove the space inherent within a human body, for instance, and all the “particles” united, the total compaction would result in a piece of matter no larger than a mite of dust. Leibniz’s theory is also paralleled by the thoughts of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), the American Trancendentalist. According to Emerson matter is “a phenomenon, not a substance.” He also considered the material world to be,
“a divine dream, from which we may presently awake to the glories and certainties of day.”
Science informs us that nothing is destroyed. That matter is just energy possessing a certain structure and magnetic-field. It is acknowledged that everything in existence is made up of energy. Now as the existence of consciousness and a sense of self are undeniable, they should be thought of as indestructible as well, for Science has already implied the idea in its equations. So why then does Science not accept the possible existence of disembodied consciousness–the soul?–because it cannot be perceived? Quiet an absurdity, really–even while embodied the Self cannot be seen. Can you see your Self?
From whence does the sense of self-identity come? It seems that mainstream science is still a long way in finding this one out. However, new paradigms are being formulated by open-minded scientists who are now considering the world-view of eastern mystics in conjunction with the new developments and discoveries in the field of physics and psychology. The theories of quantum physics and transpersonal psychology are closing the gap between essential religion and conventional science. Regarding the mystery of the Self in relation to the brain we are reminded of the words of the researcher and scientist George Buletza who said in the Rosicrucian Digest (Sept. 1983) that,
“Rather than the brain producing Self, it is the other way around. The brain is a product of Self, of Being ever striving to be. The brain is the incredibly fine instrument created by Self in the process of expressing its own nature . . .”
It has been observed in many laboratory experiments all over the world that human consciousness reveals an ability to extend itself beyond the boundaries of the brain and body, that somehow it may perceive or influence events at distant places. Such mental activities suggests to some scientific observers that consciousness may exist independent of the corporeal form.
Many branches of science such as physics, psychology, astrophysics, and biology, are investigating the soul, and each has their own particular methods of inquiry. Perhaps the most important branch of science that has been developed in recent times, relatively speaking, is parapsychology.
Parapsychology is that branch of science that studies the nature of psychic or paranormal phenomena. Its scope of investigation covers a wide range of subjects: for instance, ESP, hauntings, poltergeist activity, Near-Death Experience, Out-of-the-Body Experience, UFOs, Strange Creatures, Weird Phenomena, etc. There are now many institutes investigating, studying, and teaching this branch of science. The word “parapsychologist” is often misunderstood. Many people seem to think that being a parapsychologist is synonymous to being psychic. This is erroneous. A psychic may not be a parapsychologist, and vice versa. A psychic is someone who perceives impressions through higher senses not ordinarily registered by the physical senses. Psychics may not generally understand the impressions that they register, and may simply believe and be fooled by illusions and appearances. A parapsychologist seeks to understand unusual phenomena through scientific analysis, and by using empirical methods with the aid of carefully devised instruments. A mystically inclined metaphysician, on the other-hand, basically strives to understand phenomena with the aid of his intellect, intuition, and other higher faculties. The parapsychologist’s basic methods are three-dimensional, the psychic’s four-dimensional, and the mystic-metaphysician’s, five-dimensional, or even higher.
To illustrate the difference between a paranormal and a metaphysician’s understanding of phenomena, we will just illustrate one out of many. As an example, supposing a psychic were to receive impressions of an impending disaster, he would consider it to be truth and proclaim it to others. He would make all sorts of predictions anent the impressions that was registered in his mind. He would consider it as a revelation of God.
The metaphysician on the other hand, knowing Cosmic and natural laws, understands the impressions received to possibly be thought-forms-mind creations of fearful beings. Man radiates thoughts, and these thoughts, perhaps without a basis of truth, are received by psychics. The unfortunate thing in all of this is that thoughts are creative. What we habitually think about with intense emotion have a tendency to materialize. So dire predictions often come true; however it does not have to be. We have to learn to eliminate fear. When psychics make predictions they are instilling and intensifying fear among the masses. Now this is a vicious cycle. When people are made fearful by psychics they begin to imagine more catastrophic horrors and these thoughts radiate out again to susceptible psychics who repeat the whole procedure over again. The momentum eventually grows until it manifests physically.
However, let us not digress too far and return to our subject: Parapsychology has established various avenues of research for determining the reality of the soul and the survival of personal consciousness. Although the results of their research are inconclusive by the standards of mainstream science, parapsychologists have been successful in acquiring evidence and vital knowledge that when analyzed seemingly validates the age-old belief in the existence of the soul and its survival of bodily death. Nevertheless, parapsychologists have formulated various theories as to their findings, not all of which aligns with the traditional view of the soul. It is also important to note that the term “soul” is rarely used in mainstream science or parapsychology. The terms “mind,” “consciousness,” and “personality” are often used instead.
Copyright © 2006 Luxamore
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