The soul it seems is the very essence of who we are. Yet no one really knows what it is. You will find that one person defines the self as spirit, another as soul, and which of the two survives the body can be called any number of things. Lets say for the moment that the soul is who you truly are. That the soul is a part of you that travels into and beyond life. That it is your essence.
Spending some time to think about this and feeling a truth within yourself with regards to the soul can help you make a deeper connection with yourself. Even more interesting you can understand a society or a group of people by seeing what it is they choose to believe about the soul.
Two specific types of views can be traced back to Plato and Aristotle. Neither of their views were completely uniform, but the distinction of their views centered on the body and being alive. In Plato’s view, the body corrupts the soul and causes our fall from a state of perfection. Aristotle felt the body existed in order for the soul to fulfill itself.*
These two distinct philosophies form very different foundations for how an individual or a group of people view the world. Are you in here because of some terrible mistake? Has the act of being born been some terrible fall from grace? Is it now your job to escape the mistake of being here and return to where your soul was meant to be… to correct the error of your birth?
Alternatively, is your life and being born a way of fulfillment? Does the body and by extension the earth offer you an incredible gift because it meets the needs of your essential self?
When one or the other of these beliefs is at the center of a world view it gives you a very different relationship with existence. If the world is to be rejected or overcome then what you do to the earth and how you treat it is unimportant. You may need to take care of the nature for the practical reasons as necessary to support life. But if you are here in error then you are not really looking at the your surroundings as a sacred gift or an opportunity. The world must be resisted, and it must be controlled or sublimated.
On the other hand, if your body and therefore the world are a gift that has been given to your soul, then everything becomes a gift. Your are here because your soul wants to be here. So much of what is around you has been given to you so that you may find expression or meaning or whatever it is you think the soul wants for its purpose. There is a beauty to be found in those things that support you in such a way.
Of course we aren’t dealing with nihilism or existentialism or any of those philosophical systems that contemplate what being alive is all about. I’m not mentioning Plato and Aristotle to start all those philosophers out there on the path of debate. Rather, I have seen this Plato and Aristotle subject referred by historian who are explaining different religious doctrine and spiritual ideas around the soul. I’m talking about a simplified illustration of how what you believe about the soul, can become a foundation to how you relate to the world around you.
There are so many different things to believe about the soul: that it doesn’t exist, that it does but doesn’t survive life, that it has several parts, that it is energy, that it doesn’t belong to one person but is passed from life to life. If like me, you’ve done any research into what people believe about the soul you may be amazed at how many different ways there are to define this thing.
That doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands, however. There are so many ways to define the soul because there is no “one right way.” This means you get to pick what one that makes sense to you. What you choose to believe about your soul has the potential to remake how you see the world. It is an opportunity to find a conception that resonates with you, and potentially enrich the way you relate to other people and to your surroundings.
Lauren Torres – Lansing, IL
Copyright © 2014 [Lauren Torres]. All rights reserved
Do not reproduce with out express written permission.
* What I’ve described here is how Aristotle and Plato come up in books which discuss soul definition within history, most often with regards to Christian thinkers. This is more about how they were used and is a rather poor description of what they actually thought. Hopefully, any philosophers reading this article will read the footnote before they clutch their chest in outrage and send off an angry letter.
Bemporad, J. (2005). Soul: Jewish concepts. In Encyclopedia of Religion 2nd Ed. (Vol. 12, pp 8556-8561). Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference.
Goswami, A. (2001). The physics of the soul: The quantum book of living, dying reincarnation, and immortality.Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing.
MacGregor, G. (2005). Soul: Christian concepts. In Encyclopedia of Religion 2nd Ed. (Vol. 12, pp 8561-8566). Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference
Osmond, R. (2003). Imagining the soul: A History. Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing Limited.