The earliest surviving “Western philosophy” western philosophical view believed that the soul was that which gave the body life. The soul was considered the incorporeal or spiritual ‘breath’ which animates the living organism.
It is similar in Hindu tradition. The Vedic term for the soul is atman. In this tradition, the atman or soul is the core of our being. They say we are all an expression of this one universal principle — the essential reality of our individual existence. It allows us to be aware of our existence and the world about us. It is the source of our individual self awareness and our capacity to think, to feel, to act, to learn, to grow. But awareness of the soul itself eludes us. That which allows awareness seems impossible to experience.
Why is this so? Perhaps because it is so self-evident that we take it for granted. We are like fish swimming in the ocean looking everywhere for water. We are each a personification of this principle of self-evident awareness yet we are rarely aware of this fundamental fact. Even though the soul is the most real, self-evident truth of our existence, a direct experience of the soul is rare. What does the fact that I exist and am self-aware say about the universe, the mystery of the creation and the purpose of life?
Modern man has sought throughout time to understand how this all came into being and who we are in the universe. Be it due to fear, awe or wonder, we have strived to understand and harness the forces around us in Nature and beyond. Religions’ power is that is appears to provide answer to these questions, bringing us solace and comfort. Even Modern man’s science is a continuation of this same quest. Yet if any one of us step back from the endless activity and demands of ordinary life and look up at the night sky, we can experience this same feeling. We can sense how vast the universe is and how small and insignificant we are.
Humility and awe awakens in us an inherent drive to seek meaning, to discover the who and why of it all. We have awakened on this tiny planet in an insignificant solar system on the outer edge of a galaxy, a tiny speck in an unimaginably vast and apparently empty universe, for what purpose? How did this happen? Is it just an evolutionary advantage that has made man the dominant species on the planet? Or is it a manifestation of something greater. Perhaps a possibility inherent in the original evolutionary impulse from which this creation emerged?
How is it that we can be aware of ourselves? What, if anything, does this tell us about the Creation? These are perhaps the most important questions we could ask ourselves. Yet to question these things is rarely, if ever, apparent to us.
So where do we start? It is not enough to answer these questions philosophically. We need to apply these answers to our life, to make them as ‘real’ for us as our own existence. Here are some questions that can help guide you:
Who (or what) am I?
Why am I here?
What is real?
Does life have a purpose? If so, what is it?
How do I live?
Engage yourself in a process of self inquiry. Engage with others. Find fellow travelers and guides. Research and read the writings of men and women who have answered these questions for themselves. Then you can begin the true journey. Within you is the answer. Find the soul within yourself. It is the eternal reality that exists within you. Once this happens, the eternal path with open to you and you will consciously begin the journey to Truth.
The Bhagavad Gita on the Soul
There are many paths to this eternal reality. One of these paths can be found in the ancient Hindu scripture called the Bhagavad Gita. The following verses come from the second chapter of this book. It reveals something of the nature of the soul:
v.67: It is never born nor does it ever die. It comes into embodiment again and again; it is birthless, eternally present and is not slain when the body is slain. 2.20
v.68: Arjuna, one who knows the Soul to be birthless, imperishable and eternal, how can he kill anybody or how can he be the cause for killing? 2.21
v.69: As a person changes worn-out clothes for new ones, so also the soul discards worn-out bodies and takes on new bodies. 2.22
v.70: Neither can weapons cut it nor can fire burn it, water cannot drench it nor can wind dry it. 2.23
v.71: It cannot be cut or burnt and is incapable of getting wet or dry. It is eternal, all-pervading, constant and primordial. 2.24
v.72: It is unmanifest, unthinkable and immutable. Knowing this you should not grieve. 2.25
v.73: And even if you think that this Soul is subject to constant birth and death you still should not grieve. 2.26
v.74: Whosoever is born shall die and rebirth is inevitable for the dead, therefore, you should not grieve over this. 2.27
v.75: Beings are unmanifest before birth and unmanifest after death. They are manifest between these two states. Then what is there to be grieved for? 2.28
If these verses inspire you then know that the soul within you is open. Take heart that you are now capable of entering into a domain of knowing and experience that exceeds anything you have known in your human life.
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