THEOSOPHY, Vol. 47, No. 3, January, 1959
(Pages 132-134; Size: 9K)

WHAT IS THE SOUL?
[The short articles comprising this series are derived from characteristic talks given during the years 1915-35. As often as practicable, the words of the speaker have been used without change, in the hope of conveying some of the force originally imparted to the ideas.](1)
THEOSOPHY is a teaching in regard to life, and as a teaching is absolutely sui generis. Its specific doctrines are comparatively unknown, as unknown in the Orient as in the West. Hence soul as used in Theosophy is not generally understood, for the majority of people have only a vague idea of what is meant by the theological classification "body, soul, and spirit," and assume Theosophists are equally vague in their use of the term. This is not the case, as we will attempt to show.

What is the soul from the theosophical standpoint? It is embodied spirit. And what is embodied spirit? It is conditioned consciousness. And what is conditioned consciousness? We are.

The best way for us to learn this is by using the powers that are inherent in us; for all of us are able to see, and even a little seeing at first-hand is better than any amount of second-hand description. Using, then, our soul-power of discernment, we can see that Life is in every one of us; it is what we fundamentally are. It is not that we are alive; we are Life. It is not that we are a body; our body is only a form of matter. Just so, our consciousness is a form of life.

Notice that in defining "soul" it was necessary to use two words. Although soul itself is a single term, the soul is embodied spirit. Implicit in that statement is an idea that there is such a condition as spirit or life or consciousness that is not embodied -- spirit or life or consciousness not conditioned. We, however, being conditioned life, are unable at present to form any but the vaguest conceptions of what unconditioned life may be like. The greatest philosopher that the Western world has ever produced, Plato, tried to illustrate this in The Republic. He there likened the condition of the human being to a man in a cave with his back to the entrance of the cave, looking inwards against the blank wall at the end. Over his shoulder comes light from outside, and that light makes images of himself and his movements on the wall, and he takes those images to be reality. He takes what he can see to be all there is to see, and he cannot understand that he is anything other than the shadow or the silhouette cast on the wall.

Another great teacher long before Plato likened our existence to that of a man living with the frogs at the bottom of a very deep well. All he could see of space, of sky, of the universe, was just what that little point of light above his head revealed. He therefore interpreted the world by what he saw -- the walls of the well, the water that was in it, and the frogs that croaked beside him. Yet, let the man wonder just once where the light comes from, what more there might be to see, and he may leave his cave or climb out of his well, and find an entirely new "reality" before him.

So it can be seen that one single flash of direct perception is worth all the books ever written, all the sermons ever preached by all the theologians and doctrinaires under heaven. For the soul is the perceiver; is assuredly vision itself; and it looks directly upon ideas. The soul itself is unmodified, unconditioned, unembodied. Yet the moment that the soul looks on ideas, it becomes identified with the idea on which it looks. So we can see that the soul has two powers; the power of expansion and the power of identification. It has the power of identification with any part of life, with any experience in any part of life, and during the period of that identification the soul is exactly like the man in Plato's Republic or the man at the bottom of the well.

We know that we are constantly using the expression that a man goes by what he sees. This is in itself evidence of what we really are. If we were not perceivers, how could we go by what we see? Yet all that any soul can see is an image. Whether that is a true image of the soul or a caricature of the soul makes no difference. All that we can ever see is something projected outside ourselves.

There is, however, another kind of traveling -- the soul-power of expansion: we can also go by what we know and by what we learn. Many times we do not go by what we see; we go by what we know. If we stand on the bank of a still pond and go by what we see, there is no reason why we should not follow Christ's example and start out to walk on the water, for it looks just the same as the rock on which we are standing. But if we do go by what we see, and step off into the water, and are unable to adjust ourselves to the different substance into which we have entered, we are out of luck; and we know better than to try it!

Now, what is unconditioned consciousness? It is consciousness clothed in knowledge. That was once our own condition. We lived, we dwelt, we moved, we acted, not on the basis of our likes and dislikes, nor on the basis of what we saw, but of what we knew. We knew what we were, and did not have to struggle to maintain our "position." It should be evident to us that there is something unnatural in our existence here as human beings. We have to struggle constantly to maintain our existence here. The fact that we have to struggle so shows that this is not our natural home, is not our natural existence. The chemical elements do not have to struggle to maintain their existence. Hydrogen is hydrogen no matter what you do with it or what combinations it may be in or what God you pray to, to change it into oxygen. This is evidence that existence in this world is native to certain forms or conditions of life; it is natural to them; they can exist here for untold millions of years without difficulty or trouble of any kind. The chemical elements do not need to struggle for their existence; their "knowledge" is sufficient for the task.

As souls, we too have had an existence which we did not have to struggle to maintain. We had an existence before there was time; we had an existence before there was space; we had an existence before there was any matter. We have such an existence right now; but unfortunately we do not know it because, though we are perceivers with the power to see, we dwell in darkness -- the darkness of life which is not aware that it is Life. Finally we may come to learn that it is not the maintenance of life which awakens spiritual energy, but the transcendence of the patterns of life we presently know. But the awareness of the possibility of transcendence -- that, too, lies within, a light which may be dimmed, but never extinguished.

Soul, then, is that aspect of ourselves which is aware that it is Life. Soul is the Perceiver, not any of his perceptions; soul is the Experiencer, not any of his enjoyment or suffering. Soul is That in us which "knows, for it is knowledge; it is the Man that was, that is, and will be, for whom the hour shall never strike."



Next article:
Concerning Proof


ONE (1) FOOTNOTE LISTED BELOW:

COMPILER'S NOTE: I added this footnote; it was not in the article. If it doesn't paint an accurate enough picture, or is incorrect, I hope the Editors of THEOSOPHY magazine will spot it and point it out to me, so that I can make the necessary corrections.

(1) This lead-in piece causes me to believe that this article was meant to be part of the "Seeds and Seedlings" series which you read earlier here, in seven parts. It fits the lead-in pieces to those articles perfectly. But because the title itself (Seeds and Seedlings) was left off the page of this article, I didn't want to actually add it to the series, but did want to make this notation to everyone. -- Compiler.
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