Volume V - Spiritual Liberty
Part III: THE PHENOMENON OF THE SOUL
THE PHENOMENON OF THE SOUL
The soul is called Atma in Sanskrit; in Persian it is called Ruh. When the Prophet was asked, 'What is the soul?' He answered in two words, Amr-i Allah, which means 'an activity of God.' 1
The connection between the consciousness and the soul is like the connection between the sun and the ray. The ray is formed by the activity of the sun shooting forth its light. The activity of the consciousness shoots forth its ray, which is called the soul. Activity in a certain part of the consciousness makes that part project itself towards manifestation. The ray is the sun; but we distinguish the ray as apart, distinct in itself, longer or shorter, stronger or fading away, according to the state of activity in it.
The soul, during its life on earth and after, does not change its plane of existence; if any change takes place it is in the direction of its movement. The soul has originally no weight, but on its way it gathers around it properties produced from itself and borrowed continually from the elements which compose the universe, and as our possessions are not necessarily ourselves, so the properties are not the soul. The best comparison is with our eyes, in which vast tracts of country, huge mountains and miles of horizon on the sea are reflected at one time, and yet the eyes are scarcely an inch across. Such is the nature of the soul, which is so small as to be counted one among the numberless souls contained in the universe, and yet so vast as to contain within itself the whole universe.
The external self, the mind and the body have confined a portion of the whole consciousness; the same portion is in reality the soul. It is as if a line were drawn upon a cloth marking off a part of it as separate from the whole. Or it is as if we were to stand before a curtain with a small lantern so that the light of the lantern falls upon the curtain and forms a patch upon it. In like manner the impressions of the mind and body are reflected on the soul and separate it from the whole consciousness. Upon the soul is reflected the happiness or misery, the joy or sorrow of the external self, but the soul in itself is neither sad nor joyful. The soul is neither subject to birth and death nor does it increase or decrease; it neither evolves nor degenerates.
If we stand before a mirror clothed in rags the mirror holds the reflection of our rags, but it is not itself in misery. If we stand before the mirror covered with pearls and diamonds the reflection of our pearls and diamonds falls upon the mirror, but the mirror does not turn into diamonds and pearls. So is it with the soul: it is neither a sinner nor is it virtuous; it is neither rich nor poor. All life's joys and sorrows, ups and downs, are reflected for the time being upon the curtain of the soul, and after a time pass away. Therefore both the joys and sorrows of yesterday are nothing to us today.
The soul and the body are of the same essence; the soul has formed the body from itself, the soul being finer, the body grosser. What in the soul may be called vibration in the body becomes atom. The soul has become mind in order to experience more, it has become body in order to experience still more concretely; yet the mind is independent of the body, and the soul is independent of both mind and body.
The soul sees through the mind and the body, the body is the spectacles of the mind, and the mind is the telescope of the soul. It is the soul that sees, but we attribute sight and hearing to the eyes and ears. In absence of the soul neither the body nor the mind can see. When a person is dead the eyes are there, but they cannot see; the ears are there, but they cannot hear.
The work of the soul is to know and to see, and the work of the mind and body is to act as a magnifying glass for it. Yet they in their turn also see and hear what is external to them, as the consciousness works through them also. The soul sees the play of thought in the mind, the mind perceives the pains and sensations of the body, the body is conscious of heat, cold, and touch. Its consciousness may be seen when something is accidentally about to fall on it; before the mind can think of a plan for safety the exposed part of the body instantly contrives its escape.
The mind sees the body alone, but the soul sees both the mind and the body; neither the body nor the mind is able to see the soul. The soul is accustomed to see what is before it, and so it cannot see itself. Our soul has always looked outward, that is why our eyes, nose, ears, all our organs of perception are outward. It is our mind and body that attract our soul outward. And as the eyes, which see all things, yet need a mirror to see themselves, so the soul cannot see itself without a mirror.
When the eyes are closed, do you think that the soul sees nothing? It sees. When the ears are closed, do you think that the soul hears nothing? It hears. This proves that it is the soul that sees and hears. In the meditative life, by the mystical experiences of Anvar and Anzar, a Sufi realizes the fact that there are objects which the soul can see without the help of the eyes, and that there are sounds which it can hear without the help of the ears. The great poet Kabir has said, 'What a play it is that the blind reads the Quran, the deaf hears the Gita, the handless is industrious, the footless is dancing.' He refers to the soul which has the capacity of working even without instruments, such as the organs of the body and the faculties of the mind.
Sleep, the unconscious condition, is the original state of life from which all has come. As the body sleeps and the mind sleeps so the soul sleeps. The soul does not always sleep at the same time as the mind and the body. This sleep of the soul is experienced only by mystics; they are conscious of this experience in themselves, and so can recognize it in others. The body sleeps more than the mind, the soul sleeps much less than either the mind or the body. When a person is fast asleep his soul does not lose its contact with the body. If the soul lost its contact with the body, the person would die; if the soul withdrew from the mind, the mind would be dispersed, the collection of thought would be scattered, it would be like a volcanic eruption.
The soul takes pleasure in the experience of the senses, in eating and drinking, in every experience. It indulges in this, and the more it indulges in it the more it becomes bound to it. All that we eat and drink contains a narcotic, even pure water. Therefore after eating and drinking a sort of sleep comes upon us, the soul feels a little relieved, it feels rather detached from the body.
The soul cannot easily be free from the body and the mind. Though its real joy is to attain peace by being free from experience, yet it has forgotten this. 'He will indeed be successful who purifies it, and he will indeed fail who corrupts it.' There are people who take strong drink, hashish, opium, drugs, and all such things. Under their influence the troubles of the body are felt less and the thoughts are blurred, the soul feels relieved; but it is a transitory happiness because it is dependent upon matter instead of upon spirit.
The ordinary person knows that after deep sleep he is calm, reposed, his feeling is better, his thoughts clearer. The condition of Hal, or Samadhi, the highest condition, is the same as that of deep sleep, the difference being only that it is experienced at will. The difference between the perfect person and the ordinary person is only this, that the perfect person experiences consciously what the imperfect person experiences unconsciously. Nature provides all with the same experience, but most people are unconscious of the experience, which is to their disadvantage.
When the mind is dispersed no impression will remain on the soul, nothing will retain it from merging into the whole consciousness.
Some philosophers have said that we are parts of God. That is not so. They have said this because they have seen the physical body. What more can the intellect see? In the physical existence each individual is distinct and separate, but behind this physical existence all are one, the consciousness is one. If it were not so we should not be able to know one another, neither the face nor the voice nor the language of each other. We can know when we advance spiritually how our friend is; even if he is in Japan or Arabia and we are here, we can know if he is ill, whether he is sad or happy; and not the state of our friends only but everything is known to the advanced soul.
1. - Qur'an
17:85 ar-ruhu min 'amri rabbi
الرُّوحُ مِنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّي