As they make their way through life, most people spend very little time thinking about their soul. Pollsters find that a large majority of the population believe they have a soul. It comes packaged with an entire set of beliefs about God, heaven and hell, salvation, and so on. But dealing with the practicalities of life occupies everyone’s time. The soul, we assume, can wait until we die, and that’s a time almost everyone prefers not to think about at all.
In order for the soul to be relevant here and now, it would have to be of some practical use. Is it? This is quite a deep question, needless to say. Anything the soul might be good for (besides going to heaven) can be achieved in other ways. To be happy, successful, creative, well-adjusted, content, optimistic, loving, or in any desirable state, you will find people who never take their souls into consideration. Yet this may be a case where appearances are deceiving.
The reason that the soul doesn’t seem to be useful is that it is impossible to see, feel, or even locate. There are countless spiritual teachings about the soul entering the body at birth and leaving it at death, but this event isn’t visible. More to the point, babies can’t tell us what happens at birth, and the departed, if they do communicate with the living, tell many varied and contradictory stories. I think it’s more productive to eliminate the concept of “having” a soul, and at the same time disposing of the fear that we might “lose” our soul. There’s an entirely different way of looking at the situation.
Consider that the soul is actually the essence of who you are. This is a fairly familiar notion. In many spiritual traditions, the body is grosser than the soul. It masks a subtler state of existence, and in that subtler state existence changes. Among the changes are the following:
You see reality more clearly.
You realize who you actually are.
You understand how life works and what it means.
You lose the fear of death.
You experience the divine.
These notions seem very desirable, and they face everyone with a choice, which is to prove whether they are true. The problem is how to go about finding the proof. True knowledge of the soul isn’t the same as hope, belief, or faith. You can hope you have a soul or even possess deep belief that you do, without in any way changing how you lead your daily life. Proving that you have a soul, however, requires a major change. You would have to shift your allegiance from the grosser level of life to the subtler level. After all, if it has any reality, the soul must be subtler than what we experience physically, emotionally, even mentally.
Here a paradox arises. If the soul transcends our ability to feel and think, it automatically shifts into being totally unknowable. Feeling and thinking are the roots of all experience. The only way to break out of this paradox is to posit that there might be subtle ways of thinking and feeling. The eyes that see rocks and trees, the emotions that feel anger and fear, the thoughts that deal with the hard facts of life do not belong to the subtle level of existence. What does? When asked this question, the sages, seers, and spiritual guides who have experienced the subtle level of life had a lot to say about love, compassion, truth, beauty, freedom, and eternity.