What Is a Soul? 5 Thought-Provoking Theories to Consider

what is a soul

What is a soul? Here are five theories from philosophy, religion, and science, along with quotations from the finest spiritualists of our time:

Deepak Chopra: The soul is the core of your being. It is eternal. It doesn’t exist in space/time. It’s a field of infinite possibilities, infinite creativity. It’s your internal reference point with which you should always be in touch.

1. What is a soul according to the Ancient Greeks?

By and large, the Ancient Greek tradition didn’t think of the soul in terms of a spiritual substance inhabiting the body of human beings alone, but rather as a life force which animates all living organisms, and which is one with the body. Plato, who divided the soul into three parts (the logical, the spirited, and the appetitive) seems to have been the first to suggest that the soul is something immortal that could outlive the body, and which inhabits the body until death.

Aristotle also divided the soul into three degrees. The first degree, for him, was to be found in all living organisms, including plants, and this is what governed the natural functions such as reproduction and growth. The second degree of soul was to be found in animals and human beings, but not in plants, and this was the soul that governed the senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. The third degree was to be found in human beings alone, the intellectual or rational soul, and this soul gave the capacity for thought and reflection. Aristotle seems to have been opposed to Plato’s idea that the soul and the body were distinct from each other.

Eckhart Tolle: The soul is your innermost being. The presence that you are beyond form. The consciousness that you are beyond form, that is the soul. That is who you are in essence.

2. What is a soul in Hinduism and Buddhism?

In Hindu and Buddhist worldviews, the Atman is the individual soul or self and the Brahman is the world soul. The Atman is the vital force that animates and operates in every form of life, not just in humans. It is the essence of all beings. The Brahman is the one, supreme spirit that pervades everything and is the impersonal Absolute behind the origin of the universe. All life is seen as a manifestation of Brahman in different forms with a veil of illusion, known as Maya. Atman, in other words, is Brahman, but in its differentiated, seemingly individual form.

The aim of Yoga is union with Brahman. Atman is distinct from the mind, and on the way to achieving union with Brahman, the aspirant needs to go beyond his mind to reach his Atman. One of the key steps in yoga is the realization that the mind and the Atman are different things.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: The soul is a divine part of our self. It is our divine nature. It is a part of us that is one with God. Everybody has a soul. It is the immortal internal part of ourselves. It never dies. It’s immortal. It belongs to God.

3. What is a soul in Judaism and Kabballah?

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the soul and the body are not distinguished from each other clearly. There is no separate word for the soul, but the word ru’ah which means ‘breath’ or ‘wind’ and nefesh, which refers to something animate as opposed to something dead, are used for the purposes of referring to the soul.

Jewish mysticism, or Kabballah, sees the soul as divine emanation that has evolved downwards to enter the body, and it’s ultimate goal is to return upwards to its source through the sephirot, or emanations of the divine, which form a tree and terminate at the bottommost level in the physical manifestation of earthly things.

Wayne Dyer: The soul is the birthless, deathless, changeless part of us. The part of us that looks out from behind our eyes and has no form. The soul is infinite so there is no in or out of it. It is everywhere. There’s no place that it is not.

4. What is a soul in Christianity?

In Christianity, the idea of the resurrection had a great influence on the conception of the soul in general. The soul became associated with the belief that the person, including the earthly body, would be resurrected in their entirety in paradise. At the same time, however, Christianity became strongly influenced by Plato, as the New Testament was translated into Greek and its spread very quickly became a Greek-led movement. The dualism of Plato, i.e. the idea that the soul was a non-material entity stuck in the material body, had a big influence on Christian thought.

St. Augustine, one of the most influential of Christian thinkers, wrote that the soul is immortal, as opposed to the body, which is not. However, he claimed that the soul derives life from God as the body derives life from the soul. He proposed that the soul could die if God abandoned it, just as the body dies when the soul abandons it.

Michael Singer: The indwelling consciousness that watches the mind come and go. That watches the heart come and go, the emotions of the heart. And watches the world pass before you. You, the conscious, the consciousness, the center of being, is soul.

5. What is a soul in Science / Materialism?

Materialists, using science to back up their claims, tend to believe that there is no distinction between what we call the soul and the functions of the brain.

In a debate with modern spiritualists and religious thinkers on the science behind brain and soul, neuroscientist Sam Harris makes the following argument:

‘Damage areas of the brain and faculties are lost, and they’re clearly lost. It’s not that everybody with brain damage has the soul perfectly intact but they just can’t get the words out – everything about your mind can be damaged by damaging the brain. What we’re being asked to consider is that: you damage one part of the brain and something about the mind, subjectivity, is lost; you damage another and yet more is lost – and yet, if you damage the whole thing at death, we can rise off the brain with all our faculties intact, recognizing grandma and speaking English?’

References:

What is a soul for you? Which of these definitions do you agree with? Do you have your own definition? 

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Caroline Hindle

Caroline Hindle

Caroline Hindle is a freelance writer, editor, and translator living in Athens, Greece. She has an MA in Ancient World Studies, but has a wide spectrum of interests, including philosophy, history, science, literature, politics, morality, and popular culture.





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3 Comments

  1. Don January 5, 2017 at 8:44 pm - Reply

    I have never had a description of soul, only a feeling of what might be closest. From this post I like a combination of what Deepak Chopra said and Hindu/Buddhism, although I do not see a separation of two elements of soul. I believe in total interconnectedness in the deep reality of what we think of as all things. Perhaps the soul could be best described as thought from our standpoint which includes all life.

  2. Dayana January 8, 2017 at 8:29 pm - Reply

    The soul is like the black box on an airplane, it records everything from life after life, is your journal for all your lifetime experiences good and bad. We can always open up the box for reference in our present situation. The answers are inside of us. What I called your gut instinct. 😘😘😘😘😘 that’s the soul to me. The master mind. 😊😊😊😊

  3. Michael Light January 17, 2017 at 11:34 am - Reply

    This is a long comment, but to understand what a soul is u must understand why u r here –

    1.What is true evolution? Everything may have come from a single pt but did it produce a Universe? What if this is a TEST & higher logic knows u must b deceived to b tested.Scientists thru history have helped paint a picture for u. I do not believe it is correct. They have merely interpreted Father’s maths the way it was intended.This is a place of deception. Y? Because true evolution resulted in an equation. Not Yang&Yin but Light&Darkness. The side of Light resulted in Father & Father created the rest.The Dark side is the reason for the test, it produced a learning state as well. Darkness666 is a learning Force/mag field, a state like the Fly that is embedded in the genetics of all creatures. His shape is an octahedron (a back 2 back pyramid) that fits inside a sphere(ie Father’s clue – The Great Pyramid).The sphere is the shape your soul would b if it is Light.He searches for patterns of acceptable bad in u so He can use u like a Fly. What does a Fly do? It is trying 2 unbalance u so u release charged energy ie. energy Darkness can use 2 feed himself. Father created Satan 2 b the Dark overseer of the Test & gave him a tremendous amount of power 2 b so. His job is to keep u out of the Light where Darkness can take control of u (a job well done don’t u think). He laughs at u thru movies like Star Wars. At the end of the test Father’s maths calculates your equation, your alignment 2 Darkness & u go 2 Heaven or Hell. U c now the equation is separated. Father built Hell, but they r Satan’s rules. There’s no Sun, no food to hide the energy stealing from others – how do u think u’ll fair in a world of real vampires? (Completing Darwin’s Theory – only the Darkest survive for longer). If u r still Light & most of u r not u need 2 think what it is u shouldn’t b eating (it’s not an apple) & where u should b. The Sun is the only source of Balanced Light in the world, u need at least 2 have your mind in it sometimes.Here’s how 2 use the Sun 2 remove Dark Energy(if you have a summer) -b Vegan,b fit,don’t eat b4/during,no lotions,reduce skin shadow,wash in sea/1-2hr. Outside of that it’s important 2 let the Sun into your mind, when u close your eyes in
    the shadows Darkness is what u see.As most are scared 2 look at the Sun, go to a place where the Light reflects of water or even snow, and allow it to enter your mind, u may notice a minor difference in your state of feeling at the end of the day.

    2.If the Theory of Everything is Light&Darkness then what would true evolution b. If a single pt did implode/explode what would b produced? Perhaps energy & the inherent forces.Over time the forces form patterns that become more & more intricate.To do this the forces must learn to bind the energy, to concentrate it.These forces r in synergy with the energy – The Light.But an equation must result therefore some forces don’t want 2 b in concentrated energy, and they learn to unbind it. These r forces out of tune with the energy – the Dark. The fundamental difference is the energy. Light patterns can continue to expand, learn & b long lasting. Darkness is a more complex state – low energy patterns that become parasitic, that steal energy from other states to sustain a transient existence.I believe the Light resulted in Father, & Father has learnt to subdivide the equation. Essentially everyone is a binded Light pattern. But not all patterns want to follow this path. U need to Test them to see if they turn Dark. Against what? Darkness the evolutionary endpt of one side of the equation (the “anti-Father state). This is the purpose of the World, but the whole process is hidden behind food & genetic machines.

    3.What r the manifestations of Darkness? Darkness666 is a fly like vortex state in the genetics that u r here 2b tested against. A black hole state. People talk about auras & this is essentially correct. He tracks your patterns (esp. your fears) & adds an unbalanced charge to your memories & associated state of feeling. From a young age He tries to orientate your mood & keep it going around & around. To give u a consistent dark mood – superiority, devious, sad, overexcited, etc. A high % of people fall victim 2 this. All these states r energy draining states 2 others (Darkness is a hidden sickness). Ever walked into a teacher or bosses office & wished u were somewhere else? Darkness hides behind a fascade of learning, always trying to position the dark person He possesses so they can drain the energy of others. The person could b a preacher, teacher, lawyer, criminal, etc. The question at the end of life is has Darkness been your inertia to being a balanced person or have u been His 2 how He uses u as a fly.

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