Nicholas at Treryn Dinas

The Challenge for the Soul in the Great Extinction of Life on Earth


 The Soul can never be cut into pieces by a weapon, no fire can burn it, no water can moisten it, nor can any wind wither it… The Soul is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable – eternally the same.

Bhagavad Gita 2:23-24


As we enter the sixth great extinction of life on earth, as species from the smallest insects to the largest vertebrates disappear at alarming rates due to our destructive behaviour, and as global temperatures continue to rise, keep in mind that the universe or cosmos is infinite; the dimensions we see with our senses and detect with our instruments do not limit it.  The great spiritual traditions of the world do not limit our existence to earth evolution and the body; they say we are souls and belong to an eternal dimension. For many of these traditions, the journey of the soul is not limited to one lifetime and one evolutionary pathway. The soul lives, not just in this world but in the multiple dimensions of the cosmos.

If we accept the infinite nature of both the cosmos and the soul, then we are in a better position to understand and find an appropriate response to the part we play in this extinction event.  As we accept our share of responsibility for the loss of the environment upon which we depend and feel all the pain and sorrow which accompanies it, ultimately this is a lesson for the development of the soul.

It is possible we have done this before: that is, we have forgotten our soul nature, identified with the body and pursued our desires until reaching ecological limits, breaking the laws of Nature, so destroying ourselves and our environment. Myths of previous worlds, of fires and great inundations, may represent dim memories of these occasions. Perhaps we will undergo similar experiences many times before we learn the lessons of living in balance with life and in peace with each other. The soul will grow, however long it takes.

The notes that follow glean knowledge about the soul from the great spiritual traditions of the world.

The Soul

The soul is the cause or source
of the living body.

Aristotle, De Anima II, 4

As we are alive and have a body, we also have a soul, an 'anima', a vital force, but it is better to say that we are a soul who has a body rather than we are a body who has a soul.  Aristotle thought the soul was the primary anima.  He points out that it defines the ability of the body to live; without it, the body cannot metabolise, the heart cannot beat, the lungs cannot breathe and the brain cannot function.  Despite physical mortality, the soul, pneuma, psyche or anima never dies.  Of whatever subtle substance the soul is made, it is immortal.  It does not die.  As soul we pass through life and many worlds until we remember our origin and final destination in the Eternal Soul, the Supreme Infinite Divine.  But bear in mind that in this unique moment of the continuum of time, the Earth in all its beauty, complexity, challenges and power, provides us with the ground of our being.  It gives us the current vehicle for the soul, the body, whose development and nature is an intrinsic part of the evolution of Life on Earth.

The Divine Mother

This world is a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence... a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.
Plato, Timaeus 29-30

 An academic asked Ramakrishna,
“What are knowledge, knower,
and the object known?”
To which he replied, “I do not know these niceties of scholastic learning. I know only my Mother Divine, and that I am her son.”


We are one with the Divine Mother in her universal cosmic manifestation and in her manifestation as Life on Earth.  As the minerals of the body will return to the Earth, so our thoughts, egos and personalities will dissolve back into her.  Because we do not create our being—we only shape what we have been given—we have no real substance, no real self-existence.  We are like a wave moving through the waters of a sea.  Whatever substance we have and whatever we think or do is a gift from that which we are a part.  Although the Divine Mother as Life on Earth carries natural, ancestral and karmic patterns of great complexity, beauty and power that can inspire wisdom, she also carries the pain, suffering and the human-made patterns, beliefs and habituated behaviours that keep us identified with physical existence.  Our task is to awaken, ideally while in the body, navigate the dualities of the world, obey its laws, and remember our true nature and origin in the Eternal Soul.
                                                                                                        Anandamayi Ma, a manifestation in the 20th Century of the Divine Mother 


The Eternal Soul
The Soul (Atman) is one, ever still, quicker than the mind.
Though motionless it outruns the devas who move and run the world.

Isha Upanishad 4
The Eternal Soul, the One, Supreme Infinite Divine, unconditioned by the individual soul, the ancestral or karmic soul, the ego, Nature, the world or the mind, is the absolute home and origin of all.  The prime Islamic axiom, la’ illaha illa’ Allah ‘there is no god but God’, shows that the Eternal Soul can never be framed by words.  We must perpetually remove any mental conception we have of it and be prepared to accept its ever new, ever changing play in its manifestation through the Divine Mother.  In Buddhist thought, as all words and concepts are essentially empty, it is beyond our ability to describe the Eternal Soul.  A primary principle of Taoism states ‘the Tao that can be named is not the Tao’. We may only know the Eternal Soul after the death of the body soul or indeed after many lifetimes, but dedicated spiritual practice and the guidance of a teacher can open us to the Infinte Divine, and some become enlightened in their lifetime.

Three-fold Soul
Man is a soul, and has a body.
Swami Sri Yukteswar

The soul, while ultimately indivisible or whole, can be described as having a tripartite form or appearance in at least three realms.
The first realm is that of the life, ego or body soul as constituted by the laws, information, intelligence, codes, proteins, enzymes and cells of the universe as Nature.  Each unique, three dimensional body, mind and ego incarnates within the greater four dimensional body of the Soul of Life on Earth, according to the natural cycle of birth and death.  Although the mind and egoic self-awareness are the creation of the one Soul of Life, as it grows the body soul mistakenly sees itself as an independent physical entity.  It is encouraged by culture to develop a strong sense of self-identity and separateness.  In most societies today, a strong self-image, ‘I’ or ego, is upheld, a culture of individuality prevails, and consciousness is seen as a function of the brain rather than of the soul.
Upon reincarnation therefore, and the dawning of egoic awareness, we habitually fail to realise, firstly, the inherent emptiness of the self, the mind and its concepts, secondly, our complete dependency upon and existence within the Soul of Life, the Divine Mother, and finally, the derivation of our ultimate being and consciousness in the Eternal Soul.  We live in an unhappy state of unfulfilled and unfulfillable material identification, egotistically follow our physical impulses and desires, and believe that this is all there is until we die.  The soul can live a happy and fulfilling life on Earth, but because of the trauma of birth, human attachment, ignorance, desire and the changing nature of material existence, more often than not we suffer, act inappropriately and cause others to suffer.
The second realm is the Divine Mother.  According to this terminology, the Divine Mother is the expression of the infinite and ineffable Supreme Divine in the manifest, multi-dimensional body of the cosmos.  She is the force, the power, the love, the beauty - the visible and comprehensible form of the infinite nature of the Divine.  As Nature, Prakriti, she forms the living organisms of the Earth’s evolving biosphere as well as the information-bearing forces of the five dimensional Cosmos: that is, light, sound, the elements, amino acids, genetic codes, subatomic particles, protons (each with the lifetime of a universe), gravity, geometric structure, celestial cycles, consciousness and so on.  As Nature, she operates according to laws that while giving life are inexorable, merciless and death-giving.  As Cosmic Vibration, She is the Holy Ghost, Aum, Paraprakriti - Mahashakti dancing on the throne of the One Being to manifest its infinite potential in the forms of the cosmos.  Her terrestrial generative forms, emanations, root-causes or principles are known in India as tattvas, gunas, vibhutis, devas or devatas and in Buddhism as skandhas.  As devas or giants (Gaians) and angels in the West these powers are her agents and in her undeviating, and apparently capricious, service.
The devic principles function according to the laws of karma, that is, action, with their chains in time and space of cause and effect.  Scientists describe these in terms of models of general relativity, quantum mechanics and the laws of conservation and thermodynamics.  Devic information as elemental, atomic and genetic encoding is embodied and imprinted by the actions of souls to produce a particular ancestral inheritance—an evolutionary karma existing over time and indeed many lifetimes.  Each body soul acquires aggregates of this ancestral karma from the Divine Mother, which therefore can be said to have reincarnated within the body soul as the ancestral karmic soul.  As this four dimensional information is so highly definitive it raises the question whether the body soul has any independent existence at all.  Although this information can be transformed by souls who live under Cosmic Law and realise their true self within the Eternal Soul, it is ultimately subjective and thus, in a sense, it is empty and is therefore often known as Maya or ‘illusion.’

Clear of ancestral karma and aided by a spiritual teacher who reveals how to control our desires and mental restlessness, we can, however, realise our true soul nature and experience the ecstasy of living not just in the body but in the many supramental dimensions of the Universal Divine Mother.  When we act without identification with the ego, body and mind, without attachment to the result of our actions in the material world and realise all being and actions are Hers, then we are truly free.  The blissful sensation of unity with all life on Earth and the quieting of the thoughts, desires, delusions and material attachments of the body soul can allow access to the divine sources of inspiration, wisdom and love, not just in the fourth, but in the fifth dimension and beyond.
Soma, Amrita, bodhicitta, manna, 'honey', enlightenment are the gifts of the third and final realm of the Eternal Soul.  Following this terminology, the Supreme Infinite Divine, and Its manifestation through the Divine Mother or Shakti, is the infinite potential of all the dimensions of being.  It is the mathematically incomprehensible infinite of infinites—the eternal causeless cause.  It is the undifferentiated, unconditional, creative consciousness beyond time, space, light, sound, action and karma.  Although nameless, it is known as Sat, God, Allah, Para-Brahman, Para-Purusha, the One, the Tao or the Great Spirit; it is the Divine Source, Divine Power, Infinite Love.  Devotion to the Supreme Divine and the teacher who reveals It, promotes bliss, love, compassion, knowledge, discipline, morality, ethics, and ultimately, complete happiness, self-realisation and liberation.
The Eternal Soul is ultimately, the source of our true soul self: Purusha, Para-Atman.  It is our true, spacious, loving, peaceful, ecstatic, wise and everlasting soul nature beyond human consciousness.  It is consciousness—perpetual, cosmic, wise and creative—of a far higher power.  Uncreated, formless and thus indescribable, omniscient and indestructible, the Eternal Soul is the origin of the forms of the dance of the Divine Mother.  One taste of Its infinite presence and we begin to remember our formless origin and spiritual nature.  As we learn to love the Divine Mother, endure the rounds of reincarnation and karma, and start to understand our undying relationship with the Eternal Soul, we can open further and bring their power into our lives.  At this point a teacher can appear and guide us to enlightenment.

Soul Realisation or Enlightenment
The Soul (Atman) is everywhere, all pervading, whole,
indivisible, pure, sinless, resplendent, immanent and all transcending—
giving the devas their duty of ordering all things in time and space.

Isha Upanishad 8
Enlightenment is the most peaceful, calm, compassionate and powerful state of being and consciousness.  As we cultivate concentration and dedication, come to understand the soul, the impermanence of the body soul and our complete dependency upon the ancient, ancestral and karmic path through the universal and terrestrial Divine Mother, so we realise our origin and true nature in the infinite Eternal Soul.  We begin to clear conditioning karma, follow the great moral teachings, become free of attachment to concepts and the results of our actions and come into loving communion with the Divine.  We awake to our true self and come home.
Yet, in a sense, enlightenment never comes.  It is neither won, nor is it achieved.  Being self-existent it has no cause.  It is unto itself.  Being causal it appears to act from another dimension; but being dimensionless it has neither beginning nor end, neither origin nor consequence.  Enlightenment is unconditional, silent, spacious, ‘empty’ and thus free of karma; yet its streams of spiritual wisdom, healing, kindness, love and compassion can, when carefully cultivated, fill us with the results of good karma.  Although heaven can never be established upon the Earth, at times it feels like it can!
Enlightenment is in each breath we take; for breath is the microcosm of the great pulse of the cosmos: absence-presence, emergence-disappearance, inhalation-exhalation.  The words for the life principle in many languages: pneuma, chi, qi, prana, lung, mana and so on, mean ‘breath’ and ‘air’ as well as ‘soul’.  The inbreath follows the outbreath and the exhalation follows the inhalation in the same way as the created world gives itself to the Divine and the Divine—pure, vast, unconditioned, selfless, loving, yet invisible and indecipherable to us—gives itself to the world.  As the self mirrors the self-less, mind no-mind, words dissolve and concepts fall.
Enlightenment is the impossibility that breaks the barrier of human possibilities.  It is the power, not of this world, that guides and shapes all worlds.  It is the power, not of the soul, that shapes all souls.

The Soul Journey
Neither knowing nor unknowing, nor both together, invisible,
unthinkable, unnameable, Its essence is of its Self, being still, tranquil,
benign, non-dual. That is the Atman, the soul to be realised.

Mandukya Upanishad 7

In sum, the soul is born in the terrestrial forms of the Divine Mother as the body soul: that is, the body, senses, mind, emotions, personality, self-awareness and the ‘I’ or ego.  The body soul originates in, is entirely dependent upon, lives then dies within the Divine Mother as Nature, Prakriti, the solid, material world.  The richness, action and complexity of the body soul mirror the emergent, infinite forms of the Divine Mother, while its ‘emptiness’, apparent free will, stillness, consciousness and devotional longing mirror the selflessness and consciousness of the Eternal Soul.  The inability of the body soul to escape the consequences of its actions is reflected in the interminable chains of cause and effect among the myriad forms of the Divine Mother, while its apparent ability to choose its actions is a reflection of the infinitely free creative power of the Eternal Soul.  Life on Earth and the devic realm—the information and energy holders of the universe which include the planetary, solar, lunar and zodiacal powers—are in direct and dutiful service to the Divine Mother.  The life of the body soul is one with the Soul of Life.  Its task is to awaken to the soul, the Purusha, while in the body soul and learn to act in harmony with all.
At birth, the incoming body soul inherits or activates the karma held within the ancestral soul.  This is the pattern of forces and information held in the Divine Mother that are peculiar to humanity, which evolve, and are carried through time over countless lives.  They are the accumulative result of past actions which determine our present and future actions.  Between the karmic soul and the culturally encouraged identification with the body soul—the secular teaching that the ego is all there is—it is very difficult for the soul to remember and realise its true nature, origin and home in the immortal realm of the Eternal Soul and Universal Divine Mother.  The soul is caught in the dualistic web of language and mind: action and inaction, desire and aversion, attachment and indifference.
(bearing Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva)

Once we realise the impermanence and inherent emptiness of the ego and body soul, end our identification with the mind and body, as we learn to meditate and begin to clear karmic obscuration, and as we move deeper into awareness of the universal forms of the Divine Mother, then the soul, Purusha, awakens.  From this experience, an appreciation of the gift of life and of the divine presence in all things, sentient and inanimate, begins to develop.  With the realisation of our complete dependence upon and our fundamental unity with all things comes the beginning of wisdom, love and compassion.  As soul awareness grows, we overcome karma, both good and bad, find a spiritual teacher, release attachment to material things, sensory desires and the outcome of our actions, and quieten the mind.
Finally, there comes the realisation or awakening to the Eternal Soul, the Infinite Divine, which, in the terms used here, is to the universal Divine Mother as the terrestrial Divine Mother is to the soul.  As the soul awakens and remembers its love for the Divine, is able to detach from and bear witness to the wonder of the cosmos, then it becomes able to selflessly fulfil its duty to serve the Divine law and will.
In this state of realisation the soul understands the Divine Mother is the cosmic manifestion of the Infinite Divine, in which it lives and has its consciousness and being, and in which the Infinite Divine lives and has Its consciousness and being.  As their child, the soul dissolves all separation and returns home.
The Mother - the spiritual partner of Sri Aurobindo - said: "Without Him I exist not, without me He is unmanifest."
Three Aids to the Replacement of the Ego-sense by the Universal Self

1. Meditation: the conscious effort of observing thoughts and disentangling awareness from the operations of the mind. Not participating in the thoughts, desires and actions of the ego and not identifying the self with them.  Always bringing attention back to asking who is aware, who is the observer, who is the 'I'?  The experience of Purusha, the pure silent witness.  Not making any mental effort to will silence, but allowing silence to descend.

2. Contemplation: on the One Being in all beings and phenomena in the constant process of emergence and change.

3. Surrender: to the One Being in action. Keeping the active consciousness in a pose of surrender, of remembrance that all action is an action of the One Being and an instrument of the energy of the Divine Will, the Shakti.

Essentially, we are not the body, not the passing feelings, the superficial mental constructions, the stream of consciousness, nor the life and identity provided by them and our social setting.  The subtlety of our true, conscious, universal self is much deeper.  We have within us a nature that cannot be defined by an external identity, that is not known or contained by the body and mind, indeed, they limit it.  Once the clamour of the ego, the physical desire nature and the mind are quietened, then awareness emerges of a far greater power and presence, whose original nature we partake in, our minds mirror, and our actions become an instrument of.  We know this because the One Being, the Infinite Divine, has planted a seed of itself within us.  We are the children of the One and the manifestation of its infinite potential, Shakti, the cosmos.  We dwell, think, speak, see hear, act and have our being and consciousness in it, and it dwells, thinks, speaks, sees, hears, acts and has its being and consciousness in us.

After Debashish Banerji & Sri Aurobindo