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 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 these traditions, the journey of the soul is not limited to one lifetime and one planet. The soul dwells, not just in this world but in the multiple dimensions of the cosmos.

If we accept the infinite nature both of the soul and the cosmos, then we are in a better position to understand and find an appropriate response to the part we play in the world and in this extinction event.  As we accept the insignificance of our individual life, of human events, and even of life on earth in the total life of the cosmos, we can realise that our responsibility for the loss of the environment and the pain and sorrow we may feel for this, are ultimately lessons for the soul.

It is possible we have done this before: that is, forgotten our soul nature, identified with the body, pursued our desires and made the wrong choices until reaching ecological limits.  Myths of previous worlds, of fires and great inundations, may represent 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 in whatever world we dwell. 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 the great spiritual traditions prefer 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 pointed 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, the mind cannot think and the brain cannot function.

Despite physical mortality, the soul: the pneuma, psyche or anima, never dies.  Of whatever subtle substance the soul is made, it is immortal.  It does not die.  It is the true self.  It energises our being.  As soul we pass through life and many worlds again and again until we remember our origin, nature and final destination in the Infinite Divine.  And as soul, we are the witness of thoughts and emotions, with which we mistakenly identify, until we remember our infinite nature.  But bear in mind that in this unique moment of the continuum of time and Cosmos, the Earth in all its beauty, complexity and power, provides us with the current vehicle for the soul, the body, whose development and nature is an intrinsic part of the evolution of Life on Earth and, while we have the body, our actions have consequences for the soul.

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.”


As human beings we are subjects of the Divine Mother 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 terrestrial being—we only energise what she gives us—our minds and bodies have no real substance, no real self-existence. We are like a wave moving through the waters of a sea.  Our bodies, and all we think, feel and do are gifts from that which we are a part.  Our unity with Nature is one of the first lessons for the soul.
Although the Divine Mother as Life on Earth carries natural, ancestral and karmic patterns of great complexity, beauty and power that can inspire great wisdom, she also carries the pain and suffering of the human-made patterns and habituated behaviours that determine our individual and collective lives and keep us caught up in and identified with physical existence.  Our task is to break this identification, navigate the dualities of the world, obey its laws, live good lives and remember our true nature as souls and our origin in the Eternal Soul.
                                                                                                        Anandamayi Ma, a 20th Century manifestation 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, the mind or by anything at all, 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.  The mind or intellect cannot name, objectify or know the true Self.  It knows Itself.  We must perpetually remove any mental conception we have of it and accept its ever new, ever changing play in its manifestation through the power, energy and beauty of the Divine Mother.  Buddhist thought, by describing all words and concepts as essentially empty, demonstrates that 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’. The finite cannot know the infinite.  We may only come to realise the Eternal Soul after many lifetimes, but dedicated spiritual practice and the guidance of a teacher can open us to the divine illuminations we call love, truth, wisdom, peace and bliss.

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 evolutionary cycles of birth and death.  Although the mind and egoic self-awareness are the creation of the one Soul of Life, we see ourselves as an independent physical entity and our science says that mind and self-awareness are creations of the brain.  In most societies today we are encouraged to develop a strong sense of self-identity and separateness; 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 mind and its concepts, secondly, our dependency upon and existence within the Soul of Life, the Divine Mother, thirdly, the nature of the true, witness self, 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 nature 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, we can be drawn into lethargy and dullness, 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 energy, power, matter and consciousness of the Supreme Infinite Divine made manifest in multi-dimensional body of the cosmos.  She manifests the force, the love, the beauty and power of the visible and comprehensible form of the otherwise incomprehensible Supreme Divine.  As Nature, Prakriti, Shakti, 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 life-giving are inexorable 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 of cause and effect in space and time.  Scientists describe these in terms of models of general relativity, quantum mechanics and the laws of conservation and thermodynamics.  Historians describe them as history, sociologists as culture.  Devic information as elemental, atomic and genetic encoding is embodied and imprinted by the actions of the incarnate soul 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 can be so highly definitive it raises the question whether the body soul has any independent existence at all.  Although this karmic information can be transformed by souls who live under Cosmic Law and realise their true self within the Eternal Soul, it is ultimately subjective, they are detached from it, do not participate within it, and thus, in a sense, it is empty and is therefore often known as the play of Maya or ‘illusion.’

Clear of ancestral karma and aided by a spiritual teacher to disidentify with 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 also in the many dimensions of the 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 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 consciousness to access the divine sources of truth, inspiration, wisdom and love, not just in the fourth, but in the fifth dimension and beyond.
Soma, Amrita, bodhicitta, manna, enlightenment and so on, are the gifts of the third and final realm of the Eternal Soul.
Following this terminology, the Infinite Divine, and Its manifestation through the Divine Mother or Shakti, is the infinite potential of all the energy and 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, right action, complete happiness, self-realisation and liberation.
The Eternal Soul is ultimately, the source of our true soul self: the Purusha, Para-Atman.  It is our true, spacious, loving, still,  peaceful, ecstatic, wise and everlasting soul nature beyond human mental sense-mind 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 witness to and bearer of the forms of the dance of the Divine Mother.  It is everything and everything is It.  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, act wisely, 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, if they have not already 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 experience of peaceful, calm, compassionate and powerful states of being and consciousness.  As we cultivate concentration and dedication, come to understand the soul, the impermanence of the body soul and our immersion in our ancient, ancestral and karmic path in the play of the universal and terrestrial Divine Mother, so we realise the real origin and true nature of the soul in the stillness and power of the Supreme Divine.  We begin to clear conditioning karma, follow the great moral teachings, become free of attachment to the body, life, mental concepts and the results of our actions, and come into loving communion with the Divine.  We awaken to our true self and so come home.
Yet, in a sense, enlightenment never comes.  It is neither won, nor is it achieved.  It always exists.  The Divine being self-existent has no cause.  It is Self and self-less.  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 cannot be established upon the Earth, through our surrender, 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 away.
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.
I am an Eternal Soul,
Dwelling in the infinite universe;
A child born of the Divine love,
A consciousness who exists to love and be loved.

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, we are an eternal soul born on Earth in the terrestrial forms of the Divine Mother as the body soul: that is, the body, senses, mind, emotions, personality, self-awareness and the sense of ‘I’ or ego. The body soul originates in, is entirely dependent upon, lives and dies within the Divine Mother in her form of Nature, Prakriti, the turmoil of the 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 and devotional longing mirror the nature of the Eternal Soul.  But in the form of the restless mind and ego we do not comprehend or understand our relation to the Universal Spirit. The inability of the body soul to escape the consequences of its actions is reflected in the interminable chains of karmic 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, but the ego is not. Our task is to remember the true self, the soul, the Purusha, while in the body soul, release identification with the mind and its mental constructs, and learn to act as an instrument of the Divine love wisdom in harmony with the Divine Mother.
At birth, due to the desire nature, 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 patterns 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 realm of the Eternal Soul and Universal Divine Mother. The soul is caught in the dualistic web of language and mind, the egoic dance of action and inaction, desire and aversion, attachment and indifference, the pain and suffering of the material world.
(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, life and body, and begin to clear karmic obscuration, we move deeper into the awareness of the universal forms of the Divine Mother, and the witness soul, the Purusha, awakens to the Divine Spirit.  From this experience, an appreciation of the gift of life and of the divine presence in all things, sentient and inanimate, develops.  With the realisation of our complete dependence upon and our fundamental unity with all things comes the surender to the consciousness of Divine truth, peace, wisdom, love and bliss.  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 learn to 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, remembers its love for and surrenders to the Divine, it becomes witness to the wonders and joys of the cosmos and selflessly fulfil its duties according to the Divine law.
In this state of realisation the soul understands the Divine Mother is the cosmic manifestion of the Infinite Divine, in which it has its consciousness and being, and in which the Infinite Divine delights and expresses Its consciousness and being.  As their child, the soul dissolves all separation, realises the unity of all, and returns home.
Three Aids to the Replacement of the Ego-sense by the Universal Self or Being

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.  (A basic meditation practice is at the bottom of the 'Coming Changes' page, found by clicking on the link on the Home Page.)

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 observing 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 thoughts, nor the life and identity provided by them and our historical cultural setting.  Our true, conscious, universal Self is much deeper.  We have within us a Being that is not defined by an external identity, that is not known or contained by the body and mind, nor even by the 'I', 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 observing consciousness mirrors, and our actions become an instrument of.  We can know this because the light of 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, watch, listen, act and have our being and consciousness in It, and It dwells, thinks, speaks, watches, listens, acts and has Its being, consciousness, truth, peace, love, wisdom and bliss in us.

After Debashish Banerji & Sri Aurobindo