Nicholas at Treryn Dinas

The Challenge for the Soul in the Time of the Great Extinction


 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, as global temperatures rise and conflicts increase, it is hard to keep in mind that the universe or cosmos is infinite; that 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 the earth, to evolution, the ego, mind and body; they say we are souls and belong to an eternal dimension. The soul is not limited to one lifetime and one planet but dwells in the infinite dimensions of the cosmos.

When aware of the infinite nature both of the soul and the cosmos, then we are in a better position to understand who we are and find an appropriate response to the part we play in this extinction event.  If we accept the transcience of our individual life, of human events, and even of life on earth, we may realise that the pain and sorrow we feel for this are ultimately lessons for the soul.

It's possible we've done this before: that is, forgotten our soul nature, identified with the body and ego, our physical desire nature, and made the wrong choices until reaching ecological limits on other planets.  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 may dwell. The soul will remember itself, 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. The great spiritual traditions say that the soul is primary; 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 said that it defined the ability of the body to live.  Without it, the body could not metabolise, the heart beat, the lungs breathe, the mind think and the brain could not 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 essence of our being.  As soul we pass through life, the many worlds of being, until we remember our origin in the Infinite Soul.  And as soul, we are the witness of all things, of the sensations, actions, thoughts and emotions with which we mistakenly identify until we remember our true nature.  But bear in mind that the Earth in all its beauty, complexity and often overwhelming power, provides us with the body, the current vehicle for the soul; and, while we have the body and act in the world 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 born of the Divine Mother in her manifestation of Life on Earth.  The Divine Mother is the manifestation in infinite form of the infinity of the Divine.  In the same way as the minerals of the body will return to the Earth, so our thoughts, egos, bodies, personalities, actions and civilisations will dissolve back into her.  We, our minds and bodies, are her creation and we are mistaken in our impression of independence. We are like a wave moving through the waters of her sea.  Our bodies, and all we think, feel and do, are gifts from that which we are a part.  The unity of the mind and body with Nature is one of the first lessons for the incarnating soul.
The Divine Mother as Life on Earth bears us and carries us along in her evolutionary patterns of great complexity, beauty, suffering, desire and power.  She also carries the human-made patterns and habituated behaviours that shape the details of our individual and collective lives.  To the extent we identify with and are attached to these patterns and behaviours, they increase our suffering and keep us caught up in the cycle of physical existence.  Our task is to end this identification, and, as witness consciousness, 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 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.  It is hidden from our consciousness.  The sense-bound, physical, mental and egoic being cannot know the true infinite Self.  We must perpetually remove any mental conception we have of it even as we dwell in the ever new, ever changing beauty and perfection of the many forms of the Divine Mother.  Buddhist thought, by describing all words and concepts as essentially empty, is telling us 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 come to know the Eternal Soul only after many lifetimes, but dedicated spiritual practice and the guidance of a teacher can open us now to its divine illuminations - which we may call light, peace, love, truth, wisdom, consciousness, bliss...

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

Swami Sri Yukteswar

The soul while ultimately indivisible or whole, can be usefully described as having a tripartite form, existing in three realms.
The first realm or the 'body soul' is the individual physical being; its self-awareness is constituted by the laws, information, intelligence, codes, proteins, enzymes and cells of the universe as terrestrial Nature.
Each unique, three dimensional body, mind and ego incarnates within the greater four dimensional body of the Soul of Life on Earth, the Divine Mother, according to her great natural evolutionary cycles of birth and death.  Thus incarnate, and identified with incarnation, we erroneously see ourselves as an independent physical entity, perpetuated through sexual reproduction. Our science supports this impression by saying that our mind and self-awareness are entirely creations of the brain.  Socially, a strong self-image, ‘I’ or ego, is upheld, the primary and unifying nature of the soul is forgotten, a culture of isolation and separateness prevails, and consciousness is seen as a function of the brain-body nexus.
Upon incarnation therefore, and immersion in egoic awareness, we forget or fail to realise, firstly, the inherent emptiness of the mind and its concepts, secondly, our complete dependency upon and existence within the Soul of Life, the Divine Mother, thirdly, the nature of the true self, and finally, the derivation of our ultimate being and consciousness in the Eternal Soul.  We cling to a false notion of physical 'I-ness', of separateness, and live in an unhappy state of unfulfilled and unfulfillable material identification.  We follow or are in fact are driven by our evolutionary nature and desires, without any true will or wisdom, and believe that this is all there is until we die.  The soul can live a happy and fulfilling life on Earth, supporting the good and denying the bad, but because of the trauma of birth, human attachment, ignorance and desire, we are often drawn into lethargy or hyperactivity, suffer, act inappropriately and cause others to suffer.
The second realm is the Divine Mother.
According to this terminology, the Divine Mother is the manifestation of the Supreme Divine in the material forms of the infinite multi-dimensional cosmos.  She manifests the perfection, love, beauty and power, the visible and comprehensible forms of the otherwise invisible and incomprehensible Supreme Divine.  As Nature, 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, 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 is the anima mundi, the world soul and operates according to laws that while life-giving are also inexorable and destructive.  She is the Cosmic Vibration, the Holy Ghost, Aum, Paraprakriti, Mahashakti dancing on the throne of the One Being to manifest its energetic infinite potential in the material 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, in undeviating service to her.
Her cosmic 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 is so highly definitive and compelling it raises the question whether we, the body soul, have any independent existence at all.  Although this Devic and karmic information can be transformed by those souls who live under Cosmic Law and realise their true self within the Eternal Soul, it is ultimately subjective - it is the lila or play of Maya or ‘illusion.’

Clear of ancestral karma however, and aided by a spiritual teacher to disidentify from our desires, ego identity and mental restlessness, we can 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 our actions in the material world, when we surrender to and realise all being and actions as Hers, then we are free to live according to her laws and experience the infinite realms of the Eternal Soul.  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, peace, wisdom, light and love, not just in the fourth, but in the fifth dimension and those beyond.
Soma, Amrita, Bodhicitta, Manna: 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, the Shakti, is the infinite potential of all energy, all dimensions of being and consciousness.  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, the Great Spirit; it is the Divine Source, Divine Power, Infinite Love, Infinite Peace.  Devotion to the Supreme Divine and its teacher, brings bliss, love, compassion, knowledge, discipline, morality, ethics, right action, happiness, self-realisation and liberation.
The Eternal Soul is, ultimately, the source of our true soul self: Para-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 origin of the multiple forms of the dance of the Divine Mother.  It is everything and everything is It.  One taste of Its infinite presence, its eternal light and power, and we begin to remember our formless origin and integral spiritual nature.  As we learn to love the Divine Mother, surrender to and endure her rounds of reincarnation and karma, act wisely, and start to understand our undying relationship with the Eternal Soul, we can open further and bring its truth into our lives.  At this point a teacher can appear, if they have not already, and guide us further.

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 peace, of compassionate and powerful states of being and consciousness, beyond the capacity of the ego, brain, mind and sensory awareness.  As we cultivate concentration and dedication, come to understand the soul, the impermanence of the body soul and our immersion in the evolutionary, ancient, ancestral and karmic play of the universal and terrestrial Divine Mother, so we begin to realise the real origin and true nature of the soul in the stillness and power of the Supreme Divine.  As 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, acknowledge the power and perfection of the play of the Mother, and experience our loving communion with the Divine, so we awaken to our true self, our true home.
Yet, in a sense, enlightenment never comes.  It is neither won, nor is it achieved.  It always exists.  It was never born so it can never die.  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 surrender to the Divine Mother and to the One, 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, form-formless, 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 Divine love,
A consciousness who exists to delight in all being.

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 infinite soul yet dwelling in and identified with a finite form of the Divine Mother.  As the body, the senses, the mind, emotions, personality, self-awareness and the ego, we originate in, are entirely dependent upon, live and die within the Divine Mother in her form of Nature, Prakriti, the material world.
The richness, action and complexity of the body soul mirror the multitudinous emergent forms of the Divine Mother, while our ‘emptiness’, witness consciousness, stillness and devotional longing mirror, however weakly, the infinite nature of the Eternal Soul.  As a sensory being, as a limited mind and self-centred ego we cannot comprehend or understand the Universal Spirit. The difficulty for the body soul to escape the consequences of its actions is reflected in the interminable chains of karmic cause and effect - the myriad forms of the Divine Mother.  Its apparent ability to choose its actions is a timid reflection of the infinitely free creative power of the Eternal Soul; but in fact, the body soul is entirely subject to and caught up in the power of the Divine Mother.  Life on Earth, the devic realm—the information and energy holders of the universe, the planetary, solar, lunar and zodiacal powers—are in direct and dutiful service to the Divine Mother, but the ego mind suffers the delusion of separateness and so is immersed in the 'play of Maya'.  Our task is to remember the true self even while in the body soul, release identification with the senses, ego, mind and its mental constructs, and learn to act as an instrument of the Divine in harmony with the play of 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 the state of its submersion in the 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.  It forgets its primary power and is ruled by the ego, mind and body.  It is also ruled by the physical evolutionary nature, competing and contesting, that when obtaining environmental limits, does not have the ability to check itself and so, in effect, self-destructs.
Above: Para-Prakriti
(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 can awaken the primacy of the soul.  We can move deeper into the awareness of the play of the universal forms of the Divine Mother, understand our subjection to them, sanction some of them and reject others, and, as soul, develop the witness consciousness that allows awakening 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 a surender to the consciousness of Divine truth, peace, wisdom, love and bliss.  There comes the willingness to follow the laws of the Divine Mother.  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, releases all attachment to and identification with the body and its actions, remembers its love for and surrenders to the Divine, it becomes witness to the wonders and joys of the cosmos and selflessly fulfils its duties according to 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, the soul.  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 their constant process of emergence and change.  Contemplation on the equality, the equalness, of all being.

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 soul or Self is much greater.  We are beings that are not contained by the body and mind, nor by the 'I' and its actions, 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 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, the 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