The "Soul Hypothesis" (Part 2)

If you are going to invest in the idea that you have a soul, you need to get a return on your investment.
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Spirituality for many modern people has become a forced choice. Either one accepts a fixed belief system (organized religion or a New Age alternative), or one rejects belief for some variety of doubt (skepticism or atheism). What this forced choice overlooks is the possibility of progress, which means going beyond any fixed belief. The soul doesn't have to be a matter of faith or doubt; it could become an experience. Like water, the soul's nourishment isn't offered in the abstract. You have to taste it; you have to take it in. To put it bluntly, if you are going to invest in the idea that you have a soul, you need to get a return on your investment. In a landscape where organized religion looks backward and doubt looks toward a dead end, neither stands for progress. What does stand for progress is personal exploration, which means finding out who you really are. The self is open-ended and dynamic. It serves as a vehicle for testing whether you have a soul. Although many people choose to limit their horizons, constraining the self into fixed patterns of habit, conditioning, outworn beliefs, and a variety of defenses, none of these things can actually destroy the self's infinite potential. If you have a soul, your self is the only way you will discover it. The same "I" that experiences pleasure and pain has the capacity to experience reality far beyond pleasure and pain. The self has limited potential only when seen in terms of ego and personality. On this point every spiritual tradition, East and West, agrees. The old shibboleth is that God is invisible, remote, mysterious, and perhaps non-existent. But the greatest teachers have pointed out that these are all false assumptions. The realm of God and the soul is fully accessible, they declare, but it must be approached with tools other than the five senses. Reality, as the Buddhists maintain, lies beyond mental concepts. Its peace, as the Christians avow, passes understanding. But the tools for reaching beyond the five senses are ill-defined, however, and we live in an era where exploring the self is stuck in therapy, identity politics, gender conflicts, and other forms of "liberation" that remain stubbornly fixed inside the boundaries of ego and personality. The trick is to find freedom outside those boundaries -- as Jesus, Buddha, the ancient rishis of India, the Sufis, and every other wisdom tradition has maintained -- which means stepping into the transcendent. If it is real and can be experienced, the transcendent can't be a faraway world, even the enticing world of Christian heaven, Buddhist Bardos, or any other promised land that negates the self here and now. The transcendent must be here and now as well; otherwise, it becomes just as useless as the idea of water to a man dying of thirst. The soul, if it cannot satisfy spiritual thirst, is pointless. This is where the notion of the "soul hypothesis" meets reality. Having set out to explore yourself, you test if the claims of the soul are viable. What are these claims? The list of soul qualities is a familiar one: The soul is your connection to God or the divine. The soul is the source of existence.The soul is the seat of bliss or eternal happiness.The soul exists beyond death; it is the seed of immortality. These aren't propositions to which a person can simply say yes or no. Faith and doubt, the two forced choices that millions of people make, turn out to be almost equally fruitless. Neither leads to exploration, because they simply turn the soul into a closed matter. The only possibility for exploration arrives when you are willing to test the qualities of the soul, which means testing them here and now. Are you connected to God and the divine?Have you experienced your source?Is there such a thing as inner being that is beyond death?Can happiness be reached beyond everyday pleasure and pain? None of these are abstract questions, but we have made them abstract by forgetting to make them personal. "Immortality" is an empty concept unless you take it personally. "Am I going to live beyond the body?" It really doesn't matter if Christ and Buddha lived beyond the body, or if they promise that you will, too. Their experiences, however inspiring, are second hand. A man dying of thirst may dream about water, may hope that water will some day come to him and take inspiration from knowing that somewhere far away water is abundant. We need to discover the same urgent instinct to find water that drives a thirsty body but that rarely drives us when we want God or the soul. Where would such urgency come from? What daily motivation can drive us to the door of the soul and then open it? (to be cont.)

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