Inspired by a good friend’s status update on Facebook where, inspired perhaps by the movie he saw, was saying he was looking for his Soul. I have been asking this and some other questions at various points in my life too and his update in turn inspired me to write this post, on what I thought on the subject matter. Not that I am an expert or anything but if at all, just inquisitive and would just like to share a thought or two, perhaps just for the fun of it, because, ultimately, I believe we won’t really find an answer to that question of a Soul.
When we talk about the Soul, it is inevitable that it is closely linked to Religion for without religion, there is no need for a Soul. The purpose for the existence of a Soul is many-fold but the most important of all is that this Soul transcends our physical existence, and thus is something eternal. In a way, it is a great concept because our existence do not end with the expiry of our physical being and as such, so are the rewards and punishments for the acts we have done in this world via our physical existence. It satisfy our need to have an eternal life, to be greater than just current mere existence, as well as a great carrot and stick mechanism to make sure that we behave. It is the great Santa Claus for Mankind.
For all these, therefore, Mankind needs to keep his/her Soul clean and pure in order to live a blameless life, and thus reaps eternal rewards when the Savior rides in the rainbow from the sky and such. This is the most simplistic way to look at it.
However, at another level, the Soul serves as a great concept in our current worldly life. What I meant is the Soul gives us strength to face the trials and tribulations of life, which we will face inevitably. Without this strength, it is hard to get on day after day in the face of adversity and set-backs. Everyone needs to have a certain pillar to draw strength from and this Soul is a great power provider. The Soul provides a sense of security and comfort, a certain peace. In short, the Soul radiates very positive energy when the owner of the soul believes his/her Soul is clean and pure. And as everyone knows, positive energy begets positive energy and good things will start to happen in one’s life.
But the ultimate question is, does the Soul really exist or is it just a concept stemming from our own psychological needs? Do the Soul really reside in our body and then leave us (to reincarnate or go to Heaven or Hell or wherever) when our physical being expires or is it just a creation of our mind, which will cease to exist when our physical existence expires? Or is the Soul just a form of energy that is within us and when we expire, this energy leaves us and transform into another form of energy, since energy cannot be created nor destroyed? And if it is an energy, how is this energy different from other forms of energy such as heat and electricity?
Since time immemorial, Mankind is actually quite a humble species in that they acknowledge that they are not in full control of all the elements in the world that we live in. As such, they worship the gods of sea, wind, sun, tree, stone, etc. etc. in the hope that they will favor them and thus give them good luck and make their life easier. From hunter-gatherer related gods, mankind progressed into agriculture related gods as they progressed from hunter-gatherers to farmers. As societies becomes more and more complex, various higher level gods are imagined until the ultimate “realization” of the one God. Then there are no other gods but God.
With the creations of gods, the creation of the Soul is inevitable as Mankind begins to ask what they are made of, where they come from and where they will go hereafter. As societies becomes bigger and bigger, rules and regulations need to be established to govern the society as close monitoring is no longer possible as societies became bigger. And when it grew bigger still, some sort of remote control monitoring system needs to be in place so that everyone do good and bad guys are punished, their crime recorded by invisible eyes up above. And for those who got away from punishments in this life, there is comfort in knowing that the criminal will be punished even if his physical existence expired in this world. That was really great comforting thoughts and encouraged everyone to behave.
However, in Buddhism, at least the Theravada tradition, they do not believe in the existence of the Soul as Gautama Buddha reportedly asked his disciples wherefore the Soul resides in the body. But the idea of transcendental punishment and rewards is still present in the Buddhistic philosophy via the theory of Karma where good deeds are rewarded with good rewards or good reincarnations, etc. And the subject of this reincarnation is again, to me at least, not substantiated with logical arguments. And asked about all these things that humans cannot logically understand and perceive, the Buddha just simply said that we do not need to know. Notice that He did not say yes or no.
Perhaps like Kant said, transcendental ideas are by nature not understandable by human beings simply because it transcends our understanding and the capacity of our brain power. It is fruitless and meaningless to talk about it and the only way to work on it is to have faith in it. This is perhaps true and is perhaps why early Chinese philosophers such as Confucius and Lao Tzu did not talk about the Soul, but merely the Way (or Tao) of Heaven. And here it also gets interesting when the concept of God first started as Shang-di (Heavenly King) to Tien (Heaven). Perhaps from one God whose image is like Human and all powerful to a Concept of Heaven only. Not until Buddhism made a big impact in China did they have again the idea of human-like gods.
So, coming back to this concept of Soul and it’s relevance in our modern and future society. There is no doubt in my mind that the idea that a real Soul exist and resides in our body and will move on after we die is an important idea and I think billions of people in world live and believe in its existence. However, to each their own, some people also do not believe at all in it and lives a purely existential life. But what I believe is that the “Soul” is a culmination of our own self-inquiry into the nature of our own beings. Our philosophy and world-view, a way and guide for us to live and face the trial and tribulations of life. A philosophical concept attained purely by self-reflection and meditation, from study of self and others, from the exploration and learning of the world around us. And thus building character and self confidence and strength to live a blameless life, to face problems, to have the ability and wisdom to appreciate our own life, family, friends and the world surrounding us, to live a good and happy life, hopefully benefiting and also learning from everyone who comes into contact with us, if possible contribute to the betterment of Mankind and finally, the wisdom and ability to be able to let go.
Hmmm… well, there goes my lunch time.