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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Soul

A non-physical principle that is said to animate living things. It is also sometimes equated with the inner self of an individual.

The word “soul” is commonly used as a translation of the Greek psyche or Latin anima, terms used by Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle as well as the New Testament and later scholastic philosophers. It is understood as a non-corporeal entity that lies behind our subjective sense of self. In this sense, the discussions on “self” differ somewhat from that of “soul” in that the former is often a direct attempt to describe the experience of the “self,” whereas the the “soul” is frequently regarded as a hypothetical entity that we do not directly experience, and the existence of which we are not even sure. As William James wrote, “By the Soul is always meant something behind the present Thought, another kind of substance, existing on a non-phenomenal plane” (Principles of Psychology, Chicago: Encyc. Britannica, 222).

Soul is commonly distinguished from Spirit. Spirit is regarded as a more basic entity than the soul and is identified with the true Self of human beings. This is particularly true with the religious traditions of the world. In such a view, the souls are regarded as intermediate faculties or vehicles of the SPIRIT. Thus there is just one Spirit, but there can be many kinds or levels of soul. The Old Testament speaks of the mortality of the soul: “the soul (nephesh) that sinneth, it shall die” (Eze 18:4), but never attributes death to the Spirit.

Plato spoke of the soul as consisting of three parts: reason, emotion, and appetite, which he compared to a charioteer and two horses (Phaedrus). Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas similarly speak of three kinds of souls: the rational, sensitive and vegetative souls. In Hinduism, human beings are composed of vehicles or layers of consciousness, the middle parts of which can properly be equated with the word “soul.” They are called the various sariras (bodies), kosas (sheaths) or upadhis (bases). For a related discussion of this, see HUMAN CONSTITUTION.

In the religions of the world, soul has been called by the following names:

Religion or Tradition Terms for soul(s)
Judaism Nephesh
Christianity psycheanima, soul (distinguished by Aquinas as rational soul, sensitive soul, vegetative soul)
Islam nafs (divided into nafs-al-natiqah, rational soul; nafs-al-haywaniyah, animal soul, nafs-al-nabatiyah, vegetative soul)
Hinduism manomaya-kosa (mental sheath), vijñanamaya-kosa (intellect sheath), anandamaya-kosa (sheath of bliss), suksmopadhi (subtle body), karanopadhi (causal body), karana-sarira (causal body), saksma-sarira (subtle body)
Chinese po (corporeal soul), hun (soul)

 

Theosophical View. Theosophy regards the soul as the intermediate non-physical principle that serves as a vehicle of the Spirit or ATMAN. It has three aspects or parts: the buddhi is the spiritual soul; the mind or manas is the human soul (identical with Aquinas’ rational soul); and the kama is the animal soul. The manas or mind has a dual nature. The higher mind links with buddhi to form the Reincarnating Ego, while the lower mind attaches itself to kama when the latter separates itself from the higher principles after the death of the physical body.

See HUMAN CONSTITUTION, SPIRIT, BUDDHI, MANAS, KAMA, KOSA, SARIRA, UPADHI.

V.H.C.

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