What is a Soul?
The soul is the ethereal essence of a living being in a wide variety of religious, philosophical, and mythological traditions. The soul or psyche (Ancient Greek: psykh, from v pskhein, “to breathe,” cf. Latin ‘anima’) is a term that refers to a living being’s mental abilities: reason, character, feeling, awareness, qualia, memory, perception, and reasoning. A soul might be mortal or immortal, depending on the philosophical philosophy. Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle recognised that the soul ( psykh ) required a logical faculty whose use was the most divine of human deeds. Socrates described his teachings during his defence trial as an invitation to his fellow Athenians to excel in issues of the psyche, as all corporeal goods are contingent on such greatness (Apology 30a–b). According to Aristotle, the body and soul of a man were his matter and form, respectively. The body is made up of elements, whereas the soul is its essence. Saint Thomas Aquinas imbued Christianity with this perspective. In Judaism and several Christian religions, only human beings have immortal souls (apart from angels) (although immortality is disputed within Judaism and the concept of immortality may have been influenced by Plato). For example, Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, based his argument on Aristotle’s On the Soul, ascribed “soul” (anima) to all organisms but claimed that only human souls are immortal. Other religions, most notably Hinduism and Jainism, believe that all living things, from the tiniest bacteria to the greatest mammals, are souls (Atman, jiva) with a physical embodiment (the body) in the world. The soul is the true self, whereas the body is merely a vehicle for experiencing the karma of that life. Thus, if one sees a tiger, it possesses a self-conscious identity (the soul) and a physical representation (the tiger’s entire body, which is visible) in the world. According to some, even non-biological phenomena (such as rivers and mountains) are endowed with souls. This is referred to as animism.
The Soul is the immaterial or non-physical facet of a human being in philosophy and religion. It is sometimes considered the same as the mind or self. The Soul is associated with the mental faculties of feeling, consciousness, memory, thinking, reason, perception, etc.
According to different philosophical, theological, and religious views, the soul is considered mortal or immortal. The immortal Soul is believed to become one with the divine after the death of the physical body.
The word ‘Soul’ in Modern English comes from its Old English antecedents' sawel' and ‘sawol,’ which mean the eternal principle of man. The word was first used in the Old English epic poem of Germanic heroic legend Beowulf in the 8th century. The word soul is also derived from the Ancient Greek word for the psyche, which translates to ‘breath’ and is interpreted as spirit, life, or consciousness.
The Concept Of Soul In Different Religions
Soul In Ancient Egyptian Religions
In the ancient Egyptian religions, the Soul was believed to be constituted of several different parts. In the ancient Egyptian myths of creation, the God Atum used his magic power to fabricate the world from chaos. Magic took the form of the soul when Atum created humans.
The various parts of the Soul mentioned in the ancient Egyptian funerary texts are the ‘khet’ or physical body, ‘sah’ the spiritual body, ‘ren’ the name or identity, ‘ba’ or the personality, ‘ib’ the heart, ‘ka’ the double or the vital essence, ‘sekhem’ the power or form, and ‘shut’ which means the shadow. These parts constitute the spirits of a dead person in the afterlife and are called the Akh. On the other hand, it is the person’s intellect in the living body.
Soul In Christianity
Christian theology advocates that when people die, their souls are judged by God and then sent to Heaven or Hell, depending upon God’s judgment. Most denominations within Christianity, like Catholicism, Protestantism, Orthodox churches, etc., believe in this view.
While some Christian groups believe that the souls who do not go to Heaven will be resurrected, others think they will be destroyed in Hell or suffer eternal damnation. Only those souls who go to Heaven will have eternal life.
The Roman Catholic Church believes that all the souls - living and dead - will be judged during The Day of Judgment when Jesus Christ comes back to earth in The Second Coming.
Soul In Judaism
In Hebrew, ruach, nefesh, neshamah, yechidam, and chayah are some of the words which are used to refer to the concept of Soul. In Jewish theology, as mentioned in Genesis, it is believed that God gave the soul to Adam as God breathed life into him.
The quality of a person’s Soul is determined according to the person’s adherence to the mitzvot or the Jewish commandments.
The concept of the Soul is understood in more detail in Jewish mystical traditions like the Kabbalah. Here, the different terms ruach, nefesh, neshamah, yechidah, and chayah are assigned different meanings and are believed to be the five elements of the soul, which correspond to the five spiritual realms in Kabbalistic tradition.
oul In Islam
The holy book of Islam, the Quran, refers to the idea of the Soul in terms of ‘ruh’ and ‘nafs.’ Ruh is the spirit or the consciousness and the creative force of the soul. Nafs, on the other hand, are the ego or the self, the psyche of the Soul. Ruh and nafs are similar to the Hebrew Ruach and nefesh. Islamic philosophy believes that the immortal ruh guides the mortal nafs.
Soul In Hinduism
In Hinduism, the Soul is understood as the atman and jiva. Atman is a Sanskrit word meaning the soul or the inner self. Atman is considered the first principle in various schools of Hindu philosophy, particularly in the Vedanta school of thought. Atman is believed to be the essence of a person or the true self. This true self of a person is beyond any identification.
To realize one’s true self or the atman, one must attain moksha or liberation. Liberation is done by acquiring self-knowledge or Atma jnana. According to the tradition of Advaita Vedanta, the realization of one’s atman is the same as the achievement of the Brahman or the highest reality.
Soul In Spirituality & New Age Religions
In the Theosophical Movement established by Helena Blavatsky, the Soul is understood as the field of a person’s psychological and psychical activity. Psychological activity includes emotions, thought, memory, will, and desires, while psychical or paranormal activity has phenomena like extrasensory perception or out-of-body experiences.
While most traditional religions consider the Soul the highest entity of one’s existence, theosophical views think the Soul to be only a middle dimension, and the spirit is the real or the highest self. The Soul only acts as a link between the higher spiritual self and the baser material body.
Philosophical Understanding Of The Soul
Several philosophers throughout history have tried to theorize the concept of the Soul outside its religious understanding. Drawing from Socrates’s views, Plato believed that the Soul or the psyche was the essence of a human that decided the person’s behavior. He thought that the Soul was reborn in a different body after the death of the previous body.
Plato, in his theories, divided the Soul into three parts - the logos, which referred to the mind, the thymos or the emotion or spiritedness, and the eros or the desire. He further wrote about the location of these specific parts of the Soul - while the logos is located in the head, the thymos rests near the chest, and the eros in the stomach.
Aristotle explained the Soul as the first actuality of a natural body. He believed that the Soul is the organizational unit of form and matter of any natural being and is essential for existence. Aristotle’s views on the Soul are mostly seen as opposed to the Platonic concept of the Soul. Aristotle also believed that three different degrees of the Soul correspond to the three levels of natural beings - plants, animals, and people. Thomas Aquinas later reiterated this view in the 13th century.
Scientific Understanding Of The Soul
Since the Soul is considered the non-material aspect of the human, it isn’t easy to prove its scientific existence. As there is no scientific evidence to support the presence of a Soul, it is generally understood within science that souls don’t exist. The physical body remains the object of study within science.