"Can a cow be Self-realized?"]
Didn't God breathe into us a living soul?
The reference here is to
Genesis 2.7: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust
of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."
My friend felt she gave Bly the "knockout punch" for contradicting the Bible
that we all have a living soul until we die. Later, I tell her that Bly was on the
right track saying that "those who laughs all the time are probably soul-less."
When she asked by what authority, I replied "Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching XLI:
When the best student hears of the Tao,
he practises it diligently.
When the average student hears of the Tao,
he doesn't know if it's real or not.
When the worst student hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud,
if he didn't laugh,
it wouldn't be the Tao.
(Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, translated by D.C. Lau
Penguin Books, Baltimore, MD, 1963, p. 102
Lao-tzu's Tao te ching, translated by Red Pine
Mercury House, San Francisco, 1996, p. 82)
Detailed portrait of Lao Tzu (604 B.C.-517 B.C.),
Chinese silk painting, British Museum
Faust or Faustus is the protagonist of a classic German legend in which he makes a pact
with the Devil, selling his soul in exchange for knowledge. The tale is the basis for many
literary, artistic, cinematic, and musical works, such as those by Christopher Marlowe, Goethe,
Thomas Mann, Hector Berlioz, and Charles Gounod. In Goethe's magnum opus, the Devil as Mephistopheles
gives back Faust his youth to win his desire for the young maiden Gretchen. The Devil will take
Faust's soul when he declares "Stay on this moment, thou art so fair." Even when given Helen of Troy,
Faust doesn't utter these words. When he does say it after building schools for children and
renovating a sewage project for a city, the Devil claims Faust's soul. But God realizing Faust's
true intentions and continuing striving for goodness raised him to heaven.
[Rembrandt's etching Faust (1652), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam]
weighing of souls in The Book of the Dead
An Egyptian papyrus in the British Museum from
Book of the Dead (1250 B.C.)
shows the Hall of Judgment (left). Here Anubis (jackal-headed), God of the Dead and Thoth (Ibis-headed), God of Time
& Judgment, presides over the weighing of the deceased heart (soul). It is balanced against the feather,
symbol of Maat, Goddess of Justice and Truth. Seated at left is Osiris, God of Life (sun disk on head)
decides on the weighing. If the heart is lighter than Maat's feather, then it will enjoy
a blissful afterlife. If the heart is heavier, signifying a sinful life, it was eaten by
the monster known as the Devourer and the deceased was gone forever.
Joseph Campbell says that most people are stuck at the lower three chakras, blinded by their survival, sex,
and power instincts. He then showed a slide from an Egyptian papyrus (19th Dynasty, 1405-1367 B.C.),
The Book of the Dead of Kenna
the judgment scene (right),
the weighing of the heart of the deceased against a feather. We see a pole marked by 7 distinct
nodules below the balance beam and an 8th above it. The nose of Osiris' watchdog, the Swallower (a composite
of crocodile, hippopotamus & lion, who is to swallow the soul if the heart is heavier than the feather), cuts directly
across the pole between its 3rd & 4th nodules (corresponding to the chakras). Furthermore, the nose is exactly the
level of a platform, across the way, supporting a seated baboon. In Egypt, the baboon is called "Hailer of the Dawn"
its uplifted hands denote wisdom saluting the rising sun, and is symbolic of Thoth, Egyptian
counterpart of the Greek Hermes, guide of souls to the knowledge of eternal life. In terms of the kundalini,
the message is clear: if the aims of the deceased in life were no higher than those of Chakra 3, the Swallower
claims the soul; whereas, if love had been heeded in the lifetime (Chakra 4), Thoth will conduct
the blessed soul (light as a feather) to Osiris's throne by the Waters of Eternal Life.
Can the soul be sold?
Faust selling his soul to the Devil for beauty and knowledge
has been discussed above. Another tale is Washington Irving's
"The Devil and Tom Walker" (1824).
In this short story, a man sells his soul to the devil to gain wealth. Later he regrets it
when he has to suffer the consequences. Irving's story influenced Stephen Vincent Benet's
The Devil and Daniel Webster (1937).
Here a New Hampshire farmer Jabez Stone falls upon hard times. So he sells his soul
to Satan disguised as "Mr. Scratch". Stone enjoys seven years of prosperity, but when
Scratch comes to claim his soul, Stone is defended in court by Daniel Webster.
It was made into a 1941 film
directed by William Dieterie and starring
Walter Huston (Scratch), James Craig (Jabez Stone), & Edward Arnold (Daniel Webster).
A modern version is Ira Levin's 1967 horror novel
Rosemary's Baby. Here, a struggling
actor Guy Woodhouse bargains with the Devil for a successful acting career. In exchange, he allows Satan
to impregnate his wife Rosemary so an anti-christ baby will be born in June 1966 (6/66).
The novel was made into a movie Rosemary's Baby
(1968) directed by Roman Polanski & starred Mia Farrow.
Can the soul be cared for?
If God created the soul, then what is there to care for? Isn't the handiwork of God perfect,
so no amount of man's work can improve upon it? This is precisely the theme addressed in
Thomas Moore's book Care of the Soul (1992). This book was the #1
New York Times Bestseller for 46 weeks. Its subtitle "A Guide for Cultivating
Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life" says it all. The malaise of modern man is
"loss of soul" because of his obsessions for entertainment, fame, money, power,
sex, and material things. Moore's recipe is not "about curing, fixing, changing,
adjusting or making healthy, and it isn't about some idea of perfection or even
improvement. It doesn't look to the future for an ideal, trouble-free existence.
Rather, it remains patiently in the present, close to life as it presents itself
day by day, and yet at the same time mindful of religion and spirituality."
Moore harkens back to Plato's "techne tou biou" ("craft of life")
that care of the soul is a sacred art and service to the gods. He refers to
the Neoplatonic philosopher Marsilio Ficino
who headed the Platonic Academy in Florence that inspired Renaissance Italy.
His De Vita (Book of Life) (1489) focused on balancing mind and body,
ideas and life, spirituality and the world. A glimpse of Ficino's influence may be seen
in the paintings of Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Botticelli, who read his works.
Moore quotes the Roman writer Apuleius "Everyone should know that you can't live in
any other way than by cultivating the soul." In his final chapter "The Sacred Arts
of Life", Moore writes: "To live with a high degree of artfulness means to attend
to the small things that keep the soul engaged in whatever we are doing, and it is
the very heart of soul-making. To the soul, the most minute details and the most
ordinary activities, carried out with mindfulness and art, have an affect far
beyond their apparent insignificance." This is an echo of Buddha's path
of mindfulness and Zen action "I chop wood, I carry water, how happy I am!",
living simply the enlightened life.
Neruda's gravitas "I know the earth, and I am sad"
In Bly's essay "Six Disciplines That Intensify Poetry" (2001), he writes:
"Psychic weight is one of the gifts given to a work of art by the poet's
ability to grieve... These Neruda lines have gravitas:
But above all there is a terrifying,
a terrifying deserted dining room...
and around it there are expanses,
sunken factories, pieces of timber
which I alone know,
because I am sad, and because I travel,
and I know the earth, and I am sad.
Poem "Melancholy Inside Families"
in Neruda & Vallejo: Selected Poems,
Edited by Robert Bly (1993), pp. 49-50
Rilke's "Only grief still learns"
Cited in Bly's essay "Six Disciplines That Intensify Poetry" (2001):
The complete poem is "Sonnets to Orpheus VIII"
in Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke,
translated by Robert Bly (1981), pp. 208-209:
Where praise already is is the only place Grief
ought to go, that water spirit of the pools of tears;
she watches over our defeats to make sure
the water rises clear from the same rock
that holds up the huge doors and the altars.
You can see, around her motionless shoulders, a feeling
dawns we sense more and more that she
is the youngest of the three sisters we have inside.
Rejoicing has lost her doubts, and Longing broods on her error.
Only Grief still learns: she spends the whole night
counting up our evil inheritance with her small hands.
She is awkward, but all at once
she makes our voice rise, sideways, like a constellation
into the sky, not troubled by her breath.
I recall Wang Yang Ming's sigh "When all are merry, I alone weep and lament."
Wang Yang Ming (1472-1529) was a Neo-Confucian sage in the Ming Dynasty.
His conversations with students were recorded in Ch'uan-hsi lu,
Instructions for Practical Living (1518), and studied by the samurai
in Japan. He is my favorite
sage, so it's worth noting his lament and sigh on the state of affairs:
"When all people are in the depths of merriment, I alone weep and lament,
and when the whole world happily runs after erroneous doctrines, I alone
worry with an aching heart and a knit brow. Either I have lost my mind
or there must surely be a great grief hidden away in the situation. Who
except the most humane in the world can understand it?" (Section #176)
The Sage said with a sigh, "People who know how to pursue learning
have only this little trouble which they cannot remove, and that is
that they do not share the good with others." Ou-yang Ch'ung said,
"This trouble is primarily the love for exalted positions and the
inability to forget oneself." (Section #303)
(Portrait of Wang Yang Ming from Harvard Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts)
A century ago, Dr. Duncan MacDougall weighed)
dying patients and found a weight loss after
their last breath to be three-quarters of an ounce
Dr. Duncan MacDougall (1866-1920) of Haverhill, Massachusetts, did experiments in 1907
where he constructed a special bed on balanced platform beam scales sensitive to
two-tenths of an ounce. When patients near-death died, he found the loss of weight
was three-fourth of an ounce (21 grams). Because his sampling size was small (only 6 patients),
MacDougall's experiments were dismissed as unscientific. MacDougall also measured 15 dogs
under similar circumstances. When he perceived no change in mass upon the dog's death,
he concluded that dogs did not have souls.
"A Soul's Weight" by Mary Roach
(Lost Magazine, December 2005)
"Soul Has Weight"
(New York Times, Monday, March 11, 1907