Archive for the ‘Meaning’ Category

Questions without answers

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

The last few days have been pregnant with intimations of mortality. Once again those fundamental questions concerning the meaning and relevance of life and the daily round of activities, which seem so important and meaningful at the time, return and demand answers. None come easily. Abstract concepts, satisfying perhaps to a philosopher, dissipate like wisps of smoke when faced with the painful reality of lived experience. I sometimes think that the idea of life after death, where the good will be rewarded and all injustices put right, is a product of our ego-centric arrogance. We think we are, each of us, the centre of the cosmos, the centre of meaning and we cannot conceive of a reality where we would not be at the centre. If Heaven exists it will be Heaven for me. Such an ego-centric worldview cannot be a true depiction of reality. It is, perhaps, what is meant by maya, what someone called dis-knowledge rather than illusion, a perspective which distorts reality by allowing it to have relevance only in so far as it relates to me. One of the benefits of having an unreliable heart and failing vision is that everything takes on a sharpness, a clarity and, even the most ordinary things, an unassuming beauty. Nothing pushy, nothing brash, garish, or vulgar, simply a quiet presence. Each thing is itself independently of whether I am there or not and will continue to be itself long after I have gone.

Whatever answer we provide for those fundamental questions it cannot be an abstract one. Platitudes, philosophy, or consoling thoughts will not do. The fact that we have to pose these questions means that we have missed our way, that we do not understand. I remember reading Fritz Schumacher a long time ago, his little book, A Guide to the Perplexed. He said that the problem with being human is that we come to life without a manual, without any instructions on how life should be lived. OK, he was speaking in a light-hearted way. Given that we are what we are, nothing so defining and limiting as an instruction manual would be appropriate. But he had a point, and when I look at people wandering more or less aimlessly around shopping centres looking for something to occupy them for a few hours, or indulging in a hedonistic search for pleasure, or pandering to themselves ‘because they’re worth it’, I realise how empty life is for so many. 

At this point I should go on to explain what life is, but this is not easy; partly because I have only discovered part of the answer so far, and partly because the answer has to be discovered by each person. It is not like the response to a catechism question. ‘Who made you? God made me.’ Such an answer may be true at one level but it is meaningless unless it comes from lived experience. The problem is how does one acquire the experience which gives rise to the answer? Behind this lies a deeper problem – how does one become aware of the question in the first place? Does this question arise for everyone, or only for the more thoughtful and reflective people? I would guess that it does arise at some time or other for most people.  For many, perhaps, only in what Karl Jaspers called ‘limit situations’, but people respond to it in different ways. It is easier for those brought up in a religious and cultural environment where such questions, and the way they are answered, are part of the common consciousness. The answers might not satisfy everyone but at least the questions are taken seriously. And, within the mainstream religions, there are many who are genuinely holy, who have arrived at answers to these questions and who can guide others. 

For those in materialist and secularist environments the questions will still arise but answers to them are not often apparent. Here, the great danger, that is for those for whom the questions pose themselves,  is that people will either be attracted to the, often exotic, offerings of New Age, and other charlatans, gurus, yogis and messiahs, or dismiss all such questions as meaningless and delusory. There are still genuinely holy people in these environments, people like Etty Hillesum and Madeleine Delbrel who discover the answers for themselves and in the process rediscover their childhood religions, or Simone Weil, a mystic who refused to relinquish her solidarity and engagement with the poor and suffering, or Charles de Foucauld who simply wanted to be a presence among the Tuareg. What is interesting about all of these is that they did not try to evoke an intellectual conversion in others by preaching or argument but were simply a presence to them. They hoped that by some osmosis, in the ordinary interactions of day to day relationships, something of the light they had seen would become apparent to those they loved. That is what the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus, and others like them, still do today. These are those we know about. There are also the many, many thousands of unknown people, except to those they love, who offer their lives gratuitously as service to others. Unfortunately people such as these are rare, or unknown to most of us, and there remain so many people who never encounter holiness or an unconditional love which opens them to the transcendent. For these people the questions do not arise, or if they do they are questions with neither meaning nor answers. 

Wild Strawberries

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Some stray thoughts from this morning – what a major difference there is between authentic and inauthentic existence. We allow ourselves to be very easily distracted by the body, i.e. by physical feelings and also by feelings that are less explicitly derived from the body but come from it nonetheless, like seeking comfort, entertainment and, especially, seeking distraction from engagement in everyday matters. I am amazed at the people who wander aimlessly round shopping centres, usually elderly but not always. I suppose they go home and sit in front of the television. I was suddenly reminded of the Zen story of the man chased by a tiger over the edge of a cliff. He grabbed for a vine growing there and hung suspended over the void. Below wild tigers prowled. A mouse came and began to gnaw at the vine. In spite of his desperate situation the man notices a delicious wild strawberry growing just within reach. He plucks it and popping it into his mouth, savours it. 

It suddenly struck me that the aimless wanderers in shopping centres are like people wandering about at the edge of a cliff looking for wild strawberries and completely oblivious of the crumbling edge. The point of the Zen story for me is that recognition of the precarious and contingent nature of life does not mean that we are reduced to a state of terrified paralysis, or that the things that fill our lives are either of no significance, or value, or of supreme value. On the contrary, the mice, the crumbling edges, vines and the wild strawberries, are all extremely important but understanding what that importance is and how they relate to each other and how they relate to the void is another matter. 

Walking in a dark desert is so difficult. There is nothing to be seen, no landmarks, nothing to measure progress by, if there has been any. Distractions are difficult to resist. This, of course is the raison d’être for the cadre of the monastic life. 

Meanwhile we are on the brink of war, an economic crisis looms and the suffering of so many hangs over us like a cloud. To refer back to the Zen story, we have all become very aware of the crumbling edge of the cliff and that many, maybe millions, are going to be falling off it . The temptation to go in search of wild strawberries is almost irresistible because there is nothing an individual can do except add one more voice to the chorus of protest. Meanwhile the majority go off in search of strawberries – why languish in useless anguish when you can distract yourself. But, to think like this is to miss the point. The point is that, like Indra’s net, all is connected. Nothing happens that does not reverberate throughout the cosmos, not the slightest thing. This applies especially to us, straddling as we do the temporal and the eternal, every one, like the jewel in the net’s each eye, catching and reflecting back the good and the evil. 

Suffering and experience

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

Suffering and experience – thinking about suffering this morning it struck me that part of our problem with suffering is that we, inevitably I suppose, make too much of it. This arose out of a conversation yesterday when talk turned to suffering and the man suffering from motor neurone disease who went to Switzerland for an assisted suicide. Suffering is inevitable. All creatures suffer and the higher we are on the evolutionary scale the greater our capacity for suffering which extends from something purely physical to include the emotional and psychological. The problem with suffering, especially physical suffering, is that it is centripetal, pulling us into ourselves, into the body. The contrary – joy, happiness, emotional well being – is centrifugal, expansive, opening us out to be inclusive of others and the world. Suffering therefore provokes a self-centred destructive tendency, acting against our true nature to be open, inclusive and loving. The younger the person the greater is the power of suffering to do lasting damage to the psyche.

 The sad thing about the centripetal nature of suffering, especially physical suffering, is that it pulls the person into the experience so that the worse the experience the more it becomes the primary factor which determines meaning. Eventually life comes to mean suffering and therefore ceases to be worth living. The implied corollary of this is that, to be worth living, life has to mean well-being, joy and happiness. Neither of these viewpoints fits in with a Christian worldview, nor with a Buddhist one. 

In neither the Christian nor the Buddhist worldview is the meaning of life determined by experience. Life is not about undergoing or having experiences but about being. Both Gabriel Marcel and Eric Fromm have spelled this out.

 It is difficult to put what I want to say into a structured argument. I need to sit down and think it all out. Briefly – it is that because we assume that life is all about having and experiencing that we find ourselves constantly lurching back and away from the precipice of tragedy. The Three Brute Facts of Existence lurk at the edges of awareness, constantly reminding us of our frailty in the face of  the incipient dangers on every side. Our grasp of ourselves, our happiness and well-being, is uncertain and will remain uncertain as long as awareness is focused on self.

[Fromm, E., To Have or To Be, Sphere Books, London, 1979; Marcel, G., Being and Having: An Existentialist Diary, Harper & Row, New York, 1965]


Spiritual life

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

I can understand why some of the mediaeval religious got involved in all sorts of penitential excesses. It is very frustrating spending days, weeks, months in prayer and trying to lead a religious life only to seem to be getting nowhere. The trouble is that one’s mindset is constantly changing, influenced, if not determined, by events, the body, feelings and all sorts of things over which one has no control. So there will be a few ‘good’ days followed by many mediocre ones. The feeling that one is getting nowhere may not be true in an absolute sense but it certainly feels true and when it comes to feelings no amount of pep-talking to oneself is going to change them. What is to be done. There is need for some sort of strategy that takes account of the fact that one is a process and not a fixed entity. The strategy has to be one that goes with the flow, dealing with the highs and the lows, the times of ennui and accidie, as well as those of fervour and enthusiasm. The traditional monastic strategy is an enclosed cadre vowed to a regime of poverty, chastity and obedience which carries the individual along. For most enclosure is not appropriate – though there may be a longing for solitude. And I am suspicious about taking vows for reasons that I have not fully worked out. They are a bit like a straightjacket restricting any contrary movement. My feeling is that there is no merit in not doing something one is constrained from doing anyway. I remember talking to a monk once, a long time ago now. He said that he always wore clerical clothes and a collar when he went out of the monastery because they acted as a constraint against actions he might not otherwise be able to resist. So vows can be a help, but as long as they are necessary one has not achieved that conversio morum which is one of the preliminary goals of the religious life. It is a bit like learning to ride a bike. You will never learn as long as someone is holding it so that you don’t fall. There are going to be falls. That is inevitable. One just has to keep getting up afterwards, dusting oneself off, swallowing wounded pride and shame and get on with it. 

So, a strategy. My initial feeling is that meditation is the key, and I mean meditation seriously done for an hour morning and evening, not half an hour of vacuity and drifting thoughts. I believe there is a document from the Vatican this week condemning New Age practices, including meditation. Such blanket condemnations do no good and do not reflect well on the Church’s ability to make religious judgements. There are some forms of meditation which are questionable leading either to a form of self aggrandisement or to a pandering to the emotions. I don’t see, though, how any form of meditation based on Buddhist practice can be anything but helpful. After all, they have been doing it for two and a half thousand years and have learnt a thing or two about the mind and how it works. And it is the mind, especially the will, which is the key factor here. No religious progress can be made if bodily feeling and emotions determine action and lifestyle. So let’s try to work out the ‘what’ and the ‘how’.

WHAT?

God is the WHAT, if that’s not blasphemy. One of the questions that really bugs me, considering that God is Ultimate Reality, the All in All, and that we are destined to be oned with Him, is why we need to go through this whole samsaric process. Bernadette Roberts uses the analogy of a bubble to explain the relationship of the individual to God. Like the air, God is both inside and outside the bubble. When the bubble is popped there exists only God. Our usual awareness is of the iridescent surface of the bubble – the individual self – and we fail to recognise either the inner or the outer reality. The analogy cannot be taken too far. Suffice to say that God is both the ground of our being and also the wholly transcendent Other towards whom we are drawn – an irreconcilable paradox. So, given that God is the All in All, why is the individual process of birth-life-death necessary? In other words, why me, why you, why anybody? There has, in the past, been a tendency to play down the significance of this life, that is, its importance is seen to lie only in the fact that it is a precursor to the next. In the East it has been seen as samsara, an insubstantial and illusory reality compared to Brahman, or to Sunyata; in the West as a ‘vale of tears’, an unpleasant interlude between birth and death, the definitive birth into eternity. This cannot be a valid approach to the meaning of this life. The fact that God is Creator means that creation has an absolute significance, the fact that God is incarnate means that humanity has an absolute significance, the fact that God is immanent means that what is indwelt has absolute significance, the fact that God is transcendent means that what is transcended has absolute significance. In trying to see the light we fail to see what the light illuminates, or rather, we only see the shadow that it casts. If we could only turn our gaze away from the shadows to see what it is that the light is illuminating. That, after all, is what God sees. But we cannot. We can only see from our own human perspective. Though there are glimpses; from time to time an intuition,  a feeling, an intimation of depths beyond depths.

HOW?

There tend to be two approaches one in which the mind, the other in which the will (love) predominates. In practice I don’t think the two can be separated and, ideally, they ought to work in tandem but usually one or the other is dominant. The mind is the intellectual approach which sets out a path, a programme of action to be followed. It is based on knowledge and on the premise that the ultimate goal is to know the truth. The will is the way of love and faith (= trust). 

Meditation is a path from which to see more clearly. It is a path which leads to the awareness of emptiness. Emptiness is a standpoint from which things and the self show themselves for what they are:

True emptiness is nothing less than what reaches awareness in all of us as our own absolute self-nature. In addition, this emptiness is the point at which each and every entity that is said to exist becomes manifest as what it is in itself, in the form of its true suchness.

[James W. Heisig, Philosophers of Nothingness: An Essay on the Kyoto School, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 2001, p. 222]

 

What does all this mean to one not familiar with Buddhist concepts? Emptiness is the contingent nature of reality as we know it, including ourselves and our own self awareness.  The bottom line is that there is no security, solidity, or permanency. All is flux, panta rei, as the ancient Greeks perceived. The only certainty is constant change. The hard problem is how to make sense of this constant change. How can anything have meaning if it is just a momentary phenomenon in a sea of momentary phenomena. And this goes for people too. What meaning had the lives of all the countless millions of people who lived in the past. What meaning will our lives have a hundred years from now. Looked at in this way depression looms. There are no satisfactory answers. This is why it is so important to come to perceive reality as it actually is – empty/contingent. 

There are no spiritual ‘rocks’ to which one can tether oneself. This is not to say that spirituality and spiritual practices are not necessary. They are vital, but they are propaedeutic and one needs to be prepared to have all support knocked away and to be set adrift. I can understand what Buddha means when he says that we must be our own resource. This is not Pelagianism. In the end all one has is this contingent self which is no-self. Only when one realises this, makes it real, does the true nature of Reality become apparent. This is not Pelagianism because God is immanent in all that is and especially in us. All life, all energy is drawn from Him but this is not a datum of experience – though sometimes there are hints and intimations. It is because we cannot be aware of the transcendent dimension of reality that we cannot see contingency/emptiness in context. And so we appear to be alone, drifting on a boundless and featureless ocean. All that is left is faith/trust, more or less blind, and love. This is the only way, the only strategy.

Different views

Friday, March 7th, 2008

Prayer has become almost nonexistent. I go through the motions – that is what it feels like – just going through the motions – getting up in the morning, sitting for half to 3/4 of an hour without any feeling of personal engagement in what I am doing. I am like an automaton. In the afternoons it is not very different. All this week we have had very cold weather, sharp frosts and clear blue skies. In the afternoons I have been going for long walks but without any feeling of involvement in nature, without any of the rapport I usually feel. All this is pointed up by my reading of Thomas Merton’s journals – waxing eloquent about the beauty and silence of his hermitage in the woods of Kentucky and his intense feelings of unity with God and with nature – and reading Teilhard de Chardin’s ecstatic communion with nature as the epiphany of Christ. Meanwhile here I am with a different view – wild and beautiful, but not to be compared with the hushed solemnity of the Kentucky woods nor the vast silence of the Gobi desert. It is a learning experience, I tell myself; progress, though not the progress you imagined. There is nothing glamorous about it, nothing dramatic, nothing beautiful. It is ordinary, dull and uneventful, and, I tell myself, it is here that God must be found because it is here, in the ordinary, dull and uneventful, that so many of us live. It struck me the other day that it is exactly this that Charles de Foucauld latched on to with his desire to live the hidden life of Nazareth. And it is this that the Little Brothers and Sisters do, hidden lives among the poor of the world. All this points up a profound mystery. If only I could understand it and articulate it.

Mount Sinai

Monday, January 28th, 2008

A dream last night that, on waking, left me with the thought that it was trying to tell me something. I was somewhere – it must have been Egypt, although there was nothing obviously Egyptian to be seen. Someone offered me a lift to Mount Sinai. It was apparently only an hour’s drive away. I thought – I’ve always wanted to go there. We walked towards it and came to the edge of a high cliff. Looking out across the desert we could see Sinai in the distance. There was a range of mountains with what I recognised as the characteristic shape of Sinai standing higher than the others. It looked surprisingly green. Thinking about it now I am not aware that Sinai has a characteristic shape but in the dream there was a moment of recognition when I saw it.

Then my companion started down the cliff, taking great leaps and slides. He reached the bottom and started walking towards the mountains. I called out for him to wait but he took no notice. I started to look for a way down but it was much too steep where the other man had gone – long precipitous slopes between the ledges. I did not feel agile enough to go leaping and sliding as he had done. I was afraid of getting hurt. I ranged along the cliff but everywhere else was higher or steeper. Then I woke. At first the dream did not seem too significant and then I began thinking about it. Why Mount Sinai? 

The desire to get to Mount Sinai, the site of the theophany to Moses, seems obvious. I am desperately seeking my own theophany and, in my low moments, seem to be getting nowhere. Others seem to be able to go there easily but the obstacles appear too daunting to me. I am afraid to let go and leap forward. The trouble is in the dream I could see the way clearly with all its difficulties. Awake, I can see neither the goal nor the way to it.

Experience

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

One thing all religions are very bad at is answering the question why. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we exist? Of course they cannot. This is why we have generated mythologies, but while these might have satisfied a need in pre-scientific days they no longer do so. At one level they were superseded by theology – fides quaerens intellectum – and this seeking understanding is something that goes very deep. Today the purely intellectual pursuit of understanding is felt to be non-productive, perhaps, as someone said, because no sooner do you master one philosopher and stand breathless with admiration at the wonderful edifice he has constructed, than you come across another who demolishes him. Experience is what matters today and I suppose today’s theology needs to be experientia quaerens intellectum.

Ultimately our human experience is all we’ve got and this experience is riven with impossibilities and contradictions. There is in each of us a yearning, sometimes barely felt, sometimes of excruciating urgency, to transcend the limits and constraints of here and now, to consume and be consumed, to possess and be possessed, to love absolutely.  

Meaning and self

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

Thinking about what it means to be a person. I am sure that all our attempts to deal with this up to now have come to nothing because we have concentrated on individuality, or rationality, or moral freedom. In every case the underlying assumption is that the person is an independent and rational being free to make moral choices. We have not been aware of, or have ignored, the central and most fundamental fact that first a person is a nexus of relationships. Person only has meaning in the context of relationship. A person is he who relates to another person. Without the relationship with others the individual cannot evolve into a mature person, cannot learn a language to articulate thoughts and feelings, etc. We need to explore the dimensions of personal being – the physical, biological, mental, social and spiritual. Unless a person is an athlete, or something similar, he does not usually attend to the physical and biological unless something goes wrong. Nor in our Western culture does the spiritual impinge much on our consciousness unless we have what Maslow called a peak experience, or we experience what Jaspers called a limit situation. Most of the time we alternate between our private mental world and our social environment. It is mainly in these two contexts that we look for meaning. For some people the spiritual dimension is also a factor but very often I fear this spiritual dimension is a mental construct rather than the real thing. By mental construct I mean a system of beliefs and practices centred on the self and significant others. God and the rest of humanity are placed on the periphery. This is the spirituality of novenas and miracle working statues of the Madonna, of auras and crystals and intervening angels. We will never discover what it means to be human from such a myopic self-centred perspective.

Meaning will be found not by looking at the individual but by trying to understand the complex relational processes, those which make the individual what he is and those of which the individual is a part. As long as we can only see from the individual self-centred perspective we will never understand. Only when we realise this can we understand why self has always been seen as a barrier and a hindrance to spiritual progress. Perhaps ‘understand’ is putting it a bit too strongly. We will probably never really understand, but we can, and we need to be aware of these processes. To begin to be aware of them is to begin to decentre the self. For such a feeble reed the self does take up an inordinate amount of space and try to dominate every perspective. Get him out of the way.

Is this it?

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

The more I think about it the more I realise that if the phenomenal self is anchored at all it is anchored in the body. There are many selves, all relative. There is a whole succession of Walter Mitty-like fantasy selves who surface to fill the empty moments in the mind. There is also a series of relational selves that are constantly appearing, changing, developing and disappearing. I-the-son no longer exists except in memory. I-the-father has changed considerably over the years as the children have grown, become independent and left home. Not even the I-the-inhabitant-of-this-body is fixed. Although there appears to be a continuity of memories from early childhood, this self has changed many times and is changing still. But in the silence and solitude of meditation, in this now, when all the other selves have dropped away this inhabitant is all that remains.

When the eyes are open this self is substantial, expanding to relate to the trees, the fields, clouds and sky. When the eyes are closed and the attention has habituated to sounds and physical sensations there remains only awareness of breathing. Sometimes, when the will is strong, energy is concentrated on the mantra as though to pierce this solitary darkness and transcend the limitations of the body. At other times when there is no will and the stream of fantasies and inner dialogues has dried up, there remains only breathing. Then the thought surfaces, ‘Is this it? Is this all there is? The vast expanses of the star-filled sky, the wide horizon on a summer’s day, the fields, the mountains, the crowds of people, friends and family, all no longer exist in this dark now. Only breathing in and breathing out and this thought.’ It is then that I feel that I have reached the very limit of human existence. If the breathing were to stop the thought would stop and there would be nothing.

I can understand Descartes. Because there is this thought, however fragile and tentative it may be, there is something. And because this something is not self-sufficient, because it did not invent itself, there must be an Other on whom it depends. I am not aware of this Other. All the others that I do know and the world that I live in are as relative and as unself-sufficient as I am so they cannot be the cause of this something. So the Other, who or whatever it is, must transcend our existence. This is not brilliant logic and this sort of rational analysis in no way satisfies, nor does it compensate for the existential angst. 

Nevertheless, the fact that I am probing the limits of my existence, in effect existence itself, the fact that I am aware of these limits as limits, means that I am aware – however obscurely – of a beyond this existence. In some small way I have already transcended this existence. I am not arguing philosophically now, relying on Karl Jaspers’ concept of ‘limit situations’. I am arguing from experience, although it is good to be able to support subjective testimony by rational analysis. The urge to transcend this existence is deep and persistent. It is supported by memories of times when the darkness became translucent and there were glimpses – sometimes of an all enveloping nothingness (if that makes any sense), sometimes of a Presence.

Soul

Friday, November 16th, 2007

Reading Deikman – The Observing Self – sparked off some inconclusive ideas. He makes a contrast between religion and mysticism. The former is concerned with ritual and with propitiating the deity; the latter with bringing about the realisation that ‘I’ = God. He is much too simplistic when it comes to mysticism, seemingly aware only of the monistic variety. He does not appear to have read any Christian writers on the subject. There are, broadly speaking, two mystical traditions. One sees fulfilment in union with God – a union that is not a merging of identities, the other sees it in the realisation of identity. Within these two schools there are variations based on subtle distinctions. Given the impossibility of articulating mystical experience and the varieties of understanding and interpretation, I don’t think these differences are irreconcilable. However, Deikman raises an interesting question – is there a progression from religious experience to mystical experience? It is tempting to say yes on the grounds that the mystical experience is a foretaste of what happens after death. But, as Moran** points out, that assumes that there is a clearly determined end point. Perhaps there is, and perhaps, given the endless variety of individuals, there isn’t.

I think we have lost utterly the ideal of death giving meaning to life. This is very clear from Sogyal Rinpoche’s: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. The myth of the ‘fountain of youth’ is just that, a wish fulfilment for eternal youth, eternal childhood even. It sees the meaning of life as narcissistic carefree play in a garden of pleasures. Death does give meaning to life, not because it is an end but because it is the end of the beginning. Deikman suggests that the answer to the problem of meaning does not lie within our ordinary perception. Reality as experienced by caterpillars, butterflies, sea anemones and kittywakes are all different and all limited. With a little imagination we can visualise something of reality as they perceive it. If we can appreciate this, why do we assume that our perception of reality is complete?

Deikman goes on to make two crucial points. 1. Our core sense of personal existence – the ‘I’ – is located in awareness, not in its content. I am not my thoughts, feelings or emotions. 2. We cannot observe the observing self; we must experience it directly. It has no defining qualities, no boundaries, no dimensions. One of the reasons why the preoccupation of the senses, with pleasure, with material things leads to alienation is because it dislocates the ‘I’ from its centre. It attaches it to an object or a self-construct. It reifies the soul.

I find his description of the observing self very interesting, especially coming from a scientist. It goes a long way towards describing the soul. For a long time I have been bothered by the concept ‘soul’. What does it mean to have a soul? Can one ‘have’ a soul? Where are you when your soul is in Heaven, Purgatory, or wherever? Is the soul your ‘self’? How can that be if it is directly created by God and infused into the body? So many questions with no satisfactory answers. On the one hand soul seemed redundant, another term for ‘self’. And yet it denoted the spiritual element in us which ‘self’ could do only partially. What he describes is a spiritual entity. Everything to do with a person is physical, or material, or energy which is derived from physical processes, except the observing self. Somehow, the OS emerges from the mental activity of the brain. This idea begs so many questions. How does it emerge? I can see there is something in the Dalai Lama’s contention that previous lives are the condition for the emergence of this one. We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. Is what emerges a particular aspect of Being which takes on my distinctive characteristics? I suspect that this is nearer the truth than that each of us is absolutely unique. If we were unique how could there be empathy?

*(Deikman, Arthur J., The Observing Self: Mysticism and Psychotherapy, Beacon Press, Boston, 1982)
**(Moran G., Alternative Developmental Images in Fowler, Nipkow and Schweitzer eds., Stages of Faith and Religious Development, SCM Press, London 1991)