What Is the Soul? Part 3
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from All-Creatures.org


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

What Is the Soul? Part 3

My quest to understand the nature of the soul has required thinking about what is truth and how we arrive at truth. I have found that it has been helpful to consider the somewhat challenging distinction between dualism and nonduality. For those who will bear with me, I think the exploration will be worthwhile.
Thinking with dualities involves distinguishing between different options. The statement “this is a tree” is a dualistic phrase, because it distinguishes the object “tree” from everything else that does not have the properties of a tree. Similarly “God exists” is a dualistic statement, because it distinguishes existence from nonexistence. Indeed, any statement using language is necessarily dualistic. The reason is that all words are dualistic. Each word gets its meaning by virtue of how it differs from other words. A word is defined by the dualisms between what a word means and what it does not mean. A nondualistic word would have no useful meaning, because it could mean anything.
We must use dualistic language when communicating with each other. Since all statements contain dualisms, it isn’t possible to use language to communicate a nondual concept fully. Further, when listening to our inner voice, we are hearing dualisms. If there is anything that cannot be explained with dualities, our inner voice would be unable to fully articulate it. I strongly suspect that our minds have nondual thoughts, but, of course, we can’t describe these nondual thoughts with dualistic language. Most likely, any nondualistic thought we might have is pre-linguistic, that is, it occurs prior to our minds using language to describe it. Temple Grandin, in her book Animals in Translation, describes how she as an autistic person thinks with pictures rather than with words, and she offers evidence that nonhuman animals have similar thought processes. Similarly, I suspect that our minds start to formulate concepts and ideas without dualities, but we can’t stop our linguistic minds from taking over to describe experiences in dualistic, linguistic terms.
Is the soul dualistic or nondualistic? We experience our sense of being (which, evidently, is related to our soul) in a dualistic manner. Our sense of being is distinctly our own, separated in a dualistic manner from the sense of being of everyone else. Nevertheless, if we are to think of the soul as dualistic, we run into difficulties. The sense of self, which we generally understand to be tied to the soul, does not appear to be real in a physical sense. While being able to experience a sense of self appears to be linked to the physical brain, the sense itself – the experience of being – is not, as best we can tell, a real physical entity. The dualistic framework that our mind imposes on the world, which we (perhaps reasonably) believe to correlate with reality “out there,” doesn’t seem to apply well to the soul. The dualistic language that describes physical reality doesn’t seem to relate to the soul, which does not appear to exist physically. The statement, “The soul exists” has meaning only if the soul is a material entity. Perhaps the soul has a nondual nature that cannot be fully articulating with language.
For many people, a second difficulty with trying to understand the soul in dualistic terms is that this commits us to regard the soul in a dualistic, materialistic framework. If this framework were accurate, there would be no good reason to expect that a soul that depends on the body to outlast the body. We have little if any evidence about whether or not the soul outlives the body, but there is a conviction among many people that whatever created us as unique persons would not allow our personhood to be destroyed when the body dies.

What if we tried to regard the soul in a nondualistic manner? This would separate the body, which invariably dies and decomposes, from the soul. This would in turn allow for the possibility that the soul is not mortal. Next week, I will suggest that Jesus was trying to communicate a nondual worldview, and it is from this framework that, I think, we can gain insight into the nature of the soul.

Go on to: What Is the Soul? Part 4
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