See previously posted question to PS Agony Aunt on the subject of “What is the difference between Soul and Spirit?“. Following is a comment form a reader, Leena El- Ali, who now lives in DC.
I’m so impressed with what you are doing. All the best! I have a couple of suggestions, which I hope you will be receptive to.
The first is to do with the soul vs. spirit definition, which has a much simpler & more direct answer (but which I’ll leave for you to discover on your own). For this & related topics, I would urge you to see www.worldwisdom.com, which will guide you to the best that has ever been written on the “perennial philosophy”, the foremost beacon of which is the late Frithjof Schuon.
The second is to do with what reincarnation really means in Hinduism & Buddhism (as opposed to us “Westerners” who mistakenly think it means the transfer of a “soul” after death to another body here in this same world). Sogyal Rinpoche sets the record straight on both reincarnation & karma – another concept the West misunderstands – once & for all in his Tibetan Book of Living & Dying, which is prefaced & has the blessing of the Dalai Lama.
I would add that on the reincarnation issue, it is important to distinguish this from the phenomenon of metempsychosis – it is the latter that takes place from Lama to Lama, namely the transfer of a body of knowledge, not of a soul. Rinpoche is emphatic that a soul departs this world on a one-way journey after death. This is moreover consistent with the mystical meaning in Islam of the Name “The Marvellous” for God – al Badee’- which means that ‘He does not repeat himself, such is His infinite imagination’.
Following on the reincarnation/metempsychosis comments: this does not preclude the possibility of a “soul” having more than one, namely this, existence. Indeed how can it be otherwise for if God is Just – “al ‘Adel” – why is one person born ugly & another beautiful, one in the lap of luxury & another in the slums with no hope of ever breaking out – unless it be that their “soul” had earned such trials elsewhere in an existence it has no recollection of?
With the later religions of the Middle East God stopped talking altogether about the multiple existences of the soul, according to some of the greatest Sufi saints, precisely because the concept had gradually degenerated over time in people’s understanding of it to it meaning that they would be coming back to THIS world. So what, one might say?
So when the unknown future became a known, imaginable future as it was now based on THIS world (so what if I come back a dog, I wouldn’t know any better so how can it hurt?), it thwarts God’s desire that we rise above ourselves, & aim at perfection, & break out of this endless cycle of death & rebirth (samsara) to not only enter the ultimate Heaven but indeed be reunified with Him.
Again, this ties in with Hindu & Buddhist teaching – not Hindus & Buddhists necessarily, as they, like us, have degenerated in their understanding of their own religion over time. But not the Rinpoches & other sages, we still have those.
It is not that God had made a mistake mentioning the multiple existence of a soul in the earlier religions – of course not, He is incapable of error by definition. But over time, here & there around the globe, He has imparted the Whole truth to us. But no one religion contains that Truth in its entirety, though all contain its essence, & none contain errors.
p.s. Frithj of Schuon is unequalled but he is also the most difficult to read, by the very nature of his being the most blessed with spiritual knowledge which is highly complex, & usually one needs to be prepared for him by the books of other writers, such as Martin Lings (try 2 small books, introductory, by Dr. Lings called Ancient Beliefs & Modern Superstitions & another called What is Sufism, though there is a slightly more sophisticated one called The 11th Hour also that pulls in Hinduism).
I do hope you find this insightful.
Hope this contributes in a good way to your worthy endeavours.
With much love as always,
I agree with you that the definition of reincarnation in the West is deficient, in a generic sense, and I agree that it does not mean complete embodiment of the soul from one body to another. It is intriguing that this weekend I was discussing with my cousin about the soul saying that it is a unique “print” of boy and soul, and it is not repeated, like a snowflake of fingerprints.
So I hope my answer on PS Agony Aunt did not come across as though I was implying that. Merely to show that it is an intriguing matter, and there is more to consciousness than we can perceive, etc. and not a recycling matter! I do appreciate your comments and will publish them in the magazine for benefits of others too.
Thank you again, deeply appreciative.