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Soul and Matter

by Ken O’Donnell

Rediscover the basis for transformation: the essential difference between the physical body and the non-physical spirit.

Stepping into the dimension of the spirit is a very subtle process, mainly because the mind is locked into a vision of reality that excludes eternity: matter, the senses, and things of immediate interest so dominate my thoughts that the very nature of existence becomes distorted.  I see the world not as it is but as I am.

My life revolves within narrow limits, distinctions and desires as I play the game of labelling myself and others on the basis of purely physical characteristics.  I divide the world according to sex, race, creed, nation, age and social status and put everyone into his or her little box.  Because of such division there is conflict in and around me as I seek to defend the territory thus established—whether it is a role, a job, a position in society, the family name or a nation.  “May no-one encroach upon my territory” is an unspoken sign planted in my heart.  Taking off the glasses of what can be termed body-consciousness, through which I see and judge the world around, calls for some effort.  To experience the soul or self in its true light requires a detailed understanding of the terms and processes used.  But the very act of taking such a step opens up a whole new perspective of seeing and reacting to the world around me.

With insight into the true nature of things, the very same life that I am leading in terms of work, family and leisure, becomes the spring-board for my own transformation.  Letting go of the consciousness of the limits of this physical body and experiencing the inner self or soul is the essence of Raja Yoga.

Disorder and tension on an individual and, consequently, social level are the result of ignorance of the self and the world around.  The mind stays without rest, running, jumping and churning aimlessly, lashed by waves of feelings and emotions.  Like a spider caught in its own web, I become entangled in nets which are the consequences of my own ignorance of the fundamentals of life.

In life many happenings cannot be explained solely in material terms.  At certain points of crisis or inspiration, there are deep emotional and spiritual experiences, which separate me from the world around.  I retreat at such times—into myself, into religious or philosophical books, into rituals or symbols, in order to understand them.  I am subject to a perpetual commentary on life around me from my own thoughts, feelings and deductions.

These faculties of thinking and forming ideas, desiring and deciding (and all the different aspects, which constitute my individual personality) are non-physical, and yet real.  Indeed, anything perceptible to me comes from two sources: what is detected by the physical senses and what arises from impressions recorded on these subtle faculties.  The things that I can see, taste, hear, smell and feel, as well as the body itself, are formed of matter.  But the subtle faculties of mind, intellect and personality are manifestations of what is called consciousness.

Consciousness is another word for soul or spirit.  The soul is a subtle entity that cannot be measured by any physical process or instrumentation.  The non-material part of each one of us exists, and is in fact the true self or what we simply call I. This I or soul is perceptible only at the level of mind and intellect.


 Throughout history, scientists have built up knowledge of the laws of the physical universe on the foundation of atomic theory.  The atom is seen to be a point source of energy, and different energy levels and vibrations between neighbouring atoms give the appearance of form, colour and heat. Atomic theory appeared originally in Greece and in India.

The English word atom came from the Latin atomus, which means the twinkling of an eye and the Greek atomos meaning indivisible.   The Greek word probably derives from the Hindi atma, which means self or soul and refers to the conscious energy of the human as being an indivisible and indestructible point of non-physical light.

It has been established that the entire material world I see around me as a variety of forms and colours, light and heat, is formed of these point-sources of physical energy.  The most beautiful scene in nature is merely a pattern of energy waves and vibrations.

The sense organs select the vibrations and relay a message to the mind where all images are formed.  The eyes see some of these patterns as light forms and colours, the nose receives odours, tastes and sensations are detected and transmitted to the mind.  The human body is also a complex pattern of physical energies.  Atoms come together to form the organic structures and inorganic minerals which perform the body’s chemical interactions, thus forming the basis of the hormonal and nervous control of the body.  What I see as old or young, ugly or beautiful, male or female, is also the effect of these differing levels of physical energies.  However marvellous a machine the body may be, it is the presence of the soul which makes it function.

One of the basic differences between souls and atoms is that while souls can exercise choice of their movements, where to go and when to go somewhere, atoms cannot obviously exercise such choice.  I am a point-source of spiritual energy that has awareness of its own existence.  Atoms do not.


The word atma has three specific meanings—I, the living being and the dweller.  Within this one word we get an insight into different aspects of the self: I, the living being, am the dweller within this physical body.  The answer to the question, “Who m I?” becomes clear.  I am the soul, the living and intelligent inner being.  I inhabit and give life to the body.  The body is the means through which I, the soul, express myself and experience the world around me.  Instead of answering the question as to my identity by giving the name of the body, the job designation, nationality or gender, the real inner self can simply say, “I am the soul; I have a body.”


As energy, the soul has within itself qualities that are both masculine and feminine.  Though the soul is certainly affected by the gender of its body in the form of conditioning and social influences, those aspects are relatively superficial.  The real self has no gender.  The ancient Egyptians were strongly aware of this deep truth, as shown in the following excerpt of a conversation in the Egyptian Book of the Dead between Isis and her son Horus:

Horus: How are souls born, male or female?

Isis: Souls, my son Horus, are all equal in nature…There are none among them either men or women; this distinction only exists between bodies, and not between incorporeal beings…


The following words are essentially synonyms for the word soul: Spirit – Being – Consciousness – Inner self – Anima/animus – Life energy – Essence – I


The two most common words in most languages are probably I and my.  Our personal worlds almost revolve exclusively around them.  I have to understand their deeper implications if I want to redesign my limits.

I normally use the word my to refer to all the things that are not me—my hand, my face, my leg or even my brain, my mind, my personality and so on.  The next time I catch myself saying my soul, I could perhaps remember that I can’t really say my soul if  I  am the soul.

The difference between I and my is the same as that between the soul and the body. The example of a knife illustrates this.  I can use it to cut a tomato or to stab someone.  The knife neither decides nor experiences, but can be washed easily under the tap.  Now look at the fingers which held the knife. They neither decide nor experience the actions.  They too can be washed under the tap.  It’s easy to realize that the knife is an instrument, but it is more difficult to realize that the fingers are instruments too, and not only the fingers but also the arms.  The legs are instruments for walking, the eyes for seeing, the ears for hearing, the mouth for speaking, breathing and tasting, the heart for pumping blood and oxygen around the body, and so on.  Even the brain is like computer used to express all thought, word and action programs through the body and to experience the results.  If every physical part of the body is an instrument, who or what is it that is using it?

Very simply it is I, the self, the soul.  The soul uses the word I for itself and the word my when referring to the body: my hand, my mouth, my brain and so on.  I am different from my body.

Through the consciousness of my, I have spread myself far and wide—not only with regard to the body and inner faculties, but in relation to possessions and relationships: my house, my car, my son and so on.

With time, all of these things which I try to hold to myself slip through my fingers. I realize their temporary nature and, for want of available alternatives, I try to clutch onto them even more and so develop attachments and dependencies.  While this identification persists, my innate qualities (i.e. what’s really mine), are out of reach.  When I assume my true identity as a spiritual being, then I also immediately have access to the love, peace, happiness and power that are part of me.

If I make a list of all the factors which create limits for me, it would probably include things like age, sex, health, family, profession, defects and weaknesses.  By claiming ownership of all these through the word my, I set the boundaries within which I try to operate my life.  Having set up my own fences, whenever sorrow appears, one or the other of these becomes the unwitting scapegoat.

Instead of pointing the finger of blame or complaining, I can adopt a more positive approach.  I can be more realistic and accept them not as limiting factors but as instruments through which I can improve my experience of life.  This same list can be the spring-board for my transformation and freedom.

I can make full use of the adult state or the energy of youth, as the case may be.  I can take advantage of the positive characteristics of my gender while appreciating those of the other.  My family and professional life can be experienced on another more elevated level.  I can observe in my weaknesses and defects how much I have to learn about myself.  The problem is not in the list of factors but in the consciousness I have towards them.  It is a question of two words—I and my.


The dualities of matter/anti-matter, sentient/insentient, physical/spiritual can be understood easily with the awareness of the mechanism by which human consciousness operates through the body.  The soul as three basic functions to perform: to give and maintain life, to express and experience its own unique life and to receive the rewards or fruits of past actions performed in previous existences.


When I look in a mirror, I don’t see my reflection but that of my body.  The soul is actually looking through the windows of the eyes from some point inside the head.  The sentient functions are controlled and monitored through the nervous and hormonal systems from a particular point in the area of the brain housing the thalamus, hypothalamus, pituitary and pineal glands.  This region is known as the seat of the soul or the third eye.  The connection between the physical and the non-physical is by the medium of thought energy.

When viewed from the front, this region appears to be between and slightly above the line of the eyebrows.  Many religions, philosophies and esoteric studies place great importance on the third eye or eye of the mind.  The Hindus use a tilak, a dot in red or sandalwood paste in the middle of the forehead.  Christians also make the sign of the cross with their thumb in this region.  The Muslims also touch that spot in their traditional salute.  When anyone of any culture makes a foolish mistake, the person instinctively brings his hand to that spot.  After all, it’s not the body that makes the mistake, but the thinking being that is operating the body from that particular point.  As the brain is the control centre for all of the various processes of the body—metabolism, the nervous, endocrine, immunological and lymphatic systems—it makes sense that the inner person be located somewhere in the brain.

Just as the driver in a car sits behind the wheel with the steering wheel in his hands, the soul sits in a specific point in the centre of the brain near the pineal body.  This is important to know for meditation purposes because it is the place to which attention is first directed in the effort to concentrate the thoughts: I am the soul, a tiny point of conscious light energy centred in the spot between the brows.

Whenever I say that I feel something within me, pointing to the heart, obviously it’s not something within the chest.  The physical heart is just an incredibly sophisticated pump for blood.  It can even be transplanted!  Within the real me, the living and thinking being, there is a centre of emotions, moods and feelings.

The sensations that I very obviously feel around the body are due to the total interconnectedness that exists between the soul and the matter that it is inhabiting. For example, when I am afraid of, say, a dog attacking me, the whole system is activated. From the control centre in the middle of the brain, the soul sends messages out all around the body.  Adrenaline is liberated to give extra strength to the muscles.  The heart starts to pump faster, the breathing becomes shallower and the palms begin to sweat.  While it may seem that all the different organs have autonomous sensing and feeling systems, the whole operation is so split-second fast that the co-ordination of sensations and responses by the soul from its own special cockpit in the centre of the brain passes unnoticed.  In this way, if I feel something in my heart for or from something or someone, it’s really being processed by me, the thinking being, and then reflected in my heart.


All of the characteristics present in the soul are subtle or non-dimensional in nature—thoughts, feelings, emotions, decision-making power, personality traits and so on.  If they are all without size, then it is reasonable to conclude that the conscious energy from which they emerge is also size-less.  For this simple reason it is eternal.  Something which has no physical size cannot be destroyed.

As a soul I am neither diffused throughout the whole body nor am I an invisible or ethereal duplicate of the physical body.  Even though this subtle form exists, it is the effect of the soul being in the physical form and not the soul itself.  Just as the sun is in one place and yet its light radiates throughout the solar system, the soul is in one place and its energy permeates the whole body.

To express something that exists but has no physical dimensions we can use the word point.  The soul, therefore, is an infinitesimal point of conscient light.  For the sake of having in image to fix our minds on we can say it’s star-like in appearance.  In deep meditation I can perceive the soul as an infinitesimal point of non-physical light surrounded by an oval-shaped aura.


Everything I see has what can be called its acquired value and its innate or inherent value.  The acquired value is that which it has picked up directly by association throughout its existence.  The innate value is what it always is irrespective of its appearances.  For example, the acquired value of gold changes with the fluctuations of the market place.  Its real or innate value is that it’s one of the most beautiful of minerals.  It is extremely ductile and malleable and so on.  If I were asked about the main qualities present in a harmonious relationship with someone, I could immediately reply love, patience, tolerance, understanding, empathy and so on.  How do I know this?  Is it purely from experience?  Can I remember having really experienced any of these qualities in any relationship fully and constantly?   Probably not.

In that case, where does this urge for rightness come from if not from an innate sense of what is true and good?  How can I judge or perceive the level of peace, love or happiness in a projection of these same qualities that are within me?  It’s as if they join together as a subtle ruler for measuring what goes on around me, so that necessary internal adjustments can be made according to the situation.  If  it  is  good  or  bad, peaceful  or  confused,  my  own  innate  qualities  at  least advise me as to what is going on.

The problem is that they are in a latent state and do not translate very easily into action.  Though these qualities are the basis of my ideals, when I’m in a weakened state I am unable to bring them into practice at well, according to the demands of the moment.  They need to be empowered.

One of the most immediate benefits of the practice of meditation then, is to improve the functioning of this inner ruler.  My innate qualities are just waiting for a change to manifest themselves.  Like a light bulb without current, the possibility of lighting up my qualities exists, but they need to be connected to a source of power.  This is exactly what meditation brings.

Innate attributes are properties that are immutable.  It’s impossible to take the blue out of the sky or sweetness out of honey.  Blueness and sweetness are part of the unchanging make-up of sky and honey.

In the same way, in spite of whatever I have become as a human individual, my deep innate attributes are still the same ones that have always existed in me.  It’s my inner core of qualities that in fact inspires me to seek the ideal in whatever I do.  If someone were to ask me a list of qualities that are important in a relationship between two people, things like respect, honesty, sincerity, openness and so on would automatically spring to mind. Even if I have never experienced them in living memory, I still seek them.  The impulse to seek and to dream comes from my own store of innate attributes that is just waiting to be found and brought into practical activity.

The innate qualities of the soul are those that are the most fundamental. They are so basic that they themselves are the basis of all virtues and powers.   

* Peace      * Truth        *Happiness    * Love        * Purity      *Power    * Balance

They are like primary colours, and virtues are secondary. Just as green is made of blue and yellow, virtues such as patience, tolerance, courage, sweetness and soon are compounds of these basic qualities.  Some examples:

        Patience – peace, love and power

        Courage – power and truth

        Discernment – truth, peace and balance

The objective of Raja Yoga meditation is to empower my own innate attributes so that my behaviour can be naturally virtuous.

Extracted from Pathways to Higher Consciousness by Ken O’Donnell, published by the Brahma Kumaris Information Services Ltd, and available from

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