Lila Kimhi, a senior Dharma teacher in Israel, visited me at home for a few days in July 2022. We set up the camcorder and audio with Lila asking me questions. Otter AI then transcribed the audio into text. I then polished and edited to make suitable for reading. The text made around 10,000 words. Here is the text for the first 1500 words. I will post on the blog other sections in the weeks ahead.
LK: Good morning, Christopher. Yes, it’s a delight to be here. Your living room has heard so much Dharma. I can almost feel it in the walls. This morning, I wanted to ask you about the relationship between spirit and soul. When we talk about spirituality, we tend to refer to the higher realms. We find the deep end of dharma in not self, in emptiness. It can even become a spiritual bypass away from life. Jungian way talks a lot about the soul. This direction goes to the roots, where the pregnancy takes place in the dark, as our beloved poet Rilke comments. What would you say from your experience? How to marry the spirit and soul? What is the relationship between spirit, the high, and soul, the deep?
CT: The language of the spirit, of the spiritual, and the soul is a projection onto an object of interest. It is often the language form of location, upper and lower, higher and deep. This exerts on the spiritual a sense of limitation by positing it in the location of above and beyond or in the deep. The spiritual has a broad sense. We open our eyes; something precious touches us. A spiritual experience. We listen to a piece of music, from rock to classic. The response in our being touches something spiritual. We read a poem, a paragraph in a novel or experience the spiritual in a meditation, and more. These experiences reveal a constant confirmation of something non-consumerist, non-possessiveness, non-ownership, which shows a sense of the spiritual.
One tragedy of consumer culture shows the death of the spiritual, a death through alienation of it from daily life. We can also include transcendental experiences, rare and beyond the normal. Let us keep open to such experiences. Some might use the language of God as an expression of the beyond. Out of the body experiences, profound experiences, meditation, being in the nature, ayahuasca and more reveal the vast field of the spiritual.
The language of the soul has become a sensitive word in the Buddhist tradition. There are historical reasons for this. The Buddha protested about the use of the word soul to indicate a specific, permanent entity residing in a human being which is unchangeable. Upon death, this soul will migrate out of the body into another life, or the soul will become one with God. Atman, the true self or soul, will unite with God – like the wave belongs to the ocean. The Buddha must have shaken his head in disbelief at this point.
There is no thing or enduring essence in the whole mind, body consciousness indicating anything permanent, eternal, and unchanging. Everything remains subjected to conditions to arise in the first place, to stay for a period and end.
I like the language of soul. I think soul offers a contribution in language and in feeling tone. The soul can give support to us. As you pointed out, we can get in touch with it.
We meet a person. We say, What a beautiful soul. This is the language of the soul. I don’t like it limited to the deep. Soul is the language of the whole person. Otherwise, we have duality. I’m in touch with the soul, and then I’m out of touch. I’m in touch with my deep meditation, then I’m out of touch, I’m in touch with non self and then in touch with self, with ego. We have a whole world of soul music. Soul reveals what is heartfelt and creative. We experience an offering emerging out of the music, or the musician. People sing with soul and play with soul. I like the language of the spiritual, and I like the language of the soul. I keep the two words to a broad vision.
A further word on the spiritual. A week or 10 days ago, in a Skype meeting, a dedicated yogi, who knows the Dharma teachings of freedom to explore, said to me: I do my yoga. I’ve benefited a lot from psychotherapy. I join meditation retreats. I spend time in nature. I engage in reflections and love poetry and the arts. I have all this exposure to such diversity. I didn’t seem to integrate it, to bring it all together.
I said: What the hell do you want to waste you’re trying time trying to do that for? Why should different explorations have to integrate together? This is a recipe for conflict, confusion or doubt. Let things be. See what’s useful and draw upon that practise. You do not have to put any pressure on yourself. Stay free to explore. Don’t bring things together including different expressions of the spiritual.
LK. I like it. I will reflect afterwards. Let’s treat soul and spirit not as an object or an entity, but as a reference point. Some might say there is no unitive view, no integrated view; everything has a light and a shadow to it. If one finds herself or himself immersed in the Buddha-Dharma, one can go to the deeper, higher. Let’s talk about not settling for emptiness. The shadow of emptiness might be alienation or shying away from life.
The Buddha spoke about going from home to homelessness. We could translate this as a step towards non-being. Even though he said being and non-being are two conditions affecting the human being. The soul aspect can lead to attachment to self. What’s your response?
CT. Just to pick up on two or three of the points. There is no light and dark to anything. It’s not possible.
LK. Explain please.
CT. If anything, inwardly or outwardly, had light, or dark, to it, that is how it is. We could do nothing about it. There’s no light and dark. This is the excess of imagination that engages in projection. Light and dark have no self-existence.
LK. Light and dark then depend on the view, precisely like anything else?
CT. Light and dark shows metaphorical language, imprisoned in such a way to end up with a substantial reality. There is the struggle to find the light and dissolve the dark. Let me give you a slightly amusing example. I’m sitting here in the living room a week ago. I’m using Zoom with the Sangha in Australia and India. Lo-and-behold, the sun bursts through the window in this room at 5 am. The sun shone strongly through the room on onto my face. I could not see the computer screen. Leonard Cohen said, There’s a crack in everything. That’s where the light gets in. In my situation, the light was a problem. It is a lovely poetic phrase and his most famous one liner. The view here is the opposite. The light is the problem. I had to pull the curtains over to block out the light. Light and dark are relative because of the view. There is no light and dark independent of the view.
LK. We talk about the benefits of the night, or the dark night of the soul. These are views. Still, we cannot have a depth in the richness of experience without using these similes.
CT. How to live a life without being trapped in metaphors, similes, analogies and beautiful stories. We need them – to a point. Teachings go beyond the perpetuation of what the mind makes. We engage in the unmaking of the mind, not the making of continuity of the mind.
To take another example. You’ve referred to the Buddha’s encouragement to go from home to homelessness. As centuries went by, the homeless way of life became an established form in the Buddhist tradition. initially, the homeless wanderers with the Buddha did not wear robes. Many of us, including you and me, have had plenty of periods in our life of intentional homelessness. We went to India, went on retreat. We moved backwards and forwards between home and homelessness. That’s one of the great benefits of the culture in the times that we live in. That wasn’t possible for many until recent generations. The householder/home owner becomes an identity and an obstruction to liberation.
I would never consider myself a home-owner/a house-holder – no matter how many times the construction of such an identity arises in my consciousness. We are sitting in this living room. This is a homeless situation. I am a temporary sort of tenant, a regular visitor under this roof. I’m happy here. I love the house. You said you see I take care of it. This house does not belong to me. It is not mine. It is not about who I am. Thank goodness.
End of Part One.