As recent posts touch on the relationship between science and religion I couldn’t resist republishing a sequence of posts that tackle that issue as part of the mind/brain debate, another issue very close to my heart. It is in four parts. This is the second of two that will be posted over this weekend. The other two will be posted next week.
At the close of the previous post, we saw that Hatcher’s explanation of his position in Close Connections so far had paved the way for a number of quotations from the Bahá’í literature. I have been familiar with these quotes ever since I wrestled with the discrepancy between what I had been taught as an agnostic clinical psychologist in training and what my newly found spiritual path was telling me. They are central to the issues under discussion and were extremely useful to me in my search for a deeper understanding.
First of all he quotes the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (page 196):
Man has also spiritual powers: imagination, which conceives things; thought, which reflects upon realities; comprehension, which comprehends realities; memory, which retains whatever man imagines, thinks and comprehends.
Hatcher then goes on to allude to a problem that is still challenging to grapple with – what are we talking about when we say ‘soul’ and what does it mean when we say ‘spirit’? He quotes the helpful words of Shoghi Effendi (page 206):
What the Bahá’ís do believe though is that we have three aspects of our humanness, so to speak, a body, a mind and and an immortal identity – soul or spirit. We believe the mind forms a link between the soul and the body, and the two interact with each other.
A translation of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá seems to clarify this in a further quotation (page 208): ‘. . . . the soul is the intermediary between the body and spirit.’ This carries an implication that there is a strong link between mind and soul, even if they are not identical. There is another useful quotation from a book which pulls together His responses to questions that people put to Him (page 209):
. . . . the mind is the power of the human spirit. Spirit is the lamp; mind is the light which shines from the lamp. Spirit is the tree, and the mind is the fruit. Mind is the perfection of the spirit and is its essential quality, as the sun’s rays are the essential necessity of the sun.
This indicates the closeness of the correspondence.
Hatcher spells out the importance for him of the distinction between soul and spirit (page 209):
For our purposes, this distinction will assume more importance as we elaborate the two methodologies by which the spirit operates as the conduit for information channelled to the conscious soul. Hence the distinction between soul and spirit is relevant to our study.
I have to confess I got a bit lost at this point and still am. I am not completely sure whether Hatcher is using ‘conscious soul’ as meaning the same as ‘mind’ in the quote immediately above his words. I am assuming at this point that he is, but that assumption will shortly be severely tested.
Before he deals with the two methodologies there is a bit more ground to cover in the translation of the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (page 213):
For the mind to manifest itself, the human body must be whole; and a sound mind cannot be but in a sound body, whereas the soul dependeth not upon the body. It is through the power of the soul that the mind comprehendeth, imagineth and exerteth its influence, while the soul is a power that is free.
As Hatcher points out later, this is why the Baha’i Writings place such emphasis on the avoidance of drugs and alcohol, both of which cause a degree of damage to the brain, the organ which even at its best will struggle to decode the complex information reaching it from the spiritual realm.
And now for the two methodologies (page 215):
The mind infers or induces the general from the particular and the unknown from the known. This is what we commonly allude to as the scientific method. However, the soul also has as its disposal methods for acquiring information about reality directly from the spiritual realm – through prayer and reflection, meditation, dreams, intuition, inspiration, and so forth.
It’s important to note, though, that (page 216) ‘. . . regardless from what source information derives, it ends up in the same “place” . . . . . – it ends up in our conscious mind.’
At this point Hatcher summarises what he feels we have learnt so far before moving onto even deeper levels (page 218):
Between the human soul and the human temple is the intermediary of the human spirit, which employs the medium (perfect mirror or transceiver) of the rational faculty or the mind to bring about patterns of action that enable the daily life of the individual to demonstrate an ever more refined spiritual or ‘inner’ life.
I have refrained from bringing in other references that Hatcher makes to such terms as ‘rational soul’ and ‘common faculty’ as they would have complicated things further in ways that would have extended this discussion unduly without adding much to its essence. For instance, he explains at the end of the paragraph discussing the ‘rational soul’ (pages 207-208) that: ”Abdu’l-Bahá sometimes employs the term spirit to allude to the human soul, while at other times he may use the same term to refer to the power that animates the soul and emanates from it.’ Later he writes, of the ‘common faculty,’ (page 238):
The ‘common faculty’ thus translates metaphysical ideas into a form that the physical brain can comprehend and subsequently translate into forms of action.
This is not a concept that I have met anywhere else and addresses a problem that I do not think is widely recognised. We know next to nothing about how this ‘common faculty’ might perform its role. There has to be a bridge, though, between the immaterial and the material. It is not clear yet by what methods we might come to a better understanding of how it works.
Setting those aside for the purpose of keeping this review within manageable bounds, if I can summarise my problem at this point it is that we have met, in the last few paragraphs, the following models:
- Body (the physical) – Mind (the intermediary) – Soul (the metaphysical): Shoghi Effendi’s explanation.
- Body (the physical) – Soul (the intermediary) – Spirit (the metaphysical): ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s explanation.
- Mind (an emanation) – Spirit (the immaterial source of the mind): ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s response to a question,
- Body (the physical) – Conscious Soul (the intermediary) – Spirit (the metaphysical): Hatcher’s first formulation.
- Body (the physical) – Mind (means of inference from specifics) – Soul (direct access to the spiritual): Hatcher’s second formulation.
- Human temple (the physical) – Human Spirit using the Mind (the intermediary) – Human Soul: Hatcher’s final formulation.
So my provisional assumption that Hatcher is using ‘soul’ and ‘mind’ as roughly equivalent is not entirely consistent with his usage overall. It may well be that I need to re-read these sections of the book yet again, for the third time, in the hope that I will discover that the confusion is entirely mine. However, I do not have the time (or do I mean the motivation?) to do that at present and I suspect that the fault lies at least in part with the shifting sands of the terminology used here. I find the reasons the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, gave for his clarification quoted earlier most helpful in this situation. (To be fair, Hatcher also quotes it but I feel loses hold of its core warning on this issue as his discussion progresses.)
When studying at present, in English, the available Bahá’í writings on the subject of body, soul and spirit, one is handicapped by a certain lack of clarity because not all were translated by the same person, and also there are, as you know, still many Bahá’í writings untranslated. But there is no doubt that spirit and soul seem to have been interchanged in meaning sometimes; soul and mind have, likewise, been interchanged in meaning, no doubt due to difficulties arising from different translations.
I think we basically have to leave it there for now, at least as far as the Bahá’í explanation is concerned. I will pick up the threads of this theme, as far as that is possible, in the next post. The picture below will be the link.