Most of us eventually ask those eternal questions: Who am I? From where have I come, and where am I going? Is life the beginning and the end? Is there such a thing we call the soul? The answers come in many forms, from many minds, and in many languages. An appeal to modern science only leaves us in despair for an answer. So it is to human thought and experience, rationally structured by the mind, that our present inquiry will give us a clearer understanding of the concept of the soul.
Even as human experience affirms the notion of the soul, so too is it the ground for denying the existence of the soul. The latter view has an able spokesperson in the name of David Hume, an eighteenth century philosopher. He denies that we have any idea of the self as distinct from our perceptions. As he says: "All our perceptions are distinguishable and separable, and we can discover no self apart from or underlying these perceptions. The problem about the substance of the soul had, therefore, better be dismissed. For we can make no sense of it." 15 If we accept Hume's notion of the soul, then this inquiry could go no further. It seems to be true that sense experience gives us no evidence to establish the existence of something as intangible as the soul. And yet human experience is as rich as it is varied.
Although most of us share in Hume's world of sense experience, there is another world of human experience that very few of us share in. This is the world of the mystic the saint the seer. Their experience is attained by withdrawing from the world of sense into the self; it is to quit the outer world for the inner reality of the sanctuary of the soul. It is here that one finds wisdom, that is, knowledge of the divine.
Plotinus is often called the Father of Western mysticism. He attempted to understand his inner experiences by formulating a doctrine of the soul based on sound reasoning, and critical argument. These inner experiences or mystical experiences seem as rare to Western minds as they are common to the mystics of the East. The great difficulty in either tradition is the problem of articulating the experience in terms of a meaningful explanation. It is often claimed that mystical experiences by virtue of their nature are indescribable, but this is not so, for Plotinus has left a philosophy rich in description. What he came to experience within himself became the means of describing the architecture of the universe that is but a reflection or image of the divine within every human soul. On the other hand, the Easterners have formulated various religious doctrines to account for much of the same phenomena.
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