The Zen of Soulfulness

The Zen of Soulfulness March 8, 2018




Been thinking about “soul,” particularly what soul might be if there is no little part of the person that is unconnected to the body and is just passing through…

I have a view on this. Soul is life. Soul is breath.

And. And I think this is important.

Soul, contrary to what you may have heard is what Zen is all about.

I suggest there’s a way through the hurt and confusion of our lives, to something more healthful and beautiful and healing than considering soul as something other than some thing that occupies our bodies like a parasite, ultimately unconnected to the hurt and joy of our existence.


I have on occasion referred to myself as a pseudo-Jungian, I’ve never in fact had much of a taste for Carl Jung. I think while he was some kind of artist of the heart, he liked to pretend his work was science. And that just annoyed me. Close to endlessly…

But, his disciple James Hillman, well, that turned out to be another deal, entirely. And that’s archetypal psychology. I notice Hillman died just a few days ago, and I consider that to be the passing of one of my teachers. I’m particularly taken with what he considered the soul to be for someone who doesn’t think there’s that parasite inside us just waiting for the moment it can break free.


And. You may have noticed how spirit and self, and sometimes mind are, in practice, in our times, all taken as synonyms for soul. Actually this is a problem. Hillman suggested this represents a reductionism within our current culture leading to a simple Cartesian divide “between outer tangible reality and inner states of mind, or between body and a fuzzy conglomerate of mind, psyche, and spirit.”

Hillman goes on to suggest our more natural “threefold division has collapsed into two, because soul has become identified with spirit. This happens because we are materialists, so that everything that is not physical and bodily is one undifferentiated cloud…”

For Hillman spirit is “arrow straight, knife sharp, powder dry…” For him it is yang to the yin of the soul, which is found in “natural urges, memories, fantasies, and fears.” Soul is about “the realm of experience and (of) reflections within experience.” I find this is a key to another tradition important to me, and it’s teaching of the “three bodies of the Buddha,” which are the world of form, the world of unity, and a third. Let’s run through them, quickly.

The first body is that of form, of history. We usually get this part. It’s what we live with all our lives, with all its aches and pains. Think of this ordinary sense of the way things are with everything separate and unique, as the part of the iceberg above the water. Another part of what we are, the second body, floating in the depths beneath the surface, is that place where all things collapse into one. In many ways that place is the realm of spirit. Here spirit is the great intuition of our ultimate unity.

But, we can’t leave it there. This binary view of separate bodies and one body isn’t quite right. Traditionally the third body is the place of rule breaking, of magic and related mysteries. I suggest we can encounter this place of imagination run wild, of fantasy, of dream, as the realm of soul. It is dark and rich and fertile, it is the seedbed of possibilities.

Soulfulness. The third body of the Buddha is soul. The practice is soulfulness…

A pointer for those who want to find the purpose of their lives. And, for me, particularly for those walking the Zen way.

Soulfulness is the koan realized.

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