Souls, Sins and Saints
Having grown up in a very Catholic environment there was lots of talk about God and souls and sins and saints. As a child trying to make sense of these ideas, I had the idea that the soul, and all of us had one, got blemishes on it because of the sins we committed. The soul, I pictured, as some sort of pure white circle and the sins were black or dirty marks on it. The problem was that the soul was not something I could see or identify so I never knew what state of cleanliness it was in. It was all guess work. I suppose I thought, that since it was adults who were saying these things, they must know all about it and that somehow I too would become privy to these secrets when I reached adulthood. Well, I passed puberty, got married and had babies and was still none the wiser about souls and sins. Actually, to look at my beautiful newborn baby and to think in terms of it having been born into original sin was nothing short of offensive to me. In fact, it all seemed so irrelevant that I forgot all about it but I did take to reading psychology and philosophy and self-help books.
After a long trawl through other religions, Buddhism, Vedanta, Sufism and modern spiritual teachers I came to see what what we nowadays refer to as ego is in fact sin. The original meaning of the word “sin” is “to be off the mark”. So, the question arises, “what mark?”
Buddhism offers Enlightenment as the mark, Vedanta offers Self-realisation as the mark and Catholicism offers Sainthood as the mark. The main point is that all of them offer a goal to be reached. All of these religions or teachings agree that becoming free of sin or ego is not easy but that it is achievable and all of them offer a method by which to do it.
To be born into original sin means to be born into an egoic world. This is true. In order to survive and thrive a child must develop an ego. It is the inbuilt survival mechanism of the human species.
What goes wrong for us humans is that the survival mechanism grows out of control. It becomes cancerous. It goes from simple survival to wanting to be king of the world. Well, maybe not king of the world but top dog in its environment.
The business of being top dog requires that others put our wants before theirs, that we get attention and recognition, that we get the loins share of whatever is going, in short; that the world serves our desires. Since everyone else is in on the same game, we have learned to make overt desires covert and this negotiation between individuals all trying to meet their hidden agenda is what socialisation is about. In the process our own desires become hidden from ourselves.
It’s a complicated game and it is the root cause of our personal suffering. Sin is suffering.
The spiritual path as recommended by all genuine teachings is one of removing the cancerous growth of the ego, not the whole thing. What is essential of the survival mechanism remains intact and functions better. The needs will be met but the wants will be gone.
So, getting back to the start of the article, when the wants are gone what is left is what is referred to as a saint. All religions recognise this “condition”. It has nothing to do with being a martyr or a miracle worker or supporter of some organisation, such as a church.
To be without sin means to have removed the cancerous bloatedness of the survival function within you. What is left is simple, pure, natural, loving, consciousness. This indeed is the soul. We do not have a soul, we are a soul, a direct manifestation of Consciousness or God. Since what we are is a soul we can never see it. An eye cannot see itself. The soul, us, has no boundaries, unlike my childhood notion of it being something that could be contained within a circle, no matter how large.
When the bloated ego is no longer running the show of our lives we are prone to being shown our relationship with God or Consciousness or our Source, and this revelation changes the nature of our understanding of life. Death is no longer the great fear that it was. As Dante said “Death has died.” Fear has fled. Life is Love.
One point I want to make in this article is that if you have been brought up in one of the traditional religions and have been given teachings as a child, chances are that you interpreted them with a child’s mind and this may be as much a hindrance as a help to your understanding of what spiritual development is about.
Nowadays, I see that all the major religions are talking about the same thing, the potential inherent in a human life, it’s just that they are using different imagery and language. Learning to decode the language and making it pertinent to your own life is what it is all about.