Question: What is the difference between the soul and the soul body? (Vol. II, #159)
Answer: This is one of the most intimate questions which has ever been asked, and it cannot be answered directly, but only by illustration. As children learn certain intellectual truths beyond their grasp by a pictorial illustration, infant humanity learned deep religious truths through myths and allegories.
The vital body is composed of four ethers. The two lower ethers are particular avenues of growth and propagation. In the vital body of a person whose chief concern is with the physical life, who lives as it were, entirely for the sensual enjoyment, these two ethers predominate, whereas in a person who is rather indifferent to the material enjoyment of life, but who seeks to advance spiritually, the two higher ethers form the bulk of the vital body. They are then what Paul calls the "soma psuchicon," or soul body, which remains with man during his experiences in purgatory and the First Heaven where the essence of the life lived is extracted. This extract is the soul, whose two chief qualities are conscience and virtue. The feeling of conscience is the fruit of mistakes in past Earth lives, which will in future guide the Spirit aright and teach it how to avoid similar missteps. Virtue is the essence of all that was good in former lives, and acts as an encouragement to keep the Spirit ardently striving upon the path of aspiration. In the Third Heaven this amalgamates thoroughly with the Spirit and becomes a part thereof. Thus in the course of his lives man becomes more soulful, and the soul qualities of conscience and virtue become more strongly operative as guiding principles of conduct.
But we can perhaps gain a better idea of the difference between soul and soul body if we consider the allegory contained in the ancient Atlantean Mystery Temple, the Tabernacle in the Wilderness. This God given symbol was furnished with all the implements of soul growth necessary for the development of man. Among them there was in the sanctuary the Table of Shewbread. Upon this table there were twelve little cakes made into two piles of six each and on each pile there was a little heap of incense. Now will you remember, please, that the grain from which these cakes were made was given by God to man, but it was necessary for man to plant it, to till the soil, to water and to nourish the tiny plants. He must also harvest them, thresh the grain and crush it into flour. He must knead the dough and bake the bread before he could bring it into the temple and have bread to shew as product of this labor with the God given grain.
This God given grain represents opportunity. Twelve kinds of opportunities come to man each year through the twelve departments of life represents by the twelve houses in his horoscope. But many may neglect these opportunities, as the ancient Israelites might have thrown their grain in a corner and let it lie. If so, he will be like the servant with one talent who went and buried it. On the other hand, if he tilled the soil and nourished the grain of opportunity for service in the Lord's vineyard, then there will be an increase which he may harvest, and prepare to bring into the Lord's temple at the proper time to show that he had faithfully cultivated every opportunity for service, and made the most thereof according to ability.
We note, however, that these twelve cakes of shew bread were not themselves offered up to the Lord, but on each pile of six there was a little heap of incense which represented the essence of the shew bread. By analogy this is the essence of our service; you will understand why by another little illustration found in the experience we go through to gain physical faculties.
As you remember, during the time when we went to school and learned to write, we made most awkward motions and contortions with the arm and body in order to form letters on the paper. We blotted our copy books so that they looked most hideous, and our atttempt at writing was anything but beautiful. Nevertheless, by degrees we acquired the faculty, and in the course of years we forgot all about the experience of those early days when we endeavored to cultivate it. But this is the point: if we had not gone through the cumbersome experience we would not now possess the faculty of writing, and another point is this: after we have acquired the faculty it is unnecessary to remember the cumbersome methods of its acquirement. Similarly also, the coarse physical substance, the grain of the shewbread, was not offered to the Lord, but only the essence or aroma thereof, the faculty of skilled service, the benevolence which we have cultivated in doing good to others.
The two little piles of incense were therefore taken to the altar of incense in front of the second veil and lighted. There ascends as cloud of smoke in the outer or eastward part of the temple, but only the aroma, pure and free from smoke, penetrates through the veil into the inner sanctuary. By analogy therefore we may liken the shewbread to the experiences which we go through in serving and helping others; the frankincense which is on top of the pile of shewbread may be likened to the essence of sympathy and helpfulness which we extract from these services, the soul growth contained therein. This is seen about us as a golden aura which constitutes the soul body. But though this glorious vehicle is made of the two finest ethers, it could not by any process amalgamate with the Spirit itself, any more than the incense can burn without emitting smoke and leaving behind a residue of ashes. Therefore by the spiritual alchemy of the evening exercise of Retrospection, or in the natural process after death, this soul body is burned without the veil (in the First Heaven), and the aroma or the soul penetrates the veil to the very innermost sanctuary as pabulum for the Spirit.
Thus the Spirit carries with itself the aroma of all its past lives. A younger soul which has had only a few existences from which to draw experiences and soul growth, is cruel and selfish for it has not performed service to others. But one who has gone through many lives, who has learned by sorrow and suffering to feel and to do for others, responds instantly to the cry of pain, because the soul in him or her is the quintessence of service and therefore always ready to aid others regardless of personal comforts and enjoyment.
This article was adapted from "The Rosicrucian Philosophy in Questions and Answers, Vol. II," by Max Heindel.