Nature and evolution of the soul
The idea according to which not all shall attain enlightenment, and we are in fact dealing with the evolutionary principles that do not have a predefined or certain ending, is deeply unpopular in the oriental circles, probably because the people who choose to follow the eastern religions in the West opt for them as an alternative to the Abrahamic monotheistic religions such as Christianity, where the central theme is exactly the possibility of hell and uncertainty of salvation. If someone found that to be extreme or nonsensical, he usually found some niche New Age philosophy based on Vedanta or Buddhism, according to which all beings in their essential nature are the eternal and perfect atman, or, alternatively, where Buddhahood is inherent to all beings, and all beings will eventually attain enlightenment.
I’m not saying that the eastern religions don’t teach that; indeed, Vedanta teaches that individual beings are but a transitory illusion, and the only truth is atman, while Buddhism indeed has significant branches teaching how Buddhahood is inherent to the beings, and that it only needs to be activated by removing the impurities; there are folk tales from Buddhist traditions according to which Buddha said that even Devadatta (portrayed in those tales as a great scoundrel and malefactor) will eventually attain Buddhahood. Those tales, combined with the stories about the Bodhisattvas and their limitless compassion, saturate Mahayana Buddhism, and it is understandable why this narrative is usually accepted beyond doubt. According to this narrative, a being in its original nature is perfectly pure, and everything that is commonly perceived as spiritual filth, low inclinations etc., is interpreted as karmic impurity, which exists on the lower, external part of the soul, closer to the sphere of choices and activities than the inner nature. As much as this narrative exists in Buddhism on the level of later interpretations and transformations of the original teaching, in Vedanta it exists as the central theory.
Despite all that, this narrative is incorrect. Vedanta and Mahayana are in error, and the original Buddhism is much closer to reality.
In the original Buddhism, there is no such thing as the “original core of the being”. It is a later concept. In the original Buddhism, karma is not the “external layer” of energy, accumulated by activities and superimposed on the true being. There is no concept of the “original being” or soul that exists separately from karma: the soul consists of karma, soul is a name we have for the aggregation of karmic substance, produced by choices and activities through many incarnations.
This is a radical concept, and a more difficult one for the Westerners to understand, than the concepts of Vedanta (dual or nondual), because it is incompatible with the Christian concept of soul, which also functions according to the concept of soul on one layer, and its actions and their consequences on another. On the other hand, the Western physics operates with the concepts that are far closer to the Buddhist understanding, and this is what I am going to use in order to illustrate the point. You see, what the original Buddhism teaches is that an atom as a concept doesn’t exist once you have removed the protons, neutrons and the electrons. I devoted big parts of “The jewel in the lotus” to this, where I explained the concept on the example of an apple, which differs greatly in the hermetic worldviews on one hand, and science and Buddhism on another. The hermetic worldviews think that a physical apple is an imperfect and transitory manifestation of a perfect ideal apple, which exists somewhere in the astral plane in its perfect and eternal form, and all earthly apples are merely the imperfect reflections of that ideal. Science and Buddhism, on the other hand, claim that an apple is merely an appearance, and that the mental image of an apple is an illusion, and reality is that a bunch of atoms are interconnected into molecules and further into larger structures, none of which has anything to do with an apple. There is no Applium (Ap), the fundamental atom of everything apple; just carbon, oxygen, nitrogen etc. Buddhism has the same opinion of soul, as it does of apple: that it is an aggregate, a synthetic entity created as a result of the elaborate process of karmic evolution, by accretion of karmic substance into an increasingly larger and more complex structure, which comes to include increasingly complex substances. This process of evolution is by no means a necessity or a given, but only a possibility. Likewise, Buddhahood is also a mere possibility, and by no means a necessity, and is certainly not a guaranteed destination for all.
Buddhism doesn’t interpret the vast differences that exist between the souls as results of karmic impurity superimposed on the original perfection, but simply as insufficient complexity and evolvement, causing a quantitative and qualitative inferiority of the unevolved souls compared to the evolved ones. It is very logically straightforward and parsimonic – if you stop to think, a theory according to which a primitive sack of shit who beats up his wife when piss drunk, rapes his daughter and listens to some shit folk music, is really a Buddha in his true nature, only covered with more bad karma, is utterly nonsensical. It’s like saying that a rock has the same essential nature as a man, only covered with more karmic impurity. None of it makes any sense. A theory according to which those beings differ in spiritual sophistication and complexity, and so a drunken savage is merely a drunken savage, a being whose undeveloped soul consists of much simpler karmic structures than that of a sophisticated, subtle person of high spiritual longings – it explains the evidence without a need for crazy assumptions and citing dogma. Of course, it’s not a theory that has much chance of gaining popularity among the masses, because the majority would rather believe that humans are all equal in their essential nature, and that the differences are superficial. In reality, it is the opposite: it’s exactly the similarities between people that are superficial. The similarities are a result of incarnation into the same biological species with very small genetic diversity, or variation between specimens, combined with the quality of the physical plane that blocks the direct influence of the soul on the matter. In those circumstances, the uniformity of the biological platform masks the huge quantitative and qualitative differences between the souls, and so there is an appearance that the entities created from some astral substance, that would feel equally at home if incarnated as insects, snakes, hamsters or squirrels, as well as Gods made of the Purusha, around whom “weapons” and “robes” made of vajras orbit and pledge devotion and allegiance to, are “more-less the same”, that they are “equal”, only because they are both incarnated as the same species of ape.
You can forget equality. The very concept is completely remote from any kind of a spiritual reality. Those are the fairy-tales that serve the purpose of social cohesion of a human community, an animality not greatly different from the mechanisms that bind the bees into a colony. Physically speaking, the humans are more-less the same. Intellectually, there are already significant differences, but when we come to the soul, the differences can reach the order of magnitude that separates a hydrogen atom from the supermassive black hole in the center of the galaxy, and the physical similarity of the bodies through which those vastly different entities manifest their presence on the physical plane is one of the greatest illusions, and greatest injustices. Ok, you object to that, and think you’re anyone’s equal. Sure, join the club of those who thought that Jesus and Barabbas were equal and it doesn’t matter who gets crucified. Get it yet? Jesus was a God, and Barabbas, well, nobody cares about what he was. That’s the truth about the nature of their souls. Body-wise, they were both brown apes. Do you now understand why I might believe this to be a source of immense injustice?
One might now say that a yogi in the state of samadhi, or cosmic consciousness, switches into a state in which there is only One, and that this is the foundation of the theory of equality and identical fundamental nature of the souls, because the fundamental nature of all souls is brahman, and nothing else.
Where there is One, there is no multitude. There are no humans, there is no equality, there are no relationships between things, in short, there is no relativity because that is the Absolute. The things that apply to the Absolute cannot be projected on the interpersonal relationships of the relative beings, and serve as a foundation for theories. It is true that the Absolute is One, but it is also true that the Absolute is sat-cit-ananda, the totality of reality-consciousness-bliss. It would be fair to say that you reflect Oneness about as much as you reflect the sat-cit-ananda, which is to say not much. The human packs and the spiritual darkness of their inner social workings have absolutely nothing to do with the state of One, so it would be wrong to attempt to draw any kind of parallel between equality of humans and the Oneness of brahman. In short, it is wrong to us the existence of the Absolute as foundation for the theory of an eternal soul, or equality between the beings. For all you know, the connection of your soul with the Absolute might not be any more eternal than that of your mortal material body – because, of course, if everything is brahman, then the atoms of your body are brahman, and how is their claim to eternity less than that of your soul? As brahman is the eternal witness to the corporal existence, so is it a witness of the astral and who knows what other existence. To draw a conclusion that all souls are indeed brahman and as such equal, is as sensible as saying that one dollar and one billion dollars are both manifestations of the same concept of money and as such equal. Sure, if they are equal, give me the billion and you keep one.
To interpret the difference between the souls with the difference in karmic purity makes about as much sense as it would be to claim that the difference between a university professor and a worker at some mill is to be attributed to the fact that a worker’s mind is filled with bad content. It’s not filled with any content whatsoever, that’s the problem. The worker failed to develop his mind, and as a result it has lesser complexity and sophistication of content. The professor kept developing his mind and filling it with content of high quality, and the worker didn’t. That’s the difference. It’s not as if they both started from the super-genius level and the worker fucked himself up more with the passage of time; no, they both started as babies with empty heads, with the difference being that the worker was fucking around and playing football while the professor was reading books and learning things. The vedantic theory about the different levels of impurity cast over the originally perfect atman is therefore completely wrong and cannot be reconciled with the facts. The Buddhist original theory of evolution by progressive growth in complexity of a karmic aggregate matches the perception very accurately. So, not only were you not originally a perfect soul made in God’s image, but you did not exist as an entity, at all. This has two main corollaries: one pleasant, and one not so much. The not so pleasant one is that you cannot rely on having the good daddy in heaven who loves you and gets all riled up each time you do this or that. The pleasant corollary is the same thing, once you think about it. You don’t have a daddy in heaven who will make incessant demands without bothering to teach you anything of value first, a daddy who has expectations but provides you with nothing of value. You are not a created being, and so you don’t owe anything to your creator – if anything, you are your own creator, since your soul was created as a result of your own choices and actions, unique and personal. Each decision made you in a way a sculptor removes excessive stone and “releases” a statue from the stone. Every choice defined what you are, and what you are not.
I won’t bother to go into details of the underlying energetics, at least not at this occasion, because here it is of no consequence. What matters is that your actions made you as you are now. If you rather spent time, as a kid, learning and reading, instead of fucking around and stealing, you turned into an intellectual rather than a thief and a scoundrel. Your actions defined you. If you used the opportunity to screw someone over instead of helping him, your actions defined you. If you saw something beautiful and mocked it instead of stopping and feeling the gratitude for the opportunity to witness its existence, your actions defined you. If you saw something ugly and evil, and you failed to feel revulsion and need to oppose this evil in some manner, but instead you mocked the victim of the evil, your actions defined you.
You are your own God Father the Creator, you are your own Michelangelo, having carved yourself out of the primordial spiritual substance and out of the pool of possibility, and whether you look like David, or like Michelangelo’s turd, it’s your exclusive fault or merit. There are no gods to thank, or blame. It’s your own fault, it’s your own claim to fame, and your reality is a direct result of your volition and your perception of what brahman is. It is the reason why some souls are tiny little turdlings made of filthy astral substance, while some others are the oceans of light, power, and consciousness that far exceed anything that is worshiped by the faithful in the temples of the religions. Choices. Out of the treasury that is brahman, some choose to appropriate the jewels of consciousness, reality and bliss, and some choose to shit at the treasury’s door, so that any visitor would have to step into the glorious product of their existence.
There indeed are the Gods, but they are not the ones who made you. They made themselves into what they are, the same as you did. This is at one hand humiliating, if we observe only the difference in the results, but it is also immensely encouraging, if you take a look at what can be attained. In any case, if you’re no good, it’s not a given, and you have no one to blame for your predicament; on the contrary, it is something that can be immediately acted upon, in order to effect change. On the other hand, if you are a great soul with many great accomplishments in your crown, there is no God who would claim the credit that you fully deserve. You, then, are to be praised as a wonderful and magnificent creator of a God.