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Joe CorbettJoe Corbett has been living in Shanghai and Beijing since 2001. He has taught at American and Chinese universities using the AQAL model as an analytical tool in Western Literature, Sociology and Anthropology, Environmental Science, and Communications. He has a BA in Philosophy and Religion as well as an MA in Interdisciplinary Social Science, and did his PhD work on modern and postmodern discourses of self-development, all at public universities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at [email protected].


The Post-metaphysical
Meaning of
Soul and Spirit

In the Kosmic Mandala

Joe Corbett

Thus, neither soul nor spirit is a holy-ghost, and they both deserve their proper place of recognition in the role they play within the Kosmic Mandala as a whole.

There are many notions and concepts we have about the world that are given by our cultural heritage or ideological background, and are taken for granted as unquestioned and self-evident truths. The ideas of soul and spirit usually fall under this category, even among those who are considered spiritually learned. But a quick look at the four quadrants (Kosmic Mandala) can help clarify any confusions and misunderstandings we might have about these important and widely used terms.

We know that body and mind are the first two of the big four in the great chain of being, and they occupy the upper right and left quadrants respectively. But here is where it gets interesting, because rarely if ever will you see integral adepts proceed to attribute the lower left and right quadrants with soul and spirit respectively, and what this would consequently mean for our common understanding of soul and spirit.


Subjective reality



Objective reality



Inter-subjective reality

Quantum theory


Inter-objective reality

Chaos theory

First of all, notice that soul occupies the realm of inter-subjectivity, and therefore it is a collective, not an individual property. Its characteristics are entanglement and non-locality, not perspectival relativity. Yet this is precisely our common sense understanding of soul, that it is a unique property of the individual, something that one is born with and will presumably take with them to the next life, something like a genetic spiritual personality. However, clearly, according to the four quadrant model, individuals do not have a soul, they have a mind. Or, if they do have a soul it is an expression of their cultural heritage through their self, for soul is a property of communal solidarity, of shared values and beliefs with which we develop love and compassion for others who we identify with. Those who are cut off from this solidarity and otherwise exist in a bubble of individualism are literally soulless, not unlike the right-wing neo-libertarian who would leave their fellow citizen to die in a hospital without the care they needed to stay alive if they can't afford it; whereas a Nazi who consorts with other Nazi's has a soul, albeit a brutally aggressive and racist one.

I suspect the confusion many people have about soul as something that is unique to their incarnation comes from the fact that what people usually think of as their soul is actually an inner spark of what creative intelligence they have, which is experienced interiorly as something exhilaratingly unique, novel, and eternal, which it is, but this is a property of their species-being as well as their individual mind and self, not their soul. Likewise, in dreams we often experience a subtle body, something we might interpret as a wandering soul, but it is actually the mind that is involved in dreams, not the soul. So when people usually talk about their soul it is not an eternally unique ghostly entity that resides somewhere inside them and is separate from their cultural and group heritage; rather, it is the species-being that sets them apart from the animals, and that is their creative-intelligence, the human mind, not their soul. To 'save one's soul', then, is to save the identity and emotional bonds of loyalty and love (even after death, through remembrance of the dead) that comes from having shared one's cultural values and beliefs with others, and there is no soul apart from this.

Likewise, spirit is not, as it is commonly understood, an ethereal holy-ghost apparition, but an emergent property of the relation between real things, an evolutionary unfolding of their inter-objective existence through time. Spirit is thus an evolved whole that is more than the sum of its parts, it is the larger being and consciousness above and beyond its parts, and as such, spirit is an objective and transcendent entity with intimations of the Eternal, or Godhead, a temporal representative of universal being and consciousness, an emergent property of a systemic whole of inter-objective relations, a transcendent (collective) body.

In Hegel, spirit takes its highest form in the Idea of the nation-state, the highest institutional form of human evolution up to that time, and therefore the highest temporal embodiment of God in history. As far it goes, Hegel's conception of spirit is consistent with the four quadrant model. In Wilber, however, spirit takes the form of an evolutionary Eros, the expansionary force of a universal love and passion. But that conceptual move makes spirit an extension of soul (deep emotional connection and identity) to an impersonal all, a universal 'we', a kosmic 'I-Thou' with which universal love and kosmic patriotism can be cultivated. Needless to say, this mixes and confuses the meaning of soul and spirit, for the expansionary force of evolutionary complexity and novelty is not love, the inter-subjective force of identity and union, but the emergent property process of the impersonal spirit of inter-objective relations through time generating ever increasingly complex wholes that are greater than the sum of their parts.

The impersonal (collective, objective, transcendent) spirit of inter-objective relations coming alive in the emergent properties of systemic wholes is the process of evolution, the unfolding of Spirit in History, as Hegel might say. But even in Wilber, the originator of the four quadrant model, there doesn't seem to be the recognition of the role inter-objective relations at the edge of chaos (always already in dialectically entangled relations with the other quadrants) plays in evolutionary expansion, and that spirit is nothing more and nothing less than this process of evolutionary becoming.

Thus, neither soul nor spirit is a holy-ghost, and they both deserve their proper place of recognition in the role they play within the Kosmic Mandala as a whole.

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