Chapter Three: The Evolution of the Soul

This chapter breaks down the soul into four layers. 

Illusion — Maya

Personal/ Individual Soul—Jivatman 

Universal/Supreme Soul—Paramatma 

No Soul / The Supreme Existence or Absolute Reality— Brahman

These four layers describe the soul and the changes that occur in our consciousness as we begin to evolve and know ourselves better. The meaning and depth of the soul doesn’t change; we do. Knowing these aspects of the soul dispels the illusion of the ego and the grip it has on us.

During the discovery of our soul, we experience many changes. Various states of consciousness appear during different stages of our evolution. I categorized these changes into four layers. Each layer changes how we see the world, each other, and ourselves. They also change our values and ambitions. What is important to us at one level might not be a concern or consideration in the next. Understanding each layer can help us transcend our current state of consciousness, allowing us to reach into ourselves and find greater depth and meaning in life.

Chapter Three

The Evolution of the Soul

Positive Affirmation: I am curious, willing, and devoted to raising my consciousness, and by doing so, my life has become a beautiful and endless journey of discovery.

We share similar experiences with others on our journey of personal awakening. St. John of the Cross defines this journey and our involvement with God as “dark nights of the soul.” At the beginning of his treatise, “Dark Night” (the Declaration), he writes, “In this first verse, the soul tells the mode and manner in which it departs, as to its affection, from itself and all things, dying through a true mortification to all of them and to itself, to arrive at a sweet and delicious life with God.” There is a great deal expressed in this passage. Dark nights are necessary for the evolution of the soul; they are initiations by which we shed unnecessary layers of ourselves. With each dark night we pass through, an aspect of the false reality (illusion) dies, birthing us into deeper union with God.

However, most people are still trapped in their minds, running an endless loop of thoughts and disconnected from their inner self. We have become spiritually poor, susceptible to the illusions of life, in an era that is rich with the ability to access knowledge. The most pertinent of this knowledge lives in the silence within. Knowing the self is the elixir for eternal life—the Holy Grail we have been seeking for centuries. The classic question, “Who am I?”, and other questions including “Why am I here?”, “What is my purpose?”, and “What is my true relationship with God?”,  have already been answered in the silence within. It waits without want or need to be discovered. We find awakening in the silence, we also find knowledge of the universe and beyond. It’s the doorway that leads to union with God. Yet until we release the mind and rest our attention within, it’s only a dream.

            The Holy Grail

When the world lived in a lower state of consciousness, it was difficult to break through the density of the veil of maya. However, we are more informed than we have ever been, and with that knowledge comes the ability to make different choices. For a long time, we only knew what was happening in our town or village. As we’ve become more globally conscious, we have become more aware of what isn’t “right,” morally and ethically. This can shine a brighter light on what isn’t working, which can cause us to feel that we are stuck in lower states of consciousness.

But a critical point in our evolution has arrived. We know something is missing; we want and need more. The need—the longing—to be at peace has grown immensely. Fortunately, the potential to awaken exists in everyone, be it in this life or the next. And according to the late psychiatrist-researcher David R. Hawkins, author of the bestselling Power v. Force (and many others), world consciousness has evolved to a level that we are now able to discern truth from falsehood and, ultimately, access our relationship to the Divine. That relationship and the peace that comes with it will not be found in our mind; it lives within the silence.

Resting in the silence, helps us transition through the four layers of the soul. As we move through each one, we experience higher levels of consciousness.

The Four Layers of the Soul

These four layers describe the soul and the changes that occur in our consciousness as we begin to evolve and know ourselves better. The meaning and depth of the soul doesn’t change; we do. Knowing these aspects of the soul dispels the illusion of the ego and the grip it has on us.

During the discovery of my soul, I experienced many changes. Various states of consciousness appeared during different stages of my evolution. I categorized these changes into four layers. Each layer changes how we see the world, each other, and ourselves. They also change our values and ambitions. What is important to us at one level might not be a concern or consideration in the next. Understanding each layer can help us transcend our current state of consciousness, allowing us to reach into ourselves and find greater depth and meaning in life.

The First Layer: Illusion — Maya

In Hinduism, one of the world’s oldest religions, the concept of maya (or known as illusion) is described through the three gunas: tamas, rajas, and sattva:

  • Tamas is a state of darkness. It obscures our consciousness, leaving us unable to manage a healthy and purposeful life. In the tamasic state, there is a tendency to be volatile and lethargic with a greater urge to overeat, sleep, and procrastinate.
  • Rajas is a state of action, change, and movement. While in this state, we are drawn to sensory desires and attachments. There is a tendency to overwork. This state can have a positive influence or a negative one. It traditionally tends to lean toward the latter because it causes us to overindulge in our desires.
  • Sattva is a state of harmony, balance, joy, and intelligence. Sattva is the guna that helps to reduce the influence of rajas and tamas, supporting our liberation from the illusion of maya. Many great spiritual teachers have attained this state.

Under the influence of the first two gunas, we are often misguided by desires of the flesh and form. We endlessly seek external objects to satisfy our desirous nature. We identify with our body and our possessions as “who and what we are.” Our self-centred ego overrides our ability to love unconditionally or to be conscious of the larger context of life, causing us to live a more materialistic life that leads to a great deal of frustration, suffering, anxiety, and stress over meaningless objects and mindsets. When stress and anxiety build, they drive us deeper into dysfunction and depressed states. We become entangled in webs of drama and trauma, sometimes becoming an endless fall into darkness. This was my reality when I was trapped in my mind, filled with negative emotions and suffering. I had become tormented by my very existence.

Many people are stuck at this layer of the soul. We might intellectually know that we have a soul at this stage of evolution, but experientially, we don’t know anything about it. If we are stuck in our minds, processing a treadmill of thoughts every day, the soul remains little more than a concept. Before I became aware of my soul, I lived in a “dog eat dog” world. I felt disconnected and separate from everything and everyone. I found it difficult to experience any depth in relationships. I was too busy trying to get ahead while seeking constant gratification from outside sources. This drive and need for possessions put constant stress on my credit limit. I spent twice as much money as I earned and drove myself into debt.

            To escape my crazed mind, I clouded it with drugs and alcohol. I was free in the world but trapped in my thoughts. I was frustrated with the world as well as myself. The simple task of assembling a TV stand could cause me to become angry enough to take a hammer to it. Everything became an annoyance. During this period, I believed that we are “Here today, gone tomorrow,” and that life holds no real meaning outside of sex, drugs, and alcohol. I did not believe that God was real, or if God was real, it was beyond my reach or experience. The beliefs I held were rooted in fear and lack, making life a competition. It was me against the world. During this time, I was desperate for happiness. But what I really needed was to find peace, meaning and purpose. However, being trapped in this layer of the soul created a cynical outlook towards life, which became self-justifying in the pattern of negative thoughts that cycled in my mind. My philosophy back then was, “Life’s a bitch, and then you die.”

When we believe that our thoughts and feelings define who we are, this “made-up self” dies when our body dies. Our thoughts and feelings make up the ego, which is alive and intact only while we give it life. When we die, it disappears as if it never existed, like a light that suddenly burns out. Therefore, when we believe we are this doomed ego, our life becomes a long, godless journey of meaningless events that happen to us. If we spend our lives stuck in our minds without ever touching the silence, we suspend ourselves in the illusion of maya, which causes our continued incarnations. And while it all may appear real, it doesn’t negate the soul’s existence or our soul’s journey toward union with God.

If we experience the world around us only through our minds, the quality of that experience is determined by the thoughts we have. Discovering this truth is liberating, which will also spark compassion and understanding for those who are similarly stuck. When we move away from this layer of consciousness, we reduce our judgments of others—judgments that keep us trapped in the confines of the mind.

Consider this short definition of hell: “the absence of knowledge of our true self.” As we learn about our Divine nature, we experience lighter and less dense realms of the earth plane. We can move into heaven while here on earth. Once we have complete knowledge of our soul, the notions of heaven and hell disappear into the dust from which they came. Heaven and hell are temporary results of the karmic path we walk on earth. The silence within, however, is rooted in the eternal life of God. Once we begin to experience that silence and realize that we are conscious spiritual beings in physical bodies, we can begin to transcend the cycle of life and death and move into the second layer of the soul.

The Second Layer: Personal/ Individual Soul—Jivatman (je-VAUT-man)

In Indian philosophy, jivatman is a term for the individual soul, also a reflection of Atman (God), and is subject to maya through the cycles of life and death. Our individual soul enters the body at birth and leaves the body at death, only to be reborn into another physical incarnation at some point. To reincarnate is to remain caught on “The Wheel of Karma.” At this second stage, we are not fully aware of the depth of the soul but opening to its reality. Jivatman is subject to the karmic ties of the earthly plane: the karma of the soul, the karma of our physical body, and the karma we create from our actions and non-action.

The consciousness of Jivatman brings the realization that we are more than just the body, that each of us has a soul. At first, this might seem like a strange realization.  It certainly did for me. I had been living in my mind, and my identity was deeply woven into my thoughts, my body, my work as a tattoo artist, and my possessions. The idea that I was more than this physical reality felt odd.

I’m reminded of a story my old teacher used to tell about Kasturba Gandhi (wife of Mohandas). When Kasturba arrived in heaven, St. Peter met her at the gate. He said, “You are welcome to enter after you answer one question—who are you?” Kasturba gruffly replied, “You know I am Mahatma Gandhi’s wife.” St. Peter replied, “Yes, I realize that. But I didn’t ask who your husband is. I want to know, ‘Who are you?’” “Oh,” she said, “I’m a mother of four beautiful children!” St. Peter pressed on. “Yes, I realize you have four boys, but I didn’t ask how many children you have. Who are you?” Kasturba paused for a minute, and finally confessed that she didn’t know. St. Peter said, “Well, you better go back down to earth until you do.”

We move further into jivatman as we continue to let go of our preoccupation with the mind, the body, and our false identities. The awakening of jivatman takes us deeper into the silence within.

 We embrace our soul when we take time to turn inward toward the silence. We satiate our thirst for the mind and emotions through the richness found inside us, causing a deeper awakening to unfold. These experiences hold the promise that peace and meaning in life exist, and that we are much larger than we realize. A practical tool to help us come to this realization and discover a more direct pathway to the soul is to hold a steadfast focus on the heart center. You might find yourself entering into a friendship with God because there is more space within for a relationship with the Divine. In our friendship with God, we begin to experience God’s presence around us, however fleeting this might feel at first.

With the discovery of the soul, we begin to lose our desire for conflict and drama. We might pull back from the world and refrain from such engagements. Some friendships will lose meaning and value, while others could take on a new perspective. Life becomes more straightforward and less demanding of our attention.

Embracing the soul enlivens our connection with it, and at this stage of consciousness, we also begin to connect and cooperate with others. We see the value of being kind and fair to those who cross our path. Our view of the world changes because we deepen our appreciation for life and everything around us. The grasp our mind has over us begins to loosen, and we find ourselves experiencing moments of stillness that resonate with peace. There is still a tendency at this level to slip into the mind and emotions, causing us to become possessive and filled with desire, and we are still subject to fear and the feeling that life is failing to provide contentment. But this discontent will dissipate as we free ourselves from our mind and become more aware of our Divinity, leading us into paramatma.

The Third Layer: Universal/Supreme Soul—Paramatma (par-u-MOT-ma)

The difference between jivatman and paramatma is that jivatman is still ruled by maya and the illusions of life, whereas paramatma is the Lord of Maya. At this stage of our evolution, we step into union with God. As jivatman fades and paramatma moves deeper into our experience, we begin to realize Atman (God) because paramatma is a clearer reflection of Atman. In this layer, we begin to understand that we are more than an individual soul, that all souls are interconnected. Paramatma is the supreme soul, the transcendental self behind the layers of the individual self.

Our struggles dissolve into a deeper understanding of self and the experiences that come into our lives. We readily accept life as it is because we embrace everything as a reflection of ourselves. We understand the larger context that each moment is gifting us with what’s at hand. When our perception of separateness dissolves, we find ourselves impartial to the outcomes happening around us. It’s not that we no longer have compassion or that we don’t care, but rather that our willingness to love grows immensely, and we surrender to acceptance. The line between where we end and where others begin becomes a blur, causing an experience of expansiveness. Our soul’s bottomless nature reveals itself as we drop further into unity with God and our surroundings.

As I embraced this state of my soul’s evolution, I no longer felt the need to shelter myself from the world. My past struggles with experiences and relationships were primarily due to unhealed traumas, but my wounds were releasing their control over me. The constant drone of my inquisitions gave way to trust, for the providence of God’s grace reigns over the experiences unfolding before me. My restless mind settled by having faith that everything I needed will be provided. I finally understood that I can’t control life by attempting to force a moment to be anything other than what it is. My relationship with God became a living relationship.

God’s Will and the soul’s purpose/destiny are the same. Understanding this allows us to surrender to God without the opposition of the mind, allowing God’s grace to enter our life and gift us with Divine favour. We begin to unwrap our bodies and allow our radiant nature to shine forth into the world. All of this might sound abstract and difficult to contextualize, but moving into these experiences can be easier than you think. As impossible as it all might sound, St. Francis of Assisi sums up quite succinctly how to accomplish any goal:

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

Everything unfolds by the grace of God, not by the will of our mind. We may think we have “free Will,” but this, too, is an illusion because the Divine hand of God is always at work. When we attempt to control something, it’s only our ego trying to force its limitations onto the present moment.

Through the realization of our place with God, we can experience moments of enlightenment. However, this is not a linear or progressive process, which is how the mind attempts to perceive it. We find the presence of God in all layers of the soul, and we ground and stabilize these experiences as we focus on our Divine nature.

The Fourth Layer: No Soul/The Supreme Existence or Absolute Reality— Brahman

Brahman is the totality of all that is. Very few masters have reached this level. However, it is a legitimate potential because it is our most absolute truth. I recall asking my teacher about the soul’s true nature: “If God is only one entity encompassing everything, then is the idea that we have a personal soul an illusion? In other words, do I have a soul?”

His response: “It is real until it is not.”

We believe that the physical reality is “real” at one layer, and we experience physical things to support this reality. However, it is only as real as we perceive it to be. Consciousness is suspended in form until we release it or until it dissolves back into the unmanifest. Everything is moving through Creation. Nothing holds its original form, and the evolution of the soul is the same: It is merely a reflection of Brahma. If you look at a mirror, you will see a reflection of your body looking back. As you move closer to the mirror, the reflection changes. If you step away from the mirror, your reflection is gone. It was only real while you were standing in front of the mirror. Again, the soul is a reflection of God, but it’s only real while we are looking at it.

Map: Layers of the Soul

Before we awaken, our ego feels massive and the soul is this tiny fragment. As we expand our awakening, these positions change: The vastness of the soul reveals itself, and the ego becomes smaller and smaller. As we continue to awaken, we discover a tiny fragment of God within our soul. As we expand even more, those positions will change as well. Much like how we dissolved our ego, we also dissolve the soul until our ultimate nature reveals itself. We then discover that the soul is just a tiny fragment that disappears into the vastness of the Divine. Life is a brief moment in the loop of infinity. We are here but not here, always rooted in the totality of God’s supreme domain.

Tools to Deepen Your Experience of this Chapter

  1. Has your life changed as a result of becoming more conscious? What changes have you noticed? Do you see the world or yourself in a different light, and have your values and ambitions changed?
  2. Which of the three gunas do you find yourself in: tamas, rajas, or sattva? Does this give you any ideas about what you need to change to enjoy the balance that sattva offers?
  3. Try this twenty-minute meditation dedicated to honouring the existence of your soul:

Step 1: Start by following your breath, in and out, breathing slowly with a relaxed rhythm.

Step 2: Move your attention to your heart while continuing to breathe slowly.

Step 3: Once your full attention is on your heart center, gently say, “I acknowledge the soul that lives in me.”

Step 4: Rest in the experience that arises. If you notice you are distracted by thoughts, repeat the steps or just Step 3.

  1. Spend a day observing how your mind labels and judges everything. As you do, release them and put your focus on seeing what is right in front of you. Then, at the end of the day, review your findings. By removing your labels and judgments, were you able to see anything that escaped you in the past?
  2. Spend an entire day feeling the connection you share with everyone you encounter. Start by holding an awareness of your heart. Next, when you see another person, keep your attention on your heart and try to feel the person’s heart in front of you.
  3. Spend a day using this phrase as your mantra: “Everything unfolds by the grace of God, not by the Will of my mind.”
  4. Spend a day holding the concept that nothing around you is permanent and is only here for a short while. Then, at the end of the day, ask yourself how this exercise affected you.

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