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What is the nature of our soul?

Rabbi REUVEN BULKA is head of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa and host of Sunday night with Rabbi Bulka on 580 CFRA.

Before addressing your question, I should let you know, in the spirit of full and honest disclosure, that I do not know the answer to your question. My response will be somewhat of a dance around the question because any seemingly complete answer will only lead to more questions.

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Rev. GEOFFREY KERSLAKE is a priest of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Ottawa

The Catholic faith has a profound respect for both the body and the soul because of their intimate connection. Our faith teaches that human beings are not spiritual creatures ‘imprisoned in a body’ but are instead a profound unity of body and soul (or spirit): “it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature” and this union of body and soul is to intimate, so profound, that the soul is said to be the “form of the body” (Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 365).

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KEVIN SMITH is on the board of directors for the centre for Inquiry, Canada’s premier venue for humanists, skeptics and freethinkers

This is all about imagination. Picture yourself looking at a scan of your body. You’d see every organ, tissue and bone in a rainbow of greys. Every piece operating in unison, providing us with life. We could do a bit of soul-searching at the same time, but upon close examination, we wouldn’t see one.

Yet many faithful cannot seem to live without it. To them, the soul is not evident in an MRI as it is invisible, beyond time and space. It’s our immortal, supernatural organ, the essence of our self. For some religious groups, upon death, if deemed to be healthy, the soul will enter paradise. If judged to be sick, it will be tortured and burned.

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JACK MCLEAN is a Bahá’í scholar, teacher, essayist and poet published in the fields of spirituality, Bahá’í theology and poetry

With belief in the soul, an article of faith common to all religions, with the exception of Buddhism, we enter into the heart of religion. The soul has, of course, both secular and sacred meanings. Kia motors is now manufacturing a car called Soul. I suppose it means that the vehicles touches your soul or represents some sort of materialization of soul, or like the soul, it travels. We speak of “soul music,” which combines gospel music—the soul connection—and rhythm and blues. When we are joyful or grieve, it is the soul that is affected.

But in spiritual or metaphysical terms, the soul represents our original divine identity, an entity created by God, a divine endowment, for whose care we are directly responsible. The soul is that immortal reality that survives the death of the physical body. So belief in the soul is absolutely essential to spiritual life, for much hangs on it. It is the ne plus ultra of the human’s divine life.

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ABDUL RASHID is a member of the Ottawa Muslim community, the Christian-Muslim Dialogue and the Capital Region Interfaith Council

Many religious and secular philosophers have discussed the nature, purpose and functions of soul. Most of these discussions are complex, conjectural and of little use to a lay person.

A body and soul jointly constitute a human being. While the body consists of matter, the soul is spiritual in nature. Our knowledge of the material component of the human being is quite extensive. We continue to know in greater detail about the nature of the body, its strengths and weaknesses, its development and its decline, and so on.

In contrast, our knowledge of the true nature of the soul or spirit, as it is sometimes called, is extremely limited. For a Muslim, this is not surprising since our scripture, the Holy Qur’n, tells the Holy Prophet, when he was asked about the spirit, ruh, to say: “The Spirit (comes) by command of my Lord: and of knowledge it is only a little that is communicated to you” (17:85).

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RADHIKA SEKAR holds a PhD in religious studies and taught Hinduism courses at Carleton and University of Ottawa. An aspiring Vedantin, she is a devotee of the Sri Ramakrishna Mission.

Hindu philosophy discusses the nature of the soul from two standpoints: Universal (Brahman) and individual (Atman).

The Universal Soul, i.e. Brahman, is a divine and all pervading essence; the source and sum of all being. The individual soul (atman) is the divine essence within all creatures.

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BALPREET SINGH is legal counsel and acting executive director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada

According to the Sikh faith, the true nature of the soul is divine but the veil of ego does not allow us to recognize this.

The word for soul is ‘atma’ and a term often used for God is “parm-atma” or “supreme soul”. The soul animates our body and it contains the light of God. The soul is indestructible and death is simply the movement of the soul from one place to another.

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