Psyche and Pneuma

An old but most reliable source for today’s blog is Ernes De Witt Burton’s book, Spirit, Soul, and Flesh (1918). Burton writes that ψυχή (psyche) connotes life-force and soul; Πνεύμα (pneuma) which premiered much later in Greek literature during the 5th and 6th centuries B.C. Hence, ψυχή is the most ancient connotation, and does indeed signify the Animating Life, or Mind source. Hence, soul is the function of that primordial animating principle and lifeforce, once embodied, feels the ignominious effects of affectual beingness, such as in Homeric formulations. Πνεύμα came into circulation much later and denotes “the most intangible of substances wind, breath, air.” Pneumatic originations occurred in Greek literature and also became the dominant ideation in later scriptural reference such as breath, or a gentle breeze such as the beginning of creation when God’s spirit breathed on the waters; also articulated in Job 12.10, “In whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.” In this sense, a third term is necessary: να αναπνεύσει to breathe.

In modern day parlance both terms are conjoined as “self”:

In contemporary life, rather than conceiving of human beings as fundamentally souls, we conceive of them as what we now call self, and this conventional sense of self is one that is normally not so much in contact with its soul; it is a self alienated from the soul’s inner richness and spiritual depth. The ancient Greek philosophers would have considered such a self to be an alienated or spiritually depraved and unregenerate soul. In our times, the expression we normally use to refer to ourselves, self, refers in actuality to self without reference to soul, without an assumption of spiritual nature….

The transformation of our identity from soul to self has indirectly impoverished our world; robbing us of our spiritual potential, this development left us increasingly identified with and thus dominated by the physical dimension of the self. And the more we experience ourselves as mainly physical, the more we see our world as fundamentally physical. This view of the world is in most of modern society the prevalent one: the world is simply matter. Rather than inhabiting a comprehensible but ultimately mysterious living world, we inhabit a material universe, explainable only by physical science. The world or cosmos, separate from soul and from God/Being, is only matter. It is a dead world, an inert universe waiting to be explored by our scientific reason. (A. H. Almaas, The Inner Journey Home Soul’s Realization of the Unity of Reality, pgs. 25, 31)

Undoubtedly this notion of “self” reflects psychophysical jargon. This is completely opposite from Self as understood in Unborn Mind Zen as reflective of the Absolute [Self]-Mind. Lest we get too far ahead of ourselves in this series, suffice it to say that ψυχή is the more familiar term in our circle of understanding as being the Principium, or the Life-force THAT animates.

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