Spiritual psychology makes a distinction between soul and personality. Soul is the spiritual essence with spiritual potentials, latent within us but hopefully becoming actualized and manifested in our lives. Personality is the composite three parts of our expressing self: mental, emotion, and physical.
Our soul is the spiritual possibility within us. It is the essence in us which has originated from the Spiritual Source, the Central Sun, God. Thus, each soul contains spiritual qualities and intuitive knowing. If we enter into our soul, into soul-consciousness, we then know our self as droplets of Light, Love and Spiritual Will. And we can find all spiritual qualities and spiritual insight right in our own being. So our aim is to be in our soul consciousness, our soul knowing, which is the same as finding our spiritual essence, our spiritual nature, and who we really are.
Our mind, emotions and physical body are the soul's three vehicles, or bodies, or functions for expression, which in total we call the personality. In many esoteric teachings these are called 'the three bodies of man'. But they are also sometimes called 'vehicles of the soul', because they can carry soul qualities and can be used in the soul's journey of this lifetime. Then they are also sometimes called functions, because these are the main functions for our life and self-expression. Yet these could also be appropriately called 'energy fields', because they are compositions of different types of energy.
Our physical body is made of energy, and this energy works in patterns. These energy patterns are formative in relation to the actual physical body manifestation. So the actual physical body is permeated by more subtle energy patterns, which compose our etheric body or etheric energy field.
Our emotions and emotional energies all combine to form our emotional energy field, (or called emotional body, or astral body). Held in this emotional field are all of our emotional qualities, emotional patterns, and emotional memories.
Next, our mind is also an energy field. In it are our thoughtforms - our ideas and beliefs. They might not be just our own; in fact, most ideas and beliefs are shared, so they are really collective thoughtforms, but it is true that they are being held in our own particular mental sphere, which is a kind of container. Then as well, our mental energy sphere has a few special mental powers, such as intelligence, memory, and thinking. It also has imagination, which can be part of a higher intuition or else could be a lower level of random fantasy.
Personality is how one expresses; it is the vehicle of expression. Personality is the form of our expression, which includes our various forms of thought and belief, emotions, and physical expression. Personality expression can be good, more or less; that is, expression has a huge range of possible value, from very fine to rather poor. So we cannot say that personality is necessarily a bad thing, nor is it necessarily a good thing. However, the soul is always good, always true, always loving. The soul is our composite of spiritual qualities and potentials. It's the real truth of our being.
The soul is divinely reflective, a reflective microcosm of the One Divine Being. Yet the soul needs to express itself, and it does this through the personality. So the personality is significantly needed by the soul, as its vehicle for expression. The personality, on the other hand, needs the soul in order for it to be spiritually infused.
Soul by itself is a triadic composite of spiritual gnosis, love and will. Yet the qualities of soul need the expressive vehicle of personality. The soul needs the thought-building and thought-process apparatus of the personality mind, in order for understanding-through-language to occur. The soul needs the emotional apparatus to really bodily feel its qualities. And the soul needs the physical apparatus to express these qualities in the world. So it is through the personality that the soul can understand and feel itself in particular ways and express itself in the manifested world.
Our personality bodies are like outer shells, while our spiritual soul is the inner kernel. This outer shell deals with the outer world, but it is often unconscious of its existing inner core. Understand that our soul is our innermost self, while our personality is our outer self. In other words, our innermost self is our soul and our outer self is personality.
So if one can find one's innermost reality, truth, beingness; then one is discovering the soul. For our soul is the inner reality of who we are; personality is the outer. In our innermost, we can find our deepest and truest qualities of who we are. For in this deepness of our self, we will find the real treasures of our self and the reservoir of our spiritual qualities. The usual personality is not our real truth of self. Truth is deeper. The personality part of self is what we and others are mostly aware of. This is like the clothing of self, the outerness of self. But the inner is often hidden or submerged under ordinary awareness. This inner self is our real truth; which can also be called our soul. We could say that this true self is created by God or is a divine emanation; or that it is the divine and natural self.
In contrast, the personality is created (or patterned) by a social environment, by culture, by parents and by certain unique accidents. It is also created by reactive decisions and strategies in response to one's environment over the course of growing up. The personality is very much like a composition of strategies for dealing with life, a composition developed over the course of early life, and these strategies become our personality patterns. Some of these are useful and good; but some are immature and no longer useful in our life.
Thus, part of any spiritual path must include some self-observation and re-constructive self-critique; in other words, a willingness to honestly look at oneself and change personality patterns if needed. This does not need to be a somber and tedious task, rather it can be thought of as an exciting re-creative process, like being artistic about recreating oneself. One can also train the personality to develop more beautiful and loving patterns.
A major problem, though, is that our personality is usually unaware or unconscious of our soul. In other words, our usual consciousness is very often unconscious of our true spiritual nature, our soul essence. This means that our personality mind is asleep to our soul, the true core of our self. The outward focused personality gets so preoccupied with worldly duties, concerns and problems, that all of our awareness goes into this, while our soul gets no awareness, no attention.
Each soul enters into incarnation from a past life incarnation. The soul incarnates through three interconnected and interpenetrating 'bodies of energy' – the mental, emotional and physical – which together constitute the 'personality' (the term used here). This personality has to go through developmental stages. That is, our physical, emotional and mental parts have to develop and mature. Babies cannot do what adults can do.
The soul gives spiritual essence to these personality bodies. It also gives basic instructions for their development – a basic blueprint for healthy and spiritual development. Specifically, the soul emanates a subtle electromagnetic pattern which acts as a blueprint for a healthy physical, emotional and mental development. Yet this blueprint is not deterministic, due to worldly factors involved with personality development.
These personality bodies are also susceptible to energies, patterns, direct manipulations and assaults from the outer world, physically, emotionally and mentally. So the soul is not fully in charge, nor fully directing, because the inner soul cannot control the outer world and how the world affects the personality bodies.
The outer world, including physical circumstances and social influences, can be quite helpful to the health and quality development of the personality bodies; or conversely, the outer social world can be repressive and even harmful in relation to one's soul qualities and soul guidance. The physical and social world can be very powerful and influential in the development of our personality. The soul has influence, but it can be overpowered by a dominating outer world. So even though the soul's guidance is wise and good, this may not successfully influence the person's development because of outer influences.
If the social world of the developing person has problems, then these same problems are usually given to the person. For example, problems in a group, family or culture can be passed on to the children, which will often then continue on as problems in adulthood. This makes for a continuation of psychological problems in the world, through the medium of social influence in personal development. In fact, cultural imbalances and unhealthy patterns can be passed down generation upon generation, by way of the outer world and interactions between personalities.
In some systems of modern psychology the soul is a word used synonymously with the human psyche (collectively or individually), referring to the totality of our mental and emotional undercurrents, sort of like the way we are, which is then given as explanation for how one behaves. In this meaning of 'soul' as synonymous with psyche, one could say that the soul is at least partly created by either one's culture or one's existential circumstances. But this particular psychological meaning will not be used here. The modern psychological meaning is not wrong; rather, it just uses the word somewhat differently than what is usually meant in most spiritual teachings.
The meaning of 'soul' (as applied here) is transcendental to the personality and its undercurrent psyche; and therefore the soul is independent and ontologically prior to the personality, which also means that the soul is not created or conditioned by society and upbringing. The personality does not condition the soul, nor does the world or society. How the soul can express in the world, or in a family, does depend a lot on external circumstances and also on how the personality vehicles are developed; but the soul in itself is unconditioned by all of this.
Yet we accept the fact that personality, including its subconscious (undercurrent psyche), is at least partly developed by cultural beliefs and patterns; and therefore, much of it reflects its given culture and upbringing. Thus, personality is developed by the situations and patterns of one's life history.
The soul, however, remains free from these cultural and situational influences. It is the essence of an individual, much like a genetic seed or DNA that remains independent of outer circumstances. Our soul could be regarded as our spiritual DNA. It gives us our potentials for a spiritually fulfilling life, and it also gives us some inner programming in the form of some inner spiritual impulses. But the situations and environments of life still have significant effect on our personality behavior and its undercurrent patterns.
Our psyche is the totality of all the undercurrent patterns of personality, including our subconscious and dream world. Yet our soul is deeper than the personality psyche; it is the core or essence of our being. The soul usually has at least some subtle influence on the personality and psyche, but it is quite possible for a person to go through life without ever really being conscious of the inner soul. This is why inner spiritual work is essential.
The personality can become disassociated from the soul and from God. Or, it might be described that the soul gets forgotten, or worse, hijacked by the personality-ego. Therefore, most often, in each person there needs to be a re-connection with their soul.
Our 'personality' (our mental, emotional, & physical aspects of our self) can function on its own in the world, without necessarily requiring assistance or guidance from the inner soul. In fact, the soul can possibly remain latent and even unnoticed, while the personality develops its abilities and successfully relates in the world. Although, usually there will be at least some soul qualities expressing through the personality, in some degree at least, and these soul qualities often emerge through the personality self during the innocence of childhood. But then later on, these soul qualities may get overpowered and suppressed by the personality working by its own agenda.
There are no negative qualities in any soul. No soul has any proportion of evil or negativity or a will to harm. All souls are essentially and purely spiritually good and uncorrupted. Some individual souls are more developed than others, and some souls are stronger in expression; but even the least developed souls are purely good. So, an important distinction to be made between soul and personality is that every soul has only spiritual qualities and a will-to-good; whereas, a personality can become conditioned by worldly or cultural factors, and can possess negative qualities that oppose or even harm life.
Psyche means the whole subjective aspect of our being, subjective in experience yet objective in function. The psyche includes both our conscious and subconscious parts. Sometimes psyche is described as our mind, but then in this definition the 'mind' would also include emotions, desires, and will. Our psyche has three aspects – mental, emotional, and will. Included in our total self-psyche are all of our desires, goals, thinking, beliefs, self-images and identifications. As well, the psyche is partly conscious and partly unconscious. Any of the three aspects could be in either half. The two halves will be called conscious psyche and subconscious psyche.
The mental part of psyche includes thoughts, beliefs, opinions, facts, memories, strategies, justifications, reasoning, defined values and goals. It also includes all of the mental intelligence abilities. Thus the mental part is comprised of mental abilities and content. These mental elements are interrelated with corresponding emotional elements.
The emotional part of self mainly includes desire patterns and reactive patterns, and also emotional memories including traumas and shocks. Reactive patterns are developed in reaction to not achieving a desire, or threats to not achieving a desire. This is the connection between desires and reactions.
The ego would count as the special aspect of our psyche – being the conscious director of the other three aspects. The ego includes the conscious will, decision-making, and conscious directing of personal energies. Our energies can also be 'directed' by subconscious desires, but the conscious director in each moment is the ego.
In spiritual psychology, the ego and soul are contrasted:
ego being part of the conditioned personality, and soul being the spiritual potentials within us. The ego is part of personality, but not all of it. Personality includes the thinking mind and the emotions, as well as the personal ego. Some spiritual teachings use the term, Ego (cap E). This doesn't mean the ordinary personality ego, but instead has the same meaning as our soul, or Higher Self. Generally it is best to avoid the confusion of using this term.
The term, psyche, in western psychology, means the totality of personal ego/mind/emotion, yet also includes all of one's 'human potentials'. Therefore, 'the psyche' is a useful term for referring to the whole complexity of mind, emotion, and soul.
The personal ego has two main functions. One function is to direct other aspects of the personality. Thus, the ego is the director, the captain, the will and the power of intention within the personality. Its second function is to provide I-ness, or self-identification. Thus, the term 'ego' can refer to one's personal I-awareness or self i-dentification. For example, when one says or thinks 'I', this is the ego. I am ego. One's ego (I-ness) might also be described as the essence or core of one's personality.
Though one could think of oneself, in a larger sense, as this whole personality – including all of one's mental, emotional and physical aspects. So it is possible, of course, to think of oneself as this whole personality, or else identity with the physical body, or one's emotions, or one's mind. But the 'ego', as a term, is more specifically referring to one's I-awareness or I-as-subject, or else referring to I as will or as intention or as being the captain of this personality (including mind, emotions and physical body).
We need to understand, with actual experience, the distinction between our divine soul and the personality ego. This is not an intellectual or philosophical question. It's about knowing the difference between these, in actual experience.
The divine soul is our inner resource of spiritual light, love, good-will, and other spiritual qualities. But this is dormant and unconscious, until it is conscious and brought into our wakeful life. More often though, or at least in the beginning of a spiritual path, the personality ego is in the forefront of consciousness and at the helm directing what we do, where our energies go, and affecting the world around. Personality ego is like the captain of a ship full of desires and reactions.
As well, the personality ego is predominantly our experience of I, or I am; as in, I am conscious, I am thinking, I am feeling, and I am doing. What can be confusing, though, is that when the soul infuses with ego-I, then the soul is experienced as I-am, just as the ego would be. The distinction then is to be found in the inquiry of 'where is this I coming from' (or 'where am I coming from'?).
There is a difference between soul-I and mere ego-I (if not soul infused); and this difference can only be known with a sincere self-inquiry. The soul has a much different experience-sense to it; it is permeated with love, expansiveness and an unselfish will to help and care for the world around, while the ego-I is most often self-centered and thinking about itself or its own wishes.
Most often it is the ego-I that is in the forefront of our experience and at the helm, while our inner divine soul of love-wisdom is dormant and hidden in the unconscious. Our soul is not yet conscious in us. The main reason for this is that the personality and ego is clouding out and drowning out our inner soul– which is much quieter and subtler than the ego.
The personality and its ego-captain may have divine qualities haphazardly through it, but it is not a pathway to the realization of Divine Essence. The only pathway to Divine Realization is the soul, the true I. It is only from this true-I that one can reach the Essence and Plenitude of Divine Being; because the Divine Being is at the very centre core of I am (of the soul). So, when one has arrived at the centre of true self, in the heart, then one can consciously go into the I - in order to reach levels of Divine Realization. So, we must not mistakenly think that the personality-ego I is our true I. The ego I is like counterfeit money; it seems to look genuine, but on closer inspection it isn't.
What distinguishes the soul from mere personal ego is that the soul is consciously aligned and related with higher/deeper Divine Consciousness and also realizes it is on a spiritual journey and involved in a spiritual learning process. Thus the soul is conscious of its own divine purpose, as well as the divine purpose of others and creation itself. The soul understands this, though to the degree of its relative realization. The personal ego, on the other hand, does not necessarily have any such realization nor spiritual relationship. For the ego can move about disconnected from divine understanding and purpose. It takes care of its own limited interests and desires, but lacks a caring for higher purposes, spiritual awakening and divine manifestation.
Both soul and ego are relatively limited, like containers being sometimes small and sometimes large. Yet the ego is usually fixated on its limited concerns and uninspired to progress into greater self-understanding; while the soul is open and awake to higher/deeper divine Gnosis and ever-ready to discover more about Greater Divine Being. The soul's nature is to expand its being and realization, to be evermore inclusive in its love; while the ego's nature is to concentrate on fulfilling its fixated desires and also to expand its dominating influence. The soul is an expanding being of love and understanding; while the ego is most often trying to expand its dominance and self-importance.
Our soul is not an abstract, far-away reality. Rather, our soul is simply at the very centre of our being. It is the very centre of who we are, but we might not know it because we have yet to realize our own centre of being and who we really are.
The soul is in the heart. So in order to listen to one's soul, one could listen to one's heart. We could even speak of the heart as our spiritual nature, as distinct from the ego as our conditioned nature. Though this higher-deeper meaning of heart is not about the erratic emotions and desires often found in the heart. In this deeper experience of the heart are the higher spiritual qualities, which are the composite qualities of our soul.
Once we are within the heart, then this is the new seat of I. In other words, once consciousness moves into the heart and is deep in there, then I is now in the heart. 'I am' is now in the heart. This already diffuses the ego-I, which is usually coming from the lower intellect or else the lower gut. So now, conscious-ness and I-ness is in the right place, the heart. And only now it is true that the Divine Plenitude is within I. Yes it is true that the Divine Treasure is always within oneself, always within myself, even when I am lost in the personality ego; however, the Divine is not within the personality ego. The Divine is within myself, but not within the personality ego - because this ego-I is just a temporary delusion.
Consider the difference between the desire-minded strategist ego and the spiritually awakened heart. Note that the heart can be spiritually awakened, which is when the heart awakens from being sort of asleep; yet, at first the heart is simply part of the desire-ego matrix. In other words, the heart is too often merely a tag along of the 'I want' ego. This is the unawakened heart. It is not the true heart, as the heart really is in essence. Our true heart is different from an ego-based heart.
The attitude of a true heart includes everyone in it. The heart is inclusive, and the heart experiences relationship. The heart feels empathy and compassion for others. It feels some degree of resonance with the feelings of others and it feels an understanding of others. It feels caring about others as well, caring about their well-being and truest happiness. It also feels a wish to help others move beyond suffering and unhappiness, and come into a satisfaction of true needs. Fundamentally, the heart experiences relationship, inclusive and empathetic relationship.
Ego, on the other hand, is often competitive and sometimes combative. It might form relationships, and of course be in relationships, but it is competitive and self-serving in these relationships. It is always thinking of itself first, and trying to figure out how it can get what it wants, which often means that it's strategy is to manipulate others for its own gain and to react negatively whenever its own plans and wishes are thwarted. So an ego will be competitive and self-serving. While a truly awakened heart will be inclusively empathetic and wishing that everyone's needs are met, not just one's own.
Let us discern between true self vs. false self. True self is who we know we are in complete sincerity; while false self is a composite delusion about who we are. False self is composed of many thoughts and beliefs about oneself which would not be substantiated if sincerely scrutinized by the heart. In fact, if our knowing heart gets involved, the false self begins to disappear like strange shadows on the wall disappearing upon the entrance of light. The false self is composed of self-distortions and conditioned beliefs. Often, these conditioned self-beliefs were introduced into us from other people in early childhood, and then accepted or believed at that time. Yet, on the other hand, the true self is sincerely from the heart. It is also self-inquisitive and seeking after truth; while the false self is not.
We have a natural capacity to discern truth from the false, reality from illusion, and good from bad. Yet this capacity needs cultivation and development. Still, discernment and good choice between right and wrong action, or between good and not as good, is not an easy matter. It's not necessarily easy, nor does it always work, because our individual self-desires often get in the way and distort the truth that we might otherwise intuitively know. So, wise and true discernment is like clear perception, and we have the capacity for this. But our natural, innate, spiritual-intuitive discernment often gets clouded or distorted by our individual self-desires - such as the ego's desire for pleasure, comfort, security, self-praise and importance, social acceptance and attention, and rightness of belief. This lower-ego, or small-self, will distort or cloud our spiritual perceptive window. It also can distort our higher reasoning and invent bogus rationalizations for our comforting beliefs.
True spiritual perception and right discernment, pure from lower-ego distortions, is the capacity of our spiritual self, our soul. So if our spiritual self is forefront and at the helm of this chariot, then our decisions and actions will be based on True perception and discernment. Yet if the lower-ego self is at the helm, then our spiritual-intuitive discernment is blurred. Thus, if we can tell the difference between our spiritual-self and ego-self, we might then have a way to know when to really believe and trust. In other words, if we could recognize when we are in the lower ego-state, then we might be wary of its choices since its discernment is often clouded. But if we are in the spiritual state, our discernments and choices can be trusted.