The United States Declaration of Independence proudly proclaims the mystical truth that "all men are created equal." What happens after that, though, is anybody's guess. Once we've been created equally, does that mean all our lives are the same? Do the essential differences between us come from genetics, environment, free will, the soul? Do we all end up in the same place again when we die? These questions have excited the myth-making faculties of humankind from antiquity down through to the present day.
Blessed is he who has a soul, blessed is he who has none, but woe and grief to him who has it in embryo.1
- G.I. Gurdjieff
Working for a Soul
The esoteric teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff, in many ways, fly in the face of traditional Western religious thought. Whereas it is accepted as a given within Judeo-Christian tradition that each human is born with a soul, Gurdjieff does not let us off so easy. Active in the early part of the 20th century, this Greek-Armenian mystic travelled the world, synthesising spiritual disciplines into a unique path called The Fourth Way. He taught that human existence is a kind of waking sleep, in which we live more or less automatically, unconscious and unaware of ourselves. He even went to the extreme of suggesting that humans are not born with souls at all, and that we can only create one while alive through intense personal suffering and what he called "work." If we are not successful in this venture, he taught that our identities would not survive the shock of death, that we would "die like dogs" and that the ever-hungry Moon would gobble up our energy as part of its own evolution of consciousness.
It's a teaching which sounds strange to most people today, but which was perhaps more common to the ancient world. Consider the words of the Gospel of Philip, an ancient Gnostic codex recovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945:
Those who say they will die first and then rise are in error. If they do not first receive the resurrection while they live, when they die they will receive nothing.2