Buddha statue - spirit and Soul

What is the difference between spirit and soul?

Spirit and soul are two concepts that remain indistinct in many people’s minds and are words that are used interchangeably in conversation. But what if these two simple terms hold the key to our evolution? This article introduces a few examples of religious and philosophical understandings of spirit and soul in accordance with the teachings of the Ageless Wisdom Lineage. These examples and further articles to come will reveal a common thread throughout history right through to the current day and, showing how The Way of The Livingness clearly continues an unbroken lineage and re-affirms these ancient teachings of the difference between spirit and soul, supporting us to re-unite these two aspects of our being.

Sutra 49 in Book 3 of ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’ states:

“The man who can discriminate between the soul and the spirit achieves supremacy over all conditions and becomes omniscient” (Bailey, 1995: p. 356).

This statement was made approximately 9,000 years ago, and yet we are still grappling with the truth of the matter. Could it be that the wayward nature of the spirit, the human spirit that has separated from the soul and thereby a state of oneness with its original divine nature, resists being exposed, hence the deliberate confusion over millennia?

A simple starting question might be – what does the spirit seek to gain by remaining in separation to the soul? With reference to Patanjali’s aphorisms, Charles Johnston describes the spirit aspect as being “enmeshed in the web of the emotions; desire, fear, ambition, passion; and impeded by the mental forms of separateness and materialism” (Johnston, 2015). From this description one could define the spirit by what is commonly referred to as the ‘lower self’, the part of us that identifies with the material world and the emotional peaks and troughs of existence here on earth. The soul then represents the ‘higher self’ in its eternal alignment with the divine, and so the spirit must receive a huge payoff to perpetuate such drive and constant effort in order to counter the natural tendency within us to reunite with the soul and return to a state of oneness.

By understanding more about spirit and soul within the various teachings through the ages, we can draw out the wily character of the spirit to reveal its motivations and drives. From the time of Hermes in the ancient Pyramid lands, teachings (that pre-date Patanjali’s aphorisms) have presented man’s unique position in having the will to align himself to the highest natural order, “but if he surrenders over his spirit, he will degenerate to the lowest” (Ebeling, 2007). So we cannot deny that the true knowing of this inner duality has always been available to us, as will become more apparent as we delve into the heart of what has been presented by the Lineage through various forms and messengers, joining the dots over the ages as to how true religion, philosophy and science have consistently revealed to humanity precisely what obstructs and delays their inevitable return to oneness with God and the All.

An important enquiry in understanding the difference between spirit and soul is to consider how it is possible to have two aspects within one being. This is explained very simply and clearly in The Corpus Hermeticum: Book 1, where Poimandres tells Hermes Trismegistus that:

Nous, the Father of all, who is life and light, brought forth Man, the same as himself… It was really his own form that God loved, and he handed over to him all his creation” (The Corpus Hermeticum, Book 1; 12).

God handed over to Man the power of free-will, which gave him the permission to explore the process of creation for himself, and in this process Man “wished to break through the circumference of the spheres and to come to know the power of him who was set in authority over the fire” (The Corpus Hermeticum, Book 1; 13); in other words, Man wished to exert the power of God.

Having equal power to God over all mortal things in nature and having “broken through the sovereignty of the Divine Power” (The Corpus Hermeticum, Book 1; 14), Man became preoccupied with the world of form and the beauty of nature and wished to reside within it, to experiment with his powers of creation. As soon as this was desired by the act of free-will, Man became an inhabitant of this realm.

“For this reason, of all living beings on earth, Man alone is double: mortal because of the body, immortal because of the real Man. For, although being immortal and having authority overall, he suffers mortal things which are subject to destiny. Then, although above the harmony of the cosmos, he has become a slave within it” (The Corpus Hermeticum, Book 1; 15).

As the text says, “Man alone is double”, because he retains the power of his original divine essence (the Soul), while grappling with the desire to persist and remain sovereign within a realm that is not of his true nature (the Spirit). The spirit’s desire to prevail on the physical plane of life must therefore be in constant opposition to the pull to return and be in union with God. Since this ‘fall from grace’, a battle has played out within Man, between the natural tendency to surrender back into the oneness (the Soul), and the restless efforts to retain individuality and a sense of self that seeks identification through its own creations (the Spirit).

If we can understand the nature of these two distinct aspects of our being, is it possible that we can then differentiate between them and discern the source of our drives and motivations (Spirit) or natural impulses (Soul) in daily life? In each moment, therefore, is it possible that we each have the power to surrender back to the ever-expanding sphere of God’s love that we eternally reside within, or keep drawing from the pool of energy created by Man over millennia which constantly feeds our desire for individuality and separation?



Bailey, A.A. (1995). The Light of The Soul, Lucis Press Ltd.

Johnston, C. (2015). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: The Book of the Spiritual Man. Nivant Publishing.

Salaman, C., Van Oyen, D., & Wharton, W.D. (2000). The Way of Hermes. Inner Traditions International.