Jacob Needleman on the soul

Note: I made these notes either about six years ago or (more likely) a dozen, after reading Jacob Needleman‘s book Lost Christianity for the first time. I presume, but am not certain, that the file from which I cut and pasted the material below was a transcript made, half a dozen years ago, of pen and paper notes that were contemporaneous with that first reading. Because of this uncertainty, this post is not backdated like most of them are.

Forgiveness is the seeing that carries the holy force of reconciliation. God forgives; Christ forgives; but actually, the power of forgiveness lies with the Holy Spirit.

Jacob Needleman, Lost Christianity : quoting “Father Sylvan”

Sensitivity to the qualities of energy is the one and only touchstone for determining the level or authenticity of Christian practices. The disciplined way of living, ideas, practices, that enable an individual to acquire this sensitivity in the whole of himself stands as the esoteric tradition at the heart of every revelation. Only there may one speak of the unity of all the religions of the world. Every other attempt to identify similarities among religions is false ecumenism.

To awaken spiritual emotion is the work of religious discipline. This comes about through sacrifice. I must sacrifice attachment to the results of the spirit, even as they are taking place in me. Religious man may become a magician; but in becoming such, he sees only the greatness of God and the insignificance of his own being.

All revelation is the revelation of how to search, how to struggle. It is not the revelation of results.

Mystics take the call of the Spirit for the end and the goal of human life. They have their reward. But we seek something else.


What we need to learn is that merely to look at things as they are with bare attention can be a religious act.

The principal power of the soul, which defines its real nature, is a gathered attention that is directed simultaneously toward the spirit and the body. This is attention of the heart, and this is the principal mediating, harmonizing power of the soul. The mediating attention of the heart is spontaneously activated in the state of profound self-questioning. God can only speak to the soul, Father Sylvan writes, and only when the soul exists. But the soul of man only exists for a moment, as long as it takes for the question to appear and disappear.

Rcb (me): This is repentance.

The practice of Christianity begins with the repeated efforts to recognize what takes place within oneself in the state of self-questioning.

Through containing this special psychic energy that is activated in the experience of deep self-questioning, the soul comes into existence, and begins to gather itself into an independent entity. According to Father Sylvan, this process can never be carried out without proper guidance, and is in the strictest sense the task of authentic esoteric Christianity, which he characterizes as an esotericism of energy, rather than words or ideas.

Elsewhere he states: The commandments of our teacher Moses are at one level exercises for the teaching of the soul.

Rcb: What am I? I am a question.

Finally, a truly Christian life is possible only for an individual in whom the process of soul-making has gone past a certain point. Such individuals are rare; but only they are capable of altruism in the strictly spiritual sense. In Fr. Sylvan’s language, the soul begins to radiate. He writes: God created Adam as the intermediate. The intermediate is the beginning, but for me the beginning is the goal.
In short, the soul is not a fixed entity. According to Fr. Sylvan it is a movement, that begins whenever a man or woman experiences the psychological pain of contradiction. It is an actual energy, but one that is only at some beginning stage of its development and action. Every day, every more or less average individual experiences the appearance of this energy in its most embryonic stage. Whenever there is pain or contradiction, this energy of the soul is released or activated. Lost Christianity is the lost or forgotten power of man or woman to extract the pure energy of the soul from the experiences that make up his or her life. This possibility is distinct only in the most vivid or painful moments of our ordinary lives, but it can be discovered in all experiences if one knows how to seek it.

Certain powerful experiences are often accompanied by the sensation of presence, and attention appears that is simultaneously open to a higher, freer mind or spirit, and to all the perceptions, sensations and emotions that constitute our ordinary self. One feels both separate and engaged in a new and entirely extraordinary way. One experiences “I am.” This is the soul in its inception.

It was a disaster for Christianity, according to Fr. Sylvan, when it adopted the notion that the soul of the human being already exists in finished form within human nature. This assumption about the given existence of the soul led to our identification of ordinary kinds of thoughts, emotions and sensations with the soul, the higher part of ourselves, and hence to the futile and mistaken effort to perfect our being by perfecting our thoughts, emotions, and sensations, that is, the futile effort of thought to alter emotion, or vice versa.

Your only freedom consists in where to place your attention.

4 thoughts on “Jacob Needleman on the soul

  1. “Lost Christianity” is a powerful remider of the depth of my sleep. In your quote above on reconciliation, in Tibetan Vajrayana it is said that as a human (body, ego, false sense of “I” ) we see only in a dualistic way. “You” and “I” are separate. If however we place our sense of Being in the Buddhic (Christ) level of Mind (or above this level) we are no longer in a dualistic setting. We are one. This is why the choice of “Reconciling” for describing those energies is so correct. We reconcile only as we change Being.
    Tibetan Dzogchen requires we be conscious of the Emptiness(Self) and of our body simultaneously. We call it “TrekChod”. The principles of Trekchod are what would make the “Movements” of Gurdjieff worthwhile to do.
    Have you seen any other works where Needleman approaches the same ideas as in “Lost Christianity”??

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