This conversation came up recently at the Miyoga Club over the vacuum cleaner - which I had never perceived to have a soul. It was a tool - a very useful "thing". I was grateful to this thing - it saved me a lot of work and kept the yoga centre sneeze free. But did it have a soul? Not that I could perceive - when I turned it off it was 'inanimate' - or no longer animated - not living.
So I left it at that - I didn't sit down with the vacuum and ask it to reveal itself to me - however all of a sudden I started to notice and question the nature of soul. My dog has a soul - without a doubt, my plants have a soul, most certainly - I can see them living and breathing. Once my CD player told me it was about to die and the next time I turned it on - blank. I had forgotten about that until the vacuum conversation.
Then yesterday while mowing a lawn with a hand mower - suddenly I was mid conversation with the mower - "Try mowing me from this angle, how about sweeping that grass away so I don't get blocked up - Oh thats better yes you are getting the hang of it now" - HOLD ON a minute - I am in charge of YOU - not the other way round. "You are going to go through this patch of grass now". JAM (breath and unblock the catch again). And after a conversation that extended into me questioning - where was your soul before it was in the mower?? The mower was most excited and we got an incredibly difficult over-grown nature-strip looking loved again.
This is not something I would share with the owner of the lawn - "Oh by the way I have just had such a wonderfully indepth conversation with my mower, it was rather insightful". However, this is something to discuss in the context of Yoga and how we relate not only to each other - but to the world around us.
In a spiritual forum on this subject one person expresses, "All material objects are made up of energy" (http://www.spiritualforums.com/vb/showthread.php?t=22647). In terms of Yoga practice it is how we receive, transform and share this energy that matters most. But this said, what does the word 'soul' itself mean and how does this relate to energy and our relationship with it?
If you look up the meaning of soul in the dictionary it is exclusive to the human condition:
The animating and vital principle in humans, credited with the faculties of thought, action, and emotion and often conceived as an immaterial entity.
The spiritual nature of humans, regarded as immortal, separable from the body at death, and susceptible to happiness or misery in a future state.
The disembodied spirit of a dead human (http://www.answers.com/topic/soul).
Of course it all depends on whose difiniton you read and which tradition they are speaking from.
The Columbian Encyclopedia takes a broader scope in defining the 'soul'; "soul, the vital, immaterial, life principle, generally conceived as existing within humans and sometimes within all living things, inanimate objects, and the universe as a whole. Religion and philosophy have long been concerned with the nature of the soul in their attempts to understand existence and the meaning of life".
So how about the Yogic tradition? The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root 'yuj' which means 'to join'. Yoga is the science that teaches us the method of uniting the individual soul with the Supreme Soul (http://www.sivanandaonline.org/graphics/sadhana/yoga/meaning.html). The little soul "Me" is entrained with the big Soul. At the Miyoga Club we call this big Soul Divine Love or Uncontional Love and we see it personified in the deity Quan Yin who is the emobidment of Compassion also known as Kannon, Chenrezig or Avalokiteshvara, or in the West - Mary.
In the context of the lawn mower... material objects from the eastern perspective are an illusion. When did the form that I call "Lawn Mower" come into being? It had once been in the earth as metal, it had been in the earth as oil which became plastic, it has been liquid and is now solid and one day - especially if I leave it out in the rain - it will turn to rust and crumble away - back down into the earth. By this understanding I can accept that the object "lawn mower" as a solid, permanant thing is an illusion made real at this present time. Perhaps then, when I connect to the 'soul' of an object I am honouring its lineage through time and space as more that what the little I can comprehend. I am extending my perspective and reaching into a realm, unseen, but able to be felt.
Namaste - I salute the divinity in you - as I do in me - and all!