The Theosophical Society in America

Thinking Aloud: Are We Soup or Salad?

by Patrician Edwards

Originally printed in the JANUARY- FEBRUARY 2008 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Edwards, Patrician. " Thinking Aloud: Are We Soup or Salad?." Quest  96.1 (JANUARY- FEBRUARY 2008): 28-29.

Patrice EdwardsWhat is the nature of our unity, our diversity? E Pluribus Unum, from many one. That is a concept woven into the very nature of the American identity. But what does it mean? How does that affect us in our every day encounters with each other? What does it mean as we contemplate our basic nature? Who am I? What am I? And how does who I am relate to who I am with you? And to probe even deeper, how does the question of unity and diversity address my connection with the guide of my understanding? There are so many questions, so very many questions.

For many on the path toward enlightenment, it is obvious that we are not alone or separate. There is a power greater than our individual being that has revealed itself using many different names: Buddha, Jesus, Allah, Shiva, Great Spirit, Zero Point Energy Field, The Force, thus reflecting the cultural diversity of world. We, of the twenty-first century, are very fortunate because we have access to the wisdom of these cultures.

Two thousand years ago, Aristotle said, "A democratic state is limited only by the range of an orator's voice." Until recently what was said of a democratic state was also true of the opportunity to learn. The spread of knowledge was limited by the sound of the teacher's voice. This began to change several centuries ago with the invention of the printing press. Wisdom was able to be transported beyond the sound of the wise person's voice. Through books, we here in the United States, have been able to read about and become familiar with the ancient and contemporary teachings of China, India, and other distant and exotic places in the world.

With the advent of telephone, radio, and television, our ability to access the teaching and wisdom from far-flung places has increased immeasurably; however, with the widespread use of the Internet during the last few decades, the knowledge available to us is phenomenal! Therefore, we are no longer limited by what our parents, our teachers, and our preachers had available to teach us. We are truly blessed and live in an enlightened age. How lucky we are! But knowing more also creates more questions.

One of the most vital questions is: What is the nature of our relationship with the ultimate being in the universe? Many people have had personal experiences with the Source of All Being. In this age of relatively easy publication either in print or on the Internet, many of these people have shared their ideas, impressions, and conclusions. However, these ideas do not always agree with each other. Several have come away from their encounter with contradictory ideas and impressions about our nature, the nature of the Supreme Being, our relationships with each other and with the Supreme Being. That is not surprising because when one tries to understand infinity with a finite mind, there is bound to be some confusion.

There are some general conclusions that I feel are safe to draw. Contact with this Higher Power, under all guises and names, usually leads to the conclusion that we are not only intimately connected to "It"; we are also connected to each other. Our ego-self is diminished and our higher-self becomes dominant.

As we are a part of the whole, do we also maintain our individual, unique, separate identity? This question fills me with a sense of awe, because when I first turned my will and my life over to the care of a Higher Power (as I understand it) I discovered a pure and uncluttered sense of self. I also knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that as I gave up my stubborn insistence of trying to run my life, I, became more in charge of my life. I invite anyone to explore this topic more deeply.

This experience has led me to ask the question: Are we soup or salad? I devised this analogy to explore the relationship we human beings have with ourselves, with each other and the rest of creation, and with the First Cause, the Creator.

Let us consider the following: Creamed soup combines several distinct ingredients and blends them together. The tomatoes are no longer recognizable as just tomatoes. The celery and onions do not maintain their separate shape or unique flavor. The elements of each ingredient are present, yet transformed. The flavor is tomato-celery-onion, which is entirely different from tomato, celery, and onion. All the flavors are blended. Every bite is the same, a mix of each and every ingredient. Is our diversity in unity like soup? Does our diversity ultimately blend us so completely with the Absolute that our Self becomes blended into the whole? At our essence, are we essentially an indistinguishable bite of the Absolute?

The second alternative is salad. Again, several ingredients are combined to make a single dish. However, in a salad each ingredient maintains its unique character. Together, the tomatoes, celery, and onions make up the whole dish yet their individual flavors remain identifiable. How does the model of the salad explain the nature of our unity in diversity? As we unite with the Absolute do we maintain our unique identity as Bill and Mary and Sue?

That is a profound question; one whose answer will give us a clue as to whom and what we are at our very core. What is the nature of our soul? It is a profound question; it is an interesting question, but at the level of practical living, it is an unimportant question.

Our job as human beings is to love! Love ourselves, love each other including the apparently unlovable, and to love our Creator. Our job is to be grateful, to appreciate, and enjoy the many blessings we have received. However, we have been endowed with a curious mind that takes pleasure in philosophical pursuits. So, it is not surprising that we wonder about our ultimate nature and purpose of our existence. It is human nature, the source of great enjoyment, and also a great blessing.

Therefore, I take great pleasure in presenting you a third alternative. We are sort of soup and sort of salad, much like vegetable soup. In vegetable soup, each ingredient contributes some flavor to the broth. At the same time, each ingredient maintains its own identity and unique contribution, but, and this is important, it is softened in the cooking process.

We, like vegetable soup, are cooked by life and the experiences we encounter. The fact that life cooks us is experientially apparent, obvious to every one. As Shakespeare said, we are all faced with the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." We know that life has an ability to cook and soften us. We also know that the process, no matter how painful, moves us toward a greater connection with ourselves and with our Higher Power.

As we cook and as we soften, we yield our incredible, unique contribution to the broth of the Absolute. God would be lonely without us. I guess that means I believe that even as we are cooking and blending we maintain our divinely created uniqueness.
I have offered three different possible analogies rather than a definitive solution. That is because I am on the path, not yet at the place of Absolute Knowing. What do you think? Are we soup or salad or vegetable soup?