a. What does the
soul keep from one life to the next?
When a soul becomes embodied in the World Idea, it is to learn, grow and unfold through what experience comes to it via the body. But at death, what actually is taken back with the soul? The memory traces would seem to go with the body back to the "Dragon" and add to the World Store of ideas and images, but what does the soul take? And what part of soul? The Overself? That being eternal, established in the Nous, what does that have to learn? Plotinus says something like the soul becomes what is most intensely lived, but what does that mean? If it is the secondary soul that actually learns and grows, again, what is it that it learns? Not that it can do a good tennis backhand, or swing a Japanese sword, but concentration and calmness? Is that what it gets?
You start off with "When a soul becomes embodied in the World Idea, it is to learn, grow and unfold through what experience comes to it via the body. "
Let me lay down some language: Being is Dynamic, but always transforms back into itself; Life is the reflection of the Power of the One in Being - and therefore is the same in Being, Becoming, the Sacred and the Profane. Intellect Acts to Know the One, which knowing gives rise to the Ideas within itself. Soul looks [PAY ATTENTION] to these Ideas in the Intellect, and seeks to Know them. Since Soul is not Intellectual Principle, it has got to be wired differently, or it would still be Intellectual Principle - therefore where the Intellectual Principle reflects its prior within itself, the Soul reflects its prior OUTSIDE itself - i.e. in Nature, and then in Body. Soul is ever evolving - although its head, as it were, is stuck inside the Intellectual Principle, its own Soul-ness is NOT, for then it would simply be Intellectual Principle, which it isn't. So the Soul is always evolving, refining the Ideas of the Nous - and the Place where this Evolution occurs is Nature (i.e. psyche). Now, Nature doesn't actively look to its prior - for if it did, it would be Soul Two-which it isn't. Nature does RECEIVE from Soul, and thence further imitates Soul by casting that reflection beneath itself - into and AS Body. Body doesn't look up, doesn't look down, just runs around looking for trouble.
"Therefore" the Soul uses Nature and Body as the environment in which to work out its contemplation of the Intellectual Principle. This loops around insofar as the Ideas of Nature & Body (& their derivatives) are themselves Ideas in the Intellectual Principle. Even as the brain is not the active perceiver, but the embodied, coagulating record of the mind's perceiving act, so also the world is primarily (from the viewpoint of Soul, mind you) significant as relatively responsive or recalcitrant to the Soul's efforts to image Intellectual Principle. Now, the world and the psyche are certainly significant in their own right, and have their own meanings and capacities to work out, but these are part of Nature's and Body's work - NOT Soul.
Therefore again, it's not so much what the Soul takes from this life when we die, but rather what we take from the Soul's imaging during this life. If we are in harmony with the World-Mind's presentation of Body and Nature, then our Soul will have a clean slate to write upon, and we will easily read its work - which work will appear as understanding, powers (healing, teaching, writing, whacking things &etc); new or refined Ideas (including scientific, political, artistic & metaphysical ones). Thus the artist's true inspiration is from within - and that inspiration - to paint a Madonna - is the image in that artist's nature of their Soul's contemplation of Mother-Goddess / Blessed Virgin Mary or something like that.
This abstract model is considerably 'cleaner' than the reality of partially evolved souls on a somewhat dim planet (half dark all the time). So just like the artist who finds his work mutating to accommodate recalcitrant material (the sculptor who starts out making a horse but ends up with a dog, because the marble cracked in half), our Soul's work will be corroded by the potency of natural and un-natural elements within our psyche. So the Soul wants to paint Madonna, but my nature is to fantasize about sex with the 'other' Madonna (not really) then my Soul's work will be contaminated, and it will now have an association of sex with Madonna that it didn't have before. So in the next life it will have to keep working on this image, will have to learn to differentiate between sacred iconography and pornography - and will have to put extra time into this because of the earlier corruption.
So at death the Soul brings home it's homework, as it were - and if the paper itself is clean (not sterile, not inert, just truly natural), then the soul will be able to hand that assignment in and can then go forth to get another one. If the paper is dirty, then the Soul will have to undertake a life of just cleaning up the paper - i.e. straightening out the 'normal life' of handling the world and psychology - almost to the exclusion of working on its own vision. Plato says we get one life of 'writing' and one life of 'cleaning up' alternately - if we're not too far off the mark. The saint is the one who just goes from writing to writing, with no further need for clean-up lives. The Sage actually undertakes to introduce the Ideas whose images have evolved in their own Soul BACK into the World-Mind.
At death, then, the Soul takes back part of Nature, and Nature/Body clings to part of Soul - thus creating the Dragon, which binds the Soul to staying close to its prior incarnatory imagery - i.e. if the psyche is strongly tainted with Christian imagery to an unnatural and egotistical degree, then those energies will bind the Soul - it has to come back into a Christian environment to clean up its negative relationship to Christianity before moving on.
As far as what the Soul learns - in my opinion, the 'realm of Soul' is more potent and richer and more detailed than the realm of Nature or the realm of Body. After all, the bodily aspect of marriage (living more or less in the same house with a person of the (usually) opposite sex) is not that different from one house to the next, from one decade to the next. The psychology of each marriage, however, is far more complex - to the point that even the two people in the marriage seldom have the same image/experience of it. How much more so, then, for Soul?
Starting from the top, let us say that the Soul is contemplating the reason-principle of one-on-one competition (something that even dung beetles engage in); it writes its notes down in the psyche; if that psyche is American/European 18th Century or better, it may find that Tennis is a perfect image for this reason-principle - no blood, and much concentration. This is then transcribed upon the body, and the person becomes a good tennis player. So good they define their ego around this skill. Oops. Now when the body dies, the Soul will carry some egotism mingled with its 'tennis/competition' notes. Next life, it has to sift out the ego from the image - so the person may be talented as a tennis player, but will experience sufficient humiliation or rejection or what have you to not identify their ego with their skill. If all goes well, in the third incarnation you get Arthur Ashe.
So I don't think that the Soul only gets the intangible quality - the Soul consistently - dead or alive - gets a compound of Idea, Quality, Image, and Embodiment - otherwise, the Soul would indeed be better off rolling around heaven all day. This view holds that enlightenment is not ever an escape or cessation of incarnation, just luminous, inspired, empowered, blessed living. After all, if the plan was to harvest the great Souls, then humankind/existence is nothing more than purgatory. I prefer the name "Cosmos" for our world; it literally means "the Adornment of the One."