The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav: Book Overview

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Seat of the Soul" by Gary Zukav. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What’s The Seat of the Soul about? What does it say about the nature of the universe and the material world? What does it teach about the soul’s purpose and evolution?

The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav is a best-selling exploration of the soul’s evolutionary journey through the material realm. Published in 1989, following Zukav’s acclaimed The Dancing Wu Li Masters (which explored the connection between quantum physics and spirituality), this book earned a spot as an Oprah Winfrey favorite and gained a wide following throughout the 1990s.

Keep reading for our overview of The Seat of the Soul.

The Seat of the Soul

Zukav argues that humans are primarily spiritual beings living in the material world. Our souls have incarnated in order to learn lessons and fulfill a mission, and ultimately to evolve. Therefore, Zukav says, our true life’s purpose is to become fully aligned with our souls in order to help them evolve. However, humans have become disconnected from our spiritual nature, and this causes much sorrow and suffering in the world. Zukav says we need to tune into our souls and to messages from the universe and our spirit guides, so we can fulfill our soul’s mission and aid in its evolution.

Gary Zukav’s 1979 book The Dancing Wu Li Masters was born from his friendship with physicist Jack Sarfatti, who introduced him to the concepts of quantum physics and purportedly ghost-wrote portions of the book. Zukav and Sarfatti were part of an Eastern mysticism-inspired spiritual movement in the 1970s, and they sought to combine ideas from the new physics and this new spiritual movement. 

The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav veers away from a scientific perspective but extends some of the ideas from The Dancing Wu Li Masters about the spiritual nature of the universe. We can particularly see the influence of Eastern mystical traditions in Zukav’s ideas about the soul’s reincarnation and karma. Oprah Winfrey has called The Seat of the Soul her favorite book, aside from the Bible, and her enthusiastic promotion of the book contributed to its widespread popularity.

Zukav claims that humans are primarily spiritual beings living in the material world. Our souls have incarnated in order to learn lessons and fulfill a mission and, ultimately, to evolve. Therefore, Zukav says, our true life’s purpose is to become fully aligned with our souls in order to help them evolve. However, humans have become trapped in the pursuit of external power and disconnected from our spiritual nature, he says, and this causes much sorrow and suffering in the world. Zukav says we need to learn how to tune into our souls and to messages from the universe and our spirit guides, to find empowerment within, so we can properly fulfill our soul’s mission and aid in its evolution.

Our guide is based on the 25th-anniversary edition of the book, published in 2014. We look at how Zukav describes the makeup of the universe, from the highest level of divine consciousness, to spirit beings and souls, down to the lowest expression, the material world. We then discuss the problems Zukav identifies with humanity’s choices on the material plane, and how we could potentially begin to make better choices, through developing our intuition and becoming aligned with our souls.

The Nature of the Universe

To understand the premise of The Seat of the Soul, we begin by looking at how Zukav conceives of the universe. He says that the universe, in its essence, is composed entirely of a divine loving consciousness. Some may refer to this as “God,” while others may understand it as simply the living spirit of the universe itself.

That spiritual essence is then broken down into smaller components, Zukav explains, which consist of many different types of spirit beings, including angels, spirit guides and teachers, souls, and many other forms of spirit beings in other galaxies. All of these spirit beings are made of light energy, he says, and some of these light-energy spirit beings take the form of human souls that need to come to the physical plane to learn lessons, balance their karma, and evolve. These soul-beings are the only kind that need to incarnate this way, while the rest remain elsewhere in the spiritual realm of the universe.

Pantheism and the Soul

Zukav’s conception of the universe being composed entirely of a divine loving consciousness is reminiscent of a pantheistic worldview. Pantheism is the belief that there is nothing supernatural separate from the universe, but that everything in existence is one divine whole, or in other words, “the universe” is identical to “God.” In this concept, “God” is not understood as a personal or anthropomorphic-type being that can act upon the world, but the “divine Unity of the world” itself. However, Zukav’s belief diverges from pantheism in the belief in separate individual souls as parts of that whole. Most pantheists would believe that the divine consciousness pervades us, and everything in the world, but that there would not be a distinct soul-being within us, as separate from others, that would stay intact after our death.

According to Zukav, our souls are made of light energy. Our bodies and minds, however, are products of the material world. Your soul is infinite and timeless. Therefore, Zukav says, while you live only one time as the human being you are, your soul has already likely lived many lifetimes. According to Zukav, the extent to which your lower self is aware of, and connected to, your soul will determine your life experience.

The Soul’s Purpose

Zukav says that the main purpose of the soul in coming to live on Earth is to evolve. However, this is a spiritual evolution, rather than a biological one. He explains that the purpose of the soul’s journey in the material world is for it to learn lessons, heal, and balance its karma. Along with the soul’s evolution, Zukav says all of humanity is evolving toward “enlightenment”— it’s the natural path of our species to go this way.


An important part of the soul’s healing, Zukav says, involves balancing its karma. The karma of your soul is also what determines your personality characteristics. All of your reactions to life experiences will determine whether your soul balances its karma or creates more karmic debt. He says that nothing that happens in the world is ever really “unfair”—everything is a soul experiencing what it needs to experience to balance its karmic energy. So, making value judgments, such as judging something as right or wrong or judging people as better or worse, only creates negative karma. Zukav says that we need to practice compassion and “non-judgmental acceptance.”

Collective Consciousness

Your actions are tied, not just to your soul’s karma, Zukav says, but to that of other souls as well, through “collective consciousnesses.” As spiritual beings living in the material world, Zukav says, our true essence is light energy, which flows through us from the universe. So, all of our interactions and behaviors on the material plane have an energetic component as light vibration, he explains: Negativity creates lower vibration energy, and positivity creates higher vibrations. Because of these emotional frequencies, Zukav explains, you also will attract others of similar vibration to you. High-vibration people are “enlightened.”

The Nature of the Material World

The biggest challenge our souls face in incarnating on Earth, according to Zukav, is that they are constrained by the choices we make with our rational minds, which think from a less enlightened perspective. If you are not consciously in touch with your soul and listening to its guidance, he says, you will make decisions based on the desires and fears of your lower self, your physical form. And yet those choices will affect your soul’s karma and therefore its chance for evolution.

Humans have created a world built on pursuit of external power instead of internal power, Zukav says. A human who doesn’t even believe in, or is not in touch with his/her soul, he says, will often make the wrong choices, and thus we’ve created a world with much suffering and violence.

Ultimately, Zukav argues, the divide within us is always between fear and love. These emotions lead to corresponding behaviors. Also, he says, we’ll continue to attract those same emotions and behaviors toward us, because of the law of attraction—energy attracts like energy. All of these choices will result in the kind of world we create on the material level, Zukav explains, as well as how our soul progresses in this lifetime.

Pursuit of Power

Since we live a life of the mind, which chases material pursuits, Zukav says, we’ve come to understand life as a “survival of the fittest,” so we try to control and dominate our environment and others around us. He says that the feeling of powerlessness underlies all our fears, so we try to alleviate that by seeking power. However, he explains that we perceive power as external to us, something outside of us that we can have more or less of than others, and which determines our social position and thus our value. So we’re constantly in conflict, competing with one another, vying for power. This happens between individuals, races, countries, social classes, religious groups, and so on.

When we seek external power, he says, we’re acting from fear. However, Zukav reminds us that we all have an internal source of power—our souls. And we can tap into that by developing our sixth sense, our intuition. When we tune into our higher intuition, he says, we recognize that true power is within us, and there’s no longer any need to seek external power.

Evolution of the Soul

So, now that we understand how our lower selves may be preventing our souls from evolving, how do we correct this so we can find our soul’s purpose and follow it? Zukav explains that this involves developing our intuition, listening to our heart, and tuning in to our emotions, which will allow us to be guided by our soul. And, he says, we must learn to seek our internal power and let go of our pursuit of external power.

Develop Your Heart Knowledge

When we’re in touch with our deeper emotions, we can understand them as messages from our soul and from other spirit guides out in the universe. This constitutes an intuitive way of knowing and understanding the world with the heart rather than the mind, which Zukav describes as a sixth sense.

Seek Authentic Power 

Once you’ve honed your intuition so that you can listen to your heart knowledge and be guided by your soul, Zukav says, you need to let go of any pursuit of external power and discover your internal power—the power of your soul.

In order to move in the direction of spiritual power, Zukav emphasizes embracing prayer and faith. To communicate with your spirit guides, Zukav says you need to actually talk to them, and ask them for guidance. And when you do that, you must actually believe in them, have faith that they’ll guide you.

Spiritual Psychology

Since we all energetically affect one another and are all tied into the same universal consciousness, we must cooperate with one another to move humanity forward. To this end, Zukav advocates for developing the discipline of “spiritual psychology.” He says this would be a shift in the field of psychology toward examining the spiritual roots of mental illnesses. We should be approaching personality disorders, he says, as fragmentation of the self due to the soul’s karma, and to the multiple lifetimes lived by the soul. If a person’s soul has lived many different kinds of lives, their likes and dislikes and fears and fascinations may all be derived from those. So, for example, phobias might be understood as related to a trauma from your soul’s past life.

The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav: Book Overview

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Seat of the Soul summary :

  • An exploration into your soul’s purpose
  • How to align your life with your soul's purpose
  • How humans have become disconnected from their spiritual natures

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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