Theosophy and the Number Seven
A selection of articles relating to the esoteric
significance of the Number 7 in Theosophy
The Seven Principles of Man
First published 1907
The Septenate in Nature
Modern Views on Man
Chapter 2. The Septenary Division
Chapter 3. The Lower Quaternary:
The Physical Body
The Astral Body
The Animal Soul
Chapter 4. The Higher Triad:
The Septenate in Nature
The teaching of the seven principles of man is a most sacred tenet of the
ancient wisdom-religion, and should be approached with the seriousness of mind with which one enters upon a serious question. For this is no attempt to offer interesting speculations for the edification of intellectual curiosity. It is a
reverent effort to present an outline of teachings which have behind them the
sanction of the accumulated wisdom of the ages. It must be borne in mind that a
teaching like this cannot be presented in the complete and systematic form of a
scientific treatise. Any attempt to reduce it to such a form would result in
depriving it of its vital essence and converting it into a dogma. True knowledge
can come only in proportion as we progress on the path of self-development.
Theosophical teachings cover such a vast domain that, for the most part, all
that can be done is to indicate a number of starting points from which the
intuition and further study of the inquirer may set out; and far-reaching side
issues are contacted at every turn, which would be impossible to follow up
within any reasonable limits of time and space.
If asked, "Why seven?" the answer is that seven is one of the key numbers by
which the mysteries that underlie all nature are revealed and explained. The
wisdom-religion teaches that number and numbers underlie all the processes of
creation. This numerical key is at once most important and profound. There is
nothing arbitrary about the use of the number seven as applied to the study of
man's nature. The septenate is universal throughout nature; it would be possible
to illustrate this fact by a large number of instances, but for the present we
must be content to assume the fact, and to refer the inquirer elsewhere for
further information. No school of modern thought has anything more definite and reasonable to offer as a substitute. In some Eastern books one may meet with other divisions than the septenary one -- fivefold, fourfold, or threefold, for
instance, but these are merely convenient abbreviations for special purposes.
WHAT DO MODERN VIEWS TELL
US ABOUT HUMAN NATURE?
The analysis of man's nature in our modern conceptions is represented roughly by a threefold division -- body, mind, and soul or spirit; but our notions about
these are extremely hazy. Science has made an elaborate study of the structure
and functions of the body, but is much handicapped in its understanding thereof
by a lack of knowledge of the principles which come next in order to the body.
As to the mind, this word denotes roughly the personal thinking ego and its
thoughts, emotions, and volitions. There are various systems of psychology which deal with this, but here again the want of knowledge concerning the other
principles has caused great confusion. The soul or spirit is an even more vague
conception. It stands for what in religion is regarded as the immortal part of
man. Very little is known of its nature, and it is for the most part supposed to
function after the death of the body. Dogmatic religion discouraged the
intellectual study of such questions; and science, having been introduced in a
spirit of reaction against dogmatic religion, has scrupulously avoided pushing
its investigations any further than the material world. Consequently we have
been left without any adequate conceptions of the nature of man; and the most
important parts of human nature are investigated neither by religion nor by
But in the past, before the wave of materialism swept over the world, bringing
with it the destruction of the ancient mystic teachings and their replacement by
religious dogmatism, there was a sacred science which embraced all that we now
call science and religion and much more besides. Our present religions,
philosophies, and sciences are but detached fragments of that great knowledge,
or new growths arising from its remains. This ancient system, which is referred
to in theosophical works as the wisdom-religion, the secret doctrine, and the
esoteric philosophy, was once known all over the world.
H. P. Blavatsky tells us, referring to the pages of history for her proofs, that at the close of the Classical period most virulent and determined efforts were made to stamp out all traces of this ancient wisdom and to place in its stead dogmatic religion. But in spite of these efforts there have remained enough proofs, in the numerous monumental and documentary records of antiquity, to prove the truth of what is claimed about the wisdom-religion. In addition to these archaeological proofs, there have always been in the world initiates who have made it their care to preserve the sacred knowledge; and although, in the dark cycle spoken of, these Adepts withdrew from their public teaching, yet they have always preserved the knowledge in secret, ready to be brought again out when humanity shall have passed through the dark valley of materialism and be upon the ascending arc towards spirituality. One of the ancient teachings thus outlined is that of the seven principles of man.
In order to make our explanations clearer, it will be necessary to touch briefly
upon the question of evolution as dealt with by theosophy. (A fuller account may be found elsewhere in theosophical literature.) Evolution means the growth and gradual perfecting of forms through the agency of the universal life-spirit
which is striving to manifest itself through them. Everything in the universe,
from the smallest mineral atom up to man, is thus evolving; for everything is,
in one degree or another, a manifestation of the eternal spirit.
The modern evolutionists have glimpsed a small part of this truth, but their theories are imperfect and misleading. In the first place they have merely studied the effects of evolution, tracing throughout the kingdoms of nature a sequence and progression of organisms; but they have neglected to tell us anything about the cause of evolution -- that is, about the intelligence and will that are working
in these forms to bring about their growth. Those who deny that there is any
such indwelling spirit are guilty of a logical absurdity which it is impossible
to account for by any other hypothesis than that their thinking faculties have
been impaired. There are others who see the absurdity of saying that an inert
substance can raise itself to perfection without there being, inside or outside
of it, some life or mind or spirit to work upon it; and who say that "God" is
the agency who performs this function. They are much nearer the truth; but there
is no need thus to leap at one bound from visible matter to the supreme deity.
God, in their explanation, stands for a vast host of powers and beings and
worlds unknown to science, which nevertheless have to be studied. Further, as is shown elsewhere, the word "God" introduces all sorts of theological dogmas with which theosophy has nothing to do.
Again, modern evolutionists have confined their studies to the visible planes of
nature; but, as will be shown, not only the bodies, but the minds and souls of
creatures are subject to evolution.
In every physical atom there is a spark of the eternal life imprisoned, and this
causes physical matter to become gradually perfected through long ages until it
becomes sufficiently plastic and efficient to fit it for the reception of higher
forms of life. In the vegetable kingdom also there is the vegetable "monad"
striving to perfect vegetable forms; and so in the mineral kingdom.
Man himself is the product of several different lines of evolution. The matter
in his physical body has been perfected through incalculable ages of evolution
in lower forms.
His physical body itself is the culminating point (so far) of a long line of evolution in the animal kingdom. But it is a great error to suppose that an animal can evolve into a man, or thinker, as some evolutionists say. There comes a point in the evolution of the animal kingdom when progress can go no further in that cycle without the entry of something else. The animal soul is unable to develop the self-consciousness and power of choice that are characteristic of man. This "something else" is the manasaputra. Manasaputra means the "son of mind" or "mind-born son"; it is a name given to our higher egos before they incarnated in mankind. They incarnated in what theosophy refers to as the third root-race. All our egos are thinking and rational entities who
had lived in the precedent cosmic life cycle, and whose destiny it was to
incarnate in the humanity of this life cycle. As H. P. Blavatsky says:
Try to imagine a "Spirit," a celestial Being . . . divine in its essential
nature, yet not pure enough to be one with the ALL, and consequently having to
purify its nature so that it may finally reach that goal. . . . In its very
essence it is THOUGHT, and is therefore called in its plurality Manasaputras,
or "Sons of the (Universal) mind," This individualized "Thought" is what we
Theosophists call the real human Ego, the thinking Entity imprisoned in a case
of flesh and bones. This is surely a Spiritual Entity, not Matter, and such
Entities are the incarnating Egos, informing the bundle of animal matter
called mankind, and whose names are manasa, or "Minds."
This is a most important point. It disposes of the doctrine of the descent of
man from anthropoid apes. Anthropoid apes were no more able to evolve unaided in the past than they are now. They are degenerate descendants of one of the early human races who sinned against nature, as explained elsewhere in theosophical writings. It puts a gulf between the simple animal and man. It shows that, in addition to the evolution of forms upwards, there was a descent of something from above; and that we have a divine heredity as well as a terrestrial one. It throws light on scriptural passages about the inbreathing of the divine spirit.
The Septenary Division
The septenary division may be given as follows:
THE LOWER QUATERNARY
1. Physical Body, or Sthula-Sarira.
2. Astral Body, or Linga-Sarira.
3. Vitality, or Prana.
4. Animal Soul, or Kama-rupa.
THE HIGHER TRIAD
5. Human Soul, or Manas.
6. Spiritual Soul, or Buddhi.
7. Spirit, or Atma.
The names emphasized above are Sanskrit terms. In the impoverished state of our language, so far as a vocabulary to express this class of ideas is concerned,
theosophists may surely claim the privilege accorded to other systems, of
adopting a special terminology; but as little tax as possible will be laid on
the reader in this respect.
To simplify now the comprehension of this scheme, it will be best to consider
man first as a trinity. It is impossible to consider human beings as being any
less than threefold. There is a conscious chooser, oscillating between good and
evil. This familiar fact is expressed in theosophy by saying that the soul is
threefold; the three divisions are called:
This analysis sums up the views of the greatest philosophers and teachers; it is
a cardinal tenet of the wisdom-religion, as is shown by H. P. Blavatsky -- who
quotes the teachings of Plato, of the Neoplatonists, and of the Egyptians, on
this point. The soul was, according to them, triple, and esoterically sevenfold.
One part was divine and immortal, another mortal, animal, and passional; and
between the two stood another which hovered between good and evil, and possessed the power of choice.
These are denominated respectively the spiritual soul, the animal soul, and the human soul. The human soul is our personality, and represents the pivotal point in our nature. It is destined to ally itself finally with its divine counterpart, the spiritual soul, and thus to overcome the animal soul and turn it into an obedient servant. But first it has to pass through a long process of error and delusion, lasting through many incarnations, during which it is enslaved by the passions and gradually learns and masters them. This process is symbolized the world over by the allegories and myths that tell of the hero passing through numerous adventures in quest of the truth, or seeking his true bride and being deceived by enchantresses, rescuing princesses and killing dragons, having tasks set him; and so on.
This threefold nature of the human character is matter of familiar experience to everyone; does it not constitute the great drama of life, full of the awful and the sublime? Whence our aspirations that impel us to noble unselfish actions and yearning for the beautiful, the true, and the right? Whence again our impulses to selfishness, anger, and indifference? These two incentives must spring from some source within us, and there must also be a chooser who chooses between the two. Any philosophy which tries to explain things with any less than these three can lead only to confusion. Paul in his epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. seq.) explains the distinction between the divine and the mortal natures of man, but his terms have, partly by translation and partly by use, acquired other meanings. In James 3:15, the same thing is described.
Neither theology nor science reverences the immortal part of man. For theology
confines its activity solely to the afterlife and does not represent it as
having any particular part to play during earth-life; and as to its nature and
attributes, we are left entirely in the dark. Among scientists, there are those
who are content merely to admit their complete ignorance on the subject, and
those who deny their own immortality.
The seven principles may be divided into two parts:
The Higher Triad;
The Lower Quaternary.
It may be mentioned in passing that the number four prevails in the material
world, and the number three in the spiritual; a subject which is included in the
study of the symbology of the ancient wisdom-religion. The higher triad is atma,
buddhi, and manas, and it alone is immortal; the lower quaternary, consisting of
the remaining principles, constitutes the mortal part of our nature.
The Lower Quaternary
FOUR is the number which rules in the lower or terrestrial world, as three is
the number of spirit. The four elements are a well known conception of ancient
and medieval science and philosophy. These elements were designated by the names fire, air, water, and earth.
These words were not used in their present sense however. They answer to some extent to our notions of solidity, liquidity, gaseity, and heat or luminosity;
but they have a more extended range of meaning than that. The quadrangular
shape, the four cardinal points of the compass, the four seasons, the cross, are
some of the quaternaries. It would be too much of a digression to enter more
fully into this branch here. Suffice it to say that the phenomena of nature
cannot be rationally explained unless we postulate these four principles.
In man these are: physical body, astral double, life-principle and animal soul.
The life-principle builds up the physical atoms according to the pattern of the
astral body, guided and impelled by the instinctual mind of the animal soul.
Science has studied the visible form and visible functions of mineral, plant,
animal, and man; but has suffered from a lack of knowledge of the other
principles. These will now be treated of separately.
THE PHYSICAL BODY
Since the theosophical teachings were first given out, science has made
considerable progress in the direction of regarding the physical body as
theosophy does. That is, the idea of its being an inert mechanism, set in motion
by some vital force, or by mechanical and chemical forces, has given place to
the idea that the body is composed of an immense number of individual "lives,"
each of which has an independent existence in addition to its corporate
existence as part of the body, and which are similar to the microorganisms found in water and other places.
A minute study of the bodily structures reveals this fact; for these structures are seen to be composed of minute units which science calls "cells"; and each cell is endowed with a nucleus, protoplasm, and other parts and functions which make it an independent living organism. In disease some of the cells set up an activity which is hostile to the general harmony of the whole body, and diseased tissue results. An extreme case of this is death.
In theosophy less importance is given to the body. To begin with, it is not
regarded as the producer of life or thought, but as the result of them. Life is
a universal principle, and the body is built up by its operation. It is
impossible to explain much about the body without referring to the other
principles; for to do so would be to deal with effects only, leaving the causes
unexplained. For instance, the "cell" is not a permanent thing. Every atom in
the cell is constantly on the move, some leaving it and other new ones coming
in; so that the composition of the cell is never the same, and in the space of a
few years the matter of the entire body has completely changed. Hence the form
of the body and its component structures can not inhere in the atoms themselves, but must be preserved elsewhere. (See under "ASTRAL BODY.")
It would be erroneous to say that the minute lives of which the body is composed make up, in their totality, the greater life of the body as a whole. For the body, if left to itself, begins to fall to pieces. In sleep, when the greater
part of the controlling influence is withdrawn, there is much more rapid
degeneration. The elements of the body are kept in order by the life-principle
directed by the intelligence. The body of itself is like an irresponsible
automaton. During sleep it assumes attitudes and makes movements that we do not permit when awake.
THE ASTRAL BODY
The term "astral body" is somewhat vague in meaning for two reasons. First, the
poverty of the English language in terms adequate to convey such unfamiliar
ideas obliged early writers on theosophy to use the term in more than one sense.
Secondly, pseudo-theosophists have dragged this, as also other terms, in the mud by using it to express their own peculiar delusions. This latter reason has
caused the term "astral body" to have rather a quack sound. But it is one of the
objects of the present writing to restore some of these misused words to their
While there is no word which can adequately express the nature of this second
principle, perhaps the one that expresses it best is "model-body." This compound word answers to the Sanskrit term linga-sarira. Other words are "double" and "design-body."
When we describe the nature and properties of the astral double, it will be seen
that it fills a gap in modern speculation, and supplies a missing link for the
lack of which science has been much at fault.
The model-body must here be considered chiefly in connection with man; but it is of universal application, and every organism in the universe, whether animal,
vegetable, or mineral, has its own.
It is material, yet the matter of which it is composed is not the matter with
which we are familiar in the physical world. It cannot be perceived by the gross
physical senses, and has none of the attributes by which matter is defined as
such in physics. But it can be perceived by finer senses, and is therefore
matter according to an extended but similar definition. It is an older and more
evolved kind of matter, having undergone a longer process of evolution and being therefore more highly endowed with properties. For even matter is composed of life-atoms which enshrine a spark of the universal spirit and mind. Just as physical forms are made of physical matter so the astral forms are made of this astral matter.
There is an astral world corresponding with the physical world and interrelated
with it in a peculiar manner; but to discuss that would lead us too far from the
present object. It is however extremely interesting to note that, since the
Founders of the Theosophical Society wrote, science has been compelled to admit the existence of finer grades of matter answering exactly to what was described. For instance, in view of the recent discoveries in electro-atomic physics, the statements of W. Q. Judge, made in 1893, are interesting. He says:
The astral body is made of matter of very fine texture as compared with the
visible body, and has a great tensile strength, . . . And not only has it this
immense strength, but it at the same time possesses an elasticity permitting
its extension to a considerable distance. It is flexible, plastic, extensible
and strong. The matter of which it is composed is electrical and magnetic in
The model-body forms the link between mind and body. Its most characteristic
properties are its extreme adaptability, elasticity, and plasticity, which
causes it to take any shape which is impressed upon it by thought. It is prior
to physical matter, as mind is prior to it. Everything in the physical world
exists beforehand in the astral world, in plan. This explains the phenomena of
growth, reproduction, and all the organic processes by which organisms are
created with certain forms and adapted to certain purposes. The acorn contains
the future oak tree modeled entire in astral matter, and the life-atoms merely
build up the physical tree on the already existing model. This it is that
determines whether a seed shall yield an oak or a rose. For want of this
knowledge, science has resorted to many strange hypotheses which will not stand the test of logic. Without the astral model, we must attribute all its
properties to the physical atoms themselves, thus seeking for causes among the
effects. But a logical mind will see that an organism cannot grow according to a
plan unless the plan previously exists somewhere.
In man the model-body exists closely blended with the physical body, which it
sustains. It is this that keeps the physical body in shape. The vitality has an
energic power, and the astral body has a formative power. Both of these factors
are essential. Without the model-body there would be nothing to keep the
life-forces in place or to prevent them from producing monstrous and excessive
growths. It may be compared to a piece of cloth having a design traced on it,
which is afterwards worked in colored silks, or to an invisible photographic
impression afterwards brought out by chemicals. The body grows from the embryo upwards according to the design of the model.
The astral body explains the fact of birthmarks due to sudden shock received by
the mother. Such a shock affects powerfully the imagination of the mother, and
the astral double of the future child is impressed with the picture in her
imagination. In the case of amputations, the patient often feels sensations
apparently emanating from the severed limb; for in this case the astral double
has not been severed. In some animals the severed limb can grow again on the old model. The astral body cannot, in the case of ordinary people, go more than a few feet from the physical body, which it does during sleep or reverie.
But those who have passed through long and arduous processes of development, involving a purification of the whole nature, moral as well as physical, and far beyond the reach of the ordinary man, can project the astral body to a distance and use it as a means of acting consciously apart from the body. Needless to say this has nothing to do with the ridiculous claims of the so-called occultists, who talk too glibly about the astral body and their own pretended powers.
It is in the double that the real organs of the outer sense organs are located.
It has also nerves, arteries, etc., corresponding to those in the physical man.
The physical eye, ear, and nerve papillae contain only the outer mechanism of
the senses, by which the impressions are conveyed to the double. In it are also
stored up the subconscious perception and latent memory which afford such a
problem to hypnotists.
On the death of the physical body, the astral double is released. The immortal
man, the higher triad, passes to the state known as devachan, and the astral
double continues for a time to survive the physical man and to exist as a
"shell." It is this shell that is attracted to the medium at spiritualistic
seances. As it contains all the memories connected with personal existence which were stored up during life, it can repeat these like a parrot.
It remains near the deserted physical body nearly all the time until that is
completely dissipated, for it has to go through its own process of dying. It
may become visible under certain conditions. It is the spook of the
spiritualistic seance-rooms, and is there made to masquerade as the real
spirit of this or that individual. Attracted by the thoughts of the medium and
the sitters, it vaguely flutters where they are, and then is galvanized into a
factitious life by a whole host of elemental forces and by the active astral
body of the medium who is holding the seance or of any other medium in the
audience. From it (as from a photograph) are then reflected into the medium's
brain all the boasted evidences which spiritualists claim go to prove identity
of deceased friend or relative. These evidences are accepted as proof that the
spirit of the deceased is present, because neither mediums nor sitters are
acquainted with the laws governing their own nature, nor with the
constitution, power and function of astral matter and astral man.
This quotation is from W. Q. Judge, who then goes on to explain the phenomena of materialization. This may be caused by the astral body of the medium, which detaches itself during trance and assumes the form of the thought-images impressed upon it by the sitters. This explains how it is that sometimes, when the materialized form has been handled by unbelievers, the physical body of the medium has been found similarly affected. Such an occurrence does not prove fraud, as any injury or mark inflicted on the medium's astral body would be reproduced afterwards on the physical body. Again the materialization may be the actual shell of the departed, made visible and tangible by an alteration of the conditions of the matter of which it is composed. Again the spook may be due to the fact that an unseen mass of electrical and magnetic matter is collected, and upon it is reflected out of the astral light a picture of any required dead or living person.
Thus the phenomenal practices of Spiritualism are a most rash and ignorant
dabbling in matters not understood. The spook is entirely devoid of conscience,
since it is at best but the shadow of the animal man, minus his intelligent and
moral part. It obtains a prolongation of its ghoulish life at the expense of
medium and sitters, whom it gradually but surely contaminates by its contact.
These seances are in fact a species of necromancy (divination by corpses). That
such practices were well known to past sages is proved by the fact that
Iamblichus and others of his school warn their disciples most strongly against
Many phenomena will occur to the reader which can be readily explained by the
astral body; but it will not be profitable to go into these here, the present
object being to aid people in understanding their own nature. The importance of
guarding our thoughts is emphasized when we consider that every thought produces an instant impress upon the plastic double, and that thoughts habitually
repeated will in time mold the physical body. We also see that, through the
agency of the double, the mind is enabled to act on the body purposively. But
here the caution must be added, that as our ordinary intelligence is by no means
competent to judge what is best for the body, any attempt to interfere with
natural processes, along the lines of self-healing or self-culture (so-called)
is sure to result harmfully.
The selfishness of the motive would blind our eyes to our true interests and cause us to bungle the experiment, producing disease or some physical infirmity in the end. We should let our body alone, except so far as the ordinary rules of medicine and hygiene are concerned, and use our will for purifying our minds from selfishness and passion. Then the astral body and the physical body can be trusted to take care of themselves.
Life has been spoken of as a force. But what is meant by a force? We cannot know anything of forces except through their manifestation. We can perceive living or moving matter, and we can say that force or life is present there. But if we try to separate the force from all matter, or even to imagine it as so separated, we must fail. The truth is that our mind, by its very nature as a mind, can conceive of nothing so elementary as force without matter, or matter without
No philosophy has been able to resolve things into less than a trinity of
fundamentals, called by various names into which we need not enter. What,
therefore, life may be in its ultimate essence we cannot say, further than to
predicate that it is a ray of the eternal and universal existence. All the life
which we can know or conceive must be embodied in some form or other, whether in physical matter or one of the higher grades of matter. Thus the question whether life is a force or matter really involves a distinction without a difference, since we can discover nowhere any matter that is not alive, nor any force that is not embodied. Similarly the question whether light is a body or not, is equally vague.
We can reduce it to something which is neither force nor matter
in one sense, and yet in another sense is both. If light is a vibration in a
medium, then what is the vibration without the medium, or the medium without the vibration? The most we can say of light, electricity, the vital force, and so
on, is that they appear to our cognition as matter in motion. All the universe
is pervaded with this mysterious spirit-matter, which is the manifestation of
the one Unknowable.
In considering the life principle in man, therefore, we are considering only a
particular manifestation of a universal principle.
The life principle is not produced by the body. It is prior to the body; it
fashions the body. Life is everywhere, and we live in an ocean of it. Our body
is but a special organ for dealing with it.
Science in examining the bacilli, bacteria, and other minute organisms in the
body, which have been thought to be the causes of disease, is beginning to
realize that some of these organisms are essential to the health of the body,
and further that the whole body is actually made up of them. Some of these
microorganisms are constructive, building up tissues, and others are
destructive, destroying tissues. Theosophy adds that these microorganisms are in their turn composed of still minuter lives. So it is also with the vegetable
kingdom, and even with the mineral kingdom.
Every smallest rudiment of matter must be made up of living atoms; for the "dead" atom is a figment of the scientific imagination, and has been shown by not a few logical critics of current scientific philosophy to be a logical absurdity. But what distinguishes the animal from the vegetable, and the vegetable from the mineral, is the higher overshadowing life which governs and regulates the smaller life-atoms that compose the body.
Without this overshadowing life, the body decays, for the separate life-atoms then begin to fall apart and build themselves into lower orders of existence, until finally they are absorbed into the air and the soil, or built up into other living organisms. Thus, in addition to the life of the matter composing his body, man has a life-principle peculiar to his own particular order of being. It acts in conjunction with the linga-sarira to keep the integrity of his human shape.
The real ultimate source of life is atma, the universal spirit; and it streams
down through our being, like sunlight, reflecting itself in various vehicles or
bodies. Thus, in the higher mind it manifests itself as direct knowledge or
intuition, and as enthusiasm for the noble and true; in the ordinary mind it
manifests itself as reason or ratiocinative thought; lower still it is animal
energy. Everywhere it gives force and activity. The Sanskrit term for this
universal life is jiva; in its lower manifestation as the life principle it is
THE ANIMAL SOUL,
the Sanskrit word and its English equivalent are usually identified only with
their lowest aspect, yet abstract desire is really the great impelling force in
the universe. But desire can be anything, from the most impersonal unselfish
aspiration for harmony and the good of all, down to the basest animal lust. In
its higher sense, it would be better rendered "aspiration" or "devotion."
Desire, like life, manifests itself on all planes; and when it manifests itself
in the lower nature of man, it takes the form of selfish passion. This is what
meant in speaking of
desire-body or animal soul -- the fourth principle in our list.
Hence the desires of the incarnated man are located, for the most part, in his
animal nature and tend to pull him down and promote the selfish and destructive
instincts. These instincts he possesses in common with the other kingdoms of
nature. They are clearly manifest in the beast, and even the plant and the stone
have them in lesser degrees, where they appear as instinct, preference,
attraction, affinity, or by whatever name we may choose to designate what is
essentially one and the same force.
But in man there is the mind, which comes as the messenger of a higher life,
linking him with the immortal and spiritual part of his nature. This at once
intensifies and (eventually) purifies desire. Insofar as the mind becomes the
slave of passion, so does it become intensified; until what was, in the
unreflecting animal, a harmless instinct, becomes a calculated selfishness. This
is why human desires are so destructive; they contain the vivifying force of
mind, which renders them insatiable. It has often been asked, "Why has man the
power to enjoy to his own detriment?" The answer is that, misusing the divine
power of mind, he exalts his passions into a god, thus worshipping his own
It is the destiny of man to have his passions purified by their association in
his mind with the higher ideals and aspirations. The contrast produced between
the baseness, narrowness, and destructiveness of his lower nature, and the
beauty and nobility of the higher, causes him to feel revulsion and to purge out
the baser elements.
The forces of passion, if manfully resisted, turn themselves into stepping
stones by which we mount to greater heights; but, if indulged, they drag us
still further down. There is no worse delusion than that we can do any good by
indulging our passions, or that we can tire out desire by satiating it. Desire,
like fire, grows ever fiercer the more it is fed; and though there may be
periods of satiety produced by temporary exhaustion, these are but the preludes
to a still fiercer outbreak. Desire is overcome by turning our minds from it and
fixing our interests on work which is unselfish and impersonal. The holiest
desire, if such it can be called, is the aspiration to lose the sense of
separateness in the common life of humanity; and this is destined ultimately to
survive all lesser desires, since it alone is immortal.
In the mass of people, who are still drifting along in the middle ways between
the higher and the lower, unawakened, ignorant of their nature and destiny, the
desires and the better aspirations are both fostered and the life is a more or
less unsatisfactory compromise. Perhaps they reach the gates of death without
ever meeting a serious crisis or being called on to choose definitely between
two paths. But, as birth succeeds birth, the desires grow stronger and stronger,
as do also the aspirations towards good; until there comes a time when it is no
longer possible to make a compromise. Many people have reached this stage; and they find themselves unable to rest content with the ordinary life of the world, but must either plunge into excess or make a final break with the selfish
nature. The eternal life in them has waxed so strong that it can only be fed by
vivid experience. Before them lie the way of desire, leading straight down to
destruction, and the way of renunciation of desire, leading to eternal life.
After much affliction and self-questioning, they realize that the path of
personal gratification leads nowhere; that desires grow the more they are fed,
and can never be satiated; and that to follow them means a degrading bondage in
a cage that goes round and round like a squirrel's wheel. What is the permanent
center in life, around which all these changing scenes revolve? It is not in the
personal self. It is in the immortal self. Desire has to be replaced by love --
using this word in the highest sense as meaning a dispassionate solicitude for
the welfare of all. This is simply the gospel of Christ and of all other great
teachers and philosophers; there is a higher life for those who overcome the
delusions of selfishness. But the original teachings of Christ have been lost
sight of, and we have little more than exhortations without the explanations.
Theosophy recalls the ancient knowledge about man's nature which makes these
exhortations clear and shows their rationale.
After death, the linga-sarira and the principle of desire leave the physical
body in company and coalesce. This makes a shape which survives the body for a greater or lesser period, according to the strength of the desires; but finally
it also disintegrates and dies. It is this which is attracted to seance-rooms,
where it is mistaken for the "spirit" of the departed. But it is entirely devoid
of conscience, as the higher triad has departed to devachan.
It receives vitality at the expense of the medium and sitters, and so its existence is prolonged. Such spooks are shunned by all reasonable people and very much
dreaded by many races, who have rites and processes for driving them away.
They are known as devils, evil-spirits, bhuts, etc. To have dealings with them is
sorcery -- a very desperate expedient indeed on the part of those who desire
peculiar powers, as such commerce must end disastrously for the sorcerer. Only
Western nations have, in their ignorance, encouraged these spooks in good faith.
The immense importance of this subject in connection with funerary customs
cannot be exaggerated. We find that all ancient peoples and the degenerate
descendants of ancient races have recognized and do recognize the necessity for
some sort of what we might call "psychical sanitation" at the time of death.
Always there are rites for the "laying" of the spook. Ancient science knew that
this kama-rupa would be liberated at the death of the body, and that it should
be let alone and allowed to die out. The process of dying is a very solemn and
sacred one. There should be perfect stillness and harmony around the corpse
while the soul is slowly liberating itself from the inmost recesses of the body;
and the body needs protection against the attacks of any kama-rupic entity that
might seek to enter its open gates.
As W. Q. Judge says:
This Kama Rupa spook is also the enemy of our civilization . . . our
civilization which permits us to execute men for crimes committed, and thus
throw out into the ether the mass of passion and desire free from the weight
of the body and liable at any moment to be attracted to any sensitive person.
Being thus attracted the deplorable images of crimes committed, and also the
picture of the execution and all the accompanying curses and wishes for
revenge are implanted in living persons, who, not seeing the evil, are unable
to throw it off. Thus crimes and new ideas of crimes are willfully propagated
every day by those countries where capital punishment prevails.
As the nervous system of people grows more sensitive, under the influence of our civilization, the fact of such obsessions becomes more apparent. We frequently hear of crimes done under sudden impulse by persons whose usual character is the very opposite. There is a whole realm of sanitary science here left untouched.
We have rules of hygiene and sanitation, but they do not touch this burning
question of contamination by the desire-forces that are floating about in the
Anyone giving way to anger, lust, and other passions, habitually, is opening a
doorway for the entrance of he knows not what, and is liable to a loss of
control and balance.
The Higher Triad,
These three principles together constitute the real, immortal man. Atma is,
strictly speaking, not a human principle.
It is no individual property of any man, but is the divine essence which has
no body, no form, which is imponderable, invisible, and indivisible. . . . It
only overshadows the mortal; that which enters into him and pervades the whole
body being but its omnipresent rays or light, radiated through Buddhi, its
vehicle and direct emanation.
-- H. P. Blavatsky.
It is only in conjunction with buddhi that it becomes the higher self of man;
otherwise it is universal spirit.
Atma is neither your Spirit nor mine, but like sunlight shines on all. It is
the universally diffused Divine Principle, and is inseparable from its one and
absolute Meta-spirit, as the sunbeam is inseparable from sunlight.
-- H. P. Blavatsky.
The spirit of
Spirit is universal, indivisible, and common to all. In other words, there are
not many spirits, one for each man, but solely one spirit which shines upon
all men alike, finding as many souls -- roughly speaking -- as there are
beings in the world. In man the spirit has a more complete instrument or
assemblage of tools with which to work. This spiritual identity is the basis
of the philosophy. -- W. Q. Judge
This universal spirit or atma is the source of all life. What is its nature, as
a unit or one, prior to the manifestation of the worlds, is a question that
transcends our utmost powers of conception. But, when the worlds are manifested, the one spirit becomes a duality -- spirit and matter -- and the interaction of these two causes life and creation and multiplication. In the higher nature of man, the first vehicle of atma is buddhi or the spiritual soul, and these two together constitute the embodied spiritual life of man. They are like the rays
of the sun, buddhi corresponding to the rays and atma to the invisible essence
of light which these rays manifest or carry. Hence, when buddhi is spoken of, we must understand that it means buddhi and atma together.
Atma-buddhi is the human spiritual "monad" -- that which was linked to the
animal nature by the incoming of the manasaputras or sons of mind, who endowed mankind with manas, thus enabling the monad to manifest itself in them, and rendering them omniscient, omnipotent, and immortal. This same monad is also present in all the forms of nature, but imprisoned and unable to manifest itself. In them it is merely a latent spark -- the source of life, but with most of its potentialities still unrevealed. It is through the possession of manas
that the monad can manifest itself fully in man. This can only happen when he
reaches perfection; but meanwhile the monad endows man with faculties higher
than those of the other kingdoms. and more and more grand in proportion as the
nature becomes purer and more elevated.
The most interesting of all the seven principles is manas, because it is the
critical or turning point in our nature, and that which marks the superiority of
man over the lower orders. The word manas is best translated as the "thinker."
It is the real man.
There is but one real man, enduring through the cycle of life and immortal in
essence if not in form, and this is Manas, the Mind-man or embodied
Consciousness. -- H. P. Blavatsky
Manas is a differentiation from mahat, the universal mind; mahat, the universal
principle, is the source of manas, the human principle.
The most important fact about manas is that its nature is dual.
As H. P. Blavatsky says, speaking of the incarnating egos:
Once imprisoned, or incarnate, their essence becomes dual; that is to say, the rays of the eternal divine Mind, considered as individual entities, assume a twofold attribute,
(a) their essential inherent characteristic, heaven-aspiring mind or higher Manas,
(b) the human quality of thinking, or animal cogitation, rationalized owing to the superiority of the human brain, the kama-tending or lower Manas. One gravitates toward Buddhi, the other tends downward, to the seat of passions and animal desires.
We thus see that there are in man two selves, so to say: the lower self, an
illusion produced by
the union of manas with
self, the real self, formed from the union of manas with buddhi, the spiritual
soul. Yet even the lower mind is superior to that of animals, because the human
brain has been perfected by its contact with manas. But above this mind there is
a still higher mind -- the manas illuminated by buddhi.
In studying theosophy, one must dismiss from the mind any tinge of that modern way of thinking by which it is sought to derive mind from matter and make mental action a result of physiological processes. Apart from the fact that the mind is capable of functions which could not be represented by any mechanical formula, such a theory reduces mind to a mere abstraction. But mind is an entity and it is prior to matter.
It is capable of existing independently of matter (at least of anything we call matter). But it is equally incorrect to say that the mind is immaterial, which would be reducing it to a mere abstraction. All we can say about mind is that it is some very refined kind of conscious matter in motion, and the moving is what we know as "thought." We are aware of the presence of this entity about us, around the head, all over the body.
The body is a result of it; the body obeys and can be changed by it. We can also feel that this mind may have various tinges or degrees of refinement, from gross and animal up to refined and spiritual, according as we direct it towards the low or the high. Manas is the knower, thinker, perceiver.
The course of evolution had developed the lower principles and produced at
last the form of a man with a brain of better and deeper capacity than that of
any other animal. But this man in form was not man in mind, and needed the
fifth principle, the thinking perceiving one, to differentiate him from the
animal kingdom and to confer the power of becoming self-conscious.
-- W. Q. Judge
Manas acts as the link between the divine and the animal nature. Through it the
course of evolution is enabled to proceed. "It was given to the mindless monads
by others who had gone through all this process ages upon ages before."
Following are some quotations from H. P. Blavatsky on this subject.
What is it that reincarnates in your belief?
The spiritual thinking Ego, the permanent principle in man, or that which is
the seat of Manas. It is not Atma, or even Atma-Buddhi, regarded as the dual
monad, which is the individual or divine man, but Manas; for Atman is the
Universal ALL, and becomes the Higher Self of man only in conjunction with
Buddhi, its vehicle, which links IT to the individuality or divine man.
MAHAT, or the "Universal Mind," is the source of Manas. The latter is Mahat,
that is, mind, in man. . . . It is, according to our philosophy, the
Manasa-putras, or "Sons of the Universal Mind," who created, or rather
produced, the thinking man, "manu," by incarnating in the third Race mankind
in our Round. It is manas, therefore, which is the real incarnating and
permanent Spiritual Ego, the INDIVIDUALITY, and our various and numberless personalities only its external masks.
Manas when inseparably united to the first two, is called the SPIRITUAL EGO.
. . This is the real Individuality, or the divine man. It is this Ego which --
having originally incarnated in the senseless human form animated by, but
unconscious of, the presence in itself of the dual monad, since it had no
consciousness -- made of that humanlike form a real man. It is this Ego, this
"Causal Body," which overshadows every personality -- the evanescent marks
which hide the true individual through the long series of rebirths.
Thus manas not only endows the lower mind, making it far superior to that of
even the highest animals, but it connects it directly with the highest planes of
cosmic intelligence and renders mankind's future possibilities infinitely
greater than its present attainments.
Manas is the reincarnating being who carries the fruition of all the different
lives lived. In manas is stored the memory of all this experience, together with
the results and values thereof. From this it follows that anyone who has the
manas fully developed remembers all this; and also that, as most of us do not
remember it, we have not the manas fully developed. Memory is a faculty which
can exist in very varying degrees of cultivation, as we all know. Most people do
not trouble to cultivate the memory, particularly in these days of universal
reading and writing. We allow things to pass from the mind and make few efforts to recall them. But it should be borne in mind that the word "memory" includes two functions -- that of storing up, and that of bringing back or recollecting; and an inability to recollect does not necessarily imply that the memory is not there.
It may be there, and we unable to bring it back; the muscles of the mind
are too weak. It would be possible to train the memory so as to preserve an
accessible record of all the ordinary events of life. It is possible to go still
further and train the memory until it shows us the events of past lives. But it
will be readily understood that this latter feat involves a vast amount of other
kinds of training also. Those more distant memories were recorded by a mind that did not function through our present brain. Those memories are associated with the lives of personalities entirely different from our present personality.
Those memories were imprinted in stretches of time from which we are separated by the gulf of one or more physical deaths. Nevertheless the memories are there. (We are not concerned here with discussing the reasonableness or justice of this fact; that is dealt with in the manual on reincarnation.) Thus the real
character of the immortal man is recorded in the higher aspect of the manas.
The manas perceives the impressions presented to it by the senses. If the
connection between the manas and the brain is broken, there is no such
perception, unless with a person who can separate his astral body from the
physical. The senses alone cannot cognize objects, and the mind can be made to
perceive objects without the aid of the senses, as happens when a hypnotist
gives a suggestion to his subject; what the subject perceives is only a thought
in the mind of the operator. This illustrates, by the way, the idea that matter
is not in itself solid or dense, but that these qualities are impressions
produced on the mind, impressions which can also be produced by the hypnotist.
Chapter 5: Divine Magic
Ancient divine magic is concerned with the knowledge of the right use of human
faculties for the purpose of attaining wisdom and emancipation from the
delusions caused by his union with the flesh. The original gospel of the Christ,
which was replaced by dogma in the early centuries, taught the most sacred
mysteries regarding the true nature of man. There were and always have been
teachings for the public, veiled in allegory, and teachings for those admitted
to the schools of the Mysteries. The "Christos" is the buddhi-manas. Manas is
the "Son of God," who sacrifices himself and descends on earth in order to raise up the lower principles. He takes on the "sins" of the personalities which are formed by the successive incarnations, and suffers for those sins. Finally he is reunited to atma-buddhi -- his "Father" -- and redeems the man.
The mystic union of manas with buddhi is the theme of many a misunderstood
allegory and such has been the profanation to which such allegories have been
subjected that one can scarcely speak of them at all.
In thought man possesses a power of unlimited scope. It is a divine power and
its possession makes man a god, capable of any height of attainment. Yet how he neglects and abuses his power! For the most part he allows his mind to be the playground of wandering ideas and fancies that drift in from he knows not where, and of passions and emotions that rise up from his lower nature. Even worse is happening in our day, for there have arisen attempts to use the powers of will and thought for the purpose of "self-development" -- that is, development of the personality.
With this kind of thing which represents a revival of a feeble kind of black magic, the science of divine magic so reverently spoken of by H. P.
Blavatsky can have nothing to do. For in divine magic the first necessity is an
entire subordination of self-interest and a determination to live only for the
truth and for the welfare of humanity. The presence of a selfish desire, even of
the kind often regarded as innocent, is enough to bring into play the lower
forces of our nature and to exclude the spiritual forces. We cannot approach the
higher self except by relegating the lower self to its place of subordination.
We may at best succeed in degrading a few of our powers, to our own undoing, but we cannot drag down the god and harness it to our chariot of selfishness. The powers of manas are great indeed -- for those pure enough to be able to avail themselves of them.
As it was in consequence of the growing selfishness and violence of the world
that the sacred Mysteries were withdrawn, so it can only be by the spread of a
new spirit or brotherhood that they can be restored. Hence this is the first
object of the Theosophical Society.
Theosophical Society, Cardiff Lodge,