What is the Antahkarana? This Sanskrit term, which literally means “the inner cause,” is defined differently by different teachings and schools of thought. Hindu philosophy defines it one way, the New Age Movement defines it in a plethora of other ways, and Theosophy defines it another way, as per the real and timeless Esoteric Philosophy and Science into which those we call the “Masters of Wisdom” have been initiated.
It’s one of the most important, occult, and practical, concepts in the Theosophical teachings.
To be able to understand it, one first has to be acquainted with the sevenfold nature of the human being, which includes the dual nature of mind. Links to articles on these subjects can be found below but for now we can briefly summarise it like this:
The “mind” with which you or I or any one of us is most familiar and accustomed to is our personal self-consciousness, our personal ego or sense of “I”, our everyday thinking faculty, the mind which is connected with and works through the brain.
This, says Theosophy, is our “present personality,” and exists for the duration of one lifetime, it being the Karmic effect and resultant of preceding incarnations. It is known as the Lower Manas, “Manas” being the Sanskrit for “mind.”
There is a Higher Manas, which is our “permanent Individuality,” our Higher Ego (note that “Higher Ego” and “Higher Self” are not synonymous terms, although similar), our true immortal “I.” This is our actual soul and it reincarnates on Earth through a successive series of Lower Manases or personas, all in accordance with the Karma created by those Lower Manases. This Higher Manas is a Being of Light. It is a divine Entity, our own Inner God, and exists on its own transcendent plane, above and beyond our physical material plane.
We are this Manasaputra (Son or individualised Ray of the Universal Mind) but it seems to us largely like a separate or distinct Entity because we are so embroiled with identifying ourselves with our name and form and brain-mind. But thankfully a connecting link exists between our Higher Ego and lower ego, our Higher Manas and Lower Manas, and this link is what we call the Antahkarana.
Let’s take a look at H. P. Blavatsky’s entry for the term on p. 23-24 of “The Theosophical Glossary”:
“Antahkarana (Sk.)., or Antaskarana. The term has various meanings, which differ with every school of philosophy and sect. Thus Sankaracharya renders the word as “understanding”; others, as “the internal instrument, the Soul, formed by the thinking principle and egoism”; whereas the Occultists explain it as the path or bridge between the Higher and the Lower Manas, the divine Ego, and the personal Soul of man. It serves as a medium of communication between the two, and conveys from the Lower to the Higher Ego all those personal impressions and thoughts of men which can, by their nature, be assimilated and stored by the undying Entity, and be thus made immortal with it, these being the only elements of the evanescent Personality that survive death and time. It thus stands to reason that only that which is noble, spiritual and divine in man can testify in Eternity to his having lived.”
This conveyance or transfer or assimilation by the Higher Ego of the good, noble, altruistic, spiritual aspects, traits, and elements, of the personal self, is part of what occurs after death. But it is not only after death that the Antahkarana is “the path or bridge” between the Higher and the Lower; it is so during life also.
We should mention that although the Theosophical literature often spells the word as “Antaskarana,” i.e. with an s instead of an h, this is not considered the correct spelling or pronunciation linguistically. All Hindus pronounce the word as “Antahkarana” and some Theosophists believe it to be one of numerous misspellings or mis-renderings of foreign words that appear in our literature. While some may say that every apparent misspelling must be a purposeful and esoterically meaningful design of HPB, here’s what HPB herself says, from the article “Re-classification of Principles”:
“I have never boasted of any knowledge of Sanskrit, and . . . I never pretended to teach Sanskrit or explain Occultism in that language. I claimed to know the esoteric philosophy of the trans-Himalayan Occultists and no more. . . . learned and (even not very learned) Sanskrit-speaking Brahmins, . . . [know] the value of Sanskrit terms better than I . . . The question then is not, whether I may or may not have made use of wrong Sanskrit terms, but whether the occult tenets expounded through me are the right ones – at any rate those of the “Aryan-Chaldeo-Tibetan doctrine” as we call the “universal Wisdom-religion.”
So it’s not wrong to address seeming misspellings (provided it doesn’t become a fixation or obsession, as has happened with a few very scholarly Theosophists) but we should always remember that by far the most important thing is the teachings, the knowledge, of which words and letters are only the clothing.
Someone once sent the following question to be answered in “Theosophy” Magazine, a publication of the United Lodge of Theosophists. It was published and answered in the January 1913 issue:
“Will you give some ideas, as simply and clearly put as possible, on the Antaskarana? I find myself puzzled on the subject, which I should gather to be one of great importance. Perhaps others have had the same difficulty.”
The answer, which we suspect came from Robert Crosbie, the founder of the ULT and the then editor of the magazine, quoted HPB’s “Glossary” entry and added:
“Antaskarana is formed by Thought. The object of Theosophy is to give us a right basis for thinking; a true conception of what we are. As we think and act in accordance with this true conception, our thoughts form a channel or path between Higher and Lower Manas; the effort from the Lower, sets up a corresponding influence in the Higher towards it, tending to union between. . . . The Lower . . . can by right thought, selflessness and action form “the bridge” which unites it to the Higher.”
That bridge or link always exists, if only in potential, and most people have had at least a few evidences of it, as expressed occasionally, for example, in the form of accurate or reliable intuition, premonition, and messages or prophetic glimpses in dreams.
The ideal, however, is for the effects of the Antahkarana to be a constant and conscious feature of our daily and nightly lives, until such a time in some future embodiment as we succeed in completely and permanently merging Lower Manas with Higher Manas, reuniting the two, the accomplishment of which brings unbroken continuity of consciousness which is the true meaning of immortality.
Those few who have truly attained that state have inwardly re-become the god – or call it the Manasaputra, the Kumara, the Agnishvatta, or any other appropriate name – which they are and are without doubt “Masters of the Wisdom” or Mahatmas.
Those from a Christian background likely recall reading John 1:23 in the New Testament, where John the Baptist is described as saying, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.”
In the underlying esoteric side of the Gospel, what does it mean to “make straight the way of the Lord?” HPB explains that it is to “Purify the Antaskarana, the Path that leads from the Lower to the Higher Man.” (“Notes on the Gospel according to John” from teachings given by HPB to the Blavatsky Lodge in London in October 1889 and subsequently published in the magazine “Lucifer” in February 1893) The “way of the Lord” which needs to be “straightened” and made unobstructed is the Antahkarana, the connecting link between the man of matter and the “Lord” within, who is also sometimes called “Ishwara.”
Under the heading “ANTASKARANA” William Q. Judge offers some concise points for consideration:
“The link between the higher and lower manas. Important for study as being the one approach to spirituality in the mind of man. . . . A mode of consciousness, not a principle. Higher manas and lower manas separated during the period of incarnation, save in the case of an Initiate. Antaskarana, the link between them, is a projection of the lower manas toward the higher. . . . The link increases in power if the energy which produced it is steadily maintained. Liable to be temporarily cut off however if not energized perpetually. Antaskarana the “battlefield” of the personality, spoken of in the Voice of the Silence. Battlefield disappears when the term of struggle ends. Through antaskarana come all the higher impulsions during any life. Music, art, poetry, if truly spiritual, come from this source as much as philosophy. Careful distinction to be made between sentimentality and true inspiration. Antaskarana may be so strengthened as eventually to awaken the full nature of the human being, and a link thus formed between higher and lower manas cannot be readily broken. If once accomplished it is always possible for the lower manas to unite itself with its “father” again at any moment.” (“Subjects for Discussion” p. 16-17, pamphlet published by Theosophy Company on behalf of the United Lodge of Theosophists)
This “projection of the lower manas toward the higher” is in the form of what has already been mentioned in this article…a continued higher aspiration toward the spiritual and the divine, an elevation in consciousness which will express itself not only in thought but in the way one acts and lives one’s life. Ultimately, everything is a matter of consciousness.
HPB spoke (Footnotes to “The Alchemists” in Lucifer, December 1889) of “the Antaskarana, the bridge of communication between the Personality and the individuality” – the bridge between the Psyche and the Nous, as elaborated upon in her deep and lengthy article “Psychic and Noetic Action.” As we’ve also seen and will now see further, it is not only a bridge or link but it is “the Path”:
“. . . thou hast to merge the two into the One and sacrifice the personal to SELF impersonal, and thus destroy the “path” between the two – Antaskarana.” (“The Voice of the Silence” p. 50, original 1889 edition republished in 2017 by Theosophy Company of London, England)
HPB comments on the above in a note: “Antaskarana is the lower Manas, the Path of communication or communion between the personality and the higher Manas or human Soul.”
“Antaskarana – the path that lies between thy Spirit and thy self . . .” (“The Voice of the Silence” p. 56)
“The Voice of the Silence” is a translation into English by H. P. Blavatsky of fragments of text from a still secret esoteric Buddhist scripture known as the Book of the Golden Precepts. Although all may benefit from it, it specifies that it was originally written for those who are already disciples (Chelas or Lanoos) and outlines the stages, hardships, and exacting requirements, of the journey leading to progressive initiation into true Adeptship.
Theosophists sometimes speak of “destroying the Antahkarana” in a way that provokes unnecessary confusion. The placement of the clarifying word “thus” in the first quote from “The Voice” above shows that this “destruction” is what inevitably occurs of its own accord once the two Manases are completely and permanently merged into One. There is no longer any requirement or use for a connecting link or bridge, for the Path – that phrase so often used by so many spiritual seekers and mystics – has then been traversed.
What we can deduce is that popular expressions such as “treading the Path,” “walking the Path,” and so on, are really referring to the internal constructing and journeying, or advancing along, this Antahkarana that we have been talking about.
“Thou canst not travel on the Path before thou hast become that Path itself,” is one of the most well known sayings from “The Voice of The Silence,” on p. 12 of the original edition.
That sentence may well have reference to what B. P. Wadia numerous times called becoming an Antahkaranic being or establishing the Antahkaranic centre. As has been explained in this article, the internal path known as the Antahkarana leads from the Lower Manas to full conscious reunification with the Higher Manas. If we have deliberately begun to make some definite effort to extricate ourselves from the lower and to rise higher, then, in Wadia’s terms, we have become an “Antahkaranic being” and established an “Antahkaranic centre,” which is neither the Lower Manas nor the Higher Manas but is instead some position on the long road or highway between the two.
In the article “A Man is Born,” Wadia says: “The first task is that of extricating his Manas from Kama and establishing the Antahkaranic Centre, looking upwards or inwards towards its parent and watcher, Manas, the Divine Ego.” (“Living The Life” p. 65) In “The World of Shells and of Soul” he writes, “The fight of the neophyte in this stage is not in the outer sphere of environment; it is between his Kama-Manas and his Antahkaranic being on which the radiation of his Inner God and his Guru is focused.” (“Living The Life” p. 62) The expressions “Antahkaranic being” and “Antahkaranic centre” appear numerous times throughout the book “Living The Life” as well as in his “Extracts from Unpublished Letters.” In one letter extract, republished in the July 2021 issue of “The Theosophical Movement” magazine by the United Lodge of Theosophists in India, he advises: “We have to gain the full-moon position – the personality unobscured and fully shining by the Light of the Spiritual Sun. To get to that we must become Antahkaranic beings, more or less permanently. This is our battlefield – our dharma as aspirant-devotee-neophytes.”
“The Voice of The Silence” also includes the intriguing phrase “Thyself and mind, like twins upon a line, the star which is thy goal burns overhead.”
The Lower Manas and Higher Manas can be pictured as twins upon a line, one at one end, one at the other, and a line or link or bridge or path, connecting them together. That is the Antahkarana. But as is hopefully clear, these twins are not “equals,” for the one in the high position is the impersonal, immortal, reincarnating Ego, while the one at the lower end of the line is the personal, mortal, lower ego, the personal vehicle, the working off of Karma, defects, Skandhas, and Dharma or duties. But even it can become immortal in a certain sense; that is attained at the time, in whatever life or incarnation, that the Lower Manas and Higher Manas succeed in permanently merging and uniting. The Master K.H. wrote to A. P. Sinnett that in whatever body he (Master K.H.) may happen to incarnate, his personal consciousness will always be that of the K.H. personality. He told Sinnett that whenever he too might become an Adept, the same would then be true for him also.
“The Voice of the Silence” shows that there are “Seven Portals on the Path” or, one might say, seven divisions or stages in the Antahkarana, leading up to its very summit. These are the Paramitas, “glorious virtues” and “transcendental perfections” which can be briefly described as:
(1) Dana – Charity and Love Immortal (2) Shila – Perfect harmony in word and act (3) Kshanti – Patience sweet which nought can ruffle (4) Vairagya – dispassion, detachment, indifference to one’s own pleasure or pain (5) Virya – dauntless energy which keeps pressing on towards the goal (6) Dhyana – perfect inner contemplation and meditation (7) Prajna – the great goal towards which the preceding six lead; supreme spiritual perception, highest wisdom, divine consciousness.
It’s emphasised though that it is by no means as simple and easy as might be assumed by just reading a list of seven items. Each of the seven is much more than a commonplace virtue but an actual gateway of initiation. To tread this “Path” successfully takes multiple lifetimes of consistent determined effort and will; at least seven such incarnations.
But we are not expected to run before we can walk, nor are we asked to try to live right here and right now as if we are already Adepts, though we should keep Them frequently in mind as an example and inspiration. We have the assurance of Those who have gone on before us that even a little of the right kind of effort and determination has at least a little effect and will help to strengthen our Antahkarana, very slowly but very surely, as we will see for ourselves.
Above and beyond this Higher Ego is the Higher SELF…Atman…the One Universal Self of All…pure eternal Spirit…the One Infinite Divine Life. “The mind alone,” wrote HPB, meaning of course in this instance the Higher Mind, is “the sole link and medium between the man of earth and the Higher Self.” (“Occultism versus The Occult Arts” article)
Many further explanations, insights, and helps, will be found in the vast and extensive writings of H. P. Blavatsky and also her trusted friend and co-worker William Q. Judge, who she made a point of describing as the Antahkarana, the connecting link, between “American thought and the Indian – or rather the trans-Himalayan Esoteric Knowledge.”
~ BlavatskyTheosophy.com ~
SOME RELATED ARTICLES: Ego Is Not a Bad Word, Manas – The Mystery of Mind, 12 Things Theosophy Teaches, The Sevenfold Nature of Man, Atman – The Higher Self, Understanding Our Seven Principles, Human Evolution in The Secret Doctrine, “The Voice of the Silence” – An Authentic Buddhist Text, Books on Theosophy, Who was William Quan Judge?, The Occult Life of B. P. Wadia, and Original Theosophy and Later Versions.
“Thyself and mind, like twins upon a line,
the star which is thy goal, burns overhead.”
(“The Voice of the Silence” p. 19, original edition)