The Personal Self in the Light of Theosophy

Elephant Reflection in Lake

“The elephant, who sees his form mirrored in the lake, looks at it, and then goes away, taking it for the real body of another elephant, is wiser than the man who beholds his face in the stream, and looking at it, says, “Here am I … I am I”: for the “I,” his Self, is not in the world of the twelve Nidanas and mutability, but in that of Non-Being, the only world beyond the snares of Maya. … That alone, which has neither cause nor author, which is self-existing, eternal, far beyond the reach of mutability, is the true “I” [Ego], the Self of the Universe.”

Excerpt from “An Unpublished Discourse of Buddha,” translated by H.P. Blavatsky, published posthumously in 1897

Karma is the guiding power, and Trishna (in Pali Tanha) the thirst or desire to sentiently live – the proximate force or energy, the resultant of human (or animal) action, which, out of the old Skandhas produce the new group that form the new being and control the nature of the birth itself. … The “old being” is the sole parent – father and mother at once – of the “new being.” It is the former who is the creator and fashioner, of the latter, in reality; and far more so in plain truth, than any father in flesh. And once that you have well mastered the meaning of Skandhas you will see what I mean.”

– From a Master’s Letter

They – the Jesuits sacrifice the inner principle, the Spiritual brain of the ego, to feed and develop better the physical brain of the personal evanescent man, sacrificing the whole humanity to offer it as a holocaust to their Society – the insatiable monster feeding on the brain and marrow of humanity, and developing an incurable cancer on every spot of healthy flesh it touches. We – the criticized and misunderstood Brothers – we seek to bring men to sacrifice their personality – a passing flash – for the welfare of the whole humanity, hence for their own immortal Egos, a part of the latter, as humanity is a fraction of the integral whole, that it will one day become.”

– From a Master’s Letter

“It is wise to always remember that “Ishwara” the Spirit that is common to all dwells inside of us and if that be so, our sincere belief in and reliance upon It will gradually awaken us to the consciousness that we are that spirit itself and not the miserable creatures which walk on this earth bearing our names. Hence I would ever reflect on the spiritual unity of all beings, continually saying to myself that I am actually that spirit. Our difficulties are always due to the personality which is unwilling to give itself up to the great idea that it has no real existence except in the one Spirit.”

William Q. Judge, Letter to Helen Winsor, October 1890

“Rebirth is due to our unremedied defects, not to our virtues. … The reason we are on earth, according to the Occult teaching: we are not here because of our virtues; we are here because of our defects. The “personality” is really the working off of defects. If we do not learn what the object of life is, and don’t do the work, then we are only creating more defects to adjust, and more trouble for ourselves.”

Robert Crosbie, “Answers to Questions on The Ocean of Theosophy” p. 118, 144

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In Theosophical terminology, the word “personality” does not have quite the same meaning as in general everyday speech. In everyday language, when we talk about someone’s personality, we are usually referring to their character, their attitudes, and the main way in which they behave and act in life.

So we can hear remarks such as, “She has a wonderful personality,” “There’s just something about his personality which I don’t like,” “They’ve got a personality disorder,” and so forth.

In the Esoteric Philosophy, however, the term “personality” really means our personal self. And in order to appreciate and comprehend what is meant by this, we have to realise that we are comprised of not only a personal self but also an individual self and a Universal Self. In Christian terms, these could be called body, soul, and spirit, although the personal self consists of much more than just the mere physical body.

The individual self is the soul, the immortal thinker, the mind principle, that part of us which reincarnates. Theosophy also calls it the permanent individuality. It reincarnates in, through, and as a new personal self here on Earth. This is also known in Theosophy as the present personality. This term covers and relates to all those attributes and characteristics which are of a personal nature, such as our body, our appearance, our name, our age, our race and nationality, our family, our relationships, our job, our financial status, our likes and dislikes, our wishes and wants, our opinions, and so on.

Until we encounter true spiritual ideas, we are very much prone to mentally identify ourselves solely – or at least almost entirely – with this present personality.

We cannot help but see it every time we look in the mirror, we know full well that almost everyone we meet views and thinks of us as this personality, and we are constantly surrounded by all forms of media which glorify, exalt, and are obsessed with the personal self above all else.

Some popular forms of religion and spirituality are not much better. Christianity, although repeating the words of the Apostle Paul that the human being consists of spirit, soul, and body, is unable to offer anything resembling a clear or logical definition of either spirit or soul, and thus generally equates them as being more or less the same vague and undefinable thing, which it then makes almost identical with our personal self!

This is strengthened in the mind of the Christian by the idea that we are only ever here once on this Earth, that our personal self very closely – if not exactly – reflects our soul nature and is the way God “created” us, and that after death we will eternally remain the exact same being and character that we are now, even down to our name and appearance, whether we be spending that eternity in the supposed paradise of Heaven or the fiery pits of Hell. Either way, spirit, soul, and personality are all almost exactly equated and we are not offered much hope.

Then there are popular pseudo-philosophies, such as the so-called Law of Attraction, which almost deify the personal self and focus their efforts and attention on acquiring “by divine right” greater wealth, health, beauty, luxury, and fulfillment of desires, for the personal self, all apparently through the power of positive thinking, visualisation, and affirmation.

Theosophy, just like Buddhism and Hinduism, declares that the personal self is nothing more than a Karmic product.

There is nothing inherently sacred, precious, or divine about it. It is merely the aggregate of the skandhas – “the elements of limited existence” as the Master K.H. calls them – carried over in essence and seed form from our previous personality and reassembled under the Law of Karma to form and produce this present one in which we are incarnated.

Towards the end of the article The Skandhas, it was said:

“Let us now refresh our memory, in simple terms, with what these five Skandhas actually are:

* Our physical form

* Our qualities of perception

* Our faculty of consciousness and its nature

* Our tendencies/inclinations/habitual actions

* Our existing knowledge and potential to acquire further knowledge

“So we can see that the Skandhas are very important things and that they really are – as we said at the start – the karmic ingredients which constitute our personal self in each lifetime that we have.

“The solution to the mystery of why we are the way we are can readily be found in the timeless truths of Karma and reincarnation, including the ancient teaching about the Skandhas. When the soul (which is the Manas principle) begins a new lifetime on Earth, complete with its new set of Skandhas derived from the essence of the former ones, it is continuing on with various facets and qualities from the previous incarnation.

“Or as Robert Crosbie put it in “Answers to Questions on The Ocean of Theosophy” when answering queries about the Skandhas, “When earth-life is resumed, the being will naturally act along the lines he did in previous lives.””

No God, angel, or any other being or entity has made us the way we are. It is we alone who have unwittingly formed and fashioned for ourselves the personal self with which we are encumbered today. As Theosophy teaches, we are our own Karmic progeny. We ourselves are far more truly our own parent than our physical earthly parents.

In the past we created our present and in the present we are creating our future. The causes we have previously set in motion when here on Earth before, and most especially in the immediately preceding life, have naturally combined together under Universal Law to produce as effects the physical, emotional, psychic, and mental components of the being with which we are faced every day…our present personality. This is simply the unfailing law of action and reaction. Most people today are intelligent and sensible enough to recognise and unhesitatingly affirm the existence of such a law but few are wise enough to carry it any further or higher in their conceptions than the purely physical, material, objective plane of life.

For every cause there will always eventually be a corresponding correlative effect. For every effect there was a precedent cause. The personal self is the effect of past causes. It is the expression – and thus the working off and working out – of Karma.

And this present passing personality or persona is here one moment and gone the next. For all you know, you may die today. There is no guarantee that you will not. And then the life term of your present personality will be over with and when you finally return to embodied life on this plane after your period of blissful rest in Devachan, it will be in, as, and through an entirely new personality, albeit the justly deserved and fairly earned Karmic progeny and resultant of your present one.

HPB and the Masters always speak highly of Tsong Kha-pa, the reincarnation of Gautama Buddha who founded the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism about 630 years ago. Tsong Kha-pa emphasised in his famous “Lam Rim” that our true spiritual progress and inner unfoldment is severely hindered until we free ourselves from “self-grasping” and “self-cherishing.”

Why do we grasp and cling so much to this fleeting and highly evanescent personal self? Why do we cherish it to such an extent that we sincerely believe that it deserves or somehow has the right to better and more pleasant experiences and circumstances than the personal selves of others? What could warrant or give rise to this, except the most outrageous selfishness born from the most ignorant delusion?

We live for our petty little personal self instead of living for the One Universal Self of all, that pure eternal spirit and absolute divine consciousness which is the innermost essence and true Self of every being and every thing. Our lives revolve around a basis of egoism or I-ism rather than altruism or Other-ism because we do not know and do not realise that the “other” is in fact one and the same as ourselves, a perfectly equal spark and expression of the impersonal Absolute.

“Desire is the cause of all suffering,” said the Buddha. “Selfishness is the great curse of humanity,” say his followers. Few thinkers would argue with this. In fact, most would readily agree yet they are not able to bring about the needed changes in the world or initiate higher, nobler, and purer attitudes and actions in their fellow men and women because they do not approach or attempt to deal with the world’s problems from the only basis which can bring about true, lasting, positive change and transformation, i.e. the spiritual.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” moaned Cain of Old Testament fame – or rather infamy – to the supposed “Lord God” after having brutally murdered his brother Abel.

No, we are not our brother’s keeper. We are our brother. There is no separation in the Universe. The illusion of separateness prevails here on this physical plane only because we do not put our personal self in its proper place, which is that of unflinching and unwavering subservience to the spiritual being within.

“Shun ignorance, and likewise shun illusion. Avert thy face from world deceptions: mistrust thy senses; they are false. But within thy body – the shrine of thy sensations – seek in the Impersonal for the “Eternal Man”; and having sought him out, look inward: thou art Buddha.

“Shun praise, O Devotee. Praise leads to self-delusion. Thy body is not Self, thy SELF is in itself without a body, and either praise or blame affects it not. …

“Thy shadows live and vanish; [Footnote: “”Personalities” or physical bodies called “shadows” are evanescent.”] that which in thee shall live for ever, that which in thee knows, for it is knowledge, is not of fleeting life: it is the Man that was, that is, and will be, for whom the hour shall never strike. …

“Give up thy life, if thou would’st live. [Footnote: “Give up the life of physical personality if you would live in spirit.”]

“‘Tis from the bud of Renunciation of the Self, that springeth the sweet fruit of final Liberation.”

“The Voice of the Silence” translated by H.P. Blavatsky from The Book of the Golden Precepts, p. 28-29, 34, 6, 38

In the fifth chapter of the celebrated Hindu scripture called the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that the truly wise man is “the man of purified heart, having his body fully controlled, his senses restrained, and for whom the only self is the Self of all creatures.” He continues:

“The truth is obscured by that which is not true, and therefore all creatures are led astray. But in those for whom knowledge of the true Self has dispersed ignorance, the Supreme, as if lighted by the sun, is revealed. Those whose souls are in the Spirit, whose asylum is in it, who are intent on it and purified by knowledge from all sins, go to that place from which there is no return.

“The illuminated sage regards with equal mind an illuminated, selfless Brahmin, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and even an outcast who eats the flesh of dogs. Those who thus preserve an equal mind gain heaven even in this life, for the Supreme is free from sin and equal minded; therefore they rest in the Supreme Spirit. The man who knoweth the Supreme Spirit, who is not deluded, and who is fixed on him, doth not rejoice at obtaining what is pleasant, nor grieve when meeting what is unpleasant. He whose heart is not attached to objects of sense finds pleasure within himself, and, through devotion, united with the Supreme, enjoys imperishable bliss. For those enjoyments which arise through the contact of the senses with external objects are wombs of pain, since they have a beginning and an end; O son of Kunti, the wise man delighteth not in these. He who, while living in this world and before the liberation of the soul from the body, can resist the impulse arising from desire and anger is a devotee and blessed. The man who is happy within himself, who is illuminated within, is a devotee, and partaking of the nature of the Supreme Spirit, he is merged in it. Such illuminated sages whose sins are exhausted, who are free from delusion, who have their senses and organs under control, and devoted to the good of all creatures, obtain assimilation with the Supreme Spirit. [Footnote: “That is, direct knowledge of Self.”] Assimilation with the Supreme Spirit is on both sides of death for those who are free from desire and anger, temperate, of thoughts restrained; and who are acquainted with the true Self.” (William Q. Judge’s translation)

The “true Self” is That which is known as Atman and Brahman. It is the ONE Universal Self of all. It is the Divine itself. As for the personal self, Hindu philosophy calls this the Not-Self because it is not who and what we truly, really, and eternally are. HPB has described it numerous times as “the false personality.” We are false to ourselves and to all others if we identify ourselves in consciousness with such a transient mirage.

Krishna implores us to “Raise the self by the Self.” Such a statement automatically implies three “selves,” for there must of necessity be a self which is carrying out the raising of the lower self towards the Higher Self, the personal towards the universal. The thinker, the doer, the actor, and the experiencer, is the individual self, the human soul, the mind-entity which creates and experiences the consequences of Karma, good and bad, through the various personalities with which it is periodically clothed by that same unerring Law of Karma or self-created destiny.

Although the personal self is nothing more than a Karmic product, we must treat all personal selves with love, respect, care, and compassion. If we would welcome and appreciate patience and consideration from others towards the undeniable defects of our personality, we should be the first to give the same.

“Be more charitable for others than for yourself and more severe on yourself than on others,” were some words of advice sent by HPB to Mr Judge, which he subsequently recommended to all. Indeed, if everyone were to follow such advice, almost all human conflict would swiftly disappear!

In the Dhammapada, Buddha tells us that “Better than a man who conquers in battles a thousand times a thousand men is he who conquers himself. He indeed is the mightiest of warriors.” (p. 23, Theosophy Company edition)

“Henceforth I will be master of myself, the servant of the world,” cries the 8th century Indian Buddhist teacher Shantideva in the Bodhicharyavatara scripture.

Let us commit and consecrate ourselves right now to working on ourselves each day, in order that the personal self may become a conquered and purified vessel through which the resplendent light of the Infinite may shine forth unhindered for the elevation and evolution of all living beings. The fact that others have done it is the proof that you can do it…if you want to.

~ Blavatsky Theosophy Group UK ~

SOME RELATED ARTICLES: The Sevenfold Nature of Man, The Difference between Soul and Spirit, Atman – The Higher Self, Manas – The Mystery of Mind, The Skandhas, 12 Things Theosophy Teaches, A Right Understanding of Karma, Questions about Karma, A Right Understanding of Reincarnation, Being Sensible about Past Lives, Is Karma Merciful and Compassionate?, Heredity – A Karmic Effect, Death and the Afterlife, When We Die, Reincarnation and Christianity, The Disappearing Bedroom, Theosophy: The Ancient Wisdom, The Psychic is not the Spiritual, The Great Tsong Kha-pa, The Theosophy of the Bhagavad Gita, Gandhi on Blavatsky and Theosophy, The Masters and Madame Blavatsky, Original Theosophy and Later Versions, On Anonymity and Impersonality, and Theosophy, The Jesuits & The Roman Catholic Church.

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