It is of great importance for us to know and understand exactly who and what we are and what we consist of. Most people are familiar with the three words spirit, soul, and body, but these three do not sufficiently or adequately explain the true nature of the human constitution. Besides this, many people confuse the terms “soul” and “spirit” and mistakenly think that they are one and the same thing.
In the teachings of Theosophy, H. P. Blavatsky and the Masters describe the human being as consisting of Seven Principles, divided into a Higher Triad and a Lower Quaternary. These seven principles or seven parts of our nature are the divine part, the spiritual part, the intellectual part, the passional part, the vital part, the astral part, and the physical part. The first three of these comprise the Higher Triad and they last forever, while the lower four last just for one lifetime and are new in each lifetime that we have.
Theosophy states that this teaching about the Seven Principles – along with that of Karma and Reincarnation – is of the utmost importance to humanity. This article only provides a brief overview and introduction but hopefully it will be of interest and benefit to many. It is a companion article to A Right Understanding of Karma and A Right Understanding of Reincarnation, both of which can be read by clicking on the title links. A much more extended and detailed article on the present subject is Understanding Our Seven Principles, compiled directly from the works of H. P. Blavatsky and William Quan Judge.
THE SPIRITUAL TRIAD
#7. ATMA – The Divine Part
Atma (also written “Atman”) is the highermost and supreme part of man’s spiritual being. It is pure eternal Spirit. It is the Higher Self, the Divine Self, the Real Self of the human being and it is literally one and the same in essence and identity as the Infinite Supreme Self. This is in accordance with the fundamental teaching of Hinduism; that our Self (the Atman) IS the Supreme Self (Brahman). Atman literally means Self. It is the only one of our Principles to which the unqualified term “the Self” may be applied.
It is not an individual thing. There is no such thing as “my Atman” or “your Atman.” The Eternal Spirit is neither yours nor mine and is not the separate individual possession of anyone. There is neither “my Atman” nor “your Atman” but only THE Atman, the ONE Universal Self of all. It is here that all is truly one. The golden key to understanding universal oneness, divine allness, and non-duality (and thus the key to world peace!) is contained in this teaching about the Atman. I am the Atman. You are the Atman. Atman is Who and What we really are. It is our essential nature, it is our true self, it is the All IN All. In fact, It is the one and only Reality. As the Upanishads say, “This Atman IS Brahman.”
Since the Atman is literally Divinity Itself, we should always remember that it never incarnates or reincarnates, nor is it ever affected by our Karma or even by anything whatsoever. It just simply IS.
#6. BUDDHI – The Spiritual Part
Buddhi is the second highest Principle of man’s constitution and is referred to as the Spiritual Soul, the vehicle through which Atma (the highest Principle) radiates its light. There is nothing individual about the Buddhi principle. As with Atma, we cannot talk in terms of “my Buddhi” or “your Buddhi.” Contrary to popular opinion, Buddhi is not a synonym for “intuition” but rather intuition arises in Manas the closer it draws to Buddhi. Buddhi itself has very little to do with anything except serving as the vehicle for Atma, the Self. At least this is the case for the majority of us, at this point in human evolution.
“The Monad” (meaning “ultimate unit” or “primary unit”) is a term used to describe the conjunction of the two highest Principles of the human constitution – Atma and Buddhi. There is nothing higher than Atma; Atma is the highermost and supreme part of man’s spiritual being. Because Atma is literally Divinity Itself, it has to have a vehicle through which to radiate its light to the individual soul. Buddhi is this vehicle and so the two in conjunction with each other are called the Monad.
#5. MANAS – The Intellectual Part
Manas is the mind principle in man, the consciousness aspect, the thinker, the permanent individuality which incarnates and reincarnates. It is in fact the human soul. Manas is the mind and the mind and the soul are one and the same thing. It is a mistake to confuse the mind and the brain, as if they are the same thing. The brain is only a physical organ and serves but as a physical vehicle for the mind/soul – who is the true thinker – to manifest through while in physical incarnation.
In the teachings of Theosophy, the Manas principle is often called the Ego. This is using the term “Ego” in its true and literal sense, of meaning the true “I” of our being.
It is the Manasic entity, the individual human soul, which sets the causes in motion in each lifetime – through every thought, word, and action – which have to have their corresponding Karmic effects in this and subsequent lifetimes. It is the maker and the experiencer of Karma.
It has a dual nature, that of Higher Manas and Lower Manas. When the mind and consciousness are lifted, raised, and elevated towards higher things, spiritual things, abstract things, intellectual things, things of goodness, truth, purity, love, compassion, and beauty, it is then functioning as the Higher Manas and rising ever closer towards the divine shining light of Buddhi, the Spiritual Soul. When the mind and consciousness are instead allowed to sink downwards towards the lower, separative, selfish, and sensual things of life, it is Lower Manas, attaching itself to the principle of Kama, the Animal Soul.
Manas cannot go in both directions at once. It can only either go up or down . . . up towards spirituality or down towards sensuality. Spirituality and sensuality can never and will never mix. Manas, the human soul, stands right in the middle between the two and must make a choice between them. Our primary battleground in life is that of the mind.
THE LOWER QUATERNARY
#4. KAMA – The Passional Part
Kama, which literally means “Desire” in Sanskrit, is the desire principle of the human being when in physical incarnation. It is the source and centre of his desires, passions, lusts, and sensual nature. It is sometimes referred to as the “animal soul” because it is the more animalistic and beastly part of us.
During human life this Principle is called Kama. After the lifetime has come to an end, the Kama principle forms itself into Kama Rupa, which literally means “desire form.” It is not uncommon, however, to refer to it as Kama Rupa during the period of incarnation also, although this is less technically precise.
One of the stages after death is that the desire nature objectifies itself into a sort of senseless, disembodied form which remains in Kama Loka (the psychic atmosphere and attraction of our Earth) until it finally gradually fades out and disintegrates of its own accord. It will survive and remain until the force of those desires and passions has drained away and how long this takes will naturally be determined by how sensually oriented the individual was during the lifetime just ended.
#3. PRANA – The Vital Part
This is the Life Force, Vitality, or Energy which keeps the physical body alive. It is the Life Principle, the “breath of life” in the individual. A person remains in physical incarnation for as long as Prana remains active within them. As soon as Prana departs and ceases to flow, the physical body has no other option than to die, since it is the force of Prana which keeps it going.
#2. LINGA SHARIRA – The Astral Part
Linga Sharira – called the astral body – is the subtle, unseen “double” of the dense physical body. It is the form, mould, and blueprint upon and around which the dense physical body is built. It comes into existence before the physical body and it only fully fades out and dies when the very last remaining particle of the deceased physical body disappears and disintegrates, excepting the skeleton.
The astral body can also be thought of as the “vital body” or “energy body” of the human being because it is the vehicle through which Prana (the 3rd Principle) flows to the physical body. It is this part of our constitution which is utilised in the activities which have become known as astral travel, astral projection, and so forth. The term “astral” is used in Theosophy simply as a synonym for “subjective,” “subtle” or “inner.”
Its main connection point with the physical body is in the area of the spleen and these two bodies that we have are connected with one another throughout each lifetime by a sort of unseen umbilical cord which some have called the “silver thread” or “silver cord.” Sometimes the order of Prana and Linga Sharira is swapped round in the Theosophical literature but if one stops to think about it this isn’t actually a contradiction.
#1. STHULA SHARIRA – The Physical Part
Sthula Sharira is the Sanskrit name for the dense physical body. It is not in strict truth a Principle in itself but is simply the vehicle of all the other Principles during physical incarnation. Sthula Sharira is described as being the child of Linga Sharira (its mother) by conception of Prana (its father). It is our outer shell and really nothing more. We often place far more importance and emphasis on our outer shell than is really necessary or worthwhile.
We are not doing ourselves any favours if we identify ourselves with our body or with any other aspects of our lower nature. These simply comprise our present personality, in distinction to the permanent individuality of the soul, the Reincarnating Ego. And higher still than the soul is our Real Self, pure eternal Spirit. Souls are many but Spirit is ONE. The whole aim of life is to realise Who and What you really are and to rebecome it in consciousness. Only the inner is the real.
~ BlavatskyTheosophy.com ~
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Please be aware that the above is only a very brief and simplified summary of what Theosophy teaches on this subject. For a more detailed and in depth study, please take a look at Understanding Our Seven Principles, along with the articles listed under the headings “THEOSOPHICAL TEACHINGS” on the Articles page. You can find a useful chart or table of the Seven Principles here.
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