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A vehicle or “basis” used by the consciousness, or other beings in the universe. It is a Sanskrit word meaning “substitute,” “appearance,” “limitation,” etc. formed from the prefix upa- (“toward,” “near”) and the stem word dhi (“receptacle”). Its meaning is somewhat different from related terms such as sarira (“body”), kosa (“sheath”), or vahana (Hindi vahan, “vehicle,” “vessel,” etc.) For example, the various bodies — physical (sthula-sarira), subtle (suksma-sarira), and causal (karana-sarira) — are called upadhis, which suggests limitation, but buddhi is called a vahana or vahan, i.e., a vehicle.

Perhaps one could think of the upādhi as analogous to an electrical transformer rather than as a limitation, connecting and reducing the energy from a higher level so that it can be utilized at a lower level. One example would be the difference in functioning of the lower and higher mind, the former dealing more with abstractions or the essence of thoughts while the latter dealing with specific ideas, memories, beliefs, etc. Another would be the relation between the power of emotion which manifests in the physical body, but can cause damage to the latter only with persistent misuse.

Helena P. Blavatsky states, “Though there are seven principles in man, there are but three distinct Upadhis [bases], in each of which his Atman may work independently of the rest. These three Upadhis can be separated by an adept without killing himself. He cannot separate the seven principles from each other without destroying his constitution.” She also states that “there exists in Nature a triple evolutionary scheme, for the formation of the three periodical Upadhis: or rather three separate schemes of evolution, which in our system are inextricably interwoven and interblended at every point. These are the Monadic (or spiritual), the intellectual, and the physical evolutions. . . . Each of these three systems has its own laws, and is ruled and guided by different sets of the highest Dhyanis or ‘Logoi’” (SD I:181).

Matter is considered an upadhi of Spirit or Universal Mind. Akasa is also considered the upadhi of Divine Thought. 

See: Human Constitution.


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