(Linga-Śarīra). The term for the invisible “double” of the physical body of human beings, equivalent to the etheric double of later theosophical literature, and called the “Astral Body” in the writings of Helena P. Blavatsky (the term “astral body” was used later by Annie Besant and Charles W. Leadbeater to refer to the KAMA RUPA or the desire body, the latter of which is in turn called “astral soul” by Blavatsky). This article shall discuss the nature and characteristics of the linga-sarīra based on the writings of Blavatsky, while the article on the etheric double will cover descriptions based on later theosophical writers.
The linga-śarīra, also called doppelgänger, is the second of the seven principles of the Human Constitution and serves as the vehicle of the life-principle or PRĀNA (hence also called PRĀNAMĀYAKOŚA). It is the necessary intermediate body between prāna and the physical body. Without it, prāna would not be able to animate the body. It is also the underlying matrix that determines the shape and condition of the physical body. Whatever its shape is, the body will conform accordingly. The reincarnation researches of Dr. Ian Stevenson have shown that those who died by violence and who were quickly reborn retain identifiable birthmarks in the new body which were present in the previous body. Thus, for example, a man who lost all his fingers in an accident was reborn as a baby with congenital absence of those fingers in the same hand (Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect, 1997). It indicates that the linga-śarīra retained from the previous body (since the previous death was evidently premature and the double is not yet due for disintegration) has molded the form of the new physical body. The double is of physical substance, though much subtler. Blavatsky wrote that the physical body “can be regarded as merely a denser aspect of the Linga-Śarīra, for the Body and the Linga-Śarīra are both on the same plane, and the Linga-Śarīra is molecular in its constitution, like the Body” (CW XII:694). Thus due to this, the double has the potential to move physical objects even though it is not visible to the eye. It is this principle that enables a person to move outside objects without touching it, a phenomenon called telekinesis.
The Linga-Śarīra…ra may be separated from the physical body but not at a great distance. While separated, when it is injured or stabbed, the wound will be reflected in the physical body upon the double’s return to it. This phenomenon is called “repercussion.” “It may be hurt by a sharp instrument, and would not face a sword or bayonet, although it can easily pass through a table or other piece of furniture. When swords are struck at Shades, it is the sword itself, not its Linga-Śarīra, or Astral that cuts. Sharp instruments alone can penetrate such Astrals” (CW XII:705-6).
There are occasions when this double is reportedly seen at a great distance from the body. In such a case, it is not the linga-śarīra which is projected but the illusory mental body called MĀYAVI-RŪPA
The linga-śarīra has also been called the plastic or Protean soul for its ability to assume any shape based on an image in the astral light or in the minds of the medium or sitters in a seance (TG). Shapes of trumpets, voice boxes, hands, etc., have been observed. Materializations of “spirits” during seances are mostly due to the linga-śarīra of the medium or the people in the seance room. This accounts for the weakness or feeling drained by those present during such sessions.
The After-death State. The linga-śarīra is formed prior to the birth of the physical body and “dies or fades out with the disappearance of the last atom of the body” (The Key to Theosophy, “Glossary”). Prior to such disintegration, it can sometimes be visible as wraiths or ghosts. In the case of a purified person, the double disintegrates immediately “for it has no Kāma Rūpa (body of strong desires and passions) to cling to and assimilate” (CW XII:712). In the case of an average person, the double will stay for a while but will have disappeared before the next incarnation. But in the case of highly material or sensual individuals, the double may remain for centuries and still be existing during the next incarnation of the Ego. This double will be drawn or attracted to the newly incarnated Ego, and affect him or her (ibid., p. 713). This is the phenomenon known as the Dweller of the Threshold written about by Bulwer-Lytton in Zanoni.
Real death of the physical body happens only when the linga-śarīra is permanently separated from the body. When it is not, even when the body shows no vital signs such as pulse or breath, it is still possible that the body will still revive. This is the case in so-called near-death experiences of people who have revived after going through a period of clinical death. There are even reported cases of voluntary “deaths,” such as fakirs who allow themselves to be buried for months, as well as the recorded case of a Colonel Townshend who in the presence of three medical men, entered into a trance for half-an-hour that convinced the doctors that he was indeed dead due to absence of pulse and breath, only to voluntarily revive later (IU I:483). So long as the magnetic cord (also called “silver cord”) remains connected between the Linga-Śarīra and the physical body, the person is not yet really dead, even if there are signs of initial decomposition (ibid.).
The Chāyā (Chhāyā). The form of the linga-śarīra is furnished by the Auric Egg, which is the preserver of the karmic record of the individual. This is done partly through the TĀHNIC ELEMENTALS, which contain the records of “misdeeds and sinful thoughts and acts” (CW XII:609). The underlying essence or principle that will eventually produce the actual linga-śarīra
- . . . lies dormant in the foetal state, during the Devachan of the entity to whom it belongs, and enters, in due course, a woman’s womb. It is first in the womb, and then comes the germ that fructifies it, from the male parent. It is the subjective image of the man that is to be, the model of the physical body in which the child is to be formed and developed. It is then clothed with matter, as were the Lunar Pitiris, and is therefore often called the Chhāyā. (ibid., pp. 704-5)
This inner principle is therefore more properly called the Chāyā, and the linga-śarīra and māyāvi-rūpa are but manifestations of this essence.
- When an Astral Body is to be formed, the Chhāyā evolves a shadowy, curling or gyrating essence like smoke, which gradually takes form as it emerges. In order that this essence may become visible, the Chhāyā draws on the surrounding atmosphere, attracting to itself certain minute particles floating therein, and so the Linga-Śarīra , or other Astral vehicle is formed outside the physical Body. . .
- This ethereal Body, built outside the Sthūla-Śarīra, is the Linga-Śarīra , properly so termed; it could not form in vacuo, it is built up temporarily, with the Chhāyā as its foundation, and disperses when the Chhāyic foundation is withdrawn into the Body. This Linga-Śarīra is united to the physical Body by an umbilical cord, a material cord, and cannot therefore travel very far from it. (CW XII:705)
In the successive incarnations of the individual, new linga-śarīras are being formed, and hence it cannot be said that there is one permanent linga-śarīra seed through successive lives; rather it is the mind (manas) and the Auric Egg which provide such permanent seeds.
Up to the age of seven, the linga-śarīra forms the body. After seven, it is the body that molds the linga-śarīra (ibid., p. 705). The germ or life-essence of the linga-śarīra is said to be in the real spleen (within the physical spleen), which acts as the center of the prāna in the body.
The existence of the linga-śarīra has been known since time immemorial, whether in the east or west. Socrates, in Plato’s Georgias (Part 9), spoke of this double when he stated that the dead soul will retain the whip marks, height or deformities of the dead physical body. Homer, in his Iliad (Bk. 23), similarly describes the ghost of Patroclus appearing to Achilles exactly as he was when alive. Other names given to the linga-śarīra are eidolon among the Greeks, simulacrum (Lucretius), doppelgänger (German), khou (Egyptian), hwen (Chinese), bhūta or bhoot (Indian), umbra (Greek), juli or yuli (Nicaraguan or Aztec), kuch-ha-guf (Hebrew), and chhu-lung (Tibetan).
See also Etheric Double; Human Constitution; Septenary System Nomenclature; Astral Body; KĀMA-RŪPA; PRĀNA.
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