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Human Constitution

Theosophy, in common with practically all the major religious traditions, considers human beings to be composed of layers of consciousness and bodies. In theosophy, the different layers of consciousness are also referred to as “principles,” as distinguished from the “bodies” through which the principles express themselves. The enumeration of these principles have slight variations among different theosophical writers, but are in agreement in the most essential elements.

Helena P. BLAVATSKY, the principal source of modern theosophical teachings, stated that human beings consist of seven principles:

Sanskrit English Comment
Atma Spirit Spark of the Divine
Buddhi Spiritual Soul vehicle of Atma
Manas the Mind of Human Soul consists of two levels, the higher and the lower
Kama Desire, the Animal Soul usually linked with the lower mind, forming kama-manas
Linga-Sarira the Astral Body the astral double which is the model of the physical body
Prana Life Energy  
Sthula Sarira Physical Body  


These seven principles can be divided into two major parts: the immortal higher triad (or Atma-Buddhi-Manas) and the lower quaternary composed of the rest, which is discarded upon the death of the person. Knowledge of these principles enable us to better understand the processes involved in such things as the DEATH AND AFTER-DEATH STATES, REINCARNATION, MEDITATION, healing, MESMERISM, and many other non-physical phenomena. Such knowledge constitutes one of the most important foundations of theosophy and esotericism.

Of the seven principles, Atma has a basic quality different from the others. It is not an individual entity. It is a universal principle that manifests itself through the six vehicles or principles, from Buddhi down to the physical body. It only becomes an individual entity or Monad when it links with Buddhi. For this reason, Blavatsky defines the Monad as Atma-Buddhi.

In her Esoteric Instructions to her students, Blavatsky included the Atmic Aura or Auric Egg (also called Auric Envelope) as one of the principles, in place of Atma. Similarly, she removed prana as a principle, it being a universal rather than an individual principle.

Body, Astral, Kama, Lower Manas, Higher Manas, Buddhi, and Atmic Aura or Auric Egg, are given as the principles. Life is a Universal Kosmic Principle, and no more than Atman does it belong to individuals. Prana and the Auric Envelope are essentially the same, and again as Jiva it is the same as the Universal Deity. (CW XII:672)

The Auric Envelope was not given out in Blavatsky’s public writings because she said it was very sacred. This film or aura is the one that differentiates the human being from pure Akasa and boundless Jiva. It is also the preserver of the individual’s karmic record, and the source of one’s astral form (CW 12:607-8).

These nuances led to the eventual adoption of a widely popular classification given by Annie BESANT and Charles W. LEADBEATER which is as follows:

Sanskrit English Comment
Atma Spiritual  
Buddhi Intuitional  
Arupa Manas Causal  
Rupa Manas Lower Mental  
Kama Emotional; (Astral) The term “astral” was now used as equivalent to kama rather than Linga-Sarira
Linga-Sarira Etheric The Linga-Sarira was called “etheric body” rather than “astral body” and was considered as part of the physical body
Sthula Sarira Physical  


In a later classification, Besant and Leadbeater identified the Monad no longer as Atma-Buddhi but on a higher level above the Atmic called the Anupadaka (or Anupapadaka) Plane.

Equivalents in Religious Traditions. The principles of the human being have equivalent concepts in the different traditions.

In the Judeao-Christian-Islamic tradition, they are generally divided into three components:

  English	Old Testament	     New Testament	       Qur’an
  Spirit	Ruah (Ruach)	        Pneuma	                 Ruh
  Soul	        Nephesh	                Psyche	                 Nafs
  Body	        Gewiyah	                Soma	                 Jism

In the theological and mystical literature of these three religions, however, we find that there are further subdivisions that have equivalences to the seven principles of human beings in theosophy.

In the Jewish KABBALAH, for example, higher than the Ruah is Neshamah or divine spirit. As such it may be more proper to equate Neshamah with Atma, whereas Ruah would be either the Buddhi or Higher Manas. Furthermore, the Kabbalah constructs the “Tree of Life” which assumes ten principles or sephiroth within a human being. The three highest, the triad KetherBinah and Chokmah, are equivalent to Atma-Buddhi-Manas, and the others are psychic or physical (see KABBALAH for details of the Tree of Life).

In Christianity, Thomas Aquinas distinguished between the rational soul, sensitive soul, and vegetative soul (Summa Theologica, I, Q. 78, 1). The vegetative soul is that which is awake in plants, the sensitive soul is active in animals, while the rational soul is present in human beings. These would be equivalent to the Kama, Lower Manas and Higher Manas in theosophy.

In Islamic Sufism, between ruh and the body, there are further subdivisions that corresponds to the theosophical principles. Qalb or heart represents the intuitive consciousness or buddhi, while the soul or nafs is further divided into many kinds, just as in Thomistic philosophy. They are nafs al-natiqah, the rational soul; nafs al-haywaniyah, the animal soul; and the nafs al-nabatiyah, the vegetative soul. The Qur’an also classifies the nafs into three, although these are more descriptive of the developmental stages of the soul rather than principles. They are the nafs al-ammarah, the soul that is prone to evil; nafs al-lawwamah, or self-accusing soul or conscience; and nafs al-mutma’innah, or soul at peace (Qur’an 12:53; 75:2; 89:27).

The theosophical classification of principles are essentially identical with those of Hindu system, such as those of Vedanta and YOGA, as well as BUDDHISM. In Vedanta, these principles are identified under the different koas or sheaths, while in Taraka Yoga, they are divided according to the upadhis or bases (see SEPTENARY CLASSIFICATION NOMENCLATURE for comparisons with Vedanta and Taraka Raja Yoga).

See also ATMA, BUDDHI, MANAS, MENTAL BODY, ASTRAL BODY, KAMA, LINGA-SARIRA, ETHERIC DOUBLE, SELF, SOUL, SEPTENARY CLASSIFICATION NOMENCLATURE.


V.H.C.


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