A term used in two senses in theosophical literature. (1) Helena P. BLAVATSKY refers to it as the “double,” the Linga-Sarira, or the doppelgänger, that perishes with the death of the body. This usage continues with many writers up to the present time. (2) Later theosophical writers, specifically, Annie BESANT and Charles W. LEADBEATER, began to use the term “astral body” as the emotional body or kama-rupa. Many subsequent writers followed this usage. Blavatsky and the Mahatma Letters also sometimes refer to kama-rupa as the “astral soul.” For the original meaning of astral body, they used the term “etheric double” or “etheric body.” This dual meaning of the term “astral body” has brought confusion not only in the use the term, but also doctrinal disagreement. This article shall use the term “astral body” to refer to the emotional body or the kama-rupa. For the earlier meaning of astral body, see LINGA-SARIRA. It is suggested that the reader also refer to the other articles KAMA-RUPA and ETHERIC DOUBLE.
A. E. Powell in his The Etheric Double, (1930 ed., p. 2) has explained the problem of nomenclature, “The Etheric Double has been given a variety of names. In early Theosophical literature it was often called the astral body, the astral man, or the Linga Sharīra. In all later writings, however, none of these terms are ever applied to the Etheric Double, as they belong properly to the body composed of astral matter, the body of Kāma of the Hindus. In reading the Secret Doctrine, therefore, and other books of the older literature, the student must be on his (her) guard not to confuse the two quite distinct bodies known to-day as the Etheric Double and the Astral Body.”
In must be noted in passing that some commentators, right down to the present time, decline to distinguish between the etheric double and the astral body.
Theosophy identifies a number of “planes” or “levels” in the Solar System each of greater or lesser subtlety compared to the plane immediately above or below it. In terms of subtlety, the astral plane lies immediately above or beyond the physical. During the process of incarnation into the physical world, the incarnating entity forms a “vehicle” of astral matter taken from the astral plane which will, in the lifetime of the individual, be the seat of the emotions. Clairvoyants claim to be able to see this vehicle and describe it as a body of flashing colors; which vary according to the nature and intensity of the individual’s emotions.
Everyone possesses an astral body; it is an absolute necessity for existence, but few are aware of it, although all are aware of the emotions experienced. This “body” suffuses the physical and extends, in the case of the average person, about ten or twelve inches (25 or 30 cm) beyond the extent of the physical body; in highly evolved individuals the astral extends for a considerable distance beyond the physical.
It is necessary to keep in mind the fact that the astral plane embodies seven “levels” or degrees of “fineness” and since the human’s astral vehicle is composed of material taken from the astral plane it follows that the human astral body in composed of seven “kinds” of material. Furthermore, each astral sevenfold division is sub-divided into seven sub-planes and therefore there are forty-nine levels in all. The material of all these sub-planes is capable of responding in varying degrees to the emotional activities of the individual. Thus the higher or more subtle levels respond to higher emotions such as compassion and altruistic love and the lower to such negative emotions as anger and jealousy.
The functions of the astral body may be grouped under three headings:
1. Making sensation possible.
2. Serving as a bridge between the mental level (mind) and the physical.
3. To function as an independent vehicle of consciousness.
These functions will be discussed in more detail. An alternative way of describing the subtle attributes of the human is to categorize these into “principles” or the “modes” of manifesting life. The four lower principles have been named as:
It is this fourth principle that concerns us here; k€ma may be described as the life manifesting in the astral body and limited by it. Its characteristic is the ability to feel, which in its elementary aspect is sensation and in its more complex form is emotion, with many manifestations between these two extremes.
The second function, that of bridging, involves a discussion about the part that prana (vital energy) plays in the individual. Any input by the physical senses is transmitted through the system by prana and becomes “sensation” by the action of the sense centers and then perceived by manas (mind). There is, however, two way traffic; mental activity may transmit “vibrations” which affect the astral body which in turn may affect the etheric double and this, in turn, the physical. Here we may possibly have the sequence of events that can produce stigmata and other so-called psychosomatic happenings.
Although the subject of chakras is dealt with in some detail elsewhere (see CHAKRA), since chakras are an essential part of the astral body it is necessary to outline their astral function here. Astral chakras are located in approximately same places as those of the Etheric and are:
1. Base of spine (muladhara). Colored red; has four petals; the seat of kundalini or “Serpent Fire”; a force that exists on all planes in Nature and the energizing force of all the chakras.
2. Abdomen (svadhishana). Colored vermilion; has six petals; awakens sensation in the astral body.
3. Spleen (manipura). Colored blue; has ten petals; is associated with the ability to leave the physical in consciousness or, in other words, “astral travel.”
4. Heart (anahata). Colored golden; has twelve petals; embodies empathy or the sympathetic response between astral bodies.
5. Throat (visuddha). Colored blue; has sixteen petals; enables the astral traveler to hear on the astral plane.
6. Brow (ajña or ajñakhya). Mixed colors with rose red and purplish blue predominating. In some Indian texts is shown with two petals, but Charles W. LEADBEATER maintains that each half can be seen to have forty-eight divisions making ninety-six in all. It enables the astral traveller to see form on the astral plane.
7. Crown (sahasrara). Colored white; having one thousand petals; has the potential to enable the individual realize all his or her higher faculties.
When asleep the astral body separates from the physical and hovers above it. It is said that during sleep the average individual leads a dreamy state of consciousness, remembering very little of this period. A highly evolved individual however, is able to make use of the astral body during sleep and move in consciousness away from the physical body over considerable distances; this is termed an “out of the body experience” or “astral travel.” When this occurs the astral vehicle may be seen by observers looking as though the traveller is actually present; there are a number of well-authenticated cases of this phenomenon in the reports of the Society for Psychical Research.
It is possible, given suitable training, to acquire “astral vision” or a kind of clairvoyance. This may take the form of being able to see auras (the subtle bodies) or even move in consciousness on the astral plane. One of the methods available is the practice of RAJA-YOGA. A small number of individuals manifest this ability spontaneously.
Where there is a great preponderance of altruistic or idealistic thinking and behavior, the “vibration” of the astral component, being of a high order, draws into the astral body appropriate material from the astral plane ( a continuous renewal taking place). Conversely, a persistent low order of thinking and emotion draws into the astral body coarse material and thus the subtle body is degraded. The results of these changes are of great importance. The refined astral body responds more readily to the higher emotions (and thought) of others and thus a positive reinforcement takes place. The reverse is true and the individual can embark on a descending spiral of degradation and ultimate disaster.
After physical death the individual finds him or herself on the astral plane, but in due time the astral body disintegrates and the Ego moves on to the next or mental plane.
See also KAMA RUPA; ETHERIC DOUBLE; ASTRAL SOUL; DEATH AND AFTER-DEATH STATES.
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