'Theosophy - What's it all about?' - Chapter 4, The Total Make-Up of Man

by Geoffrey Farthing

'A brief summary of a wonderfully exciting and vitally important subject.'

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We are familiar with the constitution of man given us by St. Paul of body, soul and spirit. Theosophy elaborates on this basic framework and defines precisely what it means by the terms. It says that man is sevenfold in his constitution. He has his physical body and six other principles, each of a specific nature and with a specific function.

Here we are introduced to the idea of levels of being and the necessity for spirit to have a vehicle in which to operate on each level. We have also seen something of the relationship between spirit and matter and how in the last analysis they cannot be separated, though to us at the physical level of being they appear to be, and indeed are, the very opposite poles of existence. The one is the positive principle and the other the negative confining, limiting principle. Matter being that which contains spirit in any form or thing in existence, restricts the activities of spirit to the extent to which the forms have not yet been developed or educated to respond to its potentialities. The vehicles necessary for spirit to function in are sometimes called 'bodies' in some theosophical literature. But only in certain circumstances are they distinct things. It is better to think of them as inter-related elements or principles of man’s total being, by which he functions on the various inner levels of being.

It is now necessary to say something about the planes or levels of being mentioned earlier. First, let us see whether in ordinary life there is anything that would lead us to suspect their existence and by which we could know something about them. We are aware of our normal everyday surroundings in which what we ordinarily regard as 'ourselves' play their parts, and which include other people.

We know that all the things in these surroundings are composed of physical matter in its three states of solid,

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liquid and gas We are aware of our surroundings only through our physical senses, by way of our eyes, ears, skin (touch), mouths and noses. Messages arc received from the outside world, from anything to which organs of sense can respond, and are transmitted via our telegraphic nervous systems to that wonderful terminus, the seat of our waking consciousness, the brain

The first level of existence, the physical, we arc used to. What about the others? Let us notice that when we become aware of things, including other people, our feelings arc often aroused These feelings vary from simple likes and dislikes to strong affections and hatred, from mere attraction to passion, and so on through the whole range of what we call emotion. These emotions impress our memories. The memory of having had or having done things we have enjoyed arouses the desire to repeat the experience. If something has been painful or if we have not liked it, we become averse to it and want to avoid a repetition of the experience.

A great part of our life is thus composed of and conditioned by feeling, inner feeling as well as by physical sensation and sense impressions

Memory records our experience, some of which we can recall to mind at will We arc now introduced to another element in our lives, that of mental activity. In this we include memory, recollection, imagination and thinking. All these are of an order of inner activity different from feeling but closely associated with it.

These inner activities of emotion and mind are distinct areas of consciousness and can be used as a basis for categorizing two of the levels of our being as humans. We can now say that we have the emotional and mental levels of being in addition to the physical. By definition we have said that for consciousness to arise or for there to be response of any kind, there must be a vehicle, responsive at the right level of being, for life or spirit to operate in. We must therefore have an emotional vehicle or body and a mental vehicle, both somehow in close association with each other and with our physical bodies so that our physical brain registers their activity. We can thus be aware of activity at all three levels. Inwaking consciousness, our awareness of

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sensation, emotion, or mentation is referred to the physical brain. So accustomed are we to this that it is very hard indeed even to conceive the idea of consciousness being possible without a physical brain This great difficulty gives rise to the ideas of materialism, that is that there cannot be conscious existence without a physical body. An idea which some of us hold so strongly and apparently so justifiably.

In the field of mind, we have mentioned its fundamental functions of memory , imagination and thinking, which is a mind activity involving memory and imagination plus some training by experience or otherwise in logic. These are the mind activities familiar enough to us in the ordinary workaday way but there are others which transcend the three mentioned. These are typified by intelligence, by spontaneous 'common sense' born of perceived but unlearned principles; and mind operations concerned with abstract ideas, with comprehensive concepts and conscience. We can call these latter, higher mind functions, and distinguish them from the former which we could call the lower mind functions, those so closely associated with our feelings

Our physical bodies and our emotional and lower mind principles are of a personal nature and constitute all that we regard as a man's 'personality’. This is an important definition which we will use precisely in this sense.

The activities of higher mind are by definition to do with broad principles and abstractions and cannot therefore be of the same personal nature as those of the lower mind. They will not evince personal characteristic or content. They are, however, still unique and individual to a particular man and they are, like the others, mind activities. The mental principle, therefore, has two aspects, a higher and a lower. The lower is by definition a component of the man's personality and the other represents his unique ‘individuality’ as distinct from his personality

This distinction between personality and individuality is very important and must be borne in mind. There are certain other inner activities of which most of us, in some degree or another, have some experience in a

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lifetime. They can be described as direct cognitions, clear insights usually sudden, really deep understanding by a kind of detached but sympathetic feeling. This is intuition, using the word in its strict sense of 'tuition' from 'within'. Intuition is to be distinguished from hunches, premonitions and the like, which are psychic experiences - that is, experiences arising within our lower mind and emotional principles. Intuition can be known by its quality, the joy of enlightenment or the compassion that wells up in us, or a combination of these, which accompanies the experience. Another important distinction between an intuitive experience and a psychic experience is that intuition teaches us in terms of principles and is never personal, whereas psychic hunches are always of a personal nature, usually with an emotional content concerning either ourselves or other people.

These intuitional activities are said to arise from within a spiritual vehicle or body which is not really ours in the sense that our physical or other bodies are. It is the vehicle of Spirit in the general Cosmic sense. It becomes ours only by reason of its association with our higher mind principle, wherein our individual consciousness arises. Itis in these high levels of our being that all that we think of as Wisdom, arises.

Lastly, there is the realm of pure Spirit, the Unity in manifestation - the Source of our being and all other being and beings. This Divine Spirit is not private to anyone; individual lives are sparks lit at its flame and of its nature. It is therefore not a principle of Man, but a universal principle, which operates through all units of life.

Counting the mental principle as one in spite of its dual nature, and counting the Universal Spirit as one of man's principles as it is in every way the Source and inmost Essence of his being, he has seven principles or vehicles of consciousness which are set out very clearly in The Key to Theosophy, and they are as follows:

1.) The physical body; this is the vehicle for his lifetime in the physical world, for all his other principles to manifest through in so far as they are developed and functioning, and as far as it is capable of responding to the activities of

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his inner principles. The anatomy and physiology of his body we are not concerned with here, but we should notice that it is composed of subservient lives as cells and organs within its constitution, all acting harmoniously for the proper functioning of the indwelling entity and for its overall well-being. Linking this body, so to speak, with the inner planes of being are two other principles. They are also responsible for its co-ordinating vitality. They are principles 2 and 3 as follows:

2.) The astral double; this is a non-physical principle on the inner plane of being next to our gross material one. It is normally invisible but is not insubstantial. This double is said to be a counterpart of the physical body, with a similar organization and organs corresponding to those in our bodies. It is the pattern or mould on which the physical body is built and it has senses corresponding to our normal five. These act as links between our outer sense organs and our organ of consciousness, so that we can be aware of what we are seeing and hearing and so on. When these inner senses are developed so as to be able to function independently of the outer ones, their possessor becomes clairvoyant and/or clairaudient or otherwise psychic. This principle also acts as a reservoir for the universal life-force.

3.) Life-force or vitality; this is the force in nature which bestows co-ordinating life to an organism. It is the animating principle without which a cell, organ or body is dead. It must, however, not be thought of as energy even though it is a dynamic function. Physical energy in living things comes from the food they eat and the air they breath. The vital principle (Prana) has, however, often been referred to as the breath of life. All our principles except the highest are quickened by it.

4.) The desire or emotion vehicle; this is a principle in man which reflects the energy aspect of the One Life. It is the seat of our feelings which impel us to action and of our passional nature. As a vehicle of our desires and so on, it is being created by each one of us during our life-time but does not become a separate entity until after our death. Emotional feeling and desire are referred to in the literature as Kama. (Note, not, Karma).

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5.) The mind principle; this is the principle in which, as its name implies, are all those of our faculties that we regard as mental, arise. It is a dual principle with an upper and lower aspect. The lower aspect is in close association with the emotion principle such that the two are often thought of together as a mento-emotional complex. This combination is the personal soul, the psyche, sometimes thought of as the animal soul and, as we shall see, it is mortal.

The higher aspect of mind is regarded as that human principle in which the unit of consciousness arises; it is herein that the man feels himself as 'I am I'. Together with the remaining two principles, this higher mind is, as already mentioned, known as the individuality, as opposed to the personality composed of his lower mind and other principles. This distinction is stressed in Theosophy. The three upper principles constitute man's essential divinity. They are immortal. They are referred to as the Ego (usually with a capital E), and sometimes as the Higher Self. The principle of mind in the books is known as Manas, a Sanskrit word from which our term man is derived. Man in this sense means thinker.

6.) This principle is a universal one and cannot properly be regarded as a human one except that it, as a vehicle for or that which gives expression to Highest Spirit, must enter into the constitution of every manifest thing. Like Prana, however, which needs the second principle of a living being to operate in and through and thereby can be thought of as a principle of that being, this vehicle of Universal Spirit can be regarded as a principle of man when specifically associated with his higher mental principle, which, as we have seen, is individual to him. This sixth principle is commonly termed Buddhi, again using a Sanskrit word.

7.) The Universal Spirit; the ultimate dynamic whence comes all power and consciousness in manifested Cosmos. Again this cannot properly be regarded as a principle of man but again no being could be, so to speak, without this Spiritual Essence as an element of its being, no matter how obscured it may be by the vehicles through which it must operate at the various levels of being. Spirit is commonly called Atma.

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Relating these seven principles to the three-fold constitution of man of Saint Paul, we have, first, corresponding to body, a lower trinity of the physical body and its vital principles of the double and Prana. Then second, corresponding to soul, we have a middle duad of the emotion principle and lower mind, constituting the psyche or ordinary ego of the psychologist, the mortal soul. Lastly, we have, the upper triad of Atma, Buddhi and higher Manas, as spirit.

It is important to note that according to the ancient teaching, each of these principles of man has a direct correspondence to a distinct level of being in Cosmos, commonly called a plane. Further, to each plane there is a mode or state of consciousness, and, as we have already mentioned, corresponding to each plane there is a hierarchy of beings where each hierarchy is at a corresponding level of evolutionary development. This development has been achieved in past aeons, some of which, so we are told, go back even to previous world systems. It is, however, these hierarchies who, having developed certain faculties themselves, can endow those who come after them with them. It is said that this is how man became the possessor of mind. He did not acquire it in the slow processes of evolution.

This seven-fold constitution of man is one, perhaps the most important, of the things that Theosophy teaches us. In itself it summarises the salient points of the whole teaching and, in terms of correspondences, runs like a thread through the immense and magnificent structure of esoteric science.

There are two other aspects of this subject of the principles of man. One is the manner of their coming into being at the beginning of the world. The other is their development throughout its vast history. We have already mentioned that the activities of nature proceed from 'within outwards'. This means that the impulse to action always comes from an inner higher level of being. For example, man is moved to action by his desires. This principle applies also to growth and the development of forms. As to the nature or shape of forms there is, as it were, a design in the mental and a formative pattern or 'mould' in the astral worlds to

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which the organic growth conforms. These designs and patterns result from what has been worked out in previous evolutionary periods on this or other worlds in accordance with the Universal law that every effect proceeds from an antecedent cause. Forms are affected by their environment. To a degree they respond and react to it. These responses are impressed on to the 'memory' of the inner plane of being which can modify the mental pattern. That in its turn can modify the 'astral' mould and this can, for example, effect mutations in the germ plasm (genes) in animals and plants. Forms are then modified in later generations.

The Secret Doctrine deals particularly and in some detail with the development of human bodies and relates this development to the changing conditions of environment during the development of our globe. It tells also of the orders of beings that grew up and developed on other and prior series of globes. From these remote ancestors we have inherited not only physical bodies, but our emotional and mental principles. The Secret Doctrine tells us of various races and sub-races of humanity which have been, are, and will be on this earth. It tells of the development of the particular characteristics and qualities of these peoples. It also tells of how at the end of our world period, the individuals who have completed their allotted development, the successful souls, will become men complete, full-grown, in every department of their being.

Concurrently with the development of our vehicles at their particular levels, is the growth of consciousness to full active operation on those levels. With this expansion of consciousness comes power, the power of the forces and qualities of nature peculiar to those planes. Man thus eventually moves into a new, a superhuman, state. He has then fulfilled his destiny completely on this planet. The time scales in this process are immense. Man can, however, if he so wills, hasten his progress towards this grand consummation and in doing so fit himself to help his brothers along the long, long road home.

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