SELF, Self, self

A study paper from The Theosophical Journal.
Geoffrey Farthing

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cover Theosophical Journal

An article originally published
Nov/Dec 1977 Vol.18 No. 6

1. In theosophical literature these selves, written in the three ways, relate to great mysteries. In themselves they epitomize the Ancient Wisdom teachings. Let us see what the literature has to say about them and how the teachings unfold a wonderful story.

When we are awake, each of us is aware of the fact. We are aware of ourselves in our surroundings. We think of ourselves as persons. As persons, we are selves written with a small's'. The literature distinguishes between this personal self, a personality, and an interior Self whence consciousness arises. This is called the individuality.

2. The following passage occurs in Chapter II of The Key to Theosophy, Section The Difference between Theosophy and Spiritualism.

ENQ. But what is the distinction between this "true individuality" and the "I" or "Ego" of which we are all conscious?

THEO. . .. We distinguish between the simple fact of self-consciousness, the simple feeling that "I am I", and the complex thought that "I am Mr. Smith" or "Mrs. Brown". Believing as we do in a series of births for the same Ego, or reincarnation, this distinction is the fundamental pivot of the whole idea. You see "Mr. Smith" really means a long series of daily experiences strung together by the thread of memory, and forming what Mr. Smith calls "himself". But none of these "experiences" is really the "I" or the Ego, nor do they give "Mr. Smith" the feeling that he is himself, for he forgets the greater part of his daily experiences, and they produce the feeling of Egoity in him only while they last. We Theosophists, therefore, distinguish between this bundle of "experiences", which we call the false (because so finite and evanescent) personality, and that element in man to which the feeling of "I am I" is due.

The passage then goes on to liken the individuality to an actor playing many successive 'personality' parts on the stage of life.

Note again, when associated with the "I" or individuality, Ego is usually spelt with a capital 'E'. Similarly when so associated the Self has a capital 'S'.

3. In our title we have three selves. THE SELF is so to speak the Deity of manifested Cosmos, the ONE, the Unity from which sparks of Itself illuminate everything. In man this is focused (via Buddhi) in Manas, making a unit of consciousness. This is the Self in us all. The self is the personal self in a physical body.

Three passages in the The Key to Theosophy will be found particularly helpful in this study:

(i) Chapter VI Section The Septenary Nature of Man, where the information is presented in a table.

(ii) Chapter VIII Section On Individuality and Personality, where the important point is made that Atma, called here the "Higher Self", is not an individual but a universal principle which "like sunlight shines on all".

(iii) Chapter IX Section Definite Words for Definite Things, where the nature and function of the three selves is clearly set out.

4. The original edition of the The Key to Theosophy contains a useful Glossary. Two of the terms explained are of particular relevance here:

(i) Mahat ... The first principle of Universal Intelligence and consciousness . . . the producer of Manas, the thinking principle, and of Ahankâra, Egotism or the feeling of 'I am I' in the lower Manas.

Note particularly that our feeling of 'I' arises in lower Manas. Higher Manas is orientated to Buddhi which liberates consciousness from the limitations of the personal 'I' and engenders a consciousness of the Universal Unity.

(ii) Manasaputra ... the "Sons of Mind" or mind-born Sons; a name given to our Higher Egos before they incarnated in mankind ...

5. So important a subject is this matter of the SELF and the Self that in The Secret Doctrine there are over 100 references listed in the Index (1893 Third edition and Adyar 6-vol. edition). An attempt should be made to explore some of these in the text.

6. The complicated relationships of the SELF, as a Cosmic principle, and the Self, as a human principle, and their common relationship to Alaya, Anima Mundi, Prakriti and Pradhanav the ONE LIFE, Jivâtma . . . the Self of a progressed Adept, are explained in The Secret Doctrine vol.I 49, 50 / I 80, 81 / I 121, 122.

7. The term 'Master' has a special place in the hearts of many members of the Theosophical Society (T.S.). It is usually applied to the great Initiates, Adepts, Mahatmas or Masters of the Wisdom, particularly those associated with the founding of the T.S., but in the context of our title, the term Master has a special relevance.

Let us note the following passage, written for those who aspire to tread 'the Path':

'The "Master" in the Sanctuary of our souls is "the Higher Self" - the divine spirit whose consciousness is based upon and derived solely (at any rate during the mortal life of the man in whom it is captive) from the Mind, which we have agreed to call the Human Soul (the "Spiritual Soul" being the vehicle of the Spirit). In its turn the former (the personal or human soul) is a compound in its highest form, of spiritual aspirations, volitions, and divine love; and in its lower aspect, of animal desires and terrestrial passions imparted to it by its associations with its vehicle, the seat of all these. It thus stands as a link and a medium between the animal nature of man which its higher reason seeks to subdue, and his divine spiritual nature to which it gravitates, whenever it has the upper hand in its struggle with the inner animal ... It is only when the power of the passions is dead altogether, and when they have been crushed and annihilated in the retort of an unflinching will; when not only all the lusts and longings of the flesh are dead, but also the recognition of the personal Self is killed out and the "astral" has been reduced in consequence to a cipher, that the Union with the "Higher Self" can take place. Then when the "Astral" reflects only the conquered man, the still living but no more the longing, selfish personality, then the brilliant Augoeides, the divine SELF, can vibrate in conscious harmony with both the poles of the human Entity - the man of matter purified, and the ever pure Spiritual Soul - and stand in the presence of the MASTER SELF, the Christos of the mystic Gnostic, blended, merged into, and one with IT for ever'.
(Collected Writings Vol.IX 255-7; Practical Occultism, 54-60).

8. For information on the Christos principle referred to in the above passage, see the article on The Esoteric Character of the Gospels (Collected Writings Vol.III 172 et seq.).

9. The following passage, relevant to our theme, occurs as a footnote on page 257 in Collected Writings Vol. IX:

‘Those who would feel inclined to see three Egos in one man will show themselves unable to perceive the metaphysical meaning. Man is a trinity composed of Body, Soul and Spirit; but man is nevertheless one and is surely not his body. It is the latter which is the property, the transitory clothing of the man. The three "Egos" are MAN in his three aspects on the astral, intellectual or psychic, and the Spiritual planes, or states.’

And they correspond to the similar states in Cosmos, man being the complete but miniature reflection of the WHOLE.

There is a small but interesting addendum to the above on the following page: 'It is altruism, not egoism even in its most legal and noble conception that can lead the unit to merge its little Self in the Universal Selves'.


The Secret Doctrine: References to the three editions in general use are given in the order of publication, viz: 1888 (Original) 1893-7
The Key to Theosophy H.P. Blavatsky.
Practical Occultism H.P. Blavatsky
Collected Writings of H. P. Blavatsky. link


Geoffrey Farthing portraitGeoffrey Farthing (1909-2004), author and international lecturer made the study of Theosophy, and in particular the esoteric writings of H.P. Blavatsky, his abiding interest for over 60 years. Geoffrey held most positions in the Theosophical Society in England including General Secretary (1969-72). He served a term as a member of the Society's General Council at Adyar, India, and was a member of the Executive Committee of the European Federation for a number of years. He founded The Blavatsky Trust, an educational charity, in England in 1974. In the same year he gave the prestigious Blavatsky Lecture at the Annual Convention of the English Theosophical Society on Life, Death and Dreams, and in 1996, was awarded the Subba Row Medal for his significant contribution to theosophical literature.

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