There is no danger that dauntless courage cannot conquer; there is no trial that spotless purity cannot pass through; there is no difficulty that strong intellect cannot surmount.
H.P. Blavatsky (1831-1891)
Editors note: A familiar division of the human constitution describes man as threefold - body, soul and spirit. Esotericism makes use of the same division (found also in Plata and Paul), but shows the complex nature of the three parts. It is necessary to do so because we know Man to be a microcosm reflecting in minature the composition and processes of the macrocosm; the total universe. A brief outline of the theosophical septenary (seven fold) nature of man, together with the Sanskrit terms applied, is given in study paper 5 link
The Ego (the 'higher' Ego, rather than the 'ego' of the psychologist) in the title is the spiritual, immortal individuality composed of the three higher principles of man's constitution. Man's principles correspond exactly to the planes of Nature or Cosmos, of which the three upper ones represent the Divine Trinity; the dual Monad plus Manas, in action during a Manvantara (The active period of phenomenal existence). Their development is the raison d'etre of manvantaric evolution. Taken as the individuality of man they are those principles which persist as a thread through innumerable personal incarnations.
Some of us, as students of Theosophy, regard this Ego as an over-shadowing spiritual Self, which can affect our consciousness according to our degree of development as a person. The growth or the development of the personality as a mundane representative of the Ego is well understood to mean the development of the four lower principles of his personal self: the physical together with its life aspects (the Astral and Prana); his emotional vehicle (Kama) and the mind (Manas ). Nearly all the experience of ordinary human life is food for the development of these principles.
The exigencies of ordinary worldly existence, however, demand action, and every action has its effect. The theosophical student knows that these effects are not only the immediate result of what occurs at the physical level but also he knows that they affect also the inner principles, i.e. the astral, the emotional and mental. These inner principles are the creative and formative ones as far as the personal self is concerned. Experience modifies them and thereby they are developed.
The teaching is that each of our seven principles is divided into seven sub-principles of which each reflects exactly the corresponding main principle and in its turn a corresponding plane of Nature. The quality of our earth-life experiences affects not only the four lower principles of the personality but their sub-principles. The three higher sub-principles of each of the four principles comprising the personality not only correspond to but are 'octaves' of or resonate with the Egoic main principle (Atma, Buddhi and upper Manas).
This means that, on a lower key as it were, the personality is or can be attuned to spiritual Egoic impulses. By this means there is an interaction between the personality and the Ego or individuality whereby the personality can evince to a secondary extent the spiritual qualities of the Ego and vice versa. In the case of the ordinary man this traffic is limited: first by the limited development of the man's general spiritual nature and secondly to the extent that the Antahkarana (1) has been developed as a bridge between the higher (upper sub-principles) and the lower (lower four sub-principles) aspects of the main mental principle.
By this process the man becomes susceptible to stimuli from the Ego whereby the personality can reflect something of the qualities of the true spiritual man. This spiritualising process is of the utmost 'importance' because by its inversion the spiritual experience becomes available for the further development of the Ego - and only by that means. (The assimilation process takes place after death)
When a man dies, after certain other processes, the Egoic experience is separated from the purely mundane experience of the personality. It is that spiritual experience which becomes inbuilt into the Ego proper. It is a cumulative process throughout a long series of personal lives. The Ego is slowly transformed into a specific entity operating at the higher mind level of the personality. The Ego is properly and permanently aligned, as we have said, to the three higher cosmic planes whereon are the great spiritual entities that have been evolved from the human stage in the course of the evolutionary process. They have transcended it and become members of the hierarchies above the human kingdom.
The interests of the personality are mostly selfish, mundane, whereas those of the Ego are unselfish, impersonal, and relate to the generalities of existence, the Law, and particularly humanity as a whole. The teaching has it that, as long as the Antahkarana between the personal man and the individual Ego remains as a barrier, the Egoic stimuli cannot directly affect the human physical brain. The barrier has to become a bridge, built by the 'spiritualisation' of the personality. Communication gradually becomes established between the personal man and the Ego, not only by the quickening of the higher sub-principles but also by the direct contact with his own inner Divinity.
Normally man operates from the point of view of his personality and regards his Ego, if at all, vaguely, as some kind of overshadowing self, influencing him more or less as it can. Now we are taking the opposite point of view, at least in imagination, and trying to see the personal man from the point of view of the Ego. A factor of prime importance is that the personality and the Egoic self during the lifetime of the person are one whole entity. Man is an immortal Egoic self with a mortal personality, which is his means of perception and action for all mundane purposes during physical existence.
Another factor is that the Egoic self is impersonal, related to universals. Its interest is in humanity as a whole rather than in its own temporary personality. Furthermore, the Ego is always orientated towards the Cosmic Self, of which it is an inseverable 'spark'. This universal SELF (Atman) is itself the essential nature of the universe. As far as the personality is concerned, this Self must manifest as altruism, i.e. it must operate in terms other than its own private personal limited self.
The character of the personal self obviously determines the potential influence of the Ego on it. H. P. Blavatsky says that, insofar as a person is a sensualist, he cannot be spiritual, in the sense that we are using the word here. This gives us a clue as to the kind of spiritual development required of us. We have to train ourselves to express more and more of our Egoic divine qualities. In one word that means purification, the elimination of all self-interest.
It is difficult for us to understand the full meaning of purification while we are still operating at the personal level. We are told that when we die there is separation of the mundane from the purely spiritual experience. In the majority of cases ordinarily there is little spiritual residue left to quicken and enhance the life of the overshadowing Ego, but it is said, there is always some, however small. As persons we are altogether too interested in ourselves, and our affairs.
This is the condition life after life. Karma attracts effects that are determined exactly by their repetitive causes. If our acts are selfishly motivated, i.e., our personality's requirements and desires, the Karmic effects are on that plane. We build up a lifestyle and a habitual behaviour prompted by these personal motivations.
However, the Ego is not concerned with them. The would-be aspirant on the occult or spiritual path has therefore to learn to realise this and to reorient his attention or consciousness from the personal to the impersonal. This is a process that leads to an eventual crisis when the balance of interest is definitely tipped towards the Ego rather than the personal self. Even after this crisis some residual personality traits and habitual actions persist but they are slowly outweighed by the increasing influence of the Ego. We are becoming in reality, in our thinking and living, more and more altruistic.
As altruism is developed we become more spiritualised in the Egoic sense and so the bridge of Antahkarana is further established. This process is a truly significant part of our occult or theosophical journey. Right practices have to be initiated and put into effect at the personal level during our earthly lifetime. The measure of these will be in accord with our degree of development, achieved by the promptings of our Higher Self. However, any gains have to be initiated and carried through at the personal level. If they are not they remain only dreams, without results, and our personalities remain unrefined and correspondingly less useful to the Ego.
In the limit Egoic consciousness means the complete abandonment of the personal consciousness with its selfish urges and interests. To some, even to those aspiring to the spiritual life, such a prospect may appear bleak as it may seem to weaken human ties of affection, family duties and so on, but the books tell us quite otherwise. The Egoic nature is wholly compassionate. At that level of consciousness there is no feeling of separation from anything in the cosmic sense, including humanity as a whole and each individual human being.
In Occultism everything from the greatest to the lowest in the so-called, 'creation' is living. The One Life pervades everything in countless millions of forms. It is this One Life that is the seat of consciousness in all things including us, both at the Egoic and personal level. The same life pervades both aspects of our being. Egoic compassion therefore embraces everything because the Ego knows its identity with all else. In fact there is nothing else. This tremendous insight can be a realisation whilst we still live an earthly life, where we are conditioned by magnitudes, distances, time spans. We are in awe of the vastness both in extent and duration of the universe 'out there'. We marvel at the greatness of those high beings in the hierarchy who must order it. Even our idea of the Masters is one of the great beings far removed from us on the evolutionary scale. In the unity of the universe, however, differences of magnitude, depth, height, apply only to aspects of the physical universe.
In the subjective realms of spirit they do not apply: timeless-ness and dimensionless-ness are the normal states of consciousness of Egoic Being. Insofar as such consciousness reflects into personal self-awareness it becomes the true mystical experience of union with the Divine and a realisation that one's Self and the universe are really One. In her extensive writings H. P. Blavatsky has given some examples of the influences of the Ego on the personality when conditions are right. One of these is in her Diagram of Meditation. In the central column under Acquisitions is
“Equilibrium and constant calm. Greater ease in practising the 'virtues' [see Voice of the Silence, verses pp 47-48, Alice Cleather's 1927 Ed. link to annotated version on this site - see verses 12-18] which are really the outcome of wisdom; for benevolence, sympathy, justice, etc., arise from the intuitive identification of the individual with others, although unknown to the personality.”
Another example comes from a letter to her family describing incidents in her writing of Isis Unveiled. She is saying where she got her knowledge:
Because somebody who knows all dictates to me ... and even He [the Master] is not always required, for, during His absence on some other occupation, He awakens in me His substitute in knowledge . .. At such times it is no more I who write, but my inner Ego, my 'luminous self’, who thinks and writes for me.' [A. P. Sinnett Incidents in the Life of Mme. Blavatsky, p157, 1913 Ed.]
1. Antahkarana (Sk.) or Antaskarana.
The term has various meanings, which differ with every school of philosophy and sect. Thus Sankarâchârya renders the word as “understanding”; others, as “the internal instrument, the Soul, formed by the thinking principle and egoism”; whereas the Occultists explain it as the path or bridge between the Higher and the Lower Manas, the divine Ego, and the personal Soul of man. It serves as a medium of communication between the two, and conveys from the Lower to the Higher Ego all those personal impressions and thoughts of men which can, by their nature, be assimilated and stored by the undying Entity, and be thus made immortal with it, these being the only elements of the evanescent Personality that survive death and time. It thus stands to reason that only that which is noble, spiritual and divine in man can testify in Eternity to his having lived. (H.P. Blavatsky)
The Blavatsky Trust 2004
reproduced from 'Insight' Autumn 2004 (Vol 45 No.3), The Journal of The Theosophical Society in England