The Group Soul Question


Written by Geoffrey Farthing with additional notes by Robert Kitto, Trustee, The Blavatsky Trust

H.P. Blavatsky wrote that among the commandments of Tsong kha pa “there is one that enjoins the Arhats to make an attempt to enlighten the world, including the ‘white barbarians’, every century, at a certain specified period of the cycle.”

Geoffrey Farthing 2004

The discussion on group souls demonstrates how careful we must be to follow the advice given to us by Madame Helena Blavatsky [H.P.B.] in the little booklet entitled "Madame Blavatsky on How to Study Theosophy". [1] H.P.B. is reported by Commander Robert Bowen as having said;

"the first thing to do, even if it takes years, is to get some grasp of the 'Three Fundamental Principles' given in the Proem to the S.D. [2] [‘The Secret Doctrine’]".

We are all familiar with these propositions but are apt to forget their total relevance to every part of The Secret Doctrine. We should always also bear in mind another paragraph in the same booklet, viz:

 "The Atom, the Man, the God (she says) are each separately, as well as all collectively Absolute Being in their last analysis. That is their REAL INDIVIDUALITY. It is this idea which must be held always in the background of the mind to form the basis for every conception that arises from the study of the S.D. The moment one lets it go, (and it is most easy to do so when engaged in any of the many intricate aspects of the Esoteric Philosophy) the idea of SEPARATION supervenes and the study loses its value".

Let us therefore, review briefly the content of the three fundamental propositions:

The first one gives us the idea of Unit Being against a background of indescribable, unthinkable, Absolute Beness. Unit Being manifests two aspects reflecting down through the planes of being as the polarities we think of as Spirit-Matter; Energy - Matter; Life - Form; Positive - Negative; Subject - Object. It is from the latter pair that consciousness arises. The second proposition is that of the Eternity of the Universe, eternally manifesting as numberless universes; their coming and going demonstrating a law of cycles or alterations. The third proposition is that of the ‘identity of all Souls with the Universal Over-Soul’. The latter itself being an aspect of the Unknown Root. The second part of this proposition deals with the evolutionary development of everything in Cosmos up to the man stage and beyond.

These propositions provide what we might call the axiomatic material ever to be borne in mind if we would understand the more detailed aspects of the Doctrine. These more detailed aspects provide us with the essential material for the forming of a comprehensive concept of the Doctrine, into which all its parts can and will eventually fit. It is this comprehensive, concept, the formulation of which takes years, that has to become a background to all our thinking and relevant to all questions arising from our studies.


The physical body


The astral body Skt. Linga-sharira


The vital principle jiva or life-force Skt. prana


The vehicle of desires Skt. Kama-rupa


The principle of mind Skt. Manas


The spiritual soul Skt. Buddhi


Spirit Skt Atma


Probably the most important idea to emerge from such a concept is that of Monad [3], and its relation to manifest existence. In the Spirit - Matter dichotomy, the matter aspect is the necessary vehicle for the expression of the dynamism of Spirit. This dichotomy reflects into the usual definition of Monad as being Atma - Buddhi [4], where Buddhi is the vehicle for the spiritual Atma. Here we are introduced to another idea which is integral with the whole picture; that of Universal Soul, sometimes referred to as Alaya [5] or Anima Mundi, or the Universal Substance-Principle behind all existence. In effect this constitutes a 'group soul' for everything and everyone in accordance with the third proposition. The word ‘soul’ has many meanings, however, and it is necessary to be clear as to what it can refer to in Occultism. One definition of it would be, ‘that which gives expression to the principle above it’, as, for example, Buddhi does to Atma or Manas [6] does to Buddhi when Manas is orientated towards Buddhi. Soul is then the ‘Force’ aspect of the plane or principle below it, in the gradient scale of being.

In the lower quaternary [7] of manifest existence, ‘soul’ can be regarded, on the one hand as the kama-manasic (4th and lower 5th) principles, the personal soul. On the other, it can be the ‘life’ soul, the Jiva or Prana (3rd) principle and its vehicle the Astral Body (2nd principle). Then we have the individual Soul, the Ego, (the upper 5th, 6th and 7th principles). The vehicle for all these inner principles, both spiritual, psychic and ‘life’, at the physical level of being, in so far as it can respond to their dynamics, is the physical body. They are all ‘soul’ with respect to it.

So we have three kinds of soul; (a) the spiritual, wherein Monad is associated with Manas, (b) the psychic, where the lower elements of Manas are closely associated with the Kama principle and (c) the 'life' elements (Prana and Linga Sharira) closely associated with the physical body. These three elements of man's inner being come into being as a result of their having been developed in vast periods of evolutionary time on this and preceding Globes, and they constitute the manifest characteristics of the various Creative Hierarchies.

Another point ever to be borne in mind is that the whole Cosmos is a living whole composed of countless beings (lives) at various levels of being. The collective aggregate of these beings forms both the ‘soul’, and the vehicles for its expression, of the Great Beings, who themselves comprise the Planetary Systems of Cosmos, and these also, in their turn, have each a triple being, Spirit, Soul and body, when they are in manifestation. The whole Cosmos is built on a hierarchical structure of living beings, from the very lowliest to the very loftiest. And there is no such thing as dead matter throughout all Cosmos. Everything in physical manifestation is, then, tripartite in its total nature, viz. (i) Monad, Spirit, (ii) its inner principles or ‘soul’ which, however, may be only its formative and life, second and third principles, and (iii) its body.

The implications of the last paragraph are very great. It means that there is nothing in manifest Cosmos without a soul of its own. That soul being in every case, constituted, at least, of the formative and ‘life’ principles; below man there is only the potentiality of the psychic and spiritual elements. The latter, the Monadic, are given expression in characteristic ways by the living entities which, in their various grades, at the various levels of being comprise the hierarchies. In the grand scale these hierarchies are the Kingdoms of Nature on our Earth. The characteristic life qualities manifest at all levels in those kingdoms and are aspects of divine life being worked out at a physical level. There is a corresponding process in the inner realms.

Here we come up against one of the great difficulties of comprehending this abstruse subject, the absolute universality and the ultimate homogeneity of Monad. There is in Cosmos only One Life, One Substance, One Law (viz. universal process in operation). All this comprises Monad in an operative sense. The aggregate of the processes of Nature, the manifestations of the One Law, comprise that Law. In the creative process the successive emanations of the groups of ‘lives’ constituting the Hierarchies at various levels of being and activity, become the ‘planes’ of nature, each with its corresponding sevenfold scale of characteristics symbolized in the Cosmic Elements and the nature of the Planets. These radiate down through all the levels of being and affect and give individual character to all the beings on those planes. So we get a structured Cosmos.

We can now consider another aspect of the ‘process’; that of evolutionary progress. We are now dealing with existence, and existence means things having being in time. Their being in time, however, is conditioned, and the conditioning results from change from which nothing is free. Were it not for change, evolution could not take place. The whole process is under the pressure of what might be called ‘Divine Will’. This manifests in the various energies in Cosmos, which are symbolized in our concept of Fohat, reflected in the forces of the cosmic planes, and is the basis of Kama, or that which impels us humans to action through our desires. Action determines experience, and 'experience' determines the changes which condition being.

The fohatic impulse working down through the planes of being, combined with the p1anetory influences, give us the prime Elements of the various planes and the corresponding characteristic qualities of the ‘lives’ operating on the various planes, which are the Elementals. These ‘centers of force’, as they are referred to, correspond in four of their categories, to the Elements of Earth, Water, Air and Fire. Without them, we are told, nothing can happen in Nature. They are nature’s natural forces and they enter into the constitution of all lives, both rudimentary and complex. In fact, those lives ensoul, even comprise, all matter and all vegetable, animal and human forces. Their rulers, the great entities governing all the processes of Nature, are the Gods of the Ancients.

Reverting to the mysteries of Monad, the elemental lives, functioning at all levels of being, derive their essential life from Monad. They give expression to the Monadic life in their characteristic way. These elemental lives can, as we have seen, be thought of as ensouling the material of Cosmos. They ‘ensoul,’ the chemical elements of which everything, including living cells, are composed. The cells which comprise our bodies, are built of such chemicals, so are the bodies of everything else, of animals, birds or plants; and each such 'body' has its characteristic elemental essence or ‘soul’. Each form, of whatever description, in whatever kingdom, reflects its own individual composite of elemental life which, in turn, is constituted of a number of beings, who are its soul. So here we come to a thought approximating to Doss McDavid’s [8] idea that "our problem is somewhat analogous to the nature of light which can be either thought of as corpuscular or as a wave form". Extending that idea we see that whereas each grain of material, each form in any kingdom of nature, has its individual soul, in terms of the elemental life ensouling the substances of its vehicles, those substances are of like nature at elemental level for each class of ‘thing’ through which they operate. In this sense they can be regarded as group ‘soul’. Further, elementals of like nature are capable of intercommunication and interaction, each at their own level, and groups of them ensouling classes of substances or forms, will constitute what, for practical purposes, will have the characteristics of, and may be regarded as a group ‘soul’.

The other aspect of the Monadic mystery is that of consciousness. In a degree everything in Cosmos is conscious, but consciousness at levels other than our own is nothing like what we think of as consciousness. At the lowest levels it is a rudimentary response faculty and that to which it can respond is extraordinarily limited. What we think of as expansion of consciousness takes place as units of consciousness begin to aggregate. This is exemplified in the rudimentary lives of all the atoms sub-serving cell life, or in the 'consciousness' of the cells of a body sub-serving the unit overall consciousness using that composite body. The unit consciousness transcends that of any, or the aggregate of its parts, or its component lives. Further this unit consciousness has, to some extent, according to its degree of development, an ‘outside’ supervisory function over its component lives acting as a whole. An instinctual supervisory function over the body corporate is carried on at elemental level. Such is the case, with our coordinated digestive functions, or with our health preserving recuperative powers.

Just as Monad is the ultimate vitalizing force in everything, so everything reflects in its being, all the qualities of Monad, or is at least, latently possessed of them. Something therefore, of Universal Mind, which manifests as what appears as intelligence is common to everything. Fohat is the universal energizing force; Mahat [9] is the Universal Mind wherein is stored the patterns not only for all the forms of, what will be in manifested worlds, but for their characteristic modes of behaviour, the aggregate of which in their several kingdoms become the laws of those kingdoms. Mahat therefore, is an unconscious underlying potentiality of mind within everything, and is that from which all things eventually work out their destined form and nature, and consequently their behaviour. There is, therefore, a mahatic element in the constitution of elementals, even in elemental 'atomic' lives. It is in this way that they ‘know’ their role in nature, i.e. what they 'have' to do according to law. They, at the very simplest and inmost level, are the ultimate atoms of existence, and their aggregates as physical atoms, molecules, etc., are its building blocks. But everything manifests ‘elemental’ life.

As we ascend the levels of being, in the kingdoms, from the elemental upwards, the forms of the lives comprising them become more complex, each sustaining a higher and higher order of consciousness until we get to the man-stage, where self-consciousness and self-determinism manifest themselves. It is important to realize, however, that this last condition is not one that any form or creature can achieve by itself, so to speak. In the case of man, as we all know, self-consciousness derives from his having, as an endowment from the Agnishvatta Pitris, mind. This, for each man, is individual; it is the seat of his sense of ‘I-ness’ - at lower level his sense of separate ‘I-ness’. So there are two manasic elements operating in man. There is the mahatic, in the elemental aspects of his being wherein all his parts, as we have said ‘know’ what they have to do, and, secondly, there is the unit consciousness whence arises the knowledge of ‘I am I’. It is through the latter mental faculty that he possesses his conscious creative abilities. It is this manasic endowment which particularly characterizes man. He is different from every other creature on the planet in this respect. It must also be specially noticed that he did not acquire mind by slow evolutionary development. As far as animals are concerned, the monasic qualities which they seem to display are the aggregate of those of the mahatic elements of consciousness in their constituent ‘lives’. Other creatures have no mind of their own as man has, because they have not yet been endowed with it and there is no other way for them to get it. The one solitary exception to this is the higher apes that have human blood in them. H.P.B., tells us quite definitely that these higher apes have Egos, and will themselves, in future Rounds on this planet, become human. They are the only creatures that will; the door to the human kingdom having closed in the middle of our fourth Round.

We are now, perhaps, beginning to solve some of the difficulties of this problem of group souls. In so far as the soul elements, whether they be Astral (2nd principle) or Kamic (4th principle), of any being are of an Elemental nature, there is something common as between those beings which have elementals, in their inner principles, with common characteristics, i.e. a similar admixture of the Elements. Even so each individual of the group must still have its own soul in whatever terms we are thinking of soul. Usually ‘soul’ for lower entities can only be the formative aspects corresponding to the second principle, the Linga Sarira in man, (corresponding to the second plane of Cosmos) and the ‘life’ aspects, the third principle, Prana, In some of the more developed creatures, however, seeing that they are quite obviously moved by internal impulses to action such as hunger and so on, there must be the rudiments of kamic nature. They cannot, however, except in so far as certain mahatic elements of being are in their natures by way of elemental life, have a mental principle in any sense that man has. Some students may wonder how it is that such simple rudimentary beings as elementals can be affected by mahatic impulses. This comes about in two ways; one is that the great beings, the Architects of Cosmos, and others, the Builders, still high in the scale of being but below the Architects, are the entities who impress the elementals, the workmen, so to speak, in the building process with what they have to do. They are not only the workmen in the building process, but they are workmen in what might be described as the running process, i.e. the internal activities of nature. The other way by which the impress of mahatic impulses is made on rudimentary life, is as harmonic or sympathetic response. Everything by way of the sub-plane and the sub-sub-plane has, in its nature, something of the characteristics of the main planes of nature to which they, the sub-planes, etc, correspond. In this way there is inbuilt into elemental life, among all other qualities, something that is manasic, which we might describe as unconscious knowledge. This manifests as instinct. It is by way of instinct that we can account for what are, seemingly, intelligent skills in otherwise mindless creatures, such as nest building, web spinning, the selection and gathering of food, and so on.

There is yet another factor in our comprehensive concept, another aspect of the Universal Unity, which we must not overlook if our picture is to account for some of the phenomena which have been used to justify the idea of group souls. Examples given are those of the movements of flocks of birds, the process whereby Blue Tits learn to uncap milk bottles to get at the cream, and the learning to avoid poison by vermin, (quite apart from their becoming immune to it through a modification of their internal organs by elementals). This new factor is the Astral Light, itself sometimes regarded as the home of elementals but which, in fact, is elemental in its nature. The higher elementals exhibit quite remarkable powers. They can, for example, become cognizant of unexpressed thoughts, or they can work seeming miracles by operating in what H.P.B., calls the fourth dimension of matter. It is however, in the Astral Light that are impressed all the internal conditionings of living beings which reflect back into and affect them psychically and physically at the objective internal level. This applies to all creatures, including mankind, and powerfully influences behaviour. H.P.B., tells us that it is from the Astral Light that emanate epidemics not only of physical illness but of psychic illness, unreasonable behaviour, mass hysteria and so on. This is, therefore, a mechanism of communication between individuals of a species which could give rise to the idea of the operation of a group soul; the elementals being cognisant of the content, of the Astral Light at its various levels.

If we can put all these factors together in our minds and think of the whole process of Nature as that of a living being constituted of countless other beings at all levels of being with effective means of inner communication between not only individuals but similar groups, we can begin to see how at each level there are characteristic patterns of behaviour which result from the nature and conditioning of their inner aspects (elementals), which comprises their soul principles. For example, man is much affected by his elemental animal urges even though he, as a human being, is essentially of a higher order than the animals.

To sum up then, are there such things as group souls?

Well, the answer seems to be yes, in a sense - and no; but quite certainly no, in the sense of an individual of any kind sharing its inner principles with any other. The only possible exceptions to this are insects such as the bees and the ants, where the colony constitutes an individual. Even so, each bee and each ant as a separate thing & must have its own separate inner vehicles but these may, by reason of their similar nature, react uniformly to their associated social elemental life. Each individual creature, at any level of being, must, as we have seen, have its own individual soul composed of 2nd, 3rd and possibly 4th principles, according to its stage of development in the scale of the being. But no being other than man is endowed with Manas, and no being other than man, therefore, has the dual or reflexive consciousness which man enjoys by reason of his possession of dual Manas. Everything, however, enjoys in its essential nature, something of the total constitution of Cosmos, by reason, on the one hand, of the inherent Monadic essence in all its principles, and on the other by way of the essential Cosmic attributes, including the mahatic, with which everything is, patently or latently, impressed. It is, of course, the impress on universal, homogeneous Substance of the mahatic or Divine Ideational content which, via Fohat, determines what shall be in Cosmos.

We humans are all components of, and have our being in the Universal Soul, such that our individual souls, however, we may regard them, are identical with it. This applies also to all other creatures in Cosmos, except that they are incapable of operating consciously on the various levels of being, as man potentially, at any rate, is. Elementals sharing a common characteristic quality and constituting the souls of a species exhibiting that particular characteristic might explain the fact that the members of that species do, in fact, appear to have a common soul, but, as I see it, in the nature of things this could never really be the case. The occult process of 'creation' from within to without requires that each manifest thing must have its own individual, formative principles.

Finally, because all being is ultimately derived and has its being in, the ONE LIFE, all the Elements of our principles, our inner vehicles, the rudiments of our souls, are all but different admixtures of qualities and attributes inherent in that One Life. In this way our souls are all of a common stock, identical with the Universal Over-Soul. Any creature lower than man in the scale of being has not and could not have a ‘mind’ of its own as a man has. Mind is an endowment and is not directly acquired by the slow unfoldment process of evolution, except that it is by this that creatures move up the scale of being and, at a stage, become ready to receive the gift of mind, but this stage, and its timing, is one planned according to the overall evolutionary programme.

The perception of the aggregate effect of all the above factors, and possibly many more, constitutes the richness or completeness of our overall concept, and this enables us to see something of how Cosmos or, more immediately, Nature on our globe works and how therefore, we can examine such questions as group souls. Without this all embracing concept, we cannot fulfil HPB's injunction ever to bear in mind that everything from "The Atom, the Man, the God are each separately, as well as collectively Absolute Being in their last analysis", and our study thereby loses its value.


^1 (link)
^2 (link)
^3 Theosophical Glossary: Monad (Gr.). The Unity, the one; but in Occultism it often means the unified triad, Atma-Buddhi-Manas, or the duad, Atma-Buddhi, that immortal part of man which reincarnates in the lower kingdoms, and gradually progresses through them to Man and then to the final goal -- Nirvana. (Reference to Nirvana must be read loosly - see, for example, HPB's distinction between 'Eye doctrine' & 'Heart Doctrine' in The Voice of the Silence - Ed.)
^4 Theosophical Glossary: Atma (or Atman) (Sk.). The Universal Spirit, the divine Monad, the 7th Principle, so-called, in the septenary constitution of man. The Supreme Soul. Buddhi (Sk.). Universal Soul or Mind. Mahabuddhi is a name of Mahat (see "Alaya"); also the spiritual Soul in man (the sixth principle), the vehicle of Atma, exoterically the seventh.
^5 Theosophical Glossary: Alaya (Sk.). The Universal Soul (See The Secret Doctrine Vol. I. pp. 47 et seq.). The name belongs to the Tibetan system of the contemplative Mahayana School. Identical with Akasa in its mystic sense, and with Mulaprakriti, in its essence, as it is the basis or root of all things.
^6 Theosophical Glossary: Manas (Sk.). Lit., "the mind", the mental faculty which makes of man an intelligent and moral being, and distinguishes him from the mere animal; a synonym of Mahat. Esoterically, however, it means, when unqualified, the Higher EGO, or the sentient reincarnating Principle in man. When qualified it is called by Theosophists Buddhi-Manas or the Spiritual Soul in contradistinction to its human reflection -- Kama-Manas.
^7 Theosophy identifies the seven principles as being divided into: A) the lower quaternary (or mortal personality, ego) made up of the principles; the physical, astral, pranic, kamic - including those aspects of mind (manas) that gravitate towards the personal. B) the upper triad (or immortal individuality, Ego) made up of the higher - impersonal - aspects of Manas, Buddhi and Atma. The connecting 'bridge' between upper and lower is known as the Antahkarana.
^9 Theosophical Glossary: Mahat (Sk.). Lit., "The great one". The first principle of Universal Intelligence and Consciousness. In the Puranic philosophy the first product of root-nature or Pradhana (the same as Mulaprakriti); the producer of Manas the thinking principle, and of Ahankara, egotism or the feeling of "I am I" (in the lower Manas).


Button to return to top