Man: his bodies, vehicles and principles

A study paper from The Theosophical Journal.
Geoffrey Farthing

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cover Theosophical Journal

An article originally published
Mar/Apr 1977 Vol.18 No. 2

According to the evidence of its history and early literature, The Theosophical Society was to serve as the disseminator in the Western world of a great body of information, not hitherto made public, about the nature of 'man, God and the universe'. The chief instrument of this work was Madame Blavatsky, selected and trained for many years to act as the spearhead of the new effort. In addition, the Teachers communicated other detailed instruction to various persons, in particular to Messrs Hume and Sinnett, recipients of the "Mahatma Letters". To assist members in the systematic study of the occult philosophy, Mr. Farthing has prepared this second article to guide their exploration into the basic texts.
[Ed. The Theosophical Journal 1977; Ianthe Hoskins.]

See also study paper 5

See also Deity, Cosmos & Man chapter on consitution of man

I. A knowledge of the constitution of man according to Occultism is the key to the understanding of all that Theosophy - which is true Occultism - has to tell us about a wide range of psychic and· spiritualistic phenomena, about such things as illusions, hallucinations, obsessions and hypnotism, and about what happens during sleep and after death.

2. In The Key to Theosophy (see table in Section VI, sub-section entitled The Septenary Nature of Man) the various 'bodies' of man are listed and described. Although inevitably placed in an order, it is to be noted that they are not numbered. See The Secret Doctrine Vol.III p460 (Vol.V p440), where it is stated: 'The principles do not stand one above the other, and thus cannot be taken in numerical sequence; their order depends upon the superiority and predominance of one or another principle, and therefore differs in every man'. See also The Secret Doctrine Vol.III p476 (Vol.V p454): ‘ ... the student is asked to dismiss from his mind any correspondence between "principles" and numbers, for reasons already given. The Esoteric enumeration cannot be made to correspond with the conventional exoteric. The one is the reality, the other is classified according to illusive appearances. The human principles, as given in Esoteric Buddhism, were tabulated for beginners, so as not to confuse their minds ...'.

For purposes of classification and reference, the 'bodies' are usually placed in the following order: (1) Physical body, (2) Phantom or double (etheric body), (3) Life force or vitality, (4) Feeling and desire vehicle, (5) Mind, (6) The Spiritual Soul or Vehicle, and (7) Spirit. This is the enumeration used throughout H.P. Blavatsky’s and the Masters' teachings, for example, where information is given about what happens after death.

These several bodies divide into two groups: the first four constitute the elements of what is referred to as the personal, mortal man, the personality, while the remaining three form the individuality, the sempiternal spiritual or divine man, the Ego (note the capital E). This distinction is much stressed and is very important to an understanding of much of the teaching. (See for example in the Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett the answer to Q.5 on page 103 (101) and paragraph 19 on page 171 (168)).
Note: Students are recommended to pay attention to the different words used in the analysis of man's constitution, for example: bodies, principles, sheaths, aspects, vehicles; and the Sanskrit terms rupa, sharira, kosha. A personal glossary, to include dictionary definitions and references to the various texts, will prove a valuable aid to study.

3. Another important point to be noticed in this classification is the dual nature of mind. The upper elements of mind tend to associate with the higher principles, those numbered (6) and (7) above, while the lower ones tend to ally themselves with that numbered (4), the passional (marked 'd') in the table in The Key to Theosophy.

4. In the technical Sanskrit language commonly used in our literature the principles are named as follows: (7) Atma, (6) Buddhi, (5) Manas, (4) Kama, (3) Prana, (2) Linga Sharira and (1) Sthula Sharira. Depending on whether it is oriented 'upwards' or 'downwards', Manas becomes either Buddhi-Manas or Kama-Manas. Sometimes (as in the Tables of the Tattvas, The Secret Doctrine  Vol.III p501 (p478)) these last are treated as separate principles and, by the omission of Prana, the sevenfold constitution is preserved. These Tables interestingly introduce some other important aspects of the subject, for example, the Auric Egg or Envelope, something that was not taught openly until the original private papers of the Esoteric School were published. (See also The Secret Doctrine Vol.III p494 (p471)).
Note: The tattvas will be studied in a subsequent paper.

5. The occult constitution of man is sometimes divided into 'principles' and 'aspects'. (See The Secret Doctrine Vol.III pps493-4 (p471): 'Speaking metaphysically and philosophically, on strict Esoteric lines, man as a complete unit is composed of Four basic Principles and their Three Aspects on this earth. In the semi-esoteric teachings, these Four and Three have been called Seven Principles, to facilitate the comprehension of the masses'). The principles in this classification are: (1) Atma or Jiva, (2) the Auric Envelope, (3) Buddhi and (4) Manas, the Higher Ego (Buddhi-Manas). The aspects are: (1) Prana, the breath of life, (2) Linga Sharira, the Astral form, (3) Lower Manas, the Animal Soul (Kama-Manas). This presentation of the principles and aspects ends with the statement: 'As the lower man is the combined product of two aspects - physically, of his Astral Form, and psycho-physiologically of Kama-Manas - he is not looked upon even as an aspect, but as an illusion'.


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.


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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