Heavenly selves: astral, etheric and subtle bodies, part 2 (Subtle bodies in Theosophical literature)

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“Speaking metaphysically and philosophically, on strict esoteric lines, man as a complete unit is composed of Four basic Principles and Three Aspects produced by them on this earth. In the semi-esoteric teachings, these Four and Three have been called Seven Principles, to facilitate the comprehension of the masses” (H.P. Blavatsky)

Theosophy knows of various different kinds of subtle bodies, elaborated upon at length by H.P. Blavatsky in particular. Subsequent important writings on similar phenomena can be found in Arthur. E. Powell’s The Astral Body — and Other Astral Phenomena and Annie Besant’s Man and His Bodies.

One of these bodies is known as the astral body. This was often referred to as the Linga-Sharira; a compound Sanskrit word from liṅga (लिङ्ग), here meaning mark or image, and śarīra (शरीर) “body”. Unfortunately, this is not the greatest terminological choice, since this term already has a technical meaning in Hindu theology, and can refer to either the entire complex of subtle bodies attributed to the human person, or more specifically, the Sūkṣma Śarīra, which is the subtle body that accompanies the individual soul in all its iterations, and endures death before being finally merged with the divine.

Because of this potential for confusion, Annie Besant sought to change the terminology ordinarily used of the astral body, with many theosophical writers settling on the term “etheric double.” Dr. Besant summarized:

“. . . in consequence of the confusion caused by employing a well-known term in Hindu philosophy in an entirely new sense. Before her departure H.P.B. urged her pupils to reform the terminology, which had been too carelessly put together, and we are trying to carry out her wish…

The Linga Sharira, the astral body, the ethereal body, the fluidic body, the double, the wraith, the döppelganger, the astral man — such are a few of the many names which have been given to the second principle in man’s constitution. The best name is the Etheric Double, because this term designates the second principle only, suggesting its constitution and appearance: whereas the other names have been used somewhat generally to describe bodies formed of some more subtle matter than that which affects our physical senses, without regard to the question whether other principles were or were not involved in their construction. I shall therefore use this name throughout.”

Of this etheric double, Blavatsky wrote:

“This term designates the döppelganger or the “astral body” of man or animal. It is the eidolon of the Greeks, the vital and prototypal body; the reflection of the men of flesh. It is born before and dies or fades out, with the disappearance of the last atom of the body.

Astral Body, or Astral “Double”. The ethereal counterpart or shadow of man or animal. The Linga Sharira, the “Doppelganger”. The reader must not confuse it with the ASTRAL SOUL, another name for the lower Manas, or Kama-Manas.”

The function of this astral body, for Blavatsky, was to serve as the vehicle of prana or life force that sustains and individuates each individual. It can be projected outside of each individual body and is connected to it by an etheric cord:

“The Liṅga-Sarîra, as often said before, is the vehicle of Prâṇa, and supports life in the Body. It is the reservoir or sponge of life, gathering it up from all the natural kingdoms around, and it is the intermediary between the kingdoms of Prâṇic and physical life. Life cannot pass immediately and directly from the subjective to the objective, for nature passes gradually from sphere to sphere, overleaping none. The Liṅga-Sarîra serves as the intermediary between Prâṇa and Sthûla-Sarîra, drawing life from the ocean of Jîva, and pumping it in the physical Body as Prâṇa. For life is, in reality, Divinity, Parabrahman, the Universal Deity. But in order that it may manifest on the physical plane it must be assimilated to the matter of that plane; this cannot be done directly, as the purely physical is too gross, and thus it needs a vehicle — the Liṅga-Sarîra.:

This ethereal Body, built outside the Sthûla-Śarîra, is the Liṅga-Śarîra, properly so termed . . . This Liṅga-Śarîra is united to the physical Body by an umbilical cord, a material cord, and cannot therefore travel very far from it. It may be hurt by a sharp instrument, and would not face a sword or bayonet, although it can easily pass through a table or other piece of furniture. When swords are struck at Shades, it is the sword itself, not its Liṅga-Śarîra, or Astral that cuts. Sharp instruments alone can penetrate such Astrals; thus, under water, a blow with a blunt object would not affect you so much as a cut would.”

In Isis Unveiled, Blavatsky describes some of the potential activities of this body:

“In our sleep the astral body is free and can, by the elasticity of its nature, either hover round in proximity with its sleeping vehicle, or soar higher to hold converse with its starry parents, or even communicate with its brothers at great distances

One phase of magical skill is the voluntary and conscious withdrawal of the inner man (astral form) from the outer man (physical body). In the cases of some mediums withdrawal occurs, but it is unconscious and involuntary. With the latter the body is more or less cataleptic at such times; but with the adept the absence of the astral form would not be noticed, for the physical senses are alert, and the individual appears only as though in a fit of abstraction — “a brown study,” as some call it.”

Confusingly, although Annie Besant would refer to this concept as the “etheric double”, she nevertheless still retained the term “astral body” for the kamic or emotional body, reiterating again the unfortunate confusion caused by disputes over appropriate terminology:

“On looking at a man’s lower bodies with astral vision, the etheric double (Linga Sharīra) and the astral body (kâmic body) are seen interpenetrating each other, as both interpenetrate the dense physical, and hence some confusion has arisen in the past and the names Linga Sharīra and astral body have been used interchangeably, while the latter name has also been used for the kâmic or desire-body. This loose terminology has caused much trouble, as the functions of the kâmic body, termed the astral body, have often been understood as the functions of the etheric double, also termed the astral body, and the student, unable to see for himself, has been hopelessly entangled in apparent contradictions. Careful observations on the formation of these two bodies now enable us to say definitely that the etheric double is composed of the physical ethers only, and cannot, if extruded leave the physical plane or go far away from its denser counterpart; further, that it is built after the mould given by the Lords of Karma, and is not brought with him by the Ego, but awaits him with the physical body formed upon it. The astral or kâmic body, the desire-body, on the other hand, is composed of astral matter only, is able to range the astral plane when freed from the physical body, and is the proper vehicle of the Ego on that plane; it is brought with him by the Ego when he comes to re-incarnate. Under these circumstances it is better to call the first the etheric double, and the second the astral body, and so avoid confusion.”

The Theosophical writer Allan Octavian Hume, in his book The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, articulated an elaborate taxonomy of the human self:

1. The Physical body, composed wholly of matter in its grossest and most tangible form.
2. The Vital principle — — (or Jiv-atma) — -, a form of force, indestructible and when disconnected with one set of atoms, becoming attracted immediately by others.
3. The Astral body (Linga Sharira) composed of highly etherialized matter; in its habitual passive state, the perfect but very shadowy duplicate of the body; its activity, consolidation and form depending entirely on the kama rupa.
4. The Astral shape (kama rupa) or body of desire, a principle defining the configuration of —
5. The animal or physical intelligence or consciousness or Ego, analogous to, though proportionally higher in degree than, the reason, instinct, memory, imagination, &c., existing in the higher animals.
6. The Higher or Spiritual intelligence or consciousness, or spiritual Ego, in which mainly resides the sense of consciousness in the perfect man, though the lower dimmer animal consciousness co-exists in №5.
7. The Spirit — — an emanation from the ABSOLUTE; uncreated; eternal; a state rather than a being

A.P. Sinnett distinguished the components of the self in the following way:

“1. The Body . . . . . . . Rupa.
2. Vitality . . . . . . . . . Prana, or Jiva.
3. Astral Body. . . . . . Linga Sharira.
4. Animal Soul. . . . . . Kama Rupa.
5. Human Soul. . . . . . Manas.
6. Spiritual Soul. . . . . Buddhi.
7. Spirit . . . . . . . . . . . . Atma.”

So also H.P. Blavatsky’s taxonomy:

(a) Rupa, or Sthula-Sarira — Physical body — Is the vehicle of all the other “principles” during life.
(b) Prana — Life, or Vital principle — Necessary only to a, c, d, and the functions of the lower Manas, which embrace all those limited to the (physical) brain.
© Linga Sharira — Astral body — The Double, the phantom body.
(d) Kama rupa — The seat of animal desires and passions — This is the centre of the animal man, where lies the line of demarcation which separates the mortal man from the immortal entity.

(e) Manas — a dual principle in its functions — Mind, Intelligence: which is the higher human mind, whose light, or radiation links the MONAD, for the lifetime, to the mortal man — The future state and the Karmic destiny of man depend on whether Manas gravitates more downward to Kama rupa, the seat of the animal passions, or upwards to Buddhi, the Spiritual Ego. In the latter case, the higher consciousness of the individual Spiritual aspirations of mind (Manas), assimilating Buddhi, are absorbed by it and form the Ego, which goes into Devachanic bliss.
(f) Buddhi — The Spiritual Soul — The vehicle of pure universal spirit.
(g) Atma — Spirit — One with the Absolute, as its radiation.”

As Blavatsky explained, this taxonomy has important ramifications for understanding the relationship between divine personality and individuality and its transcendent source in the divine:

“Esoteric philosophy teaches the existence of two Egos in man, the mortal or personal, and the Higher, the Divine and the Impersonal, calling the former “personality” and the latter “Individuality”.

The teachings of Occultism divide man into three aspects — the divine, the thinking or rational, and the irrational or animal man. For metaphysical purposes also he is considered under a septenary division, or, as it is agreed to express it in theosophy, he is composed of seven “principles,” three of which constitute the Higher Triad, and the remaining four the lower Quaternary. It is in the latter that dwells the Personality which embraces all the characteristics, including memory and consciousness, of each physical life in turn. The Individuality is the Higher Ego (Manas) of the Triad considered as a Unity. In other words the Individuality is our imperishable Ego which reincarnates and clothes itself in a new Personality at every new birth.

Personality. In Occultism — which divides man into seven principles, considering him under the three aspects of the divine, the thinking or the rational, and the animal man — the lower quaternary or the purely astrophysical being; while by Individuality is meant the Higher Triad, considered as a Unity. Thus the Personality embraces all the characteristics and memories of one physical life, while the Individuality is the imperishable Ego which re-incarnates and clothes itself in one personality after another.”

Individuality is encompassed by ātman, buddhi and manas, with the higher manas constituting the reincarnating Ego, and the lower 4 principles have reference to the physical body (sthūla-śarīra), consisting of the liṅga śarīra, prāṇa and kāma.

Her view of the human person is itself structured after the cosmos. The main picture in this article at the top is an illustration of the parallel, whereas her diagram of the human person in particular is represented thus:

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She explains:

“You find here Paramâtman, the Spiritual Sun, outside of the human Auric Egg, as also outside the Macrocosmic or Brahmâ’s Egg. Why? Because . . . it is not a principle, but the cause of every principle . . . The Plate shows, moreover, Buddhi, the yellow semi-disc, serving as a vehicle to that Paramâtmic shadow, to be universal, and so also is the human Âtman, the Sun or white sphere above Buddhi. Within the blue Auric Egg we find the orange macrocosmic pentacle of LIFE, Prâna, containing within itself the (red) pentagram which represents man. Have you noticed that while the universal pentacle has its point soaring upwards (the sign of White Magic), in the human red pentacle it is the lower points which are upward, forming the “Horns of Satan,” as the Christian Kabalists call it? This is the symbol of matter, that of personal man, and the recognized pentacle of the black magician. For the red pentacle does not stand only for Kâma, the fifth principle exoterically, but is made also to represent physical man, the animal of flesh with its desires and passions. . . That the upper (indigo blue) Manas is connected with the lower (green) Manas by a thin line which binds the two together. This is the Antaskarana, that path or bridge of communication which serves as a link between the personal being whose physical brain is under the sway of the lower (animal) mind, and the reincarnating Individuality, the spiritual Ego, Manas-Manu, the “Divine Man.” . . . Look at the Plate; see the divine Ego tending with its point upwards towards Buddhi, and the human Ego gravitating downwards, immersed in matter and connected with its higher, subjective half only by that Antaskarana”

Each eternal principle has its own corresponding transitory aspect. The Âtman or Jiva has as its transitory counterpart the Prana, or the Breath of Life. The Auric Envelope has its Linga-Sarira. The Buddhi and the Manas (Higher Ego) has as its counterpart the Lower Manas. As we see in the previous diagram, furthermore, each component of the self has its own distinct color associated with it:

Chhâyâ, Shadow or Double Violet
Higher Manas, Spiritual Intelligence Indigo
Auric Envelope Blue
Lower Manas, or Animal Soul Green
Buddhi, or Spiritual Soul Yellow
Prâna, or Life-Principle Orange
Kâma-Rûpa, the seat of Animal Life Red

The astute reader may notice that this hierarchy corresponds closely with the visible wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum.

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Elaborating on the cosmic structure that parallels the human structure (a great example of the Law of Correspondence), she writes:

1. The Unmanifested Logos is frequently called the First Logos.

2. The Universal Ideation, still latent, is referred to as the Second, or semi-manifested, Logos.

3. The active Cosmic Intelligence is Mahat, the Universal Mind, also regarded as the Third, or manifested, Logos.

4. The undifferentiated Cosmic Energy is frequently called Fohat, and is the source of all kinds of energies in the Cosmos.

5. The Astral Ideation is a subtle counterpart of things on the terrestrial plane, reciprocally affecting each other.

6. The Life Essence or Energy refers to the Universal Life or Jiva.

7. The Earth is the Globe on which the humanity is evolving at present.

The correlation between the seven-fold constitution of the cosmos and its corresponding human counterpart is linked by a seven-fold distinction in the kinds of planes:

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This diagram represents the type of the solar system.
The three higher divisions of this plane are inconceivable to us, and are only reached by the highest Adept in Samâdhi. Esoterically, Samâdhi is the highest state on earth attainable while in the body. Beyond that the Initiate must become a Nirmânakâya. The highest Adept begins his Samâdhi on the fourth macrocosmic plane, and cannot pass out of the solar system. When such an Adept begins his Samâdhi, he is on a par with some of the Dhyâni-Chohans, but transcends them as he rises to the seventh plane, Nirvâna.

The Pratyeka-Buddha, the Buddha of Selfishness — called because of this spiritual selfishness “the rhinoceros,” the solitary animal — can never pass beyond the third plane, that of Jîva. Such a one has conquered, indeed, his material desires, but he has not yet freed himself from his mental and spiritual longings. It is the Buddha of Compassion only that can transcend this third macrocosmic plane.

The student will observe that the study of the States of Consciousness is confined to Consciousness as manifesting in the solar system. Any attempt to figure Consciousness in KOSMOS would have deceived the student by inducing him to believe that such Kosmic Consciousness could be explained, whereas the whole of even the lowest plane of Kosmos transcends the highest Adept on earth

These seven planes correspond to the seven states of consciousness in man. It remains with him to attune the three higher states in himself to the three higher planes in Kosmos. But before he can attempt to attune, he must awaken the three “seats” to life and activity

7th- Auric envelope or Atmic: This is the Cosmic Auric Egg, also called Hiraṇyagarbha

6th- Ālaya: The Universal Soul or Oversoul.

5th- Mahat: The Universal Mind or Divine Thought.

4th- Fohat: The Cosmic Energy

3rd- Jiva: The Universal Life.

2nd- Astral: The Astral model, reflecting on the lower planes.

1st- Prakiti: The physical plane of the solar system, which is again divided into seven sub-planes.

Blavatsky explains:

Plane. From the Latin planus (level, flat) an extension of space or of something in it, whether physical or metaphysical, e.g., a “plane of consciousness”. As used in Occultism, the term denotes the range or extent of some state of consciousness, or of the perceptive power of a particular set of senses, or the action of a particular force, or the state of matter corresponding to any of the above

“Our philosophy teaches us that, as there are seven fundamental forces in nature, and seven planes of being, so there are seven states of consciousness in which man can live, think, remember and have his being.

Believing in seven planes of Kosmic being and states of Consciousness, with regard to the Universe or the Macrocosm, we stop at the fourth plane, finding it impossible to go with any degree of certainty beyond. But with respect to the Microcosm, or man, we speculate freely on his seven states and principles.”

Annie Besant explains:

“A plane may be defined as a state marked off by clear characteristics; it must not be thought of as a place, as though the universe were made up of shells one within the other like the coats of an onion. The conception is metaphysical, not physical, the consciousness acting on each plane in fashion appropriate to each.”

This Septenary Principle, redolent of what is found in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, is an essential component of theosophical doctrine:

“Everything in the metaphysical as in the physical Universe is septenary. Hence every sidereal body, every planet, whether visible or invisible, is credited with six companion globes. . . . The evolution of life proceeds on these seven globes or bodies from the 1st to the 7th in Seven ROUNDS or Seven Cycles.

We were taunted by ignorant Brahmins and learned Europeans that our septenary divisions of nature and everything in it, including man, is arbitrary and not endorsed by the oldest religious systems of the East.”

Master K.H., describing this principle as the “unvarying septenary law which runs throughout the works of nature”, stated:

“In all the old Sanskrit works — Vedic and Tantrik — you find the number 6 mentioned more often than the 7 — this last figure, the central point being implied, for it is the germ of the six and their matrix.

As man is a seven-fold being so is the universe — the septenary microcosm being to the septenary macrocosm but as the drop of rainwater is to the cloud from whence it dropped and whither in the course of time it will return.”

Blavatsky likewise pointed out the correlation of the number seven with various transitional phases in a human life:

“A baby begins teething in the seventh month; a child begins to sit after fourteen months (2 x 7); begins to walk after twenty-one months (3 x 7); to speak after twenty-eight months (4 x 7); leaves off sucking after thirty-five (5 x 7); at fourteen years (2 x 7) he begins to finally form himself; at twenty-one (3 x 7) he ceases growing.
With the child, it is the teeth that appear in the seventh month and he sheds them at seven years; at twice seven puberty begins, at three times seven all our mental and vital powers are developed, at four times seven he is in his full strength, at five times seven his passions are most developed, etc., etc.”

The lowest plane is known as Prakriti:

“Prakriti, the lowest plane of macrocosmic consciousness, represents the “body” of the solar systems, with its own seven subdivisions, or the seven states of Prâkritic consciousness, each corresponding to a state of the macrocosmic consciousness

6th, or Alayic-Prakritic

5th, or Mahatic

4th, or Fohatic

3rd, or Jaivic

2nd, or Astral

1st, or Objective (Terrestrial)”

The first subdivision of the prakritic plane is the Objective Prakritic or Terrestrial, subdivided into seven sub-planes with their own respective consciousnesses:

“7. Atmic consciousness, that of the Para-Ego.
6. Buddhic, Inner-Ego.

5. Manasic, Higher or Individual Ego

4. Kama-Manasic, Personal Ego or Higher Psychic

3. Pranic-Kamic or Psychic (instinct)

2. Astral (things are reversed)

Objective (plane of the senses)

1. Objective Sensuous Consciousness. The consciousness that pertains to the five physical senses in man and rules in animals, birds, fishes, some insects, etc. Here are the “Lives”; their consciousness is in Âtma-Buddhi; they are entirely without Manas.
2. Astral Instinctual Consciousness. The consciousness of sensitive plants, of ants, spiders, and some night-flies (Indian), but not of bees. Among other animals the non-mammalian vertebrates are without this consciousness, but the placental mammals have all the potentialities of human consciousness, though of course dormant, or latent, at present. On this plane is the consciousness of idiots. The common phrase, “he has lost his mind,” is an occult truth; for when, through fright or other cause, the lower mind becomes paralyzed, then the consciousness acts on the astral plane. The study of lunacy will throw much light on this point. This may well be called the “nerve plane.” It is cognized by our “nervous senses,” of which, as yet, modern physiology knows nothing. Hence it is that a clairvoyant can read with the eyes bandaged, with the tips of the fingers, the pit of the stomach, etc. This consciousness is greatly developed in the deaf and dumb. On this plane everything is reversed, reflected upside down.

3. Kâma-Prânic, or Physiological-Emotional Consciousness. This is the general life-consciousness which belongs to the objective world, even to the stone; for if the stones were not living they could not decay, crumble away, or emit a spark. Affinity between chemical elements is a manifestation of this, Kâma-Prânic consciousness. To this plane, also, belong the life-preservative instincts, as for instance that which prevents a kitten going into the water and getting drowned. [A stone could not crumble unless there was life throughout it; for the crumbling is not due only to friction by water, air, etc., or the action of frost, but to the fact that every particle in the stone is in a state of active vibration, performing rhythmical motions, not in a state of inertia. These life-waves, pulsing in the stone, throw its molecules apart, thus enabling foreign matters and influences to enter between them, force them farther apart, and so cause crumbling away. Even this is not all: the vibratory action of the life itself, apart from any interference from without, tends to ultimately disrupt the combinations of molecules that make up the stone.]

4. Kâma-Mânasic, or Psychic, or Passional-Emotional Consciousness. In animals and idiots the instinctual consciousness on the lower planes of sensation is in this state; in man these are rationalized. For instance, if a dog is shut up in a room, it has the instinct to get out, but is unable to do so because this instinct is not sufficiently rationalized to take the means necessary for its liberation. A man at once takes in the situation, and lets himself out. The highest degrees of this Kâma-Mânasic consciousness are psychic, there being within this sub-plane, as with all others, seven degrees from the instinctual and psychic.

5. Mânasic or Mental-Emotional Consciousness. From this plane Manas stretches up to Mahat.

6. Buddhic, or Spiritual Emotional Consciousness. The plane of Buddhi or of the Auric Envelope. From this plane consciousness goes to the “Father in Heaven,” Âtman, reflecting all that is in the Auric Envelope. The Mânasic and Buddhic states cover the planes from the Noëtic to the Divine, but it is impossible at this stage to define them intelligibly. Call the highest plane x if you will. You can’t understand it.”

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Experienced psychology writer and practitioner of psi abilities. Looking forward to contributing to a worldwide awakening to the reality of psi phenomena.

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