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The Seven Principles of Man

In Blavatsky's account of the seven principles of man [see e.g. The Key to Theosophy, pp.90-93]. we have again a synthesis of Advaita Vedantic, Samkhyan, Platonic, Egyptian, and 19th century occult concepts into a seven-fold classification.  This is presented as follows:

Monad (g) Atma  Spirit  One with the Absolute, as its radiation
(f) Buddhi Spiritual Soul The vehicle of pure universal spirit
Ego (e) Manas Higher Manas  - Mind, Intelligence, Spiritual Ego, the inner or higher Ego, which is immortal
Lower Quaternity
Lower Manas Ordinary mind, which can link either with the lower, Kama (Desire) principle to form the "Kama-Manas", or with the higher or Buddhi principle
(d) Kama rupa "Desire Form" Seat of animal desires and passions.  Links with the Lower Manas to form the "elementary" or "astral" spirit after death
(c) Prana Vitality The Life or Vital principle
(b) Linga Sharira Astral body The Double or phantom body
(a) Sthula Sharira Gross body Physical body

These seven principles constitute a very potent meme that has remained a central part of western esoteric and New Age thinking ever since

The origin of this formulation lies not in Vedanta (which only speaks of five koshas and for which the atman is not a kosha) or in Kabbalah, but in "Cosmic philosophy" and ontological subdivisions of Max Theon. Theon divided the lowest or Material world (in his system the term "Material" is misleading because it encompasses many non-physical and spiritual states - in this context H. P. Blavatsky's use of the term "Prakrirti" is certainly preferable) into seven planes, and also formulated a four-fold division of consciousness. As Madame Blavatsky observes, the planes and the vehicles or koshas are not always equivalent. However later Theosophists adopted a more simplistic representation.

The following table compares Theon's and Blavatsky's seven-fold ontologies.

Max Theon
H. P. Blavatsky
Free Intelligence Para-Ego or Atmic
Light Inner-Egoic or Buddhic (vehicle of Spirit)
Essence Ego-Manas or Buddhi-Manas (Immortal Ego; higher mind)
Mind Kama-Manas or Lower Manas (lower mind)
Soul or Psychic Kama Prana or Psychic (instinct)
Nervo / Astral Linga Sharira or Sukshma Sthula (Subtle body) Astral double (= Egyptian Ka)
Physical Sthula Sharira - gross or physical body

In Blavatsky's original formulation (as in Theon's), the seven principles do not have a one on one correspondence with the seven planes.  The first three for example, pertain solely to the physical (=objective) plane of existence.  It is only the Kama and Manas that are actually "psychic".  Blavatsky claims that the mortal lower self (or kama-rupa - "desire form" - as she calls it) after death becomes a sort of inferior ghost or spirit.  It is this phantom, and not the "soul" or higher spiritual principles (the spiritual "Ego"), that is responsible for Spiritualist or Mediumistic communications.  Hence this would obviously correspond to the second or Astral Plane.

In later formulations such as the Adyar-Theosophical school and Alice Bailey the seven bodies and seven planes are more or less equivalent (apart from the dense physical and etheric (subtle physical) which both correspond to the physical plane. Each reworking of this ontology departs further from the original "tradition" of Theon and his wife, who together discovered the underlying structure.

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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 28 January 2000; last modified 3 March 2007.