The Principles in Man


It is very difficult to understand one's fellow men in a real way, and most difficult of all to know oneself. At all times man has felt the dual forces at work within himself, conflicting tendencies in his inner nature, which St. Paul expressed in the words: "...the good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do." (Romans, VII, 19)

Can the theosophical teaching about the constitution of man and his inner nature help us to decipher the varied aspects of ourselves and of all those around us, and so understand better the motives that drive men to action? Let us try to answer this question in the light of Theosophy.

It is impossible to study Man without keeping in mind the place he occupies in the scheme of cosmic manifestation as a whole.

"The universe evolves from the Unknown, into which no man or mind, however high, can inquire, on seven planes or in seven ways or methods in all worlds, and this sevenfold differentiation causes all the worlds of the Universe and the beings thereon to have a septenary constitution" (The Ocean of Theosophy, p. 15). Every single atom of all that surrounds us is a duality of spirit and matter, the spiritual aspect being the life-giving energy and the basis of consciousness, whereas the material aspect or substance is the basis of all the forms through which Spirit manifests. Spirit is for ever striving to manifest through better, more perfected forms; but the real Man is not the form of flesh, blood and bones; he is the inner divine Monad or higher Ego with its manifold principles or aspects. This Ego has used all the forms of the various kingdoms of Nature, finally to have at his disposal his present perfected instrument. The form used by man was always adapted to the circumstances of his surroundings, and so the Ego or real Man has gone through experience in countless conditions of matter, and the various powers which are now in his possession were gradually evolved.

Theosophy teaches that the evolution of the world in which we live and the evolution of man proceeded on parallel lines. The Earth reached very gradually her present condition of dense matter, and this was also the case with man. The Earth and the universe itself developed in a sevenfold manner, and each of the seven principles of man is derived from one of the seven primary divisions; each relates to a planet or scene of evolution, and to a race in which that evolution was carried out. Therefore there is a close relationship not only between Man and the Earth, but also between the Earth and the universe as a whole. The first sevenfold differentiation is the basis of all that follows, and so the evolution of man, planets and solar systems is septenary. All nature is before us and within us; we must take and use what we can, and wisely!

What is a principle? "A principle is a basis for thought and action in connection with a specific plane of substance. To be conscious on any plane of being implies that one is acting in, and with, that principle in himself which corresponds to that particular plane of being." (Answers to Questions on The Ocean of Theosophy, p. 65)

What are the principles in Man? Starting with the highest, we have:

  1. Atma or the Higher Self, the light of the One Universal Life, which shines on all of us but can shine through only a very few at our present stage of evolution, because we are imprisoned in gross matter.
  2. Buddhi, the Spiritual Soul, which is the vehicle and direct emanation of Atma. It receives its light of Wisdom from Atma and gets its rational qualities from:
  3. Manas, or Mind. This is the principle which makes man different from the higher animal species. In the latter, Manas is latent; in man it is awakened, active. Theosophy teaches that it is Manas or Mind which uses the brain as its instrument, and that thought is not just the result of the activity of the brain, as explained by science. The mind in man is derived from Cosmic Mind, which contains the plan of Cosmic manifestation. It is necessary to remember how Cosmos and Man are interwoven, because the understanding of our place within the enormous scope of manifestation makes us see more clearly our task and our responsibility, and also shows us that there is no such thing as separateness.

These three principles, Atma-Buddhi-Manas, together form the higher Triad, the Individuality or the immortal aspect of Man. Manas, the Thinker, is the immortal reincarnating Ego and the custodian of the enduring values of the experiences gathered throughout the lives lived on earth. When Manas is active through a physical instrument, i.e., during incarnation on Earth, its nature becomes dual. Its higher aspect aspires towards union with Buddhi or the spiritual part of the soul; its lower aspect forms the bridge to the lower mortal principles.

The mortal principles in man, which form the lower Quaternary, are: the Passions and Desires, the Astral Body, the Life-Principle, and the Physical Body. These four form the mortal aspect of man called in Theosophy the Personality.

The personality is composed of a visible and an invisible aspect. The former comprises the physical body with all its component parts, while the latter is formed of the three remaining principles, i.e., the Passions and Desires, the Astral Body and the Life-Principle. These three are part of our transitory nature which, although invisible to the physical eye, is nevertheless material and subject to decay.

We are inclined to think that the Passions and Desires, or Kama, represent an inferior aspect of human nature, which is so frequently the case when they are allowed to run wild, uncontrolled, and without direction from the mind. But, in its essence, Kama is "the first conscious, all-embracing desire for universal good, love, and for all that lives and feels, needs help and kindness, the first feeling of infinite tender compassion and mercy that arose in the consciousness of the creative ONE FORCE, as soon as it came into life and being as a ray from the ABSOLUTE....Kama is pre-eminently the divine desire of creating happiness and love; and it is only ages later, as mankind began to materialize by anthropomorphization its grandest ideals into cut-and-dried dogmas, that Kama became the power that gratifies desire on the animal plane." It is also the power which gives direction to the Will.

The Astral Body is the model around which the physical body is built and is the vehicle of the principle of Life or Prana.

Life is a universally pervasive principle. "It is not the result of the operation of the organs, nor is it gone when the body dissolves....It is the ocean in which the earth floats; it permeates the globe and every being and object on it....It cannot be said that one has a definite amount of Life Energy which will fly back to its source should the body be burned, but rather that it works with whatever be the mass of matter in it" (The Ocean of Theosophy, pp. 40-41). In The Key to Theosophy H.P.B. says that Prana or life "is, strictly speaking, the radiating force or Energy of Atma—as the Universal Life and the ONE SELF—Its lower or rather (in its effects) more physical, because manifesting, aspect."

To recapitulate, septenary man is composed of a higher, immortal Triad or Individuality, which uses during incarnation the lower, mortal Quaternary or Personality.

The duality mentioned above, which man feels within himself, is the result of the conflict between these two aspects of human nature: the immortal and the mortal, the spiritual and the material; in short, between the good and the evil within us.

It must, of course, be understood that the principles in man are not segregated, each in its own compartment, with its own exclusive sphere of action. They interpenetrate and influence one another, just as is the case with the seven globes of the Earth Chain. In one person one principle may be more pronounced in its action than another, whereas in another person it may be another principle that plays a more important part. And so human nature has innumerable facets; no two human beings are alike in character—and what is character but the result of the use made by the Ego, in the course of many incarnations, of its instruments or principles, by means of which it accumulates and assimilates impressions and experiences?

What can be the practical value of a knowledge of the sevenfold constitution of Man?

In showing us the similarity between the constitution of the Cosmos and Man, Theosophy makes us realize the unity of all life in Nature and provides the basis of Universal Brotherhood. The divine, permanent, unchangeable One Life which permeates every atom is also in Man at the very base of his true nature. It is of the nature of light and can illuminate our whole being if we can make our material constituents receptive enough to transmit that light. How can this be attained? By using the knowledge of our sevenfold constitution as a guide to Self-knowledge. Self-knowledge comes gradually when we try to analyse with sincerity and courage our incentives to action. That is not easy to accomplish, because there is no one we deceive more than ourselves! But finding out what motivates us is undoubtedly the first step to be taken in trying to lead our life consciously and deliberately. Theosophy teaches that it is by self-devised and self-imposed efforts that we can hasten our evolution, and since we are not miserable sinners but potential gods, it is our duty to use the visible and invisible material components of our nature in such a manner as to make them a temple worthy of the Inner God.

How to go about this work of many incarnations? By remembering always that that which we are used to calling "I" is neither our body, nor our feelings, nor our thoughts. For many, this implies closing up old grooves of thought and thinking along new lines, but if we impose this discipline of thought upon ourselves, the first result will be the discovery that we have much more inner strength at our disposal than we knew of. We shall realize that we need no longer be at the mercy of our feelings, and that there is an aspect of our Soul—the Mind—that can canalize, control and ennoble our feelings, our passions, our desires and ambitions; that can transform, for instance, an ambition for power and wealth into an aspiration towards service and compassion. This needs will-power. Theosophy teaches that Will is a Universal Force and defines it as the force of Spirit in action. It therefore operates in all living beings. In itself Will is absolutely colourless and varies in moral quality in accordance with the desire behind it. It is our task to guide the Will with pure desire and aspiration.

To summarize the aforesaid in another way: the eternal, immutable Spirit or Atma in man uses six vehicles to attain to Self-knowledge and knowledge of the surrounding world by means of experience. Self-knowledge is attained more or less quickly according to the use we make of the instruments or vehicles at our disposal. The awakening of Manas has raised us from the animal stage to the status of human beings, and as such it is our task to build the bridge between the mortal aspects of our nature and the divine essence within us in order to become ultimately one with it. To do this we must always use our common sense. As "W. Q. Judge says: "All the truths of Theosophy are the apotheosis of common sense."




The intuition of the moral sentiment is an insight of the perfection of the laws of the soul. These laws execute themselves. They are out of time, out of space, and not subject to circumstance. Thus, in the soul of man there is a justice whose retributions are instant and entire. He who does a good deed, is instantly ennobled. He who does a mean deed, is by the action itself contracted. He who puts off impurity, thereby puts on purity. If a man is at heart just, then in so far is he God; the safety of God, the immortality of God, the majesty of God do enter into that man with justice. If a man dissemble, deceive, he deceives himself, and goes out of acquaintance with his own being. A man in the view of absolute goodness, adores with total humility....The man who renounces himself, comes to himself.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson


to return to the table of contents