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The Writings of Alfred Percy Sinnett

Alfred Percy Sinnett

1840 -1921

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Esoteric Buddhism

Chapter 2

The Constitution of Man



A SURVEY of Cosmogony, as comprehended by occult science, must precede any attempt to explain the means by which a knowledge of that cosmogony itself has been acquired. The methods of esoteric research have grown out of natural facts, with which exoteric science is wholly unacquainted. These natural facts are concerned with the premature development in occult adepts of faculties, which mankind at large has not yet evolved; and these faculties, in turn, enable their possessors to explore the mysteries of Nature, and verify the esoteric doctrines, setting forth its grand design. The practical student of occultism may develop the faculties first and apply them to the observation of Nature afterwards, but the exhibition of the theory of Nature for Western readers merely seeking its intellectual comprehension, must precede consideration of the inner senses, which occult research employs. On the other hand, a survey of cosmogony, as comprehended by occult science, could only be scientifically arranged at the expense of intelligibility for European readers. To begin at the beginning, we should endeavour to realize the state of the universe before evolution sets in. This subject is by no means shirked by esoteric students, and later on, in the course of this sketch, some hints will be given concerning the views occultism entertains of the earlier processes through which cosmic matter passes on its way to evolution. But an orderly statement of the earliest processes of Nature would embody references to man’s spiritual constitution, which would not be understood without some preliminary explanation.


Seven distinct principles are recognized by esoteric science, as entering into the constitution of man. The classification differs so widely from any with which European readers will be familiar that I shall naturally be asked for the grounds on which occultism reaches so far-fetched a conclusion. But I must, on account of inherent peculiarities in the subject, which will be comprehended later on, beg for this Oriental knowledge I am bringing home, a hearing (in the first instance at all events) of the Oriental kind. The Oriental and the European systems of conveying knowledge are as unlike as any two methods can be. The West pricks and piques the learner’s controversial instinct at every step. He is encouraged to dispute and resist conviction. He is forbidden to take any scientific statement on authority. Pari Passu, as he acquires knowledge, he must learn how that knowledge has been acquired, and he is made to feel that no fact is worth knowing, unless he knows, with it, the way to prove it a fact. The East manages its pupils on a wholly different plan. It no more disregards the necessity of proving its teaching than the West, but it provides proof of a wholly different sort. It enables the student to search Nature for himself, and verify its teachings, in those regions which Western philosophy can only invade by speculation and argument. It never takes the trouble to argue about anything. It says: - “So and so is fact; here is the key of knowledge; now go and see for yourself.” In this way it comes to pass that teaching per se is never anything else but teaching on authority. Teaching and proof do not go hand in hand; they follow one another in due order. A further consequence of this method is that Eastern philosophy employs the method which we in the West have discarded for good reasons as incompatible with our own line of intellectual development - the system of reasoning from generals to particulars. The purposes which European science usually has in view would certainly not be answered by that plan, but I think that any one who goes far in the present inquiry will feel that the system of reasoning up from the details of knowledge to general inferences is inapplicable to the work in hand. One cannot understand details in this department of knowledge till we get a general understanding of the whole scheme of things. Even to convey this general comprehension by mere language, is a large and by no means an easy task. To pause at every moment of the exposition in order to collect what separate evidence may be available for the proof of each separate statement, would be practically impossible. Such a method would break down the patience of the reader, and prevent him from deriving, as he may from a more condensed treatise, that definite conception as to what the esoteric doctrine means to teach, which it is my business to evoke.


This reflection may suggest, in passing, a new view, having an intimate connection with our present subject, of the Platonic and Aristotelian systems of reasoning. Plato’s system, roughly described as reasoning from universals to particulars, is condemned by modern habits in favour of the later and exactly inverse system. But Plato was in fetters in attempting to defend his system. There is every reason to believe that his familiarity with esoteric science prompted his method, and that the usual restrictions under which he laboured as an initiated occultist, forbade him from saying as much as would really justify it. No one can study even as much occult science as this volume contains, and then turn to Plato or even to any intelligent epitome of Plato’s system of thought, without finding correspondences cropping out at every turn.


The higher principles of the series which go to constitute Man are not fully developed in the mankind with which we are as yet familiar, but a complete or perfect man would be resolvable into the following elements. To facilitate the application of these explanations to ordinary exoteric Buddhist writings the Sanskrit names of these principles are given as well as suitable terms in English. [The nomenclature here adopted differs slightly from that hit upon when some of the present teachings were first given out in a fragmentary form in the Theosophist. Later on it will be seen that the names now preferred embody a fuller conception of the whole system, and avoid some difficulties to which the earlier names give rise. If the earlier presentations of esoteric science were thus imperfect, one can hardly be surprised at so natural a consequence of the difficulties under which its English exponents laboured. But no substantial errors have to be confessed or deplored. The connotations of the present names are more accurate than those of the phrases first selected, but the explanations originally given, as far as they went, were quite in harmony with those now developed.].




The Body




Prana, or Jîva


Astral Body

Linga Sharira


Animal Soul

Kâma Rûpa


Human Soul



Spiritual Soul







Directly conceptions, so transcendental as some of those included in this analysis, are set forth in a tabular statement, they seem to incur certain degradation, against which, in endeavouring to realize clearly what is meant, we must be ever on our guard. Certainly it would be impossible for even the most skilful professor of occult science to exhibit each of these principles separate and distinct from the others, as the physical elements of a compound body can be separated by analysis and preserved independently of each other. The elements of a physical body are all on the same plane of materiality, but the elements of man are on very different planes. The finest gases of which the body may to some extent be chemically composed, are still, on one scale at all events, on nearly the lowest level of materiality. The second principle which, by its union with gross matter, changes if from what we generally call inorganic, or what might more properly be called inert, into living matter, is at once a something different from the finest example of matter in its lower state. Is the second principle then anything that we can truly call matter at all? The question lands us, thus, at the very outset of this inquiry, in the middle of the subtle metaphysical discussion as to whether force and matter are different or identical. Enough for the moment to state that occult science regards them as identical, and that it contemplates no principle in Nature as wholly immaterial. In this way, though no conceptions of the universe, of man’s destiny, or of Nature generally, are more spiritual than those of occult science, that science is wholly free from the logical error of attributing material results to immaterial causes. The esoteric doctrine is thus really the missing link between materialism and spirituality.


The clue to the mystery involved, lies of course in the fact, directly cognizable by occult experts, that matter exists in other states besides those which are cognizable by the five senses.


The second principle of Man, Vitality, thus consists of matter in its aspect as force, and its affinity for the grosser state of matter is so great that it cannot be separated from any given particle or mass of this, except by instantaneous translation to some other particle or mass. When a man’s body dies, by desertion of the higher principles which have rendered it a living reality, the second, or life principle, no longer a unity itself, is nevertheless inherent still in the particles of the body as this decomposes, attaching itself to other organisms to which that very process of decomposition gives rise. Bury the body in the earth and its jîva will attach itself to the vegetation which springs above, or the lower animal forms which evolve from its substance. Burn the body, and indestructible jîva flies back none the less instantaneously to the body of the planet itself from which it was originally borrowed, entering into some new combination as its affinities may determine.


The third principle, the Astral Body or Linga Sharira, is an ethereal duplicate of the physical body, its original design. It guides jîva in its work on the physical particles, and causes it to build up the shape which these assume. Vitalized itself by the higher principles, its unity is only preserved by the union of the whole group. At death it is disembodied for a brief period, and, under some abnormal conditions, may even be temporarily visible to the external sight of still living persons. Under such conditions it is taken of course for the ghost of the departed person. Spectral apparitions may sometimes be occasioned in other ways, but the third principle, when that results in a visible phenomenon, is a mere aggregation of molecules in a peculiar state, having no life or consciousness of any kind whatever. It is no more a Being, than any cloud wreath in the sky which happens to settle into the semblance of some animal form. Broadly speaking, the linga sharira never leaves the body except at death, nor migrates far from the body even in that case. When seen at all, and this can but rarely occur, it can only be seen near where the physical body still lies. In some very peculiar cases of spiritualistic mediumship, it may for a short time exude from the physical body and be visible near it, but the medium in such cases stands the while in considerable danger of his life. Disturb unwillingly the conditions under which the linga sharira was set free, and its return might be impeded. The second principle would then soon cease to animate the physical body as a unity, and death would ensue.


During the last year or two, while hints and scraps of occult science have been finding their way out into the world, the expression, “Astral Body,” has been applied to a certain semblance of the human form, fully inhabited by its higher principles, which can migrate to any distance from the physical body - projected consciously and with exact intention by a living adept, or unintentionally, by the accidental application of certain mental forces to his loosened principles, by any person at the moment of death. For ordinary purposes there is no practical inconvenience in using the expression “Astral Body” for the appearance to projected - indeed, any more strictly accurate expression, as will be seen directly, would be cumbersome, and we must go on using the phrase in both meanings. No confusion need arise; but, strictly speaking, the linga sharira, or third principle, is the astral body, and that cannot be sent about as the vehicle of the higher principles.


The three lower principles, it will be seen, are altogether of the earth, perishable in their nature as a single entity, though indestructible as regards their molecules, and absolutely done with by man at his death.


The fourth principle is the first of those which belong to man’s higher nature. The Sanskrit designation, kâma rûpa, is often translated “Body of Desire,” which seems rather a clumsy and inaccurate form of words. A closer translation, having regard to meanings rather than words, would, perhaps, be “Vehicle of Will,” but the name already adopted above, Animal Soul, may be more accurately suggestive still.


In the Theosophist for October, 1881, when the first hints about the septenary constitution of man were given out, the fifth principle was called the animal soul, as contra-distinguished from the sixth or “spiritual soul;” but though this nomenclature sufficed to mark the required distinction, it degraded the fifth principle, which is essentially the human principle. Though humanity is animal in its nature as compared with spirit, it is elevated above the correctly defined animal creation in every other aspect. By introducing a new name for the fifth principle, we are enabled to throw back the designation “animal soul” to its proper place. This arrangement need not interfere, meanwhile, with an appreciation of the way in which the fourth principle is the seat of that will or desire to which the Sanskrit name refers. And, withal, the kâma rûpa is the animal soul, the highest developed principle of the brute creation, susceptible of evolution into something far higher by its union with the growing fifth principle in man, but still the animal soul which man is by no means yet without, the seat of all animal desires, and a potent force in the human body as well, pressing upwards, so to speak, as well as downwards, and capable of influencing the fifth, for practical purposes, as well as of being influenced by the fifth for its own control and improvement.


The fifth principle, human soul, or Manas (as described in Sanskrit in one of its aspects), is the seat of reason and memory. It is a portion of this principle, animated by the fourth, which is really projected to distant places by an adept, when he makes an appearance in what is commonly called his astral body.


Now the fifth principle, or human soul, in the majority of mankind is not even yet fully developed. This fact about the imperfect development as yet of the higher principles is very important. We cannot get a correct conception of the present place of man in Nature if we make the mistake of regarding him as a fully perfected being already. And that mistake would be fatal to any reasonable anticipations concerning the future that awaits him - fatal also to any appreciation of the appropriateness of the future which the esoteric doctrine explains to us as actually awaiting him.


Since the fifth principle is not yet fully developed, it goes without saying that the sixth principle is still in embryo. This idea has been variously indicated in recent forecasts of the great doctrine. Sometimes it has been said, we do not truly possess any sixth principle, we merely have germs of a sixth principle. It has also been said, the sixth principle is not in us; it hovers over us; it is a something that the highest aspirations of our nature must work up towards. But it is also said: - All things, not man alone, but every animal, plant, and mineral have their seven principles, and the highest principles of all - the seventh itself - vitalizes that continuous thread of life which runs all through evolution, uniting into a definite succession, the almost innumerable incarnations of that one life which constitute a complete series. We must imbibe all these various conceptions and weld them together, or extract their essence, to learn the doctrine of the sixth principle. Following the order of ideas which just now suggested the application of the term animal soul to the fourth principle, and human soul to the fifth, the sixth may be called the spiritual soul of man, and the seventh, therefore, spirit itself.


In another aspect of the idea the sixth principle may be called the vehicle of the seventh, and the fourth the vehicle of the fifth; but yet another mode of dealing with the problem teaches us to regard each of the higher principles from the fourth upwards, as a vehicle of what, in Buddhist philosophy, is called the One Life or Spirit. According to this view of the matter of one life is that which perfects, by inhabiting the various vehicles. In the animal the one life is concentrated in the kâma rûpa. In man it begins to penetrate the fifth principle as well. In perfected man it penetrates the sixth, and when it penetrates the seventh, man ceases to be man, and attains a wholly superior condition of existence.


This latter view of the position is especially valuable as guarding against the notion that the four higher principles are like a bundle of sticks tied together, but each having individualities of their own if untied. Neither the animal soul alone, nor the spiritual soul alone, has any individuality at all; but, on the other hand, the fifth principle would be incapable of separation from the others in such a way, that its individuality would be preserved while both the deserted principles would be left unconscious. It has been said that the finer principles themselves even, are material and molecular in their constitution, though composed of a higher order of matter than the physical senses can take note of. So they are separable, and the sixth principle itself can be imagined as divorcing itself from its lower neighbour. But in that state of separation, and at this stage of mankind’s development, it could simply reincarnate itself in such an emergency, and grow a new fifth principle by contact with a human organism; in such a case, the fifth principle would lean upon and become one with the fourth, and be proportionately degraded. And yet this fifth principle, which cannot stand alone, is the personality of the man; and its cream, in union with the sixth, his continuous individuality through successive lives.


The circumstances and attractions under the influence of which the principles do divide up, and the manner in which the consciousness of man is dealt with then, will be discussed later on. Meanwhile, a better understanding of the whole position than could ensue from a continued prosecution of the inquiry on these lines now, will be obtained by turning first to the processes of evolution by means of which the principles of man have been developed.




Some objection has been raised to the method in which the Esoteric Doctrine is presented to the reader in this book, on the ground that it is materialistic. I doubt if in any other way the ideas to be dealt with could so well be brought within the grasp of the mind, but it is easy, when they once are grasped, to translate them into terms of idealism. The higher principles will be the better susceptible of treatment as so many different states of the Ego, when the attributes of these states have been separately considered as principles undergoing evolution. But it may be useful to dwell for awhile on the view of the human constitution according to which the consciousness of the entity migrates successively through the stages of development, which the different principles represent.


In the highest evolution we need concern ourselves with at present - that of the perfected Mahatma - it is sometimes asserted in occult teaching that the consciousness of the Ego has acquired the power of residing altogether in the sixth principle. But it would be a gross view of the subject, and erroneous, to suppose that the Mahatma has on that account shaken off altogether, like a discarded sheath or sheaths, the fourth and fifth principles, in which his consciousness may have been seated during an earlier stage of his evolution. The entity, which was the fourth or fifth principle before, has come now to be different in its attributes, and to be entirely divorced from certain tendencies or dispositions, and is therefore a sixth principle. The change can be spoken of in more general terms as an emancipation of the adept’s nature from the enthralments of his lower self, from desires of the ordinary earth-life - even from the limitations of the affections; for the Ego, which is entirely conscious in his sixth principle, has realized the unity of the true Egos of all mankind on the higher plane, and can no longer be drawn by bonds of sympathy to any one more than to any other. He has attained that love of humanity as a whole which transcends the love of the Maya or illusion which constitutes the separate human creature for the limited being on the lower levels of evolution. He has not lost his fourth and fifth principles, - these have themselves attained Mahatmaship; just as the animal soul of the lower kingdom, in reaching humanity, has blossomed into the fifth state. That consideration helps us to realize more accurately the passage of ordinary human beings through the long series of incarnations of the human plane. Once fairly on that plane of existence the consciousness of the primitive man gradually envelopes the attributes of the fifth principle. But the Ego at first remains a centre of thought activity working chiefly with impulses and desires of the fourth stage of evolution. Flashes of the higher human reason illumine it fitfully at first, but by degrees the more intellectual man grows into the fuller possession of this. The impulses of human reason assert themselves more and more strongly. The invigorated mind becomes the predominant force in the life. Consciousness is transferred to the fifth principle, oscillating, however, between the tendencies of the lower and higher nature for a long while - that is to say, over vast periods of evolution and many hundred lives, - and thus gradually purifying and exalting the Ego. All this while the Ego is thus a unity in one aspect of the matter, and its sixth principle but a potentiality of ultimate development. As regards the seventh principle, that is the true Unknowable, the supreme controlling cause of all things, which is the same for one man as for every man, the same for humanity as for the animal kingdom, the same for the physical as for the astral or devachanic or nirvanic planes of existence. No one man has got a seventh principle, in the higher conception of the subject: we are all in the same unfathomable way overshadowed by the seventh principle of the cosmos.


How does this view of the subject harmonize with the statement in the foregoing chapter, that in a certain sense the principles are separable, and that the sixth even can be imagined as divorcing itself from its next lower neighbour, and, by reincarnation, as growing a new fifth principle by contact with a human organism? There is no incompatibility in the spirit of the two views. The seventh principle is one and indivisible in all Nature, but there is a mysterious persistence through it of certain life impulses, which thus constitute threads on which successive existences may be strung. Such a life impulse does not expire even in the extraordinary case supposed, in which an Ego, projected upon it and developed along it to a certain point, falls away from it altogether and as a complete whole. I am not in a position to dogmatize with precision as to what happens in such a case, but the subsequent incarnations of the spirit along that line of impulse are clearly of the original sequence; and thus, in the materialistic treatment of the idea, it may be said, with as much approach to accuracy as language will allow in either mode, that the sixth principle of the fallen entity in such a case separates itself from the original fifth, and reincarnates on its own account.


But with these abnormal processes it is unnecessary to occupy ourselves to any great extent. The normal evolution is the problem we have first to solve; and while the consideration of the seven principles as such is, to my own mind, the most instructive method by which the problem can be dealt with, it is well to remember always that the Ego is a unity progressing through various spheres or states of being, undergoing change and growth and purification all through the course of its evolution, - that it is a consciousness seated in this, or that, or the other, of the potential attributes of a human entity.




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Alfred Percy Sinnett

1840 - 1921




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