Seven Principles of Man

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Seven Principles of Man

By Annie Besant

Principle Four - The Desire Body

IN building up our man we have now reached the principle sometimes described as the animal soul, in Theosophical parlance Kâma Rûpa, or the desire-body. It belongs to in constitution, and functions on, the second or astral plane. It includes the whole body of appetites, passions, emotions, and desires which come under the head of instincts, sensations, feelings and emotions, in our Western psychological classification, and are dealt with as a subdivision of mind. 

In Western psychology mind is divided – by the modern school — into three main groups, feelings, will, intellect. Feelings are again divided into sensations and emotions, and these are divided and subdivided under numerous heads. Kâma, or desire, includes the whole group of “feelings” and might be described as our passionate and emotional nature. All animal needs, such as hunger, thirst, sexual desire, come under it; all passions, such as love (in its lower sense), hatred, envy, jealousy. It is the desire for sentient experience, for experience of material joys — “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life.” This principle is the most material in our nature, it is the one that binds us fast to earthly life. 

It is not molecularly constituted matter, least of all the human body, Sthula Sharîra, that is the grossest of all our “principles” but verily the middle principle, the real animal center; whereas our body is but its shell, the irresponsible factor and medium through which the beast in us acts all its life.

United to the lower part of Manas, the mind, as Kâma-Manas, it becomes the normal human brain-intelligence, and that aspect of it will be dealt with presently. Considered by itself, it remains the brute in us, the “ape and tiger” of Tennyson, the force which most avails to keep us bound to earth and to stifle in us all higher longings by the illusions of sense.

Kâma joined to Prâna is, as we have seen, the “breath of life,” the vital sentient principle spread over every particle of the body. It is, therefore, the seat of sensation, that which enables the organs of sensation to function. We have already noted that the physical organs of sense, the bodily instruments that come into immediate contact with the external world, are related to the organs of sensation in the etheric double. But these organs would be incapable of functioning did not Prâna make them vibrant with activity, and their vibrations would remain vibrations only, motion on the material plane of the physical body, did not Kâma, the principle of sensation translate the vibration into feeling. Feeling indeed, is consciousness on the Kâmic plane, and when a man is under the dominion of a sensation or a passion, the Theosophist speaks of him as on the Kâmic plane, meaning thereby that his consciousness is functioning on that plane. For instance, a tree may reflect rays of light, that is, ethereal vibrations, and these vibrations striking on the outer eye will set up vibrations in the physical nerve-cells; these will be propagated as vibrations to the physical and on to the astral centers, but there is no sight of the tree until the seat of the sensation is reached, and Kâma enables us to perceive.

Matter of the astral plane — including that called elemental essence — is the material of which the desire-body is composed, and it is the peculiar properties of this matter which enable it to serve as the sheath in which the Self can gain experience of sensation. The desire–body, or astral body, as it is often called, has the form of a mere cloudy mass during the earlier stages of evolution, and is incapable of serving as an independent vehicle of consciousness. During deep sleep it escapes from the physical body, but remains near it, and the mind within it is almost as much asleep as the body.

It is, however, liable to be affected by forces of the astral plane akin to its own constitution and gives rise to dreams of a sensuous kind. In a man of average intellectual development, the desire-body has become more highly organized, and when separated from the physical body is seen to resemble it is outline and features; even then, however, it is not conscious of its surroundings on the astral plane, but encloses the mind as a shell, within which the mind may actively function, while not yet able to use it as an independent vehicle of consciousness. Only in the highly evolved man does the desire-body become thoroughly organized and vitalized, as much the vehicle of consciousness on the astral plane as the physical body is on the physical plane.

After death, the higher part of man dwells for a while in the desire-body, the length of its stay depending on the comparative grossness or delicacy of its constituents. When the man escapes from it, it persists for a time as a “shell” and when the departed entity is of a low type, and during earth life infused such mentality as it possessed into the passionate nature, some of this remains entangled with the shell. It then possesses consciousness of a very low order, has brute cunning, is without conscience — an altogether objectionable entity, often spoken of as a “spook.” It strays about, attracted to all places in which animal desires are encouraged and satisfied, and is drawn into the currents of those whose animal passions are strong and unbridled. Mediums of low type inevitably attract these eminently undesirable visitors, whose fading vitality is reinforced in their séance rooms, who catch astral reflections, and play the part of “disembodied spirits” of a low order. Nor is this all; if at such a séance there be present some man or woman of correspondingly low development, the spook will be attracted to that person and may attach itself to him or to her, and thus may be set up currents between the desire-body of the living person and the dying desire-body of the dead person, generating results of the most deplorable kind.

The longer or shorter persistence of the desire-body as a shell or a spook depends on the greater or less development of the animal and passionate nature in the dying personality. If during earth-life the animal nature was indulged and allowed to run riot, if the intellectual and spiritual parts of man were neglected or stifled, then, as the life-currents were set strongly in the direction of passion, the desire-body will persist for a long period after the body of the person is dead. Or again, if earth-life has been suddenly cut short by accident or by suicide, the link between Kâma and Prâna will not be easily broken, and the desire-body will be strongly vivified. If, on the other hand, desire has been conquered and bridled during earth-life, if it has been purified and trained into subservience to man’s higher nature, then there is but little to energize the desire-body and it will quickly disintegrate and dissolve away.

There remains one other fate, terrible in its possibilities, which may befall the fourth principle, but it cannot be clearly understood until the fifth principle has been dealt with.


We have thus studied man, as to his lower nature, and have reached the point in his path of evolution to which he is accompanied by the brute. The quaternary, regarded alone, ere it is affected by contact with the mind, is merely a lower animal; it awaits the coming of the mind to make it man. Theosophy teaches that through past ages man was thus slowly built up, stage by stage, principle by principle, until he stood as a quaternary, brooded over but not in contact with the Spirit, waiting for that mind which could alone enable him to progress farther, and to come into conscious union with the Spirit, so fulfilling the very object of his being. 

This Aeonian evolution, in its slow progression, is hurried through in the personal evolution of each human being, each principle which was in the course of ages successively evolved in man on earth, appearing as part of the constitution of each man at the point of evolution reached at any given time, the remaining principles being latent, awaiting their gradual manifestation. The evolution of the quaternary until it reached the point at which further progress was impossible without mind, is told in eloquent sentences in the archaic stanzas on which The Secret Doctrine of H.P. Blavatsky is based: 

The Breath needed a form; the Fathers gave it. The Breath needed a gross body; the Earth molded it; The Breath needed the Spirit of Life; the Solar Lhas breathed into it its form. The Breath needed a Mirror of its Body; “We gave it our own,” said the Dhyânis. The Breath needed a Vehicle of Desires; “It has it,” said the Drainer of Waters. But Breath needs a Mind to embrace the Universe; “We cannot give that,” said the fathers, “I never had it,” said the Spirit of the Earth. “The form would be consumed were I to give it mine,” said the Great Fire …. Man remained an empty senseless Bhûta (phantom).

And so is the personal man without mind. The quaternary alone is not man, the Thinker, and it is as Thinker that man is really man. 

Yet at this point let the student pause, and reflect over the human constitution, so far as he has gone. For this quaternary is the mortal part of man and is distinguished by Theosophy as the personality. It needs to be very clearly and definitely realized, if the constitution of man is to be understood, and if the student is to read more advanced treatises with intelligence. True, to make the personality human it has yet to come under the rays of mind, and to be illuminated by it as the world by the rays of the sun. But even without these rays it is a clearly defined entity, with its dense body, its etheric double, its life, and its desire body or animal soul. It has passions, but no reason; it has emotions, but no intellect; it has desires, but no rationalized will; it awaits the coming of its monarch, the mind, the touch which shall transform it into man.



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