Seven Principles of Man

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Seven Principles of Man

By Annie Besant

Introduction

INQUIRERS attracted to Theosophy by its central doctrine of the brotherhood of man, and by the hopes which it holds out of wider knowledge and of spiritual growth, are apt to be repelled when they make their first attempt to come into closer acquaintance with it, by the, to them, strange and puzzling names which flow glibly from the lips of Theosophists in conference assembled. They hear a tangle of Âtma-Buddhi, Kâma-Manas, Triad, Devachan, and what not, and feel at once that for them Theosophy is far too abstruse a study. Yet they might have become very good Theosophists, had not their initial enthusiasm been quenched with the douche of Sanskrit terms. 

In the present manual, the smoking flax shall be more tenderly treated, and but few Sanskrit names shall be flung in the face of the enquirer. As a matter of fact, the use of these terms has become general among Theosophists because the English language has no equivalents for them, and a long and clumsy sentence has to be used in their stead if the idea is to be conveyed at all. 

The initial trouble of learning the names has been preferred to the continued trouble of using roundabout descriptive phrases — “Kâma” for instance, being shorter and more precise than “the passionate and emotional part of our nature.” 

Man, according to the Theosophical teaching, is a sevenfold being, or, in the usual phrase, has a Septenary constitution. Putting it in another way, man’s nature has seven aspects, may be studied from seven different points of view, is composed of seven principles. The clearest and best way of all in which to think of man is to regard him as one, the Spirit or True Self; this belongs to the highest region of the universe, and is universal, the same for all; it is a ray of God, a spark from the divine fire. This is to become an individual, reflecting the divine perfection, a son that grows into the likeness of his father. 

For this purpose, the Spirit, or true Self, is clothed in garment after garment, each garment belonging to a definite region of the universe and, enabling the Self to come into contact with that region, gain knowledge of it, and work in it. It thus gains experience, and all its latent potentialities are gradually drawn out into active powers. These garments, or sheaths, are distinguishable from each other both theoretically and practically. If a man be looked at clairvoyantly each is distinguishable by the eye, and they are separable each from each either during physical life or at death, according to the nature of any particular sheath. Whatever words may be used, the fact remains the same – that he is essentially sevenfold, an evolving being, part of whose nature has already been manifested, part remaining latent at present, so far as the vast majority of humankind is concerned. Man’s consciousness is able to function through as many of these aspects as have been already evolved in him into activity.

This evolution, during the present cycle of human development, takes place on five out of seven planes of nature. The two higher planes – the sixth and seventh — will not be reached, save in the most exceptional cases, by men of this humanity in the present cycle, and they may therefore be left out of sight for our present purpose. As, however, some confusion has arisen as to the seven planes through differences of nomenclature, two diagrams are given at the end of this treatise showing the seven planes as they exist in our division of the universe, in correspondence with the vaster planes of the universe as a whole, and also the subdivision of the five into seven, as they are represented in some of our literature. 

A “plane” is merely a condition, a stage, a state; so that we might describe man as fitted by his nature, when that nature is fully developed, to exist consciously in seven different conditions, or seven different stages, in seven different states; or technically, on seven different planes of being. To take an easily verified illustration: a man may be conscious on the physical plane, that is, in his physical body, feeling hunger and thirst, and pain of a blow or cut. 

But let the man be a soldier in the heat of battle, and his consciousness will be centered in his passions and emotions, and he may suffer a wound without knowing it, his consciousness being away from the physical plane and acting on the plane of passions and emotions: when the excitement is over, consciousness will pass back to the physical, and he will “feel” the pain of his wound. Let the man be a philosopher, and as he ponders over some knotty problem he will lose all consciousness of bodily wants, of emotions, of love and hatred; his consciousness will have passed to the plane of intellect, he will be “abstracted,” i.e., drawn away from considerations pertaining to his bodily life, and fixed on the plane of thought. 

Thus, may a man live on these several planes, in these several conditions, one part or another of his nature being thrown into activity at any given time; and an understanding of what man is, of his nature, his powers, his possibilities, will be reached more easily and assimilated more usefully if he is studied along these clearly defined lines, that if he be left without analysis, a mere confused bundle of qualities and states.

It has also been found convenient, having regard to man’s mortal and immortal life, to put these seven principles into two groups – one containing the three higher principles and therefore called the Triad, the other containing the four lower, and therefore called the Quaternary. The Triad is the deathless part of man’s nature, the “spirit” and soul of Christian terminology; the Quaternary is the mortal part, the “body” of Christianity. This division into body, soul and spirit is used by St. Paul, and is recognized in all careful Christian philosophy, although generally ignored by the mass of Christian people. In ordinary parlance soul and body make up the man, and the words soul and spirit are used interchangeably, with much confusion of thought as the result. This looseness is fatal to any clear view of the constitution of man, and the Theosophist may well appeal to the Christian philosopher as against the causal Christian non-thinker if it be urged that he is making distinctions difficult to be grasped. 

No philosophy worthy of the name can be stated even in the most elementary fashion without making some demand on the intelligence and the attention of the would-be learner, and carefulness in the use of terms is a condition of all knowledge.

 

 

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