In the second volume of the Secret Doctrine, p. 81, Mme. Blavatsky bids us remember that to some extent even the esoteric teaching is allegorical, and that to make the latter comprehensible to the average intelligence, symbols cast in an intelligible form must be used. And in Esoteric Buddhism Mr. Sinnett warns us against thinking of the higher principles as of a bundle of sticks tied together, or, in another view, of considering the different principles as being like the skins of an onion, to be peeled off one by one till we get to the innermost and best. It is said that one of the favorite topics of discussion in the medieval Church was as to the number of angels that could find standing room on the point of a cambric needle. Human nature is the same always, and in every age of the world we have found it difficult to dispossess our minds of concrete conceptions and come down to abstract thought. We instinctively cling to some form of expression which materialises our idea, so to speak, and enables us to make a picture of it in our mind’s eye; and then, almost before we know it, we have accepted that picture as the thing it tried to symbolise. Men are always making to themselves graven images, and then bowing down and worshiping the images instead of the gods they endeavored to represent.
So it seems to me that our difficulty in getting at a clear idea of the seven-fold constitution of man lies mostly in the way we go to work; that we fail to recognise, in the first place, that we are dealing with spiritual things, and that those things cannot be seen with the physical, nor even the intellectual eye, and that the more we divide and subdivide, the more we define and consequently materialise our subject. This is most certainly a case where we need to generalise, and not to particularize, until we have arrived at the point where we are quite sure we are conscious that we are dealing with symbols and not with entities.
If we wish to get a general idea of Man, we may think first of the body, as a thing which upon this material plane whereon we live we may call a tangible reality. Now a “tangible reality”, though it can easily be proved to be the greatest of all illusions, is also the most material thing about us and the most widely removed from spirit; therefore we can set it aside, as do the Vedantin schools spoken of in the Key, p. 117, as not part of the spiritual man, or we can call it the lowest “principle” of our being. The material at one end of the scale involves the spiritual at the other, and we find on page 101 and 119 of the Key, Atma described as the Divine essence, which “is no individual property of any man”, but “only overshadows the mortal; that which enters into him and pervades the whole body being only its omnipresent rays or light”. “This ought not to be called a human principle at all” (p. 119).
We have, then, the body and the Spirit accounted for, — what remains is Consciousness, in its different phases. Upon p. 100 of the Key we read: “The ‘principles’ (save the body, life, and the astral eidolon, all of which disperse at death) are simply aspects and states of consciousness.”
We realize a mood of intense desire or passion as something apart from our spiritual nature, and more akin to the physical; and we sometimes speak even of our “physical consciousness” as a thing that we do not therefore perceive with our senses. This is the lowest aspect of our consciousness, and is called in Sanskrit Kama-rupa, or “the body of desire.” This is, of course, a highly figurative expression.
Then comes our intelligent consciousness, the Mind itself, the thinking part of us, which differentiates us from the brute; and we all realise that this aspect of our consciousness has a dual nature, and may drag us down to the level of the animal or raise us to the height of the god. Therefore we speak of the higher and lower Manas, or mind.
The physical body, its passions, and that lower aspect of mind which tends to gravitate downward and which belongs to the physical brain, are dependent upon life, or the vital principle, a form of the Divine Energy within us. So also is that phantom body, the shadow of the real one, which disperses after death like the light of a distant star, that to us appears to be still shining, although in reality long ago fallen from its sphere.
If we can imagine the lower aspect of our intelligence or mind tending downward, we can also realise its higher phase aspiring to unite itself to our spiritual consciousness or Buddhi, the vehicle of the Divine, of that Universal Spirit which makes us one. Our highest intelligence and our spiritual consciousness, overshadowed by the radiation of the Absolute, form the Monad or re-incarnating Ego.
Of this Madame Blavatsky says on p. 92 of the Key, that it alone can be thought of as the highest “principle in man”. Because, as she explains it is always the predominating element in man that counts, and in one man passion is the ruling and foremost phase; in another, intellect; in another, spirituality.
But however we choose to arrange these phases in our minds, let us remember always that they are not entities, and that, as Mme. Blavatsky says, “There is but one real man, enduring through the cycle of life and immortal in essence, if not in form, and this is Manas, the Mind-man or embodied consciousness.” (Key, p. 100.)