Theosophical University Press Online Edition
It is quite evident to the unprejudiced inquirer that Christian priests for some reason or other studiously ignore the composite nature of man, although their great authority, St. Paul, clearly refers to it. He spoke of body, soul, and spirit, they only preach of body and soul; he declared we had a spiritual body, they remain misty as to the soul's body and cling to an absurd resurrection of the material casket. It became the duty of Theosophists to draw the attention of the modern mind once more to the Oriental division of man's constitution, for through that alone can an understanding of his state before and after death be attained. The division laid down by St. Paul is threefold, the Hindu one is of a sevenfold character. St. Paul's is meant for those who require broad outlines, but do not care to inquire into details. Spirit, soul, and body, however, include the whole seven divisions, the latter being a more complete analysis; and it is suspected by many deep thinkers that Paul knew the complete system but kept it back for good reasons of his own.
An analysis of body discloses more than mere molecular structure, for it shows a force or life or power that keeps it together and active throughout its natural period. Mr. Sinnett, in his Esoteric Buddhism, attempting to bring to his countrymen some knowledge of the Eastern system, called this Prana or Jiva; others, however, call it Prana alone, which seems more appropriate, because the human aspect of the life force is dependent upon Prana, or breath.
The spirit of St. Paul may be taken for our purposes to be the Sanskrit Atma. Spirit is universal, indivisible, and common to all. In other words, there are not many spirits, one for each man, but solely one spirit which shines upon all men alike, finding as many souls — roughly speaking — as there are beings in the world. In man the spirit has a more complete instrument or assemblage of tools with which to work. This spiritual identity is the basis of the philosophy; upon it the whole structure rests; to individualize spirit, assigning to each human being his own spirit, particular to him and separate from the spirit of any other man, is to throw to the ground the whole Theosophic philosophy, will nullify its ethics and defeat its object.
Starting, then, with Atma — spirit — as including the whole, being its basis and support, we find the Hindu offering the theory of sheaths or covers of the soul or inner man. These sheaths are necessary the moment evolution begins and visible objects appear, so that the aim of the soul may be attained in conjunction with nature. In this way, through a process which would be out of place here, a classification is arrived at by means of which the phenomena of life and consciousness may be explained.
The six vehicles (adopting Mr. Sinnett's nomenclature) used by the spirit and by means of which the Ego gains experience are:
Body, as a gross vehicle.
Vitality, or Prana.
Astral Body, or Linga Sarira.
Astral Soul, or Kama Rupa.
Human Soul, or Manas.
Spiritual Soul, or Buddhi.
The Linga Sarira is needed as a more subtle body than the corporeal frame, because the latter is in fact only stupid, inert matter. Kama Rupa is the body, or collection, of desires and passions; Manas may be properly called the mind, and Buddhi is the highest intellection beyond brain or mind. It is that which discriminates.
At the death of the body, Prana flies back to the reservoir of force; the astral body dissipates after a longer period and often returns with Kama Rupa when aided by certain other forces to seance-rooms, where it masquerades as the deceased, a continual lie and ever-present snare. The human and the spiritual soul go into the state spoken of before as Devachan or heaven, where the stay is prolonged or short according to the energies appropriate to that state generated during earth-life. When these begin to exhaust themselves, the Ego is gradually drawn back to earth-life, where through human generation it takes up a new body, with another astral body, vitality, and animal soul.
This is the "wheel of rebirth," from which no man can escape unless he conforms to true ethics and acquires true knowledge and consciousness while living in a body. It was to stop this ceaselessly revolving wheel that Buddha declared his perfect law, and it is the aim of the true Theosophist to turn his great and brilliant "Wheel of the Law" for the healing of the nations.