[Note: page numbers cited for The Esoteric Tradition are to the 2-vol. Second Edition and do not correspond to the 1-vol. 3rd & Revised Edition.]
The Christian teachings as found in the Bible speak of man as composed of a body, a soul, and a spirit. In Theosophy we study the Seven Principles of man; in other schemes of philosophical and religious thought we find two, four, five, and even, nine and twelve mentioned. Amidst these varied and diversified divisions it is small wonder that a newer student or inquirer feels lost, confused, and even perplexed to the point of deciding to take up some other more readily assimilated subject of study.
The truth of the matter can be said to be in the fundamental axiom of Theosophy as well as all the other great world systems of thought throughout the ages. Namely that the Root, the Base, or the Acme, the Flower of everything from the lowliest elementals to the highest Gods is one.
As the Zohar says:
The Divine animated all parts of the Universe with characteristic and appropriate spiritual beings, and thus all the hosts exist. — Zohar, III, 68a
In Theosophy we call this One Divine Principle, when manifesting, the Monas Monadum, that is, a Galactic Monad composed of hosts of Monadic centers. We may think of this One as a circle whose circumference is boundless and whose center is in every minute portion of limitless space on all its planes.
The Heart of the most inanimate and unevolved subject we can imagine is rooted in — in fact is the same as — the Heart, the Core of the being, of the consciousness, of the greatest Galactic Universe. The only difference is one of expression in degree of consciousness. H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine expresses this thought in these words:
From Gods to men, from Worlds to atoms, from a star to a rush-light, from the Sun to the vital heat of the meanest organic being — the World of Form and Existence is an immense chain, whose links are all connected. The law of Analogy is the first key to the world-problem, and these links have to be studied co-ordinately in their occult relations to each other. — I, 604
This Oneness expresses itself on all planes of the Cosmos through transitory vehicles, built of the substances, forces and life-energies of the planes upon which it may be manifesting. These vehicles or sheaths of consciousness become ever more condensed, more material, as the Ray from the Monad descends through children-vehicles down into ever increasingly material spheres. Each plane is the sphere of being or consciousness, the home, of a ray of the Chief Monad of any entity whether a mineral or a God. The core of the vehicle of such a manifesting Jiva is called the Sutratman in the Vedantic philosophy, the thread soul, which has strung upon it various children monads. Each of these minor monads in the constitution is exactly the same in essence as the Chief Monad, the fountain from which they have all issued and in which they have their being; each is constituted in the same essences, vehicular bodies, and consciousness centers, although of varying degrees depending upon its evolutionary standing.
Now with this picture in mind, and with a general concept of the various methods of dividing man, we might say that the manner which is the most basic, in that further sub-divisions can be made, is the Threefold. Further separations should be made by each student according to the mode which gives him the clearest understanding and satisfies his mind and heart the most fully — with the added thought, however, that we should ever strive to keep an open mind and not allow ourselves to become crystallized in any one way of looking upon a subject, if we hope to expand our consciousness and the teachings as time goes on.
The triune division of man is the Self, the Ego, and the Soul. Every Monad may be said to express itself first consciously and then self-consciously through these primary Upadhis which it has built for itself and which are the reflexions in their respective fields of the One.
The Self, the I am, is the immortal spark of any entity, which never dies or descends directly into the lower planes, but sends forth shoots or rays which are the spiritual heart of the pranic forces or life-energies of those planes. The Self of a monad, such as the human, which is largely unrealized, acts unselfconsciously as the "medium" through which these life-essences are transmitted to the human, through the Higher Ego, and which develops into self-consciousness in conjunction with the Ego.
The Ego, which is a garment or vehicle of the Self, of the I am, is like a mirror which reflects the I am, making of it the I am I. It is that portion of us which in its higher parts gives us our spiritual yearnings and sublime realization of the essential Divine Root from which everything evolves and from which come our flashes of intuition. In its lower aspects it joins with the soul to give us our individualized personalities, our human self-consciousness.
The Soul in its turn is the vehicle or body of the Ego. On the higher planes it is a body of light; and on the lower it is ever more concreted light until it reaches this physical plane where it develops into the material elements we see on all sides. If we had the eye of a Seer, these bodies would look like millions of tiny lights, revolving and sparkling with the greatest of intensity. Each one of these lights, atoms, is in itself an expression of a ray of a monad — a monad manifesting in its turn through a Self, an Ego, and a Soul. As Madame Blavatsky says in The Secret Doctrine:
The collective aggregation of these atoms forms thus the Anima Mundi of our Solar system, the soul of our little universe, [or of man, a miniature universe] each atom of which is of course a soul, a monad, a little universe endowed with consciousness, hence with memory. — S. D, II, p. 672, footnote.
In the same manner that the Cosmos is the Universal World-Soul or Being in whom we are rooted, live, and have our being, so do we, the Human Ego and Soul, stand to these lesser lives. These less evolved monads exist in our constitution and draw their life and inner forces from and through us. Dr. G. de Purucker in his The Esoteric Tradition (Vol. I, p. 264) says that
Man is the parent of all the minor beings or lives of life-atoms which compose his various vehicles or sheaths of consciousness . . . .
Even a partial understanding of these teachings fills us with awe, and reverence too, for the sublime pattern of the Universe which is repeated throughout and which holds us responsible for the welfare and guidance of these lesser beings of our constitution. Our guardianship of them is as sublime in its way as that of the greater beings who have sacrificed themselves to help us in our struggle up the ladder of life to an ever fuller expansion of consciousness and self-conscious absorption with the Super-Divine Essence and work of the One.