The Theosophical Forum – July 1943


This series of Theosophical radio broadcasts from Shanghai, China, was given over station XQHB during 1941 by Miss Inga Sjostedt and Miss Elsa-Brita Bergqvist. In the present talk Miss Bergqvist covers the teaching of the sevenfold nature of man and relates it to the simpler threefold division of spirit-soul-body as used by St Paul in the New Testament

Good evening, everybody:

Last Sunday the speaker gave an account of the Theosophic conception of Death and remarked that the word "death" should be opposed not to "life" but to "birth," as these are the names given to our entrances into and exits from this earth-life, which itself is only one side of our life. The other side being the periods between incarnations.

The materialists, who hold the idea that our bodies are ourselves and that thought is merely a result of chemical changes taking place in the brain, ask us to believe that we don't exist apart from our physical bodies. This theory is moribund if not dead, however, and fails to account for so many things: memory, for instance, that great stumbling-block of materialistic science. We can hold thoughts and ideas locked up in our minds for years, and can at any moment relive scenes that were familiar to us long ago, despite the fact that our brain-cells have been continually changing ever since. Dreams are another unexplained phenomenon. During sleep we live as completely and consciously as when we are awake. When our physical bodies are inactive we still see, hear and smell, taste and touch more vividly even than when we are hampered by our material envelope. We are complete human beings even when we do not inhabit our bodies. Therefore the real man, the human ego, is not the body — it is indeed independent of the body.

We like our friends not for their physical perfections alone, but for the characteristics in their personalities that appeal to us. Kindness and unselfishness, charm and so forth, are qualities that may endear to us even people who are physically ugly. We can be extremely good friends with people we have never even seen, through for instance, correspondence alone — yet it's not the typewritten sheets of paper that convey the personality of the writer. We can therefore safely conclude that it is not the physical body which is the real person.

In the Christian New Testament we find Paul the apostle and initiate referring to man as composed of spirit, soul and body. The same threefold classification is found everywhere. Unfortunately in modern times the majority of people in the West have lost the meaning of this true classification, and modern Christians don't as a rule differentiate between spirit and soul. There are many even, who believe these two to mean the same thing. It is one of the important points that has got lost in the course of time. Yet the difference between these two terms is very great. In Theosophy the same classification is used, and the three parts, spirit, soul and body, are further subdivided to total seven human principles, each one emanating from the next above it, and all of them merging into one another and forming a complete ladder from the central Divine spark down to the lowest or rather the outermost physical covering.

Starting with the part called spirit, this spirit emanates from the central spark of Divine fire and is its vehicle or covering. These two, Divinity and its first garment, together with that part of the mind which is pure and impersonal and which takes its impulse from the spirit, form what is called by Paul the Spirit. The soul is composed of the lower mind and the emotions, that is, the personality of the individual. These are the principles in which we generally function. The mind, as you notice, is dual and can be made to conform with either the soul or the spirit, depending on whether it takes its impulse from the spirit or the personal selfish emotions. Our consciousness is centered in the mind, and the mind is therefore the real man. It then depends on us whether we allow our minds to be influenced by our personal emotions or our impersonal spirit. The spirit, or first veil over pure Divinity, is called in Sanskrit the Buddhi. One who has raised his consciousness, his self, or if you like, his mind to the buddhic principle is called a Buddha. As a contrast, an animal has its consciousness or mind controlled entirely by its emotional principle. An ordinary man has his mind divided between allegiance to the spirit and to the emotions and his mind is therefore dual, on the one side influenced by spirit, on the other by his emotions. We live mostly in our lower minds, but at times, if we are working for impersonal aims or are engaged in some unselfish task, our consciousness is centered in the higher mind, which is illumined by the light of the buddhic principle.

The lowest division, the body, is composed firstly of the vitality, which animates the bodies during life and which is withdrawn on the death of the physical vehicle. Secondly the astral or model body on which is builded atom for atom, molecule for molecule, cell for cell, the outer visible and tangible envelope. Through all these principles runs our will, which in itself is merely an impersonal force, which can be put to any use we desire. In itself it is colorless and does not partake of any qualities, but as we use it, it becomes colored with our impulse, whether this be good, bad or indifferent. It can be a tremendously strong power for either good or evil, if it is trained and firmly directed. Fundamentally a divine power, the driving force of the universe, we have it developed in proportion as we ally ourselves with the spiritual life-force in nature through the link formed by our own divine center.

Even this sevenfold classification, though it may seem complicated at first sight, is a very simple way of demonstrating the very complex nature of the human constitution, and in order to understand it properly, we must realize that these principles are not separate and independent parts like slices of a cake, but interpenetrate and merge into one another. The surface of the globe is not divided into longitudinal and latitudinal lines, though these are marked on the maps to show hypothetical divisions, which in reality do not exist. If we think of the complexity of our minds, we see that even this sevenfold classification is a mere outline of the truth. A man can for instance drive a car, light a pipe, converse with a passenger and think of something else — all at the same time. This shows that he is conscious in several parts of his mind at once, and it requires an explanation involving layer upon layer of mind to account for this plurality of consciousness. In order to make this more clear we may say that just as all the principles of the human constitution are fundamentally emanations from the central divinity, so each principle partakes of some qualities of all the other principles and contains latent or active all the seven principles.

To return to the original division — spirit, soul and body. Of these, the spirit alone is unconditionally immortal. It is most closely related to the divine essence and partakes of the qualities of pure divinity, from which it is inseparable. The body on the other hand is unconditionally mortal. It pertains to the matter-side of our nature and as an entity exists only so long as it is held together by the incarnate spirit. It is a composite entity, although the component parts of it are of course intrinsically divine and therefore intrinsically immortal. But as a whole, the body composed of the physical and astral vehicles, is not immortal because on the withdrawal of the spirit it disintegrates into its component parts and ceases to be an entity. The vitality or vital essence, which animated it during life, returns into the earth's reservoir of vitality, of which it is at all times a part.

The soul is conditionally immortal, or conditionally mortal: it can unite either with the immortal spirit and become a part of this spirit, in which case it partakes of the qualities of the spirit and becomes one with it, or it can unite with the mortal, physical vehicle, in which case it disintegrates with the body on the departure of the reincarnating ego. During man's repeated incarnations on earth, his spirit continually garners from the soul into itself all that is fine and noble and truly spiritual, while the remainder disintegrates in the astral realms of the earth's atmosphere, while the component lives or atomic entities of the lower personality await the ego's return to earth and form the seeds of the new personality through which this ego will again manifest itself. This means that when the ego returns to earth-life and assumes its new personality — the result of its former lower self — it has to contend with those lower attributes generated during its former existence or existences. Thus, when a man suffers from an unfortunate temper he cannot control, or some other fault of a similar nature, it is merely the direct result of his weakness in a former life in giving way to those tendencies, which in time become a ruling power in his life. In the case of a human being who is completely under the sway of his lower emotional nature — one in whom not a spark remains that is fine and spiritual and who has completely severed himself from his higher self by functioning entirely in the lowest part of his constitution — this human being loses all contact with the spirit, which on withdrawing at the death of the body has no use for any part of his mind and therefore leaves behind all of it to disintegrate. Such cases are extremely rare, fortunately, for it involves the complete destruction of the ego or consciousness-center of the individual involved.

The average man, who is neither very good, nor very bad, has always something to offer to the spiritual nature, and in due course reincarnates to take up his work of evolution, where he last left off.

Theosophical University Press Online Edition