The Path – May 1890

MISLEADING TERMS — N. & Alexander Fullerton

     I. THE SOUL

In studying the complex nature of man, nothing has created greater confusion in my mind than the loose use of terms, and particularly the use of one word or phrase to express different things or ideas. And probably no word has been more perplexing than Soul. In ordinary language Soul is generally used as synonymous with Spirit. Sometimes it stands for the Higher Self, and at others for the Ego. In Sinnett’s classification we find it in three forms, as Animal Soul, Human Soul, and Spiritual Soul; and yet there are not — as the Athanasian Creed would probably put it — three Souls, but one Soul.

The word Ego, too, is almost as confusing. Thus we read of a Personal Ego, an Immortal Ego, a Reincarnating Ego, and the like, till the word is so altered and qualified that one’s conception of what an Ego or the Ego really is, is extremely vague and misty. This confusion is partly due to poverty of the language in metaphysical terms, and partly, I imagine, to our own inability to grasp abstruse metaphysical concepts.

So far as I have been able to comprehend them, the terms Soul, Ego, and Manas represent exactly and identically the same thing or idea. The lower Manas, the Personal Ego, and the Animal Soul are different expressions for that consciousness which is limited to the physical body and perishes with it. Buddhi-Manas, the thinking Ego, and the Spiritual Soul seem also to be equivalent phrases. Atma, Spirit; and the Higher Self express one and the same idea.

The Soul, Manas, or Ego, being an entity intermediate between Spirit on one hand and the physical body on the other, necessarily has two aspects, and ultimately, at the death of the ordinary man, divides into two, the Kama-Manas sharing the fate of the lower quaternary, and the higher Manas uniting with Atma-Buddhi to form the reincarnating Ego.

This intermediary entity — the Soul — seems to have been created or evolved by the interaction of Spirit and gross matter extending through long periods of time on this plane. The first races of men were mindless or soulless, (1) and even now it is only the lower Manas that has been developed in humanity. Our Spiritual consciousness or Higher Manas is yet dormant, and will not he fully awakened before the Fifth Round — ages hence.

These brief statements are not offered, however, in any dogmatic spirit, but may serve to elicit discussion which may clear up some of the perplexities and difficulties that encounter the student of theosophic literature in the use of these frequently recurring words. — N.


I unhesitatingly agree with our President that the term "Principles" applied to the 7 constituents of man’s compound nature is not only incorrect but misleading. Some other and more accurate term should certainly be used. Yet one may well doubt whether "Vehicles," though free from some of the objections to "Principles," and though more precise in one respect, is really satisfactory. If we are to make a change, let it be to a word rigorously correct.

If each constituent is to be regarded as the "vehicle" for the one above it, the new objections soon appear. The Body is no doubt the vehicle of Prana or Jiva, the life-force which animates and conserves it. But surely it cannot be said that Prana is the vehicle for the Astral Body; if anything, the Astral Body is the vehicle for it. The difficulty may be met by making the Astral Body rank next above the Physical Body and Prana above both. Then Prana would vitalize the Astral Body, and the Astral Body, thus a vehicle, would transmit influence to the outer form. But how can Prana be a vehicle for the Animal Soul? Logically and chronologically, life-force must precede the desires, passions, etc. which presuppose a living body as their seat and source. This consideration pushes Prana up above the Animal Soul. But at once two difficulties arise. The first is that the Animal Soul having thus become the vehicle for Prana, the Astral Body has become vehicle to the Animal Soul. But how can the Animal Soul transmit life-power to the Astral, when both the Astral and the Physical Bodies must have preceded the Animal Soul to make its existence possible? The other difficulty is that this order makes Prana the vehicle of the Human Soul, and it surely is inconceivable that reason, memory, and will can find a channel in a mere life-force With Prana as the 4th in the series, the look-up or the look-down is fatal to the new term. We must then either demote Prana to its old station, thus reviving all the perplexities which pushed it upwards, or else concede an absolute hiatus between the Human Soul and Prana, and this is fatal to the vehicular theory. From this stage upwards all is reasonable enough. The Human Soul may very well be the vehicle for the Spiritual Soul, and that again for Spirit. But a theory which works correctly enough half-way up or half-way down, but which will not go all the way through, is almost as bad as its rival which makes of the Physical Body a "Principle".

It, may, indeed, be said that the vehicles are not to be considered as vehicles to each other, but only as vehicles to the one primal and persistent force — Spirit. But here again we are in trouble, for this would make the different vehicles independent of each other. Besides, the word "vehicle" implies a transmission of something to something else, and, if there is no transmission, there is no "vehicle". Whether, therefore, we adopt this theory, which makes the term "vehicle" meaningless, or the former, which makes it inaccurate, we are as badly off as if we adhered to "principle".

I should say, then, that we have not yet discovered the true word. "Constituent" is not bad, though a trifle long. What is the objection to "Component"? It is no longer than "principle" or "vehicle"; it allows a certain individuality to each part, while not disconnecting them from each other; it does not necessarily reduce Spirit to the same rank as the other "components" associated with it; and its meaning etymologically expresses with some accuracy the union of several elements in one combination. Why not give it a hearing? — Alexander Fullerton


1. See Secret Doctrine. (return to text)

The Path