Sometimes, when the daily chores are done and the events of the world are more or less stilled, there comes stealing through one's thoughts the age-old question, "What am I in the whole? Am I just this more or less frail body which I see and feel or is there something more?" Compared to many of the other things in the Universe, a human being is really small indeed. We measure the size of this Earth in thousands of miles and it seems vast to us. Yet when we think of the stars that can be seen, and contemplate on the fact that they are distant from the Earth in terms of light years (a figure almost incomprehensible to us), our smallness is magnified many, many times. Even several of the animals are larger and stronger than we are. So we wonder what we are, especially since it has been taught that man was given dominion over all things on earth. One's thoughts, then, might run in this pattern. I know that I have a physical body because it is visible to the senses. I also know by certain discoveries of Science that the body contains within it various organs that seem to take care of their duties with no particular effort. That they are there I know from another source, because once in a while one of them gets out of harmony with its neighbors and causes me great distress. That is about as far as I really know of this physical body without a great deal of special study.
I am told by science that each cell in this body is renewed every seven years, the old ones giving way to new. And I ask myself, why don't I change form at the same time? What attracts these cells to the same places and in the same form? There must be, then, as an active part of me, a pattern or model on which these new cells are built that remains unchanging throughout the allotted span of years. Of course, I alter in size and some features do change over the years, but basically I remain the same. I cannot see or feel the model. Yet it must be there, and it must be true also that at death this model body must leave the outer frame which is the reason for the gradual disappearance of the form of the physical body.
So far, though, I have only considered the form, but I know that I have the ability to move and do work. Therefore there must be added some form of energy as another active part of me — some kind of a vital or life force. Since all living things are also, to some degree, endowed with this element, perhaps we can say that one is able to tap some 'cosmic wires' and charge his personal 'battery' for what energy he needs to carry on the daily tasks. Since one of the principles of Nature is balance, I know that if I 'take on' too much of this force at any one time, I must rest in order to restore the natural equilibrium, otherwise this body would 'burn out,' much like an electric light bulb or a battery.
Yet even these elements still do not give a complete answer, because at times I am ruled by strong desires and aspirations. Some of these desires are good, others not so good, yet they are a very active part of my make-up, and so must be added to the human 'parts-list' to help complete it. This working principle of desire seems to be a very powerful one in many people, with sometimes rather ill effects both for themselves and others. Yet the desire for good can really lead to grand things. Apparently, this is an operating principle that should be kept under control, otherwise one can be ruled by it.
All of the four parts of one's make-up that I have thought of so far are also possessed by all the animals on this earth. Added to this, all animals have brains so that there must be further elements to be added in order to account for the difference between the human and the animal. In searching around for the answer, one finds in the ancient Sanskrit language a word spelled "man" that is given the meaning, "to think, to reason." Here then must be the key that opens the door to greater things for a human than is granted the animals. Mind, as an operating force or principle, separate from the brain, makes all the difference. It must be then this God-given ability to think and to reason that makes man what he is, what he hopes to be, or can be.
The Mind, then, must operate like an electronic control station, sending out the directions which are picked up by the brain and relayed to the proper places in order that the physical and emotional parts of us do the will of the Mind.
Great as the mind of man is potentially, surely there are still elements lacking to complete the picture. The mind can conceive form, but it cannot give Life. It is also subject to the vagrancies of illusion, and is apt to stray from a given path. Thus, then, there must be a finer control center that keeps the mind in line (if allowed to), and shows us Reality. Where is one to look for the missing elements? We find that all the great religions and philosophic systems have taught that man possesses both Soul and Spirit, thus I must add these to complete the whole. The soul of man is said to be the seat of character and intuition. In it is summed up the total of one's experience which go to form character; it is the faculty of intuition which points out that which is Real and Enduring. Thus the soul is really the power behind the throne of mind. If, then, the soul contains the summation of one's experiences, it follows that it must be part of the immortal elements of man. Its rays shine dimly through the average human, as its roots are in the higher realms of Nature. Nevertheless, through the soul come glimpses of Divinity.
Pure Spirit is still less definable in words. However, as applied to one human, it must be a droplet from that Divine source of all that is and ever will be. From It, life as we know it is possible. It is the source of our immortality, through which each of us will one day in ages to come return to the universal "Source of Life." One's real self, though very dimly seen in this material plane of existence, is the element of our make-up that the great Teachers speak of when they say: "The Father and I are one."
Looking back over our list, we find seven elements or principles making up the total human. These cannot be thought of as being stacked one on top of the other like building blocks. Though progressing in degree from the material to the spiritual realms, it is much more correct to think of them as similar to a chemical compound, so inter-blended that they cannot be separated while one lives here on earth. Many of the puzzling questions of life are explained by thinking in terms of these seven principles.
Can I now answer this question, "What am I" in the light of this perusal? I think so. I am, in reality, an offspring of the one Divine Source, and am at present merely residing in this material vehicle on this earth so that I may learn how to return to that Divine Source with full understanding. How long will this take? I guess that is up to me.
(From Sunrise magazine, January 1952; copyright © 1952 Theosophical University Press)