In the Mystery-schools, those ancient centers of training that the philosophers attended in order to learn things not ordinarily given out, the complete constitution of both man and the universe was studied. That is why in the days of the ministry of the Master Jesus he said to his disciples: to the multitudes I speak in parables, but to you I reveal the Mysteries.
Sometimes man was divided into four elements, at other times into five, but more generally either the three basic principles were stressed, as by St. Paul, or else they were expanded into seven. The particular method used is secondary to the fact that all scriptures tell the selfsame story of God or Divinity periodically manifesting a part of Itself, a portion of Its qualities, for the benefit of all creation. That is why we are here: to give our individual god-spark an opportunity to have further experience through what we may call the hierarchies of life. That god-spark is the very highest pinnacle of our being, but at this stage in our evolution has many encasements of varying degrees of materiality.
Since it is a help to compare our accustomed way of viewing man and his nature with the methods of other sacred scriptures, let us expand the usual threefold concept into the sevenfold. An example of this is found in the Katha-Upanishad, one of the Thirteen Principal Upanishads (there are numerous minor ones) which have been translated from the Sanskrit into English by Western scholars. They comprise discourses on the ancient traditions that have been handed down for the guidance of mankind — the word upanishad meaning "to sit down near," that is, to give one's close attention to the narrator.
Here the symbol of a chariot is used to explain the nature of man. The master of the chariot is the divine Self; the driver or charioteer is the spiritual will, the intuition; and the reins represent the human will, the mind. The horses are the desires and senses; the roads over which the horses draw the chariot are the objects of our sense-desires, while the chariot itself stands for the body, the vehicle of our personality on earth. This to me is a striking analogy because of the entirely fresh light it throws on our struggles.
Know the Self (atma) as the master sitting within the chariot which is the body (sarira),
Know again the understanding (buddhi) as the charioteer and the mind (manas) as the reins.
He who is ever of unrestrained mind devoid of true understanding,
His sense-desires then become uncontrollable like the wild horses of a charioteer.
But he who is ever of controlled mind, and has true understanding,
His sense-desires then are controllable like the good horses of a charioteer.
The desires are superior to the senses, the mind is superior to the desires,
The intuition (understanding) is superior to the mind, the great Self is superior to the intuition. — I. 3. 3, 5, 6, 10
Simply put, the enlightened man, the charioteer, restrains the horses or sense-desires by intelligent manipulation of the reins, the mind, bringing the senses under the guidance of the intuition or spiritual self, and keeping the chariot on the course indicated by the master of the chariot, the divine Self. We see at once that man is not only guided by his mind but may receive, if he will, the guidance and protection of his Father within. To the degree that our human will obeys the impulses of the charioteer, it will be the servant of the spiritual forces of our nature; just as the charioteer or intuitional aspect is the direct servant of the divine will, the master of the chariot.
Now what does all this mean? Viewing man in relation to the larger picture, the prime factor is that this spark of godhood, the master of the chariot, is at the root of all evolutionary effort. Within man is the power to choose — and we can be certain that the way ahead, whether smooth or rough, will be the very roadbed of experience that we need in order to bring into expression our divine potential.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1990. Copyright © 1990 by Theosophical University Press)