Seven is one of the most important numbers in the teachings of theosophy, the wisdom-religion. It is a key by which are revealed and explained many of the mysteries of nature, for in theosophy it is taught that number and numbers underlie all the processes of creation. This numerical key of seven lies at the root of all evolution, whether physical or spiritual. It is therefore important both in its meanings and application. There is nothing arbitrary about the use of seven as applied to the study of our composite constitution, as this number is found to be universal throughout the universe. We discover it everywhere. Some common facts are good instances of this, such as the seven layers of the human skin, the musical scale with its seven notes, and the seven colors which make up a ray of sunlight. Then there is the moon, which theosophy and science both show to have close relation to the generation of physical life on our planet. The moon is governed in its activities by the number seven. Note the recurrence of seven in the gestation period, the phases of the moon, with the week of seven days, etc. The inquirer has only to look observantly into the matter to find many other examples of the septenary in the world about him.
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By Annie Besant
Few words are needed in sending this little book out into the world. It is the first of a series of Manuals designed to meet the public demand a simple exposition of Theosophical teachings. Some have complained that our literature is at once too abstruse, too technical, and too expensive for the ordinary reader, and it is our hope that the present series may succeed in supplying what is a very real want. Theosophy is not only for the learned; it is for all. It may be that among those who in these little books catch their first glimpse of its teachings, there may be a few who will be led by them to penetrate more deeply into its philosophy, its science, and its religion, facing its abstruser problems with the student's zeal and the neophyte's ardour. But these Manuals are not written for the eager student whom no initial difficulties can daunt; they are written for the busy men and women of the work-a-day world and seek to make plain some of the great truths that render life easier to bear and death easier to face. Written by servants of the Masters who are the Elder Brothers of our race, they can have no other object than to serve our fellowmen.
Inquirers attracted to Theosophy by its central doctrine of the brotherhood of man, and by the hopes which it holds out of wider knowledge and of spiritual growth, are apt to be repelled when they make their first attempt to come into closer acquaintance with it, by the, to them, strange and puzzling names which flow glibly from the lips of Theosophists in conference assembled.They hear a tangle of Âtma-Buddhi, Kâma-Manas, Triad, Devachan, and what not, and feel at once that for them Theosophy is far too abstruse a study. Yet they might have become very good Theosophists, had not their initial enthusiasm been quenched with the douche of Sanskrit terms. In the present manual the smoking flax shall be more tenderly treated, and but few Sanskrit names shall be flung in the face of the enquirer. As a matter of fact, the use of these terms has become general among Theosophists because the English language has no equivalents for them, and a long and clumsy sentence has to be used in their stead if the idea is to be conveyed at all. The initial trouble of learning the names has been preferred to the continued trouble of using roundabout descriptive phrases – “Kâma”, for instance, being shorter and more precise than “the passional and emotional part of our nature”.
Man according to the Theosophical teaching is a sevenfold being, or, in the usual phrase, has a septenary constitution. Putting it in another way, man’s nature has seven aspects, may be studied from seven different points of view, is composed of seven principles. The clearest and best way of all in which to think of man is to regard him as one, the Spirit or True Self; this belongs to the highest region of the universe, and is universal, the same for all; it is a ray of God, a spark from the divine fire. This is to become an individual, reflecting the divine perfection, a son that grows into the likeness of his father. For this purpose the Spirit, or true Self, is clothed in garment after garment, each garment belonging to a definite region of the universe, and enabling the Self to come into contact with that region, gain knowledge of it, and work in it. It thus gains experience, and all its latent potentialities are gradually drawn out into active powers. These garments, or sheaths, are distinguishable from each other both theoretically and practically. If a man be looked at clairvoyantly each is distinguishable by the eye, and they are separable each from each either during physical life or at death, according to the nature of any particular sheath. Whatever words may be used, the fact remains the same – that he is essentially sevenfold, an evolving being, part of whose nature has already been manifested, part remaining latent at present, so far as the vast majority of humankind is concerned. Man’s consciousness is able to function through as many of these aspects as have been already evolved in him into activity.
This evolution, during the present cycle of human development, takes place on five out of seven planes of nature. The two higher planes – the sixth and seventh – will not be reached, save in the most exceptional cases, by men of this humanity in the present cycle, and they may therefore be left out of sight for our present purpose. As, however, some confusion has arisen as to the seven planes through differences of nomenclature, two diagrams are given at the end of this treatise showing the seven planes as they exist in our division of the universe, in correspondence with the vaster planes of the universe as a whole, and also the subdivision of the five into seven, as they are represented in some of our literature . A “plane” is merely a condition, a stage, a state; so that we might describe man as fitted by his nature, when that nature is fully developed, to exist consciously in seven different conditions, or seven different stages, in seven different states; or technically, on seven different planes of being. To take an easily verified illustration: a man may be conscious on the physical plane, that is, in his physical body, feeling hunger and thirst, and pain of a blow or cut. But let the man be a soldier in the heat of battle, and his consciousness will be centred in his passions and emotions, and he may suffer a wound without knowing it, his consciousness being away from the physical plane and acting on the plane of passions and emotions: when the excitement is over, consciousness will pass back to the physical, and he will “feel” the pain of his wound. Let the man be a philosopher, and as he ponders over some knotty problem he will lose all consciousness of bodily wants, of emotions, of love and hatred; his consciousness will have passed to the plane of intellect, he will be “abstracted”, i.e.., drawn away from considerations pertaining to his bodily life, and fixed on the plane of thought. Thus may a man live on these several planes, in these several conditions, one part or another of his nature being thrown into activity at any given time; and an understanding of what man is, of his nature, his powers, his possibilities, will be reached more easily and assimilated more usefully if he is studied along these clearly defined lines, that if he be left without analysis, a mere confused bundle of qualities and states.
It has also been found convenient, having regard to man’s mortal and immortal life, to put these seven principles into two groups – one containing the three higher principles and therefore called the Triad, the other containing the four lower, and therefore called the Quaternary. The Triad is the deathless part of man’s nature, the “spirit” and soul of Christian terminology; the Quaternary is the mortal part, the “body”, of Christianity.This division into body, soul and spirit is used by St. Paul, and is recognised in all careful Christian philosophy, although generally ignored by the mass of Christian people. In ordinary parlance soul and body make up the man, and the words soul and spirit are used interchangeably, with much confusion of thought as the result.This looseness is fatal to any clear view of the constitution of man, and the Theosophist may well appeal to the Christian philosopher as against the causal Christian non-thinker if it be urged that he is making distinctions difficult to be grasped. No philosophy worthy of the name can be stated even in the most elementary fashion without making some demand on the intelligence and the attention of the would be learner, and carefulness in the use of terms is a condition of all knowledge.
The dense physical body of man is called the first of his seven principles, as it is certainly the most obvious. Built of material molecules, in the generally accepted sense of the term – with its five organs of sensation - the five senses - its organs of locomotion, its brain and nervous system, its apparatus for carrying on the various functions necessary for its continued existence, there is little to be said about this physical body in so slight a sketch as this of the constitution of man . Western science is almost ready to accept the Theosophical view that the human organism consists of innumerable “lives”, which build up the cells. H.P.Blavatsky says on this: “Science has never yet gone so far as to assert with the Occult doctrine that our bodies, as well as those of animals, plants, and stones, are themselves altogether built up of such beings [bacteria, etc.]: which, with the exception of the larger species, no microscope can detect ….The physical and chemical constituents of all being found to be identical, chemical science may well say that there is no difference between the matter which composes the ox and that which forms the man. But the Occult doctrine is far more explicit. It says: Not only the chemical compounds are the same, but the same infinitesimal invisible lives compose the atoms of the bodies of the mountain and the daisy, of man and the ant, of the elephant and of the tree which shelters him from the sun. Each particle – whether you call it organic or inorganic – is a life. Every atom and molecule in the universe is both life-giving and death-giving to such forms (Secret Doctrine, vol. I, p. 281, new edition). The microbes thus “build up the material body and its cells”, under the constructive energy of vitality – a phrase that will be explained when we come to deal with “life”, as the Third Principle, and with these microbes as part of it. When the “life” is no longer supplied the microbes “are left to run riot as destructive agents”, and they break up and disintegrate the cells which they built, and so the body goes to pieces.
The purely physical consciousness is the consciousness of the cells and the molecules. The selective action of the cells, taking from the blood what they need, rejecting what they do not need, is an instance of this self consciousness. The process goes on without the help of our consciousness or volition. Again that which is called by physiologists unconscious memory is the memory of the physical consciousness, unconscious to us indeed, until we have learned to transfer our brain consciousness there. What we feel is not what the cells feel. The pain of a wound is felt by the brain-consciousness, acting, as before said, on the physical plane; but the consciousness of the molecule, as of the aggregation of molecules we call cells, leads it to hurry to the repair of the damaged tissues – actions of which the brain is unconscious – and its memory makes it repeat the same act again and again, even when it has become unnecessary. Hence cicatrices on wounds, scars, callosities, etc. The student may find many details on this subject in physiological treatises.
The death of the dense physical body occurs when the withdrawal of the controlling life-energy leaves the microbes to go their own way, and the many lives, no longer co-ordinated, separate from each other and scatter the particles of the cells of “the man of dust”, and what we call decay sets in. The body becomes a whirlpool of unrestrained, unregulated lives, and its form, which resulted from their correlation, is destroyed by their exuberant individual energy. Death is but an aspect of life, and the destruction of one material form is but a prelude to building up of another.
The Linga Sharira , the astral body, the ethereal body, the fluidic body, the double, the wraith, the döppelganger, the astral man – such are a few of the many names which have been given to the second principle in man’s constitution. The best name is the Etheric Double, because this term designates the second principle only, suggesting its constitution and appearance: whereas the other names have been used somewhat generally to describe bodies formed of some more subtle matter than that which affects our physical senses, without regard to the question whether other principles were or were not involved in their construction. I shall therefore use this name throughout.
The etheric double is formed of matter rarer or more subtle than that which is perceptible to our five senses, but still matter belonging to the physical plane, to which its functioning is confined. It is the state of physical matter which is just beyond our “solid , liquid and gas”, which form the dense portions of the physical plane.
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