Here we look at the concept of a number of ‘Planes’ that make up the constitution of the human body, with different energies and contents. This page is taken dirctly from a Theosaophical paper – there are many other descriptions, but these give a useful outline of the concepts - the links below will help in understanding some of the more abstruse terms.
Theosophical Dictionary - https://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/etgloss/etg-hp.htm
1. Rupa - Physical Body
The most material sheath or instrument used by the forces manifesting as the human composite nature.
This body is the evolutionary product of the inner man’s experience during vast ages of time in and through all the kingdoms of nature. Thus the reimbodying ego, having acquired knowledge of the earth’s manifesting forms and forces, combines or correlates the principles and products of the mineral and vegetal life-atoms in its animal body, while evolving through its human incarnations. The atoms of a person’s body which are dispersed on earth at death, are karmically drawn to him again in the next life. As the quality of his own thought and feeling has been impressed upon these atoms, their automatic magnetic return to him insures the justice of his self-made physical heredity.
The continuous interchange of the physical material of the earth itself and that of everything upon it, provides for the body’s nutrition, endurance, and renewal. The similarity of material, chemically and otherwise, in the earth and in man has prevailed from the time when the filmy presentments of early root-races appeared on the then condensing globe. When the earth reached its depth of materiality during the middle of the Atlantean or fourth root-race, the physical bodies of the Atlanteans were the grossest and coarsest of any before or after this long period. Since then, everything having begun the turn on the upward or luminous arc, matter and man are slowly radiating finer qualities of substance and of force. This progressive refinement of matter reflecting humanity’s mental and spiritual evolution, will continue until, in the far distant future, the human encasement will be relatively transparent, or diaphanous and luminous — an ethereal body of actually condensed light.
The human body has “Manasic as well as Kamic organs,” so that the cells answer to physical, mental, and spiritual impulses. The higher ego cannot act directly on the body, as its consciousness belongs to another plane of ideation; it has to act through its alter ego — the personal self .
The inert physical body is built, cell for cell, upon the invisible substance of the astral model-body or linga-sarira. The latter contains the real organs of the senses and sensations, and it transmits the mental, emotional, and instinctual impulses to which the physical body reacts. The lower mind acts upon the physical organs and their cells; but only the higher mind can influence the atoms in these cells, and arouse the brain to a mental conception of spiritual ideas. That is to say, ideal, mental, and physiological wholeness depend upon the dominance of the atomic, spiritual impulses over the desires of the selfish kama-manasic nature. The personal nature is limited in action to the material, molecular cell. This subtle but practical interplay of his physical and superphysical nature points to the natural unity of purpose in the trend of ethics and physiology. With power to know good and evil, and free will to choose, man is responsible for refining and perfecting his material, personal nature into becoming a responsive and powerful medium for manifesting his spiritual and higher intellectual individuality. The inner man is ever acting with the cosmic evolutionary urge toward perfection of type. It is this reincarnating ego which directs the atomic life of the fertilized germ-cells in upbuilding the body according to pattern; this is the mysterious organizer which eludes all analyses of biological researchers. Likewise, the morally and intellectually irresponsible entities evolving in the lower kingdoms are impulsed, in addition to the urge of each individual entity’s monad, by the instinctual phase of the universal mind which is directed by celestial beings acting with the so-called laws of nature.
The universe being a living organism functioning throughout consciously, has its analogy in the physiological operation of the human body. Hence, biological scientists who tamper with the natural arrangements of chromosomes or artificially combine different embryonic elements, instead of solving the problem of life, are only dealing with the matter which is manifesting the conscious creative powers of ideation.
2. Linga-sarira – Astral Body – Etheric Body
A pattern or model that is impermanent; the model-body or astral body, only slightly more ethereal than the physical body; the second principle in the ascending scale of the sevenfold human constitution. It is the astral model around which the physical body is built, and from which the physical body flows or develops as growth proceeds. “These astral realms are not one single plane, but a series of planes growing gradually more ethereal or spiritual as they approach the inward spheres of Nature’s constitution or structure. The Linga-sarira is formed before the body is formed, and thus serves as a model or pattern around which the physical body is molded and grows to maturity; it is as mortal as is the physical body, and disappears with the physical body” (OG 88), dissolving atom by atom with the atoms of the physical corpse.
The linga-sarira has great tensile strength. It changes continuously during a lifetime, although these changes never depart from the fundamental human type or pattern, just as the physical body alters every moment. It also possesses the ability to exteriorize itself to a certain distance from its physical encasement, but in no case more than a few feet. It is composed of electromagnetic matter, which is somewhat more refined than the matter of our physical body. The whole world was composed of such matter in far past ages before it became the dense physical sphere it now is. After long ages the astral form had evolved and perfected, so that it has the form that the human races had during the early period of the third root-race — a more or less materialized concretion of the still more ethereal astrals of the first and second root-races. After another long period, during which the cycle of further descent into matter progressed, the gradually thickening astral form oozed forth from itself a coat of skin, corresponding to the Hebrew allegory of the Garden of Eden. Thus the present physical flesh-form of mankind appears.
The astral form sustains and permeates the body, containing the real or causal organs corresponding to the physical outer sense organs. It has its own complete system of nerves and arteries for conveying the various astral auric fluids, which are to that body as our blood, nervous energy, and pranic currents are to the physical. Hence, the linga-sarira is the real personal body.
Amongst others of its functions, it automatically registers and retains all the effects, including the physical memories, of earth-life, and thus automatically and of necessity repeats after death, in accordance with its limited powers, what the person knew, said, thought, and saw during life. If properly understood, the workings of the linga-sarira during life would give the key to many of what are now called the mysteries and problems of psychological and physiological science.
Astral Light This is the next cosmic plane above the physical, which is to the physical globes of our earth or of the other bodies of our solar system what the linga-sarira is to the human physical body. As such, it is the carrier of life-forces — jiva cosmically, and prana individually — and the storehouse of cosmic energies on their way to or from physical manifestation. It preserves an indelible record of all events on the astral and physical planes, there being continual interaction between the two planes. No natural phenomenon, whether mental, psychic, or physical, can be explained without it; without it, the physical world would crumble to impalpable dust.
The astral light is itself divided into subordinate planes; the lower regions teem with gross emanations from the earth, including psychic remnants from deceased beings, which exert a negative influence on the living, especially when intercourse with these remnants is encouraged by moral and physical weakness or by ignorant experiments.
The alchemical action of the astral light and its intimate connection with the physical sphere explains epidemics, whether physical or psychological. Because it transmits thoughts and emotions, its connection with karma is evident. The astral light is the mother of the physical world, just as akasa is the mother of the astral light.
The astral light is virtually the same as the sidereal light of Paracelsus and other medieval mystic philosophers who followed him. The reason for calling this kosmic plane astral or sidereal is that all nature being a vast and intricately interwoven organism, the stars and planets emanate into each other their respective celestial energies and substances. Thus, because there is this constant interchange of starry fluids emanating from the different celestial bodies, the term astral light has a foundation of esoteric scientific fact. It is applied specifically to the second kosmic plane only because it is nearest to the physical and beings living on the physical plane at times become sensible of the existence of the second kosmic plane by means of flashes of starry light or sensations of luminosity. Hence the ancient initiates, knowing the source of this starry substance, properly called it the astral or sidereal light, or by some similar expression. The astral light, finally, is the very dregs of akasa, and is virtually the same as the hypothetical ether of science.
3. Prana - the breath of life - the life force
The third principle in the ascending scale of the sevenfold human constitution. This life or prana works on, in, and around us, pulsating unceasingly during the term of physical existence. Prana is “the radiating force or Energy of Atma — as the Universal Life and the One Self, — Its lower or rather (in its effects) more physical, because manifesting, aspect. Prana or Life permeates the whole being of the objective Universe; and is called a ‘principle’ only because it is an indispensable factor and the deus ex machina of the living man”
In working upon the physical body, prana automatically uses the linga-sarira (model-body) as its vehicle of expression during earth-life. Prana may be said to be the psychoelectric veil or field manifesting in the individual as vitality. The life-atoms of prana fly instantly back, at the moment of physical dissolution, to the natural pranic reservoirs of the planet. Further, occultism teaches that “(a) the life-atoms of our (Prana) life-principle are never entirely lost when a man dies. That the atoms best impregnated with the life-principle (an independent, eternal, conscious factor) are partially transmitted from father to son by heredity, and partially are drawn once more together and become the animating principle of the new body in every new incarnation of the Monads. Because (b), as the individual Soul is even the same, so are the atoms of the lower principles (body, its astral, or life double, etc.), drawn as they are by affinity and Karmic law always to the same individuality in a series of various bodies, etc. . . .” (SD 2:671-2).
In Sanskrit it refers to the life currents or vital fluids, variously numbered as three, five, seven, twelve, and thirteen. The five life-winds mentioned are samana, vyana, prana, apana, and udana. In this classification prana represents the expirational breath.
Jiva is sometimes used similarly to prana, but strictly prana means outbreathing and jiva means life per se. There is a universal or cosmic jiva or life principle, just as there are innumerable hosts of individualized jivas, which are the atoms of the former, drops in the ocean of cosmic life. These individualized jivas are relatively eternal, and correspond exactly to the term monad. Jiva, without qualification, is of general application; when considered as individualized, these jivas are used in the sense of individual monads; contrariwise, prana is applied to the life-fluid or jivic aura when manifesting in the lower triad of the human constitution as prana-lingasarira-sthulasarira. Hence Blavatsky said that jiva becomes prana when the child is born and begins to breathe.
4. Kama Rupa - Desire Body
The fourth substance-principle of which the human constitution is composed: its desire principle or the driving, impelling force. Born from the interaction of atman, buddhi, and manas, kama per se is a colorless force, good or bad according to the way the mind and soul use it. It is the seat of the living electric impulses, desires, aspirations, considered in their energic aspect. When a person follows his lower impulses and centers his consciousness in the body and astral nature, he is directing that force downwards. When he aspires and opens his heart and mind to the influence of his higher manas and buddhi, he is directing that force upwards and thus progressing in evolution.
“This fourth principle is the balance principle of the whole seven. It stands in the middle, and from it the ways go up or down. It is the basis of action and the mover of the will. As the old Hermetists say: ‘Behind will stands desire.’ For whether we wish to do well or ill we have to first arouse within us the desire for either course. . . . On the material and scientific side of occultism, the use of the inner hidden powers of our nature, if this principle of desire be not strong the master power of imagination cannot do its work, because though it makes a mould or matrix the will cannot act unless it is moved, directed, and kept up to pitch by desire. . .
“This fourth principle is like the sign Libra in the path of the Sun through the Zodiac; when the Sun (who is the real man) reaches that sign he trembles in the balance. Should he go back the worlds would be destroyed; he goes onward, and the whole human race is lifted up to perfection” (Ocean 45-7).
Cosmic kama or desire, equivalent to the Greek eros, is the source of fohat, the driving intelligent energies of the universe. It is impersonal compassion and sympathy.
5. Manas- Mind Body
The seat of mentation and egoic consciousness; the third principle in the descending scale of the sevenfold human constitution.
Manas is the human person, the reincarnating ego, immortal in essence, enduring in its higher aspects through the entire manvantara. When imbodied, manas is dual,
Higher Manas or Ego - gravitating toward buddhi in its higher aspects - it is intuitive mind - solar in its upper portion’ It is essentially divine, and therefore pure; no stain can pollute it, as no punishment can reach it, per se, the more so since it is innocent of, and takes no part in, the deliberate transactions of its Lower Ego. Yet by the very fact that, though dual and during life the Higher is distinct from the Lower, ‘the Father and Son’ are one, and because that in reuniting with the parent Ego, the
Lower Manas in its lower aspects gravitating towards kama – it is the animal, ratiocinative consciousness, the lower mentality and passions of the personality. — lunar in the lower portion
Manas is dual,. . . and herein is contained the mystery of an adept’s as of a profane man’s life, as also that of the post-mortem separation of the divine from the animal man”
At present manas is not fully developed in mankind, and kama or desire is still ascendant. In the fifth round, however, manas “will be fully active and developed in the entire race. Hence the people of the earth have not yet come to the point of making a conscious choice as to the path they will take; but when in the cycle referred to, Manas is active, all will then be compelled to consciously make the choice to right or left, the one leading to complete and conscious union with Atma, the other to the annihilation of those beings who prefer that path” (Ocean 59). Those human beings who cannot rise to the higher manasic and buddhic aspects of themselves in the fifth round will fall into their nirvanic rest for the remainder of this embodiment of the earth-chain, to re-emerge at the beginning of the next embodiment of the earth to pick up their evolutionary journey.
The annihilation of those who choose the left-hand or matter path occurs because they use their manasic faculty to its prostitution for selfish and evil purposes, which leads to a final rupture of the manasic links. When this rupture is complete, the entity being no longer attached to the higher triad sinks rapidly into the whirlpool of absolute matter and is finally disintegrated into its component life-atoms. The higher triad or monad thus freed from its downward-tending personality, after a period of rest in spiritual realms evolves a new lower garment in which to manifest in a later manvantara.
If the union between the lower or personal manas, and the individual reincarnating ego or higher manas, has not been effected during the course of past lives, then the former is left to share the fate of the lower animal, gradually to dissolve into its component life-atoms and to have its personality annihilated. But even then the spiritual ego remains of necessity a distinct being.
“The higher and the lower Manas are one . . . and yet they are not —
and that is the great mystery.
Lower Soul fastens upon and impresses upon it all its bad as well as good actions — both have to suffer, the Higher Ego, though innocent and without blemish, has to bear the punishment of the misdeeds committed by the lower Self together with it in their future incarnation. The whole doctrine of atonement is built upon this old esoteric tenet; for the Higher Ego is the antitype of that which is on this earth the type, namely, the personality”
Should the human personality be of a heavily gross and materialistic type so that very few spiritual impulses are gathered in after death by the higher triad, then this higher triad is reincarnated almost immediately because there was nothing in the life just lived to call for the devachan experience of the personality. There can be no devachan for the manasic personality unless this personality has had in the life just lived at least a modicum of spiritual thought, yearning, and impulse. It is the higher manas which experiences devachan because of the spiritual qualities inherent in this higher manas and to which it has given imperfect expression in the life just lived. It is in devachan that this higher manas has its field of spiritual-mental activity, where it receives its due compensation, its mead of reward, for all the spiritual disappointments, sufferings, and imperfect expressions which it had to bear during earth-life.
Mahat or universal mind is the source of manas: what manas is in the human constitution, mahat is in the cosmic constitution. Manas is thus a direct ray from the cosmic mahat. Manas is sometimes loosely called the kshetrajna or real incarnating and permanent spiritual ego, the individuality; but the kshetrajna strictly speaking is the buddhi-manas or higher manas.
6. Buddhi-The spiritual soul
the faculty of discriminating, the channel through which streams divine inspiration from the atman to the ego, and therefore that faculty which enables us to discern between good and evil — spiritual conscience. The qualities of the buddhic principle when awakened are higher judgment, instant understanding, discrimination, intuition, love that has no bounds, and consequent universal forgiveness.
In the theosophical scheme, it is the sixth principle counting upwards in the human constitution: the vehicle of pure, universal spirit, hence an inseparable garment or vehicle of atman. In its essence of the highest plane of akasa or alaya, buddhi stands in the same relation to atman as, on the cosmic scale, mulaprakriti does to parabrahman.
Buddhi uses manas as its garment, and in the former are likewise stored the fruitages of the many incarnations on earth; hence buddhi is often called both the seed and flower of manas. Buddhi is truly the center of spiritual consciousness and therefore its qualities are enduring. The purer and higher part of manas must awaken, by rising to it, this essential energy that inherently resides in buddhi so that the latter may become active in a person’s life. Buddha and Christ are examples of sages who had become human imbodiments of the usually latent qualities of buddhi. Buddhi becomes more or less conscious on this plane by the flowerings it draws from manas after every incarnation of the ego. “Buddhi would remain only an impersonal spirit without this element which it borrows from the human soul, which conditions and makes of it, in this illusive Universe, as it were something separate from the universal soul for the whole period of the cycle of incarnation” (Key 159-60).
“No purely spiritual Buddhi (divine Soul) can have an independent (conscious) existence before the spark which issued from the pure Essence of the Universal Sixth principle, — or the over-soul, — has (a) passed through every elemental form of the phenomenal world of that Manvantara, and (b) acquired individuality, first by natural impulse, and then by self-induced and self-devised efforts (checked by its Karma), thus ascending through all the degrees of intelligence, from the lowest to the highest Manas, from mineral and plant, up to the holiest archangel (Dhyani-Buddha)” (SD 1:17).
7. Atman – Self
The highest part a human being: pure consciousness, that cosmic self which is the same in every dweller on this globe and on every one of the planetary or stellar bodies in space. It is the feeling and knowledge of “I am,” pure cognition, the abstract idea of self. It does not differ at all throughout the cosmos except in degree of self-recognition. Though universal it belongs, in our present stage of evolution, to the fourth cosmic plane, though it is our seventh principle counting upwards. It may also be considered as the First Logos in the human microcosm.
During incarnation the lowest aspects of atman take on attributes, because it is linked with buddhi, as the buddhi is linked with manas, as the manas is linked with kama, etc.
Atman is for each individualized consciousness its laya-center or entrance way into cosmic manifestation. It is our self precisely because it is a link which connects us with the cosmic hierarch. Through this atmic laya-center stream the divine forces from above, which by their unfolding on the lower planes originate and become seven principles. “We say that the Spirit (the ‘Father in secret’ of Jesus), or Atman, is no individual property of any man, but is the Divine essence which has no body, no form, which is imponderable, invisible and indivisible, that which does not exist and yet is, as the Buddhists say of Nirvana. It only overshadows the mortal; that which enters into him and pervades the whole body being only its omnipresent rays, or light, radiated through Buddhi, its vehicle and direct emanation” (Key 101).
Atman is also sometimes used of the universal self or spirit, called in Sanskrit Brahman or paramatman. The individual is rooted in the surrounding kosmos by three superior principles, which are that atman’s highest and most glorious parts. Atman is included among the human principles because it is the universal absolute essence of which buddhi, the soul-spirit, is the carrier, transmitting its rays to the remainder of the human constitution.
Atma-buddhi-manas The reincarnating ego in conjunction with the monad.
This trinity includes only the highest essence of manas — the higher manas. The combination of atma-buddhi-manas is sometimes mystically called the divine swallow or the uraeus of flame, when the speaker intends to convey the idea that spirit, the spiritual soul, and the intellect or higher manas are all united and therefore immortal and enduring for the cosmic manvantara. “The ‘Three-tongued flame’ that never dies is the immortal spiritual triad — the Atma-Buddhi and Manas — the fruition of the latter assimilated by the first two after every terrestrial life. The ‘four wicks’ that go out and are extinguished, are the four lower principles, including the body.
“ ‘I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal,’ says the defunct. ‘I enter into the domain of Sekhem (the God whose arm sows the seed of action produced by the disembodied soul) and I enter the region of the Flames who have destroyed their adversaries,’ i.e., got rid of the sin-creating ‘four wicks’ ” (SD
The reincarnating ego is at times loosely used to signify either atma-buddhi-manas as a monadic unity or, on the other hand, the higher manas. Strictly speaking, the reincarnating ego is the combined spiritual, intellectual, and psychological fruit gathered in by the monad or atma-buddhi at the end of each individual life of the imbodied entity; hence, the reincarnating ego is the higher manas. However, as these various manasic fruitages are ingathered by the monad in which they have their
Parabrahman -beyond brahman
That which is beyond Brahman; the self-enduring, eternal, self-sufficient cause of all, the one essence of everything in the kosmos.
It is before all things in the kosmos, and is the one sole limitless life-consciousness-substance from which starts into existence a center of force which may be called the Logos. In the Vedic cycle of writing it is referred to as tat (that) as opposed to the world of manifestation called idam (this).
“Parabrahman is intimately connected with Mulaprakriti. Their interaction and intermingling cause the first nebulous thrilling, if the words will pass, of the Universal Life when spiritual desire first arose in it in the beginnings of things. . . . Parabrahman is no entity, is no individual, or individualized being. It is a convenient technical word with conveniently vague philosophical significancy, implying whatever is beyond the Absolute or Brahman of any hierarchy. Just as Brahman is the summit of a kosmic Hierarchy, so, following the same line of thought, the Parabrahman is ‘whatever is beyond Brahman’ ” (OG 121).
The parabrahman of the Vedantists is likewise conceived of as an eternal and periodical law which causes an active and creative force to emanate from the ever-concealed and incomprehensible one principle at the beginning of every mahamanvantara or new cycle of cosmic life.
“Parabrahmam is an unconditioned and absolute reality, and Mulaprakriti is a sort of veil thrown over it. Parabrahmam by itself cannot be seen as it is. It is seen by the Logos with a veil thrown over it, and that veil is the mighty expanse of cosmic matter. It is the basis of material manifestations in the cosmos” (Notes on BG 21). Parabrahman has the same relation to the Logos as our atman does to our karana-sarira; and parabrahman is the very foundation of the highest self.