K. Zaitzev


A talk given at the VII All-Russian Theosophical Conference, 23 March 2018.

The septenary classification of the constitution of man is familiar to all of us, although perhaps even in this hall there will be people who have the differing views of what it exactly is. This classification was not widely known before the Theosophical Society, and the first publication on the septenary classification was by A.O. Hume in The Theosophist of October 1881, but this classification was somewhat different from that familiar to most of us. It was quoted in the article "Fragments of Occult Truth" — this was a large article in three parts. Mr. Hume gives the following classification:

1. The Physical body, composed wholly of matter in its grossest and most tangible form.
2. The Vital principle — (or Jiv-atma), — a form of force, indestructible and when disconnected with one set of atoms, becoming attracted immediately by others.
3. The Astral body (Linga Sharira) composed of highly etherialized matter; in its habitual passive state, the perfect but very shadowy duplicate of the body; its activity, consolidation and form depending entirely on the kama rupa.
4. The Astral shape (kama rupa) or body of desire, a principle defining the configuration of —
5. The animal or physical intelligence or consciousness or Ego, analogous to, though proportionally higher in degree than, the reason, instinct, memory, imagination, &c., existing in the higher animals.
6. The Higher or Spiritual intelligence or consciousness, or spiritual Ego, in which mainly resides the sense of consciousness in the perfect man, though the lower dimmer animal consciousness co-exists in No. 5.
7. The Spirit — an emanation from the Absolute; uncreated; eternal; a state rather than a being.

Then the classification was issued, which was given in "Esoteric Buddhism" and "The Secret Doctrine" (since it is widely known, I don't give it here), and when it began to spread widely (of course, first in the theosophical circles), it immediately was met with criticism. T. Subba Row, in his lectures given at the convention of the Theosophical Society at the end of 1886, says:

"These seven principles, as generally enumerated, do not correspond to any natural lines of cleavage, so to speak, in the constitution of man. Taking the seven principles in the order in which they are generally given, the physical body is separated from the so-called life-principle; the latter from what is called linga śarira (very often confounded with sukshma śarira). Thus the physical body is divided into three principles. Now here we may make any number of divisions; if you please, you may as well enumerate nerve-force, blood, and bones, as so many distinct parts, and make the number of divisions as large as sixteen or thirty-five. But still the physical body does not constitute a separate entity apart from the life principle, nor the life principle apart from the physical body, and so with the linga śarira. Again, in the so-called "astral body," the fourth principle when separated from the fifth soon disintegrates, and the so-called fourth principle is almost lifeless unless combined with the fifth. This system of division does not give us any distinct principles which have something like independent existence. And what is more, this sevenfold classification is almost conspicuous by its absence in many of our Hindu books. At any rate a considerable portion of it is almost unintelligible to Hindu minds; and so it is better to adopt the time-honored classification of four principles, for the simple reason that it divides man into so many entities as are capable of having separate existences, and that these four principles are associated with four upadhis which are further associated in their turn with four distinct states of consciousness. And so for all practical purposes — for the purpose of explaining the doctrines of religious philosophy — I have found it far more convenient to adhere to the fourfold classification..." ("Philosophy of Bhagavad Gita", I).

It's noteworthy that being a person with quite different background (T. Subba Row was a Hindu and an initiated advaitee, while A.Hume was a scientist, an ornithologist, an Englishman to the bone), Mr. Hume puts forward essentially the same arguments, for in his correspondence with the mahatmas, when the question arose about the peculiarities of the character of H.P. Blavatsky, Hume was told that one of her principles was being witheld so that some secrets would not be divulged. Then, listing the principles from the classification given to him, he wrote:

"Now I know all about the Brothers' supposed explanation, that you are a psychological cripple, one of your seven principles being in pawn in Tibet — if so more shame to them keeping other people's property to the great detriment of the owner. But grant it so, then I ask my friends the Brothers to "precisez" as the French say — which principle have you got old chaps? It ain't the Hoola śariram, the body — that's clear for you might truly say with Hamlet "Oh that this too solid flesh would melt!" And it can't be the linga śariram, as that can't part from the body, and it ain't the kama rupa and if it were, its loss would not account for your symptoms. Neither assuredly is it the Jivatma, you have plenty of life in you. Neither is it the fifth principle or mind, for without this you would be "quo ad" the external world, an idiot. Neither is it the sixth principle for without this you would be a devil, intellect without conscience, while as for the seventh that is universal and can be captured by no Brother and no Buddha, but exists for each precisely to the degree that the eyes of the sixth principle are open.
Therefore to me this explanation is not only not satisfactory — but its having been offered — throws suspicion on the whole thing."

To that he got the reply:

"Very clever — but suppose it is neither one of the seven particularly but all? Every one of them a "cripple" and forbidden the exercise of its full powers?" (The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, No. 156, Marginal comments to the letter by A.O. Hume in M.'s handwriting).

In general, the answer was relatively satisfactory, except that it was unsatisfactory as to form, as it was earlier said about one principle, and it's the classification what interests us now.

H.P. Blavatsky has later commented on Subba Row's objections:

"Every Esotericist who reads The Theosophist must remember how bitterly Subba Row, a learned Vedantin Brahman, arose against the septenary principles in man. He knew well I had no right to and dared not to explain in The Theosophist, a public magazine, the real numeration, and simply took advantage of my enforced silence. The doctrine of the seven Tattvas (the principles of the universe as in man) was held in great sacredness, and therefore secrecy, by the Brahmans in days of old, by whom now the teaching is almost forgotten. Yet it is taught to this day in the schools beyond the Himalayan Range, but it is now hardly remembered or heard of in India except through rare Initiates. The policy has been changed gradually; Chelas began to be taught the broad outlines of it, and at the advent of the T.S. in India, in 1879, I was ordered to teach it in its exoteric form to one or two, and obeyed. To you who are pledged, I give it out esoterically." (Esoteric Instruction No. III, BCW, vol. 12).

And then she proceeds to give the new, esoteric classification, to the pledged members of the E.S.T.:

1. Atman, or Jiva, “the One Life,” which permeates the Monadic Trio. (One in three and three in One.)
2. Auric Envelope; because the substratum of the Aura around man is the universally diffused primordial and pure Akaua, the first film on the boundless and shoreless expanse of Jiva, the immutable Root of all.
3. Buddhi; because Buddhi is a ray of Alaya.
4. Manas (the Higher Ego); it proceeds from Mahat.
5. Prana, the Breath of Life, the same as Nephesh. At the death of a living being, Prana re-becomes Jiva.
6. Linga-Śarira, the Astral Form, the transitory emanation of the Auric Egg.
7. Lower Manas, the Animal Soul.
(The three latter are the transitory aspects produced by the principles).

"It is not in the course of natural law that man should become a perfect Septenary Being before the Seventh Race in the Seventh Round. Yet he has all these principles latent in him from his birth. Nor is it part of the evolutionary law that the Fifth Principle (Manas), should receive its complete development before the Fifth Round... Even in the coming Seventh Race, at the close of this Fourth Round, while our four lower principles will be fully developed, that of Manas will be only proportionately so." (The Secret Doctrine, vol.II, Stanza VII, sloka 24).

I am emphasizing this because the classification given in the Esoteric Instructions as a kind of improved and "esoteric" one, violates this very order of numbering: the fourth principle in it is not kama, but manas; moreover, the whole numbering there is from above to below, from atma (and regardless of the direction of numbering manas still remains to be the fourth one). This information on rounds also dismisses the argumentation sometimes used that the numbering of principles is generally arbitrary and emphasizes that principle which is more relevant for the given individual.

There is also another issue of historical interest. Annie Besant, being at that time a new person in theosophy, came up with a completely new system of septenary classification, and this was only seven years after her acquaintance with theosophy and H.P. Blavatsky. Moreover, for some reason this system was adopted by many and now is accepted universally. People who, perhaps, have not heard of theosophy, but who have heard something about the septenary constitution of man, if asked, what this constitution is, will most likely answer using Besant's classification. This also applies to various New Age schools, etc. Alice Bailey accepted this classification too, and this despite the criticism she expressed against Besant and Leadbeater (who became, perhaps, one of the most active exponents of this new classification, making it popular). Probably, it was because the classification by Besant was more in line with the the "natural lines of cleavage in the constitution of man" if to use the expression of T. Subba Row, and was confirmed by experimental studies. For instance, the French parapsychological researcher Hector Durville wrote: “Although I accept as a whole the theory of theosophists, which I consider to be the most rational, my experiments, like those of Baron von Reichenbach and Colonel de Rochas, contradict their statements as to the size and color of the aura of the etheric body. Probably, if they had not so neglected the experiments in general and with the doubling in particular, which they theoretically consider extremely dangerous, they would have corrected their descriptions." ("Le fantôme des vivants", Chap. 2). It is significant that when speaking of the "theory of theosophists", Durville refers precisely to Besant's book "Man and His Bodies", the classification of which, albeit with reservations, he recognized as the most consistent with his experimental data.

What did Besant essentially do? To put it simply, she took the three higher principles that were used in the classification of the mahatmas and Blavatsky, and added to them the four vehicles, similar to those in the classification of the Hindus. It turned out three principles and four bodies. My opinion is, and this is one of the theses of my report, that principles and bodies are completely different things. Principles are some abstract acting forces, while bodies are what is created for a time being by the interaction of these very principles, serving them as their vehicles and forms.

Yet why hasn't the septenary classification been issued for a long time? To this, the answer was given that it could be used for evil by people with knowledge of magic. In our understanding, any knowledge about Atma cannot bring any special harm, as well as about the other two higher principles. Moreover, we read that people who have firmly embarked on the path of evil generally lose their connection with the higher triad, and therefore cannot use it in any way. Probably, having made the decision to issue the septenary classification in its exoteric form, the mahatmas wanted to hide knowledge about some other things, and not about the higher triad. And taking the classification that we have, we should look for exoteric disguises there. And in my opinion, they are clearly visible. These are the physical body and the linga śarira. (You can also say this about kama-rupa if they mention it, but we already have the principle of kama and the principle of prana, that is, these are principles, not bodies participating in the lower quarternary). While I expected to find two more principles that could apply for this role. Let's return to the sequence of progress through the rounds. Why I give to it the special importance: Besant, and after her Leadbeater, although they took a slightly different classification, nevertheless, when talking about rounds, they clearly follow the classification given by H.P. Blavatsky. They didn't give it up. Under this I mean the "classical" version of the classification, namely, given in "The Secret Doctrine" and "Key to Theosophy": 1) Rupa, or Sthula śarira; 2) Prana; 3) Linga Śarira; 4) Kama-rupa; 5) Manas; 6) Buddhi; 7) Atma. ("The Key to Theosophy," Chap. VI).

When speaking about the constitution of man, they used a different one for convenience sake, but where it was necessary to focus on the development of principles, they did not change the classification. But we do not know the complete correspondence of principles to rounds, or rather, I could not find it. We know that in the fourth round it's kama what develops, in the fifth round it's manas, then buddhi... But what is being developed in the first and second rounds, I don't know and cannot understand enough. For our physical body certainly couldn't develop in the first round, as we did hadn't it there at all. But in this classification it was the first one.

But in the oldest lists of principles, the jiva is mentioned. Sometimes it is written "jivatma", but for example, when Olcott wrote about Blavatsky, he used the word "jiva": "I have sometimes been even tempted to suspect that none of us, her colleagues, ever knew the normal H. P. B. at all, but that we just dealt with an artificial animated body, a sort of perpetual psychical mystery, from which the proper jiva was killed out at the battle of Mentana, when she received those five wounds and was picked out of a ditch for dead." ("Old Diary Leaves", vol. I, ch. XVI). It should also be remembered that in the classification published by Hume, there was a second principle, jiv-atma, while there was a seventh, the spirit. So obviously it was not atman — the atman cannot be killed; in this case, jiva meant something else. And yet, although this jiva did not exist, she continued to live and act. Also the information given in the Esoteric Instructions is of interest, namely, from which universal principle the particular human principle comes from. For example, manas comes from mahat; the auric egg comes from akasha. What are our candidates? What do we know about the principles that need to be guessed? Among them, firstly, was the principle that was extracted from H.P. Blavatsky, and secondly, we also know about these principles that they could be used by magicians and therefore knowledge about them had to be hidden. From aforesaid I suggested that we can conditionally call one of these principles a jiva, and this principle comes from Fohat, that is, this is what allows the rest of the principles to be held together (since Fohat passes through all the planes, just ensuring their coherence). And it was that principle which H.P. Blavatsky has lost when she actually died and was revived by the Masters. And that's why this principle can be important for magicians: knowledge about it would allow to animate or create artificial living beings like this. And in general, to connect everything they need. And probably it enables all other principles, as mentioned in the letter quoted above, to "exercise their full powers" . And as to the second one — and this is also easy to assume — that the any body that we observe and study is the interaction of principles. And there must be a principle that allows all other principles to create forms (remember the kama-rupa). Let's call this principle Rupa.

Here I use the classification from "The Key to Theosophy", where the double name "rupa, or sthula śarira" is used. Rupa is also one of the skandhas in Buddhist teachings. That is, the two sought-for principles (and the initial ones in the order of their development) are what allows you to create forms and what keeps all the principles together, making them the one being. As for the fourth principle, strictly speaking, I would call it Kama, not Kama Rupa. The following quotes can be given in favor of this: "It is erroneous, when speaking of the fifth human principle, to call it “the Kama-Rupa.” It is no Rupa, or form at all, except after death, but the Kamic elements, animal desires and passions, such as anger, lust, envy, revenge, etc." (Esoteric Instruction No. III, BCW, vol. 12). "It is dual in its potentiality, and after death forms, what is called in the East Bhoot, or Kama-rupa" (H.P. Blavatsky & M. Collins, "Dialogue between the two editors on astral bodies, or doppelgängers" [Lucifer, Vol. III, No. 16, December, 1888, p. 328-333], BCW, vol. 10). Thus, the proposed reconstruction of the septenary classification turns out as follows:

1. Atma;
2. Buddhi;
3. Manas;
4. Kama;
5. Prana;
6. Jiva;
7. Rupa.

Return to the "Theosophy in Russia" English index
To the title page "Theosophy in Russia"