When I think of Self, a few descriptive words come to mind:
identity, essence, "one", absolute, continuous, immutable,
same. In fact, regarding the last word in the list, I read
recently that in the French language, one word is used to
express both "same" and "self". Perhaps someone who speaks
French can verify. I think the presentation of this topic is
timely, in that it really overlaps some of the discussion in
the Secret Doctrine group. As Peter pointed out in that
discussion, the "Principle" described in the First
Fundamental is the same as the principle of "Turiya" found
in the Mandukya Upanishad; and Turiya is the non-dual Atman.
And it is my understanding that Atman is translated as Self.
I say all this because I think it's important to define just
what we are talking about.
Answering the fourth question, the concept of the Self is of
supreme importance because it is the First Principle of the
Cosmos and of ourselves. It is this idea that I find most
amazing. That my Self is the same Self of All is an
intoxicating thought! Can it be true?
I'd like to add a question: What is the relationship between
the psychological ego and the Self?
Jimmy, I think the way you’ve put it is very sound:
Atman is ‘The Self’ of all, it is Universal. While we call
it the seventh principle in the sevenfold constitution of
the human being, strictly speaking it is not a human
principle at all. So, in truth we can’t really refer
to it as my Self or your Self. The unconditioned
consciousness (Atman, The Great Breath) is the
the consciousness that wells up in all beings - from the
minutest spec of life to the greatest Dhyani Buddha.
How that consciousness manifests itself depends on the
upadhi (vehicle of matter/substance) in which it is
reflected. This is the basis of the three states
(waking, dreaming, dreamless sleep) of Advaita Vedanta and
their relation to Turiya (Atman). Thus, when the
Upanishad states ‘Thou art That’ (Tat twam asi) it doesn’t
mean that John Smith or Jill Jones (both personal egos) is
Brahman, it means that the ultimate source of the
consciousness that wells up in a vehicle of mind and matter
which we call the person John or Jill is none other than
that unconditioned consciousness which is Brahman.
I don’t think I’ve said that very well. Never mind. Would
you say a bit more as to what you’re thinking of in your
question, “What is the relationship between the
psychological ego and the Self?” I don’t want to
go off on a tangent or simply say what you already know very
a spirit, untouched by troubles, works, fruits of works,
or desires. InI’s’warabecomes
infinite that omniscience which in man exists but as a
the preceptor of all, even of the earliest of created
beings, for He is not limited by time. His name is OM.
And we see the term Soul used as such:
The soul is the Perceiver; is assuredly vision itself
pure and simple; unmodified; and looks directly upon
For the sake of the soul alone, the Universe exists.
My questions are:
1. What is meant by Ishwara, and what is it's relation to
2. What is the difference here between Ishvara and soul, or
furthermore between Atman and what is referred to here as
3. What is the difference between Isvara and Brahman, and
how do these relate to Self?
I thought it was very well said! I get your point about not
being able to say "My Self or your Self", since Atman is a
universal principle and not a human principle. I think this
really just depends on what one means by 'my' and 'your'. If
it's the divine principle that's being referred to, and not
the various sheaths that constitute what we call human, then
I see no problem with claiming ownership of that principle
as the root and substance of one's being. While it is true
that I am not the Absolute, my "I", as I understand this, is
a reflection of the Absolute. Just as a the Sun is reflected
in a thousand droplets of water, so is the Absolute, or the
Self, or Atman, reflected in us. As long as the droplet
doesn't think that it IS the Sun, it should be ok to say my
Self. After all, the reflection really is identical to the
Sun in it's essence, through the ray.
"Psychological ego" probably wasn't the greatest term to
use. I'm not sure what the theosophical term is, but I mean
the ego that persists despite changes to the body or
personality. My "I" as a child is the same "I" that I have
now as an adult. Since I was a child, the atoms of my body
have been replaced several times, my personality has
changed, my beliefs and opinions change, tastes and
preferences change. In fact, I've changed a little since
yesterday. But the one thing that has persisted is "I". It's
hard to describe exactly what I'm talking about; the words
REAL IDENTITY might convey the right impression.
When I think of Self, a few descriptive words come to mind:
identity, essence, "one", absolute, continuous, immutable,
I think this is a wonderful way to approach the subject! We
really do need to ask ourselves just what we really mean,
just what is it tobe"Self".
To me, identity is a wonderful place to start. I mean, we
can ask ourselves a series of fundamental questions, like:
What does it mean to identify as "I"? And how does this
relate to or differ from our identification as Jon Fergus,
or as Jimmy? Does anything in our daily lives give us
experiential insight into what it is to be identified as
Self? Do we get glimpses of this in our waking lives?
More philosophically, is "identity" a fundamental trait of
Self? Or is it something that arises conditionally?
Can we draw on any sacred texts for insights into these
"what does it mean to identify as "I"?" I believe there are
levels of identification. For many people, their "I" is
their body. For others, "I" may be their career, e.g. "I" am
a plumber, doctor, teacher, painter etc. The things that
people (we) may associate with "I" are endless. Throughout
the course of a day, my ego identifies with a whole range of
things, body, career, social caste, family, nation, beliefs
and all. It's usually only in the quietness of meditation,
or contemplation, that I'm able to disconnect from the
unreal identities and get closer to the "real". I believe
that the real "I" is what some call the Witness. It's the
absolute subject, incapable of witnessing itself, but
witnessing all else that falls within it's field of
awareness. In fact, it is consciousness. The same can be
said about the word "identity", though identity carries with
it a sense of individuality - "I am me and no one else".
Real Identity also means immutableness and persistence. Real
Identity is always the same.
"There is a certain selfhood wherein the sense of “I”
forever rests; who witnesses the three modes of being, who
is other than the five veils; who is the only knower in
waking, dreaming, dreamlessness; of all the activities of
the knowing soul, whether good or bad–this is the “I”."
It has been said that the concept of the Self took over
where the concept of Soul left off because it had lost its
luster in modern times. In ancient times the concept
of Soul was similar to the current concept of the Self.
Modern religions say man has a soul. Theosophy says
man is a soul..... The Self.
This, of course raises an essential question: is what we
mean by soul actually the same as what we mean by self or
are there distinctions to be made?
For instance, in both the Voice
of the Silenceand
verses in which multiple 'selves' are indicated (i.e. self,
Self and SELF). Is this different than saying soul, Soul and
SOUL? And if so, how?
If we look at WQJ's renditions of theBhagavad
Aphorisms, we'll see that in the Gita he uses the term
Self throughout, while in the Aphorisms find the term Soul
throughout. Is there purpose to this distinction?
I suppose that within a 7fold system, as theosophy proposes,
we have to maintain some degree of fluidity with terms like
Soul and Self. This is probably true even within
religious systems like Buddhist and Hindu traditions, for
the reasons you state above.
It does seem to me that in many (perhaps all?) traditions we can find
reference to multiple selves. We always have the little personal self,
then the higher or more universal Self, and some go further to an
absolute or ultimate SELF. So, the important question may actually be:what
And perhaps then one can begin to explore that selfhood in its various
Interestingly, by the time HPB wrote the Key To Theosophy - one of her
last works - she was concerned that not having definite terms for the
various principles was creating a great deal of confusion among students
of Theosophy. She had the following to say in The Key:
"To avoid henceforth such misapprehensions, I propose to translate
literally from the Occult Eastern terms their equivalents in English,
and offer these for future use.
The remaining "Principle" "Prana," or "Life," is, strictly speaking, 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."
(The Key to Theosophy, pp 175-176)
When we look at the terms Spirit, Self, Soul, Ego etc in spiritual and
religious texts from various traditions it might be useful to relate
them to the Principles as defined above to see where they do or do not
match. Often misunderstanding arises through assuming that because two
traditions both talk about the Self, for example, they must mean the
same thing, when it's quite likely they don't.
This verse from the Voice
of the Silencepresents
the terms 'self' and 'soul' in an interesting way. Anyone have any
thoughts on the meaning here?
"Beware, lest in the care of Self thy Soul should lose her foothold on
the soil of Deva-knowledge.
Beware, lest in forgetting SELF, thy Soul lose o’er its trembling mind
control, and forfeit thus the due fruition of its conquests."
Terms are often used interchangeably but, because theosophy identifies
the principles beneath the surface, it gives us the tool to go beyond
the words. Using the four categories of the Self described by HPB-
Higher Self, Spiritual Ego, Inner Ego, and lower Ego, the word “Soul”
here is referring to the Inner ego or manas, the fifth principle.
My interpretation of the above phrases would be if the mind is focused
on the lower personality, then one loses the ability to gain soul
wisdom. If one’s mind forgets the Higher Self, then one loses the
ability to focus on the higher planes and relinquish the results of
overcoming the lower self.
As I’m sure you know, Isvara has a different meaning according to which
tradition we are exploring. Here’s a summary of some of those
meanings which, due to its brevity, will not be completely accurate, but
hopefully will suffice as rough guide.
Generally speaking in Vedanta, Isvara means the controller, the lord,
the supreme power. Its most common use is to mean the
Personal God and/or Creator, however, even that is perceived differently
depending on the particular tradition.
non-dual) Isvara is 'Brahman + Maya'. In other words it is the
creative power of Brahman as perceived by sentient beings during
manifestation. While it is a supreme power - omniscient,
omnipotent and omnipresent - in the manifested universe and one with it,
it is only relatively real as an appearance of Brahman, there being as
many Isvaras as there are universes.
VedantaIsvara is the
Personal God, the creator and controller of all beings and things in the
universe while at the same time existing independently of its creation
(hence the term ‘Dwaita’, or dual). While not completely identical
to Christianity there are many similarities between the two. There
is no difference between Isvara and Brahman in this perspective as it
does not accept an Absolute which is without attributes (nirguna).
non-dualism) has elements of both Advaita and Dwaita. Isvara (in
the form of Vishnu) is the supreme power, parabrahm, and is both
transcendent and immanent. Isvara rules the universe through his
Maya (sakti). Unlike Advaita which claims Atman is Brahman,
Vishistadvaita claims that individual Jivas (jivatman) alway remain
distinct from Isvara even when liberated (moksha).
is the Logos, usually but not always the manifested Logos i.e. Mahat.
There is no personal god admitted in Theosophy. Isvara is the
collective aggregate consciousness of the Dhyan Chohans.
‘They are the framers, shapers, and ultimately the creators of all the
manifested Universe, in the only sense in which the name " Creator" is
intelligible; they inform and guide it; they are the intelligent Beings
who adjust and control evolution, embodying in themselves those
manifestations of the ONE LAW, which we know as "The Laws of Nature.”’
(SD I 22)
upon which Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra Aphorisms is largely based does not
admit the existence of a personal god. It is a dualistic system
asserting two fundamental realities - Purusha and Prakriti (Spirit and
Matter). From a theosophical perspective we might say that Samkhya
starts from the basis of Cosmic Ideation and Cosmic root-Substance.
While he rejected a personal god (Isvara) perhaps Kapila, said to be one
of its founders, did not wish to speculate on the Absolute? Key to
the yoga system of Samkhya is the discrimination between self (purusha)
and not-self (prakriti).
Isvara (God) is not accepted in original Samkhya, rather it proposes an
infinite number of individual Purushas each of which is eternal,
unchanging, omniscient & so on. There is a similarity here with the
monads of Theosophy and its rejection of a personal god. It’s said that
later samkhya yoga introduced a theistic element into its philosophy -
this may be the reason for the inclusion of Isvara in Patanjali’s Yoga
Sutras. However, from a Theosophical standpoint we might consider
another, though not your usual, explanation for the meaning of Isvara in
the Yoga Sutras.
Verse 23 book 1 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras states that samadhi may be
achieved by “Devotion to Isvara.”
Verse 24 gives a hint as to the nature of the Lord, Isvara. There
are a number of variations in the way this verse is translated, but the
one important thing in common to almost all of them all is that Isvara
is described as‘a
special kind of purusha’. This seems to be in line with the
earlier Samkhya viewpoint which rejects the notion of personal God or
Cosmic Purusha proposing instead a plurality of purushas. A typical
translation is as follows:
“Isvara is a special kind of Purusha, untouched by misery, karma, the
fruits of karma, and desires.” I:24
Verses 25 and 26 state that the germ of omniscience latent in all beings
is fully developed in this Lord (Isvara) and that He, being beyond time,
is the Teacher of the Ancient Sages.
There are a couple of passages found in HPB’s Collected Writings that
are worth reflecting upon as they may throw some light on this ‘special
What is the Father? Is it the absolute Cause of all? —the fathomless
Eternal? No; most decidedly. It is Karanatman,* the “Causal Soul”
which, in its general sense, is called by the Hindus Isvara, the Lord,
and by Christians, “God,” the One and Only. From the standpoint of unity
it is so; but then the lowest of the Elementals could equally be viewed
in such case as the “One and Only.” Each human being has, moreover, his
own divine Spirit or personal God. That divine Entity or Flame from
which Buddhi emanates stands in the same relation to man, though on a
lower plane, as the Dhyāni-Buddha to his human Buddha.
CW XIV 373
It would be fair to say that the Dhyani Buddhas are special kinds of
purushas. They are those Monads which have passed through the human
stage in previous manvantaras and from which group come the Divine
Instructors of early humanity. Each of us, as a spiritual pilgrim
(buddhi) is a potential Dhyani Buddha (see SD I 17). It is through
or from such a Dhyani-Buddhic source that all the Avatars, Divine
Instructors, have come.
To continue with HPB’s proposition that each of us has his own Divine
Spirit or personal God,
‘. . every one of us has his Bodhisattva — the middle principle, if we
hold for a moment to the trinitarian division* of the septenary group —
and his Dhyani-Buddha, or Chohan, the “Father of the Son.” Our
connecting link with the higher Hierarchy of Celestial Beings lies here
in a nutshell, only we are too sinful to assimilate them.’
CW XIV 395
In the Secret Doctrine, this Dhyani Buddha is referred to as our Star
The star under which a human Entity is born, says the Occult teaching,
will remain for ever its star, throughout the whole cycle of its
incarnations in one Manvantara. But this is not his astrological star.
The latter is concerned and connected with the personality, the former
with the INDIVIDUALITY. The "Angel" of that Star, or the Dhyani-Buddha
will be either the guiding or simply the presiding "Angel," so to say,
in every new rebirth of the monad, which is part of his own essence,
though his vehicle, man, may remain for ever ignorant of this fact. The
adepts have each their Dhyani-Buddha, their elder "twin Soul," and they
know it, calling it "Father-Soul," and "Father-Fire." It is only at the
last and supreme initiation, however, that they learn it when placed
face to face with the bright "Image."
SD I 573-574
Whether this Star Angel (this special purusha) within or ‘above’ us
merely presides or guides will depend entirely upon ourselves. The more
we devote ourselves towards the supreme wisdom within us in the
service of humanity perhaps the more likely we are to find that guidance
can be found, here and there, upon the path.
The above is one possible interpretation of what is meant by Isvara
being 'a special kind of purusha' in v24 bk 1 of Patanjali. It’s
tentatively offered, open to correction and improvement.