Sevenfold Nature of Man & Triune Nature

“The Christian teaching, supported by St. Paul, since upon him, in fact, dogmatic Christianity rests, is that man is composed of body, soul, and spirit. This is the threefold constitution of man, believed by the theologians but kept in the background because its examination might result in the readoption of views once orthodox but now heretical. For when we thus place soul between spirit and body, we come very close to the necessity for looking into the question of the soul’s responsibility — since mere body can have no responsibility. And in order to make the soul responsible for the acts performed, we must assume that it has powers and functions. From this it is easy to take the position that the soul may be rational or irrational, as the Greeks sometimes thought, and then there is but a step to further Theosophical propositions. This threefold scheme of the nature of man contains, in fact, the Theosophical teaching of his sevenfold constitution, because the four other divisions missing from the category can be found in the powers and functions of body and soul, as I shall attempt to show later on. This conviction that man is a septenary and not merely a duad, was held long ago and very plainly taught to every one with accompanying demonstrations, but like other philosophical tenets it disappeared from sight, because gradually withdrawn at the time when in the east of Europe morals were degenerating and before materialism had gained full sway in company with scepticism, its twin. Upon its withdrawal the present dogma of body, soul, spirit, was left to Christendom. The reason for that concealment and its rejuvenescence in this century is well put by Mme. H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine. In answer to the statement, “we cannot understand how any danger could arise from the revelation of such a purely philosophical doctrine as the evolution of the planetary chain,” she says:

The danger was this: Doctrines such as the Planetary chain or the seven races at once give a clue to the sevenfold nature of man, for each principle is correlated to a plane, a planet, and a race; and the human principles are, on every plane, correlated to the sevenfold occult forces — those of the higher planes being of tremendous occult power, the abuse of which would cause incalculable evil to humanity. A clue which is, perhaps, no clue to the present generation — especially the Westerns — protected as they are by their very blindness and ignorant materialistic disbelief in the occult; but a clue which would, nevertheless, be very real in the early centuries of the Christian era, to people fully convinced of the reality of occultism and entering a cycle of degradation which made them ripe for abuse of occult powers and sorcery of the worst description.

— William Quan Judge, The Ocean of Theosophy

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Theosophy offers such a rich and expansive view of human nature.   The idea of the sevenfold nature of man opens up our minds to an endless stream of possibilities.   You have to love the depth of the philosophy, it is like a cave that stretches on forever or a beach that has no end. The exploration just keep going on and on.


That is a beautiful thought and I much agree with you.  If the main problem for human beings is separateness and isolation then the remedy just might be the teaching of the sevenfold nature of man.


Thank you.  Do you think there is a correspondence between Emerson's OverSoul and Theosophy's Atman?


More from the Ocean of Theosophy by Mr. Judge

The divisions of the sevenfold universe may be laid down roughly as: The Absolute, Spirit, Mind, Matter, Will, Akasa or Aether, and Life. In place of “the Absolute” we can use the word Space. For Space is that which ever is, and in which all manifestation must take place. The term Akasa, taken from the Sanskrit, is used in place of Aether, because the English language has not yet evolved a word to properly designate that tenuous state of matter which is now sometimes called Ether by modern scientists. As to the Absolute we can do no more than say IT IS. None of the great teachers of the School ascribe qualities to the Absolute although all the qualities exist in It. Our knowledge begins with differentiation, and all manifested objects, beings, or powers are only differentiations of the Great Unknown. The most that can be said is that the Absolute periodically differentiates itself, and periodically withdraws the differentiated into itself.


How does the teaching of the ancient Greeks "Man is the microcosm of the macrocosm" relate to the sevenfold nature of man?



“We give below in a tabular form the classifications adopted by the Buddhist and Vedantic teachers of the principles of man: —



* Kosa (kosha) is “Sheath” literally, the sheath of every principle.

† “Life.”

‡ The astral body or Linga Sarira.

§ Sthula-Upadhi, or basis of the principle.

|| Buddhi.

From the foregoing table it will be seen that the third principle in the Buddhist classification is not separately mentioned in the Vedantic division, as it is merely the vehicle of Prana. It will also be seen that the Fourth principle is included in the third Kosa (Sheath), as the same principle is but the vehicle of will-power, which is but an energy of the mind. It must also be noticed that the Vignanamaya Kosa is considered to be distinct from the Manomaya Kosa, as a division is made after death between the lower part of the mind, as it were, which has a closer affinity with the fourth principle than with the sixth; and its higher part, which attaches itself to the latter, and which is, in fact, the basis for the higher spiritual individuality of man.

We may also here point out to our readers that the classification mentioned in the last column is, for all practical purposes, connected with Raja Yoga, the best and simplest. Though there are seven principles in man, there are but three distinct Upadhis (bases), in each of which his Atma may work independently of the rest. These three Upadhis can be separated by an Adept without killing himself. He cannot separate the seven principles from each other without destroying his constitution.”

The student will now be better prepared to see that between the three Upadhis of the Raja Yoga and its Atma, and our three Upadhis, Atma, and the additional three divisions, there is in reality but very little difference. Moreover, as every adept in cis-Himalayan or trans-Himalayan India, of the Patanjali, the Aryasanga or the Mahayana schools, has to become a Raja Yogi, he must, therefore, accept the Taraka Raja classification in principle and theory whatever classification he resorts to for practical and occult purposes. Thus, it matters very little whether one speaks of the three Upadhis with their three aspects and Atma, the eternal and immortal synthesis, or calls them the “seven principles.”

—The Secret Doctrine, Volume 1, p. 157-8


Every now and then, I see the use of the term "causal vehicle."   Is this a theosophical term?   How does this relate to the septenary classification in our study?


If you look into translations of Sankaracharya's works you'll often see the terms "physical body", "astral/subtle body" and "causal body", or variations of these. The terms that are being translated that way are the three "Taraka Raja Yoga" terms. But it can be either "upadhi" or "sarira" that is used: i.e. karana-upadhi or karana-sarira, which mean the same thing; sukshma-upadhi or sukshma-sarira; and sthula-upadhi or sthula-sarira.

The same division is covered in the Mandukya Upanishad under a third set of terms: vaishvanara, taijasa and prajna. These are corresponded to the three states: jagrat, svapna and sushupti.

Charles Johnston gives a good overview of this division here: The Fourfold Self’s Three Vestures


The word Upadhi means basis or vehicle. It seems to point to a more causal level of being.


Well, it's an interesting term, certainly.

There are two terms used by HPB when describing the "vehicles" of Man: "vahan" and "upadhi". The term vahan is used for buddhi, as a "vehicle" of atma, while the term upadhi is used for the lower "vehicles" or vehicular principles (kama-rupa, astral body, physical body in the sevenfold division; or subtle-body and physical-body in the fourfold division). So, the term "upadhi" itself doesn't necessarily point to a more causal level of being, but the term "vahan" does seem to indicate just that.

HPB explains that:

"The seven are on three material planes and one spiritual plane, answering to the three Upadhis (material bases) and one spiritual vehicle (Vahan) of our seven principles in the human division." (SD I:153)


What would be the difference of significance if it is an "upadhis" as opposed to a "vahan?"  


Well, it seems to me that HPB is using both terms to signify "vehicles", with the difference being that of their "materiality". But looking through the SD, it's not clear to me if there is a strong or strict distinction to be made: the terms seem to be somewhat loosely used and interchangeable.

Though, vahan does seem to be commonly associated with buddhi, and upadhi does seem to be associated with the lower principles (from manas down). Upadhi also seems to be associated primarily with the three lower planes of manifestation, so perhaps there is where the distinction lies, if anywhere.

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Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on December 28, 2014 at 11:50pm

This might  have something to do with the fact that Atman really transcends the principles in some respect.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on December 20, 2014 at 6:15pm

This statement HPB makes is in reference to the "causal vehicle", along with the other two "upadhis":

"Though there are seven principles in man, there are but three distinct Upadhis (bases), in each of which his Atma may work independently of the rest. These three Upadhis can be separated by an Adept without killing himself."

What interests me is the variation on this 3 or 4-fold division given also in the SD (I:153):

Here, instead of Atma standing alone and apart, we see the physical body standing alone and apart, with three higher "pairings". It strikes me that this covers the idea perhaps a little better in some ways. So essentially we have Buddhi as the "causal body" (karana-upadhi), paired with Atma. Then we have Kama-rupa corresponding to sukshma-upadhi, paired with Manas. Then we have Linga-sarira corresponding to sthula-upadhi, paired with Prana. With the last, the physical body as nothing more than the "shell" of all these.

So, when HPB makes the statement that the Adept can separate the three Upadhis from one another, but not separate the seven principles, it would seem that this division encompasses the idea more truly—the separation is one that occurs horizontally at each horizontal line of this diagram, while the separation cannot occur vertically without destroying the constitution (i.e. the diagonal lines connecting 1 and 2, 3 and 4, 5 and 6 cannot be broken).

Would be interested to hear other's thoughts on this...

Permalink Reply by Peter on December 21, 2014 at 4:00am

Jon,  just on a minor point: the statement about the adept being able to separate the three updahis from one another without killing himself comes from Subba Row, not HPB. In fact the table of human principles and the entire passage Gerry has provided for us, above, is from Subba Row's article on the seven principles published in "Five Years of Theosophy", which HPB has quoted on SD 157-158.

The Diagram you have given us from HPB does have some interesting differences, doesn't it.  It more strictly accords (than does Subba Row's) with the triple evolutionary scheme HPB describes later on in the SD, namely, theMonadic, the Intellectual and the Physical (see SD I 181).  She states there that by physical she means the Chhayas of the lunar Pitris, from which comes the Astral Body (around which the physical body forms) not the physical body itself. The Manasa-Dhyanis awakened both Mind and Kama in the 'humanity' of the third root race, which we see go together in your diagram from SD I 153.  The highest two principles relate to the Human Monad:

"The “monad” is the combination of the last two Principles in man, the 6th and the 7th, and, properly speaking, the term “human monad” applies only to the Spiritual Soul, not to its highest spiritual vivifying Principle. But since divorced from the latter the Spiritual Soul could have no existence, no being, it has thus been called." (CW V 172)

While HPB doesn't say this, I wonder whether we might see three great orders of Dhyanis connected with this triple evolutionary scheme, the lunar Pitris, the Manasa Dhyanis (both of which HPB gives on p172, above) and the Dhyani Buddhas. The latter relating to the Star Angel that both HPB and Subba Row refer to in the beautiful passages in the Secret Doctrine between SD 1 572 -574.  The Dhyani Buddha within us being the spiritual Logos in the human principles.

We might also see a connection between this triple evolutionary scheme and the three updadhis with the three Halls of Wisdom mentioned in The Voice of the Silence, through which the candidate has to pass.

Subba Row's table or classification of the principles also have their own dynamic which integrates beautifully with upanishadic texts, advaita & so on.  The causal body or sheath (karanopadhi) is there given as Buddhi alone. However, HPB tends to say that the causal body is Buddhi-Manas, that which reincarnates:

" is the Buddhi-Manas which is called the Causal body, (the United 5th and 6th Principles) and which is Consciousness, that connects it with every personality it inhabits on earth."  (Key to Theosophy, p121)

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on December 24, 2014 at 12:51pm

What role does the sevenfold scheme of human nature play in the fact that a human being can carry on a conversation with oneself? And what does it tell us about making our own lives an object of perception?

Permalink Reply by barbaram on December 27, 2014 at 3:09pm

This is an interesting point in the sense that we experience manifestation in a threefold fashion- the subject, the object, and the relation between the two which is consciousness.  The subjective aspect is less condensed than the objective and this pattern continues up the planes.  When the subject withdraws, then the object fades and consciousness, the medium between the two, eventually disappears as well.  The subject is the only aspect that remains for, essentially, both the object and consciousness originally came from the subject and have no independent existence.   In a way, it is like a writer who is about to write a new novel and starts to think about the characters;  once the artist stops thinking about it, then the novel ends. 

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on December 28, 2014 at 11:51pm

Very interesting.

Permalink Reply by Grace Cunningham on December 21, 2014 at 11:23am

Is each vehicle causal to the one below it?

Permalink Reply by barbaram on December 21, 2014 at 5:59pm

I look at it as emanation gradually moving outward, each becoming more substantial or concrete.   

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on December 24, 2014 at 1:02pm

Yes and since life works from within without each higher is causal to the lower so to speak.

This would account for why people like Paracelsus could solve medical cases his peers could not. He was able to affect the astral where the source of a medical condition really lies for example.
Permalink Reply by barbaram on December 21, 2014 at 6:36pm

Those who are not familiar with theosophy may wonder the relevance of the sevenfold divisions of man and nature in our daily life since it may appear to be too abstract to have any practical value.  Personally, I believe it is only by knowing our constitution that we can understand the process of disembodiment or death.  We can divide the principles into the permanent and the impermanent.  This doctrine explains deeper the Buddhist's belief that we are a composite being.  In a way, it is nothing new because we always have been taught that humans are made up of spirit, soul, and body.   Another significance that struck me about the sevenfold divisions is that it shows how we are made up of cosmic forces, how nothing in this universe is isolated and separate but all are interwoven and emanates from the One. 

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on December 24, 2014 at 1:07pm

Barbaram thank you so much for making these points and bringing more light to the practical implications of this profound idea. I might add that it also provides the philosophical foundation for the spiritual path because it points to where our real nature lies and a knowledge of the seven fold elements is a knowledge of the Path i

Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on December 26, 2014 at 11:55pm

Now this spiritual man, having always existed, being intimately concerned in evolution, dominated by the law of cause and effect, because in himself he is that very law, showing moreover on this plane varieties of force of character, capacity, and opportunity, his very presence must be explained, while the differences noted have to be accounted for. The doctrine of reincarnation does all this. It means that man as a thinker, composed of soul, mind and spirit, occupies body after body in life after life on the earth which is the scene of his evolution, and where he must, under the very laws of his being, complete that evolution, once it has been begun. In any one life he is known to others as a personality, but in the whole stretch of eternity he is one individual, feeling in himself an identity not dependent on name, form, or recollection.

— from Theosophy Generally Stated, Lucifer, December 1893

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Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on December 31, 2014 at 1:37pm

The Sevenfold Division

Why Not Change The Designation?

MR. Sinnett’s book Esoteric Buddhism has done a great deal towards bringing before the West the Eastern philosophy regarding man and his constitution, but it has also served to perpetuate the use of a word that is misleading and incorrect. In that work on p. 61 he states, “Seven distinct principles are recognized by Esoteric Science as entering into the constitution of man,” and then gives his scheme of division thus, The body, Vitality, Astral Body, Animal Soul, Human Soul, Spiritual Soul, and seventh, Spirit or Atma. Now if Spirit be, as the whole philosophy declares, in all and through all, it is erroneous to call it one of the series. This very early led to the accusation that we believed in seven distinct spirits in man. It always leads to misconception, and directly tends to preventing our understanding fully that the Atma includes, and is the substratum of, all the others. In India it caused a protracted and, at times, heated discussion between the adherents of the rigid seven-fold classification of Esoteric Buddhism and several learned and unlearned Hindus who supported a four-fold or five-fold division. During that debate the chief Hindu controverter, while holding to a different system, admitted the existence of “a real esoteric seven-fold classification,” which of course cannot be given to the public. Mr. Sinnett also evidently made a mistake when he said that the first mentioned division is the esoteric one.

Now it would seem that many of these misconceptions and differences could be prevented if a word were adopted and invariably used that would clearly express the idea intended to be conveyed. As the prime declaration of theosophy is that all these so-called bodies and appearances are for the purpose of enabling the ONE-the Atma-to fully comprehend nature and “bring about the aim of the soul,” why not denominate all that it uses for that purpose as vehicles? This name is strictly in accord with all parts of the philosophy. It is in effect the same as Upadhi, or basis, foundation, carrier. By its use we make no error when we say that theosophy declares there is Atma, which works with and through six vehicles. Strictly, the body is a vehicle for the astral body, it for the next, and so on up to Atma, which is therefore seen to be all and in all, as is clearly declared in Bhagavad-Gita.

This change, or to some other than “principles,” should be adopted by all theosophists, for every day there is more inquiry by new minds, and theosophists themselves, indeed, need to use their words with care when dealing with such subjects. Or if greater clearness is desired, let us say that there is one principle which acts through six vehicles. The scheme will then stand thus:

Atma (spirit), one principle, indivisible

Its vehicles are:

Buddhi. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
Spiritual Soul

Manas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
Human Soul

Kama Rupa. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
Animal Soul

Linga Sharira. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
Astral Body

Prana or Jiva. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

Rupa . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
The Body

Names have power, and if we go on talking of 7 principles when in truth there is but one, we are continually clouding our conception of theosophic truth.

EUSEBIO URBAN (aka William Quan Judge)
Path, April, 1890

Permalink Reply by Jeffrey Smart on January 11, 2015 at 6:22am

I like the phrase that WQJ uses when he says, "...let us say that there is one principle which acts through six vehicles."  If we conceive of each "vehicle" as being the means through which we are able to interact in a given environment and that we are the one principle that enters and leaves these vehicles it makes the concept much clearer and straight forward.  It makes sense.  Meditation could be described as a method of changing focus from our current physical vehicle to that of, lets say, our astral vehicle and possibly higher depending on our skill.  We are truly travelers in a Conscious Universe learning and observing all as we go.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on January 12, 2015 at 4:42pm

Through meditation and concentration we can withdraw our mind, thought and consciousness away from the incarnated self and place it on something universal and far beyond anything specific about oneself.  You might say this activity is pointing the mind towards higher principles rather than being lost in lower ones.