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The "Subtle Body" -- Astral, Eidolon, Etheric, Mayavi-Rupa, etc...

Mar 17, 2002 09:49 AM
by dalval14

Saturday, March 16, 2002

Re: Subtle Body

Dear Friends:

When H P B first wrote about the subtle bodies there was
confusion as there were many designations used. In ISIS UNVEILED
she offered the information both from ancient literature and from
contemporary research. and to codify matters offered the
outlines of the Theosophical 7-fold "Principles" as found in
Nature and in man [ see FIVE YEARS OF THEOSOPHY, p. 155-6,160;
SECRET DOCTRINE I 157, 181, 200, 242-6, II 596 ]. In an
article published in THEOSOPHIST, August, 1887 --Vol. 8, p. 448
(U L T -- H P B Articles Vol. II, p. 233) she reviewed and
compared the 7-fold scheme with Mr. Subba Row's critical article

We find in an article titled THE ELIXIR OF LIFE p. 1 in FIVE
YEARS OF THEOSOPHY, that there is mention made of the "subtle
body" which the disciple of occultism, living and working under
very strict discipline develops as a result of his concentration
on purifying his own nature of the dross of psychism and of
"desires and passions."

O make this even clearer Mr. Judge in the PATH wrote an article
under the pen-name of RAMATIRTHA, named THE CULTURE OF

I subjoin a copy of this most important and explanatory article.

Best wishes,




by W Q Judge

The term most generally in use to express what is included under
the above title is SELF CULTURE. Now it seems to well enough
express, for a time at least, the practice referred to by those
who desire to know the truth. But, in fact, it is inaccurate from
a theosophic standpoint.

For the Self is held to be that designated in the Indian books as
Ishwara, which is a portion of the Eternal SPIRIT enshrined in
each human body. That this is the Indian view there is no doubt.
The Bhagavad-Gita in Chapter 15 says that an eternal portion of
this Spirit,

"...having assumed life in this world of life, attracts the heart
and the five senses which belong to nature.
Whatever body Ishwara enters or quits, it is connected with it by
snatching those senses from nature, even as the breeze snatches
perfumes from their very bed. This spirit approaches the objects
of sense by presiding over the ear, the eye, the touch, the
taste, and the smell, and also over the heart";

and in an earlier chapter, "the Supreme Spirit within this body
is called the Spectator and Admonisher, sustainer, enjoyer, Great
Lord, and also Highest Soul"; and again, "the Supreme Eternal
Soul, even when existing within -- or connected with -- the body,
is not polluted by the actions of the body."

Elsewhere in these books this same spirit is called the SELF, as
in a celebrated sentence which in Sanscrit is "Atmanam atmana,
pashya," meaning, "Raise the self by the Self," and all through
the Upanishads, where the Self is constantly spoken of as the
same as the Ishwara of Bhagavad-Gita. Max Muller thinks the word
"Self" expresses best in English the ideas of the Upanishads on
this head.

It therefore follows that such a thing as culture of this Self,
which in its very nature is eternal,
unchangeable, and unpollutable by any action, cannot be. It is
only from inadequacy of terms that students and writers using the
English tongue are compelled to say "Self Culture," while, when
they say it, they admit that they know the Self cannot be

What they wish to express is, "such culture or practice to be
pursued by us as shall enable us, while on
earth, to mirror forth the wisdom and fulfill the behests of the
Self within, which is all wise and all good."

As the use of this term "Self Culture" demands a constant
explanation either outwardly declared or inwardly assented to, it
is wise to discard it altogether and substitute that which will
express the practice aimed at without raising a contradiction.

For another reason also the term should be discarded. That is,
that it assumes a certain degree of selfishness, for, if we use
it as referring to something that we do only for ourself, we
separate ourselves at once from the rest of the human
brotherhood. Only in one way can we use it without contradiction
or without explanation, and that is by admitting we selfishly
desire to cultivate ourselves, thus at once running against a
prime rule in theosophic life and one so often and so strenuously
insisted on, that: " the idea of personal self must be uprooted."

Of course, as we will not negative this rule, we thus again have
brought before us the necessity for a term that does not arouse
contradictions. That new term should, as nearly as possible,
shadow forth the three essential things in the action, that is,
the instrument, the act, and the agent, as well as: 1. the
incitement to action; or, knowledge itself, 2. the thing to be
known or done, and 3. the person who knows.


In the Indian books it is called Yoga. This is translated also as
Union, meaning a union with the Supreme Being, or, as it is
otherwise put, "the object of spiritual knowledge is the Supreme

There are two great divisions of Yoga found in the ancient books,
and they are called Hatha-Yoga and

Hatha-Yoga is a practical mortification of the BODY by means of
which certain powers are developed. It consists in the assumption
of certain postures that aid the work, and certain kinds of
breathing that bring on changes in the system, together with
other devices. It is referred to in the 4th chapter of the
Bhagavad-Gita thus:

"Some devotees sacrifice the sense of hearing and the other
senses in the fires of restraint; some offer objects of sense,
such as sound, in the fires of the senses. Some also sacrifice
inspiration of breath in
expiration, and expiration in inspiration, by blocking up the
channels of inspiration and expiration, desirous of retaining
their breath. Others, by abstaining from food, sacrifice life in
their life."

In various treatises these methods are set forth in detail, and
there is no doubt at all that by pursuing
them one can gain possession of sundry abnormal powers. There is
risk, however, especially in the case of people in the West where
experienced gurus or teachers of these things are not found.
These risks consist in this, that while an undirected person is
doing according to the rules of Hatha-Yoga, he arouses about him
influences that do him harm, and he also carries his natural
functions to certain states now and then when he ought to stop
for a while, but, having no knowledge of the matter, may go on
beyond that and produce injurious effects.

Then, again, Hatha-Yoga is a difficult thing to pursue, and one
that must be pushed to the point of mastery and success. Few of
our Western people are by nature fitted for such continuous and
difficult labor on the mental and astral planes. Thus, being
attracted to Hatha-Yoga by the novelty of it, and by the apparent
pay that it offers in visible physical results, they begin
without knowledge of the difficulty, and stopping after a period
of trial they bring down upon themselves consequences that are
wholly undesirable.

The greatest objection to it, however, is that it pertains to
the material and semi-material man, roughly speaking, to the
body, and what is gained through it is lost at death. The
Bhagavad Gita refers to this and describes what happens in these

"All of these, indeed, being versed in sacrifice, have their
sins destroyed by these sacrifices. But he
alone reaches union with the Supreme being who eats of the
ambrosia left from a sacrifice."

This means that the Hatha-Yoga practice represents the mere
sacrifice itself, whereas the other kind is the ambrosia arising
from the sacrifice, or "the perfection of spiritual cultivation,"
and that leads to Nirvana. The means for attaining the
"perfection of spiritual cultivation" are found in Raj-Yoga, or,
as we shall term it for
the present, Culture of Concentration.

When concentration is perfected, we are in a position to use the
knowledge that is ever within reach but which ordinarily eludes
us continually. That which is usually called knowledge is only an
intellectual comprehension of the outside, visible forms assumed
by certain realities.

Take what is called scientific knowledge of minerals and metals.
This is merely a classification of material phenomena and an
empirical acquisition. It knows what certain minerals and metals
are useful for, and what some of their properties are. Gold is
known to be pure, soft, yellow, and extremely ductile, and by a
series of accidents it has been discovered to be useful in
medicine and the arts. But even to this day there is a
controversy, not wholly settled, as to whether gold is held
mechanically or chemically in crude ore.
Similarly with minerals. The crystalline forms are known and

And yet a new theory has arisen, coming very near to the truth,
that we do not know matter in reality in
this way, but only apprehend certain phenomena presented to us by
matter, and variously called, as the phenomena alter, gold, wood,
iron, stone, and so on. But whether the minerals, metals, and
vegetables have further properties that are only to be
apprehended by still other and undeveloped senses, science will
not admit.

Passing from inanimate objects to the men and women about us,
this ordinary intellectual knowledge aids us
no more than before. We see bodies with different names and of
different races, but below the outer phenomena our everyday
intellect will not carry us.

This man we suppose to have a certain character assigned to him
after experience of his conduct, but it is still only
provisional, for none of us is ready to say that we know him
either in his good or his bad
qualities. We know there is more to him than we can see or reason
about, but what, we cannot tell. It eludes us continually. And
when we turn to contemplate ourselves, we are just as ignorant as
we are about our fellow man. Out of this has arisen an old
saying: "Every man knows what he is, but no one knows what he
will be."

There must be in us a power of discernment, the cultivation of
which will enable us to know whatever is desired to be known.
That there is such a power is affirmed by teachers of occultism,
and the way to acquire it is by cultivating concentration.

It is generally overlooked, or not believed, that the inner man
who is the one to have these powers has to grow up to maturity,
just as the body has to mature before its organs fulfill their
functions fully. By inner man I do not mean the higher self-the
Ishwara before spoken of, but that part of us which is called
soul, or astral man, or vehicle, and so on. All these terms are
subject to correction, and should not be held rigidly to the
meanings given by various writers. Let us premise, first, the
body now visible; second, the inner man -
not the spirit; and third, the spirit itself.


Now while it is quite true that the second -- or inner man -- has
latent all the powers and peculiarities ascribed to the astral
body, it is equally true that those powers are, in the generality
of persons, still latent
or only very partially developed.

This inner being is, so to say, inextricably entangled in the
body, cell for cell and fibre for fibre. He exists in the body
somewhat in the way the fibre of the mango fruit exists in the
mango. In that fruit we have the inside nut with thousands of
fine fibres spreading out from it through the yellow pulp around.
And as you eat it, there is great difficulty in distinguishing
the pulp from the fibre. So that the inner being of which we are
speaking cannot do much when away from his body, and is always
influenced by it.

It is not therefore easy to leave the body at will and roam about
in the double. The stories we hear of this as
being so easily done may be put down to strong imagination,
vanity, or other causes. One great cause for error in respect to
these doubles is that a clairvoyant is quite likely to mistake a
mere picture of the person's thought for the person himself.

In fact, among occultists who know the truth, the stepping out of
the body at will and moving about the world is regarded as a most
difficult feat, and for the reasons above hinted at. Inasmuch as
the person is so interwoven with his body, it is absolutely
necessary, before he can take his astral form about the country,
for him to first carefully extract it, fibre by fibre, from the
surrounding pulp of blood, bones, mucous,
bile, skin, and flesh. Is this easy? It is neither easy nor quick
of accomplishment, nor all done at one operation. It has to be
the result of years of careful training and numerous experiments.

And it cannot be consciously done until the inner man has
developed and cohered into something more than irresponsible and
quivering jelly. This development and coherence are gained by
perfecting the power of concentration.

Nor is it true, as the matter has been presented to me by
experiment and teaching, that even in our sleep we go rushing
about the country seeing our friends and enemies or tasting
earthly joys at distant points. In all cases where the man has
acquired some amount of concentration, it is quite possible that
the sleeping body is deserted altogether, but such cases are as
yet not in the majority.

Most of us remain quite close to our slumbering forms. It is not
necessary for us to go away in order
to experience the different states of consciousness which is the
privilege of every man, but we do not go away over miles of
country until we are able, and we cannot be able until the
necessary ethereal body has been acquired and has learned how to
use its powers.


Now, this ethereal body has its own organs which are the essence
or real basis of the senses described by
men. The outer eye is only the instrument by which the real power
of sight experiences that which relates to sight; the ear has its
inner master - the power of hearing, and so on with every organ.

These real powers within flow from the spirit to which we
referred at the beginning of this paper. That spirit
approaches the objects of sense by presiding over the different
organs of sense. And whenever it withdraws itself the organs
cannot be used. As when a sleep--walker moves about with open
eyes which do not see anything, although objects are there and
the different parts of the eye are perfectly normal and

Ordinarily there is no demarcation to be observed between these
inner organs and the outer; the inner ear
is found to be too closely interknit with the outer to be
distinguished apart. But when concentration has begun, the
different inner organs begin to awake, as it were, and to
separate themselves from the chains of their bodily counterparts.

Thus the man begins to duplicate his powers. His bodily organs
are not injured, but remain for use upon the plane to which they
belong, and he is acquiring another set which he can use apart
from the others in the plane of nature peculiarly theirs.

We find here and there cases where certain parts of this inner
body have been by some means developed beyond the rest. Sometimes
the inner head alone is developed, and we have one who can see or
hear clairvoyantly or clairaudiently; again, only a hand is
developed apart from the rest, all the other being nebulous and
wavering. It may be a right hand, and it will enable the owner to
have certain experiences that belong to the plane of nature to
which the right hand belongs, say the positive side of touch and
But in these abnormal cases there are always wanting the results
of concentration. They have merely protruded one portion, just as
a lobster extrudes his eye on the end of the structure which
carries it. Or take one who has thus curiously developed one of
the inner eyes, say the left.

This has a relation to a plane of nature quite different from
that appertaining to the hand, and the results in experience are
just as diverse. He will be a clairvoyant of a certain order,
only able to recognize that which relates to his one-sided
development, and completely ignorant of many other qualities
inherent in the thing seen or felt, because the proper organs
needed to perceive them have had no development. He will be like
a two-dimensional being who cannot possibly know that which
three-dimensional beings know, or like ourselves as compared with
four-dimensional entities.

In the course of the growth of this ethereal body several things
are to be observed.

It begins by having a cloudy, wavering appearance, with certain
centres of energy caused by the incipiency of organs that
correspond to the brain, heart, lungs, spleen, liver, and so on.
It follows the same course of
development as a solar system, and is, in fact, governed and
influenced by the very solar system to which the world belongs on
which the being may be incarnate. With us it is governed by our
own solar orb. If the practice of concentration be kept up, this
cloudy mass begins to gain coherence and to shape itself into a
body with different organs. As they grow they must be used.
Essays are to be made with them, trials, experiments. In fact,
just as a child must creep before it can walk, and must learn
walking before it can run, so this ethereal man must do the same.
But as the child can see and hear much farther than it can
creep or walk, so this being usually begins to see and to hear
before it can leave the vicinity of the body on any lengthy


Certain hindrances then begin to manifest themselves which, when
properly understood by us, will give us
good substantial reasons for the practicing of the several
virtues enjoined in holy books and naturally included under the
term of Universal Brotherhood.


One is that sometimes it is seen that this nebulous forming body
is violently shaken, or pulled apart, or
burst into fragments that at once have a tendency to fly back
into the body and take on the same entanglement that we spoke of
at first. This is caused by anger, and this is why the sages all
dwell upon the need of calmness. When the student allows anger to
arise, the influence of it is at once felt by the ethereal body,
and manifests itself in an uncontrollable trembling which begins
at the centre and violently pulls apart the hitherto coherent
particles. If allowed to go on it will disintegrate the whole
mass, which will then reassume its natural place in the body. The
effect following this is, that a long time has to elapse before
the ethereal body can be again created. And each time this
happens the result is the same. Nor does it make any difference
what the cause for the anger may be. There is no such thing as
having what is called "righteous anger" in this study and
escaping these inevitable consequences. Whether your "rights"
have been unjustly and flagrantly invaded or not does not matter.
The anger is a force that will work itself out in its appointed
way. Therefore anger must be strictly avoided, and it cannot be
avoided unless charity and love- absolute toleration-are


But anger may be absent and yet still another thing happen. The
ethereal form may have assumed quite a coherence and
definiteness. But it is observed that, instead of being pure and
clear and fresh, it begins to take on a cloudy and disagreeable
color, the precursor of putrefaction, which invades every part
and by its effects precludes any further progress, and at last
reacts upon the student so that anger again manifests itself.
This is the effect of envy. Envy is not a mere trifle that
produces no physical result. It has a powerful action, as strong
in its own field as that of anger. It not only hinders the
further development, but
attracts to the student's vicinity thousands of malevolent beings
of all classes that precipitate themselves upon him and wake up
or bring on every evil passion. Envy, therefore, must be
extirpated, and it cannot be got rid of as long as the personal
idea is allowed to remain in us.


Another effect is produced on this ethereal body by vanity.
Vanity represents the great illusion of nature.
It brings up before the soul all sorts of erroneous or evil
pictures, or both, and drags the judgment so away that once more
anger or envy will enter, or such course be pursued that violent
destruction by outside causes falls upon the being. As in one
case related to me. The man had made considerable progress, but
at last allowed vanity to rule. This was followed by the
presentation to his inner sight of most extraordinary images and
ideas, which in their turn so affected him that he attracted to
his sphere hordes of elementals seldom known to students and
quite indescribable in English. These at last, as is their
nature, laid siege to him, and one day produced all about the
plane of his astral body an effect similar in some respects to
that which follows an explosion of the most powerful explosive
known to science. The consequence was, his ethereal form was so
suddenly fractured that by repercussion the whole nature of the
man was altered, and he soon died in a madhouse after having
committed the most awful excesses.

And vanity cannot be avoided except by studiously cultivating
that selflessness and poverty of heart advised as well by Jesus
of Nazareth as by Buddha.


Another hindrance is fear. This is not, however, the worst of
all, and is one that will disappear by means of knowledge, for
fear is always the son of ignorance. Its effect on the ethereal
form is to shrivel it up, or coagulate and contract it. But as
knowledge increases, that contraction abates, permitting the
person to expand. Fear is the same thing as frigidity on the
earth, and always proceeds by the process of freezing.

In my next the subject will be further developed.


IT is now over one year since I sent in Part I to the Editor of
the PATH. Since then I have heard that some students expressed a
desire to read Part II, forgetting to observe, perhaps, that the
first paper was complete in itself, and, if studied, with earnest
practice to follow, would have led to beneficial results.

It has not been necessary before to write No. II; and to the
various students who so soon after reading the first have asked
for the second I plainly say that you have been led away because
a sequel was indicated and you cannot have studied the first;
furthermore I much doubt if you will be benefited by this any
more than by the other.


Success in the culture of concentration is not for him who
sporadically attempts it. It is a thing that flows from "a firm
position assumed with regard to the end in view, and
unremittingly kept up." ...students are too apt to think that
success in occultism can be reached as one attains success in
school or college, by reading and learning printed words.

A complete knowledge of all that was ever written upon
concentration will confer no power in the practice of that about
which I treat. Mere book knowledge is derided in this school as
much as it is by the clodhopper; not that I think book knowledge
is to be avoided, but that sort of acquisition without the
concentration is as useless as faith without works. It is called
in some places, I believe, "mere eye-knowledge." Such indeed it
is; and such is the sort of culture most respected in these
degenerate times.


In starting these papers the true practice was called Raj Yoga.
It discards those physical motions, postures, and recipes
relating solely to the present personality, and directs the
student to virtue and altruism as the bases from which to start.
This is more often rejected than accepted.

So much has been said during the last 1800 years about
Rosicrucians, Egyptian Adepts, Secret Masters,
Kaballah, and wonderful magical books, that students without a
guide, attracted to these subjects, ask for information and seek
in vain for the entrance to the temple of the learning they
crave, because they say that virtue's rules are meant for babes
and Sunday-schools, but not for them. And, in consequence, we
find hundreds of books in all the languages of Europe dealing
with rites, ceremonies, invocations, and other obscurities that
will lead to nothing but loss of time and money. But few of these
authors had anything save "mere eye-knowledge." 'Tis true they
have sometimes a reputation, but it is only that accorded to an
ignoramus by those who are more ignorant.

The so-called great man, knowing how fatal to reputation it would
be to tell how really small is his practical knowledge, prates
about "projections and elementals," "philosopher's stone and
elixir," but discreetly keeps from his readers the paucity of his
acquirements and the insecurity of his own mental state.

Let the seeker know, once for all, that the virtues cannot be
discarded nor ignored; they must be made a part of our life, and
their philosophical basis must be understood.

But it may be asked, if in the culture of concentration we will
succeed alone by the practice of virtue. The answer is No, not in
this life, but perhaps one day in a later life. The life of
virtue accumulates much merit; that merit will at some time cause
one to be born in a wise family where the real practice of
concentration may perchance begin; or it may cause one to be born
in a family of devotees or those far advanced on the Path, as
said in Bhagavad-Gita. But such a birth as this, says Krishna, is
difficult to obtain; hence the virtues
alone will not always lead in short space to our
object.[NL][NL]We must make up our minds to a life of constant
work upon this line.

The lazy ones or they who ask for pleasure may as well give it up
at the threshold and be content with the pleasant paths marked
out for those who "fear God and honor the King." Immense fields
of investigation and
experiment have to be traversed; dangers unthought of and forces
unknown are to be met; and all must be overcome, for in this
battle there is no quarter asked or given.

Great stores of knowledge must be found and seized. The kingdom
of heaven is not to be had for the asking; it must be taken by
violence. And the only way in which we can gain the will and the
power to thus seize and hold is by acquiring the virtues on the
one hand, and minutely understanding ourselves on the other.

Some day we will begin to see why not one passing thought may be
ignored, not one flitting impression missed. This we can perceive
is no simple task. It is a gigantic work.

Did you ever reflect that the mere passing sight of a picture,
or a single word instantly lost in the rush of the world, may be
basis for a dream that will poison the night and react upon the
brain next day. Each one must be examined. If you have not
noticed it, then when you awake next day you have to go back in
memory over every word and circumstance of the preceding day,
seeking, like the astronomer through space, for the lost one.
And, similarly, without such a special reason, you must learn to
be able to go thus backward into your days so as to go over
carefully and in detail all that happened, all that you permitted
to pass through the brain. Is this an easy matter?


But let us for a moment return to the sham adepts, the reputed
Masters, whether they were well-intentioned or the reverse. Take
Eliphas Levi, who wrote so many good things, and whose books
contain such masses of mysterious hints. Out of his own mouth he
convicts himself. With great show he tells of the raising of the
shade of Apollonius.

Weeks beforehand all sorts of preparations had to be made, and on
the momentous night absurd necromantic performances were gone
through. What was the result? Why only that the
so-called shade appeared for a few moments, and Levi says they
never attempted it again. Any good medium of these days could
call up the shade of Apollonius without preparation, and if Levi
were an Adept he could have seen the dead quite as easily as he
turned to his picture in a book.

By these sporadic attempts and outside preparations, nothing is
really gained but harm to those who thus indulge. And the foolish
dabbling by American theosophists with practices of the Yogis of
India that
are not one-eighth understood and which in themselves are
inadequate, will lead to much worse results than the apocryphal
attempt recorded by Eliphas Levi.

As we have to deal with the Western mind now ours, all unused as
it is to these things and over-burdened with false training and
falser logic, we must begin where we are, we must examine our
present possessions and grow to know our own present powers and
mental machinery. This done, we may proceed to see ourselves in
the way that shall bring about the best result.


PATH, February, 1890 (Extracts from his article)


best wishes,



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