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.
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:
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.