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Soul is a word used to translate the Greek term (ψυχή psychē), meaning "life, spirit, consciousness". The Greek verb from which the word derives means "to cool, to blow" and therefore refers to the vital breath, the animating principle in humans and other animals (the Latin term being anima from which the word "animal" is derived.

In the Theosophical literature human beings are described as being composed of seven principles, three of which are regarded as "souls." In 1883 A. P. Sinnett described them as follows:[1]

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

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

6. Spiritual Soul. . . . . Buddhi.

In early Theosophical literature there is also occasional mention to a "vital soul" which generally referred to the life-principle, either in its universal or individual aspect.

Vital soul

In some of her writings H. P. Blavatsky relates the vital soul to the biblical "breath of life." This, according to her, does not correspond to the immortal Spirit in human beings (Ruach), but rather to Nephesh, the vital principle present in every living creature.[2]

In a wider sense, however, the vital soul is seen as a universal vital principle pervading all matter:

Each object in nature has an objective exterior, a vital soul.[3]

It is the informing, ever-present moving-power and life-principle, the vital soul of the suns, moons, planets, and even of our Earth.[4]

In the Cosmological Notes the vital soul is also regarded as a universal vivifying principle, called Zhihna (or Zhima) in Tibetan, which is the source of living matter:

We say that Zhima being positive, and Zhi-gyu [gyu (material) earth in this sense] negative, it is only when the two come in contact as the former is brought to act upon the latter, that organised, living, self-acting matter is produced.[5]

Finally, in a more individual sense, the vital soul may refer to prāṇa, or even to its vehicle, the liṅga-śarīra.[6]

See also: Prana.

Animal soul

This term in Theosophy is generally applied to the fourth principle in human beings (kāma), although in some occasions it refers to the incarnated ray of fifth principle, the lower manas or lower mind, which in most people act in close association with kāma.

In October 1881 A. O. Hume defines the animal soul as the combination of the "astral body (Liṅga-śarīra), the "astral shape" (Kāmarūpa), and the "animal or physical intelligence," referring to the Lower manas. A number of references to the animal soul in the The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett are based on this classification.

In December 1881 H. P. Blavatsky wrote about the "animal soul" as being the "kama-rupa" of a living man,[7] while in January 1882, T. Subba Row speaks of it as the "physical intelligence."[8]

After Sinnett's publication of the Esoteric Buddhism in 1883 the animal soul is generally regarded as the fourth principle, kāma.

See also Kama.

Human soul

A. P. Sinnett, in his book Esoteric Buddhism, decided to call Manas the Human Soul:[9]

In the Theosophist for October, 1881, when the first hints about the septenary constitution of man were given out, the fifth principle was called the animal soul, as contra-distinguished from the sixth or “spiritual soul ;” but though this nomenclature sufficed to mark the required distinction, it degraded the fifth principle, which is essentially the human principle.[10]

Mme. Blavatsky retained this meaning when writing for the public.[11] According to her, the human soul has to aspects:

In its turn the former (the personal or human soul) is a compound in its highest form, of spiritual aspirations, volitions, and divine love; and in its lower aspect, of animal desires and terrestrial passions imparted to it by its associations with its vehicle, the seat of all these. It thus stands as a link and a medium between the animal nature of man which its higher reason seeks to subdue, and his divine spiritual nature to which it gravitates, whenever it has the upper hand in its struggle with the inner animal.[12]

See also: Ego and Manas.

Spiritual soul

H. P. Blavatsky talks about the spiritual soul as being "irrational". She explained:

Irrational in the sense that as a pure emanation of the Universal mind it can have no individual reason of its own on this plane of matter, but like the Moon, who borrows her light from the Sun and her life from the Earth, so Buddhi, receiving its light of Wisdom from Atma, gets its rational qualities from Manas. Per se, as something homogeneous, it is devoid of attributes.[13]

See also: Buddhi.

Additional resources




  1. Alfred Percy Sinnett, Esoteric Buddhism (London: The Theosophical House LTD, 1972), 19
  2. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 225-226.
  3. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XI (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 528.
  4. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 602.
  5. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence LBS-Appendix II (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 511.
  6. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IV (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1991), 243.
  7. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. III (Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House, 1968), 347
  8. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. III (Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House, 1968), 407.
  9. Alfred Percy Sinnett, Esoteric Buddhism (San Diego, CA: Wizards Bookshelf, 1987), 24.
  10. Alfred Percy Sinnett, Esoteric Buddhism (London: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1972), 29.
  11. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 633, fn.
  12. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IX (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1974), 255-256.
  13. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy (London: Theosophical Publishing House, [1987]), ??.