Linga-Sharira is a compound Sanskrit word from liṅga (लिङ्ग), in this context interpreted as "mark, image"; and śarīra (शरीर) "body". In Theosophical literature this term is used to name the second (sometimes third) principle of the human beings. This is "the double" of the physical body, frequently called astral body by H. P. Blavatsky, and later renamed as "etheric double" in the Adyar tradition. This principle should not be confused with the Hindu Linga sharira, which is frequently used in a general way for the whole aggregate of subtle bodies, or as a synonym for the Sūkṣma Śarīra, the subtle body that accompanies the individual soul in all its transmigrations and is not destroyed by death, till the individualized soul is finally merged in the Universal.
Mme. Blavatsky wrote:
This term designates the döppelganger or the “astral body” of man or animal. It is the eidolon of the Greeks, the vital and prototypal body; the reflection of the men of flesh. It is born before and dies or fades out, with the disappearance of the last atom of the body.
Astral Body, or Astral “Double”. The ethereal counterpart or shadow of man or animal. The Linga Sharira, the “Doppelganger”. The reader must not confuse it with the ASTRAL SOUL, another name for the lower Manas, or Kama-Manas.
This subtle body "is composed of highly etherialized matter; in its habitual passive state, the perfect but very shadowy duplicate of the body; its activity, consolidation and form depending entirely on the kama rupa."
The Liṅga-Sarîra, as often said before, is the vehicle of Prâṇa, and supports life in the Body. It is the reservoir or sponge of life, gathering it up from all the natural kingdoms around, and it is the intermediary between the kingdoms of Prâṇic and physical life. Life cannot pass immediately and directly from the subjective to the objective, for nature passes gradually from sphere to sphere, overleaping none. The Liṅga-Sarîra serves as the intermediary between Prâṇa and Sthûla-Sarîra, drawing life from the ocean of Jîva, and pumping it in the physical Body as Prâṇa. For life is, in reality, Divinity, Parabrahman, the Universal Deity. But in order that it may manifest on the physical plane it must be assimilated to the matter of that plane; this cannot be done directly, as the purely physical is too gross, and thus it needs a vehicle––the Liṅga-Sarîra.
It has a form of its own and can be projected outside the physical body. It is connected to the latter by an ethereal cord:
This ethereal Body, built outside the Sthûla-Śarîra, is the Liṅga-Śarîra, properly so termed . . . This Liṅga-Śarîra is united to the physical Body by an umbilical cord, a material cord, and cannot therefore travel very far from it. It may be hurt by a sharp instrument, and would not face a sword or bayonet, although it can easily pass through a table or other piece of furniture. When swords are struck at Shades, it is the sword itself, not its Liṅga-Śarîra, or Astral that cuts. Sharp instruments alone can penetrate such Astrals; thus, under water, a blow with a blunt object would not affect you so much as a cut would.
Annie Besant decided to change the term Linga Sharira...
. . . in consequence of the confusion caused by employing a well-known term in Hindu philosophy in an entirely new sense. Before her departure H.P.B. urged her pupils to reform the terminology, which had been too carelessly put together, and we are trying to carry out her wish.
The name she chose (and after her, most authors in the Theosophical Society (Adyar) was "Etheric Double." Below is her argument for this election:
The Linga Sharira, the astral body, the ethereal body, the fluidic body, the double, the wraith, the döppelganger, the astral man – such are a few of the many names which have been given to the second principle in man’s constitution. The best name is the Etheric Double, because this term designates the second principle only, suggesting its constitution and appearance: whereas the other names have been used somewhat generally to describe bodies formed of some more subtle matter than that which affects our physical senses, without regard to the question whether other principles were or were not involved in their construction. I shall therefore use this name throughout.
Tibetan Buddhism and the "Lha Body"
In Tibetan medicine and astrology the concept of the Lha Body is very similar to that of the Linga Sharira. According to Dr. Pasang Y. Arya, the Lha body is subtle shadow or reflection of the physical a body. It can hardly be seen with the naked eye and is very important to the physical health, since it nourishes and gives energy to the physical body. The natural shape and form of the Lha body is exactly like that of the physical body and therefore they can be thought as dual bodies.
After death consciousness leaves the physical and Lha bodies and continues its journey. The Lha stays on the earth, still bearing the person’s shape, until the physical body becomes fully decayed. If the physical the body is cremated, the Lha has a very little chance to remain much longer.
*Etheric Double in Theosophy World
- Linga-Śarīra in Theosophy World
- The Etheric Field by Phoebe Bendit
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Theosophical Glossary (Krotona, CA: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 189-190.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Theosophical Glossary (Krotona, CA: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 37.
- See Fragments of Occult Truth No. 1 at Blavatsky Study Center
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 704.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 705-706.
- Annie Besant, The Seven Principles of Man, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1979), 23.
- Annie Besant, The Seven Principles of Man, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1979), 9.
- Lha and the Lha ceremony an interview to Dr. Pasang Y. Arya by Sylvie Beguin