[Warning: a lot of technical language in this piece.]
My usual Friday piece about Blavatsky is based on The Key to Theosophy. ‘The Key’, as theosophists call this book, is the one book by Blavatsky with a traditional linear setup. In other words: the ordering of the subjects is like you would expect in an introductory book.
One of the most important things she explains in The Key is what Theosophists call ‘the constitution of man’ (that includes women).
My approach to this subject is mainly psychological. Those who are into spirituality know or suspect that ‘there is more to life’. Most people in this field have had at least one spiritual experience. This can be the experience of meeting God or communicating with trees or all kinds of other things. The possibilities are endless. To chart this kind of experience, make some sort of sense out of the variations, we need words. One of the simplest ways of organizing a collection is to order them from high to low.
High is the Divine, Atma in the Indian terminology Blavatsky used. The Divine is One with the source of All, as I wrote about earlier. Blavatsky’s teachings can’t be distinguished from Vedanta on this point. This Divine is impersonal, undifferentiated. It is the source of all learning processes, but only in the same way as the sun makes it possible to see. WHAT we see doesn’t have much to do with the sun. She feeds us, through plant life, but that too is totally impersonal.
If Atma is the sun, Buddhi is light. Buddhi is often translated as intuition. To be specific: the highest intuition there is: direct insight into fundamental truths. (see footnote)
So far I’ve talked about the spiritual side of people. The side we sense, but can never really grasp in words.
The next concept in our theosophical ladder is Manas, or Mind. Manas is traditionally cut in two, although psychology knows many more shades of it by now. Lower Manas is our everyday thought. Thoughts connected to our emotions. When this is purified Higher Manas may start to evolve. Higher Manas includes both abstract and intuitive thought.
Our most venerated scientists know higher Manas: they know that although their published papers are logical showing step by step reasoning – the process by which they come to their conclusions are often far less linear. I hope to one day get my dad to write some of that down. The general process seems to be: Thinking about something long and hard. Gathering information, doing experiments etc. Then, at some relaxed moment (during sleep or a morning walk) an insight arises. This insight reorganizes the available information in a totally new way. The resulting article will sound completely rational, totally logical, but contains new insight.
As we go lower, we enter the min area of human problems. Higher Manas is not the problem. Problems like war and hunger, conflict and dealing with disease – all of them can be traced back to lower Manas: how we combine our emotions and practical insights into action. There is a reason that Jiddu Krishnamurti mostly targeted this area.
What theosophists call lower Manas is the object of much psychological research. I don’t think theosophists have much to add to the discussion. The worth of self control for instance is amply affirmed by psychological research. The problem of denying your own emotions and motivations was hinted at by Blavatsky, but is much better explained by psychologists. The only problem with that is that ordinary people have started thinking that self control is a problem in itself.
What theosophy does add, like every religious tradition, is a direction of development. Psychology is mainly concerned with solving problems so people can live ‘normal’ lives. But normal people aren’t automatically happy. The direction theosophy points in is that of altruism. This is of course not new. In Buddhism it’s called Metta. In Christianity ‘love thy neighbor’. In Islam Zakat.
I’m digressing. My point: a lot of our normal consciousness has to do with thinking. Theosophists call this Lower Manas because it is influenced by our emotion and it influences emotion in its turn.
The next step down the latter is emotion itself. Kama is used to describe both desire and emotion. Neurological research has shown two types of emotion exist. One is called a drive: these desires are embedded deeply into our neurological system. Personal love, sex, hunger and heavy addictions like alcohol or hard drugs are part of this pattern. When things go ‘normal’ in life, these forces have their part to play.
I already mentioned the spiritual path goes beyond psychological insights. That’s especially true for this kind of thing. While it’s totally accepted to try and control addiction, it’s less normal to similarly control the need for food or sex. Anyone who has tried to remain on a diet knows just how hard this attempt can be.
I’m not suggesting we all retire to the jungle to live on on one bowl of rice a day. I’m just laying out the spectrum of possible action.
Back to Kama: desire and emotion. As a source of problems this is an important aspect of our lives to keep an eye on. Next week I’ll go into the lowest aspects of human beings. Now I just want to close with the following:
The solution of dealing with problematic emotions and thoughts is not in either of the extremes of either repressing or giving into them. As so often, the middle way is the only healthy way. We need to face what lives in us, while refraining from feeding it, nor repressing it. This is hard and most of the time we will do one or the other. However, reminding ourselves of that middle way occasionally does help.
Some people translate Buddhi with intelligence, but that doesn’t fit the structure of the system I just explained. There’s no added value to naming intelligence Buddhi, because it already fits the term ‘higher Manas’. The reason Buddhi is sometimes translated as intelligence has to do with Buddhist Sanskrit. However, I suspect Blavatsky’s source for this terminology was the daily language of Indians and Ceylonese who were into these subjects.