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Annie Besant

(1847 -1933)




The Seven Principles of Man


Annie Besant



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Principle IV

The Desire Body


In building up our man we have now reached the principle sometimes described as the animal soul, in Theosophical parlance K‚ma RŻpa, or the desire-body. It belongs to in constitution, and functions on, the second or astral plane. It includes the whole body of appetites, passions, emotions, and desires which come under the head of instincts, sensations, feelings and emotions, in our Western psychological classification, and are dealt with as a subdivision of mind.


In Western psychology mind is divided Ė by the modern school Ė into three main groups, feelings, will, intellect. Feelings are again divided into sensations and emotions , and these are divided and subdivided under numerous heads. K‚ma, or desire, includes the whole group of "feelings," and might be described as our passional and emotional nature.


All animal needs, such as hunger, thirst, sexual desire, come under it; all passions, such as love (in its lower sense), hatred, envy, jealousy. It is the desire for sentient experience, for experience of material joys Ė "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life".


This principle is the most material in our nature, it is the one that binds us fast to earthly life. "It is not molecularly constituted matter, least of all the human body, Sthula Sharira, that is the grossest of all our Ďprinciplesí but verily the middle principle, the real animal centre ; whereas our body is but its shell, the irresponsible factor and medium through which the beast in us acts all its life" ( Secret Doctrine, vol. I, p. 280-81).


United to the lower part of Manas, the mind, as K‚ma-Manas, it becomes the normal human brain-intelligence, and that aspect of it will be dealt with presently. Considered by itself, it remains the brute in us, the "ape and tiger" of Tennyson, the force which most avails to keep us bound to earth and to stifle in us all higher longings by the illusions of sense.


K‚ma joined to Pr‚na is, as we have seen, the "breath of life," the vital sentient principle spread over every particle of the body. It is, therefore, the seat of sensation, that which enables the organs of sensation to function. We have already noted that the physical organs of sense, the bodily instruments that come into immediate contact with the external world, are related to the organs of sensation in the etheric double (ante p. 14).


But these organs would be incapable of functioning did not Pr‚na make them vibrant with activity, and their vibrations would remain vibrations only, motion on the material plane of the physical body, did not K‚ma, the principle of sensation translate the vibration into feeling. Feeling indeed, is consciousness on the k‚mic plane, and when a man is under the domination of a sensation or a passion, the Theosophist speaks of him as on the k‚mic plane, meaning thereby that his consciousness is functioning on that plane.


For instance, a tree may reflect rays of light, that is ethereal vibrations, and these vibrations striking on the outer eye will set up vibrations in the physical nerve-cells ; these will be propagated as vibrations to the physical and on to the astral centres, but there is no sight of the tree until the seat of the sensation is reached, and K‚ma enables us to perceive.


Matter of the astral plane Ė including that called elemental essence Ė is the material of which the desire-body is composed, and it is the peculiar properties of this matter which enable it to serve as the sheath in which the Self can gain experience of sensation. (The constitution of the elemental essence would lead us too far from an elementary treatise).


The desire Ė body, or astral body, as it is often called, has the form of a mere cloudy mass during the earlier stages of evolution, and is incapable of serving as an independent vehicle of consciousness. During deep sleep it escapes from the physical body, but remains near it, and the mind within it is almost as much asleep as the body. It is, however, liable to be affected by forces of the astral plane akin to its own constitution, and gives rise to dreams of a sensuous kind.


In a man of average intellectual development the desire-body has become more highly organised, and when separated from the physical body is seen to resemble it is outline and features ; even then, however, it is not conscious of its surroundings on the astral plane, but encloses the mind as a shell, within which the mind may actively function, while not yet able to use it as an independent vehicle of consciousness.


Only in the highly evolved man does the desire-body become thoroughly organised and vitalised, as much the vehicle of consciousness on the astral plane as the physical body is on the physical plane.


After death, the higher part of man dwells for awhile in the desire-body, the length of its stay depending on the comparative grossness or delicacy of its constituents. When the man escapes from it, it persists for a time as a "shell" and when the departed entity is of a low type, and during earth life infused such mentality as it possessed into the passional nature, some of this remains entangled with the shell.


It then possesses consciousness of a very low order, has brute cunning, is without conscience Ė an altogether objectionable entity, often spoken of as a "spook." It strays about, attracted to all places in which animal desires are encouraged and satisfied, and is drawn into the currents of those whose animal passions are strong and unbridled.


Mediums of low type inevitably attract these eminently undesirable visitors, whose fading vitality is reinforced in their sťance rooms, who catch astral reflections, and play the part of "disembodied spirits" of a low order. Nor is this all; if at such a sťance there be present some man or woman of correspondingly low development, the spook will be attracted to that person, and may attach itself to him or to her, and thus may be set up currents between the desire-body of the living person and the dying desire-body of the dead person, generating results of the most deplorable kind.


The longer or shorter persistence of the desire-body as a shell or a spook depends on the greater or less development of the animal and passional nature in the dying personality. If during earth-life the animal nature was indulged and allowed to run riot, if the intellectual and spiritual parts of man were neglected or stifled, then, as the life-currents were set strongly in the direction of passion, the desire-body will persist for a long period after the body of the person is dead.


Or again, if earth-life has been suddenly cut short by accident or by suicide, the link between K‚ma and Pr‚na will not be easily broken, and the desire-body will be strongly vivified. If, on the other hand, desire has been conquered and bridled during earth-life, if it has been purified and trained into subservience to manís higher nature, then there is but little to energise the desire-body and it will quickly disintegrate and dissolve away.


There remains one other fate, terrible in its possibilities, which may befall the fourth principle, but it cannot be clearly understood until the fifth principle has been dealt with.






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