The famous British comedian, Peter Cook, (of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore fame) used to own a restaurant in London in the closing days of his career on the stage. Everyone who was ‘anybody’ would vie with each other to be seen at his ‘Establishment Club’. So, it happened one evening that a well-known celebrity turned up at Peter Cook’s restaurant for dinner without a booking. This did not stop this rather pompous individual from arguing with the head waiter that he should be given a table even without a booking.

“Don’t you know who I am?” the frustrated celebrity shouted at the waiter demanding entrance. Peter Cook calmly walked up to the man and said: “Anyone who does not even know who he is cannot come in here!”

How many of us could answer that question – Who do you think you are? What is ‘The Self’?

Psychology: modern psychology sees The Self as an amalgam of many different qualities and emotions

Psychoanalysis: Famous Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Carl Jung’s (1875-1961) ideas on The Self saw an important role for what he called the ‘Collective Unconscious’ which influences all humans. On the other hand, Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud’s (1856-1939) theories of personality development encompassed several levels of consciousness operating simultaneously with the Unconscious:

SUPER-EGO: The censor, or judge. Incorporates the value judgments of parents.

EGO: Seeks to control the environment and mediate between the Id and Super-Ego.

ID: Primary energy seeking gratification of basic drives and avoidance of anxiety.

The Self in Religions:

Ancient Egypt: The ancient Egyptians had a very complex understanding of the various ‘selves’ within us all: The AKH: Divine Spirit; The SEKHEM: the emanating power of the Akh; The SAH: the spiritual or causal soul-body; The BA: the astral soul body; The KHAIBIT: the shadow; The KHA: the vital principle within the human being; The KA and THESU: the double and its system of chakras (energy centres); The KHAT: the physical body;The AB: the heart;The REN: the name.

Judaism (Qabbalah): NESHAMAH: The highest and most spiritual principle; RUAHH: Spiritual soul; NEPHESH: The astral or vital soul; GUPH: Physical body — the ‘house’ in which all these others dwell.

Ancient Greek: PNEUMA: Spirit — literally “breath”; NOUS: Intuition, higher mind, or “the Knower within”; PSYCHE: Soul; SOMA: Physical body.

Christianliy: views of the Self as BODY: equivalent to the Physical, Astral, and Energetic bodies of the Ancient Egyptian configuration, SOUL: embraces the fields of desire, emotion, and mind; and SPIRIT: the Divine essence within each human being;

The Self as Viewed in Traditional Societies:

Several traditional societies also have a detailed understanding of the complex ‘selves’ within us all.

Africa: Yoruba people of Nigeria (West Africa): EMIN: Spirit; OKAN: Heart soul; IYE: Mind principle; OJIJI: Shadow (astral double); ARA: Physical body.

Australian Aboriginal Peoples: GREAT CREATIVE or ANCESTRAL SPIRIT: with which a person is merged after death; SPIRIT: indestructible, it remains part of the eternal Dreaming Time; BODY: physical, astral, and energetic bodies.

The Self in Western Philosophy:

Plato (428-348BC): the Greek philosopher Plato saw the ideal self should be like a philosopher, rational and wise, seeking knowledge. Basically. He says that the Self contains the mind, the spirit and the appetite. The appetite is likened to desires, booth good and bad. The mind is the sense of self and it desires an understanding of the Forms. The soul is the driving force behind body and mind. Plato argues that the soul is eternal and, in his later works, he outlined his view of the afterlife. He also explains the soul as having three functions – reason, emotion, and desire.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): After Plato, one of the most significant philosophers in Western countries. According to him, we all have an inner and an outer self which together form our consciousness. The inner self is comprised of our psychological state and our rational intellect. The outer self includes our sense and the physical world.

David Hume (1711-1776): David Hume was the founder of ‘utilitarianism’ or the idea of the ‘greatest good of the greatest number’ upon which many of the social, economic, and political institutions of modern Western democracies are founded. At the opposite extreme from Plato and Kant, Hume suggested that the Self is just a bundle of perceptions, like links in a chain. Hume argues that our concept of the Self is a result of our natural habit of attributing unified existence to any collection of associated parts. He said that this belief is natural, but there is no logical support for it.

The Self in Theosophy: principle founder of the Theosophical Society, HP Blavatsky (1831-1891), envisaged The Self as a composite entity which, when manifest, composed of seven aspects of the one entity as follows:

The essence of all these formulations is that spirit uses vehicles to express itself on the different planes of the universe, and these vehicles are the different principles — separate but still One. Rather than three, seven, or even ten or twelve, as in some configurations, we may think of the human principles as being like a pillar of light. Up and down this pillar of light or consciousness are foci or “egoic centers” — some higher and some lower on the scale of evolutionary unfoldment — manifesting different aspects of the principles at different times. We are not talking about a ‘layer cake’ of principles, but a fluid whirlpool of forces combining different energies from high to low throughout one’s being.

Let’s look at all the aspects of The Self as described by HP Blavatsky and G de Purucker, starting with the Lower Four, or Quaternary, which together form the familiar Personality that we all recognize.

Physical Body, the Sthula-Sarira: means “gross body,” the word sarira also meaning “foamlike” or “easily dissolved.” This is the much-maligned physical body, which is like a spacesuit for the higher consciousness, enabling it to act in the lower material worlds. Through it we can function as a complete entity across the entire seven planes of the manifest universe.  We have the opportunity during earth-life to learn and progress in a way that is not possible when living solely in our spiritual nature. For this reason, highly spiritual beings like Buddha and Christ had to find enlightenment while in their physical bodies before teaching and guiding others. The physical body is composed of myriads of lesser lives – cells and atoms – whose evolution is greatly accelerated by being associated with us, for we are like gods to them.  Finally, because the physical body is the offspring of the universe, it gives us the key to the workings of the cosmos. “As above, so below,” the old Hermetic sages said. The use of this law of analogy – in the action of the nervous system, the circulation of the blood, the structure of the cells, and many other facets – provides a wonderful tool for understanding deeper teachings regarding the structure and operation of invisible causal worlds.

To many the body is a gross drag upon spiritual experience, but in fact, when controlled and intelligently used, the body has its own part to play in the drama of evolution.

The Astral Double: Linga-Sarira: the “model-body” upon which the physical body is formed. This astral body, which we hear so much about, is a mould of near-physical matter into which the atoms of the physical body are built and energized throughout life by Prana. Though most people have not developed the capacity to see the astral body, some clairvoyants can perceive its luminous, ever-shifting coils. Like all the cosmic planes, the astral light is sevenfold in nature. Therefore, because someone can see auras or hear astral music doesn’t necessarily mean they are highly evolved spiritually. In fact, it is a blessing for most of us that the physical body generally shields us from consciousness of the astral world. This condition will continue until we have developed, through lifetimes of testing, our ethical strength and clear inner sight to the point that an awareness of the astral world and its wonders can be properly and safely appreciated. Imagine, for example, what it would be like to read in their auras others’ secret thoughts or state of mental and physical health if we did not have sufficient self-control to make compassionate use – or no use – of this knowledge.

Vitality: Prana: meaning “life principle” or vitality, is the ocean of universal energy in which we exist, keeping our astral and physical bodies alive during life on earth. We all have a certain grant or portion of this life force given us at the beginning of each lifetime to sustain us and, strangely enough, death is caused principally by the prolonged wearing down of the physical organism by the streams of Pranic energy flowing through it.

Desire: Kama: means “desire,” the driving force in the human constitution, neither good nor bad. It is the seat of living electric impulses, desires, and aspirations considered in their energetic aspect. We are all painfully familiar with the lower aspects of Kama that adorn our newspapers and entertainment. Most of humanity centers its consciousness in the lower manas and uses the powers of Kama for selfish motives. By turning Kama in this direction, we inevitably create disharmonies based on separateness and incur the suffering we see everywhere. Compare what we know of desire with the desires of Christ and Buddha in their compassionate self-dedication to a better world.

Mind: Manas: Mind is Dual forming the Lower and Higher Manas (meaning Mind). Let’s start with the more familiar, Kama Manas: the Lower Mind or Everyday Self:

The Lower Manas: is the faculty of mind attracted to the principle of desire or Kama, forming the Personality or Everyday Self. It is our duty and destiny to raise the lower mind to union with the Higher. All our highest thoughts and actions – compassion, self-forgetfulness, and aspiration – are those which more rapidly aid us in achieving this spiritual goal.

The Lower Quaternary comprising: Kama (including Kama Manas), Prana, Linga-Sarira, and Sthula-Sarira is familiar territory to us as these qualities form the components of our Personality. But, much of the next grouping forming the Upper Triad or the Enduring Self may seem remote from our daily lives and from modern psychology.

Higher Manas: A supremely important fact for us to remember is that at this point in our spiritual evolution, Manas (Mind) is dual. Its higher, more spiritual, compassionate, and intuitive aspect is linked with Buddhi (Compassion) the vehicle of Spirit (Atman) thus forming the Higher Immortal Triad – our enduring Self from one lifetime to another. Ordinary people, at the present stage of spiritual evolution at least, live almost entirely in their Kama Manas (desire mind/personality), whereas a Master of Wisdom, lives temporarily or entirely in the Buddhi Manas (the Compassionate Mind).

The Compassionate Spiritual Nature: Buddhi: from the Sanskrit root buddh, “to awaken”; hence the word Buddha, “the awakened one.” It is the first vehicle by which pure spirit “steps down” its energies to the physical plane. It acts to awaken us to our true nature and our responsibilities to a suffering world, manifesting as understanding, judgment, and discrimination. From our human standpoint it is a universal principle, the organ of impersonal love for all creatures, which is divine. This love is expressed by the “awakened ones” who have attained Buddhic consciousness and come back to help mankind reach its full potential: Buddha, Christ, Zoroaster, Quetzalcoatl, and the highest teachers of other world religions.

The Divine Essence: Atman: means “Self” in Sanskrit. Every being, no matter how small, is a Self, derived from the universal self as a flame is derived from a fire or a droplet from the ocean. It is our sense of existence, the “I Am” at the heart of us, which is universal. Unlike the ego or mind from which we derive the sense of “I am I,” which is different in every person. the Atmic sense of pure selfhood, of being alive and active, is the same in all beings, human or otherwise. Understanding this basic universal selfhood leads to the realization of true spiritual brotherhood and develops all our highest (because spiritual) powers.

Know Thyself: Considering our composite nature, we can appreciate what the ancient Greeks meant when they carved on their temples “Man, Know Thyself.” As a child of the universe, made up of all its planes of being, we each are a key to the universe itself. We begin to understand that Universal Brotherhood is not just a platitude, but a fact in nature. We can realize the importance of centering our consciousness in the higher aspects of our composite nature in helping ourselves and others develop spiritually, for “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” We can see the problems that focusing our awareness in the lowest aspects of Kama-Manas (Desire-Mind) has brought to the world.

The wrongful centering of thoughts may also cause disjunctions between the various aspects of our composite nature, leading to some types of mental illnesses. We can begin to appreciate the true mission of religion – from the Latin word religio, meaning, ‘to bring back together that which once was one’ – as a real mission in life and not just empty platitude.

We can do our bit, each in our own separate ways, to attack the causes of suffering by shifting the centre of our consciousness to the far-seeing and compassionate side of human nature, which is the only way to bring enduring peace and harmony to a troubled world.

All esoteric schools have taught as the very foundation of their being: “Man, Know Thyself!” It has ever been thus, and the key to this lies in many things. It lies in the study of the suffering that the knot of personality experiences before its intricate labyrinth of selfishness is overpassed; it lies also, on a more exoteric plane, in the perusal of the majestic literatures of past ages; the brain work, the heart work, the work of the soul, of the seers and sages of every era. Greatest of all, it lies in the study of love for others and utter forgetfulness of self. Therein lies the mystery of Buddhahood, of Christhood: forgetfulness of self, absorption in love all-encompassing, unbounded, frontierless, of all that is. – G de Purucker.