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Online Glossary

Online Glossary

The online glossary consists of selected excerpts from G. de Purucker’s Occult Glossary, first published by Rider & Co., London. Second and Revised Edition copyright © 1996 by Theosophical University Press. Reprinted with permission by Theosophical University Press . To view the online version of the Occult Glossary in its entirety, click here. here .

Atman (Sanskrit) The root of atman is hardly known; its origin is uncertain, but the general meaning is that of "self." The highest part of man — self, pure consciousness per se. The essential and radical power or faculty in man which gives to him, and indeed to every other entity or thing, its knowledge or sentient consciousness of selfhood. This is not the ego.

Avidya (Sanskrit) A compound word: a, "not"; vidya, "knowledge"; hence nonknowledge, ignorance — perhaps a better translation would be nescience — ignorance or rather lack of knowledge of reality, produced by illusion or maya.

Brahma (Sanskrit) A word of which the root, brih, means "expansion." It stands for the spiritual energy-consciousness side of our solar universe, i.e., our solar system, and the Egg of Brahma is that solar system.

A Day of Brahma or a maha-manvantara is composed of seven rounds, a period of 4,320,000,000 terrestrial years; this period is also called a kalpa. A Night of Brahma, the planetary rest period, which is also called the parinirvanic period, is of equal length.

Seven Days of Brahma make one solar kalpa; or, in other words, seven planetary cycles, each cycle consisting of seven rounds (or seven planetary manvantaras), form one solar manvantara.

One Year of Brahma consists of 360 Divine Days, each day being the duration of a planet's life, i.e., of a planetary chain of seven globes. The Life of Brahma (or the life of the universal system) consists of one hundred Divine Years, i.e., 4,320,000,000 years times 36,000 x 2.

The Life of Brahma is half ended: that is, fifty of his years are gone — a period of 155,520,000,000,000 of our years have passed away since our solar system, with its sun, first began its manvantaric course. There remain, therefore, fifty more such Years of Brahma before the system sinks into rest or pralaya. As only half of the evolutionary journey is accomplished, we are, therefore, at the bottom of the kosmic cycle, i.e., on the lowest plane.

Buddhi (Sanskrit) Buddhi comes from a Sanskrit root budh, commonly translated "to enlighten," but a better translation is "to perceive," "to cognize," "to recover consciousness," hence "to awaken," and therefore "to understand." The second counting downwards, or the sixth counting upwards, of the seven principles of man. Buddhi is the principle or organ in man which gives to him spiritual consciousness, and is the vehicle of the most high part of man — the atman — the faculty which manifests as understanding, judgment, discrimination, an inseparable veil or garment of the atman.

Dhyan(i)-Chohan(s) A compound word meaning "lords of meditation" — kosmic spirits or planetary spirits.

Ego (Latin) A word meaning "I." In theosophical writings the ego is that which says "I am I" — indirect or reflected consciousness, consciousness reflected back upon itself as it were, and thus recognizing its own mayavi existence as a "separate" entity. On this fact is based the one genuine "heresy" that occultism recognizes: the heresy of separateness.

The seat of the human ego is the intermediate duad — manas-kama: part aspiring upwards, which is the reincarnating ego; and part attracted below, which is the ordinary or astral human ego. The consciousness is immortal in the reincarnating ego, and temporary or mortal in the lower or astral human ego.

Individuality Theosophists draw a sharp and comprehensive distinction between individuality and personality. The individuality is the spiritual-intellectual and immortal part of us; deathless, at least for the duration of the kosmic manvantara — the root, the very essence of us, the spiritual sun within, our inner god. The personality is the veil, the mask, composed of various sheaths of consciousness through which the individuality acts.

The word individuality means that which cannot be divided, that which is simple and pure in the philosophical sense, indivisible, uncompounded, original. It is not heterogeneous; it is not composite; it is not builded up of other elements; it is the thing in itself. Whereas, on the contrary, the intermediate nature and the lower nature are composite, and therefore mortal, being builded up of elements other than themselves. Strictly speaking, individuality and monad are identical, but the two words are convenient because of the distinctions of usage contained in them; just as consciousness and self-consciousness are fundamentally identical, but convenient as words on account of the distinctions contained in them.

Kalpa (Sanskrit) This word comes from a verb-root klrip, meaning "to be in order"; hence a "period of time," or a "cycle of time." Sometimes a kalpa is called the period of a maha-manvantara — or "great manvantara" — after which the globes of a planetary chain no longer go into obscuration or repose, as they periodically do, but die utterly. A kalpa is also called a Day of Brahma, and its length is 4,320,000,000 years. Seven rounds form a Day of Brahma, or a planetary manvantara. (See also Brahma, Manvantara)

Seven planetary manvantaras (or planetary cycles, each cycle consisting of seven rounds) form one solar kalpa (or solar manvantara), or seven Days of Brahma — a week of Brahma.

The difficulty that many Western students have had in understanding this word lies in the fact that it is unavoidably a "blind," because it does not apply with exclusive meaning to the length of one time period alone. Like the English word age, or the English phrase time period, the word kalpa may be used for several different cycles. There is likewise the maha-kalpa or "great kalpa," which frequently is the name given to the vast time period contained in a complete solar manvantara or complete solar pralaya.

Kama (Sanskrit) "Desire"; the fourth substance-principle of which man's constitution is composed. Kama is the driving or impelling force in the human constitution; per se it is colorless, neither good nor bad, and is only such as the mind and soul direct its use. It is the seat of the living electric impulses, desires, aspirations, considered in their energic aspect. Usually however, although there is a divine kama as well as an infernal one, this word is restricted, and wrongly so, to evil desire almost exclusively.

Karma (Karman, Sanskrit) This is a noun-form coming from the root kri meaning "to do," "to make." Literally karma means "doing," "making," action. But when used in a philosophical sense, it has a technical meaning, and this technical meaning can best be translated into English by the word consequence. The idea is this: When an entity acts, he acts from within; he acts through an expenditure in greater or less degree of his own native energy. This expenditure of energy, this outflowing of energy, as it impacts upon the surrounding milieu, the nature around us, brings forth from the latter perhaps an instantaneous or perhaps a delayed reaction or rebound. Nature, in other words, reacts against the impact; and the combination of these two — of energy acting upon nature and nature reacting against the impact of that energy — is what is called karma, being a combination of the two factors. Karma is, in other words, essentially a chain of causation, stretching back into the infinity of the past and therefore necessarily destined to stretch into the infinity of the future. It is unescapable, because it is in universal nature, which is infinite and therefore everywhere and timeless; and sooner or later the reaction will inevitably be felt by the entity which aroused it.

Karma is in no sense of the word fatalism on the one hand, nor what is popularly known as chance, on the other hand. It is essentially a doctrine of free will, for naturally the entity which initiates a movement or action — spiritual, mental, psychological, physical, or other — is responsible thereafter in the shape of consequences and effects that flow therefrom, and sooner or later recoil upon the actor or prime mover.

Kundalini (Sanskrit) A term whose essential meaning is "circular" or "winding" or "spiral" or "coiling" action, or rather energy, and signifies a recondite power in the human constitution. Kundalini-sakti is derivative of one of the elemental forces of nature. It works in and through, in the case of man, his auric egg, and expresses itself in continuous action in many of the most familiar phenomena of existence even when man himself is unconscious of it. In its higher aspect Kundalini is a power or force following winding or circular pathways carrying or conveying thought and force originating in the higher triad. Abstractly, in the case of man it is of course one of the fundamental energies or qualities of the pranas. Unskilled or unwise attempts to interfere with its normal working in the human body may readily result in insanity or malignant or enfeebling disease.

Logos, Logoi (Greek) In old Greek philosophy the word logos was used in many ways, of which the Christians often sadly misunderstood the profoundly mystical meaning. Logos is a word having several applications in the esoteric philosophy, for there are different kinds or grades of logoi, some of them of divine, some of them of a spiritual character; some of them having a cosmic range, and others ranges much more restricted. In fact, every individual entity, no matter what its evolutionary grade on the ladder of life, has its own individual logos. The divine-spiritual entity behind the sun is the solar logos of our solar system. Small or great as every solar system may be, each has its own logos, the source or fountainhead of almost innumerable logoi of less degree in that system. The term, therefore, is a relative and not an absolute one, and has many applications.

Manas (Sanskrit) The root of this word means "to think," "to cogitate," "to reflect" — mental activity, in short. The center of the ego-consciousness in man and in any other quasi-self-conscious entity. The third substance-principle, counting downwards, of which man's constitution is composed.

Manvantara (Sanskrit) This word is a compound, and means nothing more than "between two manus"; more literally, "manu-within or -between." A manu, as said, is the entities collectively which appear first at the beginning of manifestation; the spiritual tree of life of any planetary chain of manifested being. The second verbal element of "manvantara," or antara, is a prepositional suffix signifying "within" or "between"; hence the compound paraphrased means "within a manu," or "between manus." A manvantara is the period of activity between any two manus, on any plane, since in any such period there is a root-manu at the beginning of evolution, and a seed-manu at its close, preceding a pralaya.

A planetary manvantara — also called a maha-manvantara or a kalpa — is the period of the lifetime of a planet during its seven rounds. It is also called a Day of Brahma, and its length is 4,320,000,000 years.

Maya, Mayavic (Sanskrit) The word comes from the root ma, meaning "to measure," and by a figure of speech it also comes to mean "to effect," "to form," and hence "to limit." There is an English word mete, meaning "to measure out," from the same IndoEuropean root. It is found in the Anglo-Saxon as the root met, in the Greek as med, and it is found in the Latin also in the same form.

Ages ago in the wonderful Brahmanical philosophy maya was understood very differently from what it is now usually understood to be. As a technical term, maya has come to mean the fabrication by man's mind of ideas derived from interior and exterior impressions, hence the illusory aspect of man's thoughts as he considers and tries to interpret and understand life and his surroundings; and thence was derived the sense which it technically bears, "illusion." It does not mean that the exterior world is nonexistent; if it were, it obviously could not be illusory. It exists, but is not. It is "measured out" or is "limited," or it stands out to the human spirit as a mirage. In other words, we do not see clearly and plainly and in their reality the vision and the visions which our mind and senses present to the inner life and eye.

The familiar illustrations of maya in the Vedanta, which is the highest form that the Brahmanical teachings have taken and which is so near to our own teaching in many respects, were such as follows: A man at eventide sees a coiled rope on the ground, and springs aside, thinking it a serpent. The rope is there, but no serpent. The second illustration is what is called the "horns of the hare." The animal called the hare has no horns, but when it also is seen at eventide, its long ears seem to project from its head in such fashion that it appears even to the seeing eye as being a creature with horns. The hare has no horns, but there is then in the mind an illusory belief that an animal with horns exists there.

That is what maya means: not that a thing seen does not exist, but that we are blinded and our mind perverted by our own thoughts and our own imperfections, and do not as yet arrive at the real interpretation and meaning of the world or of the universe around us. By ascending inwardly, by rising up, by inner aspiration, by an elevation of soul, we can reach upwards or rather inwards towards that plane where truth abides in fullness.

Metempsychosis (Greek) A compound vocable which may be rendered briefly by "insouling after insouling," or "changing soul after soul." Metempsychosis contains the specific meaning that the soul of an entity, human or other, moves not merely from condition to condition, migrates not merely from state to state or from body to body; but also that it is an indivisible entity in its inmost essence, which is pursuing a course along its own particular evolutionary path as an individual monad, taking upon itself soul after soul; and it is the adventures which befall the soul, in assuming soul after soul, which in their aggregate are grouped together under this word metempsychosis.

In ordinary language metempsychosis is supposed to be a synonym for transmigration, reincarnation, preexistence, and palingenesis, etc., but all these words in the esoteric philosophy have specific meanings of their own, and should not be confused. It is of course evident that these words have strict relations with each other, as, for instance, every soul in its metempsychosis also transmigrates in its own particular sense; and inversely every transmigrating entity also has its metempsychosis or soul-changings in its own particular sense. But these connections or interminglings of meanings must not be confused with the specific significance attached to each one of these words.

The essential meaning of metempsychosis can perhaps be briefly described by saying that a monad during the course of its evolutionary peregrinations throws forth from itself periodically a new soul-garment or soul-sheath, and this changing of souls or soul-sheaths as the ages pass is called metempsychosis.

Monad A spiritual entity which to us humans is indivisible; it is a divine-spiritual life-atom, but indivisible because its essential characteristic, as we humans conceive it, is homogeneity; while that of the physical atom, above which our consciousness soars, is divisible, is a composite heterogeneous particle.

Every monad is a seed, wherein the sum total of powers appertaining to its divine origin are latent, that is to say unmanifested; and evolution consists in the growth and development of all these seeds or children monads, whereby the universal life expresses itself in innumerable beings.

Purusha (Sanskrit) A word meaning "man," the Ideal Man, like the Qabbalistic Adam Qadmon, the primordial entity of space, containing with and in prakriti or nature all the septenary (or denary) scales of manifested being. More mystically Purusha has a number of different significancies. In addition to meaning the Heavenly Man or Ideal Man, it is frequently used for the spiritual man in each individual human being or, indeed, in every self-conscious entity — therefore a term for the spiritual self. Purusha also sometimes stands as an interchangeable term with Brahma, the evolver or "creator." Probably the simplest and most inclusive significance of Purusha as properly used in the esoteric philosophy is expressed in the paraphrase "the entitative, individual, everlasting divine-spiritual self," the spiritual monad, whether of a universe or of a solar system, or of an individual entity in manifested life, such as man.

Reimbodiment This term means that the living and migrating entity takes upon itself a new body at some time after death. Its meaning, therefore, is a highly generalized one, and the specific significance is that of assuming new imbodiments periodically. It teaches something more than that the soul merely preexists, the idea being that the soul takes unto itself a succession of new bodies — on whatever plane it may happen to be. This particular aspect or branch of the general doctrine of the migration of living entities tells us not what kind of body the soul newly assumes, nor whether that body be taken here on earth or elsewhere, that is to say, whether the new body is to be a visible body or an invisible one in the invisible realms of nature. It simply says that the life-center reimbodies itself; and this is the essence of the specific meaning of this word.

Reincarnation An anglicized word of Latin derivation, meaning "reinfleshment," the coming again into a human body of an excarnate human soul. The repetitive reimbodiment of the reincarnating human ego in vehicles of human flesh — this being a special case of the general doctrine of reimbodiment. This general doctrine of reimbodiment applies not solely to man, but to all centers of consciousness whatsoever, or to all monads whatsoever — wheresoever they may be on the evolutionary ladder of life, and whatsoever may be their particular developmental grade thereon.

The meaning of this general doctrine is very simple indeed. It is as follows: every life-consciousness-center, in other words, every monad or monadic essence, reincorporates itself repeatedly in various vehicles or bodies, to use the popular word. These bodies may be spiritual, or they may be physical, or they may be of a nature intermediate between these two, i.e., ethereal. This rule of nature, which applies to all monads without exception, takes place in all the different realms of the visible and invisible universe, and on all its different planes, and in all its different worlds.

Transmigration This word is grossly misunderstood in the modern Occident, as also is the doctrine comprised under the old Greek word metempsychosis, both being modernly supposed to mean, through the common misunderstanding of the ancient literatures, that the human soul at some time after death migrates into the beast realm and is reborn on earth in a beast body. The real meaning of this statement in ancient literature refers to the destiny of what theosophists call the life-atoms, but it has absolutely no reference to the destiny of the human soul, as an entity.

Upâdhi (Sanskrit) A word which is used in various senses in Indian philosophy, the vocable itself meaning "limitation" or "a peculiarity" and hence "a disguise"; and from this last meaning arises the expression "vehicle," which it often bears in modern theosophical philosophy. The gist of the word signifies "that which stands forth following a model or pattern," as a canvas, so to say, upon which the light from a projecting lantern plays. An upadhi therefore, mystically speaking, is like a play of shadow and form, when compared with the ultimate reality, which is the cause of this play of shadow and form. Man may be considered as a being composed of three (or even four) essential upadhis or bases.