It will be convenient before entering upon the question of the evolution of man to state shortly what, according to the Esoteric Doctrine, man is. It has been stated in recent theosophical publications that man is composed of seven principles. But the analysis, in a great many instances, has been grievously misunderstood. An impression has been formed that a septenary human being is a very complicated kind of onion, from which coat after coat may be peeled off until nothing is left behind; that the different principles which go to constitute a man are put together by some process of chemical and mechanical combination. But the fact is, these principles lie on different planes of existence, and cannot therefore react upon each other in the same manner as objects lying on the same plane are found to do. The perception of each of these principles involves and requires a corresponding change in the conditions of the perceiving consciousness. The thread which links these different principles is what may be called the unit of consciousness, the individuality or the monad. Those who adopt the idealistic language express the same thing in a different way.
It is not our purpose to describe in detail the different principles in man. To the reader who is acquainted with the division of man into body, soul and spirit, these pages will present no difficulty. The body, the physical encasement of the human entity, includes in itself the principle of life, which animates man in common with the animal, the vegetable, and other forms of existence which it is not necessary to mention here. The soul is the ethereal man, which, when seen outside the body, is known as the wraith, double, doppelganger or astral body; it includes within itself the astral counterpart of the body, the principle of desire and the lower form of intellection. The spirit consisting of the higher form of intellection and the spiritual ego, is overshadowed by the One Spirit, which constitutes the permanent basis of all existence. For convenience, however, the division is often made into body and spirit, or the sensuous and supersensuous man.
Upon this subject, our revered Teachers says: —
"As man is a sevenfold being, so is the universe; the septenary microcosm being to the septenary macrocosm but as the drop of rain-water to the cloud from which it dropped, and to which in the course of time, it will return. In the One are embraced or included so many tendencies for the evolution of air, fire, water, etc. (from the purely abstract down to their concrete conditions), and when those latter are called elements, it is to indicate their productive potentialities for numberless form-changes or evolutions of being.
"Let us represent the unknown quantity as X: that quantity is the one eternal, immutable principle: and a, b, c, d, e, five of the six minor principles or components of the same — viz. the principles of earth, water, air, fire, and ether (akasa), following the order of their spirituality, and beginning with the lowest. There is a sixth principle answering to the sixth principle (called in the East, Buddhi) in man (to avoid confusion, remember that in viewing the question from the side of the descending scale, the abstract. All, or eternal principle, would be numerically designated as the first, and the phenomenal universe as the seventh, whether belonging to man or to the universe — viewed from the other side, the numerical order will be reversed); but we are not permitted to name it except among the Initiates. I may, however, hint that it is connected with the process of the highest intellection. Let us call it N; and beside these there is, under all the activities of the phenomenal universe, an energizing impulse from X — call this Y. Algebraically stated, our equation will therefore read: a + b + c + d + e + N + Y = X. Each of the first six letters represent, so to speak, the spirit or abstraction of what you call elements (your meagre English gives me no other word). Thus spirit controls the entire line of evolution around the entire cycle of cosmic activity, in its own department, the informing, vivifying, evolving cause, behind the countless manifestations in that department of nature.
"Let us work out the idea with a single example. Take fire: D, the prime igneous principle resident in X, is the ultimate cause of every phenomenal manifestation of fire on all the globes of the chain. The proximate causes are the evoluted secondary igneous agencies which severally control the seven descents of fire on each planet, every element having its seven principles, and every principle its seven sub-principles, and so these secondary agencies have in their turn to become primary causes.
"D is a septenary compound, of which the highest fraction is pure spirit. As we see it on our globe, it is in its coarsest, most material condition, as gross in its way as is man in his physical encasement. In the next preceding globe to ours, fire was less gross than here; on the one before that, less still. So the body of flame was more and more pure, and less and less gross and material, on each antecedent planet. On the first of all in the cyclic chain, it appeared as an almost pure objective shining — the Maha Buddhi, the sixth principle of the eternal light. . . . . On each globe of the chain there are seven manifestations of fire, of which the first in order will compare, as to its spiritual quality, with the last manifested on the next preceding planet: the process being reversed as you will infer, with the opposite arc. The myriad specific manifestations of these six universal elements are in their turn but the offshoots, branches, or branchlets of the one single primordial tree of life."
The septenary division adopted by the different schools of the Esoteric philosophy, has in many cases called forth against it the charge of puerility. A closer acquaintance with the subject, however, must needs impress one with the strictly scientific character of this method of classification. Following the mystic idealists, we may divide the whole range of existence into different states of consciousness, with their appropriate objects or functions. According to these philosophers, existence is coextensive with consciousness; absolute unconsciousness is absolute negation. Now, it is within ordinary experience that consciousness manifests itself in three different states, namely, the consciousness of a man awake, the consciousness of a man dreaming, and the consciousness of one in a state of dreamless slumber. The first two states are recognized by all, the last requires a few words of explanation. It is true, in waking moments one has some conception of the dreaming consciousness, but none at all of the consciousness of dreamless slumber; its existence, nevertheless, is proved by the fact that the identity of the ego is never lost, and the beginning and conclusion of such slumber are strung together in consciousness. Had there been a cessation of all consciousness for one moment there is no conceivable reason for its reappearance. Besides these three states, all mystics hold, as no doubt is the case, that there is a fourth state of consciousness, which may be called transcendental consciousness. A glimpse of this state may be obtained in the abnormal condition of extasis.
As to the objects of these states of consciousness it is easily seen that they exhaust the whole range of existence. All that admits of perception by the senses belongs to the first state of consciousness, which is conditioned by our familiar notions of time and space. The objects perceived in dreams, though possessing all the elements of reality to the dreamer, are not identical with the objects of waking consciousness, although similar to them. The dreamer's notions of time and space are different from those of the man awake. A change in these notions involves a corresponding change in the nature of objects to which the characteristic of reality is assigned. A miser dreaming of acquisition of wealth experiences as much pleasure as when actually feasting his eyes on his accumulated treasures. While awake, however, the wealth acquired in dream will excite no interest. Similarly, while dreaming, the fact that the acquisition will not preserve its reality in waking life, will have, if noticed at all, only a moment's recognition and then be forced out of the mind, as it plunges deeper into the contemplation of the objects dreamed of. The last phenomenon is noted by all who pay any attention to their dreams and the laws governing them. The objects of waking consciousness are usually called material, and their counterparts perceptible by the dreamer have been called astral, adopting the phraseology of Paracelsus and his fellow-thinkers. The objects of the other two states of consciousness, being beside our present purpose, do not call for more than passing recognition.
The four states of consciousness mentioned above, it is hardly necessary to note, are not separated from each other by impassable chasms, but are all closely interrelated and form one synthetic whole. A little consideration will show that these four states, combined in the way contemplated, must produce six states; the synthetic unity of them all being the seventh. If the four points of a square be taken to represent the four states, their combinations will produce the four sides of the square and the two diagonals — six in all — and the figure itself. The result of the combination, considered apart from its components, will be represented by a circumscribing circle. In this symbol, which had its origin in remote antiquity, the circle is the infinite. All from which phenomenal existence, emblematized by the square and its diagonals, proceeds. Hence, squaring the circle is sometimes taken to symbolize the process of evolution.
The interdependence of the subject and objects of consciousness will be clearly perceived form the above considerations. The seven states of consciousness viewed in reference to the subject, man, are the seven individual principles, and in reference to the object, matter, are the seven universal cosmic principles; the seventh principle, however, in each case includes in itself the other six, and in point of fact, though forming the last term in both these classifications, is really one. In the infinite the subject and the object merge into each other.
Each of these principles is divided into seven; and each subdivisions is again divided into seven; the septenary division in fact is carried on indefinitely. Our revered Teacher says on this point: — "Whenever any question of evolution or development in any kingdom presents itself to you, bear constantly in mind that everything comes under the septenary rule of series in these correspondences and mutual relations throughout Nature." The number of septenary divisions being limitless, no nomenclature is capable of exhibiting the real interrelations of all the terms. But if cross division is guarded against, each septenary will be found complete in itself and the comprehension of one septenary will render it easy to pursue the investigations backwards and forwards by following the Law of Correspondences.
There is one peculiarity of these septenary divisions which requires prominent mention. In tracing the process by which the present state of man and his universe evolved from anterior states, it is plain, the beginning must be made at the other pole. The present state is objective and material, the starting point must therefore be subjective and spiritual; it must not be forgotten, however, that these terms are relative and not absolute. In the ultimate reality matter and spirit are identical; matter in that connection being but what Kant calls objective reality, and spirit abstract consciousness. The mystical philosophers maintain that the ultimate reality is absolute consciousness, which has objective existence and is not unsubstantial, unreal. According to the language of some Brahmanical philosophers the ultimate reality is the mystic union of Prakriti (Matter) and Purusha (Spirit).
To return to our subject from abstract metaphysical considerations which need not detain us longer than necessary for the elucidation of the theme which concerns us more immediately. In every septenary the first and the last will be respectively Matter and Spirit, or Spirit and Matter, according as we view it from the side of evolution or involution. The process of evolution is endless, and the last principle has always to work back to the first, but on a higher plane; if the curve of evolution re-entered into itself, the process would come to an end. The fitting symbol of evolution is not a circle, but a spiral eternally progressing.
Evolution, or the manifestation of one permanent Noumenon in an infinite variety of phenomenal existence, involves in itself the notion of cycles, and can only be understood by being studied in some particular and defined period of time. In the phenomenal universe, we find that no point of time can be thought of without thinking of previous points of time. It is clear therefore that an object which exists at any given moment, must have always existed before, in some form or other. The pre-existing form is said to cause the subsequent form; further consideration will show that cause and effect differ only in form but are identical in substance, and that the effect always contains in itself the cause. It is one of the fundamental propositions of Eastern philosophical systems that the effect is the unfoldment of the cause in time. The only method by which the recondite facts of man's spiritual evolution can be presented to the general reader is that of deductions from universal truths relating to the nature of his consciousness. These metaphysical truths are consequently to be borne in mind for a correct understanding of the subject.
Evolution, as we have seen, admits of study only in its progress during any given period of time; and this period of time is marked off into cycles and sub-cycles, according to the development of the seven principles and their endless septenary divisions. Extant literature of the Esoteric Doctrine discloses only one chapter of the great book of Evolution — the period of our planetary manvantara. At the commencement of this period the material or rather objective universe of humanity slowly emerges from its spiritual or subjective condition, and then having reached its consummation resolves back into spiritual existence. The ante-natal spiritual condition of man's universe is such as to be subjective to all egos which can, in any sense be called human.
The evolutionary process of which we are the products requires for its complete unfoldment seven planets, corresponding to the seven principles of the human universe. The evolution of the entire system is too vast and complicated to be described within any reasonable limits. A small section of it only can be traced, leaving the student to follow out the rest, with the help of the Law of Correspondences.
It has been stated that the planetary manvantara, as well as the whole range of existence evolved in it, are divided into an indefinite number of septenaries. Remembering this and the other fact that the evolutionary process works spirally and in alternate periods of relative activity and repose, the subject becomes easy of comprehension. We may for our present purpose consider the evolutionary process as a spiral with seven curves. Emerging from the spiritual or subjective condition, which to us egos, imprisoned in matter, is a perfect blank, the evolving existence describes the first curve producing the first representative of spiritual life in the material or objective universe. This is the first principle of our planetary system. To a being whose perceptions can cognize the ante-natal spiritual condition of our universe as objective, this first principle will have an analogy to the first spiritual principle; for the law of septenaries obtains as much in the spiritual as in material existence. But to another, whose objective perception does not penetrate beyond the first material principle, all the seven spiritual principles will be present in this one. The next wave of evolution, producing the second principle, is represented by the curve, which was contained in the first in a potential, or unmanifested condition, and which in its own turn contains the first, as the effect includes the cause. The same relation is continued all through. To come to particulars, each of the seven curves is really a spiral itself, formed by seven curves, among which the same interrelations subsist as among the major curves; all the subdivisions proceed in a similar manner. The illustration adopted applies to the principles and sub-principles evolved as well as to the time occupied in their evolution.
It is not within the scope of the present treatise to chronicle the history of evolution during a manvantara of our planetary system, or to trace the development of its seven principles. We directly deal only with the progress of human evolution on the planet, our present home. The fact, however, is not to be lost sight of, nor can it be too often reiterated, that by analogy the process may be extended indefinitely by the thoughtful student.
Since the first human monads began their present objective
course humanity or rather its spiritual counterpart has swept along the entire
planetary chain three times, and has for the fourth time reached the fourth
planet of the series, earth. During these planetary circuits, which have been
called Rounds, the monads, recognizable on earth as human,
cannot properly be so called [HPB1] when
evolving on other planets. It is only in the present fourth Round
that men, at all like those we can conceive
of[HPB2] , have
Before reaching the perfection attainable in
a Round, humanity has to pass on this earth through seven
minor circuits, called Rings[HPB3] . Previous expositions
of the Esoteric Doctrine, intended to give only the broadest outlines of human
evolution, are silent on the subject of Rings. The introduction of this new
factor, however, need not create confusion if we hold fast to the Law of
Correspondences. The ring [HPB4]
Simultaneously with the development of humanity through
Rounds and Rings the earth itself undergoes a corresponding development. With
dimension is added to man's conception of space. The fourth dimension of space will be a common fact of human
consciousness before the fourth Round
is completed[HPB5] . The
existence, which with the Round begins to work itself from its spiritual into
its objective or material counterpart, undergoes a further development in each Ring.
Little difficulty will be experienced in applying these observations to Rounds and Rings, or to the subdivisions of the latter which will be treated of further on. [ At present each of the five elements composing our sensuous Nature contains within it a certain proportion of the other four in their subtle forms, or rather, in their intermediate condition between what would be called matter and spirit. Fire, for instance, contains within it eight parts of its own subtle or astral counterpart and two of each of the other four. The number of components (sixteen) in an element, corresponds with the four Rounds and four Rings. The complexity of the subject precludes further details, which alone could have rendered the exposition complete. ][HPB6] As to the duration of the different divisions of time mentioned above, it is to be noted that in each septenary the period goes on diminishing in a fixed proportion until the minimum is reached in the fourth, when increasing in the same way it attains the maximum in the seventh.
No human being, with the
exception of Adepts of a certain order, can get out of the attraction of the
earth before the seven [HPB7] Rings are
accomplished, but there are exceptional men who by the force of their personal
exertions have outstripped their fellowmen by one complete Ring, and are thus
developing their fifth principle (intellect) on a higher plan. These have been
spoken of as the normal fifth Rounders, because the difference between Rings
and Rounds has not been accurately defined till now. When a human being escapes
from the necessity of describing these Rings, and passes to the next planet in
advance, he ceases to be strictly a human being; and it is not within the
present scheme to explore the mystery of such planetary existence.
 The term “Ring” was then being used by A.P.Sinnett in his correspondence with K.H. to mean, in most (and latest) cases, “a period of seven Root-races on a globe”, i.e. one “Round” consisted of seven “Rings”, therefore, probably, everywhere in the text below the word “Ring”, when without adjectives and not corrected by H.P.Blavatsky, should be taken to mean “a period of time humanity spends on this fourth globe of our planetary chain in each Round”. And the entire narrative speaks about events on this our fourth globe of the Earth’s planetary chain in whatever Round, Root-race or any smaller period, unless otherwise specified.
 See also “Premature and Phenomenal Growths” [The Theosophist, Vol. V, Nos. 3 & 4(51 & 52), December-January, 1883-1884, pp. 60-61] quoted in “Blavatsky Collected Writings”, Vol. 6, p. 117, where it is written in a footnote: “The seven Rounds decrease and increase in their respective durations, as well as the seven races in each. Thus the 4th Round as well as every 4th race are the shortest, while the 1st and 7th Round as the 1st and 7th root races are the longest.”
[HPB1] i.e. the preceding
[HPB2] " we " can conceive of — and what are the Masters for?
[HPB3] though Mr. S. objects to "Ring"
[HPB4] If Round on preceding par. why Ring on the following?
[HPB5] Do not confuse Mohini dimensions of Space with sensuous perceptions on the purely spiritual plane of the 6 worlds above. With every new Round the senses (physical and spiritual) are increased by the addition of those of one of the invisible spheres. Do not confuse Rounds with Races , or there may be again a terrible mess. The 3 dimensions and the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th belong properly to our earthly matter (the one physical sciences are concerned with), and the fourth dimension is asserting itself because we are in the fourth Round and over the middle. The Earth progresses, develops and modifies as we do and the rest, and in the 7th Root -Race it shall be in its 7th development or dimension. But the 7 upper and 7 nether worlds, or Brahmalokas, are worlds within and in our world and ourselves. So the first Round Humanity was Satya and Atala — the two spiritual opposites or poles of Spiritual Good and Spiritual Evil (matter). The second Round preserving all the faculties and attributes of these got in addition — Tapas and Vitala, the third — Janas and Sutala, and the fourth or ours is all that and besides — Mahar and Rasatala. Do you understand now? We are just at the middle point of Good and Evil equilibrised, so to say, in this Round. It is a blind in Vedanta to have given the worlds sprung from quintuplicated elements in the order they stand. If you know their Sanskrit meaning, think over it and see what I mean. With every Round Humanity went a step down , in the Spiritual Spirituality, and a step higher into Material Spirituality. It is a double centripetal and centrifugal motion, so to say.
[HPB6] oh Jesus! Foot-note — what "four Rounds and four Rings" are you talking about? This is beyond me.
[HPB7] The whole of this par. ought to be taken out . It is impossible to correct it.
MAN: Fragments of a Forgotten History, by: " Two Chelas" in the Theosophical Society: [Mohini Chatterji & Laura C.Holloway]
: what HPB comments on
strikethrough: original text by authors,
underline: HPB's alternative text
[hpb2]: link to footnote with comments by HPB
: footnotes, referencing related information elsewhere in the classic theosophical teachings