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Ego in Theosophy

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Ego in Theosophy


Educating, refining, elevating the human ego is a long and arduous task. It takes many lifetimes: each time our incarnating ego, our ongoing consciousness – which has only lost its memory shortly before reincarnation – builds a new personality, and gains new experiences and lays new causes for good or bad. The path of individual evolution before us leads through innumerable lives over millions or even billions of years. There is a tremendous amount of adventure and development in stock for us, most of which we don’t even have the faculties at present to imagine. But then, who, or what, if not the ego itself, has the task of educating the human ago?

Theosophy teaches that the human being is a composite being: not just one ego, but a number of egos ‘on top of each other,’ hierarchically.

So better than to denounce the existence of egos, centers of conscious focus, is to recognize ‘ego’ as a reflection on various planes of existence of the One Consciousness with which we are one. It is better is to say that illusion and reality are One. Nature, i.e. the Cosmic Mind (Mahat) of it, in it, working through it, churns the milk of universal, undivided and indivisible Consciousness into ‘curds’: apparently separate, aggregated, conglomerated units, but inherently of the same nature of the milk or the ‘One Consciousness.’

What is the reason for the existence of ego? Ego exists, but what we think it is, is not it. The erroneous view we cherish about ourselves as isolated unities who can serve themselves alone, is, of course – as one can see quite clearly – the source of all individual suffering: of all greed, war, discrimination, territorial behavior, possession of ‘parts’ of the infinite university, shortly everything that logically flows forth from egoism, selfishness, illusion, erroneous view.

Theosophically, there are two such egoic centers: the spiritual and impersonal, commonly called the individuality; and the personal, often called the (source of the) soul or the personality. The first mentioned, higher ego is unconditionally immortal, the latter ego is conditionally immortal, but in most cases mortal because of its lack of binding aspirations with its higher Over-self, the individuality. The ego is that which says “I am I”; it is indirect or reflected consciousness, consciousness recognizing its own māyāvic existence as a separate entity. It is not the permanent self (which is, during a kalpa1, the ātmabuddhimanas considered as an indissoluble triad); for all egos in the human constitution are reflections of the permanent spiritual selfhood.

The total human being exists of seven principles. The hierarchy or ‘top-to-bottom’ – spiritually, arrangement of the human constitution grows or ‘flows over’ from the immanent or permanent self. The seven layers of this hierarchy here mentioned, from high to low (there are some variations relating to the teaching to be conveyed) are Ātman (the Self), Buddhi (spiritual understanding or intuition), Higher Manas (the higher mind), Lower Manas (the lower mind), Kāma (Desire), the Prāa (Life energy or energies) and finally the Liga or Astral body (which is the etheric model according to which the physical molecules are placed thus forming the physical body.)

The permanent (but not unchanging) Self or ātman, this is the very seed of essential egoity. A māyāvi [Illusion-born] ego will be formed on each of the planes of matter (Of which physical matter is but one, and the lowest, coarsest example) and therefore on all the planes or layers of the human constitution; the seed of egoity manifesting itself in each successive vehicle2 and thus producing there an ego, permanent or impermanent according to its distance from the permanent self.

A scheme for the total human being is given in Theosophical literature as:


Of which we make here a simplification for the purpose of this article:




Divine Ego


Spiritual Ego


Higher Human Ego

(Reembodying Ego)


Lower Human Ego

(Astral Personal Ego)


Animal Ego

(Elementary3 Ego)


Elemental Ego


Physical body

To explain the figure. The highest Self (paramātman) develops or evolves sheaths or garments. The upper ones are spun of spirit, and the lower ones are spun out of “shadow” or matter4 Now each such sheath or garment is a “soul”; and between the self and such a soul (upādhi) – any soul – is the ego.

Thus we have: ātman, the divine monad, giving birth to the divine ego, which latter evolves forth the monadic envelope or divine soul. Jīva, the spiritual monad, has its child, which is the spiritual ego, and this in turn evolves forth the spiritual soul or individual; and the combination of these two, considered as a unit, generally speaking, is ātmabuddhi; then bhūtātman, the human ego — the higher human soul, including the lower buddhi and higher manas; prāātman, the vital or personal ego — the ordinary human soul or person — including manas, kāma, and prāa, which is the one people mean when they say ‘ego’ in daily language; and finally the beast or animal ego — the vital-astral soul: kāma and prāa. This has the physical body as its lowest (coarsest) vehicle or upādhi.

So in man, his person is all that he is, his loves, his hates, the way he loves and hates, his longings, and his desires, the way he longs and desires, centered about a consciousness, a conscious center; that is the ego. The person is the expression of the ego, and the attributes composing the person are the personality. But in higher sense, ego means also the divine, spiritual centers of consciousness – which we really are, though our personal consciousness may not yet be aware of that esoteric fact. It is our future to know all these fact consciously.

  1. A kalpa or age is in this case the life-time of the earth, 4,320,000,000 human years []
  2. Upādhi or ‘soul’ in the sense of vehicle for any ego []
  3. ‘Elementary’ means the temporary remains of a man or animal after death []
  4. Spirit and Matter are as two poles, two aspects, of universal, conscious Spirit-Matter. []