This small essay is an initial attempt to bring to language the “lived, first-personal, experiential characteristics” of the 7 Theosophical principles of our being based on the idea that these are “subjective, introspectivley available features.” (1)
One prerequisite for doing so is to resist the use of any metaphorical or explanatory concepts, which is the major line of contention between metaphysics and descriptive psychology in the spirit of phenomenology. The use of third-person examples is acceptable as long as they can be empathetically entered and made into hypothetical first-person experiences.
Below are the names of the principles in both English and Sanskrit followed by descriptions and examples.
I) Physical (Rupa): our experience of our physical body as a physical body will show in experiences like bumping into something, when you feel the weight and pure physicality of the body, when you realize it is a physical thing among other physical things and is subject to the laws of physical causality.
II) Vital principle (Prana): our experience of our vitality, or lack thereof, will show itself in the way the physical body comes along when we go about our business. Is it nimble, fresh, rested, dynamic, or limp, fatigued and sluggish? The same would apply to our emotional and mental bodies too, or, more accurately, it is the integrated complex of our physical-emotional-mental bodies that we experience as vital or not.
III) Etheric Double (Linga sharira): our experience of the prototypical double of our physical body would be accessible when we would have an unambiguous experience of a phantom limb in the case we lost a physical part of our body, but still experience its (phantom) reality.
IV) Lower Mental Body (Kama Rupa): our experience of our lower mental-desire body is maybe most accessible for reflection in the moment when a physical intention arises and is not yet fulfilled. It’s then that we can feel explicitly the pull of a lower, projected mental-emotional body image towards its physical object for fulfillment. For example, Janet feels the temptation to keep the excessive change she received in order to pay her rent.
V) Upper Mental Body (Manas): our experience of our higher mental-desire body is maybe most accessible for reflection in the moment when a spiritual intention arises and is not yet fulfilled. It’s then that we can feel explicitly the pull of a higher, projected mental-emotional body image towards its spiritual object for fulfillment. Janet feels the obligation to return the excessive change she received for the sake of honesty and justice.
VI) The Spiritual Soul (Budhi): our experience of our higher spiritual being is maybe most accessible for reflection when conscience announces itself as a still voice calling us to self-transcendentally take care of situations of moral ambiguity when we find ourselves in unprecedented limit-situations and all our Manasic maxims and principles fail to lead us to a right decision. This might then lead to a new caring perceptive intuition of a situation and the appropriate actions implied. Janet, torn between principled obligation and ego-centered temptation, has–triggered by her call of conscience–a new intuition of the situation as involving not just herself and the cashier, but also the wider network of relations involved that are directly or indirectly affected by her decision, and therefore resolves, unambiguously, to return the excess change. Mary has had such insights already and appropriated them into her being and therefore returned the excessive change spontaneously, virtuously, without second thoughts.
VII) The Divine Self (Atma): our experience of our divine self is maybe most accessible for reflection just at the beginning and end of an experience when, first, our whole being is integrally (physical, vital, emotional, mental, intuitive, etc.) and self-transcendentally involved in a meditative action of intense spiritual significance and then the grace of consciousness-being-bliss overcomes us, uninvited, all-encompassing and for a timeless moment. This might happen in different settings. To me it happened a few times during work and while hiking in the mountains. Because of the overwhelming, intense and complete nature of the experience it will be probably quite impossible for consciousness to find the attitude and space to reflect upon itself during the height of it. But because of its intensity it will linger or sets itself in memory and then reflection can set in.
The above is an initial experiential grounding of the 7 Theosophical principles in reflective experience and made ready for a future phenomenology of Theosophy, or maybe better-stated–and paraphrasing Kant–a phenomenological prolegomena for any future Theosophy. Phenomena to be explored would be the interconnected nature of our physical-vital-emotional-mental experiences and bring out its essential structures and dynamics.
(1). John J. Drummond ”Moral phenomenology and moral intentionality” in Phenomenology and Cognitive Science (2008): 7:35-49. The examples of Janet and Mary were taken from this article, though slightly adapted to the article. Because the article is of a technical philosophical nature I can only recommend it to those with some philosophical training. For a more accessible text see “Phenomenology of Practice” by Max van Manen in Phenomenology & Practice (2007) 1: 11-30.