Thursday, May 16, 2013

Blavatsky’s Subtle Body

Geoffrey Samuel, Director of the Research Group on the Body, Health and Religion at Cardiff University, has added a new book to his numerous studies on Tibetan religious culture. Professor Samuel has edited with Jay Johnston, Religion and the Subtle Body in Asia and the West: Between Mind and Body. Fourteen academic writers, including Samuel and Johnston, contribute on subjects related to their area of expertise. At 296 pages, the book published by Routledge UK, sells for £90.00 / $155.00 USD. Chapters are grouped into four sections detailing (1) Subtle Bodies in China and India; (2) Subtle Bodies in the Tibetan Tradition; (3) Subtle Bodies in Europe and Islam; and, of course, (4) Subtle Bodies and Modernity. Dr. Johnston of the Department of Studies in Religion, University of Sydney, who introduces part 4 of the book, notes Blavatsky’s contribution to the notion of a “Subtle Body”:

Blavatsky’s text in her multi-volumed tomes Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine draw together scientific aspirations (and nomenclature), Eastern religious ideas (adapted and changed), and Hermetic ideas and astrology. Core to the complex cosmology of ‘planes if existence’ and ‘root races’ was the subtle body.

She writes that “In Theosophical narratives, the subtle body comprises seven layers or sheaths, each interpenetrating and exceeding the other,” which is only partially correct. In Blavatsky’s schema the consciousness of the individual has seven aspects, often referred to as principles, rarely as bodies. Drawing from Blavatsky and Alice Bailey, a brief attempt on defining how these bodies function leads quickly into an outline of the contribution of C.W. Leadbeater and Alice Bailey and later writers who were influenced by them. Unfortunately the book includes no chapter on Blavatsky and her influential ideas on the subject, though a detailed literature exists.

The pioneering 1919 work by Blavatsky’s secretary, G. R. S. Mead, The Doctrine of the Subtle Body in Western Tradition: An Outline of What the Philosophers Thought and Christians Taught on the Subject, is referenced.

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