The Three Hypostases or Four Quarters of Âtman.

Henk J. Spierenburg, edited by Katinka Hesselink

[This article is based on research by Henk Spierenburg. He gave the editor permission to reshape his research-material into an article. Since his demize the editor has obviously not been able to check back with him on changes. The reader can rest assured that changes mostly involve rearranging the material. The quotes and the commentary are Spierenburg’s. These comments were translated by me from the Dutch originals into English. Other additions are the conclusion, bibliography and note in the bibliography.]

What is Âtman according to H.P. Blavatsky?

Âtman, the highest Spiritual Soul...” (CW III, 304)

Âtman. – The emanation from the Absolute; corresponding to the seventh principle.” (CW III, 414)

“...Âtman, or the irradiating Spirit of every creature of the human family.” (SD I, 120);

Âtman, is no individual property of any man, but is the Divine essence which has no body, no form, which is imponderable, invisible and indivisible...” (Key, 101)

We can go on like that. The main issue is the word ‘indivisible’ in the last quote. How can we combine that with a fragment of Diagram 1 (text and figure are given here) from C.W. XIII, p. 524 (slightly redrawn):

Atman in triangle: I, II, III

“I, II, III, are the Three Hypostases of ÂTMAN, its contact with Nature and Man being the Fourth, making it a Quaternary, or Tetraktys, the Higher Self”

She also adds: “1. Buddhi, the vehicle of Âtman 2. Manas, the vehicle of Buddhi.”

In this article we can’t go into every aspect of what Blavatsky says here. One thing is clear though: at first sight the three Hypostates of Âtman don’t match the idea that Âtman is indivisible. We can look through the 10.000 pages of Blavatsky’s work in vain trying to find clues on these three Hypostases. It is also confusting that she speaks of three hypostases and of a ‘quarternary’.

What are hypostases?

Looking in dictionaries and encyclopedias for the word hypostasis, we find various meanings that are very different from each other. One thing they all agree on: the word is originally Greek. Liddell&Scott gives many meanings, amongst which ‘real nature, essence’. H.P. Blavatsky gives another example of three hypostases: “Hiranyagarbha, Hari, and Sankara – the three hypostases of the manifesting ‘Spirit of the Supreme Spirit’... are the purely metaphysical abstract qualities of formation, preservation, and destruction, and are the three divine Avasthas (lit. hypostases)...” (SD I, 18)

We can conclude that according to Blavatsky the Sanskrit equivalent of hypostasis is avastha. Monier-Williams gives on page 106a as a meaning for avastha amongst other things: ‘position, stage, degree’.

On, we find the following definition of hypostasis: “The term ‘Hypostasis’ is used here to refer to an aspect of Divinity or Godhead that also serves as the Ground or Foundation or Reality of existence, and supports and gives rise to all beings and reality on the grade that is ontologically inferior to It. Each hypostasis is in turn derived from or an aspect or mode of the hypostasis above it. A hypostasis is both a ‘world’ (reality, plane, sphere of existence, whatever) and a Personality that serves as the Central Being or Core Reality...”

We can conclude that this is almost the same as Blavatsky’s example, except that explains the hypostases of the first cause, the Divine, Parabrahman (Hinduism), Ai Soph (Qabbalah), Adi Boeddha (Mahayana Buddhism), etc. This article merely deals with the hypostasis of Âtman.

De Mandukya Upanishad

Blavatsky thought the Mandukya Upanishad was very important. For instance, she uses words from this upanishad in her description of the first of the three fundamental propositions in the Proem of the Secret Doctrine: ‘unthinkable and unspeakable’ (SD I, 14). In the Mandukya Upanishad four quarternaries of Âtman are also mentioned. The core of this article are these quotes with commentary by Blavatsky, Subba Row and Samkaracharya of whom Blavatsky says:

“...the doctrines of Esoteric Buddhism... are nearly identical with those of the... true followers of Samkaracharya.” (CW IV, 567).

The Four Quarters of Âtman

Text of the Mandukya Upanishad on the four quarters of Âtman

“2. Âtman is Brahman. Âtman, such as It is, is possessed of four quarters.

“3. The first quarter is vaisvânara whose sphere [of action] is the waking state [jagrat], whose consciousness relates to things external, who is possessed of seven limbs and nineteen mouths, and who enjoys gross things.

“4. Taijasa is the second quarter, whose sphere [of activity] is the dream state [svapna], whose consciousness is internal, who is possessed of seven limbs and nineteen mouths, and who enjoys subtle objects.

“5. That state is deep sleep [sushupti] where the sleeper does not desire any enjoyable thing and does not see any dream. The third quarter is prâjña who has deep sleep [sushupti] as his sphere, in whom everything becomes undifferentiated, who is a mass of mere consciousness, who abounds in bliss [ânanda], who is surely an enjoyer of bliss [ânanda], and who is the doorway to the experience [of the dream and waking states].

“6. This one is the Lord of all [Îshvara]; this one is omniscient; this one is the inner director of all; this one is the source of all; this one is verily the place of origin and dissolution of all beings.”

Samkaracharya on the four quarters:

“Like [the value of] a coin, not like [the four legs of] a cow.”

Subba Row on the four quarters of Brahman [is Âtman]:

SR CW I, 5: “...the four states of Brahman [are] called vaisvânara, taijasa (or hiranyagarbha), prâjña, and Îshvara...”

The first of the four quarters: Vaisvânara

Samkaracharya on Vaisvânara:

“[Vaisvânara has seven limbs:] Heaven is verily the head of that vaisvanara âtman, the sun is his eye, air is his vital force, space is the middle part, water is his bladder, and the earth is his two feet.

“Vaisvânara has nineteen mouths:] The five senses of perception [jnâñendriyas] and the five organs of action [karmêndriyas] make up ten, the vital forces, prâna and the rest, make up five, and mind [manas], intellect [buddhi], ego [ahamkara] and mind-stuff [âkâsha]. These are [the] mouths...

“...the intention is to show that the entire phenomenal universe and the world of gods, together with this [gross cosmic] Âtman, contribute to the constitution of the four parts.”

Subba Row on Vaisvânara:

SR CW II, 463: “...Vaisvânara is not to be looked upon as merely the manifested objective world, but as the one physical basis from which the whole objective world starts into existence.”

Blavatsky on Vaisvânara:

SD II, 568n: “In the astronomical and cosmical key, vaisvânara is Agni, son of the Sun, or Visvânara, but in the psycho-metaphysical symbolism it is the SELF, in the sense of non-separateness, i.e, both divine and human.”

On the second of the four quarters: taijasa

Samkaracharya on manas:

“The mind [manas] is... internal in relation to the senses. He whose prajñâ, awareness in dream, takes the forms of the impressions in that [internal] mind [manas], is... aware of internal objects. He is called taijasa [luminous], since he becomes the witness of the [modes of] cognition that is bereft of objects and appears only as a luminous thing.”

Subba Row on Hiranyagarbha:

SR CW II, 463: “...Hiranyagarbha... is not to be confounded with the astral world, but must be looked upon as the basis of the astral world...”

Blavatsky on the second of the four quarters:

CW XIV, 51: “ is through this spiritual and intellectual Principle in man, through taijasa – the shining, ‘because it has the luminous internal organ as its associate’ – that man is thus united to his heavenly prototype.”

On the third of the four quarters: prâjña

Samkaracharya on prâjña:

“This state is called... a mass of consciousness, since it is characterized by the absence of discrimination. It is a mass of consciousness like everything appearing as a mass by becoming indistinguishable under nocturnal darkness. From the use of the word ‘mere’ [in the Mandukya Upanishad], it follows that there is nothing of a separate class other than consciousness...
“He is called prâjña, consciousness par excellence, since in him alone is there the knowledge of the past and the future and of all things.”

Subba Row on prâjña:

SR CW I, 120: “Prâjña or the capacity of perception exists in seven different aspects corresponding to the seven conditions of matter. Strictly speaking, there are but six states of matter, the so-called seventh state being the aspect of Cosmic matter in its original undifferentiated condition. Similarly there are six states of differentiated prâjña, the seventh state being a condition of perfect unconsciousness. By differentiated prâjña, I mean the condition in which prâjña is split up into various states of consciousness. Thus we have six states of consciousness...”

Blavatsky on prâjña:

SD II, 597n: “Differentiated matter existing in the Solar System (let us not touch the whole Kosmos) in seven different conditions, and prâjña, or the capacity of perception, existing likewise in seven different aspects corresponding to the seven conditions of matter, there must necessarily be seven states of consciousness in man; and according to the greater or smaller development of these states, the systems of religions and philosophies were schemed out.”

On the fourth of the four quarters: Îshvara

Samkaracharya on Îshvara:

“This one [Îshvara]... when in his natural state, is surely the Lord of all, of all diversity inclusive of the heavenly world...
“This one.., in his [state of] immanence in all diversity, is the knower of all; hence, this one is omniscient. This one is the inner controller; this one becomes the director of all beings by entering inside. For the same reason he gives birth to the universe together with its diversities...”

Subba Row Îshvara:

SR CW II, 373: “[The] divine Voice is the Logos – the seventh principle in man. He is the real Îshvara of the Vedântins and the Saviour of mankind. Through him alone can salvation and immortality be secured by man; and the end and object of all initiation is to ascertain His attributes and connection with humanity, realize his sacred presence in every human heart, and discover the means of transferring man’s higher individuality, purified and ennobled by the virtuous Karma of a series of incarnations, to His feet as the most sacred offering which a human being can bestow.”

HPB on Îshvara:

Key, 159: “...between... Îshvara and Prâjña there is in reality no more difference than between a forest and its trees, a lake and its waters...”
SD I, 573: “Îswara or Logos is Spirit; or, as Occultism explains, it is a compound unity of manifested living Spirits, the parent-source and nursery of all the mundane and terrestrial monads, plus their divine reflection, which emanate from, and return into, the Logos, each in the culmination of its time.”


The three hypostases of Âtman are thus: vaisvânara, taijasa, prâjña and Îshvara. In other words (simplified) Self, Mind, Consciousness and Logos. Since Ishvara and Prajna are as identical as a lake and its waters, the three hypostases and the four quarters are the same. These three hypostases are not like individual parts of Âtman, but aspects, in the way that the value of money is an aspect of a coin (Samkaracharya).


The editor suspects that Spierenburg used the original sanskrit versions of both the material by Samkaracharya and the Mandukya Upanishad, as well as English translations. His working method was to use the English translation(s) available in his (extensive) library, check with the original and where necessary change the translation. This usually did not amount to much more than add the original sanskrit terms in parenthesis.

CW: H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, 14 volumes, published by Quest Books, Wheaton Illinois

Key: H.P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy, available in various reprints.

Liddell&Scott dictionary: Liddell&Scott Greek-English dictionary, p. 1895a-b of the 1968-edition

Monier-Williams: Sanskrit-English dictionary by Sir M. Monier-Williams, editie 1899, page 106a

SD: H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, two volumes available in various reprints.

SR CW: T. Subba Row Collected Writings, published by Point Loma Publications, 2001, 2002.