Theosophical metaphysics as described in Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine can be termed multi-modal. It is a complex, holistic view of the universe that posits a monistic abstract absolute principle (similar to Neoplatonism and Advaita Vedanta) and an emanative manifestation of reality in seven levels of being, with innumerable sub-divisions within the sevenfold structure. It can also be described as a kind of spiritual substantialism (related to the concept of Primal Matter in ancient western philosophy), because the notion of primordial substance, with the basic principle known as Mulaprakriti, is a fundamental principle that has ramifications on all levels of ontological reality and so a large nomenclature of terms was developed. For a basic outline of this spiritual substantialism, the following passage from Blavatsky’s Theosophical Glossary, is a good basic presentation:
Spirit. The lack of any mutual agreement between writers in the use of this word has resulted in dire confusion. It is commonly made synonymous with soul; and the lexicographers countenance the usage. In Theosophical teachings. the term “Spirit” is applied solely to that which belongs directly to Universal Consciousness, and which is its homogeneous and unadulterated emanation. Thus, the higher Mind in Man or his Ego (Manas) is, when linked indissolubly with Buddhi, a spirit; while the term “Soul”, human or even animal (the lower Manas acting in animals as instinct), is applied only to Kâma-Manas, and qualified as the living soul. This is nephesh, in Hebrew, the “breath of life”. Spirit is formless and immaterial, being, when individualised, of the highest spiritual substance—Suddasatwa, the divine essence, of which the body of the manifesting highest Dhyanis are formed. Therefore, the Theosophists reject the appellation “ Spirits” for those phantoms which appear in the phenomenal manifestations of the Spiritualists, and call them “shells”, and various other names. (See “Sukshma Sarîra”.) Spirit, in short, is no entity in the sense of having form ; for, as Buddhist philosophy has it, where there is a form, there is a cause for pain and suffering. But each individual spirit—this individuality lasting only throughout the manvantaric life-cycle—may be described as a centre of consciousness, a self-sentient and self-conscious centre; a state, not a conditioned individual. This is why there is such a wealth of words in Sanskrit to express the different States of Being, Beings and Entities, each appellation showing the philosophical difference, the plane to which such unit belongs, and the degree of its spirituality or materiality. Unfortunately these terms are almost untranslatable into our Western tongues.
The term Mulaprakriti is the primary term presented, the following gives a brief, basic explanation:
In contradistinction to the manifested universe of matter, the term Mulaprakriti (from Mula, “the root,” and prakriti, “nature”), or the unmanifested primordial matter — called by Western alchemists Adam’s Earth — is applied by the Vedantins to Parabrahmam. Matter is dual in religious metaphysics, and septenary in esoteric teachings, like everything else in the universe. As Mulaprakriti, it is undifferentiated and eternal; as Vyakta, it becomes differentiated and conditioned, according to Svetasvatara Upanishad, I. 8, and Devi Bhagavata Purana. The author of the Four Lectures on the Bhagavad Gita, says, in speaking of Mulaprakriti: “From its (the Logos’) objective standpoint, Parabrahmam appears to it as Mulaprakriti. . . . Of course this Mulaprakriti is material to it, as any material object is material to us. . . . Parabrahmam is an unconditioned and absolute reality, and Mulaprakriti is a sort of veil thrown over it.” (Theosophist, Vol. VIII., p. 304.) (Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine , Proem, 10)
The sixteen terms below, from the Theosophical Glossary¸ are all intimately related to the term Mulaprakriti and the concept of Primordial Substance, and the notions contained therein form a large body of Theosophical Metaphysical principles. Therefore an understanding that all of these terms are more or less synonymous and inter-connected, although applying to different levels and degrees of reality, can make the study of The Secret Doctrine somewhat easier.
1-Adamic Earth (Alch.) Called the “true oil of gold” or the “primal element” in Alchemy. It is but one remove from the pure homogeneous element… Alchemy: Seeking under the veil of language, more or less artificial, to convey to the uninitiated so much of the mysterium magnum as is safe in the hands of a selfish world, the alchemist postulates as his first principle the existence of a certain Universal Solvent by which all composite bodies are resolved into the homogeneous substance from which they are evolved, which substance he calls pure gold, or summa materia. This solvent, also called menstvuum universale, possesses the power of removing all the seeds of disease from the human body, of renewing youth and prolonging life. Such is the lapis philosophorum (philosopher’s stone).
2-Âditi (Sk.) The Vedic name for the Mûlaprakriti of the Vedantists; the abstract aspect of Parabrahman, though both unmanifested and unknowable. In the Vedas Âditi is the “Mother-Goddess”, her terrestrial symbol being infinite and shoreless space.
3-Akâsa (Sk.) The subtle, supersensuous spiritual essence which pervades all space; the primordial substance erroneously identified with Ether. But it is to Ether what Spirit is to Matter, or Âtmâ to Kâma-rûpa. It is, in fact, the Universal Space in which lies inherent the eternal Ideation of the Universe in its ever-changing aspects on the planes of matter and objectivity, and from which radiates the First Logos, or expressed thought.
4-Æther (Gr.) With the ancients the divine luminiferous substance which pervades the whole universe, the “garment” of the Supreme Deity, Zeus, or Jupiter. With the moderns, Ether, for the meaning of which in physics and chemistry see Webster’s Dictionary or any other. In esotericism Æther is the third principle of the Kosmic Septenary; the Earth being the lowest, then the Astral light, Ether and Âkâsa (phonetically Âkâsha) the highest.
5-Alaya (Sk.) The Universal Soul (See Secret Doctrine Vol. I. pp. 47 et seq.). The name belongs to the Tibetan system of the contemplative Mahâyâna School. Identical with Âkâsa in its mystic sense, and with Mulâprâkriti, in its essence, as it is the basis or root of all things.
6-Avyakta (Sk.) The unrevealed cause; indiscrete or undifferentiated; the opposite of Vyakta, the differentiated. The former is used of the unmanifested, and the latter of the manifested Deity, or of Brahma and Brahmâ.
7-AnimaMundi (Lat.) The“Soul of the World”, the same as the Alaya of the Northern Buddhists; the divine essence which permeates, animates and informs all, from the smallest atom of matter to man and god. It is in a sense the “seven-skinned mother” of the stanzas in the Secret Doctrine, the essence of seven planes of sentience, consciousness and differentiation, moral and physical. In its highest aspect it is Nirvâna, in its lowest Astral Light. It was feminine with the Gnostics, the early Christians and the Nazarenes; bisexual with other sects, who considered it only in its four lower planes. Of igneous, ethereal nature in theobjective world of form (and then ether), and divine and spiritual in its three higher planes. When it is said that every human soul was born by detaching itself from the Anima Mundi, it means, esoterically, that our higher Egos are of an essence identical with It, which is a radiation of the ever unknown Universal ABSOLUTE.
8-Astral Light (Occult) The invisible region that surrounds our globe, as it does every other, and corresponding as the second Principle of Kosmos (the third being Life, of which it is the vehicle) to the Linga Sharira or the Astral Double in man. A subtle Essence visible only to a clairvoyant eye, and the lowest but one (viz., the earth), of the Seven Akâsic or Kosmic Principles.
9-Chaos (Gr.) The Abyss, the “Great Deep”. It was personified in Egypt by the Goddess Neїth, anterior to all gods. As Deveria says, “the only God, without form and sex, who gave birth to itself, and without fecundation, is adored under the form of a Virgin Mother”. … Neїth is the “Father-mother” of the Stanzas of the Secret Doctrine, the Swabhavat of the Northern Buddhists, the immaculate Mother indeed, the prototype of the latest “Virgin” of all; for, as Sharpe says, “the Feast of Candlemas—in honour of the goddess Neїth— is yet marked in our Almanacs as Candlemas day, or the Purification of the Virgin Mary”; and Beauregard tells us of “the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, who can henceforth, as well as the Egyptian Minerva, the mysterious Neїth, boast of having come from herself, and of having given birth to God”…Neїth is Swabhdvat and also the Vedic Aditi and the Purânic Akâsa, for “she is not only the celestial vault, or ether, but is made to appear in a tree, from which she gives the fruit of the Tree of Life (like another Eve) or pours upon her worshippers some of the divine water of life”.
10-Ether. Students are but too apt to confuse this with Akâsa and with Astral Light. It is neither, in the sense in which ether is described by physical Science. Ether is a material agent, though hitherto undetected by any physical apparatus; whereas Akâsa is a distinctly spiritual agent, identical, in one sense, with the Anima Mundi, while the Astral Light is only the seventh and highest principle of the terrestrial atmosphere, as undetectable as Akâsa and real Ether, because it is something quite on another plane. The seventh principle of the earth’s atmosphere, as said, the Astral Light, is only the second on the Cosmic scale. The scale of Cosmic Forces, Principles and Planes, of Emanations—on the metaphysical—and Evolutions—on the physical plane—is the Cosmic Serpent biting its own tail, the Serpent reflecting the Higher, and reflected in its turn by the lower Serpent. The Caduceus explains the mystery, and the four-fold Dodecahedron on the model of which the universe is said by Plato to have been built by the manifested Logos—synthesized by the unmanifested First-Born—yields geometrically the key to Cosmogony and its microcosmic reflection—our Earth.
11-Mûlaprakriti (Sk.) The Parabrahmic root, the abstract deific feminine principle—undifferentiated substance. Akâsa. Literally, “the root of Nature” (Prakriti) or Matter.
12-Pradhâna (Sk.) Undifferentiated substance, called elsewhere and in other schools—Akâsa; and Mulaprakriti or Root of Matter by the Vedantins. In short, Primeval Matter.
13-Prakriti (Sk.) Nature in general, nature as opposed to Purusha— spiritual nature and Spirit, which together are the “two primeval aspects of the One Unknown Deity”. (Secret Doctrine, I. 51.)
14-Svabhâvat (Sk.) Explained by the Orientalists as “plastic substance”, which is an inadequate definition. Svabhâvat is the world-substance and stuff, or rather that which is behind it—the spirit and essence of substance. The name comes from Subhâva and is composed of three words—su, good, perfect, fair, handsome; sva, self; and bkâva, being, or state of being. From it all nature proceeds and into it all returns at the end of the life-cycles. In Esotericism it is called “Father-Mother”. It is the plastic essence of matter.
15-Substance. Theosophists use the word in a dual sense, qualifying substance as perceptible and imperceptible; and making a distinction between material, psychic and spiritual substances (see “Sudda Satwa”), into ideal (i.e., existing on higher planes) and real substance.
16-Sudda Satwa (Sk.) A substance not subject to the qualities of matter; a luminiferous and (to us) invisible substance, of which the bodies of the Gods and highest Dhyânis are formed. Philosophically, Suddha Satwa is a conscious state of spiritual Ego-ship rather than any essence.