Subtle Human


Sheaths, Vehicles (Subtle Bodies)

We are structured like an onion ...

Sheath or vehicle are terms that we have adopted from the theosophic teachings. According to these teachings, the human being possesses various bodies of different density, which the person can enliven with consciousness, or which the person can also take off (e. g. when dying or through higher development). Thus, these bodies were termed with words which describe this process – which means that these bodies are like clothes that can be taken on and off.

Before we dare to go deeper into the secrets of our nature, we firstly should accept that our nature is much more complex than it is normally thought. Our ego as a consistent, impartible centre; an ego that lives on eternally as a personality like we are experiencing it in everday life; this ego is a fairytale, a tradition which we have inherited from our occidental Christian way of thinking in ancient times. While our understanding of nature has adapted to our modern knowledge and discoveries over the last centuries, this does not apply to religion, which remained rigid and unadaptable.

When we do a retrospective of our daily experiences, we have to realize that our ego or personality fluctuates considerably – sometimes friendly and loving, sometimes furious, vengeful and unforgiving. If we would compare these appearances of our ego, we would not believe that this was one and the same person. Thus, our ego appears in the most different masks, which becomes most obvious in our dreams. Even our brain is anatomically divided. Therefore, it is no surprise that our "subtle" ego – our soul or however we may name our transcendental aspects – can appear in very different forms; not only in its appearance but also in its density, which is in this case: physical body, etheric body, astral body. (On this you may read also: "Our ego".)

To illustrate this situation, I will bring the part of a letter in which a rather rare experience is described: the author of this letter reports three different "sheaths" which she had been able to see simultaneously:

"I lay on my back in my bed and I knew I was sleeping. Then I woke up in a dream. When I opened my eyes, I was very startled because my double had just grown out of my upper part of the body. The second Me, which was transparent, lay above me, staring at me ceaselessly. I was afraid and wondered what this meant. Then suddendly, I stood in the corner of my bedroom, as a big lightful shape. I had my normal will, my character and experiences inside of me, although I saw myself lying there in my bed and this second Me over me, which threatened my physical body. I thought that this was how it must be like when I am dead.

I knew I had no power or opportunity to take action materially in my third "body of light" and I wondered how I would be able to defeat this second Me. The second Me looked at me, got frightened and as I took a step towards it, it vanished. I was surprised about my auric radiation which had caused the second Me vanishing. I stood there in the room and thought, I should use this opportunity to see the room from this point of view. I thought that my mother really had been right when saying that I should buy curtains, for it was very bright in the room. I saw myself again – like dead – lying in my bed and thought that I had to return in order to live again."

While our subtle structure in its denser aspects (etheric body, astral body) is quite well proven, this does not apply to the "higher sheaths". It rather seems that the most higher sheaths are intellectual ideas to complete dogmatic world views.

But it is indispensable to deal with these ideas when wanting to get a deeper insight and understanding of the various teachings – especially when one wants to create an own world view by wide reading and further education.


Different classifications (from literature):

Paul the Apostle:

  1. Body
  2. Soul
  3. Spirit


  1. Physical Body
  2. Nefesh (plastic intermediary)
  3. Ruach (the soul)
  4. Neshama (the pure spirit)

The five Koshas (Vedanta):

  1. Annamaya-Kosha – rough matter (anna = aliment)
  2. Pranamaya-Kosha – energetic body, consisting of the five organs of action (prana = vital energy)
  3. Manomaya-Kosha – body of Mana or mind
  4. Vijnanamaya-Kosha – seat of Buddhi and intellect
  5. Anandamaya-Kosha – the divine core of the human being, consisting of sat-cit-ananda (sat = existence, cit = consciousness, ananda = bliss)


  1. Sthula Sharira – physical body
  2. Linga Sharira – etheric body
  3. Shukshma Sharira – astral body
  4. Karana Sharira – mental body
  5. Buddhi – causal body
  6. Atman – the higher self
  7. Purusha – immortal consciousness


© Alfred Ballabene (Vienna) translated by Corra