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William Judge was a great Theosophist. He did not write an article about skandhas, but he repeatedly mentioned them in his writings, and below I transcribe what he said about them:

In his book The Ocean of Theosophy, when William Judge explained about the Kama-Loka, he wrote:

« Struggling out of the body the entire man goes into Kama-Loka, to purgatory, where he again struggles and loosens himself from the lower skandhas

During mortal life the desires and passions are guided by the mind and soul; after death they work without guidance from the former master; while we live we are responsible for them and their effects, and when we have left this life we are still responsible, although they go on working and making effects on others while they last as the sort of entity I have described, and without our direct guidance. In this is seen the continuance of responsibility.

They are a portion of the skandhas — well known in eastern philosophy — which are the aggregates that make up the man. The body includes one set of the skandhas, the astral man another, the kama principle is another set, and still others pertain to other parts.

In kama are the really active and important ones which control rebirths and lead to all the varieties of life and circumstance upon each rebirth.

They are being made from day to day under the law that every thought combines instantly with one of the elemental forces of nature, becoming to that extent an entity which will endure in accordance with the strength of the thought as it leaves the brain, and all of these are inseparably connected with the being who evolved them.

There is no way of escaping; all we can do is to have thoughts of good quality, for the highest of the Masters themselves are not exempt from this law, but they "people their current in space" with entities powerful for good alone.

Now in Kama-Loka this mass of desire and thought exists very definitely until the conclusion of its disintegration, and then the remainder consists of the essence of these skandhas, connected, of course, with the being that evolved and had them.

They can no more be done away with than we can blot out the universe. Hence they are said to remain until the being comes out of Devachan, and then at once by the law of attraction they are drawn to the being, who from them as germ or basis builds up a new set of skandhas for the new life»
(Chapter 12)

And in this same book, when William Judge explained about the Devachan, he stated:

« What Master Kuhumi did say on this is as follows: The "dream of devachan" lasts until karma is satisfied in that direction. In Devachan there is a "gradual exhaustion of force." "The stay in Devachan is proportioned to the unfinished psychic impulses originating in earth-life: those whose attractions were preponderatingly material will be sooner drawn back into rebirth by the force of Tanha."

The thirst for life expressed by the word Tanha is the pulling or magnetic force lodged in the skandhas inherent in all beings»
(Chapter 13)

In an article where William Judge talks about karma, he pointed out:

« Karma in their cases operates through what Patanjali calls “mental deposits.” These are the net results stored from each life by Manas . For as the body dies, taking the brain with it, there can be no storage there, nor means of connecting with the next earth-life; the division known as Kāma is dissipated or purged away together with the astral body at some time before rebirth; the astral body retains nothing — as a general rule — for the new life, and the value of summation of those skandhas which belong to Kāma is concentrated and deposited in Manas or the mind. »
(Echoes of the Orient I, p.278-79)

And in another article where William Judge spoke about reincarnation, he explained that:

« When death arrives, the brain disintegrates and there is nothing left of it all, but a few tendencies — skandhas, not of the very best. The advantages then turn out in the end to be disadvantages altogether.

But imagine the same brain and body not in places of ease, struggling for a good part of life, doing their duty and not in a position to please the senses; this experience will burn in, stamp upon, carve into the character, more energy, more power and more fortitude. It is thus through the ages that great characters are made. »
(Echoes of the Orient I, p.485)

And on other occasions William Judge commented that:

« Every inimical and uncharitable thought makes for disunion, and every opposite one for harmony. The skandhas are full of all the impressions we received; those skandhas wait and are ours again when we emerge from Devachan. »
(Echoes of the Orient II, p.315)

« When the astral body in which they cohere is disintegrated, as it is in time, they remain a sort of entity in the Kama-Rupa, a form of still less materiality than the Linga-Sarira. Eventually this too is said to fade out, leaving only their essence, the skandhas, fateful germs of karmic consequence, which, when the Ego emerges from the devachanic state, are by the law of attraction drawn to the new being in which it incarnates. »
(Echoes of the Orient III, p.236)

And finally, when a person asked:

What is the relationship of the Esoteric Seventh principle to that principle which is derived from the violet sub-ray of the Violet Hierarchy of Nature?

William Judge replied:

« The Auric Egg is the esoteric seventh principle. The Linga-Sarira is derived from the violet sub-ray of the Violet Hierarchy [568]. The relation is that of transitory emanation to eternal basic principle. The essence of the Linga-Sarira is derived from the Violet Hierarchy, but its individual coloring, nature, and form are furnished by the Auric Egg and the taṇhic elementals or essence of former skandhas. »
(Echoes of the Orient III, p.405)


Henri Olcott was the first president of the Theosophical Society, and in his book "Buddhist Catechism", he wrote the following about the skandhas:

Question: What is it that is born?

Answer: A new aggregation of Skandhas, or personality *, caused by the last generative thought of the dying person.

Question: How many Skandhas are there?

Answer: Five.

Question: Name the five Skandhas.

Answer: Rûpa, Vêdanâ, Saññâ, Samkhârâ, and Viññâna.

Question: Briefly explain what they are.

Answer: Rûpa, material qualities; Vedanâ, sensation; Saññâ, abstract ideas; Samkhârâ, tendencies of mind; Viññâna, mental powers, or consciousness.

Of these we are formed; by them we are conscious of existence; and through them communicate with the world about us.

Question: To what cause must we attribute the differences in the combination of the five Skandhas which make every individual differ from every other individual?

Answer: To the ripened Karma of the individual in his preceding births.

Question: What is the force or energy that is at work, under the guidance of Karma, to produce the new being?

Answer: Tanhâ — the will to live.

Question: Upon what is the doctrine of re-births founded?

Answer: Upon the perception that perfect justice, equilibrium and adjustment are inherent in the universal system of Nature. Buddhists do not believe that one life —even though it were extended to one hundred or five hundred years— is long enough for the reward or punishment of a man's deeds.

The great circle of re-births will be more or less quickly run through according to the preponderating purity or impurity of the several lives of the individual.

Question: Is this new aggregation of Skandhas —this new personality— the same being as that in the previous birth, whose Tanhâ has brought it into existence?

Answer: In one sense it is a new being; in another it is not. In Pâlî it is — "nacha so nacha añño," which means not the same nor yet another. During this life the Skandhas are constantly changing; and while the man A. B., of forty, is identical, as regards. personality, with the youth A. B., of eighteen, yet, by the continual waste and reparation of his body, and change of mind and character, he is a different being.

Nevertheless, the man in his old age justly reaps the reward or suffering consequent upon his thoughts and actions at every previous stage of his life. So the new being of a re-birth, being the same individuality as before, with but a changed form, or new aggregation of Skandhas, justly reaps the consequences of his actions and thoughts in the previous existence.

Question: But the aged man remembers the incidents of his youth, despite his being physically and mentally changed. Why, then, is not the recollection of past lives brought over by us from our last birth into. the present birth?

Answer: Because memory is included within the Skandhas; and the Skandhas having changed with the new reincarnation, a new Memory, the record of that particular existence, develops. Yet the record or reflection of all the past earth-lives must survive; for, when Prince Siddhârthâ became Buddha, the full sequence of his previous births was seen by him.

If their several incidents had left no trace behind, this could not have been so, as there would have been nothing for him to see. And any one who attains to the fourth state of Dhyâna (psychical insight) can thus retrospectively trace the line of his lives.

Question: What is the ultimate point towards which fend all these series of changes in form?

Answer: Nirvâa.

(This is found in the second part, in the section "Dharma or doctrine.")


In the following editions, Colonel Olcott added this footnote in his book:

* Upon reflection, I have substituted "personality" for "individuality" as written in the first edition. The successive appearances upon one or many earths, or "descents into generation," of the tanhaically-coherent parts (Skandhas) of a certain being are a succession of personalities.

In each birth the personality differs from that of the previous or next succeeding birth.

Karma, the deus ex machinâ, masks (or shall we say reflects?) itself, now in the personalities of a sage, again as an artisan, and so on throughout the string of births.

But though personalities ever shift, the one line of life along which they are strung like beads, runs unbroken; it is ever that particular line, never any other. It is therefore individual —an individual vital undulation— which is careering through the objective side of Nature, under the impulse of Karma and the creative direction of Tanhâ, and persists through many cyclic changes.

Professor Rhys-Davids calls that which passes from personality to personality along the individual chain, 'character' or 'doing'. Since "character" is not a mere metaphysical abstraction, but the sum of one's mental qualities and moral propensities.

Would it not help to dispel what Professor Rhys-Davids calls "The desperate expedient of a mystery" [Buddhism, p. 101], if we regarded the life-undulation as individuality and each of its series of natal manifestations as a separate personality?

We must have two words to distinguish between the concepts, and I find none so clear and expressive as the two I have chosen.

The perfected individual, Buddhistically speaking, is a Buddha, I should say; for a Buddha is but the rare flower of humanity, without the least supernatural admixture. And, as countless generations —"four asankheyyas and a hundred thousand cycles"— Fausboll and Rhys-Davids’ Buddhist Birth Stories, (13) are required to develop a man into a Buddha, and the iron will to become one runs throughout all the successive births, what shall we call that which thus wills and perseveres?

Character or individuality?

An individuality but partly manifested in any one birth, but built up of fragments from all the births.

The denial of "Soul" by Buddha (see Sanyutta Nikâya, the Sutta Pitaka) points to the prevalent delusive belief in an independent personality; an entity, which after one birth would go to a fixed place or state where, as a perfect entity, it could eternally enjoy or suffer.

And what he shows is that the 'I am I' consciousness is, as regards permanency, logically impossible, since its elementary constituents constantly change and the "I" of one birth differs from the "I" of every other birth.

But every thing that I have found in Buddhism accords with the theory of a gradual evolution of the perfected man—viz., a Buddha—through numberless natal experiences.

And in the consciousness of that individual who, at the end of a given chain of births, attains Buddhahood, or who succeeds in attaining the fourth stage of Dhyâna, or mystic self-development, in any of his births anterior to the final one, the scenes of all these serial births are perceptible.

In the Jâtakatthavannanâ —so well translated by Professor Rhys-Davids— an expression continually recurs which, I think, rather supports such an idea, viz.: "Then the Blessed One made manifest an occurrence hidden by change of birth," or "that which had been hidden by," etc.

Early Buddhism then clearly held to a permanency of records in the Âkâsha, and the potential capacity of man to read the same when he has evolved to the stage of true individual enlightenment.

At death, and in convulsions and trance, the javana chitta is transferred to the object last created by the desires. The will to live brings all thoughts into objectivity.

(This is found in Appendix A, p.137)


If you did not understand very well the Colonel Olcott’s explanation, don’t worry, since it is quite confusing, but in summary he says that after reflecting it, he came to the conclusion that it is the individuality that reincarnates, but in different personalities, and it is not the same personality (the "character") that reincarnates as proposed by Western scholars of the Orient.

And Blavatsky, in her book The Key to Theosophy, wrote:

« Even in his Buddhist Catechism, Col. Olcott, forced to it by the logic of Esoteric philosophy, found himself obliged to correct the mistakes of previous Orientalists who made no such distinction, and gives the reader his reasons for it»


Gottfried de Purucker was president of the Theosophical Society Pasadena, and here, I am going to transcribe what he taught about skandhas.


In the Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary (which Purucker was the Editor-in-Chief) the skandhas were defined as follows:

« Skandhas (Sanskrit) Skandha-s Bundles, groups of various attributes forming the compound constitution of the human being. They are the manifested qualities and attributes forming the human being on all six planes of Being, beneath the spiritual monad or atma-buddhi, making up the totality of the subjective and objective person.

They have to do with everything that is finite in the human being, and are therefore inapplicable to the relatively eternal and absolute.

Every vibration of whatever kind, mental, emotional, or physical, that an individual has undergone or made, is derivative of and from one of the skandhas composing his constitution.

Skandhas are the elements of limited existence.

The five skandhas of every human being are:

·        rupa (form), the material properties or attributes
·        vedana (sensations, perceptions)
·        sanjna (consciousness, abstract ideas)
·        sanskara (action), tendencies both physical and mental
·        vijnana (knowledge), mental and moral predispositions.

Two further, unnamed skandhas “are connected with, and productive of Sakkayaditthi, the ‘heresy or delusion of individuality’ and of Attavada ‘the doctrine of Self,’ both of which (in the case of the fifth principle the soul) lead to the maya [illusion] of heresy and belief in the efficacy of vain rites and ceremonies; in prayers and intercession”-

“The ‘old being’ is the sole parent — father and mother at once — of the ‘new being.’ It is the former who is the creator and fashioner, of the latter, in reality; and far more so in plain truth, than any father in flesh. And once that you have well mastered the meaning of Skandhas you will see what I mean” (Mahatma Letters 111).

The human skandhas are the causal activities which by their action and interaction attract the reincarnating ego back to earth-life. The exoteric skandhas have to do with objective man; the esoteric with inner and subjective man.

At death the seeds of causes sown which have not yet been realized remain latent in our inner principles as “psychological impulse-seeds” awaiting expression in future lives.

The skandhas “unite at the birth of man and constitute his personality. After the death of the body the Skandhas are separated and so remain until the Reincarnating Ego on its downward path into physical incarnation gathers them together again around itself, and thus reforms the human constitution considered as a unity” (Occult Glossary 158).

Similarly with suns and planets: at pralaya, the lower principles of such a cosmic body exist latent in space in a laya-condition while its spiritual principles are active in higher realms.

“When a laya-center is fired into action by the touch of wills and consciousnesses on their downward way, becoming the imbodying life of a solar system, or of a planet of a solar system, the center manifests first on its highest plane, and later on its lower plane. The Skandhas are awakened into life one after another: first the highest ones, next the intermediate ones, and lastly the inferior ones, cosmically and qualitatively speaking” (ibid.)

The skandhas are likewise closely connected with the karmic pictures in the astral light, which also is the medium as well as the register of impressions»

The Occult Glossary is a Purucker’s book, and in this book he defined the skandhas as follow:

« Skandha(s) (Sanskrit) Literally "bundles," or groups of attributes, to use H.P. Blavatsky's definition.

When death comes to a man in any one life, the seeds of those causes previously sown by him and which have not yet come forth into blossom and full-blown flower and fruit, remain in his interior and invisible parts as impulses lying latent and sleeping: lying latent like sleeping seeds for future flowerings into action in the next and succeeding lives.

They are psychological impulse-seeds lying asleep until their appropriate stage for awakening into action arrives at some time in the future.

The cosmic bodies also have their skandhas

In the case of the cosmic bodies, every solar or planetary body upon entering into its pralaya, its prakritika-pralaya — the dissolution of its lower principles — at the end of its long life cycle, exists in space in the higher activity of its spiritual principles, and in the dispersion of its lowest principles, which latter latently exist in space as skandhas in a laya-condition.

When a laya-center is fired into action by the touch of wills and consciousnesses on their downward way, becoming the imbodying life of a solar system, or of a planet of a solar system, the center manifests first on its highest plane, and later on its lower plane. The skandhas are awakened into life one after another: first the highest ones, next the intermediate ones, and lastly the inferior ones, cosmically and qualitatively speaking.

The function of the skandhas

The term skandhas in theosophical philosophy has the general significance of bundles or groups of attributes, which together form or compose the entire set of material and also mental, emotional, and moral qualities.

Exoterically the skandhas are "bundles" of attributes five in number, but esoterically they are seven.

These unite at the birth of man and constitute his personality. After the death of the body the skandhas are separated and so remain until the reincarnating ego on its downward path into physical incarnation gathers them together again around itself, and thus reforms the human constitution considered as a unity.

In brief, the skandhas can be said to be the aggregate of the groups of attributes or qualities which make each individual man the personality that he is; but this must be sharply distinguished from the individuality»


In his book Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, Purucker wrote:

« The atoms are trailed by a train of skandhas, resident in the life-atoms, and which are karmic impressions. These life-atoms are inferior beings, trailing after it, making up its bodies, so to say, as certain elements make up our bodies.

Each one of these atoms, in its turn, concretes around itself, gathers to itself, the life-atoms waiting over for it from previous cycles of activity, which are the skandhas belonging to that plane of manifestation, and thus forms its physical vehicle in which all the other principles (mostly latent) reside»
(Chapters 28 and 33)


In his book Fountain-Source of Occultism, Purucker wrote:

« In this connection, the following passage from the E.S. Instructions (III) issued by H.P.B. will be of value:

“The Kama Rupa may last centuries and — in some, though very exceptional cases — even survive with the help of some of its scattered Skandhas, which are all transformed in time into Elementals. See the Key to Theosophy, pp. 141 et seq., in which work it was impossible to go into details, but where the Skandhas are spoken of as the germs of Karmic effects.”

The tanhic elementals may be otherwise described as the emotional and mental thought-deposits, as Patanjali did; and these remain after the second death — and before the ego's entering the devachan — stamped upon the various kinds of life-atoms which had functioned on all the lower planes of man's constitution.

The reincarnation

Some of these tanhic elementals or life-atoms peregrinate, and finally are psychomagnetically attracted back to the reincarnating ego during its process of bringing forth a new astral form preceding rebirth. Others belong to the monadic substances of the auric egg, and consequently remain therein in a latent condition, to awaken only when the devachani leaves the devachan.

Then these dormant tanhic elementals, in combination with the other life-atoms which had been peregrinating, combine in building up the new astral form that H.P.B. speaks of; and it is largely these two classes of tanhic life-atoms or elementals which compose the skandhas (a Sanskrit word meaning bundles or aggregates) of the man in his coming incarnation.

And these skandhas are the various groups of mental, emotional, psychovital and physical characteristics which, when all collected together, make the new personality through which the higher man or egoic individuality works. They slowly begin to recombine and fall into their appropriate functions and places during the gestation period, continuing such 'fixation' in the womb, and finally after birth maturing as the entity grows to adulthood.

And these skandhas are the various groups of mental, emotional, psychovital and physical characteristics which, when all collected together, make the new personality through which the higher man or egoic individuality works.

They slowly begin to recombine and fall into their appropriate functions and places during the gestation period, continuing such 'fixation' in the womb, and finally after birth maturing as the entity grows to adulthood.

The five types of skandhas

In exoteric Buddhism, skandhas (literally 'bundles' or 'aggregates') are five in number: form (rupa), sensation or sense-perception (vedana), self-conscious intellection (sanjna), mental propensities (samskara), and consciousness (vijnana).

The first skandha represents the material world or the materiality of things, while the remaining four belong to the astral monad and the mind. The second one appertains to the perception of objects of sense; the third to that which is elaborated by the mind; the fourth refers to what might be termed the formative principle of the mind, creating mental molds vitalized by its own energies; and the fifth represents egoic mentation.

Buddhist philosophical analysis has thrown these various characteristics and attributes into the five categories enumerated above.

Thus the skandhas are the various groups of personal attributes or characteristics which make one human personality different from another; and it is through these groups of psychological and psycho-emotional-astral attributes or characteristics that the higher man or ego, i.e. the egoic individuality, works»
(Section 12-II, part 2)