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The Planes of Existence

despite the widespread use of this . arranged metaphorically in an "upper and lower" manner. refers to this as a vertical or ascending scale of consciousness. The gradations of Absolute and Godhead are instead designated as hypostases The "Vertical" Cosmological Spirit-Matter Gradation We thus find established in contemporary esoteric teachings the concept of reality as made up of a number of Planes of Existence. which are asosciated with an ascending series of states of consciousness. en to psuchiko platei [Dodds. and the theosophical planes are just one particular version or interpretation of that. and Sri Aurobindo's Upper Hemisphere (parardha) with the three planes of Sachchidananda and a fourth representing the Supermind or Absolute in Manifestation) I would prefer to restrict its use to the "vertical" series of prakritis. the upper three of which represent the ineffable Absolute.g. Blavatsky's "Kosmic Planes". who in The Secret Doctrine and elsewhere taught a complex cosmology consisting of Planes and subplanes. From the 19th onwards. the term "Planes" has been used by Theosophy. arranged in a vertical sequence. Sri Aurobindo.P. vol II. From this perspective then. cited in Poortman. the Cosmos can be divided "vertically" into a number of worlds or states or gradations of being. This has even enetered everyday langauge .g. and "vertical" subdivisions thereof. The originator of this popular occult term is H. who refers to to platos.e. is in fact a common archetype. "breadth". Another is the Tantric theme of chakras. Blavatsky.g. e. Whilst Blavatsky. However. and other teachers sometimes use the term "Plane" to refer even to transcendent divine-absolute realities (e."Kosmic Physical" Planes of Existence according to Alice Bailey Many esoteri c teachin gs propound the idea of a series of worlds or hypostases as cosmic ontological gradations in the Great Chain of Being. culminating in the Absolute Reality located either at or above the Crown. which was the a term direct equivalent of the Theosophical use.g. p. However the original source of the term is the late Neoplatonist Proclus. The idea of a vertical world-axis. whose metaphysical and spiritual insights and roadmaps of conscioousness have inspired a lot of my own understanding.54]. as well as Eastern teachings that have some Western influence (e. . Hylic Pluralism. "the astral plane". Sri Aurobindo and Sant Mat) to describe these gradations. and from there off-shoot esoteric systems (such as Alice Bailey) and the New Age movement. a cosmic mountain or tree or pole. Aurobindo.

I originally referred to these ontological divisions or worlds as "Ontocosms" (Being-Universes).another Gurdjieffian term. That gives 74 subplanes. As to be expected. although only the lower four are really described and considered (the higher four presumably pertaining to transcendent states). there is no reason why this should be preferred to any other option. went one better with seven "kosmic" planes.. and the I Ching trigrams which provide a mathematical arrangement whereby each plane can be associated with a hexagram. which refers to the fact that this scale of realities is actually a scale of gradations of prakriti. each of which is divided into seven conventional planes. there is a full complement of subplanes (Theosophy) or resonances. of which there are a great many. but there's enough new jargon as it is. Theosophy and Western Esotericism. each of these in turn often subdivided into further planes and hypostases. adapted from Gurdjieff's incorporation of the musical scale in his ray of creation . A quadrapedal animal for example has chakras arranged horizontally. following them. Madame Blavatsky.metaphor. seven. An alternative term might be "prakritis". whilst Theosophical and. with four worlds (this seems to be based on Kabbalah) of which the lowest or Material World is made up of eight "states". Other terms used are "worlds". Gurdjieff's scale of "hydrogens" in the "ray of creation" is another version of the same thing.401 altogether. So i decided to stick with the well known Theosophical and New Age term "plane". Very similar is the Tradition of Max and Alma Theon. I have retained the term "planes" to describe these gradations. I have used here an seven-fold division. Hence my use of inverted commas when referring to this. In Kabbalah each of the four (or five) worlds is divided into ten also useful. etc. the number of gradations differs according to which esoteric system one consults. although only the last few series of planes (and occasionally subplanes) are really described at all. But really. each divided into 7 further planes (the lowest kosmic plane being made up of seven "prakritic" planes). And all of this says nothing of the subdivisions. each plane of existence. and so would experience these planes as horizontally organised. Sri Aurobindo's cosmology. Provisionally. Various schemas give four. supplementing it with "world" or "uinverse". as it refers to the fact that at each hypostasis. The term Octaves . I am reluctant to give too much emphasis to the word "vertical" here. cosmologies speak of seven "planes of existence". Each of these lower four (the higher four not being considered here) is made of four degrees. The reason is that the experience of a vertically arranged hierarchy of planes may very well simply be a side-effect of the organisation of the human physical and etheric body. the founder of Theosophy. and each of these in . each of which in turn is made up of seven subplanes. New Age. from the most "sattvic" and spiritual to the most "tamasic" and material. lokas. making 40 or 50 altogether. In Kabbalah there are four (or in the Lurianic school five) major worlds. for no other reason than that it is familar to people coming from a western-esoteric or New Age background. or 2. which fractally repeat the whole. or ten worlds. which integrates Theon's Tradition.

Ken Wilber). The correspondences given here should therefore not be taken in any way as dogmatic or conclusive. which presumably were in turn sub-divided. while below one finds the layers representing the irrational psyche and the life-force or vitality. it is the way the intermediate levels are described that differs. although they are invariably confused by those traditions that recognise only a single parameter. figureground.g. Blavatsky and her seven planes. by working on an undeveloped sub-sub-part of the being eventually break through and access occult or spiritual experiences [I forget the refernce. According to Mirra this was an excellent descriptive tool. there is always a danger of putting things in a simplistic and procrustean straightjacket (this in fact is one of the shortcomings of indeed any grand synthesis . The first approach maps the levels or hypostases in terms of realities that can be understood in psychological terms.e. subliminal-conscious) sequence. In the middle (more or less) is (the rational or verbal) mind. or Wilber with his linear levels and 4 quadrants). just as there is a gradation of Planes. One reason esotericisma nd occultism has trouble arriving at a consistent Map of Reality of any complexity beyond the basic "perennial philosophy" is because these different parameters keep getting confused (the Theosphical diagram at the upper left of this page is a typical example of this reduction to a single parameter).turn consists of four subdegrees. Self and Non-self is another parameter that is confused . the Absolute). manas (mind). but they are distinct axiis of being. indeed any such attempt is doomed to failure. vijnana (gnosis). Perhaps the earliest example of this arrangement is are the five self levels of the Taittiriya Upanishad. Both refer to gradations of prakriti. and matter at the other. rounds. And this is to say nothing of spiritual states like nirvana and liberation which are usually placed at the top of the hierarchy or holarchy (e. but as Sri Aurobindo explains is actually a sort of fact there are a gradation of Selves. This had a .g. Understanding and Comparing the Planes of Existence In tabulating different esoteric cosmic teachings. etc. That said. Da Free John. representing Brahman. Both have the Absolute at one pole. Hegel and his triads. prana (vitality). with the series "food" (body). and ananda (bliss. just as there is a gradation of "layers" of subconsciousness ("inner") and of planes or worlds ("vertical"). above that are levels of higher intuition and superconsciousness. it seems that there are two main types of "maps" that esoteric cosmologists tend to use. and one could. I am not trying to build a fixed and rigid system. it may have been one of the early volumes of the Agenda] The "vertical" series of prakriti as Planes of Existence and Planes of Consciousness should not be confused with the ""Concentric" "inner-outer" (or depth-surface.

Perhaps such an experiential phenomenological approach can lay the foundation for a truely universal and empircal esoteric science. Fortunately it is possible to combine these two approaches. each higher of which emanates the one below it. Luria. or magical beings (Hermetic Kabbalah . say.W. Here then we have a series of visionary angelological or divine worlds or universes. A very similar series is found in the classical West in Middle Platonism.g.Absolute). Also. and to see the levels or bands of the former as referring to the microcosmic equivalent of the pleromas or universes of the latter (indeed such equivalence plays an important part in Lurianic Kabbalah (e. as well as the psychological terminology Theon (who was Mirra's teacher in occultism) used for the lower four cosmic levels. Jacob's Ladder and the ascent of the Soul) and is specifically mentioned by Mirra Alfassa/The Mother (ref xxxx) and in post-Blavatsky theosophical diagrams of C. and the life force principle or prana with an "Etheric plane" that is lies between the physical and the Astral (re this latter see Steiner . the Corpus Hermetica (matter .divine mind (nous)). Sufi.psyche . it often happens (because of this) that successive writers in the same tradition (e. since we don't really know (unless we have had the same visionary experiences) what the authors are talking about. and noetic psyche . These two streams met in the Theosophy of Blavatsky and the integral philosophy of Sri Aurobindo The second approach understands the hypostases in terms of abstract (to us in the physical consciousness) visionary realities that have no easy everyday correspondences.big influence on later Vedanta. etc) Esoteric cosmologists of the visionary sort may assert that these worlds. Gnostic. rational.g. the congealing of consciousness (the Tantrics use the example of milk that forms curd (ref Arthur Avalon/John Woodroffe ref xxxx)). universes. Leadbeater and Alice Bailey (example of the latter at the top of this page). and the nous as the vijnana (or the noetic psyche as the Shankaran vijnana kosha). or pleromas (nice term suggested by Corbin (ref xxxx).nous .Occult Science and elsewhere . Mirra. Leadbeater. One might say that the psyche is the same as the manas. Golden Dawn) native to each.and the . New Age) the equivalence of the emotional or desire nature (called the Nervous by Theon and the Vital by Mirra) with the "Astral Plane".e. and hence are hard to equate with each other. adopted from Gnosticism) can be recognised by the particular colours (Theon) or light and sounds (Sabda Surat Yoga / Sant Mat).irrational. Light becoming form (Suhrawardi. and therefore the rational psyche or mind with the next universe up. are light years apart regarding this. and Neoplatonism (matter (hyle) . Shankara and Sri Aurobindo.g. This gives (Theon. until we are left with the objective physical as the most "dense" reality.vital spirit (pneuma) . Kabbalistic) use the same jargon to designate what certainly seem to be quite different realities. although the interpretations of.

This is however only one dimension. as distinct universes) were often more described less thoroughly. and the metaphysical planes and hypostases (which are actual states or dimensions of existence in themselves. it is only because in his Life Divine and Letters on Yoga he presents such a clear and comprehensive overview of the spectrum of realities. Bailey) tradition). but he does not distinguish between . according to Ouspensky (In Search of the Miraculous). (Gurdjieff also said the same thing. So. Tantra. If I rely upon the latter a lot. and so on. then it is to understand the larger and more visionary. and these gradations or hypostases should also be considered in terms of the "concentric" levels of being.Leadbeater and Bailey cosmic diagrams). This should be taken into consideration when drawing up any tabulation or map of universes or pleromas or levels opr worlds of occult consciosunses and super-cosnciosunses. In defining these levels or gradations I have borrowed from Neoplatonism. and make up our ordinary surface being (what Sri Aurobindo calls the Outer Being). Sufism. and in fact is one of the very few Indian teachers who does (perhaps due to his incorporating Theosophical and Theonist ideas). and for this reason the states of consciousness in his yoga of ascent refer to states actualised in the physical body and physical mind. things are not that simple. in that each plane or universe or division of reality itself contains a full complement of planes. the implication is (and this is especially evident in Theon's diagram and Blavatsky's concept of "kosmic planes"). Thus. Kabbalah. pure supraphysical realities. the Theons. Gnosticism. and following them Theon and Blavatsky (and from her the whole Theosophical and ex-Theosophical (Steiner. The Kabbalists. understand reality as in a sense "fractal". he provbably also got it from Blavatsky ). In this was one can equate the visionary universe with specific psychological strata (in addition to phenomena native to that universe) However. Tabulation of Planes of Existence The following represents a suggested overview of the primary universes or selfmanifest modes of the Supreme that constitute the "vertical" or prakritic planes axis of the Cosmos. and especially from Sri Aurobindoan concepts. Even so it is important to remeber that Sri Aurobindo was concerned to lay out a practical path and technique to divinization. much more so than in the later theosophical and post-theosophical diagrams) that the psychological attributes may correspond to lower recursions rather than the original larger universes in themselves. To collapse the spectrum of being to a single ontocline or paraneter is misleading. it is easier to understand those sub-planes or bands that are "closer to" the objective physical. Certainly he does not shy away from referring to these.

Soul etc Manasi Menta c l Kama/ Astral R a j a Vital . and Sri Aurobindo's descriptions (as phenomenological exemplars or "type specimens" of consciousness so to speak) is primarily concerning the phsyical embodiment. Very Provisional Table of Planes of Existence I Chin g trigra Neoplat Sufis Kabb m m onism alah (metap horic symbo lic only) (varies) (varie s) (varies) The on (tenta tive pendi ng close r resea rch) Universe and Plane Samk hyan Guna s Theoso Sri phy Aurob (generic indo ) Divine Atzilu t** Nous (divide d into subleve ls . and the states as they exist as autonomous supra-physical hypostases. Being.g. However there is a distinction.e. Mala Yetzir Noetic kut* ah** Soul. of these higher states. and union. if only in terms of "octaves" or "resonances". Life and Nous) -- Adi/ Free Divin Intellig e/ ence Logoi c* Intuiti on Over mind Divin eIntui tive Enligh tened Spiritu al Mind Illum ined Intui tive Spiri tual Intui tive Ideational Mind High Affecti er ve Affec tive S a t t w a Spiri Anupa t daka* Jabar ut* Beria h** Ligh Atmic t * Illumi ned Mind Highe Esse Buddhi r nce c* Mind Min Rationa d l Soul. integration.these states when actualised in the physical consciousness.

Very Provisional Table of Planes of Existence I Chin g trigra Neoplat Sufis Kabb m m onism alah (metap horic symbo lic only) (varies) (varie s) (varies) The on (tenta tive pendi ng close r resea rch) Universe and Plane Samk hyan Guna s Theoso Sri phy Aurob (generic indo ) Lowe r Affec tive High er plane s s Irration al Soul Nature Mith Nutritiv al* e/ Vegetat ive Soul T a m a s Asiya h** Ner vo Linga Subtle Sthula Physic / al Etheric Phys ical -Physi cal Dense (Terre Physic strial al evolut ion) Univer se of Materi al Form Kos mic Physi cal Body Malk Mulk ut of * Asiya h** Klipp ot/ "Husk s" (not evil)* * Hylic Hyle -- -- -- Incons cient -- notes: *more likely to be be inner (concentric dimension) rather than higher (vertical dimension) .

gods.. this plane or universe is experienced as a place of profound and subtle cosmic and esoteric mysteries and gnosis hinting at the Unfolding of the Logos [c. the Divine Universe. only Inner-Subtle. Gnosticism. and beyond (in the sense of even more "innermost"). although Sri Aurobindo uses the term Overmind. This iuniverse constitutes the union (in the conentric parameter) of the Causal and Supracausal (the more "outer" hypostases have alreday been subsumed). and Intuitive Mind (the latter intermediate between Mind and Overmind (Divine or Cosmic Consciousness). to which corresponds in part the Sahasrara or Crown chakra above the head.f. intermediate between the Infinite Noetic Godhead (Logos) and the Manifest Temporal Cosmos. Sri Aurobindo refers to three levels or gradations of spiritual mind . causal. includes the Divine Worlds. sefirot. a series of Spiritual Worlds of emanated hierarchies. and Theon Free Intelligence. these universes are experienced as a great Enlightenment. or finite and dualistic. confers the option of Liberation from rebirth. Moving up from lower finite existence. this important Plane stands between the two.from lower to higher this is the Higher Mind. In Kabbalah this is the Archangelic Universe. and humans who have attained this state are seen as great saints. This includes the archetypal or Higher Angelic hierarchies from which originate the gnostic idea-forms that filter down into the angelic ideational planes. this ontocosm. the upper World of Atzilut. Here is where the One Light of the Logos or Transcendent Nous becomes a prism of many radiances. Lurianic Kabbalah. or the World of Beriah (Creation). Moving up from lower finite existence. These are the spiritual hierarchies that emanate from and are the expression and aspects of the Divine world. archetypes. These in turn supervise the creation below. is the region of pure Creative Ideas. This is equivalent to Sri Aurobindo's Higher Mind level (which he locates above the "void region" above the head). lights. The hierarchies of this . etc]. the ideational Gods and archetypal or divine-Angelic hierarchies. should one choose that. According to Sant Mat and to Theon there are several universes here. Cosmic Gods and Godheads. Neither eternal. the plane of Active or Free Intelligence or Logos or Overmind Intuition. In Kabbalah this is best described as the World of Atzilut (Divine Emanation). Illumined Mind. in which there is no distinction between oneself and the cosmos [Sri Aurobindo]. avatars and buddhas. Moving up from lower finite existence. infinite or transcendent. Spiritual Mind or Pure Intellect: The next Universe down.. Enlightened Spiritual Mind and Gnosis: The next Universe down from the Divine Pole of existence is the region of pure Enlightened mind.**these regions in the cartography of spiritual worlds are described ambiguously enough as to be equally able to be mapped against the both the concentric and the vertical ontoclines. pure spiritual ontocosms beyond the abstract mental plane. These successive universes or "kosmic planes" (as listed above in the left-most column) can be described in more detail as follows: Divine or Cosmic Consciousness: The first stage of this metaphysically vertical parameter. There is no Outer or "Gross" Being equivalent to this hypostasis. the Plane of Pure Mind or pure intellect.

this is or includes the Astral plane.e. and the higher unconscious in part. It includes the highest faculties normally active in even the developed individual. The Etheric region represents the interface between the Psychic (and more subtle realities) and the Physical proper. as UFOs and other anomalous (Fortean) . It also includes many refined and subtle states of existence that have little relation to our world.the spiritual-gnostic to the crown. The lower subdivisions correspond to various psychic and occult planes of existence. Anthroposophical. and a region of pure Love and Compassion. revelations. Universe of Affectivity: (Pure Psychic Universe(s)). The higher levels are heaven regiosn of pure spiritual emotion or Affectivity. including spiritual archetypes which filter down and eventually manifest in the Physical universe. or only irrupt into the known universe occasionally. and some New Age thought as the Etheric and the Physical. as well as perhaps the upper part of the world of Yetzirah (Formation) (although these worlds can equally be identified with the Inner-Subtle being). Universe of Material Form: (Gross and Subtle Physical) The most manifest universe. These are the spiritual hierarchies that emanate from and are the expression and aspects of the Enlightened Mind worlds. being in part equivalent to the Kabbalistic Yetzirah and spiritualist celestial realms. Many of the higher psychic experiences. In Kabbalah this is the Angelic Universe. This is the lowest of the spiritual heaven realms or "pure universes". Most often it is divided into two. a vast region. and so on. These are referred to in Adya Theosophical. with many subdivisions. It includes the Spiritual and SpiritualPsychic World. wherein dwells the Higher Self (hence Max Theon identifies this region with the Soul degree). or simply Mind or Mental plane. but the chakras still (in my understanding pertain to the subtle or inner Form universe). and the limitations of the outer or "gross" surface consciousness. It includes the highest faculties normally active in even the developed individual. it is only the Mind mixed with the lower levels that leads to delusion and doubt. the highest faculties normally active in a person. The Psychic and Imaginal also provide the blueprints for the Physical universe. The Ajna chakra (and one might also assume the Nirvana or "lower" crown chakra) is associated here (i. the plane of Form or Matter. who mistake the half-luminous denizens of this Plane for an ascended master or superme deity. this universe corresponds to the ajna etc (just as other universe correspond to their chakras . In western esotericism such as Theosophy and Hermeticism.Universe still have a greater demiurgic or Creative power than the Affective hierarchies below them.the pure Thinking Mind. Theon uses the term Nervo or Nervous. religious experiences. This is in its own realm pure and unsullied by ignorance. This is a region of great desires and passions. or the World of Beriah (Creation) of Kabbalah. is. as well as many regions beyond normal human consciousness. Sri Aurobindo refers to this as the lowest of the four levels or gradations of mind . and a snare for the gullible and unwary. like all the planes or universes. can also be divided into one or more upper or more subtle spiritual and a lower or dense subdivision. the higher unconscious in part. can be called the Angelic Universe. the "Physical" or Form universe to the muladhara). and is represented by the Anahata or Heart chakra. and the higher unconscious in part. come from here. due to the fractal nature of reality. The psychic or affective reality.

source of physical laws. and pure Mind or Spiritual-Ideational (or five or six according to Buddhism (see wheel of rebirth). a realisation that you always were the Supreme). the lower part of the World of Asiyah. and a group of higher planes of divine consciousness. It might be that in some traditions of Sant Mat / Radhasoami cosmology there are referred to as saguna (with form . not of the ego or finite personality) So there are the three Samsaric Worlds or Planes . the higher two). you are caught in samasara and karma. higher states of consciousness. enlightened and ignorant.the lower three) and nirguna (formless. Jain.Gross and Subtle Matter (Form). Nirvana. in which "bodies are spiritualitised and spirits corporalised". In even more subtle dimensions of the physical one finds the physical Astral region. Moksha. pertains primarily to the "concentric" dimension of consciousness. but they do not use an equivalent classification to the one used here). But in realising that you lose your embodied existence. Below it. the Barzakh or the Intermediate World. corresponding to the Eastern (Hindu. these planes and subplanes can in turn be grouped into further categories. But Nirvana is release from all existence . like Gnosticism. a return to the Supreme (or rather. although if you attain this state you are certainly in the condition described as selfrealised or enlightened. and Buddhist) idea of samsara or embodied transmigratory existence. in Sri Aurobindo's term). The Etheric and Imaginal also provide the blueprints for the Physical universe. In western esotericism such as Theosophy and Hermeticism. and also the very restricted state of consciousness in inanimate matter going all the way down to the inconscience of "formless" matter (only formless when expreinced subjectively) or hyle.nadis etc?). or Mukti (Liberation) is a state of nonbeing. this in other words is the Shunya or Clear Light of Tibetan Buddhism. crucible of selftransformation. In the subtle physical also there is what in esoteric Islam is widely called the Imaginal Realm. which includes physical consciousness. above it you have fully integrated gnosis. Note that these higher worlds are not the same as Nirvana or Moksha. Ultimately it is a matter of choice whether one seeks Nirvana or Supramentalisation (by choice I mean the choice of one's Higher Self. the mundane mind.phenomena. although I tend now to think that Sant Mat. this is or includes the Astral plane. and four Higher Spiritual worlds. which can be referred to as the Higher Spiritual worlds. and theatre for the soul's evolution. and the working out of the Divine Plan. as follows: . which are noetic. and the evolutionary impetus of the Higher Self. You are no longer a part of the evolution of the cosmos to the state of Divinization (or Supramentalisation. Theon uses the term Nervo or Nervous (perhaps equivalent to "etheric" . although there is still the karma from past actions. Further.higher and lower. and beyond that Steiner's Spiritual Heirarchies. These four (or seven or eight or nine or however many) Universes or Planes can also be classified into a group of lower ones. Affective. Below this of course is the dense physical plane is the material universe. The dividing line between Samsaric and Noetic might correspond to what Sri Aurobindo calls the "void region" above the head.

Ideational. an Occult Psychology in other words. . the Ideational World). Astral-Physical. But each of these worlds can also be divided into further subworlds. the cosmic or objective reality as a whole. Affective. All of which contributes to a foundation or framework for a unified Esoteric Science And just as the Universes of Physical. etc exist as the Macrocosm.because of the confusion between the various parameters of being in many esoteric traditions these terms can equally (or even more persuiasively) also be applied to the "concentric" axis of consciousness. the individual evolving entity (whether human. animal. In Kabbalistic terminology these can be referred to as the nefesh (in Kabbalah the psychological faculties of the World of Asiyah (the Physical and Imaginal). and the neshamah (the soul-principle of Beriah. although . the ruah (the psychospiritual faculties corresponding to Yetzirah. So we have a psychology of three primary grades of consciousness. There are in addition other parameters as well as the ontological series of worlds. which constitute the individualisation of the entity in that particular Universe. Imaginal.    Divine Manifestation and Revelation: o The Divine o Enlightenment-Intuition Higher Spiritual Awakening: o Illumination o Higher Mind Intuition Creative and Spiritual Awareness and Spiritual-Psychic existence o Spiritual Mind or Pure Intellect o Higher Affective/Psychic/Heaven (Spiritual Emotion or Pure Affectivity) Material and Lower Psychic Expression: o Lower Affective/"Lower Astral" o Higher Physical (Etheric. Astral. and one of several terms for the "soul"). the Psychic World). plant. etc) o Lower or Dense Physical o Hylic / Inconscient So far we have discussed grouping the planes into larger categories. or whatever). so they also have their correlates in the Microcosm.