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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Planes in Theosophy

The word “plane” means an extension of space. There are multiple planes of nature, such as physical, astral, mental, buddhic, ātmic, and other finer planes. While they appear to co-exist in the same physical location, that is, the physical head may also be in the same location as non-physical thinking, they belong to distinct layers of existence such that they may not actually interact with each other unless interconnected by intermediate matter or processes. Each plane has its corresponding state of consciousness. It denotes, according to Helena P. BLAVATSKY, “the range or extent of some state of consciousness, or of the perceptive power of a particular set of senses, or the action of a particular force, or the state of matter corresponding to any of the above” (Theosophical Glossary).

The teachings about planes in theosophy differ somewhat between the early theosophical writers and those later. This article will present both.

Blavatsky. Blavatsky distinguishes between the Macrocosmic and Microcosmic Planes. There are seven planes in the Macrocosm, each of which have seven subplanes. The lowest macrocosmic plane is called the Prakritic plane, which in turn has seven subplanes. These seven subplanes of the prakritic level corresponds to the seven states of human consciousness. Thus our human consciousness primarily belongs to the lowest of the cosmic planes.

The names used by Blavatsky for these planes are in Table I.

Table 1
                                                       Table 1

The planes and states were drawn by Blavatsky wherein the 7th is an egg-shape circle containing all the other six planes or states of consciousness (CW XII:658). She emphasizes the difficulty in explaining — and understanding — the teachings on the planes of nature. Thus, for example, while the 4th Cosmic Plane is called Fohatic, fohat actually is in all the planes, just as J…va is. We are, she says, dealing with forces or states of consciousness.

This diagram represents the type of the solar system. The three higher divisions of this plane are inconceivable to us, and are only reached by the highest Adept in Samādhi. Esoterically, Samādhi is the highest state on earth attainable while in the body. Beyond that the Initiate must become a Nirmānakāya. The highest Adept begins his Sam€dhi on the fourth macrocosmic plane, and cannot pass out of the solar system. When such an Adept begins his Samādhi, he is on a par with some of the Dhyāni-Chohans, but transcends them as he rises to the seventh plane, Nirvāna. (CW XII:657)

In The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky drew a diagram that related the Macrocosmic Planes with the Kabalistic system of worlds. The lowest, Prakritic plane, is the Material World; the Astral plane is the Formative World; the Jīvic plane is the Creative World; and the Fohatic Plane is the Archetypal World. The three higher planes are inaccessible to present human intellect.

Lokas and Talas. The above system is related to the concept of lokas and talas in Hinduism, which can be considered as the spiritual and material side of a plane. Each plane has its lofty loka and its gross tala. There are thus seven lokas and seven talas. The correspondences are as follows:

Table II
                                                       Table II

 

In the Esoteric Instructions of H. P. Blavatsky, she gave another version of the planes of nature or Prakti (CW XII:660): Relating the lowest plane of Prakti, or the terrestrial, to the human consciousness, we can divide it into seven sub-planes. To these the following names have been given:

Tabke III
                                             Table III

The sub-planes are again divisible each into seven, once again making up the forty-nine.

Later Theosophical Writers. In the early works of Annie Besant, second President of the Theosophical Society, she basically adopted the above states of consciousness and planes as follows:

 

Atma,   - Spirit

Buddhi, - Spiritual Soul

Higher Mana   - Human Soul

Lower Manas  - Human Soul

Kāma,  - Animal Soul

Linga-Śarīra,  - the Double

Sthūla-Śarīra,  - Physical Body

                Table IV

In later books, however, such as A Study in Consciousness, she added two more planes above the Atmic:

Table 5
                                                   Table V

Besant wrote that the two highest planes, Ādi and Anupādaka, “may be conceived of as existing before the solar system is formed, and we may imagine the highest, the Ādi, as consisting of so much of the matter of space . . . as the Logos has marked out to form the material basis of the systems He is about to produce,” while the Anupādaka modifies the same matter with its life and consciousness.

The introduction of Ādi and Anupādaka seems to be connected with Blavatsky’s statement that šdi tattva corresponds to the first Logos, Anupādaka to the second, and Ākāśa tattva as the third or creative Logos.

Some theosophical writers have reservations about the use of Ādi and Anupādaka as planes superior to Ātmic because Blavatsky had previously stated that Ādi, as a tattva, corresponded to Ātma, while Anupādaka corresponded to Buddhi (CW XII:614).

Under this new scheme, Besant wrote that each of these planes have their subplanes that correspond to the following (with the most ethereal on top and the grossest at the bottom):

Atomic

Sub-atomic

Super-etheric

Etheric

Gaseous

Liquid

Solid

The physical plane is thus divided into the dense physical (consisting of the solid, liquid and gaseous) and the etheric (consisting of the four higher subplanes). Prāna is an energy that operates in the etheric subplanes. The mental plane is also subject to a significant division: the higher or abstract mental (arūpa) and the lower concrete level (or rūpa).

The various planes have their corresponding inhabitants: the various evolving beings in the scheme of evolution, the disembodied and embodied human beings, and the devas of various grades. C. Jinarājadāsa, in his First Principles of Theosophy enumerated some of the denizens of the lower planes, adapted in Table VII (next page).

Summary. It may be noted that the classifications of planes in the Esoteric Instructions have essential correspondence with the ones of later writers as well as significant differences, tabulated as follows:

Table 6
                                                    Table VI

 

Table 7
                           TABLE VII  Inhabitants in the Mental, Kamic and Physical Planes

 

 Blavatsky, however, also mentioned that the linga-Śarīra (the astral plane) is on the plane as the physical plane, which seems at variance with the view that the astral plane has its own seven subplanes.

V.H.C.

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