by Roger Woolger
An earlier version of this paper was first presented to the Beyond the Brain Conference, held at St. John’s College, Cambridge University, England, August, 1999. It was later published in its current form in Thinking Beyond the Brain, edited by David Lorimer, Floris Books, Edingburgh, 2001.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is
Lao-Tzu Tao Te King (transl. Mitchell)
Consciousness creates reality
Amit Goswami The Self-Aware Universe
To my mind a major culprit behind our enthralment to the philosophy of materialism is the tiny little word “in”. From my somewhat labored examples it may now be clear how pervasively this innocent little word deceptively conceals a spatial metaphor that betrays its true allegiance to the materialist dogma. The unexamined use of the word “in” sadly restricts much neurological research and has taken on the status of a scientific myth about mind, energy and spirit, a myth in the Jungian sense of “something which is believed everywhere and by everyone”
For when we are talking about spirit as energy or energy as consciousness, even though we fully believe that these phenomena belong to a subtle or non-physical realm we tend to imagine them “in” the brain or flowing “through” our energy fields unaware that these are metaphors and not literal, which is to say, empirical truths. It may be clearer when we say something like “I know it in my heart” or “I feel it in my gut”. For even though our energy fields seem to have reactions that correspond to those parts of the body we still seem to realize that the emotions are not literally stored “in” these places like glucose or protoplasm. Consider for example, the charming saying: “You will never find your heart in a temple unless you find the temple in your heart.” It would be hard to mistake this for anything other than a metaphor. We don’t go to a cardiologist to find the temple in our heart or to an archaeologist to find our heart in a temple! Yet as soon as we start to talk of memories “stored in the brain” our metaphorical consciousness suddenly vanishes.
The Indian mystic and poet Kabir, anticipated our dilemma in an ironic poem:
You know that the seed is inside the horse-chestnut tree;
and inside the seed are the blossoms of the tree,
and the chestnuts and the shade.
So inside the human body there is the seed and
inside the seed there is the human body again [….]
Thinkers, listen, tell me what you know of that is not
inside the soul?
Take a pitcher of water and set it down on the water–
now it has water inside and water outside.
We mustn’t give it a name,
lest silly people start talking again about the body and
Sri Aurobindo puts it similarly: “all of the body is in the mind, but not all the mind is in the body.” He also said, paraphrasing Madame Blavatsky:
If you are embarrassed by the word “spirit” think of spirit as the subtlest form of matter. But, if you are not embarrassed by the word spirit, you can think of matter as the densest form of spirit.
The materialist viewpoint requires a movement upwards, so that spirit is seen as a higher refinement or vibration of matter, yet somehow secondary, a kind of evolutionary by-product. From the spiritual viewpoint, by contrast, matter is the lower emanation or denser manifestation of spirit, whose concreteness and solidity is ultimately an illusion (Maya). As celebrated physicist David Bohm has maintained: “matter is frozen light.”
If we contrast these two radically opposed world views we could say that the ontology of the materialist takes matter as that which is ultimately real and has therefore to find the origins of consciousness “within” matter. Mind is then seen as some evolved or higher vibrational phenomenon (the epiphenomenal view of mind) whose “transcendent” aspects need to be explained, reductively, as manifestations of biological energy of some kind.
On the other hand a spiritual ontology sees consciousness as ultimately real (Neoplatonism, Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta) and regards matter as a lower or denser manifestation of spirit or consciousness, a “condensation” of spirit into physical form, an incarnation downwards. (It is no wonder that the scientifically minded psychical researchers of Madame Blavatsky’s day were so challenged by all the alleged materializations of spirits.)
It is easy to appreciate, with our knowledge of radio waves, lasers, atomic particles, microbiology, Kirlian phenomena etc, the seductive appeal of the energetic model proposed by the materialists. It feeds our inflation that as scientists we have finally arrived at the Great Picture of things, that implacable illusion that we have crossed the last frontiers of understanding. Thus it is more comforting to be able to explain what we don’t understand in terms of what we do. Nevertheless, biological metaphors like “bioplasm” or “cellular” consciousness are at root reductive to the materialist paradigm; to ignore this is to be entranced by our choice of language and our partiality to certain fashionable metaphors. Thus science gets caught in a conceptual prison of its own making.
For from my own and clients’ experiences of spiritual and otherworldy encounters it is a travesty to claim that phenomena of spirit can be reduced to biological components, be they bioplasm, microvita or even etheric energy. But this is not to say that spirit cannot manifest in forms that can perceived in this way by visionary or clairvoyant consciousness. Almost all biological and materialist metaphors end up mistaking the container for what contains it – as with Kabir’s pitcher in the water.
No matter how ingenious the theories of physics and biology, as long as such disciplines fail to find ways to acknowledge those higher dimensions that are not of time and space and which transcend and subsume the physical realm, physical science will never fully embrace and become fruitfully united with meta-physics. Without this step all the enterprises of science, no matter how grand or sublime, will remain one dimensional and reductive. What is sought, in the words of Henry Corbin, is “a cosmology of such a kind that the most astounding information of modern science regarding the physical universe remains inferior to it.”
It is my contention, supported by the metaphysical teachings of sacred tradition, that the spiritual dimension is other than and of a higher order than the energy fields through which spirit manifests in the physical world. Moreover, there exists an intermediary crossover universe where spirit manifests through the material world and where mutatis mutandis we in our spiritual or subtle bodies can move from the material and pass beyond into the spiritual. It is this subtle intermediary world, this halfway place, that is often experienced in the form of psychic fields, or as paranormal forces or supernatural beings, as clairvoyant and subtle perceptions, as ecstatic vision and mystical transport.
Investigation of these realms shows clearly that all such phenomena, though often discounted as “mere” imagination in fact come from a higher, not a lower source, ontologically speaking, even if their contents may sometimes be of a spiritually inferior or “demonic” quality. The late Sir George Trevelyan was adamant about the need to reinstate imagination and visionary capacity to its rightful role as the spiritual function that can perceive these “higher” realms. In writing about the work of the psychic W. Tudor Pole, who saw past lifetimes, Sir George wrote as follows:
To him these recollections are emphatically not the product of imagination; that word has been debased into meaning the weaving of fantasies. In its true sense it implies an entry by pictorial thinking into a higher “frequency”, a world of reality and being beyonds the limitations of the five senses. This is the first step in research and the exploration into the spiritual realms which interpenetrate our physical world of life and being.
memories are an example of something developing today in human thinking. In our age we are getting a new understanding of the truth that the spiritual realms absolutely interpenetrate the physical. Indeed the world of material forms is seen as an image or reflection of the spiritual which creates it. The realms of spirit are not far distant, but lie within the sense world and are to be grasped there by our intuitive thinking.
Journeys bring power and love
back into you. If you can’t go somewhere,
move in the passageways of the self.
They are like shafts of light,
always changing and you change
when you explore them
In my personal experience as a psychotherapist I did not always find it easy to trust the imaginative faculty in either myself or my clients. Yet I found that the more I sought to interpret my client’s experiences by putting them back into a rational or even symbolic framework (Freudian or even Jungian) the more my interpretations were actually preventing them from opening to much deeper experiences. Increasingly I found that I had to let go of my own (left brain) need to interpret. Interpretation, which I now see as yet another kind of reductive activity, prevents us both as healers and clients from fully harnessing those spiritual dimensions mediated by the imagination or from allowing spiritual dimensions to fully enter into our work. It prevents us experiencing that sense of wonder or “going beyond” that is the essence of genuine metaphysics according to the philosopher Pierre Thevenaz.
Somewhat reluctantly I had come to realize that when I followed my clients into the “worlds” they experienced in “imagination” or “memory” I had been participating in a kind of shamanic
journeying. I had unknowingly entered into their subtle worlds and traveled with them, not realizing at first that this is exactly what shamans do: they journey. For what difference is there in the end between “regression” and “journeying” or between “psychic splitting” and “soul loss”? It is simply a matter one’s language of choice–psychoanalysis or shamanism. Equally, it makes no difference whether one uses a couch, a pendulum or a rattle; if the technique successfully induces a trance state it will enable a person to “move in the passageways of the self” as Rumi puts it so beautifully.
Increasingly, therefore, I have come to believe that the more, as psychotherapists, we can leave aside our rational, or “left brain” attitude of mind – practicing Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief”–and can embrace the visionary or “right brain” perspective of reality, the more we will encounter that subtle awareness that Henry Corbin, the great scholar of Sufism, called the spiritual imagination. Once we have begun to cultivate this very powerful species of awareness we will be able to journey between realities, to encounter other worlds beyond the physical world where we have subtle access to the universal source of healing which is Spirit.
Once I began to realize this my work led me to study a variety of esoteric sources, especially those of the Tibetan Books of the Dead, the Upanishads, the Iranian mystics discovered by Henry Corbin, Plato and the Neoplatonist mysticism of Plotinus as well as more modern visionaries like Shakespeare, William Blake and Emmanuel Swedenborg. Among all these traditions and seers it is a commonplace that there are higher or subtle senses that can be deliberately awakened through the practice of certain rigorous spiritual disciplines. These disciplines frequently involve a kind of “learning how to die” in order to be reborn in a visionary sense into these higher worlds. In fact it becomes clear that the essential feature in all the so-called Mystery traditions of the ancient world had to do with overcoming the fear of literal death to discover that the soul is immortal and can always travel into higher realities when properly instructed.
What has formerly been taught secretly in Gnostic and Neoplatonic schools is today being rediscovered in clinics, hospitals and therapy practices as what might be called the spiritual phenomenology of dying. When for example individuals undergoing a regression session to a so-called “other life” remember what it is like to die in that past life they also commonly report exactly what it is like to pass into a higher or “other” realm – what would be called a bardo in Tibetan Buddhism. In this other realm these individuals commonly find they have visionary senses, access to higher intelligence and the ability to meet with otherworldly “beings of light”, that may appear as ancestors, or even divine beings.
Precisely similar experiences have in recent years been collected in the many spontaneous reports of near death experiences now on record, material made famous by the writings of Raymond Moody and Kenneth Ring. All these reports and experiences closely parallel the many accounts we have of shamanic journeys in deep trance to higher and lower spirit worlds where the shaman, travelling in his subtle or luminous body, which has detached from the physical body, meets with and negociates with spiritual powers in the interests of protection or healing. Reviewing these striking parallels has led German anthropologist Holger Kahlweit to say that “as far as I’m concerned, an out of body experience is identical with a near-death experience.”
My soul, there is a country far beyond the stars
We are not dealing here with irreality. The mundus imaginalis is a world of autonomous forms and images…It is a perfectly real world preserving all the richness and diversity of the sensible world but in a spiritual state.
When we enter the visionary world, we are not restricted by material time and space in any way. Images move extremely fast; we can go in and out of other realities and dimensions instantly. To do this in a constructive and not random way it is best to practice some form of concentration, some form of meditation. This is why Jung developed his technique of active imagination which enables a spontaneous encounter with the image or spirit forms he called archetypes and which originate in this transpersonal psychic reality he preferred to call the collective unconscious.
In fact when we move through multiple realities and “journey in the passageways of the self” we are entering into the very essence of prayer no differently than when shamans journey to higher and lower worlds. Indeed, to work with a highly charged archetypal image and to practice following and holding such images firmly in awareness is none other than the secret gateway from the material world of sensory reality into the multi-dimensional imaginal worlds of spirit and pure being. Such practice is also the key to healing.
The multi-dimensional world or visionary world of spiritual forms was known to the Arab and Persian Sufis as the alam al-mithal. In Henry Corbin’s indispensible studies of Sohrawardi, Avicenna and Ibn Arabi this term is rendered into Latin as the mundus archetypus or mundus imaginalis . Archetype, in the Sufi sense, means a spiritual form and the world that these pure forms inhabit is in Corbin’s words “a perfectly real world preserving all the richness and diversity of the sensible world but in a spiritual state”. In his works Corbin also makes a very important distinction between what is imaginary Ð fantasies that we fabricate with our rational waking minds–and what is imaginal–that which derives from the mundus imaginalis or the higher reality of spiritual Imagination.
The mundus imaginalis is known by many names in esoteric and spiritual traditions. It is called in Plato, the Intermediary World, the metaxy. In Tibetan Buddhism, the sum total of these worlds, known individually as Bardos, or “in-betweens” are called the Sambhogakaya which means the Body of Bliss (we will return later to this cosmology). The Bardos include states after and between lives as well as prior to being born; they are in between physical reality and pure spirit. In the Western world, this intermediary world is sometimes referred to as the invisible world, the unseen world, the spirit world, or the middle kingdom.
This realm is also the world of subtle bodies, the higher location of which has important implications for the problem of how we locate the subtle energy fields we discussed earlier. For as Corbin also remarks in regard to the mundus imaginalis:
this is the world of “subtle bodies«of which it is indispensible to have some notion in order to understand that there is a link between pure spirit and material body.
Indispensible too is the awareness that with the subtle body we each have the faculty or organ that enable us to move in the mundus imaginalis. This faculty is the creative imagination which, as Corbin emphasizes, is the imaginal power by which spirit acts.
All in all, Corbin’s work greatly amplifies and clarifies the nature and dynamics of the visionary journeys or mystical pathways such as Dante’s descent to the lower world of the Inferno then to the upper world of Paradiso. Mohammed made his mi’raj or Night Journey in a comparable visionary state. From this perspective there is absolutely no question that people who go through a near death experience are journeying, when temporarily out of body, to a higher reality. We are talking about real spiritual places, albeit subtle or imaginal places, but in no way simply products of fantasy, which more properly belong to lower imagination, that of the ego. When St. Paul was taken up into the “seventh heaven” he undoubtedly went through an ecstatic out of body experience during which he visited a certain clime of the mundus imaginalis.
And the rock he touched was the socket of all men’s eyes
And he touched the spring of vision
Vernon Watkins Taliesin and the Spring of Vision
A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye
Or if he pleaseth through it pass
And then the heavens espy
George Herbert The Elixir
In an exposition by Corbin of The Crimson Angel , one of the great Sufi narratives by the mystic Sohrawardi , we are shown how it is possible to move into this world where time and space are purely relative states. According to the story a captive has just escaped the watchful eyes of his jailers. In other words, he has escaped out of the physical world in much the same way described in the famous poem of St. John of the Cross, “I went abroad when all the house was still.” (Often these experiences happen to people at night when they wake up suddenly but find they are not in their bodies.)
This captive is the stranger, the outsider in us all, who longs to return home. In the Crimson Angel the captive has escaped and finds himself in the desert in the presence of a being who has all the graces of adolescence. This being calls himself the eldest child of the creator, and he says, “I come from beyond Mount Qaf. This is where you were at the beginning and this is where you will return once you are free of your shackles.”
Sohrawardi tells us that Mount Qaf, the cosmic mountain, is
summit after summit and valley after valley built up of celestial spheres each enveloping one another. Where then is the road that leads out of it, what is the distance? And the young man says, “However far you may journey, you will always come back to the point of departure”. Just as the needle of the compass swings back to the magnetic point. Does this simply mean that you must leave yourself to come back to yourself? Not quite, because in the meantime, a very important event will have changed everything. The self one finds yonder, beyond Mount Qaf, is a higher self, the self experienced as a “Thou.” Like Khezir , the eternal wanderer, the traveler, has ultimately to bathe in the Spring of Life.
The text goes on to say,
He who has discovered the meaning of true reality has arrived at the spring. When he emerges from the spring he is endowed with a gift that likens him to the balsam, of which a drop distilled in the hollow of one’s hand, held up against the Sun, trans-passes to the back of the hand. If you are Khadir, you, too, can pass beyond Mount Qaf without difficulty.”
The region beyond Mount Qaf starts at the convex center of the ninth Sphere of Spheres which is the edge of known reality in Islamic cosmology. This is the sphere that envelopes the cosmos as a whole. This means that to enter spiritual reality, to go beyond Mount Qaf is to leave the supreme sphere which defines all types of orientation possible in our world. Once this border has been crossed, says Corbin, the question of “where”, which is to say, our location in space becomes meaningless. At least in terms of the meaning it has when we talk about leaving the “where.” As Corbin puts it:
Leaving the “where” is equivalent to leaving the outer or natural appearances that cloak the hidden inner realities, just as the almond is concealed in it’s shell. For the stranger, the Gnostic, this step represents a return home or at least striving in this direction.
Yet strange as it may seem, once the journey is completed, the reality which is hither to have been an inner and hidden one, turns out to envelope, surround or contain that which was, at first outer and invisible. As a result of internationalization one has moved out of external reality. Henceforth spiritual reality envelopes, surrounds, contains so called material reality.
Others have crossed that border, that threshold between the physical and spiritual and gone “inside” so that the inner body has become the total universe. “The whirling skies, the many-layered earth, the seventy thousand veils, we found in the body” sang a great Turkish mystic Yunnus Emre. This is also one of the great themes of Indian and Tibetan Tantrism and is reflected in the doctrines of the Mystical Body of Christ and Kabbalah’s Cosmic Man, Adam Kadmon.
Center of all centers, core of cores
almond self-enclosed and growing sweet –
all this universe, to the furthest stars
and beyond them, is your flesh, your fruit
Rainer Maria Rilke Buddha in Glory
To summarize some of these difficult and often paradoxical ideas I want to leave the reader a diagram that may help explicate the metaphors behind the actual metaphysics of the three worlds that Corbin and many other traditions allude to. The diagram uses three overlapping circles to symbolize the three interpenetrating realties of classical Mahayana Buddhist cosmology, the three bodies (kayas) of the the cosmic Buddha. At lowest level of manifestation there is the physical or sensible world, the Nirmanakaya. Above that, and interfacing with it from the metaphysical perspective is the subtle intermediary world of the Sambhogakaya and finally there is the highest of worlds, the Dharmakaya the formless, world of pure spirit or higher angelic intelligences from which all other worlds emanate.
Pure light of the Void – sunyata roger_bodies_buddha
Ground luminosity (Sogyal)
archangelic intelligences (Sufi)
the non-dual (Advaita)
al Haqq (Sufi)
alam al-mithal (Sufi)
metaxy: the intermediary realm (Plato)
Bardo or “the in between” (Tibetan)
alaya vijnana (yoga)
subtle realm, subtle bodies
daimonic or spirit realm,
Dreamtime (Australian aborigine)
anima mundi (Hermetic)
collective unconscious (Jung)
the Nagual (Toltec/Yaqui)
physical, sensory reality
the Tonal (Toltec/Yaqui)
The Three Bodies or Worlds of the Cosmic Buddha
In descending order the worlds are each conceived symbolically as “bodies” or kayas, that is to say as manifestations of pure consciousness, which is what the root meaning of Buddha is.
1. The Dharmakaya, is what the old Evans-Wentz translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead characterises as “the pure light of the void”, sunyata. As dharma, it is highest Truth cognate with the mysterious and unknowable tao of Taoism. In the Sufi and Neoplatonic cosmologies of Sohrawardi, Plotinus and Proclus, it is where the angelic intelligences reside. This is the supreme “abode” or rather the source of pure luminosity or “ground luminosity” as it has been translated by Sogyal Rinpoche. It is a state where one can not even speak of having visions of the Light, because if it is reached one is the vision; there is no longer a distinction between subject and object. It is a state beyond all distinctions, what in Vedanta is called advaita or non-dual.
2. The Sambhogakaya emanates from the Dharmakaya; and is the visionary world of multiple universes and subtle forms discussed at length above under the name given to it by Henry Corbin, the mundus imaginalis. It lies, as it were mid-way between the physical world and the ultimate and formless reality which is pure light. Here are to be found all possibilities of being in their subtle bodies or archetypal forms; but also the remnants of earlier worlds called the daimones by the Greek Platonists and the shades of the dead by Homer; these realms include the ancestors of all traditions. Recently, Patrick Harpur has proposed renaming this entire realm “daimonic reality,” and has emphasized how it interpenetrates the physical world in the form of faeries, ghosts and paranormal phenomena.
This middle realm is where the Tibetan Bardo experiences of after death encounters with ancestors and with the wrathful and benign deities occur and where visions of previous lives arise. It is also where cosmic cities, the abodes of the gods and endless visionary heavens and hells coexist in non-spatial relationship to each other (of which more below). This is where the entire the memory of mankind and human experience exists in a state of psychic suspension in what is called the alaya-vijnana, or “store consciousness”, which forms the akasha or universal etheric field. In Hermetic teachings this universal capacity to bear all traces of memory and all subtle forms, be they angelic or demonic, is called the anima mundi or world soul. This level of reality is known in western traditions as the spirit world or the astral world.
3. the Nirmanakaya, symbolized by the lowest circle, is the transitory material world of time and space subject to birth, decay and death. It is the sensory world, the world of physics and biology, built of cells and particles and light waves. From the multi-dimensional perspective of sacred tradition it is a manifestation, an incarnation or a “downloading”, as it were, of the higher worlds. In Hindu and Buddhist teaching it is called samsara, world of becoming, and is seen as essentially illusory, a play of evanescent conditions made up of Shakespeare«s “stuff of dreams”. “Thus should we think of this fleeting world” said the Buddha in like vein in his Diamond Sutra:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream
A flash of lightening in a summer cloud
A flickering lamp, a phantom and a dream
One day the sun admitted:
I’m just a shadow
I wish I could show you
The infinite incandescence
That has cast my brilliant image
I wish I could show you
When you are lonely or in darkness
The astonishing light
Of your own being
Mystics and poets from all the major traditions have described how the three worlds interface. The Sufi Al Ghazzali said, “The visible world was made to correspond to the world invisible, and there is nothing in this world, but is a symbol of something in that world.” Jung wrote: “Think carnally and you will remain flesh, think symbolically and you will become spirit.”
The subtle world is frequently seen to be a mirror of the physical world whose physical forms are seen as dim by comparison. Like Alice, we may need to pass through the looking glass. “A man that looks on glass on it may stay his eye, or if he pleaseth, through it, pass, and then the heaven espy.” said George Herbert
But perhaps the hardest thing to comprehend from a purely materialist perspective is the very nature of psychic space in the mundus imaginalis and how it is that beings in their spiritual forms or subtle bodies are able to move within and between the many visionary intermediary worlds. For in the subtle world we do indeed find distinct representations of psychic or spiritual location in space. Polarized within this cosmos there are “higher” and “lower” worlds, “heavens” and “hells”, or “angelic” and “demonic” realms. How is it then that shamans and visionaries like Dante are able to travel in and between these other worlds?
An important clue was given to us by the great visionary voyager Emmanuel Swedenborg. From his own experience as “one who walked with God” he wrote:
Although all things in heaven appear in place and space as they do in the world, still the angels have no notion or idea of place and space. all progressions or movements in the spiritual world are effected by changes in the state of the interiors…. hence those who are near each other are in a similar state and those who are far apart are those whose state is dissimilar. Spaces in heaven or the spiritual realm are nothing but external states corresponding to internal ones.
Those souls that have reached a certain stage of inner growth will be drawn to other souls of like kind. There is in the spirit world a kind of polarization of forms both evolutionary and devolutionary. In regression and shamanic journeys among the ancestral denizens of the intermediary world it is common to meet clusters of souls, or families, that belong together; and that are working on a similar spiritual level Those too who remember out of body experiences from a near-death will report going through layers or planes where different assemblies of beings are to be found.
In my book on past lives I recount the story of a young women who remembered dying as Roman centurion who had served among the horrors of the Coliseum. In the Bardo realms after death the centurion in his subtle body goes to a lower plane where he sees thousands of souls of Christians who have been martyred, who are in a state of deep confusion and who are angry at Christ for not rescuing them. Yet the centurion had converted to Christianity and had died a peaceful death. As a result he found himself rising beyond the confused souls into a higher plane where there was glory and light and praise. The soul of the centurion had apparently moved into the angelic realms.
The imagery that most consistently recurs in descriptions of higher worlds is that of light. We are thus told that the light emanating from of the highest of worlds, the Dharmakaya, is constantly present at all levels of reality. But because this universal radiance is beyond form it is neither within nor without and it is both within and without; in fact it is everywhere and nowhere, as indicated by the koan-like Platonic saying that “God is a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” Such paradoxical metaphors of dualist mysticism inevitably crack the moulds of binary logic and the imagination of time and space is beggared beyond words. In the presence of such supreme knowledge “all nature quaketh, all clerics be fools and all saints and angels be blind” says the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing. The Psalmist David was similarly in awe to the wondersome dimensions of Divine Mind, the utterly limitless power of Spirit when he sang:
How measureless your mind is, Lord:
it contains inconceivable worlds
and is vaster than space, than time.
If ever I tried to fathom it,
I would be like a child counting
The grains of sand on a beach
Psalm 139 (trans. Mitchell)
All the teachings concur that whenever we journey in what Rumi calls “the passageways of the self” which are like “shafts of light” this light is none other than the “pure light of the void” which interpenetrates and upholds everything eternally. Dante, in his vision of Paradise saw this divine light as “l’amor che muove il sole e gli altri stelle”–“the love that moves the sun and all the other stars.” Generally it is only great visionaries and saints that can both see and tolerate the stupendous brilliance of this light. Rumi underscores that “the bodies of holy men and women have the ability to endure the unconditional light that can tear mountain ranges to pieces.” And not only this, the greatest of masters also embody that light by means of the purified vessel of their subtle body – so aptly called the luminous body in many traditions. “The light of Joseph’s face, when he passed by a house,” Rumi tells us, ” would filter through the lattice and make a radiance on the wall. People would notice and say, “Joseph must be taking a walk.””
Faced with this light and such illumined beings, most of us are more like the disciples of Jesus as described in the Gnostic Pistis Sophia, dazzled by so much brilliance:
And that light-power came down over Jesus and surrounded him entirely, while he was seated removed from his disciples, and he had shone most exceedingly, and there was no measure for the light which was on him.
And the disciples had not seen Jesus because of the great light in which he was, or which was about him; for their eyes were darkened because of the great light in which he was. But they saw only the light, which shone forth many light rays É in one great immeasurable glory of light. It stretched from under the earth right up to heaven – And when the disciples saw that light, they fell into great fear and agitation.
It came to pass them that when that light-power had come down over Jesus that it gradually surrounded him entirely. Then Jesus ascended or soared into the height, shining most exceedingly in an immeasurable light. And the disciples gazed after him and none of them spake; but they all kept in deep silence.
We are such stuff as dreams are made on
William Shakespeare. The Tempest
Such then is the potential for illumination and transfiguration when all three worlds manifest in one being or one place; “wherever the Footprint is found, that handful of dust holds the oneness of worlds” according to the inspired Sufi Ghalib. For in fact “the kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth but men do not see it”. Only by the “cleansing the doors of perception” (Blake) and thereby opening to the visionary senses that inhere within the subtle body can we begin to awaken to our divine consciousness, to the light that is within. Then, and only then, will the multi-dimensional nature of things and their ultimate oneness become manifest. This was how Shelley saw it:
The One remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven’s light forever shines, Earth’s shadows fly
Life, like a dome of many colored glass,
Stains the white radiance of eternity;
Flowers, ruins, statues, music, words, are weak
The glory they transfuse with fitting truth to speak.
But perhaps one of the greatest visionaries of all times, with his last and deliberately Hermetic work, should have the last word. So, in conclusion, Prospero’s magisterial evocation of the mundus imaginalis in Shakespeare’s Tempest, a speech which so wistfully echoes the words of the Buddha quoted earlier:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
The baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Act 4, Scene 1
1. Thevenaz, Pierre. What is Phenomenology? Chicago, 1962, pp136-7
2. Cited in Smith, Margaret, Al-Ghazzali The Mystic, p 111.
3. Ghose, Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, New York, 1951. Cited in Elmer and Alyce Green in Beyond Biofeedback, p. 63. See note 6.
4. The Gospel of Thomas, translated A Guillaumont et. al., E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1976 log. 29.
5. Heidegger, Martin. What is a Thing?, Chicago, 1967, cited in Roberts Avens, Imaginal Body: Para-Jungian Reflections on Soul, Imagination and Death, U. Press of America, Washington, D.C., 1982, p. 165. Aven’s radical critique of parapsychology sees it as fundamentally hamstrung by a dualism that excludes the soul. His work deserves to be read by all researchers in the field.
6. Green, Alyce and Elmer, Beyond Biofeedback, Knoll, Ft. Wayne, Indiana, 1977.
7. Brennan, Barbara, Hands of Light: A Guide to Healing Through The Human Energy Field, Bantam, New York, 1988.
8. Tansley, David, Radionics and the Subtle Anatomy of Man, Health Science, Saffron Walden, Essex, England, 1972.
9. Bailey, Alice, The Light of the Soul: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Lucis Trust, New York, 1927.
10. See Rossi, Ernest, L. and David Cheek, Mind-Body Therapy, Norton, New York, 1994. The idea of cellular consciousness is also to be found in the perinatal work of Graham Farrant. Cf Satprem, The Mind of the Cells, New York, 1982.
11. Network, 63, April, 1997.
12. See especially: Krippner, Stanley and Daniel Rubin, Galaxies of Light, Interface, New York, 1973; White, John and Stanley Krippner, Future Science, Doubleday, New York, 1977; White, John, Kundalini, Evolution and Enlightenment, Doubleday, New York, 1979.
13. “Bioplasm: The Fifth State of Matter?” Inyushin, Viktor, M., in White, Future Science, p. 115, see note
14. Mitchell, Stephen. The Enlightened Heart. Harper, New York, 1989, p. 16
15. The Kabir Book, translated by Robert Bly, Beacon Press, Boston, 1977, p 4.
16. Ghose, op. cit.
17. Bohm, David, in Renee Weber, (ed) Dialogues with Scientists and Sages. Routlege, London. 1986. pp. 45-6.
18. Introduction to W. Tudor Pole and Rosamond Lehrman, A Man Seen Afar.
19. These Branching Moments, versions by Coleman Barks, Copper Beech, 1988.
20. Kahlweit, Holger. Dreamtine and Inner Space. Shambhala. Boulder, Colorado, 1992.
21. “The Visionary Dream in Islamic Spirituality” in Grunebaum and Caillais (eds) The Dreams in Human Society, U. of California Press, Berkeley, 1966.
22. Corbin, Henry, “Mundus Imaginalis or the Imaginary and the Imaginal”, translated Ruth Horine Spring, Zurich, 1972. A more complete translation of this paper is published in Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam, translated Leonard Fox. Swedenborg Foundation, West Chester, Pennsylvania, 1995.
Among Corbin’s other major works on this theme are : Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi, Bollingen, Princeton, 1969; Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, Bollingen, Partheon, 1960and Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth. Bollingen, Princeton, 1977.
23. Symposium, 202.
24. “Mundus Imaginalis”, p. 9 (Horine translation)
25. For a good survey of the literature of such journeys, see Zaleski, Carol, Otherworldly Journeys, New York, 1989.
26. “Mundus Imaginalis”, p. 2–6 (Horine translation).
27. St. John of the Cross, Collected Works, Ed. Kavanagh, and Rodriguez, ICS Publications, Washington, D.C., 1979.
28. “Mundus Imaginalis”, p. 3 (Horine translation).
31. Mitchell, The Enlightened Heart, p. 131.
32. The Three Worlds symbolized by the Kayas (“bodies of the Buddha”) are well discussed in Lauf, Detlef Ingo, Secret Doctrines of the Tibetan Books of the Dead, Shambala, Boulder, 1977.
33. Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Harper, New York, 1992, Ch. 16.
34. Harpur, Patrick, Daimonic Reality, Understanding Otherworld Encounters, Arkana Penguin, London, 1995.
35. Zimmer, Heinrich, Philosophies of India, Bollingen, Princeton, 1951, p 526. Cf. Sogyal, op.cit. p 111.
36. Hafez. I Heard God Laughing, translated David Ladinsky, Pumpkin House Press, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, 1997.
37. See note 2
38. Jung, C. G. Symbols of Transformation, Bollingen, Princeton, 1951, p. 226.
39. Emmanuel Swedenborg, Heaven and its Wonders and Hell, Swedenborg Foundation, New York, 1900.
40. Other Lives, Other Selves. Doubleday, New York, 1987.
41. For an exhaustive discussion of this elusive quotation see, “The Fearful Sphere of Pascal” by Jorge Luis Borges in Labyrinths, New Directions, San Francisco, 1964.
42. Dante, Paradiso, Canto 33
43. Rumi. Feeling the Shoulder of the Lion, Translated Coleman Barks. Threshold, Vermont, 1991
44. Pistis Sophia translated G.R.S. Mead. Garber reprint, New York 1984 (original edition 1896)
45. Gospel of Thomas, ed. cit. logon 113.
46. For Shakespeare’s Hermeticism, see Frances A. Yates. Shakespeare’s Last Plays, Routlege, London, 1975; Peter Dawkins. Shakespeare’s Wisdom in The Tempest. I.C. Media, London, 2000. Aldous Huxley reached similar conclusions in his last essay: “Shakespeare and Maya.”