Plane (esotericism)

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In esoteric cosmology, a plane is conceived as a subtle state, level, or region of reality, each plane corresponding to some type, kind, or category of being.

The concept may be found in religious and esoteric teachings which propound the idea of a whole series of subtle planes or worlds or dimensions which, from a center, interpenetrate themselves and the physical planet in which we live, the solar systems, and all the physical structures of the universe. This interpenetration of planes culminates in the universe itself as a physical structured, dynamic and evolutive expression emanated through a series of steadily denser stages, becoming progressively more material and embodied.

The emanation is conceived, according to esoteric teachings, to have originated, at the dawn of the universe's manifestation, in The Supreme Being who sent out—from the unmanifested Absolute beyond comprehension—the dynamic force of creative energy, as sound-vibration ("the Word"), into the abyss of space. Alternatively, it states that this dynamic force is being sent forth, through the ages, framing all things that constitute and inhabit the universe.

Origins of the concept[edit]

The original source of the word plane in this context is the late Neoplatonist Proclus, who refers to to platos, "breadth", which was the equivalent of the 19th-century theosophical use. An example is the phrase en to psychiko platei.[1]

Esoteric conceptions[edit]

In the late 19th century, the metaphysical term "planes" was popularised by the theosophy of H. P. Blavatsky, who in The Secret Doctrine and other writings propounded a complex cosmology consisting of seven planes and subplanes, based on a synthesis of Eastern and Western ideas. The planes in Theosophy were further systematized in the writings of Annie Besant[2] and C. W. Leadbeater.[3]

From theosophy the term made its way to later esoteric systems such as that of Alice Bailey. Max Theon used the word "States" (French Etat) rather than "Planes", in his cosmic philosophy, but the meaning is the same.[citation needed]

In the early 20th century, Max Heindel presented in The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception a cosmology related to the scheme of evolution in general and the evolution of the Solar System and the Earth in particular, according to the Rosicrucians. He establishes, through the conceptions presented, a bridge between modern science (currently starting research into the subtler etheric plane of existence behind the physical) and religion, in order that this last one may be able to address man's inner questions raised by scientific advancement.[4]

The planes[edit]

Many occult, psychic, metaphysical, mystical, and esoteric teachings assert that at least four separate planes of existence exist; however, these differing occult and metaphysical schools often label the planes of existence with differing terminologies. These planes of existence often tend to overlap with each other heavily in both description and conception (especially between schools), and can roughly be delineated into "physical", "mental", "spiritual", or "transcendent" categories.[citation needed]

Do note that the listing of planes below is based mostly on Theosophy. Other religions might structure their planes significantly differently.

Physical plane[edit]

The physical plane, physical world, or physical universe, in emanationist metaphysics taught in Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, Hinduism and Theosophy, refers to the visible reality of space and time, energy and matter: the physical universe in occultism and esoteric cosmology is the lowest or densest of a series of planes of existence.[citation needed]

According to Theosophists, after the material plane is the etheric plane and both of these planes are connected to make up the first (physical) plane.[5] Theosophy also teaches that when the physical body dies the etheric body is left behind and the soul forms into an astral body on the astral plane.[6]

The psychical researcher F. W. H. Myers proposed the existence of a "metetherial world", which he wrote to be a world of images lying beyond the physical world. He wrote that apparitions have a real existence in the metetherial world which he described as a dream-like world.[7]

Astral plane[edit]

The astral spheres were thought to be planes of angelic existence intermediate between Earth and heaven.

The astral plane, also called the astral world, is where consciousness goes after physical death. According to occult philosophy, all people possess an astral body. The astral plane (also known as the astral world) was postulated by classical (particularly neoplatonic), medieval, oriental, and esoteric philosophies and mystery religions.[8] It is the world of the planetary spheres, crossed by the soul in its astral body on the way to being born and after death, and generally said to be populated by angels, spirits, or other non-physical beings.[9]

In the late 19th and early 20th century the term was popularised by Theosophy and neo-Rosicrucianism. According to occult teachings the astral plane can be visited consciously through astral projection, meditation, and mantra, near-death experience, lucid dreaming, or other means. Individuals that are trained in the use of the astral vehicle can separate their consciousness in the astral vehicle from the physical body at will.[10]

The Theosophist author Curuppumullage Jinarajadasa wrote: "When a person dies, they become fully conscious in the astral body. After a certain time, the astral body disintegrates, and the person then becomes conscious on the mental plane."[11]

Occultist George Arundale wrote:

In the astral world exist temporarily all those physical entities, men and animals, for whom sleep involves a separation of the physical body for a time from the higher bodies. While we "sleep", we live in our astral bodies, either fully conscious and active, or partly conscious and semi-dormant, as the case may be, according to our evolutionary growth; when we "wake", the physical and the higher bodies are interlocked again, and we cease to be inhabitants of the astral world.[12]

Some writers have asserted the astral plane can be reached by dreaming. Sylvan Muldoon and psychical researcher Hereward Carrington in their book The Projection of the Astral Body (1929) wrote:

When you are dreaming you are not really in the same world as when you are conscious – in the physical – although the two worlds merge into one another. While dreaming, you really are in the astral plane, and usually your astral body is in the zone of quietude.[13]

In his book Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda provides details about the astral planes learned from his resurrected guru Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri.[14] Yogananda reveals that nearly all individuals enter the astral planes after death. There they work out the seeds of past karma through astral incarnations, or (if their karma requires) they return to earthly incarnations for further refinement. Once an individual has attained the meditative state of nirvikalpa samadhi in an earthy or astral incarnation, the soul may progress upward to the "illumined astral planet" of Hiranyaloka.[14] After this transitional stage, the soul may then move upward to the more subtle causal spheres where many incarnations allow them to further refine until final unification.[15]

Astral projection author Robert Bruce describes the astral as seven planes that take the form of planar surfaces when approached from a distance, separated by immense coloured "buffer zones". These planes are endlessly repeating ruled Cartesian coordinate system grids, tiled with a single signature pattern that is different for each plane. Higher planes have bright, colourful patterns, whereas lower planes appear far duller. Every detail of these patterns acts as a consistent portal to a different kingdom inside the plane, which itself comprises many separate realms. Bruce notes that the astral may also be entered by means of long tubes that bear visual similarity to these planes, and conjectures that the grids and tubes are in fact the same structures approached from a different perceptual angle.[citation needed]

Mental plane[edit]

Charles Webster Leadbeater wrote:

In the mental world one formulates a thought and it is instantly transmitted to the mind of another without any expression in the form of words. Therefore on that plane language does not matter in the least; but helpers working in the astral world, who have not yet the power to use the mental vehicle.[16]

Annie Besant wrote that "The mental plane, as its name implies, is that which belongs to consciousness working as thought; not of the mind as it works through the brain, but as it works through its own world, unencumbered with physical spirit-matter."[17]

A detailed description of the mental plane, along with the mental body, is provided by Arthur E. Powell, who has compiled information in the works of Besant and Leadbeater in a series of books on each of the subtle bodies.

Causal plane[edit]

According to Hindu occultism the mental plane consists of two divisions, the lower division is known as heaven (Svargaloka) and the upper division is known as the causal plane (Maharloka).[18]

Sivaya Subramuniyaswami wrote:

The causal plane is the world of light and blessedness, the highest of heavenly regions, extolled in the scriptures of all faiths. It is the foundation of existence, the source of visions, the point of conception, the apex of creation. The causal plane is the abode of Lord Siva and his entourage of Mahadevas and other highly evolved souls who exist in their own self-effulgent form—radiant bodies of centillions of quantum light particles.[19]

Sri Aurobindo developed a very different concept of the mental plane, through his own synthesis of Vedanta (including the Taittiriya Upanishad), Tantra, Theosophy, and Max Théon ideas (which he received via The Mother, who was Theon's student in occultism for two years). In this cosmology, there are seven cosmic planes, three lower, corresponding to relative existence (the Physical, Vital, and Mental), and four higher, representing infinite divine reality (Life Divine bk. 1 ch. 27) The Aurobindonian Mind or Mental Plane constitutes a large zone of being from the mental vital to the overmental divine region (Letters on Yoga, Jyoti and Prem Sobel 1984), but as with the later Theosophical concept it constitutes an objective reality of sheer mind or thought.[citation needed]

Buddhic plane[edit]

The buddhic plane is described as a realm of pure consciousness.[20] According to Theosophy the buddhic plane exists to develop buddhic consciousness which means to become unselfish and solve any problems with the ego.[21] Charles Leadbeater wrote that in the buddhic plane man casts off the delusion of the self and enters a realization of unity.[22]

Annie Besant defined the buddhic plane as

Persistent, conscious, spiritual awareness. This is the full consciousness of the buddhic or intuitional level. This is the perceptive consciousness which is the outstanding characteristic of the Hierarchy. The life focus of the man shifts to the buddhic plane. This is the fourth or middle state of consciousness.[23]

Sri Aurobindo calls the level above the mental plane the supermind.[24]

Spiritual plane[edit]

George Winslow Plummer wrote that the spiritual plane is split into many sub-planes (such as the "Atmic plane") and that on these planes live spiritual being who are more advanced in development and status than ordinary man.[25]

Divine plane[edit]

According to some occult teachings, all souls are born on the divine plane and then descend down through the lower planes; however souls will work their way back to the divine plane.[26][27] Joshua David Stone describes the plane as complete unity with God.[28] Rosicrucianism teaches that the divine plane is where Jesus dwelt in Christ consciousness.[29][better source needed]

The Summerland[edit]

The Summerland is the name given by Theosophists, Spiritualists, Wiccans, and some earth-based contemporary pagan religions to their conceptualization of existence on a plane in an afterlife.[30]

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) inspired Andrew Jackson Davis (1826–1910), in his major work The Great Harmonia to say that Summerland is the pinnacle of spiritual achievement in the afterlife; that is, it is the highest level, or sphere, of the afterlife we can hope to enter.[citation needed] The common portrayal of the Summerland is as a place of rest for souls after or between their earthly incarnations. The Summerland is also envisioned as a place for recollection and reunion with deceased loved ones.[citation needed]

As the name suggests, it is often imagined as a place of beauty and peace, where everything people hold close to their hearts is preserved in its fullest beauty for eternity. It is envisioned as containing wide (possibly eternal) fields of rolling green hills and lush grass. In Theosophy, the term "Summerland" is used without the definite article "the". Summerland, also called the Astral plane Heaven, is depicted as where souls who have been good in their previous lives go between incarnations. Those who have been bad go to Hell, which is believed to be located below the surface of the Earth and is on the astral plane and is composed of the densest astral matter; the Spiritual Hierarchy functioning within Earth functions on the etheric plane below the surface of the Earth.[3]

Theosophists also believe there is another higher level of heaven called Devachan, also called the Mental plane Heaven, which some but not all souls reach between incarnations—only those souls that are more highly developed spiritually reach this level, those souls that are at the first, second, and third levels of initiation. Devachan is several miles (around 10 km) higher above the surface of Earth than Summerland..[3]

Inhabitants of the various planes[edit]

Occult writers such as Geoffrey Hodson,[citation needed] Mellie Uyldert,[31] and Dora van Gelder[citation needed] attempted to classify different spiritual beings into a hierarchy based on their assumed place and function on the planes of existence.[citation needed]

Charles Webster Leadbeater fundamentally described and incorporated his comprehension of intangible beings for Theosophy. Along with him there are various planes intertwined with the quotidian human world and are all inhabited by multitudes of entities. Each plane is purported as composed of discrete density of astral or ethereal matter and frequently the denizens of a plane have no discernment of other ones. Other Theosophical writers such as Alice Bailey, a contemporary of Leadbeater, also gave continuousness to Theosophical concepts of ethereal beings and her works had a great impact over New Age movement.[32][33] She puts the nature spirits and devas as ethereal beings immersed in macro divisions of an interwoven threefold universe, usually they belong to the etheric, astral, or mental planes. The ethereal entities of the four kingdoms, Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, are forces of nature.

The Dutch writer and clairvoyant Mellie Uyldert characterized the semblance and behavior of ethereal entities on the etheric plane, which, she said, hover above plants and transfer energy for vitalizing the plant, then nourishing themselves on rays of sunlight. She depicted them as asexual gender, and composed of etheric matter. They fly three meters over the ground, some have wings like butterflies while others only have a small face and an aura waving graciously. Some are huge while others may have the size of one inch.[31]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Dodds, cited in Poortman (1978), vol. II, p. 54.
  2. ^ Besant (1897).
  3. ^ a b c Leadbeater (1912).
  4. ^ Heindel (1916).
  5. ^ Friedlander & Hemsher (2011), p. 196.
  6. ^ McClelland (2010), p. 32.
  7. ^ Myers (1903).
  8. ^ Mead (1919).
  9. ^ Plato (2007).
  10. ^ Brennan (1996).
  11. ^ Jinarājadāsa (1922), pp. 139–140.
  12. ^ Jinarājadāsa (1922), p. 93.
  13. ^ Muldoon & Carrington (1929), p. 9.
  14. ^ a b Yogananda (1946), p. 400.
  15. ^ Yogananda (1946), ch. 43.
  16. ^ Leadbeater (1917), p. 264.
  17. ^ Besant (1897), ch. IV.
  18. ^ Kumar & Larsen (2004), p. 39.
  19. ^ Subramuniyaswami (2003), p. xxxv.
  20. ^ Stone & Parker (1998), p. 11.
  21. ^ Leadbeater (1917), p. 226.
  22. ^ Leadbeater (1925), p. 180.
  23. ^ Bailey (1960), p. 463.
  24. ^ Senner (2009), p. 239.
  25. ^ Plummer (2014), p. 106.
  26. ^ Poinsot (1945), p. 472.
  27. ^ Poinsot (1939), p. 472.
  28. ^ Stone & Parker (1998), p. 13.
  29. ^ The Rosicrucian Digest. September 1932. p. 288.[full citation needed]
  30. ^ Starr (2000).
  31. ^ a b Uyldert & Smith (1980).
  32. ^ Laderman & León (2003), vol. 3, p. 236.
  33. ^ York (1995), p. 66.

Works cited[edit]