February 14, 2013
A study of the 7 Planes is typically carried out during silent retreats and can take years to complete - because, in order to fully grasp them, the ideas themselves need to be embodied as states. This makes the wisdom of this teaching rather inaccessible to most people. So there has been developed a more intuitively obvious approach that employs 7 of the simplest words we all know.
This is pleasing to the part of us that wants our spiritual nature and our material nature to be clearly integrated. Often a seeker will find sacred text offers something of importance - a golden nugget that offers inspiration and comfort - yet the student will not make the connection that explains how that has anything to do with raising children or getting a good job: hence the 7 Words, which tries to bridge that divide.
In the articles that will complete the series, each of the planes will be described in its purest form, as a Sufi teaching. In summary - the Earth plane is to do with physical existence and its challenges and lessons; its essential mystery is abundance. The Astral plane relates to our ability to find solutions, to use intuition, to focus emotions and thought towards creative outcomes. Next, the plane of Love, Harmony and Beauty is where we awaken our experience of the joy and the power of love through the expression of compassion.
The 4th plane, is called the Heroic, its main theme is authenticity and it engages us fully with the shadow nature of our psychological imperfections, frequently externalising inner conflicts. The higher planes are less self-centred. We learn all about sacredness on the 5th, the Plane of Splendour, and the purpose and qualities of sacredness. We become aware of those aspects of our being that can only be explained with the study of what we call angels. The Immaculate State, 6th Plane, is close to purity itself; beyond that is the 7th state of Unity, which is all but unimaginable.
These 7 planes form a cosmology, so that they can be used to form a complete perception of the nature of reality and therefore, of course, oneself.
EARTH PLANEThe Earth plane is to do with physical existence, its challenges, lessons, unique experiences and joys. It expresses the slowest vibration of energy – called light by Sufis. As both scientists and mystics have perceived, what seems solid is in fact very spacious, matter is actually energy in form.
What distinguishes physicality is that two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Boundaries are firm. This gives rise to the experience of limitation when we are stopped from getting what we go for. Lessons around this include patience, tolerance, acceptance, and perseverance. By experiencing the need for these qualities, we can then integrate them into our character and develop a more beautiful personality – considered of great worth by Sufis. Choice is another quality developed in response to limitation, so we are obliged to define and refine our identity, bringing clarity and precision to an otherwise indistinct ego.
The ego tends to be rather thick and reactive because it feels a need to be resilient against the imposition of outer forces claiming space. It really is quite impossible to exist on the Earth plane without an ego, because one must have a physical body. That body requires nourishment, which must sustain my body not yours. Instinct is strong, and spiritual awareness is often not much in evidence. Suffering therefore occurs, and this may well assist in the remembrance of one’s divine spiritual nature. Also our humanity awakens though our compassionate response in witness to the suffering of others.
Typical earth people are manual workers, whose pace is slow and steady. Farmers are the best example. These people plod unhurriedly through the long days, quietly attending to their duties and tasks, never getting very emotional, knowing how things work, how seasons rotate and that nothing much is worth getting excited for.
The message of the Earth plane is the wisdom of how to accept what cannot be changed, how to struggle to overcome what can, and learning to tell the difference between the two. The reward for learning Earth plane mysteries is abundance.
ASTRAL PLANEWhereas it is physicality that expresses Earth Plane reality, here we move into the realms of mentality. The Mind. In this world, we include all thought, beliefs, ideas, imagination and the emotions too shallow to touch the deeper feelings of the heart. Thoughts live here; they have a life that has power, duration and longevity. The power and influence of a particular thought-form depends upon the passion behind its inception and the specific clarity of focus. So it is wise to exercise caution with what we allow to dominate the mind's attention. If we dwell on painful feelings, morbid ideas and pessimistic expectation, then we are creating powerful negative spells that have a life of their own.
This is most clearly seen in the wider sphere of public behaviour, where beliefs and fashions of morality come and go in waves and cycles. These cycles have tended to be rather slow, measured in centuries rather than decades. Yet with the birth of the Internet - an extraordinarily meaningful representation in physical terms of the Astral Plane - humanity's mind is racing quickly through unprecedented shifts of attitude, which are influencing political realities in a way never occurring before in history. We can see clear evidence of where the world's attention is being placed: sensational news, sex, travel, music, social networking and, rather surprisingly, astrology. These are the leading themes of Google's keyword searches today.
In this lifetime, the Astral Plane is what goes on inside our head. There is the grosser, more demanding world to cope with - the physical reality of the Earth Plane - which keeps us grounded by having to cope with putting food on the table and a roof overhead. Were it not for this, some people would find their mind's lack of focus rather troubling, to the point of madness or serious constant confusion...and of course some do already. Leaving the Earth Plane after death, the situation reverses - instead of the mind being inside us, we are inside it. Sufis teach that we return to Source stage by stage, with the Astral Plane next. In simple terms we live in the world that we have created during this life by the choice of what we mostly thought about. This deserves serious consideration.
The darker, heavier emotions of negativity give rise to the Lower Astral - a world of violence, hatred and fear. Whereas the lighter side of this plane, the Upper Astral, is all fun and joy; it is the place of creative genius, where answers are found to puzzles and we express art for art's sake. We can see the importance of living now to develop a mental and emotional approach to life that is calm, easy and pleasant - assuming we want a calm, easy and pleasant after-life to inhabit.
Let us not speak as though this reality is elsewhere and later; it is not - it is here and now. When we indulge our fears, anxieties, addiction and depressions and general negativity, then we slip into the Lower astral. When we are curious, playful, creative and even a little bit naughty, then we enter the upper reaches of this 'plane of the djinn spirits'.
Djinns are mischievous, free and powerful inhabitants of this realm; their name has given rise to the word genius, and the genie in the bottle. Freeing the mind from external blinkers, and yet mastering it yourself - this gives awesome power. This is the mystery of this reality and is accessed by learning how to say Hello. When we are masters of Hello, we gain considerable influence in all the worlds.
PLANE OF LOVE HARMONY & BEAUTYThe third of Sufism's 7 Planes of Consciousness is called the Plane of Love, Harmony and Beauty. It has correspondence with the softer side of the Heart Centre and is linked with the word Thanks within the 7 Words system.
As the name suggests, this plane is where we experience the heart - and such things that connect with the heart's association with compassion. Compassion - "suffering with" - is free of the expectation or need for exchange; it is given, simply because it is the essential nature of Heart to give. In this context the word Love is indicative of unconditional love, so it goes beyond the focus of love that requires conditions, like sexual passion or romance.
Nonetheless it is relational. We identify a certain quality of energy which we call love, by noticing a feeling in the heart area, and this arises typically when we are with another person - or at least remembering that person. In some people it can also easily arise in other situations, as when we experience profound beauty or joie de vivre. The nature of our relationship with these people or things is harmonious. Harmony in music is found when two or more voices are singing melodies that are different and yet mutually supportive and together graceful and elegant.
An interesting formula is offered by Sufis - that the perfection of Love is Harmony, and the perfection of Harmony is Beauty. This is a deeper idea than might immediately be obvious and warrants careful consideration. Can Harmony therefore exist without Love? Can Beauty ever be perfected without Love? In relationship, do we look for Harmony and Beauty as evidence of Love? In the context of our Third Plane studies have we to infer that Beauty is a heart quality?
Although no doubt the larger purpose of our study of Sufism is to open all centres and rejoice in the fullness of our being, this path is essentially a path of the heart (not all spiritual paths are so). As such we expect to expand our ability to feel the beauty of life, to live in harmony with all we meet and to radiate compassion unreservedly. This usually means that we are soft, often childlike, a little naive, trusting and perhaps easily given to expressions of joy and sorrow. We feel and are quick to shed a tear in the presence of the poignancy of life, great beauty or another's misfortune.
Such qualities are not conducive towards worldly achievements, so the harshness of daily life may intimidate or overwhelm. People with strong 3rd plane resonance are quite family-oriented, often good at providing nurture, care, an emotionally secure home life and general sense of belonging. They can lack the thick-skinned robustness needed to struggle against competition or aggression.
Such types that delight in this more fiery exchange belong on the Heroic plane, which we'll look at next.
HEROIC PLANEThe fourth of Sufism’s 7 Planes of Consciousness is called the Heroic Plane. It has correspondence with the heart’s stronger qualities and is linked in the 7 Words System with the word Goodbye.
However pleasant it feels to enjoy the nurturing security of the plane of Love, it can get a bit boring for people whose natural predisposition is more dynamic and inclined to rise to challenges. And this is what the 4th plane is about. It is not especially joyful, although it has its own sense of celebration. It is more to do with baptism by fire – the burning away of impurities through often uncomfortable processes of tests and rigours. Here the spiritual disciple learns lessons of self-control and ardent purification.
Within the realms of relationship we often see the energies of both Venus and Mars. If Venus is 3rd plane then Mars is definitely 4th. The warrior needs to contest with another in order to sharpen his wits and strengthen his will, and although the purpose of doing so evolves into battling the self, it begins through the conflict where two motivations clash. Martial arts and violent sports are examples of preferred activities for 4th plane types, where occupations can often include negotiation – in business, diplomacy, or politics.
On the plane of Heroes, there are winners and losers. It is overseen by archangelic beings – the Seraphim – and these fiery cosmic characters blow their trumpets to raise a celebratory fanfare whenever they witness the forces of light defeat those of darkness. We feel these ourselves as a sense of exaltation when we resist temptation or overcome an agency of negativity. Do we not blow our trumpets a little when we have successfully stood firm on a matter of principle?
Through external conflict we are learning how to develop the necessary qualities to deal with the inner conflicts that inevitably arise for the true seeker. Each of us is somewhat false at times, we fail to ring true when struck by life’s demands and we capitulate to greater forces that we deem to be wrong. It is for us to perfect a sense of right and wrong – not as a judgement to rise self-importantly above others, but as the foundation of truth upon which to construct an authentic life path. As we do so, we are tested. It is always so – and we must stand firm if we are to claim our greatest birthright.
This is not a place on which to dwell. There are real and serious dangers for people who spend most of their time engaging 4th plane issues. The fire can be destructive – it does not support ordinary domestic life, nor yet prayerful monastic rhythms, because its energy is too passionate, unbending, and uncomfortable. It can lead to burn out, isolation and bigotry. In fact, the distortions on this plane can be the most difficult of all distortions. Fanatics, tyrants and zealots are as likely as heroes.
There are plenty of occasions when we are clear of conscience, strong of will with fire in the heart and God on our side – and yet we lose a battle. Dark forces prevail. Then we have to accept the setback, regroup our resources and reaffirm our expectation of success. The 4th plane knows no fear, no surrender and no exhaustion…so be careful! Yet without it, no access to the higher glories are found – these are 5th plane mysteries.
PLANE OF SPLENDOUR
The 5th plane of consciousness called the Plane of Splendour is represented by the word Please. It is associated with the archangelic realm of Cherubs, which are not cute little baby angels at all, they are unimaginably vast and powerful self-aware spiritual beings that never incarnate but simply live throughout eternity singing the praises of God. Clearly they relate to the throat chakra, and are invoked by sacred chanting and prayer.
Prayer is not to be trifled with. Giving voice to an unwelcome state and set of circumstances, and calling upon God’s power to manifest them is seriously unhelpful and ill advised – yet this is done more often than not. People so often pray for what they want – and in so doing accentuate wanting. It is desire and expectancy, coupled with a state of gratitude, that empowers prayer. Please is about desire and expectancy as the 5th plane is about sacredness.
These two attitudes of being are profoundly linked. Desire is seen as sacred in Sufism – as it is in Buddhism too, actually; it is attachment to desire, or craving that leads to suffering. Desire itself is the most sacred evidence of the love felt between two things or people whose soul destiny is to share and cooperate in the sublime, divine act of creativity. Through sacredness, this essential life-force is optimised.
Sacredness rarely arises of itself – the exception is when Nature reaches awesome extremes of beauty and in the passages at birth and death. Otherwise we need to create it. We do this with such practices as chanting the holy names, burning incense and lighting candles, kneeling before an altar and spontaneously making up prayer. Sometimes even religious practices can awaken this state if the practitioner is sincere and free of cynicism and habit. A general rule of thumb is useful too: peace leads to sacredness and sacredness leads to peace.
Spirituality has been corrupted and distorted so badly and for so long that many people throw the baby out with the bathwater. Some reject God simply because they see how insincere some priests are and feel the emptiness and foolishness of so much of the scriptures. That’s sad, and unnecessary.
We can find our own way to the Source. The malpractices of religions are to be seen as tests. The gullible are gulled. Be more aware then! Do not accept the false gold of doctrine and prescribed morality, work it out for yourself – find out what makes you feel sacred and follow that. It takes more than 4th plane courage – it takes 5th plane inspiration.
There is a state of being, which we can learn to reach at will, where distinctions between good and bad, or right and wrong, simply fade into nothing. Such a state equates to the 6th plane of consciousness, called the Immaculate State by Sufis, and corresponds in the 7 Words system to the word Sorry.
Typically in human interactions, motivations clash and feelings are hurt, egos are bruised and material property is lost or damaged. The word Sorry is demanded – wrongly perhaps – to admit guilt rather than fault, as if to suggest “you are at fault, therefore guilty, therefore a bad person… and I require your reluctant apology to demonstrate my superiority and to diminish your ego-strength”. Horrible isn’t it!
Yet in the immaculate state, on the 6th Plane, one has no attachment to ego, nor even morality and therefore, and especially, not judgement. Here, by Sorry, we mean “my insensitivity has disturbed your peace of mind, and I regret that”.
Think of this as a place of perfect stillness, a white mountaintop, cold and pure, free of all emotion, clear sighted, clear minded and open to the clear blue sky of cosmic awareness. The world and its frenetic duplicity is scurrying about in the villages and cities – but these are as distant as one’s childhood days, vague memories of no concern because present perceptions are all-embracing and awakened.
To reach this enlightened state requires training in techniques of meditation. The normal mind – Gross Mind or Monkey Mind – is ill-equipped to maintain its equilibrium, so often jumping from one topic to another and delighting to find cause for argument and prove itself right at the expense of another’s wrongness. Through meditation, a serious student will learn how to still the Gross Mind so that the perceptions of the Subtle Mind are available. With this more refined approach to life one sees more clearly the mystery that is hidden beneath the apparent.
The fundamental mystery is that the apparent is not truth. Truth is subjective; “reality” is illusion in fact – we make it all up. This becomes quite clear when we maintain 6th Plane awareness for a while. Those who know of this, but have not experienced it, sound like empty drums when they do their preaching – and the wisdom becomes corrupted. Christians preach “Judgement is mine, saith the Lord”. That’s supposed to mean “leave it to Me”, not “I am a judgemental God”. The wisdom here is simple – “do not judge another as right or wrong; do not judge yourself as good or bad”.
And if you touch the 6th Plane, you can experience why this wisdom is so.
In Sufism, there are “7 Planes of Consciousness”. These are metaphors for the different ways in which “light” – or energy – can exist. We study this phenomenon of the gradation of light using the number 7, partly because it is a convenient size (neither too small not too large for us to understand) and partly because this number appeals to humanity’s intuitive sense of cosmic truth. It is quite possible that we should really be focussing on 9 - the number of chakras used by Sufis, including one above the crown and one below the base - but for now, 7 may be all humanity's consciousness can stretch to understand.
We see that there is much agreement between mystics and scientists upon this major point – that energy takes on different qualities according to its rate of vibration. Whereas the latter group talks of wavelengths that give rise to colours, the former talks of Planes of Consciousness that begin with the heaviest expression of energy, materiality, and spans through differing realities towards the transcendent level. This level is the 7th Plane. It is called Unity by Sufism and corresponds to the word Yes in the 7 Words system.
We cannot speak of the experience of the 7th plane – simply because such experience is beyond us. We can conceptualise Unity, we can extrapolate what it must be like in theory, and we can aspire to touch the waves of its vastness as we might dip our toes into an ocean. Yet how can we, phenomenal beings, know the experience of the great and mysterious All-and-Everything that we represent by the word God. There is not even a hint of meaning in the sound of that word – which lacks any attempt to be onomatopoeic. In Arabic, Allah sounds like breath; in Aramaic Abwoon feels profoundly mysterious and creative, in Sanskrit Aum fills the world with music and a feeling of universal harmony. Sadly, saying the word God leads us nowhere spectacular at all.
Poets point towards the imagined knowledge of God – Leonard Cohen suggests we might need to “sink into the mystery” – and musicians and composers, perhaps Bach and Beethoven more than most, can take us to the threshold if we would but surrender to their magic. Artists try too – Roerich and others make it obvious that they’ve gone beyond, and actors also sometimes try to help us – I’m thinking now of Rowan Atkinson as a Christian minister in a film telling us that actually God is a mystery and whether we like it or not, we just have to accept that.
So there it is – acceptance and surrender, keywords for Yes, are required tools for the task. The more we let go of our grasping for knowledge, the more we are available to receive it. The less we control, the more we enjoy… it is the fool’s wisdom, the madzub in Sufism, the one with nothing to protect or defend, the one who trusts in his cloak and begging bowl. The word dervish means “threshold” or doorstep…and that’s how close we can get to the realm of the 7th plane.
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