One of the elementary ideas of the Yogi Philosophy most difficult for the ordinary Western mind to grasp and assimilate is that of the “planes” of life.
This difficulty is most apparent when the Western student attempts to grasp the Yogi teachings regarding “the other side.” The Western thought insists upon the concept of the realm of the life of the disembodied soul as a place, or places.
The Western theology is responsible for this, to a great extent, although there is also to be considered the tendency of the Western mind to think in terms of objective existence, even when life apart from the objective is being considered.
The average Western religionist insists upon thinking of “heaven” as a place situated somewhere in space, containing beautiful mansions of precious stones, situated on streets paved with gold. Even those who have outgrown this childish idea find it difficult to conceive of their heaven as a state rather than a place.
The Western mind finds it hard to form the abstract concept, and naturally falls back on the old idea of a heaven in space.
The Oriental mind, on the contrary, finds it quite easy to grasp the idea of the several planes of existence. Centuries of familiar thought on the subject has rendered the concept as clear and definite as that of place.
We have met Western thinkers who smilingly confessed that they could not divest their concept of “planes” with that of a level strata, or layer of some kind of material substance. But this conception is as far from the truth as is the idea of mere place.
A plane is a state, not a place in any sense of the word. And the student must learn to eliminate the idea of place from that of plane.
A plane is a condition or state of activity in the eternal energy of spirit in which the Cosmos lives, and moves and has its being. In any given point of space there may be many planes of activity. Taking our examples from the physical world, let us use the ordinary vibration of sound as an illustration.
The air may be filled with many notes of the musical scale. Each note is simply a certain degree of vibration of the air.
The notes occupy the same position in space, and yet do not conflict with each other so far as space-filling qualities are concerned. It is an axiom of physics that no two bodies of matter can occupy the same space at the same time.
But thousands of these vibratory notes may occupy the same space at the same time. This is borne upon one when he listens to some great orchestral rendering a musical composition. Many instruments are playing at the same time, and the air is filled with countless vibrations, and yet one may pick out any particular instrument if he choses, and even particular notes may be distinguished.
No note is lost, and yet the entire volume is manifested in the small space of the ear drum. This is a somewhat rude illustration, but it may serve to accustom the mind to form the proper concept.
Another illustration, this time on a little higher scale, is that of the vibrations of light.
Light, we know, appears as the result of the vibratory waves of the ether coming in contact with physical matter. Each color has its own place on the vibratory scale. Each ray of sunshine that reaches us is composed of a great variety of colors—the colors of the spectrum, which may be separated by means of certain prismatic instruments. All of the colors are to be found in every point of space in which the ray of sunlight appears.
They are all there, and may be separated and registered apart from the others. Moreover, beyond the realm of light visible to the human eye, there are many colors invisible to the human sight by reason of their vibrations being either too high or two low. These invisible colors may be detected by means of instruments. Perhaps these varying rates of color vibrations may help you to form the idea of the spaceless planes of existence.
Another illustration may be found in the field of electricity, in which we find fresh instances of various degrees and condition of energy occupying the same space at the same time.
On improved telegraphic apparatus we find many messages passing in each direction along the same wire, each independent, and none interfering with the others.
In the same way, the air may be filled with a thousand wireless-telegraphic messages, attuned to different keys and consequently not interfering with each other.
The various vibrations interpenetrate each other, each seemingly being unaware of the presence of the other and not being affected by it. It is conceivable, even, that there might be a dozen worlds occupying the same portion of space, but each being keyed on a far different vibratory scale of matter, and yet none interfering with the other, the living things on each being totally unaware of the existence of those of the other.
Scientific writers have amused themselves by writing fanciful stories of such a series of worlds, and indeed they wrote better than they knew, for they symbolized a metaphysical truth in physical terms.
But, it may be objected, does the Yogi Philosophy teach that these planes of Life are but varying forms of vibrations of matter? Not at all. Far from it. The teaching is that each plane represents a different degree of vibratory energy—but not of matter. Matter is merely a very low form of vibratory energy— even the finest form of matter.
There are forms of matter as much higher than the finest of which the ordinary physical scientist has knowledge, as his finest matter is higher than the hardest rock. And beyond the plane of matter rise plane upon plane of super-material energy, of which the mind of physical science does not even dare to dream. And yet, for the purpose of the illustration, we may say that it is possible to think of every one of the planes manifesting in the same point of space at the same time. So you see, the conception of planes has nothing whatever in common with that of space.
In view of the foregoing, the student will see that when we speak of the planes of existence of “the other side,” we are far from meaning to indicate places or regions of space. The Yogi Philosophy has naught to do with doctrines of heavens or hells or purgatories in the sense of places. It knows of no such places, or regions, although it recognizes the real basis of the teachings which hold to the same.
In this particular volume, we shall not attempt to consider the general question of the countless planes of existence manifesting in the universe. The scope of this particular work confines us to the consideration and description of those particular planes of the Astral World which are concerned in the manifestation of the existence of the disembodied souls of the dwellers upon earth—the so-called “spirit-world” of the human race.
We shall see that there are many planes and sub-planes of existence on the great Astral Plane of Life—generally known as The Astral World, in order to distinguish it from the Physical World below it in the vibratory scale. Each plane and sub-plane has its own distinguishing characteristics and phenomena, as we shall see as we proceed. And yet the same general laws, principles, and characteristic qualities are common to all.
Finally, before we pass on the consideration of the Astral Plane, let us once more endeavor to fix in your minds the proper conception of the real nature of that which we know as “planes.” When we speak of “rising” from a lower to a higher plane, or of “descending” from a higher to a lower plane, we do not wish to be understood as picturing an ascent or decent of steps. Nor are we picturing a rising or descending from one layer or strata to another.
Even the familiar symbol of rising from the ocean depths to its surface, is incorrect. The nearest mental picture possible to be made of the transition from plane to plane, is that of increase or decrease of vibrations as evidenced in sound-waves, light-waves, or waves of electricity. By tightening a violin string, one may raise its degree of vibration and therefore its note. The same may be done by heating a bar of iron causing its color to change gradually from a dull red to a delicate violet or white.
Or in the case of a current of electricity, the power may be raised or lowered at will. If a still more material illustration be required, we have the case of the hardest mineral which may be changed into an invisible vapor simply by raising its degree of vibrations by heat.
What is true on the lower planes of manifestation, is true of the higher. The transition from higher to lower, or lower to higher may be thought of (if desired) as a change of vibration in the energy of which all things are composed. This will come about as near to the truth as our imperfect powers of conception and comparison will permit.
There are no words to express the higher phenomena—all illustration in terms of the lower planes are crude, imperfect, and unsatisfactory. But even by these lowly symbols may the mind of man learn to grasp the ideas of things above the ordinary senses, and beyond the power of ordinary terms to express.
And, now, with the above firmly fixed in your minds, let us proceed to a consideration of the Great Astral Plane of Existence.