INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
This manuscript was self-published in 1982 as Occult Wereldbeeld ("The Occult Worldview") and republished in 1995 as Zeven Sferen ("Seven Spheres") by the Dutch Theosophical Publishing House. It contains my summary of the perennialist tradition, as it can be found in the writings of Theosophical authors such as Annie Besant, C.W. Leadbeater, I.K. Taimni and others. It provides the background of the articles on perennialism I have written for IW.
Frank Visser, graduated as a psychologist of culture and religion, founded IntegralWorld.net in 1997. He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. Author of “Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion” (SUNY Press, 2003), which has been translated into 7 languages, and of many essays on this website.
SPHERES UPON SPHERES...
Seven Spheres: Chapter 3
The part of the traditional worldview that speaks to the imagination is the teaching of the seven spheres. These spheres form the framework within which all processes of life and consciousness occur. However, there are many views on the exact nature of these spheres. As in the case of the different views of human nature discussed in the preceding chapter, here too we encounter views of different complexity. Therefore, in this chapter we will follow the same course: we will move from the simple to the complex, from the 'one-fold' to the sevenfold.
In their view of the world, human beings make a distinction between that which we can know, and that which we cannot know, between the rational and the irrational, between that which can be understood and that which remains a mystery, between the sacred and the profane. Modern science, philosophy and religion in general agree on the location of the dividing line between the knowable and the unknowable, as we will see. In the traditional worldview this dividing line is drawn elsewhere. Because of this, it enlarges our knowledge of the world enormously. The world as such is said to consist of many worlds or spheres. When many spheres are believed in, the question arises as to the nature of the dividing lines between these spheres. Are they absolute, or only gradual? Some are seen as more important than others. In this chapter, we will focus on these dividing lines.
The simple worldview
Here again we can use the worldview of materialistic science as a starting point. By confining itself exclusively to the physical domain, science has accomplished much. The dominant philosophy of science in this century has been called 'physicalism'. In the scientific view, the visible world is the only one worth studying — there simply is no other. However, that which falls outside the domain of science is viewed in different ways.
Holism is also consistent with the simple worldview. As long as quantum physics is used as framework for understanding all phenomena, including those of mysticism, we remain within the confines of the simple worldview. One cannot speak of a truly other-worldly dimension in the world of photons or subatomic particles.
This scientific position is in itself respectable enough, as long as it does not degenerate into scientism. Scientism is the, almost religious, belief that things that cannot be studied by science therefore don't exist. Some cognitive scientists and philosophers even go so far as to deny the existence of our individual thoughts and feelings, because these cannot be studied with the methods of science.
The twofold worldview
Contemporary philosophy has more or less taken the side of science. In this view, only thinking about the visible world is meaningful; thinking about the world of consciousness — which is essentially invisible to the physical eye — can only be a matter of speculation. This view has been articulated as follows: metaphysics, the study of that which transcends the physical, is meaningless. A metaphysical statement such as 'life after death exists' is not even untrue, it simply makes no sense, because we cannot give it a meaning that refers to the physical world.
In conformity with science and philosophy, orthodox religion has drawn the dividing line between the sacred and the profane at exactly the same spot. Everything that belongs to nature can be analyzed and understood by the human intellect. What transcends nature, and therefore is called 'supernatural', similarly transcends the human mind. The supernatural is the realm of mystery, on which only orthodox religion can issue statements. Believers have to accept religious dogmas on the authority of the Church. Individual knowledge is not allowed; research into other realities is discouraged.
In short, science, philosophy, and orthodox religion portray the world as divided in two parts: the visible and the invisible. The invisible or inner world, which has a nature of its own, is simply denied by natural science, regarded as a matter of speculation by philosophy, and annexed by orthodox religion as a matter of dogma.
All three agree on this: the invisible can never be studied scientifically. It is sometimes given the name das ganz Andere, 'the completely Other'. As we will see, we all have a tendency to think in absolute terms about what transcends our particular dividing line. This has led to a strong scepticism about the possibility of gaining knowledge of higher realities.
A different dividing line
It is nevertheless possible to draw a different dividing line between the knowable and the unknowable. Compared to what has been accepted in science, philosophy and orthodox religion, the traditional domain of the knowable is considerably larger. Has this been accomplished by violating the rules of sound reasoning? Not at all. The only thing tradition emphasizes is the fact that if the five senses limit what can be known of the world, we could perhaps develop other senses. Clairvoyance is a case of perceiving with the help of 'non-physical' senses.
This raises a rather fundamental point concerning the supposed limits of human knowledge. The dominant view has always been that our materialistic worldview is the result of our rationalistic attitude, and that a broader view can only be reached by irrational means. However, this is a rather unfortunate misunderstanding. Our worldview has not become materialistic because of our rationalistic attitude, but because the human mind has limited itself to data that have been supplied by the physical senses. That is what has really made our worldview materialistic: physical senses can only disclose a physical universe. But if the human mind made use of other and higher senses, materialism could be conquered without lapsing into the unscientific or incomprehensible.
The fourfold worldview
Between the simple worldview of science and the sevenfold worldview of tradition, we have the fourfold view, which occupies in this respect a middle position. Examples of this worldview can be found in early theosophical writings and in the kabbalistic tradition of Judaism (see fig. 3.1). Compared to the simple worldview of materialistic science this represents a real broadening; compared to the sevenfold worldview it is still very limited.
Classical theosophical literature presents a scheme of four worlds or levels of existence, that together comprise human existence. This literature mentions three other worlds, but as they are said to exist outside the domain of human experience, we will not consider them here. The lowest of these worlds is said to be the planet earth, whereas each of the three higher worlds (in the fourfold scheme) contains two 'invisible planets'. The diagram in figure 3.1 has a cosmological meaning.
The fourfold view is sometimes used as a framework for representing the positioning of the human principles within the spheres. Because all theosophical schools subscribe to a sevenfold view of the human being, there arises the question of how we can fit seven principles into only four worlds. To solve this problem, the scheme of the seven planets is used. We get the following picture: the physical body of course belongs to the lowest or visible world. The second world holds two principles, which have to do with vitality. The third world is the sphere of feeling (kama) and thinking (manas), and the fourth world is the home of intuition (boeddhi) and will (atma). Through this arrangement, the highest two principles acquire universal overtones. Atma is seen in some theosophical writings as a universal principle, as is boeddhi, which is called the 'vehicle of Atma'. In this conception, the individual level starts at the third world with manas, the mind, when we go through the spheres from the highest to the lowest.
Another example of a fourfold worldview can be found in kabbalistic literature. This Jewish esoteric tradition also mentions four worlds: (1) Atsiluth, 'the world of radiance' or the divine world; (2) Briah, 'the world of creation' of the world of the arch-angels; (3) Jetsirah, 'the world of formation' or the world of the angels; and (4) Assiah, 'the world of making' or the visible world. What is more, in this tradition use is made of the image of the Tree of Life, a complex figure representing ten so-called sephiroth or divine principles.
Here too, we are confronted with the question of how we can fit a multitude of principles into only four worlds. A popular solution to this problem goes like this: the lowest world has one principle (Malkuth), the second world has three (Hod, Yesod, Netsah), as do the third (Geburah, Tifereth, Hesed) and the fourth (Binah, Kether, Hokmah). Now, apart from the great difficulty of giving psychological meaning to these ten divine principles, there is a more fundamental question, which disqualifies these versions of the fourfold view of reality.
The various spheres of the traditional worldview can be compared to the colors of the spectrum of light. Every color has its own fixed place here, no two colors can ever be found at one and the same place. Now, the two versions of the fourfold worldview described above suggest that this is possible. In one and the same world, we encounter two principles next to each other, which have a different qualities (for example: kama and manas). Only the sevenfold worldview overcomes this problem, in that each one of the seven principles is given a world of its own.
A great advantage
The fourfold worldview has nevertheless a great advantage compared to the simpler views of science, philosophy and religion discussed above. It enlarges the world of the visible to include the worlds of emotion and thought. The dividing line between the knowable and the unknowable is pushed back and up, so to speak, creating room for the human soul. The soul is no longer seen as something altogether different from the body, but as something that has a spaciousness of its own. Because of this, we can speak of 'higher worlds', 'astral bodies', 'thought-forms' etc. Occultism, in the sense of clairvoyant research into the higher planes, has been occupied itself intensely involved with these spheres. What was thought to be invisible, turned out to be visible to clairvoyant sight.
A disadvantage should also be noted. Drawing the dividing line between the universal and the individual at the interface of the third and fourth worlds suggests that everything which transcends the mind cannot be studied scientifically. In those areas, transformations seem to take place here that elude science altogether. Spirituality is beyond the mind, as it is sometimes expressed. But is this really the case? Perhaps we should make a distinction between the mind as a means to spiritual transformation and mind as a means of analyzing what actually happens during transformation. And though the first use seems dubious — even though there is something like jnana yoga, a spiritual path for the mind — the second is not in principle impossible. Anyone who takes the trouble to look into a scripture like the Yoga Sutras can see that it has been written by a thoroughly rational mind. Every detail of the spiritual path is described in a painfully accurate way. Until the very end an almost technical vocabulary is used. Could it be that we haven't raised our dividing line high enough?
The sevenfold worldview
Indeed there is every reason to raise the dividing line even higher, until seven worlds in all are specified. The sevenfold worldview can be found most fully in theosophical literature, in several different versions. Let's go into these in some detail.
In one version, the early theosophical, the following principles/worlds are recognized: (1) physical body, (2) astral or etheric body, (3) life force, (4) feeling, (5) thinking mind, (6) intuition and (7) spirit. A different arrangement, found in later theosophical literature, is: (1) physical body, (2) life force, (3) feeling, (4) concrete thought, (5) abstract thought, (6) intuition, and (7) spiritual will. We dealt with this last version in the preceding chapter. Which one of these two schemes is preferable?
In the first version, the life force is subdivided into the life force proper (prana) and its corresponding 'body', the etheric or astral body. In the second version, it is the mental field that is subdivided: there is a 'lower' or concrete mind and a 'higher' or abstract mind. In my opinion, from a psychological point of view, this second version is more profitable. This distinction is very central to developmental psychology, in which the power of abstract thought is seen as the highest stage possible.
In yet another arrangement which has been developed in theosophical literature, the seven human principles are placed in five worlds (see fig. 3.3, right diagram). This is possible by combining two physical principles and two mental ones. The physical body and its etheric counterpart are placed in one physical world, and the powers of concrete and abstract thought are placed in the mental world. Isn't this a violation of the axiom we formulated earlier, which said that two different principles should not be placed in one and the same world? It may appear to be so, but if we take a closer look, this arrangement seems permissible.
The first two principles are placed in the first, physical world (body plus vital power/vital body). This is acceptable, because of the intimate connection between the body and bioenergy — both are physical phenomena. Within the physical world, the hierarchical arrangement remains intact: the level of the life force is placed on top of the level of the body, to show that the body is totally dependent on the supply of vitality, and not the other way round. The second world, the astral world of kama or desire, also called kama-loka, is the world of the emotions. This is the world that follows on the physical world, in the range of spheres as a whole. Because of this, it is also the first world we encounter after death (see chapter 4).
The next world, the mental world of manas, also has two principles: concrete or lower and abstract or higher mind. It is obvious that these two faculties are intimately linked — after all, both are ways of thinking — which justifies their placement in this mental world. Within this mental world there is an important dividing line: the lower mental world is a world of forms (rupa loka); the higher mental or causal world is formless (arupa loka). We can think of this in the following manner: concrete thoughts, for example the thought of a specific horse, have a distinct form. Abstract thoughts, for example the thought of a horse in general, don't have this. We cannot visualize 'horse-ness', although we can very well think in terms of the abstract concept of a horse.
With the fourth world, the world of buddhi or the intuition, we enter a world that can be called spiritual in the real sense of the term. It is a world of light, ecstasy and unity, which forms the domain of mystical experience and spirituality. It is followed by the world of atma or the spiritual will. This is not so much a world of ecstatic insights or feelings of unity, but a world of restful peace and inner strength. In this manner, seven principles may be placed in five worlds, without any great problems.
Two other worlds remain, in this version of the seven spheres. The sixth world is the home of the monad, the principle that is the core of the individual human being. This principle was cast in the other versions of the sevenfold worldview not as a principle in its own right, but as a combination of atma and buddhi. But here, it is separated from these two spiritual functions, which is theoretically sound. After all, the self must be distinguished from the different aspects it can have in the manifested world. In this sixth world, human individuality finds its source. In the seventh world, the world of God or the Logos, the individual merges into the universal. Some theosophists would rather limit this 'universality' to the scope of our solar system, but for practical purposes we refer to it as the universal level.
Frequently Asked Questions
The concept of higher spheres has led to some ideas that need closer scrutiny. For example, some people think these spheres cannot be placed in the known visible world, because they belong to an 'other' dimension. They do indeed, but the conclusion that they therefore cannot be located in space is somewhat hasty. A better way to think of the spheres is as interpenetrating each other, in such a way that they all are present here and now. As soul and spirit interpenetrate the body, so are all higher spheres in a subtle way present within the visible world. By visualizing the spheres in this concrete fashion, we don't deny the fact that they also transcend the physical world altogether.
Then there is the view that these higher spheres are not spheres at all, but states of consciousness. This may sound very modern and psychological, but on closer inspection is not as promising as it looks. After all, a state of consciousness cannot exist in a vacuum. To speak in a meaningful manner of individuality, some sort of embodiment or localization is necessary. It is not at all necessary to play these two viewpoints out against each other. Rather, they complement each other in a very accurate way. Just as the human being is layered, so is the world around him. States of consciousness correspond to spheres of existence. Every sphere expresses a certain quality of consciousness. We have to guard against too much psychologizing.
If we may visualize the spheres in a rather concrete fashion, as worlds or dimensions that interpenetrate the visible world, then we can best see them as concentric circles or globes around the earth (see fig. 3.4). This throws a new light on the ancient conception of the nether world and the upper world. The nether world is always situated beneath the surface of the earth. This might be an accurate description of reality, as the lower spheres exist to a certain extent within the body of the earth. The analogy to a human being is striking: the subtle bodies surround the physical body as a radiant aura, but they also exist within it.
Does this mean that apart from the higher spheres we have to reckon with lower spheres also? I don't think so. The so-called lower spheres of tradition, which have to do with intense negative emotions like hate and fear, are metaphysically speaking higher spheres, for the emotions transcend the physical body. It is simpler to see the physical world as the lowest of the seven. As long as we can cover every phenomenon of life and consciousness with this sevenfold scheme, it is not necessary to resort to the hypothesis of lower spheres.
Another objection that has been raised to the idea of higher spheres is that they are pictured as a building with several floors, or a bookcase with several shelves. People say: all spheres interpenetrate, so this gives a misleading picture. However, I would like to defend the bookcase model. The fact that all colors fuse in white light does not alter the fact that their wavelengths differ, and this is nicely pictured in the color spectrum. It is only in this fashion that each color is given its rightful place. Likewise, each sphere is a world with its own quality of 'color', which manifests when we draw the spheres on top of each other. This does not contradict the fact that they also interpenetrate.
Why do we speak again and again of higher spheres? With what right do we call the world of emotion 'higher' than the world of matter? Does this not imply a value judgement? Nowadays, the idea that soul and spirit are of a higher order than matter is rather unpopular. Instead, some have resorted to the idea that body, soul and spirit are just many dimensions of one complex reality, which all have equal value. However, the reason why the non-physical spheres were called 'higher' in the traditional worldview is that they are 'closer' to the divine Source. They contain more of God, so to speak, than the lower spheres. If we come into contact with these higher spheres, our lives are enriched, become more meaningful and satisfying, compared to life in the physical world only. This justifies the expression 'higher spheres'.
We can put it more concisely: have spirit and matter equal value? Or is spirit primary, and matter secondary? In our embodied world, spirit and matter are both necessary. Without a body, spirit cannot express itself; without spirit, the body is only a soulless thing. All the same, the body has only an instrumental value. The body exists for the spirit, not vice versa. This tips the balance in favor of the spirit. If this is the case, we may confidently speak of higher spheres.
To flesh out the somewhat abstract considerations presented above, I will devote the rest of this chapter to the observations made by the clairvoyant researcher C.W. Leadbeater slightly before the turn of the century. He approached the whole subject of the higher spheres as a field of Nature, which could be investigated as if it were an undiscovered continent. Let us hear what he had to say on this:
Nobody can obtain a clear conception of the teachings of the Wisdom-religion until he has at any rate an intellectual grasp of the fact that in our solar system there exist perfectly definite planes, each with its own matter of different degrees of density. Some of these planes can be visited and observed by persons who have qualified themselves for the work, exactly as a foreign country might be visited and observed; and, by comparing the observations of those who are constantly working on these planes, evidence can be obtained of their existence and nature at least as satisfactory as that which most of us have for the existence of Greenland or Spitzbergen...
The astral region which I am to attempt to describe is the second of these great planes of Nature — the next above (or within) that physical world with which we are all familiar...
The mental plane... is the third of the five great planes with which humanity is at present concerned, having below it the astral and the physical and above it the buddhic and the nirvanic [or atmic].
Man, as at present constituted, has within him principles belonging to two planes even higher than the mental, for his buddhi represents him upon what from that very fact we call the buddhic plane, and his atma (the divine spark within him) upon that... plane of the solar system which has usually been spoken of as the nirvanic...
Higher than this last are two others, but they are so far above our present power of conception that for the moment they may be left out of consideration.
This then is the framework in which the rest of this book will unfold itself (see fig. 3.5). Please familiarize yourself with it.
The lowest three spheres — the physical, the astral and the mental plane — are the worlds of body and soul, or the human personality (in which the body is included). Here life after death takes place, which can be divided into a period on the astral plane (purgatory in Christianity) and a period on the mental plane (the heaven-world). The upper part of the mental plane is also called the causal plane. It is the home of the spiritual Ego, which lives on from life to life. It is the real reincarnating factor, in contrast to the psycho-physical personality, which lasts for one lifetime only. What is more, it is in the astral plane that most of the paranormal phenomena originate. Extra sensory perceptions, out of body experiences, near death experiences, cases of possession, etcetera, all have to do with coming into contact with this astral plane, the first plane following the physical plane in the total scheme of spheres. They do not have anything to do with mysticism or spirituality, as is sometimes suggested. These latter phenomena belong to spheres that exist on a far higher level (see again fig. 3.5).
The next two spheres — the buddhic and the atmic planes -- are the true spiritual worlds, where the whole field of spirituality finds its home. In chapter 7 on mysticism, we will argue that both Eastern and Western mysticism deal primarily with these two spiritual worlds.
The two highest spheres -- the monadic plane and the plane of the Logos -- are for the moment only academic, but are mentioned for the sake of completeness. The monad, the core of the spiritual, psychological and physical human being, lives in a true world of its own: the so-called monadic plane. In turn, this spiritual core-principle has emanated from the reality of the Logos, the theosophical name for God. So in these highest two worlds, we find the basis for the individual and universal principles. In the five lower worlds -- called 'the field of manifestation' -- a human being is an individual entity, consisting of body, soul and spirit. In the unmanifest worlds he is a monad, or spiritual spark that bathes in the divine Light.
The astral plane
The first plane we will now examine in more detail is the astral plane. It is the kama-loka of the Hindu cosmology, the world of desires. It is the home of our feelings and emotions. All of their gradations and nuances find expression in this world. Emotions so to speak form the climate of this world. In the lower regions the atmosphere is saturated with negative emotions; in the higher ones the more positive emotions have a chance to manifest themselves.
The lowest astral regions exist more or less below the surface of the earth, and form the traditional nether world. This primitive conception has been confirmed by clairvoyant research. The middle astral regions exist in the same place where we live our lives on earth. Most spiritualist communications therefore come from these regions. The highest astral regions exist far above the earth's surface. Its inhabitants have literally lost sight of life on earth. They have discovered a new world, with untold possibilities.
The reality of the astral life cannot be understood without seeing that the matter of the astral plane is molded under the influence of the imagination. Every time we imagine something, we in fact see an object on the astral plane. The first encounter with this world therefore seems to be one of a bewildering world of changing forms. Compared to the physical world, life on the astral plane is more powerful, more lively, and matter is more subtle. As we rise through the planes, matter becomes ever more susceptible to the impulses of consciousness. On the mental and spiritual planes, matter follows spirit immediately.
Different astral entities
The idea that there are higher spheres might be acceptable to most people, but the implication that these spheres are inhabited by a multitude of entities may seem rather uncanny. Still, this turns out to be the case, if we are to believe clairvoyant investigators (see fig. 3.6). Not only is the astral plane peopled by the billions of people who are out of incarnation -- the 'dead', as we would say, although they are said to be far more alive than those we erroneously call the living -- clairvoyants also encounter a native population of astral creatures, like angels and nature spirits. Leadbeater classified the inhabitants of the astral plane as follows:
That we as alive human beings also figure on this plane may need some clarification. According to many clairvoyants, we leave our physical body during sleep, and move around in our astral body on the astral plane, so the physical body can recuperate from the toil of the previous day. This does not mean that we are conscious of this; most of us will only be conscious of the dream world we have created for ourselves. A small category of persons however is conscious of the astral world as a real environment -- those have an out of body experiences. If memories of these astral excursions can be brought back to waking life in the physical body, continuity of consciousness may be said to exist between the physical and astral planes. So-called lucid or conscious dreaming has to do with this area of human experience. To summarize: most people leave their body during sleep; few are conscious of this, and even fewer still are able to bring memories of this event back to waking life.
The category of 'dead' people -- and again, nothing could be less accurate than to call them dead -- consists of all those who have died and left their physical body for ever. Their state of consciousness (or unconsciousness) varies enormously, from a deep dreamless slumber to a fully awakend state. Most don't realize that they have died at all. If there is some recognition of this, the desire may arise to come back into contact with the physical world and its inhabitants. Here spiritualism comes into view. With the help of mediumistically gifted persons, departed ones can contact their relatives and friends. If the desire for earthly life is so intense, that the physical body of a living person is taken hold of, we speak of cases of possession.
The few who are aware of the situation on the astral plane will strive to continue their voyage in the hereafter. It is a misconception to think that astral people, just because they have left their physical bodies, know everything there is to know about life and death. Life on the astral plane comes to an end when the astral body is left behind, as the physical body was one stage earlier. At this point the soul enters the mental plane or heaven world. The astral body that is left behind can function for some time and is called a 'shell'. If there is some intelligent activity in it, it is called a 'shadow' or 'shade'. Neither of these live for a very long time.
Much of the astral population cannot be called 'human' at all. However, this can mean two things. There are life form that have not yet reached the human state, like animals. But there are also life forms that belong to other 'lines of evolution', like the nature spirits and the angels. The angels or devas are to the nature spirits more or less what human beings are to animals. They have been classified into three groups: the kama devas or angels of the astral plane, the rupa devas or angels of the (lower) mental plane, and the arupa devas or angels of the causal plane. These beings don't possess a physical body, and are therefore invisible to most of us mortals (unless they are able to materialize themselves) and can only be seen by clairvoyants.
The class of 'artificially created beings' is practically a human creation, because it is made up of the short-lived thought-forms that result from mental activity. Their life span can be increased by the power of concentration. Many of us are unaware of what goes on in our minds, so that our thought-forms are vague and incoherent. According to most clairvoyants, a more coherent and detailed thought creates a stronger and clearer thought-form. If the thought is charged with a strong wish -- for good or bad -- then an entity is said to arise that can help or harm the minds of others.
The mental plane
The second sphere that Leadbeater was able to investigate is the mental plane. In accordance with tradition, he subdivided it in two large sub-planes, the lower or mental plane or world of forms (the mental plane proper) and the higher mental or causal plane, or the formless world. The difference between these two is striking to the clairvoyant's eye. It necessitated two different vehicles of consciousness: the mental body and the causal body.
As astral matter takes form by the power of emotion and imagination, mental matter is shaped by the power of thought. We function on this plane every time we think, but after death we will spend some time here in our mental and causal bodies. Compared to life in the physical and astral planes, life here is more intense; matter is more subtle. The first contact with this world cannot be other than blissful, according to Leadbeater. Everybody lives here surrounded by his or her own mental creations. For this reason it has been called a subjective world. This should not lead us to forget however that the mental plane is also a real world, with objects and inhabitants. When our minds have been made tranquil, we can in principle become aware of these things.
Life on the mental plane comes to an end when we lay down our mental body, as we did before with the astral and physical bodies. We then live in the causal body, the vehicle of the spiritual Ego or higher Self. In the next chapter we will go into these processes more fully.
The population of the mental and causal planes can be categorized in the same manner as the astral population: human, non-human and artificial. However, it is comparatively rare to find human beings functioning on this lofty level of existence, who are still 'alive' on the physical plane. The majority of humans on this plane have left earthly (and astral) life long ago. Like every other plane, the mental plane as a whole can be subdivided into seven sub-planes -- the 'seven heavens' of tradition. Each one of them can according to Leadbeater be characterized by an activity that comes to expression on this particular sub-plane, be it working for an ideal or intellectual study.
The three highest sub-planes -- together called the causal plane -- appeared to Leadbeater as three very different scenes (see fig. 3.7). The lowest of these three is relatively densely populated, for the majority of humanity can only function on this level of the causal plane. Moving from this subplane to the next, Leadbeater had the sensation of moving from a big city to a peaceful village in the countryside. Only a small minority of humanity is able to function on this level. These people are conscious of the fact that they are part of a larger evolutionary process, which stretches over many lives, and which culminates in spiritual awakening or enlightenment. We might call these persons 'seekers of Truth'. And finally, the third sub-plane is the home of the truly spiritually conscious human beings, in the theosophical tradition refered to as 'Masters of Wisdom'. They are the spiritual teachers of the many religious traditions of the world and are even fewer in number.
We now have a general idea of the seven spheres, the whole spectrum from the physical to the Divine. We can come into contact with any of these spheres, because our consciousness is also a spectrum. We already function on the lower spheres, in our thinking and feeling personality. To function on the spiritual spheres, we need to discipline the personality and take up some form of spiritual practice. We have examined a couple of different schemes that all give some information on the subject of the spheres. We have chosen the most simple arrangement, in which every human principle corresponds to a sphere and in which there is a one-to-one relationship between principles and spheres, inner world and outer world, microcosmos and macrocosmos.