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The Kosmic Physical

The Kosmic Physical (as opposed to the ordinary Physical Reality) includes not only the mundane physical reality (i.e. the entire physical universe, whose vastness - with its billions of galaxies, is almost beyond comprehension, and any other physical universes there might be) but other realities and subplanes and octaves of existence as well.  These constitute increasing stages of density or materiality of matter, with the consequent constriction of consciousness.  So the further down into matter you go, the more limited consciousness becomes.  The further up or inward, the more subtle things become. And so not just those aspects of physical reality that are accessible to the senses and to scientific instruments

The whole of physical reality then, can be representing as unfolding through a process of descent and ascent.  There are other dimensions, parallel universes, other aspects of consciousness, and so on. So there is more to the Material Universe than objective or mundane physical reality.  There are other dimensions, parallel universes, other aspects of consciousness, and so on. The whole of which is not static, but a dynamic unfolding through a process of transformation, incarnation, metamorphosis, descent, ascent, and evolution.

The following are some definitions of the Physical Reality in different esoteric systems of thought

system term description variants
Gnosticism hyle and psyche darkness, matter, non-spirit  
Kabbalah Asiyah definitions vary, but usually includes the physical and subphysical, and also the celestial spheres
Theon (Cosmic Tradition) Physical State (7th Plane) of Materialisms (4th world) includes many supra-physical and spiritual states  
Blavatsky (Theosophy) Terrestrial or Objective (1st Prakritic plane) not the same as Physical - divided into seven planes  
Sri Aurobindo Matter gross, subtle, subconscious, and inconscious Physical Consciousness

In this Universe of dense and subtle/imaginal (etheric, astral, spiritual) matter and material Form, we have reached the level of reality where things are defined by particular a form or structure (whether gross or subtle), limited in space and time, and existing separately from each other.  This is a very important region; the meeting place of all the worlds, the cosmic centre of gravity so to speak. According to Sri Aurobindo it is only in tPhysical plane that spiritual evolution occurs.  All the other Universes or Planes are "archetypal" worlds, rather than evolving worlds.

Material reality can be variously subdivided, for example according to the four- or five-fold division of archetypal elements, resonances of higher planes, evolutionary stages, inner-outer orientation, or expansion or contraction of consciousness.  Each of these can be defined by its own specific characteristics.

Resonances of higher Hypostases
Asiyah of Asiyah
(Physical Reality)
objective reality
Yetzirah of Asiyah
(subtle or Psychic
subjective reality
Beriah of Asiyah
(causal Physical)
Atzilut of Asiyah
(Divine Physical - gods in matter)
Absolute of Physical Shunyata/
Godhead as Physical  matter

Esoteric Cosmology - Physical-Spiritual Axis

As with all the planes and ontological universes, the Physical reality seems to consist of a number of resonances or subplanes.  Physical (Asiyatic) Reality is here divided into eight Planes: the Divine, Spiritual, Illumined, Higher Mental, Mental or Devachen, Soul or Psychic, Nervo or (secondary) Astral or Etheric, and Physical proper. These sub-planes have been variously described and categorised in different esoteric teachings, especially the system of chakras in Tantra and in Sant Mat, the occult cosmologies of the Kabbalists, Theon, Blavatsky, Rudolf Steiner, and Sri Aurobindo. Barbara Ann Brennan's ultimately theosophically-derived paradigm of seven energy bodies can also fit in here.  The higher planes are only poorly understood, pertaining as they do to very elevated and spiritual states of existence. The following information and tabulation therefore should be taken as very tentative.

Primary quality Plane Ancient Egypt Theon Blavatsky Rudolf Steiner
The Seven Terrestrial Planes The Seven Principles
Noetic/ Sattwa Divine   Free Intelligence ° of Physical (the higher principles correspond to the Inner Being) (Spiritual Hierachies differently described in different talks; but mostly correspond to the "Devachan" / Spirit level)
Higher Archetypal   Spirit ° of Physical
Middle Archetypal   Light ° of Physical
Lower Archetypal   Essence ° of Physical
Beginning of Transcendent Khu (Spirit) Mental ° of Physical 5. Ego-Manas 5. Higher and Lower Manas Upper Devachan/ Spiritland/ Ego
Spiritual / Causal Ba (Soul) and Ab (Heart) Sensitive and Intellectual Souls 4. Kama-Manas or Lower Manas Lower Devachan/ Spiritland
Orexic or Rajasic Etheric / Astral / Subtle Nervo ° of Physical / "Astral" 3. Pranic Kama or Psychic (instinct)
2. Astral
(things are reversed)
4. Kama
3. Prana
2. Astral double or Sthula Sharira
Astral / Soul
Physical or Tamasic Paraphysical Ka (Double) Etheric
Dense Physical Khat (body) Physical ° of Physical 1. Objective
(plane of the senses)
1. Physical Body or Sthula Sarira Physical / Body

Regarding Theon, a distinction can be made between his primary seven stages of what he calls the "Materialisms" Plane (actually the Cosmos as a whole - transcendent as well as physical) with the physical as the lowest, and the seven subdivision or degrees of that physical plane. It is these subdivisions that are referred to here. For Theon's arrangement of planes within planes, see his representation of the "Materialism" world. Blavatsky says the same thing, she has an almost identical series of planes and subplanes (whether derived from Theon (via the H. B. of L?) or arrived at independently, is not clear.

Briefly now reviewing the various strata of physical consciousness (from the non-physical to the dense material):

The Dense Material Physical. Western secular knowledge and the physical mind pertain only to the lower or mundane level of the physical, and the "outer aspect of the outer being" of that "dense physical" at that. This is familiar physical reality of Material Form and Matter and energy, physical and mundane consciousness, and embodied existence. In this thin slice of reality, all the vast ramifications of modern secular knowledge and the fruits of the physical intellect may be found. (dense plane or resonance within/of Kosmic Physical/Matter)

The Paraphysical (or Etheric-Physical Interface). On the more subtle reaches of the Dense Physical, between the objective physical and the etheric is an intermediate or transitional region, which correspond to paraphysics and paranormal phenomenon, alternative healing modalities, and other phenomena on the fringes of science, or considered quackery because they don't fit within the secular-reductionistic paradigm that recognises only the material-physical. Richard Gerber (Vibrational Medicine) uses the term Physical-Etheric Interface. However I consider this is not simply an interface, but a distinct "band" of reality, albeit one in close proximity to the material physical. (transition between the preceeding and following)

The Etheric Subtle Physical is here interpreted as the region intermediate between the dense physical and the astral. Following Steiner, I use refer to this reality as "the etheric plane", although the word "etheric" is not infrequently used in New Age literature to designate a higher spiritual reality. This is like the objective physical, but larger and more fluid, more multifaceted. Here we have auras and the etheric or subtle bodies, orgone energy, Earth energies, Anthroposophy and so on, as well as the more subtle blueprints that reside in the etheric or formative regions, and entire regions with no objective correlate. (Form plane or resonance within/of the Kosmic Physical/Matter)

The Astral Subtle Physical is often confused with the larger astral and Orectic universe, but is a more restricted octave of it, the astral in the physical. It is usually considered supra-material, but it is only the Physical or Material Octave of the true Orectic Universe. We find here various subtle bodies (taking Brennan 1987 Hands of Light as a guide in this matter. This would include, at the more subtle level, both incarnate and disincarnate human and other spirits, as well as devas (nature beings), thoughtforms, and many other phenomena. This reality, more fluid, ideo-plastic, and polymorphic than the etheric, has been explored in various diverse ways by Theosophy, Shamanism, Hermeticism, and other teachings all present either the theory or the practice of interacting with these realities. Some, like much of mediumistic spiritualism, are not recommended because they do not provide safeguards or correct understanding (see critiques by Blavatsky). Others, like exoteric religions, give only distorted or fundamentalist understandings. (Orectic plane or resonance within/of the Kosmic Physical/Matter)

The Causal or Spiritual Physical represents further regions, wherein are found the archetypes of the lower octaves, as well as various hierarchies of spiritual or angelic beings. Rudolf Steiner talks at great length about these realities, under terms like "Devachen" (Steiner [1904] 1970. Theosophy: An introduction to the supersensible knowledge of the world and the destination of man. London: Rudolf Steiner Press.) and "Spiritland" (Steiner, [1909] 1969. Occult science - An Outline. Trans. George and Mary Adams. London: Rudolf Steiner Press), exploring their multidinous phenomena and aspects in his various lectures. Rupert Sheldrake's morphogenetic fields might also be located here. The Formative or Spiritual Physical can be considered the Ideational plane or resonance within/of the Kosmic Physical/Matter)

The above three realities or octaves would seem to be what are referred to by Sri Aurobindo as the "Subtle Physical" (ref). In esoteric Islam this is the Imaginal Realm, the Barzakh or the Intermediate World, in which "bodies are spiritualitised and spirits corporalised".

Finally, the Transcendent Spiritual Physical represents the most transcendent dimension, the inner Divine principle in matter

Lower Resonances of Consciousness:

Physical, Chthonic, and Hylic It is also suggested that what most occult teachings call the "physical" is not a level beneath the "etheric", but rather the "outer" aspect or perspective of it, incorporating also the outer perspective of the chthonic and hylic. And while occult and esoteric philosophies often explore those realities above the ordinary physical consciousness, they very rarely consider the levels below the ordinary physical. Exceptions are the Mother's yoga of the transformation of the body (Mother's Agenda), external link Timothy Leary's psychedelic psycho-cosmology (Leary 1987 Link to Amazon com Infopsychology), external link Kenneth Grant's Maatian occultism, and (although this isn't esotericism) depth psychology. However traditional mytho-cosmologies (shamanic, buddhist, etc) all speak of levels of existence below the physical world as well as above. But this insight was lost in the western wisdom traditions due to Platonic dualism and Gnostic world-negating spirituality which emphasised only ascent and not descent.

The Inner-Outer and Divine Soul Dimension

Existence - the Inner to Outer Dimension
Outermost Physical

Formless Hyle

Outer Physical

objective reality

Inner Physical

subjective reality

Inmost Physical

The Soul Illuminitive in Matter

The Innermost Divine

Holarchy - The Universal-Atomistic Axis

The scale dimensions are:

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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 5 September 2005, last modified 4 September 2007
(includes material copied from earlier pages), relocated to new directory 4th April 2008, last modified 19 April