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The Hypostases - The Progressive Unfolding and Self-Manifestation of Divinity

Definition: The term "Hypostasis" is used here to refer to an aspect of Divinity or Godhead that also serves as the Ground or Foundation or Reality of existence, and supports and gives rise to all beings and reality on the grade that is ontologically inferior to It. Each hypostasis is in turn derived from or an aspect or mode of the hypostasis above it. A hypostasis is both a "world" (reality, plane, sphere of existence, whatever) and a Personality that serves as the Central Being or Core Reality for all entities it panentheistically emanates

Examples: Apart from the paradigmatic hypostases of Neoplatonism, examples might be the tanazzulut or "Descents" (of the Divine Presence) of Sufism, and the Partzufim and Sefirot of Kabbalah.

The Nature of God

The conventional exoteric explanation of the Absolute Reality in the modern Western world is that either it is something physical, external, objective, and (in theory if not in practice) measurable, like the Theory of Everything (TOE) of physics, or else it is some guy with a white robe and a beard sitting up in the clouds, or rather an abstraction thereof. And God as abstraction, although described as physically formless (hence the Judaic and Islamic taboo on the visual representation of deity), still retains all the psychological anthropomorphisation (God as Loving Father, King, Creator, etc) of a mythological human being. Some people even try to combine these two equally restricted perspectives - the materialistic and the literalist religious - by saying that "God is energy" or "'Let there be Light' refers to the Big Bang".

In understanding Reality then, it is necessary to get away from such limited conceptions. If we are to conceive of the Absolute Reality or First Principle, God or Godhead or the Supreme or whatever term one wished to use, a broader and deeper and more subtle and profound understanding is required.

An Emanationist Theology

One of themes central to the Perennial Philosophy is the concept of the Great Chain of Being, an ontological succession of realities that have been described time and again in the different religious and wisdom traditions of humanity.

Applying this to theology and the nature of God, which is, also, the nature of Everything (I say this because I am not a dualist or supernaturalist) we find a description of Divinity - which is also a description of Reality - in terms of a number of stages of Emanation of Hypostases (Godheads, Underlying States, Divine Realities)

The Hypostases are both the Personalities or Divinities of each World or Reality, and that World or Reality itself. Each hypostasis supports the creation beneath it, which it also gives rise to. For Plotinus (who popularised and maybe coined the term) there were only three hypostases, although later Neoplatonists added more. In Mahayana Buddhism also there is the Trikaya, or three Bodies of the Buddha, which can also be thought of as hypostases. In Christianity, which picked up a number of things from Neopatonism, the hypostases became the three persons of the Trinity, although these were never developed cosmologically (except by Theosophists, Rosicrucians etc), or even systematically like the Trikaya.

Hypostases and Planes

The manifestation or emanation of the Divine can be describe dtwo ways - as a "horizontal" diversity of Gods or Archetypes, and a "vertical" (hierchical) series of hypostases or planes.

In Sethian and Basilidian Gnosticism the Aeons that emanate successively from the transcendent Spirit or from the preceeding Aeon are not only Divine Powers but also heavens or spiritual planes of existence as well: the term Aeon meaning not only "eternity" but also universe (c.f. the Hebrew olam and Arabic alam)

Again, the Trika cosmology of Kashmir Shaivism has the unitary Shiva-Shakti polarity passing through successive stages of polarisation and manifestation: the Sadashiva, Ishwara, and Sadvidya tattwas before giving rise to the prakriti tattwas (evolutes) and a multiplicity of purushas (centers of consciousness)

In the cosmologies of the great Persian Sages Avicenna and Suhrawardi, there is a transcendent order of Intellects or Lights or Archangels that emerge in sequence from the Supreme Godhead, and constitute a gradational series, the so-called "longitudinal" Lights or world of mothers (ummahat) of Suhrawardi

In Kabbalah there are four worlds or states each with ten sefirot. In Lurianic Kabbalah this was further expressed a complex division of the Divine universes, beginning with the five partzufim of Adam Kadmon, the Supra-Cosmic Godheadic Personality) and progressing through the five Partzufim and ten sefirot of Atzilut, each subdivided into its component Partzufim and Sefirot, and all being seen as the multifaceted aspects of a single Divinity

However Theosophical and, following them, New Age, cosmologies do not refer to hypostases at all (except perhaps as cosmic logoi like the "seven spirits before the throne" and so on). Instead, they speak of Planes, more specifically seven "planes of existence"; each of these in turn often subdivided into further planes and hypostases (Blavatsky and subsequent theosophists (e.g. Alice Bailey) refer to seven Kosmic Planes, with their various component Planes.  With the exception of the lowest Kosmic Plane, these all refer to superior and transcendent, mostly indescribable, regions of existence).

The "Great Chain of Being" - a suggestion for a "map" of hypostases

Assuming then the concept of hypostases, we can say that Reality, which is ineffable, expresses Itself (at least to the understanding of the relative mind) in terms of a progression of fundamental aspects of Itself (that is, aspects of God/Godhead), each of which is progressively more focused towards (and itself becomes) Creation (note: this is panentheism, not pantheism). This gives the following "Great Chain of Being", which is inspired by Neoplatonism, Lurianic Kabbalah, and Sri Aurobindo. Please bear in miind this is only a metaphorical diagram, and like all such diagrams is imperfect and only a very partial representation of the Infinite Reality Itself

Emanation of the Hypostases
Emanation of the Hypostases

Graphic by M.Alan Kazlev - Creative Commons License

The following is a description of each of these hypostases or Aspects of Divinity:

Manifest Unmanifest Absolute The Unmanifest Absolute. Reality in itself is simply the nature of things, that to which one can only point, but cannot describe.  Again, since this reality is beyond description and beyond conception, it does not have a symbol, so the space to the left is here left as blank.  The Unmanifest Absolute can be described positively as pure Being, or as infinite, non-dual Consciousness, or as infinite Bliss.  It can also be described negatively as Void, as emptiness, as abscence of qualities and limits (shunyata).  Both descriptions are valid and both are incomplete. This Reality, along with the preceeding one, is referred to in Tantric terminology from Paramashiva or Parasamvit, which is beyond even the polarisation of the Absoluet in Itself and the Activity of that Absolute

One might even suggest an even more ineffable stage beyond this - the Unmanifest Unmanifest Absolute, also termed in Indian thought Paratpara - "beyond the beyond" or "higher than the highest", is Reality in Itself, beyond all conception and all causality. It cannot be described, except in terms of paradoxes and negation (the same also goes for the Manifest Unmanifest Absolute).  It is beyond even the Absolute as is usually described. Since it is beyond description and beyond even any attempt at description, it does not have a symbol, so the space to the left is here left as blank.

Unmanifest Manifest Absolute The Unmanifest Manifest Absolute, Reality in itself takes the form of infinite Being [Sri Aurobindo uses the Sanskrit term Sat, from Sacchidananda - Being-Consciousness-Bliss, the nature of the Absolute in Vedantic thought, this is not the same as the Western concept of Being] or infinite Reality which is simply the nature of non-dual Awareness, or infinite non-dual Consciousness (in Sanskrit Chit). This Awareness, being self-luminous (the Light of Consciousness) and in all other respects ineffable and unlimited, is termed by the Kashmir Shaivites prakasha, which is a quality or attribute of Shiva-tattwa. Perhaps it is also equivalent to the Mahayana Buddhist Shunyata or Tathatagarbha (although these two terms encompass other realities as well). This is comparable also to Iamblichus' Causal as opposed to Acausal One, and Meher Baba's Beyond God and Beyond Beyond God. It can be represented as a simple circle (as in the conception of the Absolute in the Zen Ox-Herding series), which also refers to the number used to represent Reality in Itself - 0. Not zero in a negative sense of nothing or non-being, but in a positive sense of shunya or no limits. This Reality - although not yert manifest, is the origin of the manifest.

Manifest Absolute The original Manifest Absolute: When the Unmanifest Absolute Consciousness experiences Itself as Itself It polarises into Itself and Its Experience of Itself, although these are still one and the same.  This is the beginning of manifestation.   Itself remains Itself, while the Experience of Itself becomes Creation.  The icon here is a circle with a red dot.  The red dot is shakti or bindu or the seed of creation within the Unmanifest Absolute.  The number used here is 1, which is the red dot (the preceeding Unmanifest Absolute itself doesn't have a number).

Godhead Absolute The Godhead Absolute: when the Shakti or Bindu experiences the infinity of riches within Itself that is Its own Nature, It becomes the Godhead, while each of Its facets becomes one of the Divine Qualities.  Each of us is at our essence a Divine Quality; this is where all beings come from.   The number used here is 2, in the sense of Martin Buber's I-Thou, Divine quality ("I") and Godhead "Thou").  Although distinct these are still parts of the same entity, like the waves and the ocean (hence the line does not bisect the circle in the illustration).

Dynamic Absolute Noetic Absolute: When the Godhead expresses itself it takes on different modes or hypostases, according to the degree of expression.  This is the "Logos" or Dynamic or Truth Consciousness. Here we have the realm of Divine Archetypes, the eternal Nous or Divine Mind, which embodies the dynamic non-dual Truth.  In both traditional and esoteric theology (theism), this hypostasis is represented as the "The Logos", a term that dates back to Philo of Alexandria and was adopted by Christianity (also it is used by the Sufi-inspired traditionalist school of Guenon, Schuon, etc). But the clearest and most detailed description is by Sri Aurobindo, who uses the term Supermind (Above Mind). In fact, his entire teaching revolves around the actualisation of this divine consciousness within the material world. The number used here is 3.

Noetic Worlds Noetic Worlds or Gods: Between the Noetic Absolute, which is eternally perfect, and the Dualistic Cosmos or Temporal Manifestation, which is imperfect (but evolving to perfection), is an intermediate hypostasis or series of hypostases, in which the unitary archetypes or Gods of the Noetic Absolute are each allowed individual play and expression, while still retaining their gnosis, freedom, and harmony. Moving down through the sub-divisions and degrees, we also see here a gradation or veiling, as the original Unity of the Absolute gives way to duality. In Kabbalah this is the World of Atzilut, in Sufism the World or Descent of Jabarut, in the teachings of Sri Aurobindo the Overmind. This is the last of the pure hypostases. From here on the original Light of the Supreme is increasingly diffuse, a process the Kabablists call tzimtzum. The Noetic Worlds or Gods include the individualised (as opposed to united as aspects of One Reality) Primary Archetypes, and, further down the emanation scale, the Logoi of Theosophy and the Angelology of Rudolph Steiner. At this stage the parameters of existence are first distinguished and constitute a distinct framework or multidimensional gradation in which involution and evolution can occur

Temporal Manifestion Casual World or Soul. Supporting the lower creation is the causal world, the region of the Soul, the Ground, the Inward Being, Beriah (Kabbalah), Malakut (Sufism), Soul (Neoplatonism), Antakarana (Samkhya) and so on. This is a vaster reality than the surface being, the indwelling divine light, the lowest of the hypostases. Here the noetic unity is lost and the emanated light of the hypostases merge with and support the "vertical" and "inner" worlds and the scale of self. The Causal World or Soul is the "central being" (Sri Aurobindo) or center of identity and action, around which the rest of the being revolves

Temporal Manifestion The Kosmos or Manifest Existence is the multiverse or super-Cosmos in all its infinite diversity.  The number here is 4 - the number of manifestation (as in the mandala with its four cardinal points, the square (although this more properly represents the phsyical plane), the pyramidal solid, and the four dimensions of space-time), which also represents the four (perhaps an arbitrary number?) primary worlds.  These are variously described in different esoteric traditions, sometimes inconsistently because various schools of each tradition - different Sufis, or different Kabbalists or Tantrics, or even the same writer at different periods of their life - will disagree among themselves. The only agreement is a pattern of emanation from the supernal Godhead through a series of stages or subtle, imaginal, or lower archeypal Worlds or universes, each lower one more dense or limited or veiled relative to the preceeding, until one arrives at our dense or gross physical universe (or physical and lower psycho-spiritual, as the case may be).

At the "bottom" of the Kosmos the emanated Light of the lowest hypostases disappears, and there is only formless "matter" - which the Neoplatonists call hyle ("earth", "matter"), the Kabbalists refer to as klippot ("husk" of creation), Sri Aurobindo calls "the Inconscient", and Meher Baba "the nothing". This is the maximum point of involution. However it should be remebered taht even the maximum involution, obscurity, and inconscience is just as much a derivative and expression of the Absolute as the "positive" pole of superconsciousness and noetic divinity and godhead.

The following tabulation shows these grades of divinity as presented in different spiritual and esoteric teachings. Of course, this correlation, as with all such attempts at presenting a unified spiritual science, should be taken as extremely tentative and to a large degree arbitrary only.

Hypostasis Iamblichus and Proclus
(tentative - pending closer research)
Kashmir Shaivism
(interpretations vary)
(interpretations vary)
Lurianic Kabbalah
(tentative - pending closer research)
(tentative - pending closer research)
(maybe - but these are poorly described)
Sri Aurobindo
(often gives the most detailed description)
Unmanifest Absolute
Paratpara - "Beyond the Beyond" (Unmanifest Unmanifest)
Ineffable beyond the One (Iamblichus) Paramashiva Hahut
Divinity - Unity
Ineffable / God The Cause Without Cause Parabrahman Brahman- The Absolute
Infinite-Eternal Non-Dual Consciousness
The Unmanifest Manifest Absolute
The One En Sof 7th Kosmic Plane
6th Kosmic Plane - Alaya - Unmanifest
Infinite Existence, implying Chit-Tapas and Ananda
Infinite-Eternal Consciousnes and Its Power of Self-manifestation Shiva-Shakti (Shantatita) En Sof Or
Infinite Light, the Emanator
Infinite Consciousness-Force, implying Sat and Ananda
Godhead - The Infinite-Eternal Good
The Unmanifest Godhead
Adam Kadmon
unknowable in itself
Infinite Delight, implying Sat and Chit-Tapas
Noetic Absolute
Logos / Dynamic Absolute
Henads (Proclus) Lahut
Divinity - Divine Names
Inaccessible to man in his present state
5th Kosmic Pl. - Mahatic (Divine Mind)
4th Kosmic Pl.
3rd Kosmic Pl.
2nd Kosmic Pl.
(Infinite Truth-Consciousness)
The Noetic Worlds Being


Pure Tattwas

Pure-Impure Tattwas
(purusha and maya)
Lordship - Unity
Atzilut Pathotism

1st Kosmic Plane
- Higher 6 Prakritic Planes
Soul / Causal Divine Soul Impure Tattwas
(unfolding and evolution of prakriti)
Prakriti, Buddhi, Ahamkara
Malakut (pure spirits) Beriah (Creation) & Neshamah (Divine Soul) Materialisms 1st Prakritic Plane Inner/True Mind
Soul/Psychic Being
Inner/True Life
Inner/True Matter
The Kosmos Sense World Manas, Organs of sense and action, Tanmatras

Gross elements
Imaginal World

Material-Sense world


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this page uploaded 16 July 2004