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Blavatsky's Cosmology - Planes and Cycles

Planes And Sub-Planes Of Existence

On the basis of her three Esoteric principles, Blavatsky propounds a cyclic cosmology that incorporating both Indian (especially Vedantic and Samkhyan) and Neoplatonic elements.  And, in keeping with the basic Emanationist  cosmology, reality is seen as a spectrum, consisting of a number of levels or grades of reality.  These she, and subsequent Theosophists and occultists, designate as "planes" - a term that is the direct equivalent of the Neoplatonic to platos [Poortman, Hylic Pluralism, vol I, p.13n].  Each level, each plane, is a self-contained reality, in that we can speak of a physical reality or plane, a mental reality or plane, and so on.  Obviously, the term "plane" is metaphorical only, in that all these realities actually occupy the same space and are only symbolically represented as being one above the other.  As Blavatsky explains:

 "...(W)hen I say "layer", please do not allow your fancy to suggest...layers like strata or beds laid one over the other....What I that plane of infinite space which by its very nature cannot fall under our ordinary waking perceptions...; but which exists...outside of our normal mentality or consciousness, outside of our three dimensional space, and...our division of time.  Each of the seven fundamental planes (or layers)...has its own objectivity and subjectivity, its own space and time, its own consciousness and set of senses...."
[H. P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy, (Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, 1972), pp.88-9]

Thus we have reality as a series of "worlds", a series of levels or planes of existence, each in a sense as self-contained as our own familiar physical reality.

In her accounts of the seven planes, Blavatsky describes the higher three as being transcendent, and the lower four as knowable or manifest.  In this she is following the Qabalistic occultist Mathers, who refers to the four manifest worlds (Assiah, Yetzirah, Beriah, and Atzilut) and the three unmanifest levels of Godhead (Ain or nothing, Ain Soph or the Infinite, and Ain Soph Aur or the Infinite Light).

Again following the Kabbalists, who divide each of their Worlds into ten sub-levels (Sefirot) and each of those in turn into ten, Blavatsky divides each plane into seven sub-planes, and each of those into seven again.  All up she arrives at the following cosmology, a synthesis of Indian Samkhya, Vedanta, and Yogachara (hence the Sanskrit terminology), Golden Dawn Qabalistic, Platonic Greek, and other influences.

An interesting representation of this cosmology can be found in "Notes on Some Oral Teachings", appended to the back of vol. 5 of the Adyar Edition of The Secret Doctrine; pp.524ff].  Comparing these "oral teachings" can be combined with material written elsewhere, to give the following cosmology.

The Seven Kosmic Planes
The Seven Prakritic Planes (included in the lowest Kosmic plane)
The Seven Terrestrial Planes (included in the lowest Prakritic plane)

The original source of these "oral teachings" is actually the "Cosmic Tradition ", a corpus of clairvoyant and channelled communications built up by Max Theon and his wife Alma. Blavatsky was for several years acquainted with Theon, and much of the Theon's material formed the basis for her own teachings.

Although Blavatsky built on the Theon Tradition by incorporating a vast amount of material from comparative mythology, orientalism, and even elements of Victrian science, the end-result is not very satisfactory. It is a shame that Blavatsky did not work harder on systematising her sequence of planes, for she seems to have had a clairvoyant vision here of great perceptiveness.  Unfortunately, most of the material she produced, including The Secret Doctrine, is unorganised and obscure, and so the initial promise of an occult cosmology with which to interpret varying states of consciousness is not fulfilled.

See also:

Cycles - Rounds

Cycles - Root Races


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references for further reading

on-line book - The Secret Doctrine - (Theosophical University Press Online Editions)

on-line book The Key to Theosophy

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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 6 June 1998