(Note: This page, as in all discussions on the Absolute reality found in mystical and esoteric teachings everywhere, should be taken only as suggestive or even as metaphor, never as fixed dogma or absolute fact. Still less should exoteric religious statements be taken as literal fact)
Some esoteric teachings refer not only to planes of cosmic existence, but planes of existence or hypostases even with the Absolute Itself. Madame Blavatsky refers to seven Kosmic planes, of which the higher three are unknowable (e.g. The Key to Theosophy p.90]. In the first pages of the "Cosmic Tradition", Theon refers to a number of worlds and veilings, the higher of which are eternal and inacessable to man in his present state. Sant Mat, an Indian teaching with Gnostic elements, postulates three higher divine planes of eternal creation which are nevertheless below the Supreme Godhead. In his cosmology, Sri Aurobindo refers to the Upper Hemisphere with three eternal unchanging Sachchidananda and a fourth, dynamic creative, plane representing Supermind. These are the infinite counterpart of the "Lower Hemisphere" with its three planes of Mind, Life and Matter (Soul is sometimes also included in this series so that there are four lower principles and four higher). His co-worker Mirra, called The Mother, presents a related but somewhat distinct cosmology with seven higher planes and five lower. Elsewhere Sri Aurobindo refers to "seven times seven...planes of the Supreme Goddess [reprinted in The Hour of God, 1982, p.74)
It is true that these teachings are mostly 19th and 20th century, but there is no reason why one can't find earlier references in, say, Gnosticism, with its references to aeons (eternities, worlds) within the Pleroma or fullness of the transcendent Divine itself. Other examples may be gleaned in the Indian Shaiva Siddhanta and Pancaratra cosmo-theologies.
On the basis of this, and using Sri Aurobindo as my primary guide (more on his cosmology here), I suggest the following very provisional series:
If we take this as valid then this is the original sequence of Self-Expression of the Absolute - in Tantric and Kashmir Shaivite terminology from Paramashiva or Parasamvit beyond all conception (Unmanifest Absolute) to Shiva as Pure non-dual consciousness-awareness (Unmanifest Manifest Absolute) to Shakti as the undiluted Self-Expression of that non-dual consciousness-awareness (Manifest Absolute) to Maya-Shakti in which the Origin is forgotten in the play of seperated possibilities (The Temporal Manifestation)
But one must be careful not to enforce a mental rigidity on such schema. From one point of view, all these supposedly distinct hypostases are actually equivalent. As expressed in Prajnaparamita Buddhism, there is no difference between form (manifestation) and emptiness (shunyata - the Absolute). From another perspective, the first four (from the Unmanifest to the most Manifest Absolute) are equivalent, because they are all eternal, unitary, ineffable, and so on, and thus constitute the Absolute Reality, whilst the Kosmos (the Temporal Manifestation with all its infinite planes, worlds, and cosmoses), is dualistic and temporal, and represents Relative Reality. From yet another point of view, the Manifest and Unmanifest Absolutes are beyond causality, whilst the Creative Absolute, as the Source of the Cosmos, represents the beginning of causality. Form another point of view again, the Manifest Absolute constitutes the origin of causality, the transcendent infinite-eternal spiritual pleroma, and only the Unmanifest is the true Absolute.
All of these explanations (and countless others) are equaly valid, because Reality is multifaceted, even though our understanding of it (as the parable of the blind men and the elephant) is limited and biased.
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 of the Absolute
|Iamblichus and Proclus
Paratpara - "Beyond the Beyond" (Unmanifest Unmanifest)
|Ineffable beyond the One (Iamblichus)
|Ineffable / God
|The Cause Without Cause
|Brahman- The Absolute
Infinite-Eternal Non-Dual Consciousness
The Unmanifest Manifest Absolute
7th Kosmic Plane
6th Kosmic Plane - Alaya - Unmanifest
Infinite Existence, implying Chit-Tapas and Ananda
|Infinite-Eternal Consciousnes and Its Power of Self-manifestation
En Sof Or
Infinite Light, the Emanator
Infinite Consciousness-Force, implying Sat and Ananda
Godhead - The Infinite-Eternal Good
The Unmanifest Godhead
unknowable in itself
Infinite Delight, implying Sat and Chit-Tapas
|Four Planes of Ananda
Logos / Dynamic Absolute
Inaccessible to man in his present state
5th Kosmic Pl. - Mahatic (Divine Mind)
4th Kosmic Pl.
3rd Kosmic Pl.
2nd Kosmic Pl.
|Three Planes of Supermind
|Noetic, Psychic, and Sense World
|1st Kosmic Plane - 7 Prakritic Planes
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