Planes or Dimensions. Are they Rational?

For me, the theosophical notion of multiple planes of existence is fascinating and thought provoking, but also very challenging to the rational mind. Perhaps "rational" is not the right term. It may be better to say that the notion of other planes of reality is challenging to a modern mentality overawed by the success and prestige of science. Accordingly, if the planes of theosophy are scientifically plausible, then the modern mentality is comfortable with them. However, if science deems them implausible, it is difficult to resist doubts about them. Thus, I initially greeted the postulations of contemporary physics of other dimensions with a sigh of relief. I thought that these other dimensions must correspond to the planes of Blavatsky, et. al.

The Theosophist David Pratt, however, has thrown cold water on this initial impression:

"Theosophy postulates endless interpenetrating worlds or planes composed of different grades of energy-substance, with only our own immediate world being within our range of perception. But other planes are not extra ‘dimensions’; on the contrary, objects and entities on any plane are extended in three dimensions – no more and no less." ( [Emphasis added]

Okay. But certainly, there are other senses of "dimension" in play; perhaps these other senses correlate to the planes described by occultists. Again, Pratt writes:

"…It is very fashionable nowadays for physicists to speculate about additional dimensions. M-theory, for example, postulates 7 extra spatial dimensions, which are said to be curled up so small (10-33 cm) that they are undetectable. But these are just mathematical abstractions for which there is not a shred of evidence. They certainly do not resemble the other planes of energy-substance spoken of in the occult tradition. These planes, which are beyond our range of perception, interpenetrate our own physical world, and are said to be inhabited by a variety of entities… [Emphasis added]

 "In its broadest sense, a 'dimension' is any measurable quantity. Examples are length, breadth, and height, which are commonly referred to as the three 'spatial' dimensions. Other dimensions are temperature, mass, charge, time, etc. If entities are said to be living in other 'dimensions', an obvious question is: how many spatial dimensions do these other 'dimensions' have? Some researchers actually speak of a three-dimensional parallel universe existing in a superior 'dimension'. This clearly shows that the word 'dimension' is being used in different senses. It is therefore better to speak of other (invisible) worlds, realms, planes, etc. than of other dimensions. Moreover, common sense dictates that no entities or objects, on any plane, can have fewer than three spatial dimensions; nor is there any reason to suppose that they can have more than three." ( ) [Emphasis added]

Now we seem to be onto something. When scientists postulate dimensions in the sense of parallel universes, these might approximate to the planes of theosophy. Yet there are further aspects of the latter planes that do not quite mesh with the dimensions/planes of the physicists.

The traditional theosophical conception of the universe is hierarchical. As I understand it, the astral plane is higher, in the sense of more real, than the gross physical plane. Similarly, the causal plane is higher than the astral plane. I do not believe contemporary scientific speculation conceives of any of the parallel worlds as "more real" or closer to an absolute reality than another. It would seem that there could be numerous parallel worlds (in the physicists' sense) coexisting on the same hierarchical plane (in the theosophists' sense). If this is so, even as we welcome the parallel dimensions of contemporary scientific speculation, we may have to look elsewhere for further grounding of the theosophical idea of hierarchical planes.

As I suggested above, "scientific" and "rational" do not necessarily coincide. There are other ways of thinking about reality in a rational way other than that of empirical science. What I am suggesting is that while we may wait on science to justify certain ideas or hypotheses, it is not irrational to accept a hypothesis in the meantime, at least tentatively, if its plausibility can be established in some other way.

One analogue to the theosophical system of planes is to be found in Plato. (Heck, this may be where many of these ideas originated.) Plato's schema of the Divided Line can be viewed as indicating different planes of reality, conceived of from a purely philosophical point of view:

 I do not want to rehearse the various arguments in favor of or against a Platonic model of reality at the present time. All I am suggesting is that to appreciate the system of planes as a whole, it may be necessary, for the time being, to think of philosophical, rather than empirical-scientific, reasons for positing them. Hopefully, science will eventually corroborate these ideas; but one can rationally accede to their plausibility even without scientific justification. Moreover, one can accede to their plausibility without going so far as to commit to a full-fledged belief in them.

Another analogue that helps me to consider the system of planes as possibly real is the Vedantic dichotomy between the Absolute on the one hand and the realm of Maya on the other. This is an idealistic conception of reality in that it makes Consciousness fundamental. Although this may seem to fly in the face of experience, it really does not inasmuch as the Consciousness in question is not that of any finite individual or group of finite individuals. The stability and regularity we find in the world MIGHT be grounded in an Infinite Consciousness. Arguably, such a conjecture cannot be empirically disproven since no empirical evidence would count against it. Likewise, there is no ordinary means of verifying it either. Supposedly, it becomes self-evident once one evolves to a sufficient level of consciousness.

Well, either you find this perspective appealing or you do not. Let's say you provisionally accept it. Then the astral and causal planes would be the aspects of reality that are intermediate between our plane and the Absolute Reality. On this view, there is no reason to object to the possibility of parallel worlds within a given plane if they could be confirmed by science. More importantly, if one looks at reality from this point of view, the existence of other planes does not seem strange or unlikely. In contrast to the ordinary physicalistic conception than is forced to strain itself to accommodate a hierarchical reality, the Vedantic-Idealistic (or, alternatively the Platonic-Idealistic) conception STARTS OFF with a stratified reality. The theosophical planes come along for the ride as the specific strata within this world-view.

Obviously, this doesn't prove anything. But it seems to open up a way of making the notion of alternate planes tolerable to the rational mind.


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Comment by Michael A. Williams on January 26, 2011 at 11:57pm

Sorry, I misspelled the site to Dr. Rick Strassman's site, in case anyone is interested, here's the correct link:

Comment by Michael A. Williams on January 26, 2011 at 10:25pm

Paul, thanks for the informative info, as always. I'm familiar with the pineal gland, the "Third Eye" and the role of DMT. Edgar Cayce's thoughts on the matter were quite interesting. I wasn't aware of the Radhasoami Sects of Hinduism.

I'd heard of Cayce's interpretation of "The Lord's Prayer" as involving the chakras and kundalini, but it'd slipped my mind and your discription of it was a good refresher. I heartily endorse it. It goes to show that so much of the Bible, Old and New, has metaphysical wisdom in it, when interpreted metaphorically and symbolically.

As for DMT, N,N-dimethyltryptamine, the best metaphysical research on it that I know of was done by Dr. Rick Strassman, M.D., in the early 1990's. His book, "The Spirit Molecule" chronicles it all(he's one of the few scientists granted permission by the Government to research DMT). He definitely leans towards the existence of extra-dimensions. He edited and contributed to another fine book, "Inner Paths To Outer Space" that goes into the whole subject, from a Western and shamanic perspective, in more detail. - It should be noted that DMT is the active ingredient in ayahuasca, the plant based brew used by South American Shamans to enter into other dimensions.

Dr. Strassman's website is: It states that he answers all email to him, and I can verify, in my case, that he does.


Comment by Michael A. Williams on January 21, 2011 at 11:02pm

In regards to C.G. Jung and Joseph Campbell, they are two teachers that have influenced me, although, I'm unaware of any direct thoughts they may have had on "planes and dimension," as such. I'll stay out of any comments regarding on this topic.

As regards the parapsychology studies of astral projection, OOBE's(Out-Of-Body_Experiences) and Remote Viewing, here's what I can come up with at the moment:

The Society For Psychical Research in England has over 702 cases studied since 1882, with positive results. In the early 1970's, a Dr. Robert Morris of the Psychical Research Foundation in South Carolina did some research, again with good findings. The American Society for Psychic Research in New York City got extremely excellent results in the early 1970's with famed psychic/artist Ingo Swann. Good results with Dr. Charles Tart at the University of Virgina School of Medicine in 1965 and 1966, and at the University of Davis, California(where he is now) in the early 1970's.

The Remote Viewing experiments you mentioned are not merely "alledged," but commonly known. The Stanford Research Institute(SRI) did their well acknowledged study in the 1970's and 80's, with physicists Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff. Their key subjects were, again, Ingo Swann, and Pat Price. Both scored extremely well. The study was funded by the DOD, Department of Defense, in response to the heavy research being done by the Russians. From a number of talented Remote Viewers who have retired and spoken of their experience, the Military does use Remote Viewing, though they don't talk about it publicly.

My understanding is that Remote Viewing is seeing an earthside plane location as on a television screen in your mind. OOBEs are being there, in the location, consciousness wise. Astral projection is having one's self awareness in the subtle "astral body," operating in the Astral Realms.

The problem with research in this area is that the vision for most folks, most of the time, is "grainy" concerning details on the earth plane. Naturally, reductionist science dismisses all this and it will be quite a while, if ever, if it's ever accepted mainstream.

Whether the "planes" are "objective" or "subjective" gets into a long philosophical discussion of the "nature of reality." And, we all know how tangled and cantankerous that discussion can be! But, there are countless reports on record of people meeting up with others on certain Astral Planes and later verifying it back on earthside reality. Much more to say on this, but it would take too long.

The only thing I know about Eckankar is that, like most religious and spiritual groups, they've had their share of scandals, civil wars and spinter groups - something The Theosophical Society is no stranger to, itself.

I've just recently started my own serious research and personal investigation into all this, though I've been aware of it for a long while, and I'd recommend starting with these three sites.

The Robert Monroe site: Monroe was a modern pioneer in Astral Projection and was tested by Dr. Charles Tart. He has a whole program, either at the institute or by DVDs, on Astral Projecting. Lots of good info and videos here.

Robert Bruce's site: Mr. Bruce is considered one of the best teacher's and authorities around. He's been at it for 30 years or so. Books, videos, info.

Jugen Ziewe's site: Mr. Ziewe has years of personal experience. Lots of articles, graphics, videos and a book.

All of the above approach the subject from a non-religious, but metaphysical point of view. Much more detail and subtleties that can be gone into here. I hope the above helps anyone with further interest in "planes and dimensions."  







Comment by Kirk W Walker on January 21, 2011 at 4:17pm

Thanks for your response. I admit that I'm a little surprised that this topic didn't generate more interest.

The idea of other planes as objective realities is certainly something that sounds outlandish to the modern, Western mind. Maybe it would be easier to think of them as strata within the mind, a la Jung, or perhaps as metaphors for dimensions of the human experience, along the lines of Joseph Campbell.

These latter conjectures cannot be ruled out. However, if either (or both) of them is true, then most of the prominent Theosophical writers from Blavatsky on either knowingly or unknowingly made the subtle worlds appear more real, i.e., more objective, than they really are. This would not necessarily be a criticism of them. Maybe they could be viewed as myth-tellers operating from within the mythological language-game. On this view, while Jung and Campbell stood outside this language-game and explicated its function, HPB, Leadbeater, et. al. would be seen as fully immersed in it. It would then be up to each individual Theosophist to see how deeply he or she wants to participate in the mythos. (This conjures up images of the ancient Mystery religions.)

Returning to the consideration of the planes as objective realities, the easiest route to accepting them as such would be to have direct experience of them through astral projection or some other kind of OBE, as you suggest. This does cause one to wonder, however. If the astral plane, say, could be accessed at will by some teachable method, then this would open up the possibility of objectively studying it with scientific controls. You mention that some parapsychologists have studied OBEs. Do you know if their results give any corroboration of an intersubjective (that is, objective to the extent that more than one person could independently perceive the same objects) alternate realm?

There are allegations that for a while there were government-sponsored scientific studies of remote-viewing. Supposedly they yielded decent, reasonably objective results. But even if these allegations are true, I don't know if remote-viewing leads to perception of anything comparable to an astral plane.

There is a group called Eckankar that places a lot of empahasis on astral travel. I wonder if their practicioners are able to achieve experiential confirmation for their beliefs?



Comment by Michael A. Williams on January 19, 2011 at 9:06pm

Kirk, glad you put this up. I had something similar a short while back, but it got little response. let's hope this blog generates more interest.

I don't think the rational mind, as conditioned by materialist science nowadays, can ever fully grasp the reality of other planes/dimensions/worlds, etc. As you point out, mainstream physics does postulate other dimensions, but only in the abstract. As usual, ancient esoteric wisdom was far ahead of them and still is.

HPB did write of astral realms, many worlds, etc., but she was hardly the first. What she didn't do, and if I'm wrong, somebody please point to the material, is give a system or techniques whereby a person could visit these planes in direct, personal experience. I would say that the theories of other planes and dimension weren't just some notions or ideas that various people cooked up by their intellects, but were the result of actual direct experiences of them.

Call it astral projection or traveling, out-of-body-experiences, or "dream time," these procedures were certainly around in her time. The Tibetan Buddhists had them, Hermetic schools in the west(of which the early TS was closely associated with) had them. This direct approaches go back to the Egyptians, Shamanic cultures, the Greeks and all through mystery schools in the middle ages.

There has been some study of Astral Projection and OOBE states by some parapsychologists in the last several decades. I'm not aware of anything recent, but there could very well be some research being done on this.

It takes discipline and some time to master these techniques, but from all reports it can be done and is well worth it. As you point out, their existence will become "self evident" from a direct personal experience. Of course, reductionist science, as now constituted, will never except this as "evidence."

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