Theosophical University Press Online Edition
Super Sensory Planes of Existence
Our Senses Limited
A Thought World
Many Cross-sections of Consciousness
In the foregoing has been presented a brief outline of some of the Ancient Wisdom teachings in regard to Evolution and the Universe as a "school of experience," in order to show man's place in the general scheme. A number of questions naturally present themselves in this connection.
How can the Universe be a living organism? Where are the links that connect the individual lives with the One Life?
How are effects linked with their causes when there is no visible connection in the outer world?
How can the center of consciousness of each entity, the Monad, which dwells during earthlife in its physical body, survive after the death of this body, and what is the nature of its existence during the interval between two physical embodiments?
The answers to these questions, according to the Ancient Wisdom, is that the physical world in which we live is only one of many different "planes" or levels, or cross-sections of consciousness that exist in Nature. These other planes or worlds are coexistent with and interpenetrate our physical world as water penetrates a sponge, or as a gas can permeate and be absorbed by a liquid. There are other states of consciousness different from the one we are familiar with that correspond to these inner, invisible planes.
As man has a set of physical senses for contact with the physical plane, so also does he have other, inner senses for contact with the inner, invisible planes of nature. These inner senses, however, are as yet dormant or inactive in most men.
It is on these inner, invisible planes that the Monads exist when they are not embodied on the physical plane and it is in this inner, invisible world that we must look for the forces, energies and "mechanisms" that are necessary to explain so much that happens in the outer visible world.
These inner worlds are the worlds of causes, while the outer world is one of effects.
The idea of such invisible worlds is unfamiliar in the Occident, and those who hold that nothing exists that cannot be examined by our five senses will reject the idea at once and classify it as superstition or a belief in the "Supernatural."
The Ancient Wisdom admits of no "miracles" and nothing "supernatural," but states that on the contrary everything in Nature whether visible or invisible is subject to definite natural laws. But it affirms that there are, on the invisible side of Nature, other worlds or planes of existence that are as yet unknown to man. Since the matter of which these worlds are composed is more ethereal than ordinary gross matter and since it vibrates at different rates from such known matter, it is naturally out of tune with our senses and cannot be "picked up" by them any more than we can pick up a radio station that is beyond the capacity of our receiving set.
We can therefore neither prove nor disprove the existence of such planes on the basis of evidence furnished by our senses. An attempt to do this would be like trying to prove the presence or absence of a gas by passing a wire screen through it. These worlds, being beyond the reach of man's ordinary senses, may be called "extra-sensory" or "super-sensory" but they are not supernatural.
The idea of Invisible Worlds will seem less strange when we stop to realize that there are invisibles in our own nature and that every day of our lives we are dealing with and making use of faculties and forces that are invisible and intangible, but none the less real.
The center of consciousness in us which recognizes itself as "I am myself and not someone else," the learning and evolving entity, is invisible. It is associated with the body during physical life; it expresses itself through the body, yet this center of consciousness is itself unseen.
How much can we tell about a man's character, intelligence or abilities by observing his outward appearance? In most cases very little, and if we judge a man solely on this, we are apt to make very serious mistakes. If it were possible to determine a man's character by his exterior, we should be able to spot a criminal before he has committed his crime. This cannot be done however, for the Character belongs to the unseen part of man.
Thoughts and ideas are realities, for they affect individuals and the whole of humanity, yet no one has ever seen a thought. Understanding, sympathy, love, hatred, are all potent powers that cause men to act for weal or woe; yet they are invisible.
We do not see the life that animates a tree, but we know it must be there, for we notice the difference when the tree has died. We do not see the process by which a plant takes material from the dark coarse soil of the earth and changes it into the delicate fabric of a beautiful flower, but we see the result of this process unfolding before our eyes. We cannot see air, and many other gases are also invisible. The forces of gravity, magnetism and electricity have never been seen, but are known only through their effects.
We also often overlook the fact that our senses have only a limited range and give us a very incomplete picture even of the physical world around us. This is strikingly illustrated by an examination of the electromagnetic spectrum.
When sunlight is made to pass through a glass prism it is broken up into seven different colors, each one caused by radiations of different wave lengths from the others. At one end of this spectrum or color band is the violet light, with relatively short wave lengths; at the other end is the red light with wave lengths almost twice the length of the violet light; and between these two extremes are the other colors, each with its own intermediate wave length. All of these radiations can be seen by the human eye.
But the electromagnetic spectrum extends far beyond the visible light-spectrum, both on the side of longer and shorter wave lengths. Radiations are known that vary all the way from those with wave lengths just a little too long for the human eye to see, up to those that are many millions of times longer. Likewise radiations are known with wave lengths so short that it requires millions of them to equal the shortest one visible to the human eye. As scientific knowledge increases, the electromagnetic spectrum is extended. For all we know it may extend indefinitely in both directions, and among this almost infinite variety of radiations, the little group that can be seen by the human eye forms but an infinitesimally small part.
Some radiations that cannot be detected by the eye can be perceived by our sense of touch, since they generate heat. If we were absolutely blind we would still be aware of these heat radiations, but would be unable to sense the light with which we might be flooded. If our eyes were normal but we lacked the sense of touch, we would recognize the light, but we would be unaware of the existence of the heat radiations that might be pouring in on us.
Common photographic plates are sensitive to ordinary light, but plates have been made with chemicals that are sensitive to invisible radiant heat. An audience seated in a room from which all light had been excluded was photographed by means of these invisible rays, sometimes called "black light." The audience saw nothing and felt nothing, and could not detect the presence or absence of these rays, but the resulting photograph, which looked to all appearances like an ordinary photo, demonstrated their presence.
X-rays have the ability to penetrate material bodies. Pictures have been taken of objects through a plate of four-inch solid steel. But perhaps this is not so surprising when we are told by our scientists that there is no such thing as "solid matter," but that what appears to us as solid is mostly empty space, and that the atoms in matter are relatively as far apart as are the stars in space. And further, we are told that the atoms themselves are not solid, but consist of various energy charges moving around one another at incredible velocities. Matter then, which to our touch and our sight seems solid, is in reality mostly empty space, and what little "substance" there is in matter is electrical in nature. This is something about which our unaided senses failed to inform us.
Certain rocks, which in daylight appear no different from those found in any field or gravel pit, are sensitive to ultra-violet radiation. If these rocks are placed in a darkroom and subjected to ultra-violet rays, which are also invisible, the rocks, although not hot, seem to glow and become translucent, apparently exposing the interior of the rocks, and this becomes illuminated in different and most beautiful colors. These radiations seem capable of penetrating to the interior of the solid rock and in their passage through the rock produce a change in this or are themselves transformed into radiations that come within the range of human vision. Illuminated by this invisible light these drab-looking rocks display an aspect of unsuspected beauty.
One cannot help speculating on what fairyland of beauty this world might present if our eyes were tuned to see by ultra-violet radiations instead of by ordinary sunlight.
The cat and the owl have eyes with a different range of vision from those of man. They "see in the dark." In other words, their eyes are sensitive to some of the radiations that are invisible to us. Hence, what is darkness to us is light to them. This shows how even eyes of physical matter can be constructed so as to embrace different ranges of visibility.
X-rays and cosmic rays as well as ultra-violet rays can penetrate and pass through solid matter. May there not be eyes constructed that can follow these rays and thus see through physical substance as though it were empty space, just as our eyes can see through air and water?
Scores of telephone messages can be sent over the same wire at the same time without interfering with one another, simply by using different wave lengths in transmitting them. As we talk we are unaware of other conversations mingling with ours, yet in the end they are all separated and reach their destination as though the others did not exist.
The air is constantly filled with radio waves of various lengths and yet we are entirely unaware of their presence until we turn on our radio. As we shift from station to station around the dial, we hear the most diverse programs being broadcast all at once, yet not interfering with one another if the apparatus is properly adjusted.
Ether vibrations of many different wave-lengths can thus interpenetrate each other and co-exist in the same space without interfering with one another and without making any impression on the human senses.
Vibrations in the air reach us as sound waves, but our ears, like our eyes, are limited in their capacity to register these. There are sound waves of too low a pitch and others of too high a pitch for the human car to record.
Our senses of touch, taste and smell seem relatively less evolved that those of sight and hearing and tell us very little of the world in which we live.
Our senses, on which we depend for contact with the physical world, are like windows through which we can look out and observe the world around us, but they are very small windows, narrow slots, little "periscopes" that only permit us to see a small part of the phenomenal world in which we live. By means of various mechanical and electrical devices we have been able to extend our field of vision considerably. Even with these aids, however, the picture our senses give us is very incomplete. What may lie beyond the reach of these devices is unknown territory to us.
Our present knowledge, nevertheless, is sufficient to demonstrate that there exists an unseen side in nature. It is unseen because of the limitations of our senses and not because it does not exist.
There is one invisible world that we are conscious of every moment of the day, but it is so close to us that we overlook its existence. We are here and now leading a dual existence, an outer physical one, as well as an inner, invisible one of thoughts and feelings. The outer visible life we share with our fellows, but our interior thought-life is lived behind a curtain, as it were, and is known only to ourselves.
We know that many of our thoughts are stimulated by events in the outer world that attract our attention, but we also know that thoughts often "come to us" without any external stimulus. The same is true of moods and feelings.
Where could these come from unless we live in an atmosphere of thought and feeling as well as in an atmosphere of air, and how could we become aware of them unless we have an inner "receiving set" that responds to this type of vibration? And how do we know but that our own thoughts, unknown to us, are being broadcast into this same atmosphere to be picked up by some other individual, to whom they may be attracted?
We may thus send out and receive thoughts, but this is done unconsciously. We have not yet learned how to communicate directly from our own thought-sphere to that of another. If we want to exchange ideas with others, we must make use of the physical body for this purpose, and express ourselves in speech or writing.
We must admit that although we are all active in this thought-world, yet we understand very little about it, but the proposition fits in well with our knowledge of other aspects of nature. Physical energies exist and have a world of physical matter in which they operate. Thought energies exist; why should not these have a thought-world, with its appropriate thought-substance in which to operate?
Everything in nature is energy in some form. Physical energies have their "spectrum" or scale of vibration within which they are recorded. May there not be another spectrum embracing energies of a more refined nature with vibrational rates entirely different from anything that we know of, perhaps in some other "dimension" or through some other medium? May it not be possible that some day thought-energies will be found to have their place somewhere in this "spectrum"?
Scientists have already discovered that the organs of the human body, and especially the heart and brain, emit radiations that can be recorded by means of suitable apparatus. The radiations emitted by the brain are known to vary with sleep, consciousness, mental activity, etc. These discoveries may be the fore-runners of others that may reveal the existence of still more refined energies within the human organism. But the probability is that thought-energies are too subtle to be detected by any apparatus that we could construct. We may have to wait for final proof until we ourselves have developed our inner senses and learned how to use them.
It is known that man, even of the intellectual type, uses only a minute fraction of his brain capacity. It is therefore well within the range of possibility that man may have inner senses that could have their counterpart or seat in the unused part of his brain.
We seem to have a subconscious recognition of using such senses, for when an idea is explained to us and we do not at first understand, we say, "I don't get you," as though we were groping in the dark trying to feel the contact of someone or something. When we finally do understand, we say "I see," as though we were using an inner eye for this purpose.
The phenomena of mind-reading and telepathy, or thought-transference at a distance without physical means cannot be satisfactorily explained unless we recognize that man is endowed with an inner set of senses or organs that are to some extent controlled by man's will and can be directed to send and receive thoughts. The power to use these faculties consciously and at will is not possessed by the ordinary individual, hence the natural tendency to deny their existence. It is no longer considered a sign of intelligence to ridicule a belief in mind-reading and telepathy, for these phenomena are too well authenticated to be brushed aside or "laughed off," as anyone who wishes to inform himself can easily ascertain.
The individuals who possess these faculties are said to be endowed with "extra-sensory perception" since their impressions are received without the aid of the physical sense-organs. We feel instinctively, however, that they must be using senses of some sort, for we often refer to them as "sensitives." Since these faculties are not possessed by the average individual they are extra-ordinary or supernormal, but they are not supernatural.
A striking example of successful thought-transference over long distances is presented by the experiment conducted between Sir Hubert Wilkins, the arctic explorer, as sender, and his friend, Mr. Harold Sherman, as receiver. The former was engaged in an expedition in northwestern Canada and Alaska, while the latter was located in New York City 2000 to 3000 miles away. Most of Sherman's impressions of Wilkins' activities in the arctic were received and recorded on the very day that they happened, and weeks before Wilkins could be reached for verification. The experiments were conducted three times a week during a period of six months in the winter of 1937-38. The records were kept in such a way as to exclude all possibility of fraud, and were later arranged in parallel columns comparing item for item the experiences of Wilkins with the impressions recorded by Sherman. Although the result is not 100 per cent perfect, it shows a truly remarkable percentage of correct readings. In one instance Mr. Sherman records seeing a fire in an Alaskan community at the very moment it took place. Another time he "sees" that an accident has happened to one of the propellers of Wilkins' plane, and that the new propeller ordered does not have the correct pitch on the blades. Many other similar instances are recorded. The experiment, which is fully documented, is described in a book entitled, Thought Through Space (Creative Age Press, Inc., 11 East 44th St., New York City) that should be read by anyone who has the slightest doubt as to the actuality of thought transference.
Other experiments in thought transference have been conducted by Dr. J. B. Rhine at Duke University, under strictly supervised conditions, extending over a period of many years. The outcome varied with the individual subjects tested, but as a result of many thousands of tests, the average number of hits for all subjects, good and poor, was 6.5 when the straight chance-result would have been 5. With more gifted subjects, the score repeatedly ran as high as 8, 9, 10, or 11, when 5 would have been a chance result and 25 a perfect score.
One individual made the perfect score of 25 hits in 25 trials. These tests, described by Dr. Rhine in New Frontiers of the Mind, should be read by those inclined to doubt the reality of thought transference.
Success or failure in experiments with extra-sensory perception depend on the degree to which the inner senses of the individual experimented on are developed. Even in the best these are just beginning to function, and it is surprising that so many experiments have proved successful. That many mistakes are made should be expected. An infant does not learn to walk with his first attempt.
How can we explain telepathy, and how can we explain the fact that "thoughts come to us," seemingly out of the atmosphere, unless we have some kind of "receiving set" with some sort of antenna, some internal, unseen organ to pick them up and convey them to our consciousness?
Does the mind-reader, unknown to himself, use an inner set of "eyes" or other organs, not made of gross, physical substance, but of matter appropriate to the field in which it operates?
The ordinary five senses cannot operate without their corresponding physical organs. Is it not reasonable, then, to assume that our inner faculties must also have some sort of inner organs in order to operate. And if we have internal organs, must they not be part of an internal body?
Is our relationship to our inner body like that of an infant to his small body? He lies in his crib and moves his arms and legs and uses his eyes to watch his surroundings. He is too immature to reflect upon his situation. He has a body and is using it to a limited extent, but is himself unaware of the fact that he has and uses this body.
Are we in exercising our inner faculties, similarly making use of an inner body and sense-apparatus before we are aware of its existence? We do not know what may exist in the unexplored depths of nature. Almost anything lies within the range of possibility. In view of scientific discoveries already made, it does not seem wise to put limits on the possibilities of the future. What is commonplace knowledge to us today would have seemed like wild speculation to our forefathers.
There is nothing in our present knowledge that conflicts with the idea of invisible sides to Nature. For all we know to the contrary, there might very well exist whole worlds or planes of different rates of vibration from our own, in which might exist, live and move other sets of beings, whom we could not cognize, and who might be unaware of our existence.
A denial of the possible existence of invisible planes because they are invisible, has no better basis than the blind man's denial of the light, or a deaf man's denial of sound.
The Teachers of the Ancient Wisdom, men whose evolution has proceeded beyond that of ordinary humans, tell us that our plane of consciousness is like a single "cross-section" in the middle of an imaginary log of infinite length; or like an octave in the middle of an infinite scale of consciousness, just as the octave of radiations that appear to us as light constitutes an infinitesimally small fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum.
They also tell us that on both sides of our "cross-section" there are other cross-sections of consciousness, higher and lower than ours, and that it is possible for those who have developed their inner faculties to step across the border into those other planes. To them these inner worlds are more real than the outer, physical world that we know. They call this outer world an "illusion," in the sense that it is not what it seems to be. To them it is a "shadow-world" with its matter that seems so solid, but is so porous it is almost non-existent.
The Teachers also tell us that it is in these inner, invisible worlds that Man's consciousness is acting, observing and experiencing, while to our knowledge he is unconscious in sleep or death.
The fact that some can to a limited extent use their inner faculties, as is done in thought-transference, indicates that these faculties are beginning to awaken from their dormant state, in the case of a few individuals. When these faculties are fully developed in us, we shall see thoughts as clearly as we now see physical objects.
The present phase of man's evolution requires his existence chiefly on the physical and mental planes, and his first lesson is to learn how to live in harmony with his fellow men. When we notice the greed, the jealousies and self-interests that cause individuals and groups to fight one another, it becomes apparent that man is far from having learned the lesson that his present existence should have taught him. When we see how new inventions, meant for the benefit of mankind, such as the submarine, the airplane, atomic energy, etc., are instead turned to destructive purposes, it should be plain to us that what man needs is not new forces and new faculties, but the ability to use the faculties he already possesses for the benefit of himself and his fellow men.
A premature development by a few individuals of their inner faculties would give these individuals an advantage over their fellow men. With our knowledge of the inherent selfishness of man's lower nature, it is safe to predict that these faculties would sooner or later be made use of by selfish individuals for their own gain and to the detriment of others.
There are also very real dangers connected with a premature and artificial development of man's psychic faculties, including insanity, and a serious unbalancing of the psychic and moral nature.
It is for this reason that true Spiritual Teachers have always insisted that man should first cultivate his spiritual faculties: Forgiveness, compassion, love, etc., and apply them in daily life.
When man has learned to live in harmony with his fellows and practices Brotherhood in his daily life, his inner, psychic faculties will develop safely and normally as our physical and mental faculties do today.