[Note: page numbers cited for The Esoteric Tradition are to the 2-vol. Second Edition and do not correspond to the 1-vol. 3rd & Revised Edition.]
The Brahmanical Lokas
Esoteric Brahmanism, as found more particularly in the Bhagavata-, Skanda-, Vayu-, and Vishnu-Puranas, divides the Earth into fourteen lokas or worlds: seven superior, rising above the Earth in a series specifically called lokas, and seven inferior worlds descending below the Earth called talas. From one standpoint, these are comparable to the heavens and hells of occidental thought; and while the Brahmanical teaching concerning the Lokas and Talas is probably accurate as far as it goes, nevertheless it stops far short of the extensive reach of the Theosophical doctrine as significantly pointed to by H. P. Blavatsky and G. de Purucker. (1)
Just what are these Lokas and Talas? How do they fit in with the general scheme of the Globes, Rounds, and Races? Are the words themselves significant, and what do they mean? These and similar questions are repeatedly asked by students, and it is in a sincere attempt to present a simple yet comprehensive outline of the main teaching that the following paragraphs are written.
The doctrine of the Lokas and Talas is comparatively difficult to grasp in its deeper significances at first contact, but it is one that can well bear thoughtful study, as a clear understanding of the teaching of the lokas, and their relation to man, to the globes, and indeed to any organism, will throw light on the whole fabric of the philosophy. In fact, the doctrine of the lokas is but another way of describing the one fundamental process of evolutionary unfoldment: the descent of spirit through veils of matter, and its re-ascent by the conscious removal of these material vestures until self-conscious spirituality is attained.
Before summarizing briefly the Theosophical teaching of the Lokas, we give below the derivation and meaning of the Sanskrit words which have been adopted by us from Brahmanism as giving a suggestive picture of the gradations of evolving entities in their pilgrimage from spiritual to material, and material to spiritual, conditions.
Loka is a word of obscure derivation having the general significance, however, of a vast space, a world, and in philosophy, any division of the Universe. Usually it is referable to the "seven or fourteen lokas" of the Puranas; the "seven regions of the blessed," ascending in degrees of spirituality from the earth to the highest loka, called Satya- or Brahma-loka.
Tala is a word of many and varied meanings, likewise of obscure derivation, but having the general significance of depth, lowness, inferiority of position, the underneath portion, a pit, chasm, etc., hence in philosophy, the nether pole or material aspect of a loka. In the Vishnu- and other Puranas, the talas are the seven regions descending from the earth to the lowest or seventh tala, called Patala, a word often used to describe all seven talas, the Patalas or Hells into which go after death the "entities who are accursed."
We give the specific meanings of the lokas in their usual order, commencing from the highest and most spiritual:
Satya-loka: (sometimes Brahma-loka): satya — meaning "truth," "pure essence," "reality," hence satya-loka literally signifies "essence of reality-loka': the highest of the lokas, from whence there is no return to lower lokas, according to the Puranas; corresponds in one method of Theosophical classification to the highest of the Unmanifest Globes on the first of the Unmanifest Cosmic Planes.
Tapar-loka: tapas — meaning "heat," "warmth," "fire," hence by extension of philosophical application, the "fire of devotion and spiritual meditation"; the loka of the five fires (four fires at the four corners of the earth with the sun as the fifth) through which the devotee of pure and austere heart must pass successfully to gain entrance thereto, says Puranic legend; the second highest loka of the Ascending Arc, corresponding to the second highest of the Unmanifest Globes thereof, on the second Unmanifest Cosmic Plane.
Janar-loka: janar — meaning "birth," hence the loka of spiritual birth or "second birth," where great souls have residence after death; the third highest loka, corresponding to the third and lowest of the Unmanifest Globes on the Ascending Arc.
These three upper lokas, corresponding to the three Unmanifest Planes in Theosophical nomenclature, are called in the Vishnu-Purana the "durable" lokas because manifesting more fully the lasting qualities of self-conscious spirit, in contradistinction to the three lower lokas, Bhur, Bhuvah, Svah (see below) which are termed the "transitory," because as yet not fully spiritualized, and therefore relatively mortal.
Mahar-loka: mahar — meaning "great," "mighty," "splendorous," "glorious," hence the "great loka," said in Vishnu-Purana to be one krore of yojanas (about 90,000,000 miles) above the polar star, the region attained by those who survive the destruction of the three lower lokas; the midpoint or balance between the three upper lokas and the three lower lokas; corresponds to Globe G on the Ascending Arc on the first Manifest Cosmic Plane.
Svar-loka: svar — meaning "heaven," hence "heaven-loka"; the space between the sun and the polar star, which Vishnu-Purana describes further as the region of the planets and the constellations; supposed likewise to be the after-death state of the virtuous; corresponds to Globe F of the Ascending Arc on the Second Manifest Cosmic Plane.
Bhuvar-loka: literally the "becoming or developing loka," from the verbal root bhu meaning "to become," "to be"; that world or sphere of being between Svar-loka and Bhur-loka, whose influence according to Puranic literature extends from the earth to the sun; corresponds to Globe E of the Ascending Arc, on the Third Manifest Cosmic Plane.
Bhur-loka: bhur — meaning "earth," hence the "earth-loka"; our planet Terra or Globe D on the Fourth and lowest Manifest Cosmic Plane, and likewise the lowest of the lokas.
It may or may not be significant that the Brahmanas before starting their daily meditations always pronounce the Vyahritis, which are Om, Bhur, Bhuvah, Svah — these are seen to be the names of the three lokas rising in succession from Bhur the earth — as though in an attempt to send their spiritual consciousness upwards along the stairway of the lokas. It is suggested by some that the Bhuvar-loka actually received its name from being placed in space and thought, between Bhur and Svah, Bhuvah apparently being a combination of the two sounds of the above-named lokas.
Following now with the talas in serial order:
Atala: a + tala: a meaning not; tala, an inferior world, nether pole of a loka, hence a-tala literally signifies "not a tala," i. e., a condition of being of so ethereal-spiritual a character that it scarcely partakes of the quality of a tala; the highest tala, the nether pole of Satya-loka on the highest of the Unmanifest Cosmic Planes.
Vitala: vi + tala: vi signifying "change" (among many other meanings), hence vitala is a condition of "matter" showing slight change from the first tala (atala); becoming more tala-like, though as yet relatively spiritual and ethereal in character; the matter-counterpart of Tapar-loka, corresponding to the Second Unmanifest Globe on the Descending Arc on the Second Unmanifest Cosmic Plane.
Sutala: su + tala: su meaning "beautiful," "well," "graceful"; hence su-tala is the tala or world still beautiful and well-ordered, though descending in the scale and partaking more of tala-charac-teristics; the nether pole of Janar-loka, corresponding to the Third Unmanifest Globe on the Descending Arc, on the Third and lowest of the Unmanifest Cosmic Planes.
Rasatala: rasa + tala: rasa meaning taste, moisture, etc., where spirit is first conscious of the taste of material or manifested spheres; corresponds to Globe A on the Descending Arc on the First Manifested Cosmic Plane, the polar aspect of Mahar-loka or Globe G.
Talatala: tala + atala: literally "tala — not a tala': hence could be translated as signifying a condition of material being where the qualities of a tala are equally balanced with the qualities that are superior to a tala; corresponds to Globe B of the Descending Arc on the Second Manifest Cosmic Plane, the nether pole of Swar-loka or Globe F.
Mahatala: maha — meaning "great," signifying "very much of tala," hence a sphere of being heavily weighted with tala-qualities; corresponds to Globe C on the Third Manifest Cosmic Plane; the matter-side of Bhuvar-loka or Globe E of the Ascending Arc.
Patala: thought to have been originally pata + tala, now contracted to patala: derivation somewhat obscure, though significance is seen by deriving it as follows: pata from verbal root pat, meaning "to fall," hence pata -f- tala is the tala where spirit has completely "fallen" from grace, so to speak; the lowest of the talas, nether pole of Bhur-loka, corresponding to Globe D on Lowest Cosmic Plane. Puranic literature often refers to Patala as the grossest of the Hells, as the earth in its lower regions is a hell to the spirit of man.
So much for the derivation and meaning of the Sanskrit terms used by us to describe these varying fields of spiritual and material activity. It must not be inferred that these Sanskrit words are significant in themselves, as any words which give the same idea as accurately and succinctly as these Sanskrit terms would be quite as suitable for our purpose, which is to show that the lokas and talas are qualities of consciousness, worlds of being, as densely populated with the appropriate inhabitants as our own, ranging in expression from spirit to matter, and from matter to spirit.
Theosophically speaking, lokas and talas may be described primarily as the spirit- and matter-aspects of an entity: whether that entity be a human, a dhyani-chohan, a beast, planet, or globe. A loka is non-existent apart from its corresponding tala — loka-tala, tala-loka — the north and south poles of the same consciousness-center. We call it a loka if the entity is self-conscious, in degree at least, of spiritual backgrounds; a tala if still immersed in the veils of matter, unable to perceive or to reflect the spirit.
In other words, the lokas are the fields of action of entities on the Luminous or Ascending Arc, those rising in conscious spirituality along the regular procession of evolutionary development: spirit predominating over matter in ever greater degree with each higher loka. Conversely, talas are the fields of action of entities on the Shadowy or Descending Arc, where spirit is shadowed by the heavy presence of matter, as the entities descending along the tala-scale become more weighted with tala-qualities: tala or matter predominating over spirit in ever larger measure until the lowest tala (Patala) is reached.
Thus entities who enter the natural procession along the Descending Arc, through globes A, B, C, etc., are under the dominance of tala-influence with loka-qualities recessive. Correspondingly, those entities who have started on the Ascending Arc are (or should be) under the dominance of loka-influence in proportion to the degree of self-consciousness attained, with tala-qualities recessive.
On the lowest loka-tala: Bhur-loka-Patala, Globe D, Fourth Manifest Plane, we find the Human host — ourselves — torn between an ancient heritage of tala-dominance so long experienced in the preceding globes on the Descending Arc, and the far more beautiful influence of loka-dominance of the Ascending Arc, which as yet has not succeeded in awakening us to awareness of spiritual values. He who lives with his spiritual and mental energy wilfully focused in the loka-centers of his constitution, is an enlightened character, a man of spiritual attainment; and the Puranas say that those beings who live in the Tapar-loka, the loka of spiritual meditation and devotion, are the Munis and Rishis, the great spiritual sages.
Conversely again, those entities who have already begun the ascent towards spiritual enlightenment, but who wilfully and with set purpose focus their mental and spiritual energy in the tala-centers, in time become the "spiritually wicked," the "Lost Souls," conscious imbodiments of tala-hood, whose final destiny is Annihilation.
This last, however, does not refer to those entities who have not yet emerged from the natural procession down the Descending Arc, beings who are immersed in the tala-condition solely because they as yet have developed no reflective consciousness to mirror the loka-qualities of spirit. Nor does it refer to the Kingdoms below the human, such as the beast, plant, and mineral kingdoms, which are still asleep to loka-consciousness, and hence may be said to remain in an impersonal tala-condition of varying degree. Every loka is septenary (or duodenary) containing in potentia all the other six (or eleven) loka-qualities, "held there in seed," recessive, with only one loka- or tala-quality fully active at any specific moment. As man expands into manifestation from the atman of his constitution, each of his principles being held in seed in his atmic laya-center to come forth in serial progression as evolution advances, so a Planetary Chain, a sun, an atom, or a globe, follows an identic procedure. From the divine laya-center (or Satya-loka-Atala condition) come forth the various grades of lokic and talic consciousness, in seven streams of spiritual and material vitality, until Bhur-loka-Patala is reached, which loka-tala in the words of Dr. de Purucker:
contains them all relatively unrolled, and relatively unfolded, as a flower unfolds from the seed. Thus also does a man through evolution become perfect by bringing out what is within these principles. Complete man, spiritual man, will be living in spiritual Bhur-loka-Patala or Satya-loka-Atala, but as a cosmic plane." — The Theosophical Forum, May, 1936, p. 342
Lokas and talas must not be thought of as the globes per se, but rather as conditions of matter (talas), or conditions of spirit (lokas), created or produced by the hosts of entities themselves in their evolutionary march downwards and upwards. As each globe of a Planetary Chain, such as our Earth-chain, is built for the purpose of developing one of the seven lokas or talas, so the entities passing through and experiencing life in any specific loka or tala, thereby develop in such field of activity one of the seven principles in their constitution.
The question immediately arises: Where then do we as humans stand in loka-tala consciousness as regards the Globes, Rounds, Life-waves, and Cosmic Planes? To answer this is not as simple as it may appear, for as with all methods of systematizing universal operations, we must keep several different factors in our minds at one and the same time, being watchful never to mechanize spiritual conceptions by too great an insistence upon insignificant detail. First of all we must not consider the Rounds, Globes, Life-waves, and Planes, to be a rigid mechanical scaffolding around which one can build a perfect structure fit for all Kingdoms, and existing as such throughout eternity. Rather must we picture the Lokas, Rounds, Globes, etc., as having no existence apart from living beings, for all these are but variations on the one theme of evolutionary progression from the less to the greater.
In studying what H. P. Blavatsky and G. de Purucker have written on this question, we find that at one time the lokas are classified from a Sevenfold Manifest aspect, and at the very next moment, from the Twelvefold Unmanifest-Manifest aspect, which in itself indicates the extreme difficulty of making for oneself a perfectly outlined system of cosmic processes. In our mental inability, we take refuge in the realization that this is probably the last thing that either of them would want, for there is small doubt that such apparent confusion of methods is followed with definite intent for the purposes of (1) not divulging esoteric keys which too clear-cut arrangement would most obviously do; and (2) arousing in the student the faculties of thoughtful cogitation and intuitive perception. Too complete a presentation of any problem in all its details would be premature, and tends to atrophy the intellectual-intuitional power.
We shall, however, attempt to define the position, stating the facts of the case as we understand them from our study of the books, and then leave the problem for each reader to ponder and draw his own conclusions. Firstly, to understand our loka-tala station, so to speak, we must clearly distinguish between (1) the Earth as an entity, with its seven Cosmic Planes on which are the 12 foci of consciousness called Globes; and (2) the Human Host as a Life-wave making its Rounds and Races on the Seven Manifest Globes on the four lower Cosmic Planes.
In the definitions of the lokas and talas given above it will be observed that the correspondences there given were judged from the Earth-standpoint alone, i. e., correlated to the twelvefold division of the Earth-Chain as it manifests in global expression on the Seven Cosmic Planes, with Satya-loka-Atala corresponding to the topmost globe; Bhur-loka-Patala at the bottom with Globe D; Globe A corresponding to the Rasatala-aspect, and opposite thereto Globe G having Mahar-loka dominant.
It appears customary in Theosophical works to consider the Human Life-wave in its relation to the lokas from the Sevenfold Manifest aspect only, i. e., from the four Manifest Cosmic Planes, commencing with Globe A having Satya-loka-Atala qualities dominant thereon, and ending with Globe G manifesting Bhur-loka-Patala. As H. P. Blavatsky wrote in an early letter to A. P. Sinnett:
So the first Round Humanity was Satya and Atala — the two spiritual opposites or poles of Spiritual Good and Spiritual Evil (matter). The second Round preserving all the faculties and attributes of these got in addition — Tapas and Vitala, the third — Janas and Sutala, and the fourth or ours is all that besides — Mahar and Rasatala. Do you understand now? We are just at the middle point of Good and Evil equilibrised, so to say, in this Round. . . . With every Round Humanity went a step down, in the Spiritual Spirituality, and a step higher into Material Spirituality. It is a double centripetal and centrifugal motion, . . . But the 7 upper and 7 nether worlds, or Brahma-lokas, are worlds within and in our world and ourselves. — The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, p. 255
Hence, as a Human Life-wave traversing the globes for the Fourth Round, we are manifesting Mahar-loka-Rasatala; but as we are in the Fifth Root-Race of this Fourth Round we likewise manifest a Swar-loka-Talatala sub-condition of the larger Round Mahar-loka-Rasatala. Furthermore, as Globe D is the fourth of the series of seven manifested globes, we again find expression in the Globe Mahar-loka-Rasatala. However, judging now from the Twelvefold standpoint of the Seven Cosmic Planes in relation to the Earth Planetary Chain, we immediately see that because Globe D, our Planet Terra, is stationed on the lowest of the Seven Cosmic Planes, we therefore must be strongly impressed with the Bhur-loka-Patala aspect of this lowest Plane of the Chain-Entity. One wonders what Ezekiel would have done with these fourteen lokas and sub-lokas. Perhaps he knew more than he revealed, and silently chuckled when he aphoristically remarked "wheels within wheels"!
We conclude therefore that at present we as humans are a combination of Bhur-loka-Patala, Mahar-loka-Rasatala, with a slight touch of Swar-loka-Talatala; and thus the question of stating in precise terms exactly where we stand in relation to the lokas and talas is seen to be far more complicated than at first appears. To determine such, however, is of slight value to us at present and really of no great consequence. The important point to remember is that each loka-tala is septenary, and therefore has in potentia, or more or less in actu, all the other loka-tala qualities, depending upon the inner responsiveness of the entity. The human host, therefore, can consciously respond to the influences of the higher lokas if it will. In fact, we are so stationed at present on this Globe D that the Satya-loka-Atala on the highest Cosmic Plane is in direct line as it were with the Bhur-loka-Patala (actually the spiritual north pole of our Earth-Chain, with Globe D as the south pole thereof) and can send its streams of spiritual vitality down into our earth continuously, unimpeded in their influence upon us except by our ignorance and utter disregard of them.
This last thought leads us to perhaps the most significant and beautiful of the Theosophical teachings regarding the lokas and talas, and which also the Puranas hint at in stating that certain lokas have streams of influence extending to the sun, or from the sun to the polar star, Dhruva, with "its watchful eye upon it [the Imperishable Sacred Land], from the dawn to the close of the twilight of "a day" of the Great Breath," according to an ancient Commentary quoted by H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine, Volume II, page 6.
The significance of the above statements from the Puranas is not the specific extent of the influences of any particular loka or tala, but that they point to the esoteric truth that each loka or tala has its envelop of influence, its auric atmosphere, along which carriers of influence and radiation an entity can travel the circulations of the Cosmos, and can actually — provided he follows the rules of occult training carried over from life to life — come into self-conscious communication with other beings and globes and worlds.
It is precisely through the influences radiating from any particular sub-loka of our constitution and extending to identic sub-lokas in surrounding Nature, that we can understand and comprehend any thing; that we can sense love in the heart of another, beauty, sympathy, understanding; and in reverse order that we feel the onslaughts of hatred, pettiness, and the hundred evils of tala-consciousness. It explains the mechanism of thought-transference; of the mayavi-rupa, or thought-body, of the Adept; of the conscious reception of spiritual forces, and the wilful entering into spiritual realms for the refreshment and purifying of the soul.
The chela can slip into whatever loka he desires, and while in that particular loka can become at one with the identic loka of a globe, a sun, a star, or even an atom — or indeed, of another human being — and learn the secrets of all things. This is the rationale and explanation of the teaching that to fully understand a thing, one must become that thing. Conversely, as before hinted, a man who has undergone the discipline can set his consciousness in the talas, and follow the same procedure, but in this latter case, if he does so with the desire to become identified therewith because of a love for tala-influence, then he reverses his nature, he commits conscious black magic, sorcery, and if not stopped by the prompting of perhaps his already receding flame of spirit, he will become at one with the lowest tala, Patala, and find himself either a Lost Soul, or worse still, a Black Magician.
In this last teaching, we recognise the utter need of guarding our thoughts, of watching carefully our motives, and of ever seeking to identify our inmost yearning with the loka-qualities, which are the qualities of spirit, of love, beauty, and truth.
What a man loves, that he will become; or as Yaska in his Nirukta, X, 17, so perfectly phrased it:
Yadyad rupam kamayate devata,
Tattad devata bhavati.
"Whatever form a divine being longs for, that very form will that divine being become."
1. The student is advised to consult the following works: The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, pp. 245-261; and chapters xxxvi and xxxvii of Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy; pp. 173-180, 551-3, 559 et seq., of The Esoteric Tradition, by G. de Purucker. (return to text)