A Map of Intrapersonal, Extrapersonal, and Transpersonal Consciousness
Seven Major Levels of Consciousness, Substance, and Energy
Physical matter exists on a continuum with spirit. Thus matter may be considered to be the densest form of spirit, or conversely, spirit may be considered to be the subtlest form of matter. The Indian sage Sri Aurobindo similarly said that every prakriti (substance) has its purusha (subtle essence or soul) and, further, that each purusha is in turn a prakriti in relation to a yet subtler purusha. In other words, behind each form is a subtle essence, and behind that is a progression of yet-subtler essences, ad infinitum.
From this perspective, the terms matter, energy, and spirit refer to a single continuum, and may be considered interchangeable. This parallels the concept in modern physics that matter and energy are equivalent, and exist on a spectrum of energies that range from low to high frequency.
Hinduism similarly teaches that all manifestations, physical and non-physical, are manifestations of mind. From this perspective, mind or consciousness is equivalent to both energy and matter.
From an esoteric perspective there is a spectrum of seven levels of consciousness/substance/energy. These range from the densest, which is the physical/etheric level, to the subtlest, which are levels of spirit. These seven levels are mapped in the accompanying States of Consciousness Diagram. Each of the seven levels, labeled E1 to E7 in the diagram, may be subdivided into seven sublevels. E1 to E7 are levels of energy/substance/consciousness within both the microcosm – the individual – and the macrocosm.
Though E7 is higher on the diagram than E1, it is important to remember that “higher” on the diagram is not a geographic concept; it doesn’t describe an altitude or a place. Instead, “higher” is a metaphor for subtler. All of the states of consciousness/energy/substance represented as Levels on the Diagram coexist and intermingle with each other. They are inherent in one another and inseparable.
Details of the Seven Levels of Consciousness, Substance, and Energy
Level E1 is the physical/etheric level. Within the physical/etheric realm the densest three sublevels are the solid, liquid, and gaseous phases of matter. Subtler than or “above” physical matter in the diagram are what are known as the four ethers. The densest ether is ordinary electricity. The other ethers are various forms of subtle energy, also known by such names as prana or chi. The four ethers may be referred to as either etheric energy or etheric “substance,” since energy is a form of substance, and substance is a form of energy.
The etheric substance known as electricity consists of electrons, and electrons are an inherent component of the atoms that comprise physical substance. Likewise, the three subtler forms of etheric energy are inherent components of physical substance and, under normal conditions, etheric energy is inseparable from physical substance.
E2, the next major level, is emotional substance. This level is also called the astral level. The substances/energies of Levels E2 to E7 are as real as physical substance, though less dense. While we think of emotions as insubstantial, we easily feel them in our bodies as well as feeling them psychologically; thus they have physical manifestations which we easily perceive. Seers who are sensitive to etheric, emotional, and mental energies can experience them synesthetically as having visual form, or can feel them kinesthetically as heat, cold, vibration, or as a field that is palpable in much the same way that static electricity can be felt as a palpable field.
The seven sublevels of E2 vary from extremely unrefined to extremely refined, sublime emotions. The lowest and most coarse emotional realm is Hell. The highest astral sublevel has heavenly characteristics, and is one in the hierarchy of seven heavens in the Kaballah, but it is much less refined than the ultimate heaven.
E3 is the level of mental substance. Thoughtforms exist in this realm, and are made of mental substance or energy. The highest sublevels of E3 correspond with highly refined and subtle mental states; advanced mathematicians and physicists tune into these levels in their work.
The third highest mental sublevel is a level of abstract and creative thinking for figuring out how to do things that are known, such as to write a novel, create a business, or design a bridge. It is a Thomas Edison-like level of abstract mind and creation.
The second highest mental sublevel is the realm of grand master chess players, theoretical mathematicians and physicists, creators of that which never has come before, innovators who materialize visualizations. It is a rarefied, Nicola Tesla-like level of abstract mind and creation.
Within an individual, the highest and subtlest mental level is the so-called High Self. It serves as the bridge or intermediary between the personal levels of the individual and the transpersonal or spiritual levels.
Levels E1 to E3, being the physical, emotional, and mental levels of reality, are the realm in which the personal self exists. The personal self is an aggregate of physical, emotional, and mental elements; it is literally made of E1 to E3 substances.
That which exists at E1 to E3 is subject to change, and is not permanent. Thus the physical-emotional-mental aggregation that is the personal self is mortal. After death of the body, the soul finds itself in the astral or astral-mental realm. In Tibetan Buddhism this after-death realm is called the bardo. The bardo consists of many gradations or densities of emotional and mental substance into which the soul metaphorically “rises” like a balloon until it reaches that level of the Earth’s emotional-mental milieu which corresponds with the density or subtlety of the soul’s emotions and thoughts, conscious and unconscious, during its just-completed life on earth.
In contrast to E1 to E3, Levels E4 to E7 are increasingly subtle levels of spirit. They are thus transpersonal. They correspond with Heaven. In Hinduism and the western esoteric tradition, the transpersonal aspects of the self are considered the True Self.
That which exists at transpersonal levels is beyond the realm of time and change, and is eternal. (“Eternal” is a tricky concept here. It doesn’t mean lasting forever since this is a state that is beyond time. “Without beginning or end” is closer to being accurate. It would also be relatively correct to simply say about this level that “I Am,” or “It Is” rather than saying that “It is eternally.”) In Hinduism and the western esoteric tradition, the transpersonal aspects of the self are considered the True Self.
Levels E1 to E3 are comprised of the substances – physical, emotional, and mental – of which the personal self, the microcosm, is made. From an esoteric perspective, the macrocosm – the cosmos, the known universe – is composed of the same three types of substance. Inherent within physical substance are astral and mental levels of energy/substance. Thus the esoteric “cosmos” includes more than the physicists’ cosmos, which is only physical, E1.
The entire spectrum from E1 through E7 constitutes “all that is.” Elmer Green refers to this totality as the Kosmos. The cosmos includes the levels of reality within which the microcosm, the personal self, exists. In contrast, Dr. Green’s term Kosmos includes both personal and transpersonal levels.
In Tibetan Buddhism, the personal level, E1 to E3, is the realm of the four bardos: the bardo during birth, the bardo during life, and the bardo during dying, and the bardo after death or between incarnations. Again, the bardos are equal to the personal or cosmic levels of reality, while spiritual levels are transpersonal, transcosmic, and transbardo.
Dream consciousness, the collective unconscious, and the after-death bardo are all unconscious realms, that is, outside of ordinary waking awareness. These three terms describe approximately the same realms of consciousness, occupying the same territory on the Diagram. Dreams may potentially occur on any level of consciousness, personal or transpersonal, though most dreams concern personal issues and thus focus in the personal levels of the diagram, E1 to E3. Likewise, the collective unconscious includes all seven levels of the diagram; however the levels of it which an individual may glimpse will tend to correlate with the level of consciousness to which they have developed–again personal for most people. Meanwhile, the after death bardo is the portion of the collective unconscious at the personal levels, E1 to E3. The after-death bardo is mainly centered on the astral realm.
Since the bardo is, by definition, the personal realm, and since fully enlightened individuals have developed to transpersonal levels, the consciousness of such individuals is not “in” the bardo after death, i.e. their consciousness is not focused in the personal/ bardo realms after death. Instead, their consciousness of focused at Level E4 or higher.
The Boundaries of the Personal Self and Conscious Awareness
In the States of Consciousness Diagram, the individual is represented by the cylinder that runs from top to bottom in the middle of the diagram. Levels E1 to E7 are the Kosmic ground within which the individual, represented as a cylinder, exists as figure.
Near the bottom of the cylinder, the Diagram shows a drawing of a brain. Because the brain is a physical structure, it is drawn entirely within the physical level, E1. Partly superimposed on the drawing of the brain is a structure that is shaped vaguely like a light bulb. This represents the approximate boundaries of conscious awareness in a typical human. Conscious awareness is drawn as narrower at the physical level, since we are unaware of much of what goes on in our bodies. It is wider at the emotional and mental levels, where we normally tend to be more consciously aware. The area of the diagram outside the light bulb shape represents that which is outside of conscious awareness (for a majority of people). The macrocosm, which is outside the individual cylinder, and the spiritual levels of the individual are outside of ordinary conscious awareness. Though the brain may be considered the seat of consciousness, we are unconscious of the substance of the brain itself, thus the area of conscious awareness overlapping the brain on the Diagram is small.
Porous Ego Boundaries Allow Perception of Extrapersonal Information
The ego or personality or ego may be defined as that which separates the individual from the environment. The Diagram represents this separation of self from non-self with solid lines in the wall of the cylinder at the personal levels of the diagram, E1 to E3. The solid lines symbolize the fact that, under ordinary circumstances at least, extrapersonal information does not cross the boundary of the ego or personality. Individuals are aware of what is in their own minds and bodies, but are not psychically aware of what is in the minds and bodies of others, nor aware of information from distant locations in the world. (Paranormal perceptions such as subtle energy awareness, ESP, or clairvoyance are exceptions to this. Individuals with such perceptual ability would be represented on the diagram with breaks in the lines of the cylinder at personal levels. Such breaks would be few or many, depending on the degree of paranormal awareness.)
At transpersonal levels the walls of the cylinder are drawn with broken lines symbolizing that a separate self does not exist at those levels and that, in the absence of ordinary ego boundaries, information can be exchanged. Thus, if a person is developed to the Lotus Level within E4, i.e. is fully enlightened, they might have extrasensory awarenesses about their environment or other people.
Of people who are not enlightened, a percentage have gaps in their ego boundaries for a variety of reasons. As a result they may perceive extrapersonal information including, for example, emotions of other people or experiences of “the other side” or the bardo. This can potentially occur in cases of:
- psychologically healthy people who happen to be psychic
- some people who practice certain forms of meditation
- people with brain deterioration due to dementia
- people with serious physical illnesses of many kinds which compromise brain function
- people under the influence of mind-altering drugs
- people with psychosis, which is a decompensation of ego boundaries
- people whose ego boundaries are incompletely developed, as in autism or severe personality disorders.
The High Self
The High Self exists at Level 21, the highest mental level and the highest of the personal sublevels. Though technically within the personal realm, the High Self is refined enough that its energies or communications typically seem to the ego to be spiritual in nature. People may interpret such input as being from God. The High Self’s function is, in part, that of guardian angel of the personality. High Self energy is associated with the seventh chakra, at the crown of the head.
Levels 19, 20, and 21 are shown on the Diagram as “Causal,” meaning that they cause manifestations at lower levels. Specifically, incarnation into levels E1 to E3 is stimulated from the causal levels. The skandhas, which are the reservoirs of personal characteristics that are transmitted from one incarnation to the next, exist at the causal levels. In the same way that physical DNA encodes and carries physical characteristics from one generation to the next, the skandhas act as “spiritual DNA,” transmitting certain personal characteristics from one incarnation to the next.
The Antahkarana and the Abyss
The Diagram shows a narrow channel at Level 21, at the top of the bulb-shaped conscious awareness. Above this is a gap, and above the gap is the Lotus (represented in the Diagram as a lotus flower below the word “LOTUS”). The narrow channel represents the antahkarana which, in Hinduism, is a metaphoric conduit through which spirit connects with the ego. The antahkarana is within the levels of the ego, rather than being transpersonal. It is symbolized in Genesis as Jacob’s ladder, which connected heaven and earth. In dreams, the antahkarana may be represented as a narrow passageway or a dark interior space through which the dreamer ascends, emerging through an opening at the top into light. The dreamer may emerge onto the top of a structure, such as a building, and there may be no means of going higher. This represents the furthest upper limit of the personal self. The story of Marty in The Ozawkie Book of the Dead describes a dream containing antahkarana symbolism.
Though an ego focused at this highest mental level is highly developed and refined, it may seem to the ego that an unbridgeable gap exists between itself and spiritual levels. This gap is shown on the Diagram between the antahkarana and the Lotus. The gap is sometimes referred to esoterically as “the Abyss.” The word abyss means an unfathomable gap or immeasurably deep gulf. In dreams the abyss may be represented as some form of gap or expanse which appears too formidable to be crossed (until the individual has further developed spiritually). Elmer Green’s dream of the swans contains imagery of an abyss which he and Alyce are able to cross.
At the spiritual levels of the individual are two foci, the Lotus and the Jewel. These terms are drawn from the Tibetan Buddhist and Hindu traditions, which refer to them in the widely known phrase Om, Mani Padme Hum (which is often translated as Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus). Great teachers who have achieved full Enlightenment, that is, who have released all physical, emotional, and mental attachments, have their locus of consciousness at the level of the Lotus or higher.
Enlightened individuals, being unattached to that which is personal, are able to manifest their personality at times when it is needed in some of their interactions with people, but can voluntarily drop the persona at other times.
Lotus consciousness, while impersonal, is a locus of unconditional love and compassion. In the Kabbalah it correlates with the Seventh Heaven, known as the Heaven of Heavens. Lotus energy is transmitted through the eighth chakra, which is located above the head.
The Lotus is located at Level 22 in the Diagram, the lowest sublevel of the transpersonal realms. It may be thought of as the spirit behind the High Self.
The spirit behind the Lotus is the Jewel, located at Level 42, the highest sublevel of E6. It is also known by the Western term monad. While the Lotus is a locus of unconditional love, the Jewel is a locus of spiritual will. Its energy is transmitted through the ninth chakra which is located above the head, above the eighth chakra.
According to teachers whom Sri Aurobindo consulted, there is an infinite progression of levels of consciousness/energy/substance beyond E7. Teachers or spiritual forces/entities above E7 are so subtle that they are not able to make contact with the human realm, that is, the Kosmos. Levels beyond E7 are transKosmic and are not shown on the Diagram.