Travel in the Spiritual Worlds
The Landscape of Spiritual Travel
Once there is acceptance that the soul may be able to leave the body and travel to other places prior to physical death, the question arises: "Where can the spiritual traveler go on these inner journeys?"
In spiritual travel, states of consciousness (the places the traveler may visit during spiritual travel) may best be understood using the metaphor of geography. We discuss the degrees of awareness associated with different states of consciousness on the page titled The Hierarchy of Dreams but on this page, we first subdivide the universe into a broad ontology or set of worlds.
When the subject of spiritual geography is studied and debated, the goal is to produce an accurate map of consciousness. There are spiritual groups that develop these maps of the spiritual universe such as the Theosophical, Tibetan Buddhist, Sufi, and Indian Sant Mat Traditions. They do this in part to help their followers understand the world or plane from which a given experience originates by plotting its location on their cosmological map.
It is probable that early Christians had such spiritual maps as is evident in the bible where Saint Paul mentions a man who was rapt up to the third heaven in 2nd Corinthians 12. A third heaven strongly implies a first and second heaven which differ in some way, and a map or hierarchy that describes the relationship of each heaven to the others.
Many times, religious groups also develop such maps because they are interested in describing where the soul can go after death.
In general, the author has not found these maps to be of much help in understanding my own out-of-body experience. Here, I suggest a relatively simple three level hierarchy of spiritual travel experience which I have found to be more useful.
The basic areas the spiritual traveler may visit while outside the physical body are the physical world, the psychic worlds, and the spiritual worlds.
The physical world is the easiest to explain since it appears much as it does when looked at from an everyday physical perspective. While people in an out-of-the-body state are not restrained by gravity, and cannot interact with physical objects because they are not embodied, many of the visual and auditory elements of the experience remain the same.
A good description of a travel experience in the physical world is from the Sioux medicine man Black Elk who fell unconscious during breakfast one day and had the experience described on the page titled Black Elk's Description of Crossing Over the Atlantic . There are also a number of detailed descriptions of spiritual travel in the physical world in the Near-Death Experience section of this web site.
More difficult to describe are the psychic worlds which are so varied that one can talk about them only in the most general terms. They consist of such abstract elements as imagery, sound, thought, memory, identity, emotion, and different degrees of limitation.
The psychic worlds exist between the embodied worlds and the non-dual spiritual worlds or worlds of liberation. The psychic worlds have ladders that are climbed by spiritual seekers to the many levels of the heaven worlds. These psychic areas are populated by supernatural beings and contain endless numbers of universes. There is different imagery and mythology that symbolizes spiritual travel and the trip to the heavens. There are ladders and world trees and mountains to climb, and ocean to cross. For the spiritual traveler, spiritual travel and sacred pilgrimage become similar activities in these psychic areas.
On the near end of the psychic spectrum, there are areas that are all but identical with everyday experience in the physical world. On the far end, there are, for instance, radical alterations in personal identity involving immersion of the soul into powerful environments composed of raw emotion. The soul can also, for example, encounter exotic areas where it becomes aware of some of the collective memories of past civilizations.
The psychic worlds can be described as teaming with life much like a tropical ocean. They contain an almost unlimited array of cultures and species but these forms of life and the environments that they live in are not material.
These psychic areas can also range from very positive, beautiful, and joyous to very negative and hellish.
We can speak of dream environments as the most common and familiar examples of a psychic world. I call these areas psychic because thought has great power to build, mold, and change them. For instance, when the traveler enters dream environments in full consciousness, he or she discovers how plastic and malleable they can be on one hand and how real and physical they appear on the other.
This site contains many examples of the psychic states encountered during spiritual travel.
Even more difficult to describe are the spiritual worlds. These are the areas of mystical experience. The most accurate descriptions are the poetic ones that attempt to describe infinite joy, light, love, knowledge, bliss, or emptiness. Slightly below the mystical areas are the places where the mystical light is reflected and refracted. These are the paradises of jeweled skies, rivers of nectar, mountains of flowers, and similar kinds of organic and crystalline imagery. Here, there are also divine currents of music in celestial oceans of sound.
The sections on Sacred Light and Sacred Sound describe the spiritual areas. These mystical states are the ultimate goal for the true spiritual traveler.
Deities interact with the spiritual, psychic, and physical worlds in the process of creation. These deities with their vast awareness and various attributes exist in the spiritual worlds and are complex standing waves, eddies, or vortices on the surface of the limitless ocean of consciousness. They are concentrations of light in a sea of light which act much like galaxies which organize surrounding stars around them and evolve distinct identities and powers.
Deities emanate beings and rings or layers of worlds that make up the spiritual nebula surrounding them. In western religion, the beings that surround deities are often angels. This description of a Seraphin Angel gives a sense of the awesome power of deities and the grandeur their paradises. This passage also illustrates the importance of prophets as people who are given a direct experience of heavenly worlds. They are then expected to return to their people and share this experience with other followers of the deity.
In the West (Muhammad in the Koran and Elijah and Saint John in the Bible), people are sometimes "rapt up" or "taken up" in the spirit by God, and this represents a form of spiritual travel. It differs from our normal concept of spiritual travel because it is not done intentionally or under the full control of the traveler. Instead it is controlled by a deity. None the less it is a valid form of out-of-body experience and a more passive form of spiritual travel.
As mentioned earlier, deities emanate beings with specific roles and functions that serve their needs. In the West, God is said to be omniscient (all knowing) and to be able to act as the judge of souls based on their past behavior. Here is an example of the angel-like being called Radweriel who assists in the process as he takes the role of what is sometimes termed the "Recording Angel."
Deities act individually but collectively create universes inhabited by diverse forms of life. The worlds of creation are like oceans. One deity's creative power affects the tides, another the shape of the ocean floor and the continents, another the winds, another the rivers that flow into the ocean, and another the ocean's currents. Each deity acts independently within his or her scope of creation but they are jointly responsible for the dynamics of the created worlds.
The most distinctive creations of deities are their paradises which exist in the spiritual worlds or on the border between the spiritual and psychic worlds. Deities usually preside over their individual paradises and control access to them providing pathways that souls can travel to enter them after death. An example of such a paradise is provided on the Land of Bliss page to give a clearer view of these heavenly worlds to the reader. A second example of a Buddhist paradise is the Vajra Dakini's Paradise which is an appropriate place for people with a more meditative or yogic religious orientation. A final example of a paradise is that of the female Indian Deity Kali who is a Great Mother Goddess.
However some gods are exclusively creative in function and do not have paradises. The page on Brahma (the creator god in Hinduism) gives an example of such a god. This exclusivity in function explains why there are virtually no temples or devotees of Brahma in India in spite of his creative power. Since Brahma does not interact with human beings, he does not seek communication or worship, and therefore has no temples and no rituals associated with him.
The universes are layered with different viscosities of light and form. The ocean of consciousness pours down through the various layers, and the deities who channel this light participate in varying degrees in the creation of the universes. Their light becomes intermingled in the vast waterfalls of light that burst through the divine universes on their way to create the world of matter.
The spiritual areas of light and consciousness shower down into the psychic areas of flowing forms and ideas where thoughts and imagery can be turned into things shaped by the power of mind. This psychic flow, in turn, continues down the creative waterfall to manifest the physical world where things become more fixed instead of flowing as they do in the psychic worlds. The creation of the material substrate that might be described as the substance that powered the Big Bang evolved into the physical universe we see today. This event of creation occurred eons ago. However the way the world evolved is based on patterns and structures that are decided during the initial creative process. So the deities do not usually create worlds directly but instead create the material basis and the patterns and templates of change they will use as they evolve.
Descartes found it a mystery how non-material thoughts and emotions could influence and change the physical world when the two worlds were so dissimilar. In a similar way, mainstream physicists find it difficult to posit, observe, and measure a "higher" world that might be the source of physical matter. They can find no concrete evidence for any such transition from spiritual to material substance. However they also cannot explain the source and functioning of their own awareness and intelligence. But there is some hope in the famous physicist's statement that in quantum mechanics, the universe is looking more and more like great thought than a thing or machine. Such a notion seems to erase the hard line between the realm of ideas and the realm of material objects and persons though the "conservation of matter" principle in physics thus far still seems to remain a hard and fast rule.
So there currently is no scientific evidence for our emanational theory of creation. But science is still evolving and learning more day by day. Few astronomers in the 1980's would have believed that there are two trillion galaxies in the universe but the Hubble telescope opened up a completely different view of the night sky. Scientists were forced to revise their estimates of the number of galaxies by orders of magnitude. Quantum computing and other concrete applications of quantum mechanics were distant dreams and closer to science fiction 40 years ago.
The common element present in all these realms is not matter or form. It is consciousness which takes on cosmic and universal qualities in the spiritual realms, and individual and collective forms in the psychic worlds. Consciousness manifests itself as individual, sentient beings in the physical world.
However though deities are distant in time from their created worlds, they continue their close relations with beings in the psychic and physical worlds because all partake of the same consciousness even though the quality of consciousness differs in beings in these different areas. Deities also sometimes take a special territorial interest in certain worlds and directly influence both their evolution and the beings and devotees that live there. Thus we see a history of revelation in certain geographical areas and the appearance of religious texts, prophets, rituals, and doctrines associated with these deities in the areas.
Universalism and Spiritual Geography
We sometimes see a universal approach to religion that uses geography to describe how the many high gods and great religions all ultimately lead to the same goal or spiritual reality. One geographical analogy is the mountaintop where each religion has a thin wedge of mountain real estate whose apex touches the mountaintop which is the goal of all religions. Each great religion provides a unique and narrow path up the mountain to the summit. This seems to be a misleading analogy because the summit (ultimate reality) is very small and the mountain (various gods and religious traditions) are collectively very large.
Perhaps a better analogy is that each great religion has beach front real estate and ultimate reality is the vast and deep ocean. Each major religion and its god or divine ideal provides access to the ocean of consciousness or ultimate reality. Each religion has access to the ocean but the ocean front terrain (like religious culture) is varied and stretches from glacier to forest to fjord to desert to tropical beach. This analogy provides for the wide variations of religious culture and divine attributes but also shows that no matter how great and powerful the god, he or she is small when compared to the ocean of consciousness which is the ultimate source of divine power and of awareness itself.
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