Travel in the Spiritual Worlds
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The Landscape of Heaven – Ecstatic States in Spiritual Literature

The Mysticism of Light and Sound

This essay will review spiritual literature, spiritual biographies/hagiographies, near-death experiences, spiritual poetry, and spiritual diaries to paint a picture of a wide variety of heavenly and ecstatic states. This is a multi-cultural approach drawing on diverse sources. Note that this material repeats some of the experiences from the www.spiritualtravel.org site's "sacred light" section but adds some new and unique ones as well.

The beauty and majesty of these states or worlds are mostly discontinuous with everyday waking experience. However they can provide an alternate view of the universe that can inspire and motivate individuals to embark on a spiritual search.

This is a review of human potential, and the ability to enter into altered or non-ordinary states that redefine one’s relationship with the material universe.

We begin by quoting one of the classic texts on mysticism related to these spiritual states.

One might ask, “What is the effect of encountering heavenly or cosmic states on the individual?”


The following quote from Richard C. Bucke's 1901 classic book Cosmic Consciousness attempts to explain this altered view of the universe:


Like a flash there is presented to his consciousness a clear conception (a vision) in outline of the meaning and drift of the universe. He does not come to believe merely; but he sees and knows that the cosmos, which to the Self Conscious mind seems made up of dead matter, is in fact far otherwise - is in very truth a living presence. He sees that instead of men being, as it were, patches of life scattered through an infinite sea of nonliving substance, they are in reality specks of relative death in an infinite ocean of life. He sees that the life which is within man is eternal; that the soul of man is as immortal as God is; that the universe is so built and ordered that without any preadventure all things work together for the good of each and all; that the foundation principle for the world is what we call love, and that the happiness of every individual is in the long run absolutely certain. The person who passes through this experience will learn in a few minutes, or even moments, of its continuance more than in months and years of study, and he will learn much that no study ever taught or can teach. Especially does he obtain such a conception of the whole, or least of an immense whole, as dwarfs all conception, imagination, or speculation, springing from or belonging to ordinary Self Consciousness, such a conception as makes the old attempts to mentally grasp the universe and its meaning petty and even ridiculous.


A common perception when examining these spiritual states is that humans are not alone on a rock drifting in a lifeless world of infinite space but actually share the universe with an almost endless varieties of life forms, both material and spiritual.


To begin, let us quote one of the clearest examples in Western Spiritual literature of the experience of the sacred or spiritual light from the Bible.  Perhaps the most unusual thing about St. Paul’s experience of the spiritual light was that its intensity destroyed his ability to perceive physical light, and left him blind for three days. Symbolically, we could interpret this to mean that spiritual light is superior and more powerful than physical light and therefore can negate normal vision as it descends and overwhelms the individual:


Acts 9: Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way [Christianity], whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”


5“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.


“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.


“Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”


The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.


10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.


11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”


This is one of the best know experiences of spiritual light in Western literature.


Next we list a series of experiences of heavenly or transcendent states that come from “spiritual but not religious “sources. These are interspersed with some more traditional religious sources. These experiences can be understood as merely informational or historical, and part of the history of ideas.  Or they can be a form of invitation to explore further the paths of spirit.  Lastly, they may serve as inspiration for spiritual seekers.


Today, for us, they can also be contemplative exercises that expose the listener to different spiritual states and invite him or her to experience these states now (in meditation), or seek to discover them at some future time.


Our second experience begins with the partial text of a very deep near-death experience which happened to Renee Paraslow as a young teenager. She had the experience after she became unconscious following an allergic reaction to some food she ate. Here she has been unconscious for a while and experienced the early stages of an NDE. We begin her experience as she has just come out of the NDE “dark tunnel" and into contact with the spirit of her dead uncle with whom she communicates. Following this, she enters into a state of Sacred Light. Note the lack of specific religious symbolism even though the sacred quality of the experience comes through quite clearly.


As I came to the end of this place, I wondered if I would be alone, and just like that I was with, I was one with my uncle just like we were two lights that were put together one red and one blue that made purple light, and I was aware of things about him that I had never been aware of in life. I didn't spend much time with him and I didn't know him well. He lived in the South and I lived in California

But it was a very joyful reunion and I became aware that he was concerned that I was there because he communicated to me instantaneously that my mother could not stand the loss of a child, and he was confused, and yet he knew that everything was as it should be.

From that point I became very attracted to the light and this attraction was like an irresistible magnet... I loved that light, and the love was what was pulling me home. I moved past my uncle into what I can best define as a sea of light. It was as if every atom in the universe had been electrified with color and light and sound, but more than that with totally unconditional love. And it was a welcoming to me, and I dove into this ocean with each moment, with each movement, feeling more rapture and more joy and more just absolutely unspeakable love.

As I moved through this sea, I became aware I was moving to the center of the sea of light which I perceived to be, how could I say this, as if you were a gnat and you were flying into the sun, and that is the perspective that I had for this sea of light.

And then in an instant, again like a clap [of the hands], I entered into this light and I became one with this light, and of this light, and no longer an individual, no longer a person, but simply a part of this light. I became like the phoenix. I was destroyed, and it was the most blissful, the most excruciatingly beautiful moment that I could imagine. It seemed to me to be the apex of all existence to get to the point where one was no more. One simply was a part of this light.

After being in this state for what seemed to be a time beyond time, I was gathered again together like sands from the shore as an individual and I was called to recount for my deeds.


The third experience is from the 15th century Persian Sufi mystic Bayazid Bistami who was known for his advocacy of ecstatic Islam, and the state of fana. Fana means dying of the individual self through union with God. It shows a more religious perspective to ascension into the higher spiritual worlds. Here is Bistami’s dream experience:

While I was asleep, it seemed to me that I ascended to the Heavens in quest of God, seeking union with God most glorious, so that I might abide with Him forever, and I was tested by trial - God displayed before me gifts of all kinds, and offered me dominion over the whole heaven and yet I turned aside my eyes from this ... Then I ascended to the Second heaven and saw winged angles who fly a hundred thousand times each day to the earth to look upon the saints of God, and their faces shone like the sun ... An when God Most High realized the sincerity of my desire to seek Him, He turned me into a bird, and I went flying, past kingdom after kingdom, and screen after screen, and plane after plane, seas after seas, veils after veils, until behold, the angel of the Footstool of God met me with a pillar of light and said to me "Take it" and I took it, and lo, the heavens and all that were therein sought refuge in the shadow of my gnosis [or spiritual knowledge], and sought light in the light of my longing, yet all the angels seemed but as a gnat compared with the all-absorbing concern with the search for God. So I continued to fly, until I reached the Footstool of God, and lo, was met by angels, whose eyes were as the number of stars in the heavens, and from each eye shone forth light, and those lights became lamps, and I heard sounding forth from each lamp, "Glory to God", and "There is no God but God". Then I went on flying until I arrived at a sea of light, with waves beating against one another, and besides it, the light of the sun would seem dark, and upon the sea were ships of light, compared with which the light of those waters appeared to be darkness. I continued to cross seas upon seas, until I reached the greatest of seas, upon which stands the throne of the All-Merciful, and I went on swimming therein, until I beheld, looking from the Empyrean to the earth beneath, the Cherubim and those who bore the Throne of all whom God has created in Heaven and Earth, as less than a mustard seed floating between the Heavens and the earth, in comparison with the flight of my spirit in the quest for God. And when the Most Glorious perceived the sincerity of my desire to seek Him, He called to me and said: 'Oh my chosen one, approach onto me, and ascend to the heights of my glory, and the planes of my splendor, and sit upon the carpet of my holiness, so that thou may see the work of my grace in my appointed time. Thou art My chosen, and My beloved, and My elect among the creatures'. And I began to melt away at that, as lead melts (in the heat of the fire). Then He gave me to drink from the Fountain of Grace in the Cup of Fellowship, and transformed me into a state beyond description, and brought me near unto Him, and so near did He bring me that I became nearer to Him than the spirit to the body. And I continued thus until I became even as souls of men had been in the state before existence was, and God abode in solitude apart, without created existence or space or direction or mode of being, may His glory be exalted and his Names sanctified.

This was a more religious experience of the sacred light using religious symbolism to describe what happened.

The fourth experience is from a Johns-Hopkins 2010 Scientific American article studying the effects of Psilocybin. The title of the article was High Light: When a Psilocybin Study Leads to Spiritual Realization. Maria Estevez describes the experience which occurred spontaneously.

After a few minutes, instead of getting adjusted to the level of [room] light, I realized the light was getting brighter and brighter and strangely brighter, until I understood that this light was not in the room, it was inside me. At that moment it was as if all the cylinders in the lock somehow fell into alignment, and the door swung open, and I found my consciousness being flooded with brilliant Light. Without notice or fanfare, I had arrived at a transcendental state, and was awe-struck at the discovery. I felt a sense of joyous expansion as it opened to me, like entering a splendid palace, yet the feeling was completely natural and gentle.

With my eyes closed, I was overwhelmed with glorious golden light, suffused with every color, prisms and rainbows everywhere like a shining hologram. The Light itself was alive, a radiant consciousness of ultimate intelligence, perfect integrity, singularity and purity. The light pervaded everything, it composed everything. Its presence was benevolent, calm, and intense.

It was as if the light were revealing to me the innermost workings of the universe. Without words, it informed me that it as the light was the source of every physical manifestation and that each had its purpose: "Everything is in my perfect control. With this as cause, there can be no mistakes." I knew it to be the substance of every particle in the microcosm and the overarching essence of the macrocosm. In that moment I intuitively understood that everything is being created anew each instant from Its emanation. Why, then, could we not see the Light completely composing and permeating all of creation? How could the shining substance of all things be hidden? Later I remembered what the sages have told us. The only possible answer is that our sense perceptions are an illusion.

Faced with reality and glory of the light, there is nothing left to do but gape with the greatest reverence. There are no questions in its presence, no desires, no resistance. I felt suspended in a clear and peaceful state and enjoyed a weightless sense of free-fall without time and space, though I remembered that they existed elsewhere. Even my physical urges abated as if their purpose had been accomplished. Occasionally I felt a faint muscle spasm, like an echo of receding thunder.

As I was poised there, rapt and transparent, the Light addressed me simply, without words: "Is there anything you want?" The question was direct and forthright, yet it seemed incongruous because my whole identity was already absorbed in that Light. To search for an answer, I had to make a deliberate effort to turn my attention to the world from which I'd come, a world now irrelevant and far away. With a moment's focus, I remembered that life on earth required healing and guidance and abundance, and that I had a long list of wishes there. But I felt so distant from the personality, and I didn't want to look away from the Light for even an instant. The question was addressed to the one who stood before It in this exceptional experience, and there could be only one response. I breathed the quietest possible way, "No, there is nothing I want."

I didn't know what to do in the presence of this Light. It was asking nothing of me. I was just basking in it and, again, trying to remain open to whatever happened. However, I realized I could observe it and report back to [the experimental team] Mary and Matt. I wanted to shout, "It is true! It does exist!" Sometimes in a dream there a sense that whatever you try to name or record will evaporate, but this experience in the Light remained steady as I tried to describe it, even though I was a little concerned that my sharing it might be sacrilegious and it would withdraw.

The power of the Light could have annihilated me in an instant, but instead it shone only as brightly as my consciousness could bear. The Godhead seemed to be lovingly limiting Its manifestation to what my own self-imposed definitions could perceive. This gave an "interspecies" quality to the experience, like the analogy of the fisherman and the mermaid - an understanding that as long as I maintained a human identity, we could not be joined in ultimate communion. The limitations were plainly mine but the shared feelings of affection, longing and respect remained. The unspoken promise was that one day I would return with sufficient mastery to lay down my illusions, and the separation would be resolved.

And so with nothing else to be done, we danced - that is as good a description as any. The Light waxed and waned, perhaps mirroring the processes of the Psilocybin. It would shine brightly, and then recede, leaving me in repose, peaceful and floating. Then it would return more strongly. It caressed me, holding me in the palm of its hand, so to speak with exquisite tenderness and compassion. My eyes brimmed with tears of emotion as I was poised in this timeless state.

The light spoke to me in the language of every human relationship - as if I were a child, a friend, and a lover. It told me it was pleased with my efforts to come and find it, and that it recognized my sincerity. At times the Light was playful and we carried on nearly in giggles as if we had a secret. I teased Mary saying, "I feel like I'm on a private phone conversation, and you can't hear." The Light and I continued that give-and take rhythm, like a graceful and spontaneous duet, an intimate exchange.

The fifth experience is an NDE from Dr. Raymond Moody’s 1975 book Life Afterlife. It is another experience of spiritual light but one associated with an individual spiritual guide as the source of the light:

I knew I was dying and that there was nothing I could do about it, because no one could hear me . . . . I was out of my body, there's no doubt about it, because I could see my own body there on the operating room table. My soul was out! All this made me feel very bad at first, but then, this really bright light came. It did seem that it was a little dim at first, but then it was this huge beam. It was just a tremendous amount of light, nothing like a big bright flashlight; it was just too much light. And it gave off heat to me; I felt a warm sensation.

It was a bright yellowish white - more white. It was tremendously bright; I just can't describe it. It seemed that it covered everything, yet it didn't prevent me from seeing everything around me - the operating room, the doctors and nurses, everything. I could see clearly, and it wasn't blinding.

At first, when the light came, I wasn't sure what was happening, but then, it asked, it kind of asked me if I was ready to die. It was like talking to a person but a person wasn't there. The light's what was talking to me, but in a voice.

Now I think that the voice that was talking to me actually realized that I wasn't ready to die. You know, it was just kind of testing me more than anything else. Yet, from the moment the light spoke to me, I felt really good - secure and loved. The love that came from it is just unimaginable, indescribable. It was a fun person to be with! And it had a sense of humor, too - definitely!

Gopi Krishna was an Indian office worker from Kashmir who practiced Kundalini Yoga.  Much of yogic practice is associated with seeking the state of Samadhi which might be described as a state of spiritual union with the higher self or atman. Here he describes his first breakthrough experience with the kundalini energy which has components of both light and sound.

Suddenly, with a roar like that of a waterfall, I felt a stream of liquid light entering my brain through the spinal cord. Entirely unprepared for such a development, I was completely taken by surprise; but regaining my self-control, keeping my mind on the point of concentration. The illumination grew brighter and brighter, the roaring louder, I experienced a rocking sensation and then felt myself slipping out of my body, entirely enveloped in a halo of light. It is impossible to describe the experience accurately. I felt the point of consciousness that was myself growing wider surrounded by waves of light. It grew wider and wider, spreading outward while the body, normally the immediate object of its perception, appeared to have receded into the distance until I became entirely unconscious of it. I was now all consciousness without any outline, without any idea of corporeal appendage, without any feeling or sensation coming from the senses, immersed in a sea of light simultaneously conscious and aware at every point, spread out, as it were, in all directions without any barrier or material obstruction. I was no longer myself, or to be more accurate, no longer as I knew myself to be, a small point of awareness confined to a body, but instead was a vast circle of consciousness in which the body was but a point, bathed in light and in a state of exultation and happiness impossible to describe.


The sixth experience is from the fourth chapter of the book of Revelation in the Bible. It gives an image of heaven which focuses on the various forms of supernatural light in the form of jewels, stars, rainbows, blazing lamps, flashes of lightning, etc. The chapter also has imagery of male authority where elders sit on thrones with crowns which are reflected in the earthly church hierarchy with the pope and his bishops and cardinals. Heaven serves both as a place to receive prophetic information about the future as well as a place to honor and worship God the Father:

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”

2 At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.

3 And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne.

4 Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.

5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.

6 Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back.

7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.

8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “ ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’who was, and is, and is to come.”

9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever,

10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”


The seventh experience is from Paramahamsa Yogananda’s spiritual classic, the Autobiography of a Yogi.  Yogananda was a Bengali monk who brought the practice of yoga to America in the 1920’s. The power of the guru’s touch is often described as darshan and can give a spiritual gift of divine light to the devotee:

Master possessed a transforming power; at his touch a great light broke upon my being, like a glory of countless blazing suns together. A flood of ineffable bliss overwhelmed my heart to the innermost core. It was late in the afternoon of the following day before I could bring myself to leave the hermitage.

The eight experience is from a spiritual autobiography of a Shavite (or Shiva worshiping) monk in India. He was called upon by his guru to practice a tantric form of sexual yoga in order to have a vision of the God he worshipped, Shiva. He had been a celibate wandering monk all his life and was quite hesitant about the practice. However, he did what his guru asked of him.

My guru Dadaji said that when I perform with a woman in sexual ritual, I must visualize a great circle of light running between us into Shiva's heaven and back again. This is the real heavenly Ganges River which the lord caught in his hair according to the Puranas or medieval Indian holy books. That is only half of the story. The Ganges flowed through him and returned to heaven in his meditation. He is therefore part of a great circle of energy, the pranashakti chakra (the wheel of the power of cosmic breath). That is not within a person, but a person may be part of it, like a bead on a mala or necklace. Lord Shiva is the great bead at the beginning and the end, and we are crystal beads transparent to the light which moves through us.

Here is a description of what happened during the yogi’s tantric meditation:

So my yogic consort, Padmajnani, came to me sat upon me, and it sent feelings of bliss through my body. I truly felt like a god. My body rushed to hers, and I said, "I cannot hold the meditation." Then she froze and I got the focus of my attention back. Again she moved, and my awareness was scattered. This was really very difficult. It gave me new respect for the god. I looked for the inner crystals edged in red light and I saw the pure yogic energy coated with the red surface of desire and instinct. I tried to move it along, but it was stuck. I told her this, and she said, "You are neglecting the work of the breath. Breathe deeply, and push the energy forward."

So I controlled my breath, and chanted the mantras of movement and transformation, and heard the tantric bells chiming. The sattva or spiritual energy was like snow reddened by the setting sun, and it began to move like an avalanche of snow. I moved it through the bright river, through the inner channels of the bright colors, and it moved up the rivers towards the ocean. Then there was sky and it became deep blue, and then purple, and then a great ruby shone in its midst. It was a wish-fulfilling gem, the result of the union of the energies. But I had no wishes except to see my lord, and please him.

It burst open, and in its center was a deep shining blue pearl. In its center were Shiva and Shakti together. That image too burst, and I saw the mind of Shiva, deep blue and infinite. It came toward me like a great storm, and then I merged into it. I was one with the lord.

So the goal of training was to merge the energies together, my own and the energies of the universe. My consort as Shakti liberated my own shakti to merge with the infinite blue Shakti of Lord Shiva. It was one level of energy upon another. It was as if human beings were simply linkages of energy, connecting the physical world- the worlds of transformation, and the divine world of the god. When they came into harmony, a channel was created between all of them, and energy could move up and down them like a tidal surge.

When I became one with Lord Shiva, it was as if the universe exploded. There was radiant blue light everywhere, pulsing in waves like the vast gush of a waterfall coming into a lake. You could not stand against it - it could carry the whole world away. I became those waters spreading out through infinity, creating stars and planets, dancing the dramas of universal change.

I was the lord, and I saw the many levels of manifestation, like rainbows upon rainbows. I was old and young, beautiful and ugly, male and female, powerful and weak. I was a sage, and an actor, a warrior and a farmer, a dancer, and a crippled old man. I would enter these roles, and live them out for the sake of variety. I would multiply my identity out into a million parts, and each glittering fragment would be the beginning of a world. I was a fountain scattering drops, a volcano spewing forth sparks, an earthquake throwing tiny crystals in all directions. All of these became worlds.

Part of this infinity was still, like a vast quiet evening, but looked at another way; it was an infinite lake of sapphire quicksand pulling in all form. From one side, the universe explodes and multiplies; from another it contracts and sucks everything in. It expands and contracts beating like the drum of the Shiva, the lord of the dance, beating like a heart. The whole universe is a living presence - the mind and heart of Lord Shiva.

I expanded into infinity, and contracted back into my body.

The ninth example is based on an OBE that occurred during meditation. OBEs can sometimes give access to higher states of consciousness:

A number of years ago, while meditating, I had a transcendent spiritual experience. I entered a combined state of extreme knowledge and bliss. The best I can describe the experience is that I became a node of energy in a vast electrical sea of incandescent blue lightning. It was as if my consciousness were a central point where countless bolts of lightning converged superimposing their energy on the single area of space that I occupied. In the midst of these luminous electrical arcs, my consciousness stood motionless and serene, unchanging and continuously aware. The state was beyond thought, beyond imagination, and beyond any conception I had of ecstasy. It was a static kind of knowing coupled with the dynamic movement of the surrounding powerful energy field seemingly composed of “consciousness”. But the experience was not an individual's experience as we normally understand the term. I was seemingly in communion with a massive conscious entity whose primary attribute was pure awareness.

My attempt to make out some kind of imagery beyond the lightning itself showed only an occasional glimpse of a triangle. This triangle was akin to the pyramid on a one-dollar bill, which represents a human eye emanating spiritual light from within a triangle.

This state of consciousness seemed to put me in touch with the electromagnetic forces of the cosmos. I understood intuitively their interpenetration of the many layers of reality. I was the electricity of the nervous system in the human body, and the flash of charged particles from a sunspot pouring into the solar system. I perceived this energy as a kind of connective tissue permeating and unifying all structures in the universe, both mental and physical.

The state contained a vast knowingness, an awareness of certain relatedness, a wisdom that arises from awareness not broken up by thought or image, not sliced and demarcated by time, a monumental stillness surrounded by the continuous movement and surging of the energies. My consciousness seemed to interpenetrate all form and thereby have unrestricted awareness of its structures, not in analytic terms, but as Gnosis. Gnosis is the Greek term meaning knowledge that comes through identification with the object known. Such knowledge is inscrutable and ineffable. It can only be alluded to by analogy.

One analogy that comes to mind is of a chemist who studies the frozen water molecule and it crystalline variations. Such a scientist knows the geometrical shape of the molecular bonds, and understands the various angles of the frozen water molecule's lattice structure.

After much investigation, such a scientist might come to spontaneously see how the variations of structure can generate molecule-sized crystalline shapes. These, in turn, each combine to create groups of molecules and eventually large crystals. Such a person might come to intuitively understand the minor variations of millions upon millions of snowflakes as they are created and destroyed in a snowstorm, each one unique, but each one based on a fundamental set of basic angular bonds created from the simple frozen water molecule.

Similarly, to enter into the energy of the "ground of being" is to intuit knowledge of all the forms that the energy permeates, and all the forms both universal and individual to which it gives birth.


Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk, and one of the Catholic churches' best known writers on the contemplative and monastic life in the 20th century. In our tenth experience,, Merton describes an experience of celestial light which he had in a Catholic church in Havana when he was 25 years old, and comments on its availability to all people.

Thomas Merton, quoted in Burnham's book The Ecstatic Journey, (Ballantine Books, 1997), p. 199

But what a thing it was, this awareness, it was so intangible, and yet it struck me like a thunderclap. It was a light that was so bright that it had no relation to visible light and so profound and so intimate that it seemed like a neutralization of every lesser experience. And yet the thing that struck me most of all was that this light was in a certain sense ordinary - it was a light (and this was most of all what took my breath away) - that was offered to all, to everybody, and there was nothing fancy or strange about it. It was the light of faith deepened and reduced to an extreme and sudden obviousness.


Though spiritual light is often the focus of religious experience, spiritual sound can be just as powerful. This is the central element of our 11th experience:

I was asleep a number of years ago when an extraordinary event occurred. I do not remember being in a dream and do not recall any transition out of an earlier state but I was suddenly out of my body. I found myself in a world composed entirely of orchestral music with large numbers of strings and woodwinds filling the space. I had no visual sensations at all sensing only darkness if I attempted to view the environment. The unusual thing was that I had not the slightest interest in the visual element because I was taken up by the music that so completely filled me. I was soaring as the both the atmosphere and myself were permeated with this mysterious symphonic music. There was no body, and no mind or thoughts. The fullness and richness of the sound had a strong component of ecstasy or bliss which made the quality of the experience difficult to relate since listening to similar music in the physical world does not have near the same effect.

This was truly a heavenly world. The experience went against everything I had been led to believe as a child about the kind of limitations that we expect we have as embodied beings. I concluded we have access to a much broader range of experience while alive than many of our religious leaders assume.

The experience also confirmed to me the accounts of some of the great composers like Mozart, who claimed he "heard" his symphonies inwardly and simply wrote then down without having to actually "compose" them. Had I a composer's training, I believe I could have transcribed the melody into sheet music.

Thus far, our examples have not discussed meditation and spiritual travel which may be one way to bring on the transcendental experience. So the 12th example discusses some of the pitfalls of seeking such experience in a Tibetan Buddhist context where the seeker travels through a mandala which is a map or circular tunnel with different steps or stages going from the periphery to the center. This is an esoteric kind of meditation usually available only to the initiated.  Here the seeker attempts to reach the transcendental state represented by the mandalas’ center. As mentioned earlier, one of the fundamental symbols of spiritual light is the jewel (in the case of the Vajra worlds, the diamond). Here a celestial Buddha describes the paths to the worlds of light – the Buddhist Vajra or diamond worlds, as well as the distractions that keep the seeker from reaching his or her goal:

The mandalas of the Celestial Buddhas are made of jewels. Ratnasambhava, the celestial Buddha of Harmony and Golden Light, is not a proper name but rather an attribute - he is the one born from jewels. Ratna means jewel or precious stone in Sanskrit. His true form is brilliant, radiant light before it takes form. By meditating on the name, you are looking at one form of an infinite Buddha or deity.

The Vajra world is made up of celestial Buddhas who exist as pure light and who also form a great diamond by their interactions. Each one creates a facet in the cosmic diamond. Millions of interactions create millions more facets. They are sharp as crystal and powerful as thunder. Entering the Vajra world is entering the diamond.

The pathway into the diamond is full of illusions. Staircases lead to the middle of other staircases, and fountains and pools hold millions of layers of reflections. There is a pathway thin as the edge of a razor that goes through this mass of confusing imagery. Whole worlds are reflected into the surfaces of prisms, which are composed of both worldly experience and vivid colors. How does the novice find his or her way through this gallery of crystal?

The lightning of initiation speeds through the masses of illusion, showing itself as a bright light that goes from edge to edge of the moving facets. The guru's presence is shown in the ability to navigate a path through the chaos.

The sharp edges of the diamond worlds cut away greed, hatred, and ignorance. Sometimes the path moves through nets, which catch and hold attachments as the novice moves through them.

There are endless distractions. Mirrors reflect the loved ones calling the novice to return to the family. The echoes of these distractions create a whirlpool sucking the novice back into the outer rings of the mandala.

Outside the diamond world, the guardians and traps for the unwary circle around. There are circles of death that continue forever, and gates that open into walls and endless labyrinths. There are doorways which open into other worlds of distraction and traps that drag the soul into the lower worlds of destruction and hatred. The guardian circles are realms of fire and ice. Their illusions are like sirens that call people to their doom.

The golden road to Ratnasambhava is like lightning that shoots through the chaos providing a pathway across the wastelands of illusion.


One feature of many heavens is the beings that are manifest as emanations by the deity as helpers, administrators, and worshippers.  Here in the 13th example, we have an example of a Christian heaven where a class of angels known as the Seraphim describes their role in the heavenly hierarchy:

We are the songs of the true God,
The Lord almighty, ruler of heaven and earth.
When He opens his mouth does the world come into being,
For this is the Word that creates the universe.

As the words arise from the Great Unknown,
a white sun rises in the infinite sky.
This is the paradise of the All-Merciful, within which is his throne.
All things here have eternal life,
as do the songs and the light.
The throne is in the midst of concentric wheels,
which are golden in color.
These are the ripples of his voice in space
As a pebble throne into the water creates concentric rings.

We of the Seraphim are guardians of the throne.
We see in all directions, and have access to all knowledge.
Our wings hide the light of the Divine from the unworthy
Yet spread a carpet of beauty and softness,
for the virtuous to tread.

We worship the Almighty with chants and songs, which create pathways
so that the divine will may flow down them,
and more easily create,
the infinite number of beings which are one in his depths.
We provide veils and robes for the place of God,
So that his home may be more beautiful,
Adorned with the tokens of love.

We are virgins in waiting for divine bliss,
the maidens who seek after grace.
We are the soldiers who order and protect
the flowing rivers of light.
Flowers of beauty do we throw,
which create the stairways
by which man may transcend, to face the throne of God.

He will praise the Almighty, and pray to do the will of God.
And the entrance of God's sweetness will
cause his soul to shine with light.
Then shall we lead him forth in garments of radiance, robed as a king.
And he shall return to his tribe as a prophet,
to tell them of his vision;
And to teach them the Truth of God.


Our 14th example will describe the Buddhist heaven of Amida Buddha, who is worshipped by millions of people in the Far East. Pure Land Buddhism is by far the most popular Buddhist religious sect in Japan and is also popular in Tibet and Southeast Asia. It is the most Christian-like form of Buddhism emphasizing salvation and entrance to heaven of Amida Buddha following death.

I am Amida, Buddha of the moonlit garden
I welcome those who seek truth and liberation
I offer them the lotus seat of welcome

My paradise is peaceful and tranquil
For true seekers who wish to escape the noise and bondage
Of the worlds of incarnation
Here, they can meditate in peace
Free of passion, and sweat, and debt
Here they are tranquil and compassionate
Walking the jeweled path to freedom

This paradise has pathways scattered with pearls and moonstones
The calling birds chime, and the wind rustles
The leaves of trees with golden fruit.
The mountains shimmer with blue and lavender
In them sit many future buddhas in meditation
Hidden by the shining mists.

It is a garden of moonlight
Where the moon is larger than the sky
And the clouds that hide it sparkle with awareness
The ponds and fountains splash with insight and new ideas
The waterfalls rush down with inspiration
The temple bells chime with liberation.

Here is a paradise for the pure to keep them from falling into karmic bondage
Along its peaceful and beautiful paths,
Come insights falling like dew in the morning
It is a world of light, only taking form,
For those that visit and are still attached to it.

We bless the lonely, encourage the shy, quiet the restless,
And expel the desirous and dishonest
This paradise is not easy to gain
People chant for Amida's grace, but most do not come here
Instead, they come to its lower reflection, the world of grace
Here, the light is muted, the forms more enduring, the flowers brighter
Here people are saved from the results of their sins
In this world, they get a second chance to make right what was wrong
They can fulfill their obligations; apologize to those they have harmed
They can find out their errors and correct them.

Here, they can choose a future
They can stay in the paradise to help others
Or return to Earth to help the suffering
Or they can go on to the higher paradise of moonlight
Or they can incarnate again to complete their works
When their chains are broken, and they are free of bondage
Then they truly have free will
By surrendering totally to the Buddha's grace

I am the Buddha of moonlight, surrounded by rainbows
I sit on a white lotus throne
Its radiance and fragrance fills the worlds.
For those who pray in my name, I say:
Bless all the people that you know
In order to receive the Buddha's blessings,
At death, hold up your bound hands
And I shall release you
By surrender to grace,
You shall gain your freedom.

In our last example, let us return briefly to one of the most widely read Western descriptions of heaven.

Dante was a 14th century Italian, Christian poet who described visits to hell, purgatory, and heaven in his poem the Divine Comedy. Many of his descriptions of heaven use light and sound imagery.  He writes that in the sphere of sun, an upper level of heaven, light symbolizes divine illumination and here, the sun symbolizes the wisdom of God himself. This sphere is accordingly inhabited by some of the Church’s brightest intellectuals who are known for having written and taught on theological subjects. In Heaven, Dante writes that their beauty is beyond the power of words to describe. When Dante turns his attentions to his surroundings, he sees a ladder stretching higher than his eyes can reach with brilliant lights descending the ladder. The 7th sphere of heaven contains these souls who pursued a contemplative and ascetic life on Earth—meaning that they refrained from worldly things in order to focus on the spiritual. The golden ladder was a common medieval symbol of such a life—a means for souls to ascend to Heaven and also to descend, in order to minister compassionately to the people below.

In the 8th sphere of heaven Dante speaks to a soul that has stopped near him and asks why there’s no music in this sphere. The soul explains that Dante’s mortal hearing couldn’t bear their song’s beauty, so they refrain from singing. When entering the highest or 9th level of heaven, Dante sees all the angels and saints. Dante first finds himself enveloped in brilliant light, lifting him above his natural capacities. He looks and sees a dazzling river of light flowing amidst spring-like colors - sparks of colors swirl, coming to rest on flowers beside the river. Dante drinks from the river, and when he looks up again, the flowers and sparks of light have been transformed—he now sees the saints and angels before him. The river of light now takes the form of a great sphere. As Dante looks, his sight “becomes pure and wholly free,” and he sees the light of God itself. His seeing outstrips his ability to see or even to remember what he sees. Dante in the poem felt that what he saw contained within the light were all the pages of a single book, scattered throughout the universe, yet now bound together. When that light strikes a soul, that soul cannot choose to look elsewhere—for the light gathers up all goodness. In Dante’s poetic journey through Heaven, the realm of God’s light, he found it a place impossible for a mortal to fully remember, much less describe. Nevertheless, he called upon God for help in writing what he describes as a mere “a spark” of his experience so that others may understand it through his poetry.


This concludes our attempt to give a broad set of writing examples on heavens, spiritual states, and mystical experience usually involving spiritual light and sound. Such literature is uncommon and sometimes requires a literary search to locate it.   

But according to many of the writer’s statements, words can never capture the experience fully or even partially. But poets, artists, and mystics will persist in trying to express the inexpressible, ineffable, and transcendent regardless of the inadequacy of the language available.  It is always worth trying even at the risk of misleading some people who will focus on the words or symbols instead the reality behind them.

Many Western religions focus on a state of strong faith as the most desirable goal of spirituality.  But some dedicated or fortunate individuals seem to be able to move beyond faith to profound states of spiritual knowledge. These can also have the desirable effect of strengthening faith thus creating a different route to faith than most people take.  The experiences of mystics both religious and otherwise can hopefully serve as inspiration to the rest of us as we travel the paths of spirit.

Introduction | The Geography of Spiritual Travel | The "Travel" Analogy | Leaving the Body in Spiritual Travel | Spiritual Travel Versus Dreams | Sacred Light | Sacred Sound | Psychic States | Spiritual Travel in Western Religious Scripture | The Self in Spiritual Travel | Returning to the Physical Body | Near-Death Experience | Navigation During Spiritual Travel | Spiritual Matter | Method and Techniques To Induce Spiritual Travel | Shamanism and Spiritual Travel | After-Death Experience | Spiritual Travel as a Rehearsal for Physical Death | Beyond | The Landscape of Heaven | Lucid Dreaming and Spiritual Bodies | Charged Symbols | Scientific Reductionist Arguments about Spiritual Travel Experience | Ascended Masters and Their Role in Guiding Souls Through the Death Process | Awakening to the Hierarchy of Dreams | Buddhist Dakinis as Expert Guides in Spiritual Travel | Conclusion


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