Unit III. Breathing Into Life and Soul 


  1. Body-mind linkage
  2. Pranamayakosa, The astral body
  3. Auras
  4. Pranayama
  5. Cellular consciousness
  6. Soul, spirit and essence
  7. The subtle body
  8. The Higher Self
  9. The Kabbalah

Books Needed:

Emergence of the Divine Child or Windows to the soul*
The Upanishads.

Practices and Exercises:

Astral body
Centering prayer
The Taittiriya Upanishad
The Sephiroth

* You may already have this book

It is the end of a hard day. You have had your dinner and are sitting in your favorite chair or lounging on the sofa listening to your favorite music. The satiated body, now at rest, sinks away out of awareness while the mind goes into neutral. There is only sound - for a brief moment. And then the show begins.

There is something you long for, perhaps a lover. Maybe it is a trip to the far east. Perhaps it is success with your latest endeavor, or that promotion you have been working so hard to achieve. Whatever that something is, you let it float gently into the foreground of your attention. And the action starts to unravel. Your awareness surrounds it lovingly, urging it onward to fulfill your dreams. No stress. This is all sheer nurturance of the soul.

At some point, you may become emotionally involved either in a positive way or, if you are inclined to be a worrier, in a fearful manner. You may notice that your body begins to get into the act as emotions surge to the foreground. If the reaction is fearful, your body will become tense, your breathing more rapid, your stomach clutch.

All of this is characteristic of the astral realm. It is that territory in which nightmares as well as daydreams are created. It is the closet of emotions and automatic reactions of self-preservation and defense. Horror movies are made of this. Fairy tales, myths, fearful wanderings of the imagination and daydreams of our wildest hopes are grist for this mill. It is the playground of imagination.

We speak of astral travel or out of the body experiences. This is not some magical ability limited to a chosen few. We all get out of our bodies all the time. In fact, it is said that within every 90 minutes there is a cycle of focused attention when we are fully in the here and now and part of that is balanced by moments of inattentiveness during which our minds wander off into other realms of action. In the south, the latter was called, "going out to lunch." Attention is free to travel, and often does.

We seem to leave our bodies in bed at night and travel to unknown lands in our dreams. This is undoubtedly why our bodies are paralyzed while we are experiencing REM (rapid eye movements) sleep. This is the time during which we dream. The paralysis protects our bodies from the trauma of falling down stairs or out of windows, etc. which might happen if we walked in our sleep while dreaming. The sites we visit during sleep are in the astral realm, the Bhuvar Loka.

The realm of imagination is fraught with potential for terror because our egos do not accompany us there. So, the usual protective defenses we use in the daytime are not available to us. If you have ever comforted a child who has just had a nightmare or if you can remember your own in childhood, you know how hard it is to make the transition back to the "real world" where there are adults who can chase away the bogeyman. In the present, if you experience a nightmare, you will awaken with all the bodily accompaniments of fear: sweating, rapid breath, tension, confusion, etc. The body knows about emotion.

One of the components of mental illness is protrusion of the astral realm into ordinary affairs which are not usually stretched out of proportion and joined with excessive emotion. Psychosis, in particular, is an excursion into the astral realm cut loose from any semblence of ego control. This happens during waking life as well as during dreams between which the psychotic person may not be able to discriminate. A normal person usually keeps the two worlds of waking and dreaming, whether daydreaming or sleep dreaming, separate and does not confuse dreaming with waking realities, however traumatic the former may seem to be.

Body-Mind Linkage

On the surface, it is obvious that there is a link between the body and the mind because we can think about something that scares us, and the body immediately gears up for defensive action. This is known as the "fight and flight" response.

What is not so obvious is that there is sometimes an intermediate step in there. For example, if we are wandering down the street immersed in our own thoughts and we step off the curb just as a semi-trailer whizzes by barely missing us, we awaken suddenly and experience a wave of genuine fear. Just missed getting killed. That is a direct stimulus and the response is objective fear.

However, there is another kind of fear reaction that is tied to the mind. Let us take a case in point. My boss calls me into his office. His tone of voice is brusque and he does not look me in the eye. My first reaction is the thought that I have done something wrong. The second is that I may lose my job. The third is fear. This series of events is not just a stimulus-response, but the response is detoured through my mind. And my reaction is not to my boss and what he did directly, but to what I think his behavior means. In this scenario, I am reacting to my own mental process, not to external reality. Nevertheless, my body gets into the act just as if I had been the object of a real, external threat. This another reason to see that the body and mind are linked. It usually seems to be through the emotions. However, most if not all of our emotions are in response to what we are thinking about. Even in the case of the semi's near miss, the emotion comes after we register the danger mentally. The body immediately responds with a jerk backwards to get out of danger, but the recognition of what it was that nearly hit us and the emotion is a delayed reaction. Another example is when someone jumps out at you and yells "Boo!" You jump, then feel the fear and embarrassment.

In all of these cases, the mind, (more often than not in the form of imagination), the breath and the emotions are mediators. They are all active in the astral plane of experience. And they get between the original stimulus and the action we do in response to the stimulus. That changes the stimulus to something else, a mental event which is an important point to remember for later processing.

Pranamayakosa, The Astral Body

One way of better understanding this explanation is to look at a diagram. In Figure II-1, you will see yourself represented as a series of concentric circles. These all interpenetrate each other, but they get progressively larger as they move out from the center. In the Yogic images, the Higher Self is represented as being the innermost circle since we experience it as somehow inside ourselves. But I think it is more accurate to show it as the outermost ring since it is the superordinate entity that encloses the rest of us. In fact, since it is part of the All One, there is no real boundary between it and the rest of the universe. We just have to draw one to indicate that there is something there. The physical body is the densest part of ourselves and it seems to precipitate out into the realm that can be perceived by the five senses. The Astral body comes next and is sometimes called the etheric body or prana which is our life energy. Then we have the lower mind or manas which is the conditioned mind or intellect. Beyond that is the higher mind or Vijnana/Buddhi which includes the intuition. The Higher Self or Ananda encloses all of this and is connected to or part of the Absolute. 

You can see that, since these layers interpenetrate each other and that the astral body comes between the physical body and the lower mind, that it makes sense that the breath which is part of prana links the body and mind. Please refer to "The Eight Rungs of Raja Yoga" in Unit 2 of Book I. for more details about the Yogic system.

You may be wondering why the astral body is called the pranamayakosa.Prana means the life breath or force that works in our vital and nervous being (Tyberg, 1976, p. 108). Maya means formed and kosa means a sheath, vessel or something that enfolds, i.e., a body. The five bodies drawn above are the Annamayakosa, Pranamayakosa, Manomayakosa, Vijnanamayakosa and the Anandamayakosa from the inside out.


 The Person The word "aura" brings to mind something rather like a halo that surrounds the body and the head especially. You will recall pictures of Christ or the saints with halos around their heads in famous medieval paintings. This represents the astral body which is relatively easy to see. If you put someone in front of a white background and look at them with your eyes slightly out of focus, you will see a shimmering energy field that extends out about four or five inches from the person's body. It may be golden or simply white.

It is possible to see the other bodies, but it is more difficult since most of us have been conditioned not to see them. However, the Amish all see auras and teach their children what the different colors in them mean. So it is possible to retain that information. In any case, with practice, the ability can be recovered. On one occasion, I was observing a man giving a talk while he was standing in front of a black stage curtain. His entire aura became visible and looked like a giant egg of white surrounding his body and extending out to about finger-tip length.

Auras may have various colors in them. These can be used for diagnostic purposes if someone is ill, and there are practitioners who specialize in this practice. You may have, on occasion, noticed that someone looked reddish when they were angry or grayish when they were ill. These are aura colors. We probably respond to them even though they are usually kept below the threshold of awareness. They are part of that huge vocabulary of non-verbal body language. Barbara Brennen (1987, p. 44 color plates) and "Two Disciples" of Dwal Khul (Two Disciples, 1981, p. 143-150) have given us some stunning color pictures of what auras look like to clairvoyants.

Exercise: Astral Body:

Read chapters 3-5 in Emergence of the Divine Child by Rick Phillips (1990). This book is about the emotional self which is more or less synonymous with the astral body. In these chapters, he gives us a feel for the other bodies that were described above. He says the subtle body is ".. A field of energy that coexists with our physical body, yet in another dimension of reality." (p. 34) Here, he is calling all of the bodies except the physical body a subtle body, probably because they are not usually seen. He goes on to explain that they differ in vibratory rates, and that we can tune in to them with our consciousness. The etheric body he refers to is the astral body. As you read, try to align what you have read here with what Phillips is describing. Make some notes to help you remember.

When you have read chapter 4, you might want to try out the inward and outward strokes of consciousness. Then think about karmic themes. What karmic themes are you aware of in your life. Select the one that seems most problematic to you and reflect on it in terms of Phillips's explanations. What emotions are connected to it? Are these emotions attached to a mental interpretation that might be changed? What do you think was the original stimulus for the karmic theme? Did it originate in this lifetime or a previous one? Is it still valid? If not, what would it take to release it? If so, how can you work with it to reduce its impact on your life?

After reading chapter 5, take another look at your karmic theme and analyze it in terms of an addiction. Addiction means "holding on." It is a pattern out of which we have made a serious habit, usually one that is detrimental to our health. Why do you think we would hold on to something that hurts us? Often an addiction supplants a memory or feeling we think we cannot deal with. For instance, it is often said that alcoholism is an addiction that is clung to by people whose experience of the emptiness and longing for the Divine One is unsupportable. Alcohol kills the pain of separation.

All of us are addicts in the sense that we have attachments to things or people that we refuse to relinquish. More often than not, there are control issues associated with our attachments. This is ego's doing, but it is not necessarily justified by the objective life situation. Do some reflection and see if any of this pertains to your case. If so, what do you need to let go of? How would you go about doing that? What insights do you need in order to reduce the emotional charge that adheres to your theme or to your attachment? Can you trace the line of descent from your mind to your emotional body to your physical body?

Write a paper on the relationship of these three bodies and use examples from your own experience to demonstrate your main points.


Pranayama is the practice of breath-control. It is the fourth of the eight rungs of Yoga following asana (Hatha Yoga) and preceding pratyahara (control of the senses). Notice that asana works primarily with the physical body, pranayama with the etheric body and pratyahara with the senses that are seen as extensions of the lower mind. So there is a logical progression of practices to gradually master all of the kosas or bodies. Here the aim is to take control of the life force.

Now we do not usually think about the possibility of controlling our own life force. It feels like that is just something that is given to us, an energy that we use to conduct our daily lives. We pretty much take it for granted unless we fall ill or are threatened with death. Then we see how valuable it is. Most of us, I think, do not really believe it is something we could master. Or we have simply not thought about it. However, there is increasing evidence to document this current that flows through us in dynamic rhythms, never ceasing to support our bodily functions, our minds and our activities. The Chinese call it chi, the Hindus call it prana, we call it the life force or spirit. When it is gone, the body dies and become inert.

Consider the ramifications of being able to control this force that links mind and body. We could slow our minds down, relax at will, control our vital functions, release tensions and stress, disarm negative emotions, center and ground ourselves in our own presence in the here and now, heal many of the body's ills, and control the mind. This last, control over the mind, is a primary goal in Yoga. For, if we control the mind, we control the source of most of our dis-ease. It is said that any disease that manifests in the body has existed on higher levels previously, beginning with the spiritual and working its way down through the levels of existence. This is another way of looking at the addictions we were discussing above. Alcoholism, a physical addiction, may very well have begun on the spiritual level as basic separation. And, since it was not conquered on that level nor on the mental levels nor the etheric/emotional one, it finally manifests in the body where it cannot fail to be noticed.

If this is true, then we must look for cures in our spiritual life.

Pranayama helps us take a step back toward the first cause.

Exercise: Pranayama:

1. Read "The Prashna Upanishad" in The Upanishads by Easwaran (1988, pp. 155-172). This will prepare your mind set for the practice itself.

2. The Practice:

The more esoteric practices of pranayama should be done under the guidance of an experienced teacher and in conjunction with asana because they are intended to raise kundalini. If that is not done gradually and the body adequately prepared for it, much damage can be done. So we will make only a modest beginning here. If you can find a well-trained Hatha Yoga teacher, you may be able to take it further.

a. The first practice is called puraka and gives control over inhalation. Iyengar (1981, p. 99) says, "Inhalation (puraka) is the intake of cosmic energy... the Infinite uniting with the finite." It is deceptively simple. Pranayama should be done before eating and after asana which conditions the body. Morning is probably the best time. Both asana and pranayama are good preparation for meditation, and all three taken together make up an excellent early morning spiritual practice with which to launch your day.

Directions: Find a comfortable seat in which your spine can easily be held erect. This can be on a cushion or in a chair. If your body is held upright in a balanced position, the air passages are open and available and the rest of the body may be relaxed. The exercise should be done in a space of relaxed awareness with the least amount of effort. It works best if it is not forced. Take a few minutes and watch your breath. Notice what it is doing and whether it is regular, fast or slow, tense or relaxed. Make a few notes to help you remember how you began.

Then begin to focus in on the in-breath. Draw in the breath through the nose slowly and with full attention. Then release it naturally. This is all there is to it. Repeat for five to ten breaths. Then breathe naturally. Notice any changes in your breathing pattern from what the breath was doing when you began. b. The second stage is called rechaka. This is the reverse of puraka. Iyengar (1981, p. 100) says

In this stage, you focus on the out-breath. Draw in the breath naturally, then exhale slowly and deliberately. Repeat for five to ten breaths. Then notice any changes.

Should you become lightheaded or feel dizzy, reduce the number of inhalations and exhalations until you find a comfortable level. You can work up to more rounds as your body adapts to the increase in oxygen.

For more exercises to develop breath awareness, consult the Yoga journal, November/December, 1992, pp78-83. I think the title is "Moving with the Breath."

These practices may not seem like anything very much, and, indeed, you may not notice any difference for quite some time - the effect is very subtle. However, over time, you will find that you have more control over your breath. You will be able to hold it longer and you will be able to slow it deliberately when you become upset, thus quieting the mind and minimizing any emotional distress. It is a good idea to make this a daily practice since pranayama has its greatest effect when practiced regularly.

Cellular Consciousness

B. K. S. Iyengar, the world's authority on Hatha Yoga and Pranayama, talks constantly about "bringing intelligence to every cell of the body." By "intelligence" he means consciousness. It is striking to note that he knew that every cell of the body could be conscious long before scientists discovered the mechanism for that consciousness. It seems that consciousness follows the breath. Now, why are we not surprised to hear that? Might not consciousness also link the body and mind if the body's cells have the potential to be conscious? It does not take much of a stretch to imagine the mind as being conscious, but the body is something else again.

In practicing Hatha Yoga with a teacher or in a class, one of the most pervasive directions you will hear is to go into the body and feel what is happening there. If you take a stance in the warrior posture, you must feel the life energy extending from the tips of the fingers on one hand to the tips of those on the other hand, as well as from the top of your head to each and every toe. You will learn to experience the most subtle of muscular adjustments as you hold a posture. In the end, you come to know your body and its nuances in the most intimate way possible: its tensions, pains, contractions and relaxations, touch, energy movements, rhythms, sounds, and all of the senses of which there are nearly 26 according to Pribram (1971). And this is on the cellular as well as the global levels with everything in between.


Let us now take a leap into the world of neuroscience. Candace Pert (1987), chief of brain biochemistry, Clinical Neuroscience Branch, National Institute of Mental Health and winner of the Nobel prize for her research on neuropeptides, has given us information about a system in the body that supports the idea that cells of the body may be conscious. This system involves the brain, glands and/or hormones and the immune system. The carriers of consciousness may be neuropeptides which are neuro-transmitter chemicals related to endorphins that are released from nerve endings in both the brain and the immune system which is thereby linked to the brain. These biochemicals were also found in the hormones and intestines and in the receptors of neurons all over the body, most particularly in the monocytes of the immune system which travel through the blood and which are attracted to neuropeptides on other cells. Fifty to sixty of these peptides have been identified.

Since, somewhat earlier, Ed Blalock (Institute of Noetic Sciences with William Poole, 1993, p. 85) discovered that neuropeptides were the messengers between the brain and the immune system, we can come to the conclusion that because of these interdependences all cells of the body are interconnected.

The neuropeptides are information carriers particularly of emotion. Pert (1987) says that this is an information system in which ". . neuropeptides ‘speak' and receptors ‘listen.'" (p. 13) She believes that

Pert (1987) says that what we are talking about is information. She has confirmed that the ".. brain... glands and immune system .. are joined together in a bi-directional network of communication, and that the information ‘carriers' are the neuropeptides." (p. 17) She then goes on to say that "A mind is composed of information, and it has a physical substrate, which is the body and the brain; and it also has another immaterial substrate that has to do with information flowing around: Perhaps, then, mind is the information flowing among all of these bodily parts. Maybe mind is what holds the network together."(p. 17) (Emphasis is hers)

Pert (1987) also says that ".. neuropeptides bring us to a state of consciousness and to alterations in those states," (p. 15) and she gives examples of how this works in thirst and in pain mechanisms in the the brain and body.

Furthermore, breathing can be a very important link in this system. "..breathing has a physical substrate which is also a nodal point, this nodal point is part of an information network in which each part leads to all the other parts, and so, from the nodal point of the brain stem nuclei, the consciousness can, among other things, plug into the periaqueductal gray [the control area for pain in the brain]." (p. 18) [It is hard to ignore the correspondences between this process and the Internet.]

Somewhat more recently, Deepak Chopra, who is an endocrinologist and member of the ad hoc panel on alternative medicine at the National Institutes of Health, wrote an article for the Noetic Sciences Review in which he had the following to say about the neuropeptides.

All of this, taken together, makes a very strong case for cellular consciousness. Cells make the DNA from which neuropeptides are replicated. Cells in the immune system travel all over the body and are attracted to neuropeptides because they have receptors for them on their cell surface. When they get close to a neuropeptide, they chemotax, or crawl, toward it. Pert (1987) says that neuropeptides are signaling molecules that send messages all over the body including the brain. She says that, in light of the current knowledge about these systems, "we need to start thinking about how consciousness can be projected into various parts of the body."(p. 17)

I think Iyengar would agree with her.

Soul, Spirit and Essence

The Voice of the Soul

Is man a god? What strange deceit is here!
Behold this prodigy divine appear
Vested in weakness, with disgrace his crown -
What foe has stripp'd him of his old renown?
Not king but captive now, to sense a thrall,
And, exiled far from his imperial hall,
The sacred accents of the heavenly shore,
The harp's harmonious strains, he hears no more.

Louis Claude de Saint-Martin (1987)

We have been discussing how the astral or etheric body behaves, looks and feels. What relationship does all this have to soul or to spirit? We need to be careful and clear about our definitions to avoid confusion.

Soul, according to Welwood (1996) is

Welwood goes on to say,

He says soulwork is the forging of the vessel of spirit which he defines as our "embodied humanity." Kabat-Zinn (1994, p. 84) calls soulwork ".. The development of character through knowing something of the tortuous labyrinthine depths and expanses of our own minds." William Blake (quoted in the Noetic Sciences Review, 1996, p.39) says, "Man has no body distinct from his Soul: for that called Body is a portion of Soul discern'd by the five senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age."

And, finally, Hillman (1992, p. 32) makes a distinction between soul and spirit as follows,

Hillman (1992) then talks about spirit.

He makes more comparisons that may help us understand the differences. "Soul is vulnerable and suffers; it is passive and remembers. It is water to the spirit's fire... Soul is imagination." (1992, p. 33) Spirit, on the other hand, chooses transformation. ".. there is something beyond and above, and what is above is always, and always superior."(p. 33) It is after ultimates and the truth. For more information along these lines, this issue of Common Boundary (November/December, 1992 is dedicated to articles on soul.

So, where are we? It seems that the main distinction between soul and spirit is that between an agent of feelings and an agent of something more abstract that might be called truth or light. If soul is the imagination or form-making aspect of mind, in such a comparison, then spirit must represent the intuitive or truth-seeking mind.

There is, however, another term we need to examine as it is found in the same domain. That is essence. This is used by both Jean Houston and A.H. Almaas in some of the same ways that the authors cited above used the word soul. Houston (1944, p. 5) says that by essence, she means ".. That part of our nature we recognize as the god in hiding, the source quality or soul quality that links us to our highest becoming, that transcends time and space, life and death." So here we have that part of ourselves that is immortal.

It is the deepest part of our nature, an actual presence that seems to be innate... In a state of essence, all knowing is direct knowing which goes beyond space, time and personalities... you know with such a simultaneity of knowing that you can be said to have grasped the whole of anything or anybody. (1944, pp. 8-9)

Houston also ties soul into imagination when she says, ".. psyche consists primarily of images, and the primary activity of the psyche beyond all other things is imagining. We humans are essentially acts of imagination." (p. 10)

Almaas (1990, p. 55) says of essence: "There was an arising within, experienced intimately and directly, of a living presence, a palpable feeling of a living, self-aware truth." It has revealed itself to have the qualities of presence including "..truth, awareness, spaciousness, love, compassion, joy and contentment [plus] ..its undifferentiated pure presence of Being.." It is something we are born with and is what we really are. He calls Beingness

Almaas says he experiences his essence as part of the God essence. "This does not mean that I am God, but instead, I, like everyone else, am part of the presence that is alive and conscious." (p. 56) This is one of the best explanations I have found of the meaning of "I am That." This is our divinity, our true identity, that which we are all seeking to discover. It is the answer to the question, "Who are You?"

The deep-seated yearning that arises in us is for a return to Spirit, to the truly conscious knowledge of that true identity we hold in common with everyone. This is sometimes called (Higher) Self-Realization. It entails a recovery of those wondrous gifts we brought with us into life and that were disowned when we discovered no one wanted them. To do this we must disempower the false self and regain the original state of conscious awareness that is our birthright.

You don't believe all this? Then ask yourself: What, in all my self-conscious awareness, am I doing in a body? Who am I - really? What is that part of me that is pure, sacred eternity?

Sharif Abdullah (1995, p. 18), who specializes in community building and social/cultural engineering to help bridge cultural barriers for Latinos and Anglos, has this to say about our spiritual disease. "If we are to be really truthful, we have to face our own emptiness...the deep problem, which is really a spiritual disease - a chronic hunger of the soul." He identifies five key aspects of spiritual starvation: 1) anger, 2) destructive behavior, 3) releasing behavior which is usually violent, 4) denial and numbing, and 5) control and manipulation (p. 21). The first three masquerade as power but are not really so. The last two are displaced expressions of anger. We can certainly identify these behaviors in every aspect of our individual lives, not just in the ghettos.

So what must we do to rectify these problems? How do we get reconnected? Abdullah says we need to make a conscious effort to let our experience feed our hunger and to nourish our sense of connectedness on all of these levels: 1) ourselves and our subpersonalities or personality aspects, 2) the transpersonal self or Higher Self. 3) our communities and neighbors, 4) place which includes origins as well as the environment we live in, and 5) the mystery of our existence, the awe and reverence for that which is not understandable in the cosmos. (p. 23)

All of these quotations and digressions have served to show you how pervasive is the spiritual hunger of our times. For too long, soul and its needs have been denied, overlooked and repressed. Even in our churches it has been treated in such a verbal, abstract way that it is as if the word soul were referring to something outside of ourselves or that belonged to someone else. Yet the yearning persists. We need.

Exercise: Centering Prayer

The Centering Prayer is taught by Thomas Keating, a Catholic priest. It is a very simple form of contemplation that enables us to go into the silence and commune with the Absolute, the Being-presence or God. It originated in The Cloud of Unknowing (see Progoff, 1957, 151-2) that was written by an unknown monk hundreds of years ago. The method presented here is the minimum instruction. You could probably pick up a more comprehensive pamphlet called "The Method of Centering Prayer" in your local Catholic Church which is where I found mine. The address on the pamphlet was: Food for the Poor, 550 SW 12th Ave., Bldg. 4, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442, (305) 427-2222.


1. "Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God's presence and action within." Take a minute of prayer to ask Spirit to inspire you with one that is suitable for you.

2. "Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God's presence and action within." You might do this during meditation as the instructions for how to sit are the same.

3. "When you become aware of thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word." This means not to do violence to yourself if thoughts intrude, but to return to the focus on the word.

4. "At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for two or three minutes" in order to make the transition back into normal life and to help carry the atmosphere of silence into daily life. Keating recommends you do two periods of prayer a day for 20 minutes each. He also suggests you read and reflect on the scriptures as an adjunct to this practice.

Not that way!
Not down there!
Keep to the road.
Follow the path!
Keep to the road.
Follow the way.
I have beaten myself into submission.
The "I" with the rope in my hand
Leads the "I" with the ring in my nose.
Who is master?
Who is servant?
Who is asking?

-- Mubarik Arthur Lee (1996)

"Growth is measured in one's ability to become fully human: not angel, not animal."

--J. Yusuf Q. Erkine, 1996

The Subtle Body

You will remember that, when we were discussing the astral body, there was a quote from Rick Phillips(1990) in Emergence of the Divine Child. He said the subtle body is ".. A field of energy that coexists with our physical body, yet in another dimension of reality." (p. 34) He went on to say,

Here, he is calling all of the bodies or kosas (refer to Figure II-1) except the physical body a subtle body, probably because they are not usually seen. He goes on to explain that we can tune in to them with our consciousness.

The "Taittirya Upanishad" calls these bodies sariras or soul-sheaths. The lower ones are grounded in the manifest world, the last in the Absolute. We are talking here about the Light-body because the subtle body gives off light which can be seen by very sensitive people and clairvoyants. Keith Thompson (1996) says of the subtle bodies,

Thompson goes on to discuss some of the characteristics of the subtle body which include being able to move .. as a body with the observing self intact, into other worlds with extensions in nonordinary space and chains of events that give a sense of passing time. (p. 6) These ensouled bodies made of spirit matter are more responsive to emotion, thought and will than our ordinary consciousness, are able to pass through physical barriers, materialize and dematerialize and change shape and size. They are probably responsible for out-of-the-body experiences, dream experiences, near death experiences, reincarnation, Shamanic journeys, ghosts and the whole realm of extraordinary, non-physical experiences with which we are familiar. Thompson says angels are an example of "pure soul beings" who possess subtle bodies but not physical bodies. (p. 10) He includes in this category the visions of Our Lady in Fatima, Portugal that were experienced by thousands in 1917.

Thompson concludes with this thought, "..what we humans term ‘reality' may be a remote outpost of a largely uncharted territory of potentials... Where the normal categories of difference between mind and matter, spirit and body are not erased, but transcended - and extended." (p. 36)

Other writers are more conservative in their definitions reserving the term "subtle body" for the level of mind and using "causal body" to refer to the Higher Self which is ensouled. Figure II-2 shows Deepak Chopra's diagram of the kosas. In that you will see that he makes this distinction. There is a series of five tapes on "The Higher Self" (Chopra, 1996) in which he explains these concepts. Figure 1 from Book I gives the Yoga Psychology version from the Samkhya system of philosophy. In this chart, Mind is consistent with the subtle level of consciousness and soul with the causal level. The Higher Self is pure consciousness in this conception.

The Higher Self  

My understanding of all these levels of beingness is that the Higher Self is representative of  the Divine One. It is the observer self, the witness, the pure consciousness without an agenda in the physical world. It would be the Divine One leading my life, your life and the lives of all others in the world(s), for reasons known only to Itself. It is said to be the source of the still, small voice that one hears in the silence and that seems to be located in the heart center. It is our connection to All that is.  See  Figure II-2 for Deepak Chopra's image of the relationships between parts of the self.

There is a basic paradox in all this around which we must attempt to wrap our minds, however foreign the idea seems to be. That is, that we are both One and many simultaneously. There are no divisions as we have learned them in the real world. So whether you experience yourself as your name (one of the many) or the Divine and only One is purely a matter of how you focus your attention. Meditation is the route from one to the other.

Swami Radha used to say that we are all cells in the body of God. This might be an example of cellular consciousness on yet another level.

And these last two remarks sum up the message of this whole unit.

Exercise: The Taittiriya Upanishad

Read "The Taittiriya Upanishad" (Easwaran, 1987) and reflect on the One and many paradox. Can you think of times when you have experienced yourself as the One? Do you ever experience yourself as another of the many besides yourself? We might call this empathy. The Buddhists call it "exchange." It is the experience of losing one's boundaries in an interaction with another to the extent that you know what the other person is feeling, thinking and experiencing.

What are your experiences of the various bodies or kosas? Can you give an example of each one? Do you have out-of-the-body experiences? Do you fly in your dreams? This is said to reflect an out-of-body experience while asleep. If you have these "unusual" experiences, how do you deal with the skepticism of others? Are you frightened by these experiences? If so, do you know how to protect yourself from them? Where would you find more information about how to understand them?

The Kabbalah

Let us now move from the infinitesimal to the cosmic dimension and look at the Kabbalistic model of how the Divine One comes into form. It is called The Sephiroth which means a "vessel to receive light."

The Kabbalah is part of the mystical tradition of Judaism as presented in the Zohar: The Book of Enlightenment. For historical background on and a reading list about it consult Kabbalah FAQ on the Internet. The Sephiroth or Tree of Life is a diagram that shows how the Absolute created the universe, a process called involution. Involution means infolding. Taken here, it means the process by which Spirit comes into matter or the process by which Spirit creates matter. According to Mouni Sadhu (1978, p. 27), involution is "..the Self wrapping itself in material shells, or forms, lower instincts and feelings." Conversely, evolution is "..the ascent of the superior principle from its merging in the inferior, dense realm, that is Spirit evolving (ascending) from matter." (p. 26) And, while we're on the subject, Sadhu says that "The general purpose of evolution is the removal from the Consciousness, Self of all material veils. And this is the measure of progress in man." (p. 26) So far, these definitions fit with the Yogic idea that there is only One entity, and we are all a part of That One. In Yoga, the veils are called maya.

In the Kabbalistic system, there are two families. The first is represented in Figure II-3a.

Tetragrammaton The Tetragrammaton by En-Soph. En-Soph, the Inaccessible Essence or Ultimate Reality, withdrew Itself into Its essence and left an empty space within Itself into which It could create something. This was called "tzim tzum" or contraction (Matt, 1995, p. 93-4). The En-Soph then manifested Itself through the first family which consisted of Yod or Transcendental Love, the father of the first family, and He or Transcendental Life, the mother of the first family. These two gave birth to Vau or the Logos or Transcendental Word that emanated the second He which is the architect of the second family or Sephiroth and which is also called Kether. These concepts do not appear in the diagram, but there is reason to believe this process preceded the involution depicted in the Sephiroth. The Yod, He, Vau, He combination forms the vowel-less YHVH that is called the tetragrammaton, and that means "God's name." Note that this particular interpretation of the En-Soph (Sadhu, 1978, p. 197) comes from the Rosicrucian tradition and not from the Kabbalists.

However, the Kabbalists speak of the four worlds that emanated out of the first mass of creation. They were called emanation, creation, formation and actualization (Matt, 1995, p. 94). It seems likely to me that these four are, at the very least, offspring of the Yod, He, Vau, He referred to above although I have no documentation for this connection. Yod has the character of radiation and is an active principle which sounds like emanation. The first He is passive and is fecundated by Yod which sounds like the mother of creation. Vau (Logos) is called the great architect of the universe - formation. Note the correspondence to the Logos in John 1:1 who is the God of creation. Sadhu says that the second He of the first family manifests Itself through the ten Sephiroth through the first of them, Kether. Since the Sephiroth represents the materialization of form, it is easy to see this as actualization. Note the correspondence to the four worlds described in what follows. Also notice that the tetragrammaton represents the same process as the first four entities in the diagram of Yoga Psychology (Figure 3 in Book I). This supports the idea that all mystical observations are made from the same phenomenon.

Figure 2-3b

The second family is the Sephiroth (Figure II-3b) which is composed of four worlds: World of Emanations, Creative World, World of Forms and World of Objects or Relative Reality. The World of Emanations includes Kether which is the androgynous Unity that manifests Itself as Chokmah (Unconditional Creativity), that which can cognize, and Binah (Separation or Boundaries), that which is the forerunner of duality. In the World of Creation, we have Chesed (Creativity conditioned by the restrictions of boundaries and duality) which reflects the active desire for knowledge of Chocmah, and Gevurah (Defense of boundaries and the Status Quo) that reflects the limitations of Binah which requires objects that can be sensed in order to function. Chesed and Gevurah come into balance in Tipheret which is Self-consciousness.

Note that the right column in the diagram contains active principles and the left contains passive ones. This means passive in the sense that the latter are acted upon by the former, not that they do not move. Furthermore, each of these sephiroth governs and influences the next one in line, in the order given here, from the top down and right to left.

The world of forms gives us Netzach (Judgments based on likes, dislikes as responses to creativity) and Hod (control of boundaries and the status quo which results in Rigidity ). The World of Forms comes to completion in Yesod (Form or Ego) which means the archetype or pattern of creation. When Yesod is projected into the world of reality we have Malkuth (the Diversity of the Material World of Objects or Relative Reality - Actuality). It could be noted here that the Buddhist idea of creation also contains the notions of Ultimate and Relative Realities which would correspond to the En-Soph and Malkuth of the Sephiroth. See Hayward (1984 ) for more details.

There is yet another symmetry in this diagram. The three vertical lines also show us progressions. On the active (right) side, Chokhmah, the impulse to create is constrained by Chesed which is responded to by Netzach. On the passive (left) side, Binah is the root of separation and duality which is reflected as gradually tightening down on boundaries and form by Gevurah and Hod. This fits with other concepts of creation that espouse both active and receptive dimensions, as well as the increasing density and rigidity of the process (or a slowing of the frequencies of vibration, if you like that better) as the world comes into form.

Continuing our vertical scan, the middle projection, which is neutral, shows how the Breath of the Logos descends through Self-consciousness into the archetype of Form and/or Ego and thence into physical Matter or the body, becoming increasingly more dense and shrouded by duality as it descends.

Generalizations of the meanings of these concepts are legion. However, there is one correspondence that should be noted because it links the Sephiroth with the Chakra system. The middle line might correspond to the sushumna and the left and right ones to Ida and Pingala. Malkuth corresponds to the first chakra and the earth element, Yesod to the second chakra and the form-making capacity of imagination, Netzach and Hod to the third chakra which is governed by ego and emotions, Tipheret to the fourth (heart) chakra where one meets the Higher Self, Chesed and Gevurah to the fifth chakra of surrender, Chokhmah and Binah to the sixth chakra where dualities are reconciled, and Kether to the seventh Chakra which represents enlightenment. You will gradually come to understand these correspondences as you proceed through the guidebooks.

One further observation. The route of creation, it is said, proceeds from Kether to Chokhmah to Binah to Chesed to Gevurah to Tipheret to Netzach to Hod to Yesod to Malkuth. If you print out the diagram and draw this progression with a red pen, you will notice that it takes the form of a lightning strike. This is involution. The return trip goes directly upward from Malkut to Yesod to Tipheret to Kether and is called evolution. The lower four sephiroth fall into the realm of duality because they are polarized. In the Yogic system, the corresponding chakras represent the personality. It is important to remember that we are dealing, here, with a symbol system, and the ideas are not to be taken literally.

Please note that there is, by no means, agreement on the names in the Sephiroth or on what they mean. En-Soph is also called Ain-Soph and Ein Sof and may mean Endless, the Infinite, the radical transcendence of God, the inaccessible essence and Ultimate Reality. Kether is also called Keter or Ayin and can mean Crown, Nothingness or Divine Mind. Chokhmah may be known as Hokhmah or Chocmah and also means Point, Beginning, the beginning of revelation and existence and Wisdom. Binah also means understanding, Divine Mother, the point which enables Chokhmah to reveal what exists, Palace, Womb, Mind, Mother of Form, root of separation. Chesed is also called Hesed and can also mean Grace, Clemency, Serenity, Charity, Will and Love. Gevurah is also called Pechad and may mean Justice, Severity, Judgment, Rigor, Intelligence, defense of the status quo and Power. Tipheret is also called Tiphereth or Tif'eret and may mean Compassion, Blessed Holy One, Sun, Harmony, King, Splendor, Radiance, Emanation of souls, Birth and Beauty. Netzach, also called Netsah or Netzah, may mean Prophecy, Eternity, Victory, aesthetic judgments, Justice and Initiate. Hod may mean Ecstasy, Life without movement, immovable Being, Prophecy, Splendor and Glory. It elaborates what is given. Yesod may mean Foundation, Righteous One, Covenant, Prudence and androgynous creation of concrete things. Malkuth is also called Shekhinah and means Kingdom, Communion of Israel, Queen, Rainbow, Earth, Moon, Presence, feminine aspect of God, and Realization. So you can see there is plenty of opportunity for individual interpretation.

Exercise: The Sephiroth

Make yourself a chart using all the interpretations of each of the concepts in the diagram. Then work out a progression of involution that makes sense to you. Look to see if any major themes emerge from your work with the chart. What is basically happening at each level? Put it into your own words. Then draw your own diagram of the Sephiroth using your own labels at each point. See if you can then work out a progression of evolution for yourself based on the symbolism of this vision of reality. Draw a new diagram that represents your journey toward the goal based on what you have learned from the Sephiroth.

If you have done any work with the Tarot system or the I Ching, compare your insights with either or both of those systems. Look for correspondences and differences. Can you make any new generalizations about the journey as a result of these comparisons?

Some other associations:

The Sephiroth is called the Tree of Life. There is another possible associations with this idea. There was a Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden as well as a Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Does this ring any bells for you?

Also, in the Yogic tradition, the peepul tree is an image of an upside down tree with its roots in heaven or in the Divine One. What would it mean to be rooted in heaven or in the Divine One?

The axis mundi or axis of the world is often conceptualized as a tree.

Trees symbolize life and they were sacred to the Druids.

Under the general heading of "Breath," we have looked at, not only the life force itself, but all the forms of ourselves that are not visible to the naked eye, at least for most people. This includes the astral or etheric body, soul, spirit, and the Higher Self. We also examined the Kabbalah which is a system that deals with how the Divine One came into physical form. It appears that we are more complex than we, at first, thought. Our next move will be to examine some part of mental development that is germane to development during the preschool years.


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You are now ready for Unit 4. Development of the Self-Conscious Mind which will introduce you to the Intellect and enable you to understand how it achieved a position of prominence in your life and experience .

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