By the editors of Lucifer – the Netherlands
[This is a reprint from Lucifer – the Messenger of Light, an original publication of I.S.I.S. Foundation, i.e. International Study-centre for Independent Search for truth. The editor is grateful for the permission given to make this important paper available for all readers of Theosophy Forward.]
Hierarchies (Lokas and Talas)
The word ‘hierarchy’ has a rather negative connotation, because it is connected to a system in which managers, without listening to their subordinates, pass on certain instructions or orders, which their subordinates have to follow without protest. However, the third Jewel – which is called the hierarchical structure of the Universe – has nothing to do with that, which appears very clearly from the Sanskrit words Loka and Tala.
Loka means place or world literally, while tala means something like inferior world. However, the teaching is that each Loka is indissolubly connected with a Tala. They cannot exist outside one another, just like the two poles of an electric current cannot exist separate. The Loka side stands for the spiritual side, while the Tala represents the more material side.
The third Jewel is designated as Lokas and Talas (plural form). In Hindu literature like the Vishnu Purâna seven Lokas-Talas are distinguished.(13) However, these seven worlds are not separate from one another. On the contrary, they arise from one another, penetrate one another, pass into one another and constitute a firm unity, whereby each Loka-Tala world is a reflection of the others. The more noble, spiritual Loka-Tala causes the origination from itself of a somewhat more material Loka-Tala, and at the same time remains connected with it as a kind of breeding atmosphere, from where the lower world gets its inspiration.
All those worlds are the habitats of the different classes of beings, yeh, in fact, those beings compose those worlds. Therefore, the Jewel of hierarchies implies that all composite elements, all beings, from very high developed to hardly developed, from super divinity to elemental, are interconnected and cooperate in a certain cosmos. Furthermore, the more developed beings constitute the inspiring, life giving force for the lower beings, which serve as instruments for the higher beings to acquire
experiences. Those lower beings in their turn are the inspiring force for even less developed beings, which
serve them as instruments. In the Bhagavad-Gîtâ this view is outlined on the basis of the tree of life Aśwattha, which is imperishable with its roots upward and branches downward.(14) Therefore, Krishna says:
“All this Universe is pervaded by Me in My invisible form. All things exist in Me, but I do not exist in them. Nor are all things in Me.(15)”
Here, Krishna stands for the highest form of life of a hierarchy, that evolves all other beings out of itself,
but remains in its own sphere — the divine Loka-Tala. Elsewhere we read:
“A portion of myself which, having assumed life in this world of conditioned existence, draws together the senses …(16)”
It is the idea of emanation. The Top of the hierarchy of life evolves a sphere out of itself, to which other beings are attracted. They are the branches, twigs and leaves of the tree, which, although being independent beings, remain part of the One Life.
Therefore, each individual being, each human being for instance, is also a hierarchy in itself. In his higher nature he is the root of the tree and in his external nature he is one of the leaves at one of the many branches at the same tree of life.
You find the same thought again in Mahayana Buddhism, where there is a hierarchy of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas: heavenly Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, human Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. However, it is also taught emphatically that man himself is a potential Buddha, but he does not realize himself this Buddhi condition yet.
In Buddhism emphasis is put strongly on the compassionate character of the hierarchy of life. The ideal is not to rise to a higher sphere, but to sacrifice oneself, so that less developed beings can make use of that sacrifice. This finds its strongest expression in the Bodhisattva ideal. A Bodhisattva refuses to rise to the Loka-Tala lying above him, because he would then be of less use for those he leaves behind. By staying behind he can continuously try to inspire man to develop himself spiritually.
Around the beginning of our age the teaching of hierarchies was widespread in the countries around the
Mediterranean. Frequently, the worlds were designated by Greek names. In Gnostic scriptures, like for instance those of Nag Hammadi, there is talk of Aeons, which just like the Lokas-Talas are developed in couples, and which give life to one another. Out of the higher Aeons ever more material worlds are developed, until the lowest, our physical world is made by a blind god.(17)
That teaching of hierarchies lived so strongly in the minds of the races around the Mediterranean, that it also had a place in the ‘official’ Christianity. A certain Dionysius the Areopagite copied the nonplatonic hierarchy of life and replaced ‘pagan’ names with a strange mixture of Jewish and Christian terms: God, the Divine Spirit, the Seraphim, the Cherubim, the Thrones, the Principalities, the Powers, the Virtues, the Dominions, the Archangels and the Angels. Seraphim and Cherubim are Hebrew terms; the other words are also used by Paul in two of his epistles. The enumeration of Dionysius is still one of the official tenets of the Eastern and Roman Church.
The hierarchical structure in Islam gets shaped by a whole army of archangels and angels, which are further developed in consciousness than man. However, the Koran acknowledges also, next to animals and plants, invisible beings who are less far developed: the Djinnis, which we nowadays call elementals.
Many esoteric Muslims worked out the idea of the hierarchical structure in a system (strongly influenced
by Neoplatonists) of seven spheres or beings, which give life to one another. For instance, you see that with the Ishmaelites: 1. God; 2. Universal Mind; 3. Universal Soul; 4. Original Matter; 5. Pleroma or Space; 6. Kenoma or Time; 7. Man.(18)
Also well-known is the Hierarchy of Compassion. These Masters (Aulijaa, or Friends of Allah) have a head: the Silent Watcher or al-Chadir. Al-Chadir is a mysterious being, half man, half god, who is the relatively highest point of the human hierarchy.
The fourth Jewel – the middle one – is the Jewel of swabhava, which means self-becoming. This Jewel implies that each being occupies exactly that place in the hierarchy of life that fits him, because he becomes exactly that which he made himself in the Boundlessness. One always becomes himself. People make their own character, their own body. People produce themselves. People are always exactly that which they created themselves. However, since each being has in essence all that exists, this process of self-becoming will always continue. We are now what we made ourselves in the past; and in the future
we will become what we make ourselves now. Naturally, this process of self-becoming takes place according to the laws of reincarnation and karma.
Swabhâva also means that each being has a unique characteristic and that he has to play his role in society
according to that unique characteristic.
Therefore, we read in the Bhagavad-Gîtâ that all beings, even the sages, follow their nature.(19)
Yet, this ‘nature’ is not fixed forever. Since each being is a hierarchy, he is also always busy to becoming his Higher Self. That Self is symbolized by Krishna in the Gîtâ. Therefore, Krishna says: “Aham Atman. I am the Ego which is seated in the hearts of all beings; I am the Beginning, the Middle, and the End of all existing things.” (20)
The fourth Jewel, swabhâva, shows on the one hand how beings have become what they are now, but also offers a view in the future: it gives the perspective of how we may unfold further.
In Buddhism, which has evolved out of the Hindu tradition, the same teaching is known. There is even
a school which made swabhava the cornerstone of the teaching. This so-called svabhâvika school from Nepal is one of the oldest and most mystical schools of Buddhism. It teaches emphatically that we originate from ourselves and that we become our own children. There is no power outside man which stipulates who we are or will become, it is through an inner urge that we always are what we made
ourselves. The svabhâvika school relates this teaching not just to humans, but to each living being.(21)
This teaching plays a crucial role in the frequently discussed issue in Buddhism, of there being a permanent part in man. The answer lies in the teaching of swabhâva. There is no permanent part in man in that sense that there would be something which always stays the same. We always grow, we always change. However, since change presumes there must be something that is subject to that change, it is that ‘something’ that moves continuously from one state to another, that becomes itself again and again. That ‘something’ is the consciousness, which becomes more and more universal and therefore wiser.
These thoughts are profound and difficult to comprehend for the thinking faculty which is not well-trained. Therefore, you will not come upon the teaching of self-becoming in Christian scriptures very explicitly. Nevertheless, you may come upon some clues in the Bible. For instance, in Genesis it is told that Adam gave all animals a name.(22) A name is often an expression for a characteristic. Each animal has its own specific feature, its own swabhâva.
Likewise, the Koran only hints at the teaching of self-becoming. In the Koran (71:14) is mentioned:
“While he has created you in (diverse) stages.”
Or, in each stage one becomes oneself, until one grows beyond this stage. When you have learned all in a certain stage, you will grow out of your coat, and you will leave your old form behind, like a snake his skin, and you become your new form. From this quote it appears that self-becoming is closely related to the fifth Jewel, progressive evolution.
- See: English Wikipedia, ‘Loka’. In Dutch: Rudi Jansma, Handboek Hindoeïsme. Synthese, Rotterdam 2010, p. 258.
- Bhagavad-Gîtâ, ch. 15, verses 1-3.
- Bhagavad-Gîtâ, ch. 9, verses 4-5.
- Bhagavad-Gîtâ, ch. 15, verse 7.
- See, e.g.: The Apocryphon of John and On the Origin of the World; The Nag Hammadi Library, e.g. www.gnosis.org/naghamm/nhl.html
- Cited in Henry Corbin, Histoire de la philosophie islamique. Part 1. Gallimard, 1964, p. 20.
- Bhagavad-Gîtâ, ch. 3, verse 33.
- Bhagavad-Gîtâ, ch. 10, verse 20.
- See: G. de Purucker, Fundamentals of Esoteric Philosophy. Point Loma Publications, San Diego 1990, ch. 10, p. 104.
- Genesis, 2:20.
To be continued