Meister Eckhart preached about the ascending states of being in what the translators—Maurice O’Connell Walshe, based on Josef Quint—have called Sermon Seventy. In this passage from the sermon, Walshe relied on Quint’s translation due to the difficulty of the subject and the unreliability of the source, and I have copied it as Walshe translated it.
What is interesting about this sermon is the fact that Hinduism, Buddhism, Kabbala (Jewish) and Meister Eckhart (Catholic) all speak of ascending states of consciousness in the same general terms. These states are characterized on one hand by the existence or absence of form, and on the other hand by the existence or absence of effort. In the highest state there are no forms, and it has been described as rest, stillness, effortlessness. Because of the ubiquity of these words of the masters, we must accept the truth of these higher realities.
There is also found in Hinduism, Buddhism and Kabbala the idea of the triple world, or the threefold world, wherein dwell innumerable beings. As Williams (2000) explains, when one attains higher meditative states, one is entering real places where beings are born, exist and die (Rebirth, karma and meditation).
The lowest realm is the one in which we dwell, which Lester Levenson described as “hellish”: “You happen to be in the most hellish hell there is in the universe, and fortunately so, at the same time” (The Ultimate Freedom). In Buddhism it is called the sense realm, in Hinduism it is called the desire realm, and in Kabbala it is called the action realm.1 The word for ‘action’ in Sanskrit is karma, which shows the likeness between Kabbala and Hinduism.
Moving up from this world there is the level that Buddhism calls the form realm, Hinduism calls the astral plane, and Kabbala calls formation. Beings in this plane of existence being have eliminated desires, and they can cause things to appear instantly by thought; however they are not liberated.
Higher than this is the level that Buddhism calls the formless realm, Hinduism calls the causal plane, and Kabbala calls creation. At this level there are no forms, although beings still exist as separate entities. From what Thomas Upham described as Madame Guyon’s experience and from Dolores Cannon’s writings, these beings cooperate with the creation of “what is to come.”
In a talk entitled Letting Go of Ego, Lester says two interesting things: he implies that there are multiple worlds on the astral and causal planes, and he mentions even higher levels. This was also what Dolores Cannon’s subjects reported in Between Death and Life, published in 1996—two years after Lester’s passing. What Lester never said, but Cannon did say, was that the Earth is not the only world in the desire-sense-action realm.
The triple world is “the abode of the unenlightened because beings have not completely abandoned the self.” The Vimalakirtki Sutra explains why a birth in this world, the lowest and most painful place to be, is to be valued:
If you plant seeds in the sky, they will never grow. Only when you plant them in well-manured soil can they sprout and flourish. In the same way, the Buddhadharma (Reality of the Enlightened) will never grow in a person who has perceived the uncreated nature of reality and entered into true understanding. But one who entertains egotistic views as huge as Mount Sumeru can still set his mind on the attainment of complete liberation. From this you should understand that all the various earthly desires are the seeds of the Tathagata (a living Buddha). If you do not descend into the vast ocean, you can never acquire a priceless pearl. In the same way, if you do not enter the great sea of earthly desires, you can never acquire the treasure of perfect wisdom. (Enlightenment attained only from this world)
Lester urged his students to not be tempted by the higher realms: “These states are awfully tempting, and as you move up, some of these characters will invite you into it. My recommendation is this: bypass it all.” (“Get Off the Rollercoaster“) In another talk he said that by doing so we can “save ourselves millions of years”:
If we lose our sense of egoity in the state we are in now, we save ourselves millions of years of growing on the higher planes. To be in a higher astral realm, or a causal realm, or the highest of realms, we still need a sense of separation, a sense of egoity. We need a sense of a higher body. And one of the greatest, most wonderful things about the state we are in now is that it allows us to go all the way back home, right to the very top. Even the gods, the angels, cannot do what we can do. We can go all the way by completely losing the sense of being an ego. (https://youtu.be/NJ_2RMvxZ-4 at 9:10)
Yogananda’s Autobiography (1946) affords us a view of a being who had outgrown the world, but left it without attaining liberation. His goal was never enlightenment (moksha), but rebirth in the astral realm. In his autobiography, Yogananda translated Adi Shankara’s warning about seeing distinctions:
“The Vedas declare that the ignorant man who rests content with making the slightest distinction between the individual soul and the Supreme Self is in peril (of rebirth). Where there is duality by virtue of ignorance, one sees all things as distinct from the Self. When everything is seen as the Self, then there is not even an atom other than the Self.”
Yet despite this admonition, Yogananda persisted until the end of his life in viewing “God” and other people as distinct from himself, and in viewing people and matter as real. In other words, he never gave up seeing his “self” as real. In a demonstration of this dualistic state of mind, during his visit to India in 1935 Yogananda demanded that his guru, Sri Yukteswar, tell him that he loved him.
Later, after Yukteswar had passed on, he appeared to Yogananda and told him that he had become a savior to astral beings, and promised him that they would be reunited:
“As prophets are sent on earth to help men work out their physical karma, so I have been directed by God to serve on an astral planet as a savior. It is called Hiranyaloka or ‘Illumined Astral Planet.’ There I am aiding advanced beings to rid themselves of astral karma and thus attain liberation from astral rebirths. The dwellers on Hiranyaloka are highly developed spiritually; all of them had acquired, in their last Earth-incarnation, the meditation-given power of consciously leaving their physical bodies at death. There you and your exalted loved ones shall someday come to be with me.” (Chapter 43)
The following is Lester’s description of what the form realm would be like on Earth:
If everyone were in harmony, there would be no waiting in line for tickets; there would be no one clamoring around a box office trying to get them. When everyone’s in harmony, there are enough seats for everyone, and everyone walks right in without needing a ticket. You don’t even have to pay for it. Nature provides in superabundance when we get in tune with it. There would never be such a thing as shortages. There is unlimited infinite energy available to us, as well as a superabundance of everything we would want to use. That’s when you’re in tune with nature. Really, no effort is needed when you’re in tune with nature. Effort is required when you’re working against nature, when you’re not in tune with it. This world was put here for our use and play. The idea of nature needing to be conquered is a very negative idea. What needs to be conquered is our negative ideas, and then only positive things happen. (“The Source of All Intelligence”: https://youtu.be/LJ7j5jszw5w)
Lester also described the form realm in his autobiography (2003):
As Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions” (John 14:2).* After people drop the body they go into a world similar to this where they meet old friends. The main difference is that everything there is immediate. Whatever you think comes into being right away. It’s heavenly compared to this. But because of its being so easy, there’s little incentive to grow. Here, the opportunity for growth is the greatest. (p. 97)
*In the house (beth) of my Father are many abodes; if [it were] not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
But because Earth is the realm that provides the greatest opportunity for growth, Lester advised his students to aim for complete liberation while here:
And we can go from the physical, we can graduate, get our wings, and fly off into the astral. And you can spend far more millennia in the astral than you do here because it’s an easier way of life. And then we can graduate into the causal. But if you understand what the ego is, you can go all the way from the lowest realm that we are in now, back to the highest, by eliminating the ego-sense. When we lose all of our ego-sense we are fully realized. We go all the way. We return to being the All. The opportunity to do this exists more in this realm than in any other realm, because it is so difficult that the incentive is greatest in this realm. As life gets easier the incentive to grow gets less. But when you think you are not going to eat, and the whole world is going to collapse on you and so forth, and you have a sick body and all these troubles, you have a tremendous incentive to get out of that. And the incentive being so much stronger in this realm, it’s possible to transcend all the realms and go right back to the One, or the All. (“The Mind Mirror”: https://youtu.be/CGdCMMRebgM)
You’ll never, ever be satisfied living life in the world—or in any other world, or in the heavens. There are heavens on top of heavens on top of the heavens. We happen to be in the hell-realm of the heavens. And you’ll never, ever be satisfied until you go to the ultimate, until you recognize it. (“The Ultimate Freedom”: https://youtu.be/O5SBbSE0Hcw)
1. Kabbala’s doctrine of the three realms:
“From the conjunction of the Sephiroth emanated directly or remotely three worlds; two called the world of creation and of formation, being spiritual, though of different degrees of purity, and inhabited by spiritual beings; the last, called the world of action, being material, subject to change and corruption and inhabited by the evil spirit and the hosts subordinate to him.” (Ginsburg, quoted in Mansel).
The original premise of this post was that the higher states or realms are defined by form on one hand, and on the other hand by degrees of work and action (ego) or being (God). For Eckhart the first of the higher states is that in which a soul is “borne up in the Trinity”: “That which God is in power, we are in the image . . . There we shall know as we are known, and we shall love as we are loved. But this is not without working, for the soul is borne up in that image, and works in that power as that power.”
Eckhart generally talks about “works” in the sense of service to others; but sometimes he is talking about graces or gifts, which is the ability to perform miracles:
A master called Avicenna declares that the mind of him who stands detached is of such nobility that whatever he sees is true, and whatever he desires he obtains, and whatever he commands must be obeyed. And this you must know for sure: when the free mind is quite detached, it constrains God to itself . . . (On Detachment).
For the sake of symmetry we will call being “borne up in the Trinity,” where one has the ability to “constrain God,” the attainment of the form realm.
I know now that your simple word is binding on the whole cosmos. – Yogananda
Above this is “being that does not work but here alone is being and work.” Again, for symmetry, we will call this the attainment of the formless realm.
Above everything is the Godhead, where there is only being and no work. According to Eckhart this is “the highest perfection of the spirit to which man can attain spiritually in this life.” But the Godhead it isn’t the highest state of all, he says, because it is “being” without “person”—that is, personality. For him the very highest perfection is “that which we shall possess forever with the body and soul.”
Mahayana Buddhism teaches about the threefold body of the buddha. The lowest is the sambhogakaya, or reward body, which is when the body of a sage functions in perfect harmony. Next is the dharmakaya, which is the state of union with the Dharma, or the Godhead. Highest of all there is the nirmanakaya, which is the transformation body or manifestation body. This is where a buddha appears in different forms to teach beings everywhere according to their capacities and needs. A buddha has to ability to transform himself while still alive, but it appears that the earthly body is prone to dying while one is out of it.
Like Eckhart, Buddhism considers the realization of the Dharma, or Godhead, to be an incomplete enlightenment. Upon attaining enlightenment, the bodhisattva does not remain in contemplation of sunyata, or non-materiality, but is ever ready to help lead others to liberation. The Vimalakirti Sutra says, “One sees that there is such a thing as tranquil extinction, but does not dwell in extinction for long.” In Sermon Seventy Eckhart holds up Jesus as exemplifying this unity of “person” and “being” we should aim for:
“Then the outer man will be entirely maintained through the supportive possession of personal being, just as humanity and divinity are one personal being in the person of Christ.”
He becomes a monk in all the different creeds of the world
so that thereby he may free others from ignorance
and save them from falling into erroneous beliefs. – Vimalakirti Sutra
* * *
Now take note of a saying which I consider very fine: when I think how one He is with me, as if He had forgotten all creatures and nothing existed but I alone. Now pray for those who are entrusted to me! Those who pray for anything but God or to do with God, pray wrongly: when I pray for nothing, then I pray rightly, and that prayer is proper and powerful. But if anyone prays for anything else, he is praying to a false God, and one might say this was sheer heresy. I never pray so well as when I pray for nothing and for nobody, not for Heinrich or Konrad. Those who pray truly pray to God in truth and in spirit, that is to say, in the Holy Ghost.
That which God is in power, we are in the image: what the Father is in power, the Son in wisdom and the Holy Ghost in goodness, we are in the image. “There we shall know as we are known”, and we shall love as we are loved. But this is not without working, for the soul is borne up in that image, and works in that power as that power; she is also borne up in the Persons in accordance with the power of the Father, the wisdom of the Son and the goodness of the Holy Ghost. All this is the work of the Persons. Above this is being that does not work but here alone is being and work. Truly, where the soul is in God, just as the Persons are suspended in being, there work and being are one, in that place where the soul grasps the Persons in the very indwelling of being from which they never emerged, where there is a pure essential image. This is the essential mind of God, of which the pure and naked power is intellect, which the masters term receptive.
Now mark my words! It is only above all this that the soul grasps the pure absoluteness of free being, which has no location, which neither receives nor gives: it is bare ‘beingness’ which is deprived of all being and all beingness. There she grasps God as in the ground, where He is above all being. This is the highest perfection of the spirit to which man can attain spiritually in this life.
Yet this is not the highest perfection: that which we shall possess forever with the body and soul. Then the outer man will be entirely maintained through the supportive possession of personal being, just as humanity and divinity are one personal being in the person of Christ.. Therefore I have in that the same support of personal being in such a manner that I myself am that personal being while totally denying my awareness of self, so that I am spiritually one according to my ground, just as the ground itself is one ground. Thus according to the outer being I should be the same personal being, entirely deprived of my own support. This personal man-God-being outgrows and soars above the outer man altogether, so that he can never reach it.
Relying on himself he indeed receives the influx of grace from the personal being in many manifestations of sweetness, comfort and inwardness, and that is good: but it is not the best. Therefore if he remained thus in himself [in the body] yet unsupported by himself, then, although he would receive comfort through grace and the co-operation of grace, which however is not the best thing, the inner man, who is spiritual, would have to come out from the ground where he is one, and would have to be directed by the gracious being by which, through grace, he is supported. Therefore the spirit can never be perfect unless body and soul are brought to perfection. Thus, just as the inner man, in spiritual wise, loses his own being by his ground becoming one ground, so too the outer man must be deprived of his own support and rely entirely on the support of the eternal personal being which is this very personal being.
We have now therefore two kinds of being. One ‘being’ is according to the Godhead, bare substantial being, the other is personal being, and yet both are one ‘substance’. Now since the same substance whereby Christ is a person, as the bearer of Christ’s eternal humanity, is also the substance of the soul, and yet there is one Christ as regards substance, as regards both being and person, so too we must be the same Christ, following him in his works, just as he is one Christ as regards his humanity. For, since by my humanity I am of the same genus, therefore I am so united to his personal being that, by grace, I am one in that personal being and am that personal being. So, since God (Christ) dwells eternally in the ground of the Father, and I in him, one ground and the same Christ, as a single bearer of my humanity, then this (humanity) is as much mine as his in one substance of eternal being, so that the being of both, body and soul, attain perfection in one Christ, as one God, one Son.
May the Holy Trinity help us so that this may come to pass in us. Amen. (p. 174)
* * *
Followers of the Way, the one who at this moment stands alone, listening, clear and vibrant right before the eyes, this one is not limited to any place; unhindered he penetrates everywhere and moves freely in the triple world. Entering all kinds of situations, he is never affected by them. In the fraction of a moment he descends to the lowest realms. Meeting the Buddha, he talks with the Buddha; meeting patriarchs, he talks with patriarchs; meeting arhats, he talks with arhats; meeting hungry ghosts, he talks with hungry ghosts. He goes everywhere, roaming through the realms and talking with living beings, yet never strays for a single thought from his shining purity. Penetrating the ten directions, to him the ten thousand things are of one suchness.
Madame Guyon on simplicity and multiplicity:
The soul is created one and simple like God. To arrive at the end of creation, we must therefore leave the multiplicity of our actions to enter into the simplicity and unity of God, “in whose image we are created” (Gen. 1:27). God is one and multiple; God’s unity does not prevent its multiplicity. We become one with God’s unity and have the same Spirit with God. Yet we are multiplied in respect to God’s outward will, without leaving our unity. So when we are entirely moved by the divine Spirit, which is infinitely active, our activity differs greatly in energy and degree from that which is only our own. (James, p. 97)
God asks two admirable things from his devotee. One, now he must leave the profound silence in which he has remained. During the time of becoming lost in God, God asked that the devotee reduce his being into the the simplicity and unity of God. Now that the union is complete, God desires to give the devotee the fruit of his consummated state, the knowledge of multiplicity and unity. In this stage the multiplicity does not interfere with the unity, and the unity does not interfere with the multiplicity.
God desires that the devotee should add the outward praise of his mouth to the silent word of the center known as the state of unity. This is an imitation of what is accomplished in glory. After many centuries, when the soul has been absorbed into the ineffable yet ever-eloquent silence of the divinity, it will receive its glorified body, which will give praise to God. So this resurrection of the body will have its own language of praise that increases happiness yet does not interrupt the soul’s peace.
In this life, after the soul knows consummation in a unity that cannot be interrupted by external actions, the body’s mouth finds praise appropriate to it. The beautiful harmony between the silent word of the soul and speech of the senses makes up the consummation of praise. (James, p. 231)
I should be unable to write anything about my interior state. I will not do it because I have no words to express what is entirely disconnected from everything considered as feeling, expression, or human conception. I shall only say that after my state became resurrected, I found myself for some years, before being placed in the state that is called apostolic, in a bliss equal to that of the blessed, reserved for the beatific vision. Nothing down here touches me, and neither do I see anything in heaven or in earth that can trouble me concerning myself. The happiness of a soul in this state cannot be comprehended without experience, and those who die without being employed in the external state die in supreme bliss even though overwhelmed with external crosses. (James, p. 242)
* * *
Cannon, Dolores (1996). Between Death and Life: Conversations with a Spirit. Bath: Gateway Books.
Ginsburg, Christian D. (1863-1864) The Essenes: Their History and Doctrines and the Kabbalah – Its Doctrines, Development and Literature. New York: Cosimo (2005). Cited in Longueville Mansel, Henry (1875). The Gnostic Heresies of the First and Second Centuries. London: John Murray.
James, Nancy C. (2011). The Complete Madame Guyon. Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press.
Levenson, Lester (2003). No Attachments, No Aversions: The Autobiography of a Master. Sherman Oaks, California: Lawrence Crane Enterprises.
M. O’C. Walshe (1987). Meister Eckhart: Sermons and Treatises Volume II. UK: Element Books Limited.
Williams, Paul (2000). Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition. London and New York: Routledge.
Yogananda, Paramhansa (1946). Autobiography of a Yogi. New York: The Philosophical Library