In a previous piece on the site I explored the ancient teaching in multiple traditions of the three great states of being. In the Indian tradition of Vedanta (as well as the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition) these three state-realms are known as the gross, subtle, and causal. In the Neoplatonism of Plotinus they are known as the World Soul (gross), The Nous (Subtle), and The One (Causal). In Hermeticism it is Cosmos (Gross), God (Subtle), and Space (Causal). Each of these traditions also speaks of a 4th which is the substrate of non-separate essence that runs through all three states, which is both an everything and nothing.
Each of those three states has a corresponding form of mysticism associated with it. Psychic for gross, deity mysticism for subtle, and formless mysticism for causal (with enlightenment as the 4th or non-dual essence realization). I’ve covered the psychic-gross-Cosmic-World Soul in a number of pieces, most especially this one because I see the psychic as core to understanding much of the high strangeness and weirdness of our time: UFO phenomenon, high strange trauma, interactions with the dead, (so-called) past life regressions, psi experiences, etc.
In this piece however I want to explore more of the subtle terrain.
In the traditional spiritual system of Neoplatonism, the Source (causal) gives of it’s overflowing abundance. As it “descends” or flows out the first form of its manifestation is the subtle realm, which is the realm of archetypes. I do not mean archetypes in the Jungian sense but in the true Platonic sense, i.e. as the ultimate forms upon which all other forms of the gross material world are built. One of the classic versions of archetypes (again in the original Platonic sense) are deities and deity forms. Deities as well as other types of light beings—angels, great ancestors, ascended masters—populate the subtle realm. Communion or connection with these beings requires entering into the subtle state of consciousness which is the doorway to the subtle realm where these entities are said to abide.
Subtle mysticism is therefore a mysticism of Light. The imagery is of overwhelming unending everlasting Light. Sound is the other traditional metaphor of the subtle realm: e.g. “The Cosmic Hum”. In New Age traditions this is the concept of vibration; it’s a current of Life Force that brings all things into being which maybe an auditory phenomena (“music of the spheres”) or more a vibratory-sensory experience.
In subtle mysticism the individual experiences the Ultimate (causal) under the rubric of it’s first manifestation, the subtle, whether more through the medium of vision (Light), audition (Sound), or sensation (Vibration). Very often this involves experiencing some kind of archetypal personification of the subtle under the form of a being of Light: a Buddha, a deity, an angel, and so on. This archetypal deity form becomes the focal point for the mystic in their connection with the subtle realm. The deity form or light being becomes their guide through the upper worlds like Beatrice guiding Dante through paradise.
Intriguingly the deity form is both other than and somehow the same as one’s own Higher Self. In Tibetan Buddhism, for example, there is the practice of deity yoga (yidam) where a cosmic Buddha arises from the Ultimate Ground (causal) as a form of Light. Examples would include Tara, Availkotesvara, Manjushri, each of whom reflect and embody distinct attributes of the Ultimate: Manjushri is Wisdom; Availkotesvara equals compassion; Tara as protectress and liberator.
The practitioner then meditates with this Buddha/deity form above one’s head, symbolizing the movement “upwards” to the subtle heavenly realms. Then eventually the deity form is said to fall down into the person’s head and heart thereby disappearing outwardly but entering inwardly, representing the person becoming the deity/archetype.
This practice is structurally almost identical in Roman Catholicism, though of course here the deity or light being encountered would be Christ (or The Holy Spirit or Mary or another saint or an angel). Icons of Christian saints from the Renaissance and Baroque eras with their eyes fixed upwardly on a image enveloped in Light is exactly the same practice as the moment when the Buddha is envisioned as above one’s head. Also in the practice of the Sacred Heart where one gives one’s heart to Christ and he gives his heart to them would be more or less equivalent to the moment of the Buddha falling down into one’s own being in deity yoga.
Time and space massively expand in the subtle. Incredibly large stretches and cycles of time (aeons) are experienced as are worlds upon worlds upon worlds (extended space). The perspective of the subtle is therefore very grand and elevated but not particularly the most concrete (gross).
There is also a strong emphasis on a vertical line of ascent and descent uniting the underworld, the human world, and the upper worlds: the chakras, the sephirot, Jacob’s Ladder, The World Tree, etc. This vertical line creates a pole of orientation leading from earth up to the highest heavens which, like the deity or angel can guide the journeyers on their way.
The ethical themes that come from the subtle realm reflect the largeness and wideness of the experience. There is typically a strong theme of universal compassion, global brotherhood/sisterhood, deep detachment from (gross) worldly cares and concerns, and focus on “living in the light”. There is also (usually though not always) a strong contrast between the light and darkness, i.e. the opposite of the light. If the light symbolizes love, compassion, and harmony the darkness is cruelty, violence, egotism, disorder and chaos.
[Incidentally, all these themes will recur when exploring the subtle mysticism of intergalactic star beings, aka “subtle aliens”.]
In the phase where the Buddha/angel/deity is above the aspirant can produce hymns or poems or prayers to the deity above as in traditional devotional religious practice. One can also ask a question and seek to receive revelation or guidance (“a message”) from the deity/light being above. This moment is—in the genuine forms—the source of channeled texts or mystical revelations, whether they’re from Christ to medieval nuns or intergalactic multidimensional star beings to 1960s hippies. The subtle structure is very similar across time, space, culture, and religion. From all the unique variations and distinction what’s held in common is a reception of information directly from the subtle heavenly light realm “down” into gross material form.
In sum, the subtle realm is the first “stepped down” realm from the Causal Source. It is a realm of transcendental Light, Vibration, and Sound. Consequently beings of light populate this subtle realm. Time and space radically alter and expand in this world. Information received from this realm tends feel like a “download” or revelation or transmission which might then be “channeled” into the material realm (say by writing down the subtle communication). That communication generally takes the form of messages of large scale compassion and love as well as critiques of the existing social and political order as out of alignment with the ultimate Light and Love at the heart of Life.
There are some potential dangers or at least limitations to the subtle realm and to the mystical encounter with it. When it comes to channeling (or “downloading” in New Age language) there is the question of the understanding of revelation. A classic mistake is to assume that the channeled information has come down “straight from above” and the human being is simply some sort of scribe or conduit or mouth piece for the heavenly realm to speak with no translation or filter. Evangelical Protestant Christian theology sees the The Bible as the literal word of God and the human authors (“the channels”) of the Holy Spirit to be but passive human instruments of the Divine Author.* Whereas in Roman Catholicism The Word is understood to be the 2nd Person of the Trinity (The Logos, Eternal Christ) and the words on the page of The Bible are means of communing with The Eternal Word of The Divine. In Catholic theology then the human authors of The Bible wrote through metaphor, story, symbolism, and their own cultural and religious tendencies. In Catholicism, in other words, The Bible is imaginal. It’s partly constructed by the human an partly by the Divine.
Failure to recognize the human influence and mediation of the channeled message leads to literalistic fundamentalism whether of the Protestant Christian, Sunni Islamic, or New Age channeled message variety. (Yes there is such a thing as New Age fundamentalism and it’s as odd as it sounds).
A related danger of subtle mysticism is to confuse one’s deity form for the final and ultimate and only true Deity. This road too leads to fundamentalism. If one’s chosen deity is The Christ and Christ (Consciousness) is seen as the only true form of Light, then all others can be seen as demonic imitations. Just so, one might see Mother Ayahuasca as the one lone final rescuer (savior) of humanity—this too would be a problem. Or Vishnu or Shiva or Kali or Allah or Maitreya or The Pleiadians or Grandfather Spirit or….fill in the blank deity form.
The antidote to this problem is to connect in more with some causal mysticism whereby one realizes that the diverse deity forms all arise from a prior Ground of Unity, known in Christianity as The Godhead and in Buddhism as Sunyata (“Empty Fullness”).
The subtle realm can too easily create a binary bifurcated world of heaven (good) and earth (sinful/dark). The path can too easily become one of ascent to the exclusion of descent. Along those lines another danger is to seek the “heaven world above” and use it as arenas of seeking to escape this “veil of tears” world. The technical term for this is spiritual bypassing. For all the challenges of the psychic—most especially it’s trickerstery character—it is a bit more “earthy”. It’s still weird and numinous but it’s a weirdness with actual physical manifestations: craft and lights in the sky, psychedelic encounters with trees and plants, interactions with the dead.
The subtle goes that much further into seeming realms beyond this world. Subtle worlds truthfully can often feel more blissful or radiant than this world which can easily slide over into a spiritual temptation to hang out more and more in these upper worlds and deny more and more this “lower world.” This can lead to a great deal of spiritual escapism, a form of spiritual addiction we might even say. One might believe their “true home” is up and above, somewhere up in the stars say and they long to leave this world to “return home.”
The antidote here is to seek to incarnate the Light experienced in the heaven realm and bring it “down” to earth: the kingdom of heaven on earth as Jesus would say.
Lastly it is important that an individual practice Energetic Sovereignty, particularly when interacting with the subtle realm and it’s entities/presences. The danger again here is to take the word of such beings entirely 100% as the final truth and assume a position inferior to them. Human are “down here”, they are “up there”, exalted in esteem. Connection with the Causal Ground is helpful here to foster a disposition of friendship or mutual connection (similar to allies in the psychic) remembering that all are rooted in a prior underlying reality (The Causal Formless Ground of Being). Subtle beings of the Light respect the autonomy of each being. Like a very wise Elder, they offer sage advice but trust it is for humans to take that perspective in and make it of what they will and choose their way.
These antidotes to the subtle are profoundly important: bringing the Light down; approaching beings of Light as a Council of Wisdom; remembering there are other such subtle beings and one’s specific connection isn't the final or ultimate connection; recalling that all beings arise from and return to the same Groundless Ground; translation is an art and interpreting subtle messages and bringing then down into gross must occur through symbolism and metaphor not literalistic fundamentalist truth. Once those are applied the beauty and luminosity of the subtle realm can circulate more freely and healthfully into this world.
These subtle antidotes or medicine as I’m calling them are increasingly necessary as more and more individuals are initiated and connect to these realms.
* Mainstream Sunni Islam treats the revelation of The Qu’ran in much the same way.