Living la Vida 'Loka': Multiple Worlds, Plural Dimensions, and the Art of Inner Seeing
Ever watched the Big Bang Theory? If so, you will probably be very familiar with Sheldon Cooper's complicated rantings about 'string-theory,' quantum mechanics, and the existence of parallel universes... A cultural icon of the past decade or so, the popularity of this North American TV show attests to how most of us in the developed world have grown up to witness an increasing hype over the possible existence of infinite parallel universes. This is what many physicists have come to call the multiverse –a concept as mesmerizing as it is challenging!
Believing the idea of multiple universes to be a relatively new thing, scientists of all sorts have been working tirelessly over the past few decades to finally prove such an abstract notion. Because, doing so could potentially validate many of the theoretical suppositions about life on Earth and the universe at large that we have come to believe could be true, but haven't yet been able to fully demonstrate.
A brief look at ancient Hindu or Tibetan texts, however, soon reveals how a similar proposition was already put forth thousands of years ago –if, of course, with slightly different words.
The Lokas, from the Sanskrit form for 'world, plane, or place,' are the equivalent of our modern-day notion of the multiverse. Proposed by Seers and Sages eons ago, the ancient notion of the Lokas speaks in a language not entirely unlike that of classical myth or modern science fiction about the existence of a variety of planes of consciousness –aka 'worlds'– where different realities can be experienced.
Living la Vida Loka
Different sources give different amounts of possible worlds or Lokas. From the fourteen worlds iconic of Hindu thought, to the six worlds of the Tantric and Tibetan traditions, the seven worlds of Theosophy, or the three worlds of many forms of Yoga (Trailoka) or Jainism, for example, the disparity in number is not significant of a big difference in understanding. At the end of the day, all of these traditions seem to coincide in their interpretation of life as being much more multifaceted, complex, more pluri-dimensional and nuanced than we have sometimes cared to think possible.
The main idea at the heart of these theories about parallel planes of consciousness or multiple universes, then, seems to be that "[t]he world or plane of existence that we normally experience at any given time is based upon our angle and depth of vision. It is not objective. As we look, so things appear" (Frawley, 2019).* Put differently: there is not just 'one reality.' Our plane of consciousness defines our general outlook on life; and so "the whole universe consists of states of mind"; so much so that "the world is in some sense created by the mind, from the infinitely positive to the infinitely negative" (2012: 32).**
Now, when we carefully analyze statements of this sort it becomes a bit easier to understand why control of the mind is such a key component of traditions like Hatha Yoga, for example, or Tibetan Buddhism. It is by learning to control the mind that we become not only masters of our own thoughts, but also masters of our own reality. As noted in the Tibetan Book of the Dead: "All of reality is in the mind, and the mind has us experience it as 'out there.' So we should still take care to see to it that 'out there' is beautiful and not horrible, to prevent the horrible and develop the beautiful" (33).**
So What Do We Make of the Lokas?
Hindu scriptures provide the most detailed description of the Lokas, with seven of these realms being known as the 'higher worlds' or vyahrtis, and the other seven being the patalas or lower Lokas. Our realm –the world of earthly creatures, also known as Bhur Loka– is believed to be the lower of the higher worlds, the threshold plane separating generally nicer realities like ours, from those that are a bit less nicer. Indeed, descriptions of the Lokas can get really exhaustive, with specific names for each of the possible worlds out there and very elaborate descriptions for the types of attributes or experiences natural to them. But we are not really interested in going down to that level of 'complexity.' Let's just stick for now with the overarching picture. And what is the overarching picture here? Well, that "[t]he entire universe dwells within you and you are the universe" (Frawley, 2019).* And since multiple universes seem to be plausible, this essentially means that we have multiple universes or worlds right here, within us, at any one point. Now, what does this mean?
This means that, as mentioned earlier, 'as we think, so we become.' Whatever our habit of thinking about the world(s), whatever the ideas, values, and experiences we choose to believe in, to think of, and to consider possible, good, or real, ultimately shape our experience of reality, our lived experience of reality, in very particular ways. And so, learning to consciously control and develop the ability of 'deep inner seeing' and 'deep inner understanding' through practices like meditation, for example, can make all the difference to the reality of our everyday life.
In a way, then, the Lokas are another way of speaking about many of the qualities or aspects inherent in the yogic concept of the Chakras –the latter being a more esoteric way of speaking about the different possible planes of consciousness and dualities implicit in each of our different states of mind. If you want to know more about the latter, check our earlier entry on the topic. And so, by developing greater control over our awareness, and thus greater control over inner seeing through the practice of meditative kriyas and the development of contemplation, we can learn to move our minds and attention from this reality here (the world of earthly things like those perceived through our outward-going senses) to that of our intuition, our emotions, our creativity and imagination; from the reality of physical manifestation to that of subtle expression, energy, vibration... And thus, we learn to experience alternative, overlapping, multifaceted worlds and dimensions, here, now, expanding not only our understanding of the world(s) we live in and our role in them –our embodied experience of any and all Lokas– but also our very experience of life itself.
Hence, adding layer onto layer of deeper and deeper meaning –adding our understanding of the Koshas to that of the Nadis, the Chakras, the Lokas, the Bodies, energies, the universe, and the multiverse, for example– our vision of the world(s) expands, and so expands as well what we think of as real, possible, and 'mate(r)eal.'
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** The Dalai Lama [Thurman, R. A.] 2012 (1994). The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Liberation through Understanding in the Between. New York: Bantan Books.