Indra’s Net: On Interconnectedness

Indra’s Net: On Interconnectedness



Key Terms

  • Indra’s Net
  • Indrajal
  • Felix Klein
  • Henri Poincare
  • Hyperbolic Geometry
  • Atharva Veda
  • Avatamsaka Sutra of Hua Yen Buddhism
  • Brahmajala Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism
  • Non-Euclidian Geometry
  • Hyperbolic Manifolds
  • Group Theory
  • Fractals
  • Benoit Mandelbrot
  • Mobius Maps
  • David Mumford
  • David Wright
  • Caroline Series
  • Indrajal Comics (a Publishing house in India now defunct)
  • Nicolai Lobachevsky
  • Johann Bolyai
  • Carl F Gauss


From The Avatamsaka Sutra Francis H. Cook
Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra 1977

Indra’s Net

Far away in the heavenly abode of the Great God Indra, the protector and nurturer of life, there is a wonderful net which stretches out indefinitely in all directions, in accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities.

At the net’s every node, is hung a single glittering jewel and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold.

If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, which sparkle in the magnificence of its totality.

Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that the process of reflection is infinite. As each gem reflects every other one and everything else in the universe, so are you affected by every other system in the universe.



The metaphor of Indra’s Jeweled Net is attributed to an ancient Buddhist named Tu- Shun (557-640 B.C.E.) who asks us to envision a vast net that:

  • At each juncture there lies a jewel
  • Each jewel reflects all the other jewels in this cosmic matrix
  • Every jewel represents an individual life form, atom, cell or unit of consciousness
  • Each jewel, in turn, is intrinsically and intimately connected to all the others
  • A change in one gem is reflected in all the others

The moral of Indra’s net is that the compassionate and the constructive interventions a person makes or does can produce a ripple effect of beneficial action that will reverberate throughout the universe or until it plays out.

By the same token you cannot damage one strand of the web without damaging the others or setting off a cascade effect of destruction.



From The Indra’s Net

“Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out indefinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel at the net’s every node, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that the process of reflection is infinite. The Hua’yen school [of Buddhism] has been fond of this image, mentioned many times in its literature, because it symbolizes a cosmos in which there is an infinitely repeated interrelationship among all the members of the cosmos. This relationship is said to be one of simultaneous mutual identity and mututal intercausality.”

~ Francis H. Cook, Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra

There are several aspects of Indra’s Net, as described in the above quote, that signify it as a crystal clear allegory of reality:

1. The Holographic Nature of the Universe

Long before the existence of the hologram, the jeweled net is an excellent description of the special characteristic of holograms: that every point of the hologram contains information regarding all other points. This reflective nature of the jewels is an obvious reference to this.

This kind of analogy has been suggested by science as a theory for an essential characteristic of the cosmos, as well as as the functioning of the human brain, as beautifully described inThe Holograpic Universe by Michael Talbot.

2. The Interconnectedness of All Thingss

When any jewel in the net is touched, all other jewels in the node are affected. This speaks to the hidden interconnectedness and interdependency of everything and everyone in the universe, and has an indirect reference to the concept of “Dependent Origination” in Buddhism. Additionally, Indra’s Net is a definitive ancient correlate of Bell’s Theorum, or the theory of non-local causes.

3. Lack of a substantive self

Each node, representing an individual, simply reflects the qualities of all other nodes, inferring the notion of ‘not-self’ or a lack of a solid and real inherent self, as seen in the Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism and Buddhism in general.

4. Non-locality

Indra’s Net shoots holes in the assumption or imputation of a solid and fixed universe ‘out there’. The capacity of one jewel to reflect the light of another jewel from the other edge of infinity is something that is difficult for the linear mind, rational mind to comprehend. The fact that all nodes are simply reflections indicates that there is no particular single source point from where it all arises.

5. Innate Wisdom

The ability to reflect the entirety of all light in the universe attests to the inherent transcendant wisdom that is at the core of all nodes, representing all sentient beings, and to the inherent Buddha Nature.

6. Illusion or Maya

The fact that all nodes are simply a reflection of all others implies the illusory nature of all appearances. Appearances are thus not reality but a reflection of reality.

7. Universal Creativity

A familiar concept in various high dharmas is one of an impersonal creative intelligence that springs forth into reality through the instruments of all living beings.

8. The Mirror-like Nature of Mind

The capacity to reflect all things attests to the mind being a mirror of reality, not its basis. This is a common thesis among various schools and religions.

This article is from:


The Vedic metaphor of Indra’s Net

The metaphor of Indra’s net, with its poetic description of the indivisibility of the universe, captures the essence of Hinduism’s vibrant and open spirit.

The Vedic metaphor of Indra’s Net


Indra’s Net is a metaphor for the profound cosmology and outlook that permeates Hinduism. Indra’s Net symbolizes the universe as a web of connections and inter-dependencies among all its members, wherein every member is both a manifestation of the whole and inseparable from the whole. This concept is the foundation for Vedic cosmology and it later went on to become the central principle of Buddhism, and from there spread into mainstream Western discourse across several disciplines.

The metaphor of Indra’s Net originates from the Atharva Veda (one of the four Vedas), which likens the world to a net woven by the great deity Shakra or Indra. The net is said to be infinite, and to spread in all directions with no beginning or end. At each node of the net is a jewel, so arranged that every jewel reflects all the other jewels. No jewel exists by itself independently of the rest. Everything is related to everything else; nothing is isolated. [i]

Indeed, the fundamental idea of unity-in-diversity underpins all dharmic traditions; even though there are many perspectives from which Indra’s Net may be viewed and appreciated, it is ultimately recognized as one indivisible and infinite unity. From the Hindu viewpoint, the One that manifests as many is named Brahman; even seemingly disparate elements are in fact nothing other than reflections of Brahman, and hence of one another. This notion of an organic unity is a signature of Hinduism, and distinguishes it from all major Western religions, philosophies and cultures.

Each jewel of Indra’s Net includes the reflections of all the other jewels; the significance of this symbolism is that each entity in the universe contains within itself the entire universe. This idea, rather than positing interdependence among separately existing entities, asserts that the whole does not owe its existence to the coming together of individual parts that have independent existence. Indeed, the existence of each individual part is contingent upon, and relative to, the existence of the whole and of all the other parts. Yet, paradoxically, each individual part also ‘contains’ the whole within itself. Put simply, the whole and the parts are inseparable.

Every jewel in Indra’s Net is a microcosm of the whole net; every component is the cause of the whole and also the effect of the whole. Nothing exists outside the net. [ii] In the Hindu worldview, the only essence that ultimately exists is Brahman; Brahman is the foundation for Indra’s Net, and no jewel exists apart from Brahman.

The jewels of Indra’s Net are not meant to symbolize static substances. Each jewel is merely a reflection of other jewels, and individual jewels always remain in flux. Each jewel exists only momentarily, to be continuously replaced by its successor, in mutual causation with other jewels. Just as the interdependent cells of the human body are perpetually changing, so also everything in Indra’s Net is perpetually in flux. Reality is always in the flux of becoming. This concept is different from the notion of real, independently existing entities undergoing modification, or static entities that happen to be woven together.

Swami Vivekananda applied the great Upanishadic saying, ‘tat tvam asi’ (‘that thou art’) as the basis for Hindu ethics. He said, in essence, that we are all jewels in Indra’s Net (even though he did not use this metaphor to say it). Thus, Vivekananda defined a Hindu platform for determining ethical conduct, not only towards all humans but towards animals and all entities in general—because everyone and everything is a jewel in Indra’s Net.

The Sanskrit word bandhu is frequently used to describe the interrelationship between the jewels of Indra’s Net. ‘Bandhu’ defines a corresponding entity; for example, a relationship between x and y can be stated as ‘x is a bandhu of y’. In traditional Indian discourse, this term is often used to explain the unity between the whole and its seemingly diverse parts. For example, ancient thinkers have described specific bandhus which express the paradoxical relationship of the microcosm to the macrocosm. While the microcosm is generally perceived as a map of the macrocosm, it is also the case that both microcosm and macrocosm continuously mirror one another.

Bandhu can also refer to the connections among various facets of our overall unified reality, linking sounds, numbers, colors and ideas together. No object—whether physical, mental, emotional, or conceptual—has any existence by itself and is merely another facet of this unified whole. In addition, bandhu describes how the transcendental worlds correspond with the perceptible world, implying that whatever we perceive through our senses is but a pointer to something beyond.

Kapila Vatsyayan, a scholar of classical Indian art, has cited many examples of bandhu in the form of common metaphors. Significant symbols may be found in the Rig Veda, the Natya-shastra (a seminal text on aesthetics and performing arts) and the Tantrasamuccaya (a text on temple architecture). The seed (bija) is often used to symbolize the beginnings. The tree (vriksha) rises from the bija and represents the vertical pole uniting the realms. The nabhi (navel) or the garbha (womb) brings together the concepts of the un-manifest (avyakta) and the manifest (vyakta). The bindu (point or dot) is the reference point or metaphorical centre around which are drawn geometrical shapes, which in turn facilitate the comprehension of notions of time and space. The sunya (void) is a symbol of fullness and emptiness. From its arupa nature (formless) arises the rupa nature (form) and the parirupa (beyond form). There is equivalence in the relationship between sunya (emptiness) and purna (completeness or wholeness), the paradox being that the void has within it the whole. [iii]

In Hinduism, the concept of unity-in-diversity can also be understood as a manifestation of Brahman, an agency that penetrates, pervades and harmonizes the entire universe. Brahman enters and shapes the mould of every entity giving it form, substance and individuality. It is only human pre-conditioning that causes us to visualize the multiplicity of forms as separate entities, and hence the world appears to be full of contradictions. The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad says:

Brahman is responsible for the interconnectedness of things and has become the living and the non-living; the visible and the invisible; the creatures which are two-footed and those that are four-footed. He became the subtle body and then the gross body by means of a subtle instrument known as the subtle body. This very Being became the vital consciousness of all. This is known as the Madhu¬Vidya, the sense of the ‘honey’ of all beings, the knowledge of the inter-dependence of things and the vital connection of everything, under every condition, at every time, everywhere.  [iv]

Hinduism devotes much thought to exploring the relationships between the jewels of Indra’s Net, and how they are manifestations and reflections of each other. Hindu thought is distinct from Abrahamic religions, which are premised on the existence of one separate God, one absolute event in history, and one inviolable set of injunctions. Hindus, for better or for worse, tend to be natural de-centralists. This is why it is hard to understand Hinduism, and difficult to organize and mobilize Hindus under an overarching corporate institution. It is also why Hinduism has proved, thus far, difficult to destroy. This idea can be referred as ‘integral unity’. The integral unity of the whole manifests itself in the parts, and they, in turn, aspire to unite with the whole; this principle is reflected in every domain of dharmic knowledge, including philosophy, science, religion, ethics, spirituality, art, music, dance, education, literature, oral narratives, politics, marriage rituals, economics, and social structures. Each domain of dharmic knowledge is itself a jewel in Indra’s Net, and reflects all the others. In other words, the same underlying principles are represented in these specialties in different ways.

For example, Hindu dance is not merely an isolated form of cultural expression but a complete and rigorous discipline through which one may learn and experience philosophy. This quality of correspondences across many domains of knowledge is striking. Music and sacred dance have a formal grammar based on Hindu cosmology. The Sanskrit Natya-shastra, a seminal text on performing arts and aesthetics, treats natya as a total art form; its scope includes: representation, poetry, dance, music, make-up, indeed every aspect of life. The Natya-shastra presents an integral view encompassing the Vedic rituals, Shaivite dance and music, and the epics. The eight traditional rasas it describes (love, humour, heroism, wonder, anger, sorrow, disgust, and fear) mirror a complete experience of the real world like the jewels of Indra’s Net, and together facilitate a practitioner’s pursuit of the purusharthas(human goals).

Some other examples across various domains are as follows:

  • The Vedic ritual altar is a representation of the entire cosmos.
  • The architecture of Hindu temples is based on physical dimensions which correspond to various astronomical metrics.
  • The yantra, an important device of sacred geometry, represents the whole universe.
  • Any deity can be conceived of in multiple ways: as a personal manifestation of the divine, as a metaphor for certain cosmic qualities and powers, and as an amalgamation of qualities and energies to be invoked and established in a person through ritual, meditation and yoga. Based on individual preferences, a deity can be approached as another entity in the mode of devotion, or as an object of meditation, or as a means for self-realization within oneself.
  • In Ayurvedic diagnosis, a correspondence is posited between specific points on the tongue and all parts of the entire body; thus, an expert in this field examines the tongue as a means of analysing the patient’s overall condition. The tongue is thus a jewel in which the entire physical and psychic body is reflected. The core principle of integral unity is encoded in the symbolism of Indian art, architecture, literature, ritual, mythology, festivals, and customs, all of which are intended to facilitate access to higher knowledge that goes beyond the conventional scope of any specific domain. Integration between disciplines is built-in and no effort is needed to create unity by bringing separate parts together. Even when certain disciplines and practices were destroyed, other disciplines encoding the same principles survived and helped preserve and re-ignite the overall tradition.

Dharmic cosmology is governed by bandhu interconnections among the astronomical, terrestrial, physiological, and spiritual realms; and each of these realms is itself connected, in the broadest sense, with the arts, healing systems, and culture. As discussed previously, bandhu describes a correspondence between the whole universe and the individual consciousness, which can be explored and developed from many alternative starting points. Thus, dharmic traditions have a common current that impels the individual along a natural quest to discover the reality beneath the appearances and to appreciate relationships among seemingly unrelated phenomena.

Dharmic traditions consider the common experience of reality as merely the transient reflection of a system in flux, interconnected with other realities across the past, present and future. In this flux, which affects all phenomena, repeating patterns may appear as static and independent ‘objects’, but this perception is just an illusory artifact of the limited mind. The individual person, of course, is himself a part of this flux. With the aid of meditation, he is able to witness reality as a detached observer—to see the personal ego, and indeed all fixed objects, as mere reflections of a moment in the flux.

Indra’s Net and Buddhism

Important Buddhist texts use Indra’s Net to describe an infinite universe with no beginning or end, in which every element is mutually related to every other element. Indra’s Net is a quintessential metaphor for Buddhist philosophy, describing how everything exists only in mutual causation with everything else, and nothing can be isolated.

The Avatamsaka Sutra (which means ‘Flower Garland’) of Mahayana Buddhism uses the metaphor of Indra’s Net to explain cosmic interpenetration. This sutra explains everything as both a mirror reflecting all and an image reflected by all. Everything is simultaneously cause and effect, support and supported. This important sutra was translated from Sanskrit, and its logic further developed in China under the name of Hua-yen Buddhism.

The Hua-yen tradition was developed by a series of thinkers, most notably Fa-tsang (cE 643-712). Through him, it passed on to Korea and other East Asian countries, becoming known as ‘Kegon’ in Japan. Hua-yen is praised as the highest development of Chinese Buddhist thought. D.T. Suzuki called Hua-yen the philosophy of Zen, and Zen the meditation practice of Hua-yen. Francis Cook explains the core philosophy of Hua-yen as follows:

Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net that has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each ‘eye’ of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in all dimensions, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring. [v]

Cook goes on to explain that Indra’s Net ‘symbolizes a cosmos in which there is an infinitely repeated interrelationship among all the members of the cosmos’. He adds that ‘the cosmos is, in short, a self-creating, self-maintaining, and self-defining organism’. Furthermore, there is no theory of a beginning time, and such a universe has no hierarchy. ‘There is no center, or, perhaps if there is one, it is everywhere.’

Hua-yen is built on the primary concern of Indian thought which is about the nature of causation. This is evident in the Sanskrit name for Hua-yen, ‘dharmadhatu pratityasamutpada’ (the interdependent co-arising which is the universe). Key principles of Madhyamika Buddhism, regarding non-substantiality and non-origination, have exact equivalents in Hua-yen. The Avatamsaka philosophy emphasizes the illusory nature of things when they are seen separately. [vi]

David Loy, a Buddhist practitioner and scholar who has spent most of his life in Kyoto, uses the analog of lila (play) to refer to the Buddhist ideal of life. While the ordinary ego is a player struggling, out of anxiety, to ground itself in the net, the liberated player has realized that he is the net. There is no separate ‘me’ to possess anything, nor any separate thing to be possessed. He explains:

Life becomes play; … the issue is whether we suffer our games because they are the means whereby we hope to ground ourselves somewhere in Indra’s Net, or whether we dance freely within the Net because we are it. The dangers of relativism in ethics are vitiated to the extent I realize my interdependence with other beings: I shall indeed love my neighbour as myself when I experience that I am my neighbor.  [vii]

It is interesting to note that over a period of many centuries Buddhist thinkers across East Asia have meticulously preserved the Sanskrit terms originally used to define Buddhist ideas, and fully credited Indian sources. Recently, however, as Buddhist ideas have travelled to the West and spread across many disciplines, the tendency has been to disconnect Hinduism from these ideas. Thankfully, the term ‘Indra’s Net’ has been preserved, and this allows scholars like myself to retrace the Vedic origins of these widely popular ideas.

Influences on modern society

Indra’s Net has inspired thinkers and movements in the West ranging from philosophy to ecology. David Loy has described how the major milestones of Western post-modernist thought resemble the ideas inherent in Indra’s Net. He cites Sigmund Freud’s approach in psychology, Ferdinand Saussure’s work in linguistics, Roland Barthes’s ideas in literary theory, and Jacques Derrida’s approaches to deconstruction as examples of twentieth-century pioneers who have utilized the ideas of Indra’s Net (mostly without explicit acknowledgement). The result of this has been nothing short of a revolution in Western philosophy, shaking the age-old Western premise that entities have separate, absolute, independent existences. Deconstructing the self-existence of things is the very signature principle of post-modern thought, and is a subset of the philosophical ideas contained in Indra’s Net. [viii]

Gregory Fahy has examined John Dewey’s idea of local, contextual and relational metaphysics as a subset of the Hua-yen thinking of Indra’s Net. [ix] Mathematicians studying chaos theory and fractals have described the beauty of structures as ‘Indra’s net’, ‘Indra’s necklace’ and ‘Indra’s pearls’. [x] In physics, the notion of quantum entanglement is a special case of the kind of interconnectivity we are describing. It is not at all surprising that Indra’s Net has been used as a metaphor to explain holograms, wherein, by definition, each part also includes the whole within itself. Indra’s Net has also been cited as the metaphor for the internet.

In the field of environmentalism, Leslie Paul Thiele has explained that Indra’s Net represents the Sanskrit concept of prajna (the wisdom of the interdependency of things), with the key implication that causes and effects are inseparable. He mentions that the word ‘ecology’ was coined in 1873 to mean the interactive relations between plants and animals, and that its meaning has recently expanded to include all of nature’s interrelationships in a wider sense. Sustainability is inherently a matter of interdependence, so the applicability of these ideas to the modern ecology movement is obvious. [xi] Indra’s Net, of course, embodies a far wider scope than just the material aspects of nature.

The basic principle is that each individual is both the cause for the whole and is caused by the whole. Ecological interdependence implies that if any one part of a system is disturbed, the whole system is affected. In this regard, Francis Cook has described Indra’s Net as a kind of ‘cosmic ecology’. [xii] Unlike in Western (disembodied) philosophy, nature is not seen as a backdrop for human existence; rather, humans are seen as inseparable from nature. A special issue of the journal Philosophy East and West was devoted to the applications of Indra’s Net to the field of environmental ethics. [xiii]

Another example of contemporary applications is an NGO called Indra’s Net Community, a South Korean movement that addresses concerns in the daily lives of lay people. Inspired by the interdependency principle of Indra’s Net, it was started by a group of visionary monks. They established grassroots communities to promote an alternative lifestyle in response to contemporary society’s emphasis on mass consumption, commercialism, competition, and the exploitation of natural resources. [xiv]


[i] The mantra is: ‘brihaddhi jaalam brihatah shakrasya vaajinivatah’ (8.8.6). ‘Ayam loko jaalamaasit shakrasya mahato mahaan’ (8.8.8).

[ii] However, from the viewpoint within the provisional reality, all jewels are not the same. We must note the Buddhist (and Vedantin) notion of two truths, phenomenal and absolute. There is spiritual progress only from a phenomenal point of view.

[iii] Vatsyayan, 1997.

[iv] Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (2:5.17-18) http://www.swami-krishnananda. org/brdup/brhad_II-05.html

[v] Cook, 1977, p. 2.

[vi] In early Pali texts, there is the notion of ‘paticca samuppada’ (dependent, co-arising or interconnected origination). Nagarjuna established one of the central principles that there are no isolated entities bearing essential natures or existing as themselves. This is referred to as things being empty of their own separate distinct existence, i.e., not having any ultimate sva-bhava or self-nature. This developed into the Avatamsaka tradition’s idea of sunyata along with interdependence comprised all reality. One of the famous chapters of the Avatamsaka Sutra includes the following explanation of interpenetration: ‘All the lion’s organs, the tip of every hair, being of gold, include the whole lion. Each of them permeates the whole lion; the eyes are the ears, the ears are the nose, the nose is the tongue and the tongue is the body. They come into being freely, without difficulty, without impediment.’ Here the gold symbolizes the substance and the lion symbolizes the form.

[vii] Loy, 1993, p. 484.

[viii] Loy, 1993.

[ix] Fahy, 2012.

[x] See, for example, Mumford, 2002 and Debnath, 2006. The metaphor has also been applied to new ideas proposed in library science (Bair-Mundy, 1998).

[xi] Thiele, 2011.

[xii] Cook, 1977.

[xiii] Philosophy East and West, vol. 37, no. 2, April 1987.

[xiv] Park, 2010. Indra’s Net has also been cited by activists who argue against climate change and other environmental concerns (Tam, 2008). There are also co-dependency arguments for helping salmon survive (Allendorf, 1998).



Please see my related posts:

The Great Chain of Being

On Holons and Holarchy

Consciousness of Cosmos: A Fractal, Recursive, Holographic Universe

Reflexivity, Recursion, and Self Reference

Geometry of Consciousness

Mind, Consciousness and Quantum Entanglement

Systems View of Life: A Synthesis by Fritjof Capra

Shape of the Universe



Key Sources of Research:

The Indra’s Net



Indra’s Net




Noneuclidean Symmetry and Indra’s Pearls

Caroline Series

David Wright


The Vedic metaphor of Indra’s Net





David Mumford, Caroline Series and David Wright



Caroline Mary Series: Pearl of Hyperbolic Manifolds




Benoit B. Mandelbrot





Hyperbolic Geometry & Kleinian Groups



Nature and Psyche in an Interconnected Universe

Joseph Cambray

TexasA&M University Press 2009




Poincare and his disk

Etienne Ghys



Iteration and its Consequences
Indra’s Pearls: The Vision of Felix Klein.

By David Mumford, Caroline Series, and David Wright,

Cambridge University Press,

New York, 2002,



Indra’s Pearls:  Geometry and Symmetry

Caroline Series

University of Cambridge

This is the 2010 joint London Mathematical Society / Gresham College lecture.


On Holons and Holarchy

On Holons and Holarchy


Key Terms

  • Holons
  • Holarchy
  • Hierarchy
  • Fractals
  • Holonomic
  • Holographic
  • Heterarchy
  • Parts and Whole
  • Networks
  • Matryoshka Dolls
  • Recursion
  • Nested Levels
  • Reflective Spheres
  • Hyper Sets
  • Boundaries



From The Holonic Revolution Holons, Holarchies and Holonic Networks. The Ghost in the Production Machine


A minor conceptual revolution has been under way for less than forty years now, beginning in 1967 with the publication of Arthur Koestler’s The Ghost in the Machine – a phantasmagorical book in terms of the breath and variety of its content – which formally introduced the concepts of holon and holarchy (the hierarchical ordering of holons).

Koestler’s idea is clear and simple: in observing the Universe surrounding us (at the physical and biological level and in the real or formal sense) we must take into account the whole/part relationship between observed “entities”. In other words, we must not only consider atoms, molecules, cells, individuals, systems, words or concepts as autonomous and independent units, but we must always be aware that each of these units is at the same time a whole – composed of smaller parts – and part of a larger whole.

In fact, they are holons.

By systematically applying the whole/part observational relationship, or the equivalent one of containing/contained, the Universe appears to us as a hierarchy of holons: that is, as a holarchy where, at each hierarchical level, the holons undergo the effects of the structural or operational variations of the subordinate holons and in turn produce variations in the behaviour of the superordinate ones.

The entire machine of life and of the Universe itself evolves toward ever more complex states, as if a ghost were operating the machine.

The concepts of holon and holarchy have since been used, especially in recent times, by a number of writers in a variety of disciplines and contexts, and these concepts are rapidly spreading to all sectors of research. Physics (Capra 1982), engineering (Babiceanu et al. 2005; Dani et al. 2004)), robotics, biology (Shafaei – Aghaee, 2008), organizational studies, management science (Zhang et al. 2003; Ng et al. 1996), business administration and entrepreneurship (Chirn – McFarlane 2001), production and supply chain systems (McFarlane – Bussmann 2000; Akturk – Turkcan 2000; Amiri 2006). Connected to these ideas are those of holonic networks, holonic and virtual enterprises, virtual organizations, agile manufacturing networks, holonic manufacturing systems, fractal enterprise and bionic manufacturing (Chapter 5)


This short essay, written from an economic-business point of view, has four objectives.

The first (covering the first two chapters) provides the reader with a brief but precise theoretical framework for understanding the meaning of the new terms that increasingly come up in business literature (outside Italy as well) and which refer directly or indirectly to the ideas of holon and holarchy. Connected to these terms are those of holonic network, holonic firm and enterprise, holonic manufacturing systems, holonic production, bionic production, fractal enterprise, and virtual enterprise, to name but a few.

Since I have observed that often the term “holon” has been improperly used, without any reference to the original sources, leading to models and conclusions that are absolutely inappropriate, I feel it is useful to provide the theoretical framework within which these terms can be properly used, considering not only Koestler’s definition but also the ideas of Ken Wilber, which are based on this notion.

I also feel it is useful to examine several fundamental classes of holarchies in order to show that the idea of a hierarchical order among classes of holons can be applied to a variety of contexts. In particular I have presented Koestler’s Self-organizing Open Hierarchical Order, Wilber’s Kosmos and Shimizu’s Autonomic Cognitive Computer as applications that illustrate the concept of a holon.

The second objective (presented in Chapter 3) is to extend the notion of holon while respecting its original meaning, in order to apply it to organizations.

Starting from the definition of organizations as systems whose organs are composed of individuals or groups of individuals, I have attempted to demonstrate two interconnected aspects: on the one hand, that organizations are holons that derive from a holarchy of organs (from their functionalities), and on the other that organizations can be formed by other holon-organizations – which I have labelled orgons – that are connected in a holarchy that I have called an orgonization.

When we observe the functionality and the function of its organs we see that an organization can be thought of as a macro system whose purpose is the attainment of a macro objective. It immediately follows that it can be compared to an Holonic Manufacturing System, or to an Autonomic Cognitive Computer; that is, to a holarchy of operators at different levels – each included in the other, so as to form parts of ever smaller size – each capable of pursuing part of the macro objective.

When there is a larger objective to achieve, rather than add levels to the organization we can form an organization of organizations, that is an orgonization with unique characteristics.

The third objective is to show (Chapter 4) how holons can be connected not only in the typical hierarchical structure – the holarchy – but, by stretching somewhat the original meaning, also in a reticular structure in order to form holonic networks in which the vertical ordering (above and below) is replaced by a horizontal one (before and after).

Within the holonic networks the holons maintain their autonomy and their whole/part relationship, which together characterize holarchies. However, for this reason the dominant feature is their horizontal systemic interconnections; each holon becomes a node of input-output interconnections between holons that come before and those that come after in the structure.

I have thus discovered that even holonic networks can be made up of orgons that form orgonic networks.

Since holarchies, orgonizations, holonic networks and orgonic networks are present everywhere – in firms and between firms, as well as in the economic system of which they are a vital part – it is useful to present a general survey.

Among the many types of holonic networks, I have chosen to examine the main sources of inspiration for those production systems referred to as the Holonic Manufacturing Systems, comparing these to those defined as Bionic and Fractal Manufacturing Systems. I have also considered the numerous forms of Inter- organizational Networks as well as the Holonic and Virtual Organizations.

The fourth objective (Chapter 5) is perhaps the most ambitious one, since I have tried to extend the holonic vision to the global production-economic system, or Production Kosmos.

Globally we are witnessing the continual and accelerated economic progress of mankind. There is an increase in the quantity and quality of needs that are satisfied and those still to be satisfied, and in the aspirations achieved and yet to be achieved. The increase in productivity and quality is unstoppable, and appears to guide the other variables in the system.

It is natural to ask who activates and governs such phenomena. The answer is that they are self-generated and self-organized in the context of reticular holarchies and orgonic networks formed by production enterprises – or production organizations – that comprise the integrated process of global production.

On a continental scale, it makes sense to consider production in terms of networks of orgons in which, by choice or not, every firm that produces final consumption goods is linked at several levels to a number of other suppliers of materials, components, machines and other structural factors. We can easily observe that the large continental production networks – in North America, China, Japan, India and Europe – are not yet integrated but are becoming larger and increasingly connected, while other local networks are developing in other countries.

In order to understand how things are evolving in a context where there is a connection between firm and production organization we need a conceptual framework that does not limit our observations to the single production units, searching therein for the laws of survival, but one which, at least in principle, is able to explain how the large orgonic networks internally produce self-organization and self-development.

The theory of systems provides two particularly interesting approaches: one that considers firms as adaptive systems that operate according to local rules and that spontaneously and inevitably generate production networks understood as complex adaptive systems, and that which considers production organizations as holons that, given their arrangement in a multi-level holarchy, generate the production networks in which progress appears as the inevitable consequence of the holarchic ordering of the Economic-Production Kosmos.

This essay considers the second approach, presenting the holarchic model of the analysis of production networks. It assumes that in an economy based on knowledge, where the limits of time and space are tenuous, production must increasingly refer not to a single firm but to a system of firms (a super-organizational network) or to operational units (inter-organizational network) conceived of as an operative, information or cognitive network.

It truly appears there is a Ghost in the Machine, whose invisible hand produces growing levels of productivity and quality, increases the quality and quantity of satisfied needs and aspirations, and reduces the burden of work, thereby continually increasing the level of progress in the entire Kosmos.

It is useful to conclude with a bibliographical note.

The conceptual revolution begun in 1967 has not yet led to a relevant number of monographs. On the other hand, there is a substantial bibliography containing journal articles, papers presented at congresses, and opinions and documents from discussion forums. The Internet has been crucial for gaining access to recent material.




You may know of Russian Dolls – Nested Dolls.  They are known as Matryoshka Dolls.  I came across this russian paper investigating roots of dolls.

Eastern Roots of Russia’s most famous Toy

May I suggest that name/concept of these dolls could have originated from SAPTA MATRIKA (7 Divine Mothers) of Indian Hindu Tantra Philosophy.



A Brief History of Holons

Mark Edwards

This concept has a long and respectable ancestry. So much so that defenders of orthodoxy are inclined to dismiss it as “old hat” – and often in the same breath to deny its validity. Yet I hope to show as we go along that this old hat, handled with some affection, can produce lively rabbits.
(Arthur Koestler, 1967, p.45)


The idea of hierarchy and of their constituent part-wholes, or holons, has, as Arthur Koestler points out in the opening quote, a long and distinguished history. There are many philosophers who have proposed abstract systems for explaining natural and social phenomena. In pre-Socratic Greece Leuciddus and Deocritus developed the abstract concept of the atom and used it to develop a philosophy that could explain all observed events. Aristotle used hierarchy as the methodology for accumulating and connecting biological knowledge. Hierachy was perhaps the dominant way of viewing the connection between the natural, the human and the supernatural orders of being through the middles ages. In the 17th century Leibnitz proposed his “monad” as an irreducible unit for explaining not only the material world but the inner world of the soul.

In the early twentieth century there was a flurry of interest in holism and hierarchy that owed its genesis to the impact of Darwin’s evolutionary theory. I think the contribution of Jan Smuts in his publication of “Evolution and Holism” in 1926 is particularly important. Smuts was a soldier, a revolutionist republican, a lawyer, the Premier of the Republic of South Africa for several years (before the instigation of political apartheid), a globalist, and one of the founders of the United nations. writers of the UN founding charter. He also was a philosopher who saw the deep connections between the natural and social worlds and his concept of holism clearly influenced Wilber’s ideas in this area. Wilber quotes Smuts at the very beginning of his first major work that fully utilised the concept of hierarchy – “The Atman Project” – “Everywhere we look in nature we see nothing but wholes” (cited in Wilber, 1980). While all these various threads of ideas included the consideration of hierarchical networks and levels and orders of development it was not until the work of writer-philosopher Arthur Koestler that a fully theory of holarchy and holons was proposed.

Arthur Koestler – The father of Holon theory


The Ghost in the Machine


Some 35 years ago, in 1967, Arthur Koestler proposed the term “holon” in his book “The Ghost in the Machine”. Arthur Koestler was born in 1905 and died in 1983. During the 1930’s and 1040’s Koestler was a journalist who covered the Spanish civil war and World War II from the perspective of the ordinary people who were swept up in the great social tumult of those times. After the war he turned to turned to writing books in both fiction and non-fiction genres. He was one of the most widely read political novelists of all time. Koestler said that he wrote his novels, “out of my quarrels with the human condition”. His other non-fiction books, including, “The Ghost in the machine” were “attempts to analyse that same condition in scientific terms”.

Like Jan Smuts, Arthur Koestler led an extremely eventful life and he participated fully in some of the most important political and social events of his times. Again, similarly with Smuts, Koestler’s engagement with the events of the day included not only social action and participatory involvement at a personal level but he also lived a life of deep connection with the world of culture and inner experience. In the following quote from his book, “The Act of Creation”, Koestler is referring to the relationship between subjective and objective knowledge quests and it shows the awareness he had of both interior and exterior aspects of life.

Einstein’s space is no closer to reality than Van Gogh’s sky. The glory of science is not in a truth more absolute than the truth of Bach or Tolstoy, but in the act of creation itself. The scientist’s discoveries impose his own order on chaos, as the composer or painter imposes his; an order that always refers to limited aspects of reality, and is based on the observer’s frame of reference, which differs from period to period as a Rembrant nude differs from a nude by Manet.
Arthur Koestler, 1970, p. 253It is interesting to look at Koestler’s life in terms of Wilber’s Quadrants framework. He was a philosopher and held a rich interest in art and cultural concerns. He was active socially and for many years was involved in various social movements and was nominated for the Nobel prize for literature three times. His personal life was one of great behavioural involvement with the great dramas of revolution, war and social dislocation that characterised the early and middle twentieth century. He also explored the inner worlds of subjective experience and imagination and wrote some of the most memorable political novels of his times. Looking at his life it is clear that his great span and depth of involvements and experiences should be reflected in his philosophy and in the specific detail of the holon theory that he largely created.

Koestler’s Holon

The idea of the holon occupies a central position in Koestler’s thinking about the human condition. He developed the construct to deal with three central problems that he saw facing the social sciences of the post-war generation. First he saw the need for some model that could unite and integrate the reductionist and mechanistic worldview of the “scientific” and behavioural psychologies with the holistic and humanistic worldview of the Freudian, Rogerian and Gestalt psychologies. Second, he recognised the importance and relevance of evolutionary processes in the social sciences and wanted to provide some theoretical system that could apply evolutionary conceptualisations to both realms. Third, he wanted to develop a model of human social systems that was equally at home in analysing the micro-level of individuality and the macro-level of collectivity. He wanted to propose some basic model of explanation that was relevant across the great span of human activity and involvement.

Koestler acknowledged that his “holon” construct had, in fact, a very venerable and ancient ancestry in western philosophy. Several important philosophers including Leibniz and Hegel had drawn attention to the importance of such things as hierarchy and developmental levels. Koestler saw himself in a line of such thinkers who wanted to bring together different knowledge quests and schools of scientific endeavour instead of pursuing the ongoing specialisation in scientific knowledge that has characterised modern scientific schools. Holon theory was Koestler’s attempt at an integrative philosophy of science and he expected that the holon theory or something similar would form the basis for any truly holistic future scientific worldview. He approvingly quotes one Needham who said that, “The hierarchy of relations … will perhaps be the leading idea of the future”. So, the holon construct was no small thing for Koestler and it is clear that he regarded his holonic principles as a solid attempt at an integrative philosophy of human existence.

So what is a holon. The word is a combination of the Greek “holos” meaning whole, with the suffix “on” which, as in proton or neutron, suggests a particle or part. The holon, then, is a part-whole. It is a nodal point in a hierarchy that describes the relationship between entities that are self-complete wholes and entities that are seen to be other dependent parts. As one’s point of focus moves up, down, and/or across the nodes of a hierarchical structure so one’s perception of what is a whole and what is a part will also change.

The evolutionary holon

In introducing the idea of the holon Koestler quotes the story told to him by Herbert Simon, a Nobel prize winner, and called the ‘parable of the two watchmakers’. The parable goes like this:

There once were two watchmakers, named Bios and Mekhos, who made very fine watches. The phones in their workshops rang frequently; new customers were constantly calling them. However, Bios prospered while Mekhos became poorer and poorer. In the end, Mekhos lost his shop and worked as a mechanic for Bios. What was the reason behind this?

The watches consisted of about 1000 parts each. The watches that Mekhos made were designed such that, when he had to put down a partly assembled watch (for instance, to answer the phone), it immediately fell into pieces and had to be completely reassembled from the basic elements. On the other hand Bios designed his watches so that he could put together subassemblies of about ten components each. Ten of these subassemblies could be put together to make a larger sub-assembly. Finally, ten of the larger subassemblies constituted the whole watch. When Bios had to put his watches down to attend to some interruption they did not break up into their elemental parts but only into their sub-assemblies.

Now, the watchmakers were each disturbed at the same rate of once per hundred assembly operations. However, due to their different assembly methods, it took Mekhos four thousand times longer than Bios to complete a single watch.Koestler relates this story to show that the hierarchical organisation of systems is an inbuilt feature of life – biological life but also any complex evolving system. not only is the time needed for the development greatly shortened when hierarchical methods are used but there are also inherent benefits in terms of maintenance, regulation and restoration. Koestler sees the hierarchical ordering of life as such a fundamental aspect of development that he says (1967, p. 47),

We do not know what forms of life have evolved on other planets in the universe, but we can safely assume that wherever there is life, it must be hierarchically organised (emphasis in the original)Koestler wants to show two things with this parable. First, that complex systems will evolve from simple systems much more rapidly if there are stable intermediate forms than if there are not, i.e. if they are hierarchically organised. Second, and more importantly, he wants to show that the resulting complex systems will always be hierarchic and that hierarchy is the natural and ubiquitous outcome of the development of structural form. After establishing the universal importance of hierarchy to the development of complex systems Koestler went on to propose that these hierarchies could be analysed in terms of the stable intermediate nodes or forms through which their structure is defined. It was to these intermediate forms that Koestler conferred the new label of “holon”.

Koester was a keen student of psychology and was well aware of the problems besetting the reductionist behavioural approaches to psychological theory. He was also conversant with the European schools such as the more holistic Gestalt psychology and he saw his holon theory as a way to move beyond the inadequacies of these contending models. He saw the great dehumanising effect of atomistic psychologies but also recognised the limitations of the holistic schools. As he puts it (1967, p.49)

in spite of its lasting merits, ‘holism’ as a general attitude to psychology turned out to be as one-sided as atomism was, because both treated ‘whole’ and part’ as absolutes, both failed to take into account the hierarchic scaffolding of intermediate structures of sub-wholes … the Behaviourist never gets higher that the bottom layer of stones, and the holist never gets down from the apex.Koester saw holon theory as a broad philosophy of science that showed a way out of the interminable and centuries-long debate over the relative merits of reductionism and holism.

Holons and holarchies

Koestler noted that in every order of existence, from physical to chemical to biological and social systems, entirely self supporting, non-interacting entities did not exist. And more importantly, that entities can be seen to lie in holarchical relationship with each other. He called systems of such entities Open Hierarchical Systems (OHS) and these have subsequently been called holarchies. Every identifiable unit of organization, such as a single cell in an animal or a family unit in a society, comprises more basic units (mitochondria and nucleus, parents and siblings) while at the same time forming a part of a larger unit of organization (a muscle tissue and organ, community and society). A holon, as Koestler devised the term, is an identifiable part of a system that has a unique identity, yet is made up of sub-ordinate parts and in turn is part of a larger whole.

Koestler’s holons were not thought of as entities or objects but as systematic ways of relating theoretical structures. In other words, holons were arbitrary points of reference for interpreting reality. To quote Koestler (1967, pg. 55), “Whatever the nature of a hierarchic organisation, its constituent holons are defined by fixed rules and flexible strategies” (emphasis in the original). So Koestler’s holons are posited and “fixed” only out of the relational rules and strategies that help us make sense of reality.

Because holons are defined by the structure of a hierarchy each identified holon can itself be regarded as a series of nested sub-hierarchies in the same way that a set of Russian dolls is an inclusive series of dolls contained within each other. Holons are, then, both parts and wholes because they are always parts of larger hierarchies and they always contain sub-hierarchies. Holons simultaneously are self-contained wholes to their subordinated parts, and dependent parts when seen from the inverse direction. Hence, holons can be seen as reference points in hierarchical series or holarchies.

Russian dolls

Koestler also recognised that holons are the representative stages or nodal structures that define the developmental hierarchies. As he says (1967, p. 61),

the different levels represent different stages of development, and the holons … reflect intermediary structures at these stages.It is this crucial stage-like characteristic of holons that Wilber takes up, expands and utilises in his spectrum model of human growth and later in his quadrants framework for describing Kosmic development. It is interesting to note that Koestler also recognised that the stage-like nature of hierarchies that existed in the inorganic world and in “the interplay of cohesive and separative forces in stable inorganic systems, from atoms to galaxies”.

So, we see that Koestler not only introduced the nomenclature of holons but he also described their place in developmental theory and saw how they could be used to overcome many of the philosophical problems that were plagued the social and psychological sciences of the early twentieth century. Even more than this, Koestler developed a very detailed set of holonic principles that actually defined a new theory of social development and general evolutionary theory. These principles are outlined in an appendix to “The Ghost in the Machine” and are titled “General Properties Of Open Hierarchical Systems (O.H.S.)”. Many of these principles have been taken up and expanded on by Ken Wilber in his holonic tenets but there are many that have not. Before comparing Koestler’s OHS properties with the twenty tenets of Wilber I will give a brief overview of how Wilber has adopted the holon and how it fills a central role in his most recent writings on Integral theory.

Ken Wilber’s Holonic Tenets

Sex, Ecology, Spirituality


Wilber adopted Koestler’s holon construct during, what Wilber has called, the phase-2 period in the development of his philosophy. This phase, which occurred around the late seventies and early eighties, is characterised by a focus on the spectral transcend-and–include nature of all developmental structures. It is no surprise that Wilber would be drawn to the holon as a construct given his developmental interests and particularly his revolutionary pre/trans theorem which is so useful to unravelling the boundary stages of growth. So, it was quite early on that the holon construct was incorporated into the basic theoretical scheme Wilber’s writings as a way of emphasising the hierarchical/holarchical nature of reality. To my knowledge, the first reference that Wilber makes to the holon construct is in his 1983 book, “Eye to Eye” but he may well have been aware of the term for some time. This was at least 15 years prior to the great expansion of his ideas that culminated in 1995 in the publication of “Sex, Ecology, Spirituality” (SES) which introduced the Four Quadrants of Kosmic evolution (Wilber’s Phase-4). From 1995 the holon and its various defining qualities have held an increasingly important position in Wilber’s writings.

Wilber holonic theory or as he refers to it “the twenty tenets” were first laid out in the opening chapters to SES. They provide the foundation for his mapping out of the All Quadrants, All Levels framework (AQAL). It is clear from the very beginning of SES that Wilber now regards the idea of the holon as the primary explanatory unit in his AQAL framework. This is conveyed in his famous statement that,

“Reality as a whole is not composed of things or processes, but of holons”.

This groundbreaking statement sets the holon construct at the very heart of Wilber’s whole explanatory endeavour. And, I believe, that this marks a major turning point in the history of Western philosophy of science and in our more general attempt to develop scientific explanations of social phenomena. The reason for this is because in clearly identifying the holon as the central unit of explanation Wilber provides a basis for connecting all fields of scientific and cultural knowledge.

Wilber’s AQAL framework and the Holon

As with Koestler, Wilber uses the holon theory to, “undercut the traditional argument between atomism .. and wholism”. For Wilber to incorporate holonic theory into the theoretical structure of the AQAL framework was easy at one level because both theories were founded on the idea of hierarchical inclusion. The difference between them was that Wilber’s AQAL framework was a way of seeing the whole developmental and evolutionary nature of all relative knowledge, experience and activity. Wilber took Koestler’s holon to its logical end and, placing within the AQAL framework, saw the holon as a way of analysing all aspects and domains of reality. The subtitle of SES is “The Spirit of Evolution” and to my mind the book is an attempt to bring evolutionary theory out of its traditional biological home and to apply to all levels of existence – from matter to spirit. Wilber does this through the identification of the holon as his core explanatory device. This is the absolutely crucial part that holons play in his model.

In taking up Koestler’s wonderful theory of holons, Wilber too has stressed the sliding and contextual, yet hierarchical, nature of holons. Wilber has creatively used the holon construct to highlight the holarchical nature of his AQAL framework. The framework is derived from an immense amount of scientific, cultural and experiential knowledge. In adopting the holon construct the AQAL model becomes more than just a new way of connecting existing fields of knowledge in a developmental overview. It is also a new way of looking at the referential “units” of that knowledge – holons. Built into the heart of the model is the concept that all developmental phenomena can be viewed as aspects of dynamic, holonic events that are nested within a holarchy of evolving/involving structural patterns.

The holons construct is so critically important to the utility of the Integral model because it enables the AQAL framework to be focused on any point in the holarchy or, to put it another way, it enables any developmental event to be analysed in terms of an Integral methodology. As such, the concept of the “holon” does away with the endless quest of trying to find the fundamental parts or wholes that constitute reality and it releases us from the basis mythologies inherent in materialistic, mentalistic, animistic, relativistic, or idealistic conceptions of reality. Quantum physics, that most advanced of all natural sciences, now overtly recognises the completely mythological nature of “matter” (Davies & Gribble, 1992), and of ideas that regard reality as simply permutations of solid substance, empty space, and linear time. The AQAL model, when it is used as an interpretive schema, extends this demythologising awareness across all explanatory systems (including itself) and brings to the fore the holarchic and developmental nature of reality. With the idea of a nested holarchy of holons, Wilber has opened a vision of reality that does not fall into the errors associated with various forms of reductionism, elevationism or relativisim. In bringing Koesler’s holon concept into his model, Wilber has not only opened up the possibility of a truly open-ended Theory of Everything but also a systematic theoretical approach towards any thing/process/event.

The holon – Integral theory’s unit of analysis

The development of the human, in both its personal and social forms, is the most complex phenomena that we yet know about in the Kosmos. To understand this process in any sort of detailed and valid fashion is, to put it mildly, a big task. It is my opinion that Ken Wilber’s Integral theory is the only philosophical/epistemological/theoretical framework that attempts to present a comprehensive understanding of the complex and multi-layered reality that we see about us. One of the most attractive central features of Integral theory is that it does not rely on ontological reductionism to simplify that complexity, as do many other branches of science. The neurologist and the medical specialist reduce the human to the biochemical with their unit of study being the chemical compound. The behaviourist reduces the human to physical action with their unit of study being the behavioural stimulus-response cycle. The cognitivist reduces the human to the world of behaviour and thought with their basic unit of explanation being the pattern of thought, belief or feeling. The evolutionist reduces it to reproductive advantage with the locus of explanation being the adaptive interaction between environment and phenotype. The sociologist reduces the human to the world of interpersonal relations and group dynamics with their focus of explanation being the social event. The humanist reduces the human to the world of being and identity with authenticity in word and deed being their centre of interest. The transpersonalist reduces, or more correctly elevates, the human to the world of spirit and finds explanation in the analysis of the mystical event.

All these disciplines simplify human complexity to find something of certainty, something that is true, something that will have lasting validity. And, in their own way, each of the main perspectives on human reality does contribute unique knowledge to the quest for understanding that so occupies us. As Wilber has often pointed out, all these contributions are partially correct. The human can be understood and explained through the study of the physical, the chemical, the animal, the social, the political, the cognitive, the existential, the spiritual, and the historical. Once this partiality is recognised, we are then faced with the problem of truly integrating the valid and the true of each and bringing them into some semblance of coherency. And the very first task that is required for this integrative endeavour to be successful is to identify a unit of analysis or explanation that does not privilege any of the units of analysis or explanation associated with partial views.

In my opinion it is one of Wilber’s greatest insights that he has been able to identity an explanatory reference point that avoids the ontological pitfalls that have so plagued all previous explanatory elements. In so doing Wilber allows Integral theory to transcend (and integrate) all the reductionisms of the partial views to boldly propose that the true locus of explanation does not reside in any particular level of reality and cannot be limited to any single domain of investigation. The basic unit of analysis for Integral theory is not the atom, or the molecule, or the mathematical unit, or the interpretive perspective, or the cognitive pattern, or the historical event, or the spiritual revelation. For Integral theory the unit of analysis, it’s basic point of explanation, analysis, reference and “measurement” is the holon. This is why students of Wilber work, if they are to understand what Integral theory/philosophy, the AQAL framework and IMP’s are truly about, will have to have a good grounding in holon theory.

The reductive research paradigm has been immensely successful for investigating physical and chemical phenomena. More recently holistic approaches like the various systems theories, humanistic disciplines, and developmental theories have been successfully applied to social phenomena. The holon, the “part-whole”, has a built in non-reductive perspective that allows for the simultaneous recognition that anything can be studied holistically and anything can be analysed reductively at the same time. This combination of holistic and reductive methodologies also introduces a new element and immensely important capacity for explanatory methodologies that utilise this part-whole focus of explanation. It now means that the various types of reductive science can now be carried out in relational context. The disciplines of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, the humanities, sociology, theology, and cultural studies can now be pursued within a cross-disciplinary framework that connects and situates their disparate findings and truths instead of juxtaposing them. By allowing for both holistic and reductive methodologies, the holon framework introduces an integrative dimension of implementing those approaches that no other approach can claim. This new capacity lies at the heart of Wilber’s (2002) recent call for a revolutionary Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP) – “a project of synthesis”.

Holism, reductionism and pluralism

The holon is the holarchic (i.e. hierarchic plus heterarchic) reference point through which the various principles of the AQAL model can be applied. This is the real point behind Wilber’s first tenet of holons, “Reality as a whole is not composed of things, or processes, but of holons”. He is really pointing out here that holons permit an analytical holism that can evade the reductive errors that result from explanations that rely on some fundamental thing or process. Unfortunately the wording of this tenet suggests that holons themselves are building block composites that in some way fit together to make up Kosmic reality. But this is not at all Wilber’s intended reading for this tenet. The holon construct allows Integral theory and it’s AQAL methodology to step away from and the methodological battles engaged in by other disciplines and to avoid the reductive pitfalls that abound wherever science seeks to understand complex phenomena. The use of the holon as the means for applying Integral theory also allows the many other truths that have been uncovered by human knowledge quests to be honoured and rightfully situated within a non-reductive context. It is not just that the holon in conjunction with the AQAL principles can investigate systemic and elemental aspect of reality but that it can also, as Wilber says, “acknowledge, honor, and include all authentic modes of human inquiry ” (and their valid findings). In short, the full integration of the holon and the AQAL model enables Integral theory to overcome the traditional reductionist propensity to privilege very biased methodologies for gathering observations and experiences and very narrow modes of explanation for understanding them. As Wilber (2002) has recently said:

AQAL, then, is a metatheory that attempts to integrate the most amount of material from an integral methodological pluralism, thus honoring the primary injunction of an integral embrace: Everybody is right.

Everybody, i.e. all major theorists, philosophies and stores of cultural knowledge, are right (within context) and it is the holon construct that allows Integral theory to move without prejudice around these vast domains of human knowledge and pursue its agenda of holistic exploration and analysis. This process of acknowledging the validity and value of established personal and cultural knowledge quests can be viewed from a broader perspective than simply that of Wilber’s integral theory. Wilber has recently termed any such endeavour as Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP). Integral theory is an example of such an approach to the investigation of events, experiences, and knowledge. But I believe that any such method will need to be based on the holon construct in some form because it is the only explanatory concept that can accommodate the three definitive criteria for an IMP.

Similarities and Differences

I have pointed out that Koestler has proposed a quite detailed set of holonic principles and shown that the holon construct has a very wide application. Wilber, in turn, has placed the holon construct firmly at the centre of his comprehensive integrative framework for connecting knowledge. Wilber has expanded holon theory into a new approach to understanding the relationship of many different knowledge domains. It should, however, be noted that Koestler provided Wilber with much more than just a new term to label the “building blocks” of his Integral theory/AQAL framework. Koestler’s principles of Open Hierarchical Systems (OHS) and Wilber’s twenty tenets are clearly very related and the following table shows the correspondences between the two types of holon theory.

Table 1: Correspondences between Koestler’s OHS principles
and Wilber’s twenty Holonic Tenets
Wilber’s Twenty tenets Koestler’s OHS principles*
1: Reality can be seen in terms of an endless series of holonic relations 1.3 Parts and wholes in an absolute sense do not exist in the domain of life. The concept of the holon is intended to reconcile the atomistic and holistic approaches. “The [holarchy] is open-ended in the downward, as it is in the upward direction”
2a: Holons have agency, individuality, deep autonomy. 4.1 Every holon has the … tendency to preserve and assert its individuality as a quasi-autonomous whole; 9.2 the holon’s agency is that which controls the part from the next higher level.
2b: Holons have communality, mutuality, and collective relationships 4.8 The canon of a social holon represents not only constraints imposed on its actions, but also embodies maxims of conduct, moral imperatives and systems of value.
2c: Holons have a capacity for self-transcendence, and active transformation into greater wholes 5.6 A holon on the n level of an output-hierarchy is represented on the (n+ I) level as a unit, and triggered into action as a unit. A holon, in other words, is a system of relata. which is represented on the next higher level as a relatum.
2d: Holons have a capacity for self-immanence, and the active integration of its parts 4.1 Every holon has the tendency to function as an integrated part of an (existing or evolving) larger whole.
4.1 a holon’s Integrative (INT) tendencies are inherent in the concept of hierarchic order and a universal characteristic of life. The INT tendencies are the dynamic expression of the holon’s partness.
3: Holons emerge creatively and indeterminately 8. Holons on successively higher levels of the hierarchy show increasingly complex, more flexible and less predictable patterns of activity. while on successive lower levels we find increasingly mechanised stereotyped and predictable patterns.
4: Holons emerge holarchically, i.e. through dynamics between hierarchy and heterarchy 6.1 Hierarchies can be regarded as ‘vertically’ arborising structures whose branches interlock with those of other hierarchies at a multiplicity of levels and form ‘horizontal’ networks
5: Each emergent holon transcends but includes its predecessors “A hierarchy of holons should rightly be called a holarchy”
8: Each successive holon level within a holarchy produces greater depth and less span 2.2 The number of levels in a hierarchy is a measure of its “‘depth”, and the number of holons on any given level is called its “span”.
12a: Evolution displays increasing complexity 8.4 Each upward shift is reflected by a more vivid and precise consciousness of the ongoing activity; and, since the variety of alternative choices increases with the increasing complexity on higher levels, each upward shift is accompanied by the subjective experience of freedom of decision. (“We find [holons] in an ascending order of complexity” )
Holarchies possess interiority and consciousness 8.6 Consciousness appears as an emergent quality in phylogeny and ontogeny, which, from primitive beginnings, evolves towards more complex and precise states.

* All direct quotes from “The Ghost in the Machine”

Table 1 shows the clear concordances between Koestler’s OHS principles and Wilber’s twenty tenets. I have pointed out these overlaps to show that Wilber’s extended use of the holon construct clearly builds on Koestler’s quite extensive and detailed explications of holon theory and that therefore the two models should be seen as a single continuum of development in the theory. Wilber has taken the foundational theorems laid down by Koestler and greatly extended their theoretical and practical application. As a whole holon theory needs to be seen as a new and very promising philosophy of knowledge that may well open up an entirely new and genuinely integrative understanding of the natural and social worlds and how they relate to each other.

There are several aspects of Koestler’s theory that have, as yet, not been explored by Wilber or any other Integral theory writers. These include the concept of holonic exchange/input-output systems which looks at the way holonic outputs are triggered and how holons scanners and filter inputs. Koestler’s concepts of “arborisation”, “reticulation” and “regulation channels” also show promise as ways of seeing how holons can relate to each other. There is also the issue of holonic health and how holons change and Koestler’s principles on holonic equilibrium, disorder and regeneration offer fertile ground for further study.

Holons and the Future

I noted earlier that Ken Wilber (2002b) has recently suggested some principles that define, what he calls, an Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP). This idea refers to the broad characteristics of a discipline that can be considered to be an integral approach to a topic. Wilber maintains that any future over-arching model of knowledge will have posses the main principles that define an IMP. These principles are non-exclusion, enfoldment/unfoldment, and enactment. Wilber defines non-exclusion as follows:

Nonexclusion means that we can accept the valid truth claims (i.e. the truth claims that pass validity tests for their own paradigms in their own fields, whether in hermeneutics, spirituality, science, etc.) insofar as they make statements about the existence of their own enacted and disclosed phenomena, but not when they make statements about the existence of phenomena enacted by other paradigms. (2002b, ¶52)

This principle refers to the acceptance of partial but valid knowledge that has been gleaned by disciplines focusing on particular aspects of holons. Much of this knowledge has been the result of reductionist paradigms (disciplinary matrices/methodologies). The second principle, enfoldment/ unfoldment is defined as:

nonexclusion often discloses an unfoldment that is enfoldment: in any particular developmental stream, successive waves transcend and include their predecessors, and thus each wave is adequate, each succeeding wave is more adequate. (2002b, ¶73)

In short, in healthy unfolding, each wave is holistic, each succeeding wave is more holistic. (2002b, ¶81)

The unfoldment/enfoldment principle refers to the acceptance of the holistic and developmental nature of knowledge and methods. This principle relates to the idea that all knowledge bases and methods are connected and can illuminate each other. Wilber’s third principle, the Enactment principle is explained as follows:

Putting all of these modes of inquiry together, as an enactment and disclosure of turquoise cognition, results in what we are calling integral methodological pluralism, which embodies the more practical side of an Integral Post-Metaphysics (Wilber 2002a, ¶64)

phenomena are enacted, brought forth, and disclosed by practices, then we realize that what appeared to be “conflicting phenomena” or experiences are simply different (and fully compatible) experiences brought forth by different practices. (2002b, ¶89)

So enactment refers to the novel capacity of an IMP to situate and provide a new integrative context for all other partial approaches be they reductionist or holistic. It is precisely these three IMP capacities that are made available when the holon is seen as the unit of analysis for Integral theory. This leads to what Wilber calls Integral indexing or conferencing.

“AQAL indexing” (“integral indexing” or “holonic conferencing” [see below]) allows individual paradigms to be seated next to each other at the integrative table, in such as a way that each individual paradigm is honored and acknowledged. (2002b, ¶75)

Richard Slaughter, in an essay on the possibilities of an Integral Futures discipline, has pointed out that any futures studies practitionsers will not only need to understand the potentials and limitations of their own worldviews but will also need to be “proficient in exploring other perspectives” and the relationships that come out of the meeting of different perspectives. There seems to be an imperative here for scholars who deal with Big Pictures to take on the IMP framework. As part of this move, I would further add that the holon construct and holon theory may well be an essential aspect of any IMP. I say this simply because the holon framework presents a methodological basis for the IMP principles. The holon construct allows for the discriminative analysis of phenomena through non-exclusion, it allows for the inclusion of holistic and developmental through unfoldment/unfoldment, and it allows for the active discovery of insight and connective knowledge through its capacity to generate the enactment of integrative practices. The holon is the core unitary construct that will define any IMP approach to investigating, experiencing and analysing the human encounter with our world.


The holon construct and it associated theory has the potential to play a crucial role in the movement to combine and synthesise scientific and cultural knowledge about psychological and social realities. While there is a long tradition of attempts to derive a comprehensive philosophy for understanding human realities it is only with the 19th and 20th centuries contributions of evolutionary theory and developmental models of human growth that this synthesising project has really come of age. In many ways holon theory is the culmination of this integrative movement and its development comes at a time when such connective knowledge and holistic approaches are most needed. The global systems that threaten the development of healthy and sustainable social development require systemic and integrative modes of imagination and action. Holon theory as an example of an IMP provides the scope and insight that global crises demand.

It is not by accident, I believe, that the two founders of holon theory have both come from outside of academia. One from the world of journalism and real politic and the other from the world of contemporary spirituality and the human potential movement. Out of their visionary thinking these two writers/philosophers have forged a new approach to seeing the breadth and depth of reality and the challenges that are inherent in it. Koestler and Wilber’s lives and writings are very different but also in a deep way very complementary. One comes from the experience of war and revolution in continental Europe while the other comes from a secluded life of inner journeys. One writes fiction as a way of wrestling with the world of human suffering the other writes non-fiction as a way of mapping out the potential for life. One is immerses himself in the psychologies and philosophies of the western tradition and the other follows contemplative paths of Eastern spirituality. Together they bring a new vision to how we and our realities are connected to each other. In the chapter which introduces the neologism “holon” for the first time, Koestler quotes the writer L.L. Whyte who said that, “fertile vistas may open out when commonplace facts are examined from a fresh point of view.” In my view the holon, and its associated theoretical principles, will open up the richest and most crucial fields of scientific and cultural endeavour in the 21st century.


Koestler, A. (1967) The ghost in the machine. London: Arkana

Wilber, K. (1995) Sex, ecology and spirituality: The evolution of spirit. New York: Shambhala.

Wilber, K. (2002) Excerpt B: The Many Ways We Touch -Three Principles Helpful for Any Integrative Approach

Please see my related posts:


Levels of Human Psychological Development in Integral Spiral Dynamics

Multilevel Approach to Research in Organizations

The Great Chain of Being

Boundaries and Networks

Hierarchy Theory in Biology, Ecology and Evolution

Networks and Hierarchies

Consciousness of Cosmos: A Fractal, Recursive, Holographic Universe

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Integral Theory of Ken Wilber

Boundaries and Relational Sociology

Reflexivity, Recursion, and Self Reference


Key Sources of Researches:




Holon (philosophy)





Holons and Holarchy of Arthur Koestler


Arthur Koestler





The Holonic Revolution Holons, Holarchies and Holonic Networks. The Ghost in the Production Machine

Piero Mella




Holons and agents

A. Giret





A Brief History of Holons

Mark Edwards






The Holonic View of Organizations and Firms


Rolf Sattler


Eastern Roots of Russia’s most famous Toy

The Great Chain of Being

The Great Chain of Being



‘Yat Pinde tad Brahmaande’

“As above, so below.” The ancient Vedas and Upanishads say, “Yatha pinde, tatha Brahmande”, translated as: “As is the atom, so is the universe. As is the microcosm, so is the macrocosm.” i.e., The individual is truly cosmic.


‘To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower,
hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.’
William Blake


Key Ideas

  • Hierarchical Nested Levels
  • Vertical Chain of Being
  • Multi-Levels Thinking
  • Multi Scale Thinking
  • Fractal (Self Similar) Structure
  • Holographic Brain, Holographic Universe
  • Hierarchy, Heterarchy, and Holarchy
  • Parts and Whole ( Part in Whole, Part is the Whole, Whole in the Part)
  • Hyper Sets
  • Nested Platonic Solids
  • Connectivity (Interconnected) Hypothesis
  • Myth of Invariance
  • Invariance in Time and Space
  • Levels of Consciousness
  • Sheaths of Being (Kosha)
  • 14 Lokas (worlds) in Hinduism
  • 11 headed Chenrezig (Tibet Buddhism)- Chenrezig in Tibet / Avalokiteshvara in India/ Kuan-yin in China/ Kannon in Japan.
  • Virat Swarup of Krishna (Bhagvat Geeta)
  • Realms in Norse Mythology
  • Shiva (10), Rudra (18), Bhairav (64)
  • Shri Yantra Geometry
  • Vasu (8), Rudra (11), Aditya (12),
  • Hyper Cube (Tessarat) / Hyper Sphere
  • 14 Parts of Maha Vishnu
  • Microcosm and Macrocosm
  • Theory of Correspondences
  • 7 Chakras of Human Body
  • Involution and Evolution
  • Immanence and Transcendence
  • Ascent and Descent
  • Jacob’s Ladder
  • Continnum
  • Jhini Jhini Chaddariya (Songs of Kabir)
  • Jambu Dwipa to Pushkar Dwipa
  • Board Game of Saap-Seedhi / Snakes and Ladder
  • Bhu/Bhuvah/Svah (Terrestial to Celestial)
  • Flatland (book)
  • Square and Circle / Squaring the Circle
  • Three Gunas – Sattva, Rajas, Tamas
  • Pancha Bhuttas ( Five Elements)
  • Philosophy of Astrology
  • Relations of Nakshatras with Gunas
  • 72,000 Nadis in Human Body – 14 main Nadis – Pingala, Ida, Sushumna
  • Three Doshas – Kapha, Pitta, and Vata in Ayurveda
  • Jain Cosmology/Buddhist Cosmology/Hindu Cosmology
  • 14 Rajju – Height of Universe in Jain Cosmology
  • Three Granthies (Knots) – Brahma (Base of Spine), Vishnu (Heart), Rudra (Between Eyebrows)
  • 14 Verses of Maheshvara Sutras (Panini)
  • 14 Parts of Osiris in Egypt (Misr) Myths
  • Three Bodies – Gross, Subtle, Causal
  • Three States – Waking, Dreaming, Sleeping
  • Man in the Universe, Universe in Man
  • Mind in Man, Man in the Mind
  • Mind Only School of Mahayana Buddhism (Yogachara)



Great Chain of Being

Great Chain of Being, also called Chain of Being, conception of the nature of the universe that had a pervasive influence on Western thought, particularly through the ancient Greek Neoplatonists and derivative philosophies during the European Renaissance and the 17th and early 18th centuries. The term denotes three general features of the universe: plenitude, continuity, and gradation. The principle of plenitude states that the universe is “full,” exhibiting the maximal diversity of kinds of existences; everything possible (i.e., not self-contradictory) is actual. The principle of continuity asserts that the universe is composed of an infinite series of forms, each of which shares with its neighbour at least one attribute. According to the principle of linear gradation, this series ranges in hierarchical order from the barest type of existence to the ens perfectissimum, or God.

The idea of the chain of being was first systematized by the Neoplatonist Plotinus, though the component concepts were derived from Plato and Aristotle. Plato’s “idea of the good” in the Republic, eternal, immutable, ineffable, perfect, the universal object of desire, is fused with the demiurge of the Timaeus, who constructed the world of becoming because “he was good, and in one that is good no envy of anything else ever arises.” Aristotle introduced a definition of the continuum and pointed out various graded scales of existence. Thus, in the words of Plotinus, in his Enneads,“The one is perfect because it seeks for nothing, and possesses nothing, and has need of nothing; and being perfect, it overflows, and thus its superabundance produces an Other.” This generation of the many from the one must continue until all possible varieties of being in the descending series are realized.

The scale of being served Plotinus and many later writers as an explanation of the existence of evil in the sense of lack of some good. It also offered an argument for optimism; since all beings other than the ens perfectissimum are to some degree imperfect or evil, and since the goodness of the universe as a whole consists in its fullness, the best possible world will be one that contains the greatest possible variety of beings and so all possible evils. The notion died out in the 19th century but was given renewed currency in the 20th by Arthur O. Lovejoy (The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea, 1936).


General Characteristics of the Renaissance

The Great Chain of Being

Among the most important of the continuities of the Renaissance with the Classical period was the concept  of the Great Chain of Being. Its major premise was that every existing thing in the universe had its “place” in a divinely planned hierarchical order, which was pictured as a chain vertically extended.  (“Hierarchical” refers to an order based on a series of higher and lower, strictly ranked gradations.) An object’s “place” depended on the relative proportion of “spirit” and “matter” it contained–the less “spirit” and the more “matter,” the lower down it stood. At the bottom, for example, stood various types of inanimate objects, such as metals, stones, and the four elements (earth, water, air, fire). Higher up were various members of the vegetative class, like trees and flowers. Then came animals; then humans; and then angels.  At the very top was God. Then within each of these large groups, there were other hierarchies. For example, among metals, gold was the noblest and stood highest; lead had less “spirit” and more matter and so stood lower. (Alchemy was based on the belief that lead could be changed to gold through an infusion of “spirit.”)  The various species of plants, animals, humans, and angels were similarly ranked from low to high with in their respective segments. Finally, it was believed that between the segments themselves, there was continuity (shellfish were lowest among animals and shaded into the vegetative class, for example, because without locomotion, they most resembled plants).

Besides universal orderliness, there was universal interdependence. This was implicit in the doctrine of “correspondences,” which held that different segments of the chain reflected other segments. For example, Renaissance thinkers viewed a human being as a microcosm (literally, a “little world”) that reflected the structure of the world as a whole, the macrocosm; just as the world was composed of four “elements” (earth, water, air, fire), so too was the human body composed of four substances called “humours,” with characteristics corresponding to the four elements. (Illness occurred when there was an imbalance or “disorder” among the humours, that is, when they did not exist in proper proportion to each other.)  “Correspondences” existed everywhere, on many levels. Thus the hierarchical organization of the mental faculties was also thought of as reflecting the hierarchical order within the family, the state, and the forces of nature. When things were properly ordered, reason ruled the emotions, just as a king ruled his subjects,
the parent ruled the child, and the sun governed the planets. But when disorder was present in one realm, it was correspondingly reflected in other realms. For example, in Shakespeare’s King Lear, the simultaneous disorder in family relationships and in the state (child ruling parent, subject ruling king) is reflected in the disorder of Lear’s mind (the loss of reason) as well as in the disorder of nature (the raging storm). Lear even equates his loss of reason to “a tempest in my mind.”

According to the chain of being concept, all existing things have their precise place and function in the universe, and to depart from one’s proper place was to betray one’s nature. Human beings, for example, were pictured as placed between the beasts and the angels. To act against human nature by not allowing reason to rule the emotions–was to descend to the level of the beasts.


From From the Great Chain of Being to Postmodernism in three Easy Steps


Chain of Beingchain of Being 2chain of being 3chain of being 4Chain of being 5Chain of Being 6


The 14 Lokas Of Hinduism –

The concept of the 14 Lokas of Hinduism state that they are divided into 7 upper worlds or Vyarthis and the 7 lower ones, known as the Patalas.

The 7 Vyarthis –

1 Satya-loka: Brahma’s loka. Satya-loka planetary system is not eternal. Abode of Truth or of Brahma, where atman are released from the necessity of rebirth.

2 Tapa-loka: Abode of tapas or of other deities. Ayohnija devadas live here.

3 Jana-loka: Abode of the sons of God Brahma.

4 Mahar-loka: The abode of great sages and enlightened beings like Markendeya and other rishies.

5 Svar-loka: Region between the sun and polar star, the heaven of the god Indra. Indra, devatas, Rishies, Gandharvas and Apsaras live here: a heavenly paradise of pleasure, where all the 330 million Hindu gods (Deva) reside along with the king of gods, Indra.

6 Bhuvar-loka (aka Pitri Loka): Sun, planets, stars. Space between earth and the sun, inhabited by semi-divine beings. It is a real region, the atmosphere, the life-force.

7 Bhur-loka: The Vishnu Purana says that the earth is merely one of thousands of billions of inhabited worlds like itself to be found in the universe.

The 7 Patalas –

1 Atala-loka: Atala is ruled by Bala – a son of Maya – who possesses mystical powers. By one yawn, Bala created three types of women – svairiṇīs , who like to marry men from their own group; kāmiṇīs, who marry men from any group, and the puḿścalīs.

2 Vitala-loka: Vitala is ruled by the god Hara-Bhava – a form of Shiva, who dwells with attendant ganas including ghosts and goblins as the master of gold mines. The residents of this realm are adorned with gold from this region.

3 Sutala-loka: Sutala is the kingdom of the pious demon king Bali.

4 Talatala-loka: Talātala is the realm of the demon-architect Maya, who is well-versed in sorcery. Shiva, as Tripurantaka, destroyed the three cities of Maya but was later pleased with Maya and gave him this realm and promised to protect him.

5 Mahatala-loka: Mahātala is the abode of many-hooded Nagas (serpents) – the sons of Kadru, headed by the Krodhavasha (Irascible) band of Kuhaka, Taksshaka, Kaliya and Sushena. They live here with their families in peace but always fear Garuda, the eagle-man.

6 Rasatala-loka: Rasātala is the home of the demons – Danavas and Daityas, who are mighty but cruel. They are the eternal foes of Devas (the gods). They live in holes like serpents.

7 Patala-loka: The lowest realm is called Patala or Nagaloka, the region of the Nagas, ruled by Vasuki. Here live several Nagas with many hoods. Each of their hood is decorated by a jewel, whose light illuminates this realm.



Koshas and Lokas in Hinduism

chain of being







The Five Koshas

Swami Satyananda Saraswati


Satsang in Toulon, France, June 9, 1984

In philosophy, the body, mind and spirit are understood as one continuity, but in fact eastern and western thought were never in agreement with each other. Western philosophy originated from Greece while eastern philosophy originated in India. Greek philosophers in general and western philosophers in particular spoke about the object. Indian philosophers in general and in particular spoke about consciousness, and for many centuries western thinkers could never accept anything beyond object as tangible: here is the object, I can see it, I can touch it, therefore it is.

However, in yoga and in vedanta, object and consciousness are interrelated. In fact, modern science, what you call physics, speaks in exactly the same way as yoga. Both modern physics and ancient yoga move absolutely parallel to each other in explaining the reality of matter and consciousness.

Body, mind and spirit are interconnected, interrelated and interpenetrating. Therefore, a person is a combination of three things: firstly, the gross body, secondly, the subtle or astral body and thirdly, the causal body or unconscious. These three bodies constitute you, me and everyone, but they are gross divisions, broad classifications.

Each body has a dimension and a layer. You can call it a field. Just as you say electromagnetic field or radioactive field, in exactly the same way there are fields in your body. In vedanta, they are known as koshas which means ‘sheaths’. These koshas are five in number: annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya and anandamaya, and are further sub-divisions of the three bodies, which represent the three states of your daily experience.

Every day you have three types of experiences. One is the waking experience in which you experience through your senses and mind. The second experience is dream. In dream you do not experience through the senses, but through your subconscious mind. The third experience is sleep in which there is no knowledge of time and space, no knowledge about yourself or about anything in sleep, but when you get up in the morning, you know that you slept well the night before.

So every day the individual self undergoes these three experiences alternately. These experiences relate to a particular field. Whenever your individual self goes to one particular realm, it has one experience, and as your individual self changes the field, realm or dimension, it has another experience. For example, if you go to the North Pole, you will feel cold, or if you go to a tropical country, you will feel hot.

Annamaya kosha

The first kosha is annamaya, the physical body. Annamaya kosha can be sattwic, rajasic or tamasic. The word sattwa means harmony, balance and tranquillity, where you create a balance between activity and peace. Rajas means dynamic, active, violent. Tamas means dull and inert. Through the hatha yoga shatkriyas, you develop a sattwic annamaya kosha and when annamaya kosha becomes sattwic, then the bouncing of energy is much greater.

In modern science it is said that all the time, the whole day and night, atomic energy is bouncing in and out from this physical body like a pendulum. Of course, you cannot see it, but scientifically it has been seen that just like a pendulum swings from left to right, left to right, in the same manner everybody is emitting or throwing away these atoms. The sattwic body creates a longer bouncing, a tamasic body perhaps no bouncing at all, while a rajasic body has a bouncing but it has no limitation.

Now when these atoms or atomic particles bounce off your body and come back, there is a period of rest. That period of rest is always in the pendulum also. When it goes to the left and then turns to the right, there is a moment of rest. In the same way, when you do pranayama, in between inhalation and exhalation there is a point of rest. That is called timelessness and it is very short. Sometimes it can be a one-thousandth part of one second and sometimes a ten-thousandth part of a second. In that short period, the body transmits energy which is sattwic, rajasic or tamasic. Therefore, annamaya kosha, which is the container of the other koshas, is tackled through the practices of the hatha yoga shatkriyas.

Pranayama kosha

The second kosha is pranamaya, the kosha composed of prana, or life force. This prana is a part of cosmic life. Each and every creature, each and every thing in this world is a part of cosmic life. Prana is the force or energy for all kinds of motion. Prana is a Sanskrit word meaning movement, motion or vibration.

Pranic energy is in constant motion throughout life. It is not only in human beings, animals, herbs or trees, not only in oceans and mountains, minerals and bacteria. The tiniest part of an atom has prana. This prana is both visible and invisible. We need not talk about invisible prana now. Visible prana is manifesting before you. Wherever there is prana there is movement, growth, change and activity and where there is no prana there is no activity. When we die the body dissipates because it has become completely bereft of prana.

Prana is one item of your total composition and should also be dealt with in yoga. If the pranas are agitated or there is a pranic imbalance, there is imbalance everywhere. To understand prana you need to know a little about positive and negative atoms. The pranas are in the atmosphere in the form of positive and negative ions, which keep on bouncing, migrating and reintegrating. A balance has to be created between them.

If you study the science of the behaviour of positive and negative ions, you will understand the importance of balancing the prana in the body, because prana represents the positive energy in the body, and mind represents the negative energy. When there is a balance between positive and negative energy, then you can see illumination and everything is in harmony.

This prana is responsible for the action of the karmendriyas, the organs of action, just as electrical energy is responsible for the functioning of a microphone or light bulb. If the electricity which is being supplied somewhere in 220 volts becomes 440 volts, everything will burn. If the electricity becomes 120 volts, then there will also be a crisis. Therefore, the electricity has to be adjusted according to the capacity of the microphone or the bulbs. Similarly, there has to be coordination between the prana and the indriyas or sense organs. If there is too much prana, then your children are sometimes hyperactive. Hyperactivity in the body is due to hyperactivity of the prana.

There are five karmendriyas: feet, hands, vocal cords, urinary and excretory systems. Indriya means vehicle, tool or sense. Karma means action. Through these five karmendriyas you perform five gross actions. Prana is the force behind them. You have seen how old people become slow due to lack of prana. Pranamaya kosha is the energy in annamaya kosha.

There are five main pranas: prana, apana, udana, samana and vyana. These forms of prana control various functions in the physical body. For example, urination, excretion, insemination and childbirth are consequences of apana. Then there are five auxiliary or secondary pranas.

Prana is not a mechanical outcome of the body as it is understood in modern medical science. According to the classical tradition prana enters the womb in the fourth month of pregnancy. When an embryo is developed in the mother’s womb, it is part of the mother’s body and prana. After the third month, the independent or individual pranas manifest in the foetus. That is to say, from the fourth month, the mother’s prana and the prana of the embryo become two different pranas. Therefore, remember that prana is universal energy.

Pranamaya kosha is purified through the practice of pranayama, because pranayama makes the pranic energy penetrate into each and every cell and fibre of the body. Pranayama does not literally mean breathing exercise. The word pranayama is composed of two ideas, prana and ayama, meaning field, dimension or area. Pranayama means extending the field of prana. In this physical body you have a field of prana. It is the subtle form of energy and can be measured. This prana shakti can also get blocked. It can be in excess in some parts of the body and sometimes there is an imbalance in the prana.

Manomaya kosha

The third kosha is manomaya, the kosha composed of the mind. Mind is consciousness. It is a field of energy by itself. Even as prana is the positive field of energy, mind is the negative field of energy. In Sanskrit, the mind is known as manas, and has three dimensions. In fact, in Samkhya philosophy, they say that the mind has ten dimensions. Here they mean the mind of everyone, not only of human beings but of lower animals, the vegetable kingdom, the mind of each and everything in this world.

There are ten stages in the evolution of the mind from the most crude to the most fine. If you want to study those ten stages, you should read the Samkhya Sutras. However, out of those ten stages of mind, three are known to human beings: the conscious mind, the subconscious mind and the unconscious mind. Now these three stages are divisions of the human mind. The literal meaning of manas is ‘that by which you cognize, perceive and understand’. Perception, cognition and understanding are the basic and primary qualities of the mind.

This mind is connected with time, space and causality. What are past, present and future? They are the three so-called divisions of the same mind. What is the form of the mind? It is said that the mind moves at the greatest speed. Do you know the speed of an object? French trains run at 240 kilometres per hour. You know the speed of sound and of light, but do you know the speed of the mind. If only you could create a mental train! The mind is a very subtle unit and when it goes to the subconscious level, it begins to go into the unknown past.

Carl Jung used to talk about archetypes, dreams and visions. He said there is no known source of these things. Whether they are transferred to you from your parents or from a super space, from your previous incarnations or from some unknown transmissions, there is a primitive stock of archetypes within you. This is called samskara. It is known as the seed body or the unconscious. These are the three broad divisions of the mind.

Now this mind can be brought closer, that is to say, time, space and causality can be brought closer. When we are on the external conscious plane, the distance between time, space and causality is long and when you are in meditation, then the gap between time, space and causality is very short. In fact, if the mind can sometimes stop, time stops. A lot of work has been done on this by modern physicists.

The mind which I am talking about is part of the cosmic mind. Of course, I think that I have an individual mind. Everyone thinks this, but it is ignorance because we do not know, just like an ignorant person may feel that the light burning in the light bulb is individual, but another person understands that the energy is coming from the powerhouse. In the same way, this mind is part of the universal mind. How can we put this mind in touch with the cosmic mind? Through raja yoga practices.

Vijnanamaya kosha

The fourth kosha is vijnanamaya. Vijnana means psyche. Vijnana is a Sanskrit word from the prefix vi and jnana meaning knowledge or awareness, inner perception or experience. Vijnana has two meanings: external science and also inner experience. Therefore, whenever you have any experience which is subjective in nature, it is a consequence of vijnanamaya kosha. Whatever you are dreaming is a projection of vijnanamaya kosha, and in your meditation, concentration or mantra yoga, when you see lights and flowers, figures, angels or saints, smell perfumes or hear sounds, it is the consequence or result of vijnanamaya kosha.

Vijnanamaya kosha is related to a very unknown part of the universe and it is a link or sutra between the conscious mind, the individual mind and the universal mind. Universal knowledge comes to the conscious mind through vijnanamaya kosha or the psychic mind. Vijnanamaya kosha does not depend on time, space and causation factors.

You may not have seen Peking, but vijnanamaya kosha can give you a complete film of Peking because it is not limited by time past, present or future. The mind has its eyes on the object, but vijnanamaya kosha has its eye on the universe, and therefore Hindus say that vijnanamaya kosha has a thousand heads and a thousand eyes, a thousand hands and a thousand feet. This means it can see anywhere and think anything.

How can it be developed? It can be developed through tantra because tantra is related to vijnanamaya kosha. The tantric practices act as a catalyst because it is in you, just as curd and butter are in milk, but cannot be seen as separate unless they are released. Matter has energy in it, but when you look at matter, can you see the energy? No, you cannot. Even if you believe that there is energy in matter, still you cannot see it. Then you adopt a method to separate the energy from the matter. That is what nuclear energy is. All energy is inherent in matter. In the same way, vijnanamaya kosha is inherent within you but it is hidden in you like butter is hidden in milk. You have to separate it; you have to release your vijnanamaya kosha.

Anandamaya kosha

The fifth organism is anandamaya kosha. It is not possible to translate the word ananda. Some translate it as bliss or happiness, but ananda is when there is no happiness and no unhappiness. In happiness you are jumping, in unhappiness you are dull – sometimes low, sometimes high. So your mind is swinging. In ananda there is no swinging. There is unified experience and that experience does not change.

Death cannot change that experience; birth cannot change it; love and hatred cannot make your experiences swing. When your mind has become steady in experience and does not fluctuate under any condition, that is ananda. So we call it homogenous experience. The experience which you have in your life every day is not homogenous. It is divided and that is why swamis have ananda in their name, to remind them that they must achieve the state of mind where there is no swinging. So, anandamaya kosha means the kosha which comprises homogenous experience.

In many books, anandamaya kosha is translated as the blissful sheath. But I have thought about ananda for many years and have come to the conclusion that there is a state of mind which does not change, despite anything that happens in life. With that state of mind you can live with all the conditions of life. You can live with a good partner or a bad partner, prosperity or poverty, disease or death, in a discotheque, on a beach, a hotel, everywhere, because nothing affects you. You are where you are, firmly rooted in your own self, but at the same time you can interact with everyone. You can even fight, but still not be affected.

The three gunas

You are composed of these five sheaths or koshas, but you are not that. These five koshas belong to the lower existence, not to the range of supreme knowledge. They are controlled by the three gunas: sattwa, rajas and tamas. Guna means quality, faculty or attribute. The three gunas belong to nature. In this context nature does not mean beautiful places, mountains and hills.

In philosophy nature means prakriti, the universal law. There is a universal law which controls all, from biggest to tiniest, and it is inherent in the thing itself. Take a tree, for example. It is controlled by the laws inherent in the tree. In the same way every human being and every animal is controlled by a law which is inherent in it. My controller is inherent in me and that is the law. That is prakriti, and it controls, maintains or manages each and every law by the three gunas.

These three gunas again control the five koshas. The three gunas work in unison. Nothing is controlled by one guna. The body is controlled by tamoguna, but there is also a little bit of rajas and sattwa. In the same way, anandamaya kosha is controlled by sattwa guna, but there is a trace of the other two gunas. The mind is controlled by rajoguna, but there is a trace of the other two gunas. The three gunas control the five koshas in cooperation with each other. They all have a share. In one kosha, one guna may have a major share and in the others a very minor share, but the proportion changes from time to time.

Where can we place yoga here? First of all, the various practices of yoga purify the mechanism of these koshas. Thereby they can change the quantum of the gunas in each kosha. For example, the body is predominantly tamasic, but by the practices of hatha yoga, sattwic food and a good daily program, you can increase sattwa guna in the body. In the same way you can change the quantum of the gunas in each kosha.

When you change the quantum of the gunas in these five koshas through the yoga practices, a balance is created and when balance is created, then greater awareness takes place. These five koshas are separate classifications. You can experience them during your yoga practice. When you meditate, you pierce through or penetrate each and every kosha.

There are many books on the koshas. One is Vivekachudamani, a very famous book by Adi Shankaracharya, the second is Panchadashi, a very famous book in fifteen chapters dealing with terminologies in yoga and vedanta, and the third is Samkhya Sutras. These three are authentic classical texts.

The five koshas, five tattwas, three gunas and various forms of yoga should be studied in conjunction with each other because they are related to everyone. Even animals have koshas, but the nature of evolution is different. Animals have a well developed annamaya kosha and pranamaya kosha, but their manomaya kosha is in a rudimentary state of evolution, while their anandamaya kosha is not at all manifest. In little insects, annamaya kosha is there but pranamaya kosha is not fully developed and manomaya kosha is unmanifest there.

So the five koshas are not the sole property of human beings. Anything in this universe which has a body has five koshas, but as it goes on evolving then the later koshas become more and more prominent. A yoga practitioner has a developed vijnanamaya kosha while one who has achieved the result of yoga has anandamaya kosha fully developed. But beyond these five koshas is the absolute self. The purpose of existence is to experience that cosmic self and in order to understand and experience that cosmic self, you have to first understand these five koshas and then separate them.




Awakening the Vijnanamaya Kosha (Part 1)

Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati

Satsang to Iranian yoga students at Rikhia, 24th January 2007

Please tell us about vijnanamaya kosha and the practices to awaken it.

Shalom! Salamalekam! Shabahkher! Swagatam! Namaskar! Namo Narayan! and welcome to the land of yoga. Although yoga by virtue of being a science is the universal birthright of mankind, which necessarily implies that it does not belong to any sect or group of people, nor to any country or even religion, yet I would not be wrong in saying that India is the land of yoga because it is here that this knowledge was preserved. It was in this land that this knowledge was kept alive for centuries amidst the ravages of war and turbulence of history, and for that we have to thank those great souls, the rishis and munis, who were the original scientists on this planet.

Scientists are those who, with complete freedom of mind, without any bias or preconceived notions, explore and probe deeply into the underlying mysteries of the universe and life therein. In that sense, these rishis were scientists because they devoted their entire lives to exploring the mysterious terrain of inner life. With utmost honesty, courage, sincerity and dedication they spent their time unravelling the deeper layers of the mind and consciousness, discovering its mighty potential and the source from which it has sprung. Yes, the credit for this discovery goes entirely to these ancient scientists of the vedic era, just as the credit for unravelling the mysteries of matter goes to the scientists of the modern era.

Of course, in those times they were not known as scientists. Instead they were known as rishis, which means seer, or munis, which means sage, or sannyasins, which means one who has entrusted himself to the divine will. Although they are often mistaken to be priests or religious sectarian pontiffs, that is not the case. They may have been born into a particular religion, just as you and I have been born into the Hindu, Muslim or Christian religion, but that did not in any way influence their quest for the mystery called ‘life’. Who knows what religion they followed in those prehistoric vedic times? We cannot say for sure because we know so little about it and what the historians tell us is mere speculation.

Just as the only reality the scientists of today know and believe in is that of matter, the only reality these ancients believed in was that of consciousness. Their entire quest was in this direction for they believed that the purpose of life was to discover the infinite, that reality which is not subject to death or decay. The finite perishes and after so much spent energy, one finally realizes that the source of this finite world is what one should be able to capture, for in that lies the ability to be master of both the finite as well as infinite worlds.

It was this magnificent quest so full of difficulties and perils that led them to the awakening of the vijnanamaya kosha, and it is on account of their discoveries and the records that they left behind that today we can sit here and discuss this important subject. Otherwise we would not even know that we have a vijnanamaya kosha!

The five koshas

According to the science of yoga, there are five koshas which surround this body in much the same way as the inner core of an onion is covered by layers of skin. Only, in the case of koshas, each subsequent kosha is more subtle and unperceivable to the naked eye than the one preceding it. One can say that these koshas can only be realized with the opening of the inner eye, in the state of meditation.

Annamaya kosha

The first is annamaya kosha, which is the physical sheath made from food. Anna means food. The grain which you eat is called anna and the body which is composed of food is one that you can touch, see and feel. It is the substratum for the subtler koshas, which also assume the shape and size of the body.

Pranamaya kosha

Subtler than that which is not visible to the naked eye is the pranamaya kosha, which instead of food is made of prana or energy. You ought to know that your body is enveloped by this field of prana and when you leave this room, you will carry it out along with your body. Although you can’t see it, the pranamaya kosha follows you wherever you go.

However, if you raise your awareness by the practices of yoga, then you will see the pranamaya kosha in the form of an aura which surrounds the body. Many people are born with this natural gift, where they are able to read the aura of people and determine what is in store for them, because this aura keeps changing all the time according to the state of health you are in at that time. Even your moods influence the pranic aura. The phrases ‘green with envy’ or ‘red with rage’ are just a few indications of the vibrations emitted by the aura according to our mental state.

Manomaya kosha

Beyond the pranamaya kosha, this physical body is surrounded by a more subtle energy which is purely mental in nature, known as the manomaya kosha. It is at the level of manomaya that the chatushtaya antahkarana, comprising manas or mind, buddhi or intellect, ahamkara or ego, chitta or memory spring up and begin to perceive, cognize, record, understand, rationalize, discriminate, accept, reject, compare, to name only a few of the myriad functions that it performs effortlessly in our lives. Without the manomaya kosha we would be no better than the vegetables sitting on your kitchen shelf!

This kosha is the seat of para or empirical knowledge. It beholds the world around and although an instrument of inner consciousness, it has the capacity to externalize the awareness as well as withdraw it inwards. When it is under the sway of the senses, it is fully occupied with the external impulses that it receives from the world of smells, sounds, lights, colours, touch and taste. But there are times when, dissatisfied with the finite nature of these experiences, the mind propels inwards, and at that time it receives the impulses of the self which recharge and rejuvenate the manomaya kosha.

This happens in the state of meditation too, and that is why meditation broadens the horizons of the mind, sharpens the intellect, brings the ego in tune with nature and strengthens the chitta.

Vijnanamaya kosha

Beyond manomaya or mind is the sheath of intuition or vijnanamaya kosha, and needless to say it is subtler than all the preceding koshas. The Taittiriya Upanishad elucidates the existence of the vijnanamaya kosha in the following manner: “Separate from the self comprised of mind, there is another inner self comprised of intuitive knowledge. This one is also like the shape of a person like the preceding koshas. Faith is its head, Tasye shraddhaiva shiraha; righteousness its right wing and truth its left wing, hritam dakshinah pakshaha satyamuttarah pakshaha; yoga is its soul, yoga atma, and maha its foundation, maha puchham pratishtaha.”

Koshas and lokas

Interestingly, by stating that maha is the foundation of vijnanamaya, we derive a clue as to how the koshas are also linked to the lokas, which are planes of consciousness one experiences as the awareness gains ascent from annamaya to pranamaya to manomaya to vijnanamaya. The sapta or seven lokas are bhu, bhuvar, swar, maha, jana, tapo and satya. While bhu, bhuvar and swar, the earthly, intermediate and divine planes, are related to annamaya, pranamaya and manomaya, maha, the plane of siddhas, jana, the plane of rishis and munis, and tapo, the plane of liberated souls, relate to awakening, stabilization and illumination of vijnanamaya.

Satya loka, the plane of ultimate bliss, corresponds to anandamaya kosha, which is none other than pure consciousness. The Taittiriya Upanishad defines anandamaya kosha as having the shape or form of a person with love as its head, joy as its right wing and delight as its left wing, bliss as its trunk and Brahman as its support or foundation.

Maha loka, the plane of siddhas and saints, is the foundation or support of vijnanamaya kosha. It is from here onwards that the superstructure of heightened awareness is constructed. If the foundation is shaky, in other words if the siddhis which begin to manifest become the object of focus or enjoyment, then the siddha will surely fall back to lower planes of consciousness. However, if he does not allow them to distract the awareness, especially when he is in a state of samadhi, then ascent of awareness to higher lokas known as jana, the realm of rishis and munis, and tapo, the realm of liberated souls, the jivanmuktas and videhamuktas, is definitely assured.

From vijnanamaya to anandamaya

The above is such an important stage in the ascent of awareness that the Raja Yoga Sutras of Patanjali has devoted an entire section to this mega event, when the consciousness is able to perceive the four dimensions of time, past, present, future and eternity. Patanjali has termed this event when siddhis manifest as vibhooti. He calls it the accomplishment of yoga and has cautioned the aspirant against becoming distracted by this accomplishment. It is the state equivalent to paroksha anubhuti, or awareness of only one point without consciousness of one’s own self. Deepening awareness of paroksha anubhuti leads the practitioner to aparokshanubhuti, which correlates to the bliss of anandamaya kosha.

So you can say that vijnanamaya is the doorway to anandamaya. The experiences of vijnanamaya give you glimpses of what is in store for you as your awareness begins to experience pure bliss, but the experience again drops due to the appearance and disappearance of distractions and one-pointedness of mind. All siddhas and saints must have passed through this stage before they attained enlightenment. The tales about Buddha, where prior to nirvana he encountered the demons and bewitching damsels, as well as the forty days and forty nights when Christ encountered temptation before he experienced God, point a finger in this direction.

When there is awakening in vijnanamaya kosha, siddhis begin to manifest. The practitioner becomes clairvoyant and telepathic; he begins to know many things about people and events before they happen, which come to him in the form of dreams, thoughts or visions. He may be able to appear at many places to many people at the same time. He develops the power to read others’ thoughts and also to change them. Or else he may develop healing powers. His words, touch or glance can heal the deadliest of diseases which no doctor can cure. In some exceptional cases, depending on the extent of his advent into the level of vijnanamaya kosha, he may even be able to resurrect life or enter another person’s body. A person exhibiting such powers could easily be mistaken for God, which perhaps many did who were unaware of the manifestation of siddhis through the power of yoga when there is awakening in vijnanamaya kosha.

Yoga has boldly declared that you are not just the body you perceive with the eyes, nor are you just blood, bones, marrow, muscles, nerves and the different organs that keep you alive. You are much more than that. In fact, what you see of yourself with the eye is sustained by what you cannot see. If the unseen part of you ceased to exist, the seen part of you would wither and die. This unseen part of you is composed of the five koshas as mentioned above. The aim of all the practices of yoga, without exception, is to energize and awaken these koshas until ultimately you experience awakening in vijnanamaya kosha. That alone is the purpose of yoga.

Koshas and shariras

Now, you ought to know that these five koshas belong to or co-relate with three bodies that constitute your being. These three bodies, which are known as sthula or gross, sukshma or subtle and karana or causal, along with the koshas also influence each and every experience and reaction you face or evoke throughout your life. For example, the experiences related to annamaya kosha belong to the sthula sharira or gross body, whereas the sukshma sharira or subtle body is the arena for the experiences of pranamaya and manomaya koshas. The most subtle body, known as karana sharira or causal body, which stores all of our karmas, samskaras and impressions of many, many incarnations is the one we encounter when we speak about awakening in vijnanamaya kosha.

As life evolved through 84 lakh yonis or incarnations, from an amoeba to a bacteria or virus and then on to insects, plants, fish, birds, animals and finally to the human being, it carried the impressions of its experiences. All of these experiences, pleasant and unpleasant, are stored in the vijnanamaya kosha. In order to step into the arena of spiritual ecstasy, you have to pass through this zone and face what is stored there eye to eye. You simply cannot avoid it, just as you cannot avoid your thoughts or your feelings and dreams. The practices of yoga can accelerate this process and accomplish this in a systematic and graded manner. It is only when the awakening occurs in vijnanamaya and that experience is stabilized, that the transcendental experiences of ecstasy and bliss related to anandamaya kosha arise in the consciousness.

In modern psychology, the causal body or karana sharira is known as the realm of the unconscious. You may even term it as the psyche of man. It is the mythical Pandora’s Box, virtually the skeleton in the closet. You cannot know what is stored there until there is awakening in vijnanamaya kosha. When you experience awakening in manomaya kosha, you are still within the realm of buddhi or intellect. Everything that you experience will be within the fold of logic and reason and thus there is a degree of control of the experiences and their outcome.

The dimension of intuition

Vijnanamaya kosha transcends intellect and enters into the dimension of intuition, where the mind does not work. This mind of yours which you are familiar with does not function in vijnanamaya kosha; nor does the intellect. Each one of us operates at the level of instinct, intelligence, intellect and intuition. Till the level of intellect you are under the influence and in the field of manomaya kosha. But when you are able to transcend this intellect, even for a second, you will experience an intuitive flash about something or other that has been on your mind. All of us have at some time in our life experienced this intuition, which comes in flashes due to a sudden contact with the vijnanamaya kosha. But they drop. You get intuitive, but you are not able to hold on to that state of awareness and once again you regress to the hold of intellect and intelligence.

The aim of yoga is not just to induce these abilities. More than that, the focus of yoga is to attain mastery or control of these supernormal powers that belong to the realm of intuition. That intuition should act as a tool in your hands, just like your intellect, mind or intelligence. All the practices of yoga are designed to take you to this point. And each one of us has to find a way for ourselves, because each one of us has a different temperament and each one of us has our own dharma which determines our own individual needs.

(To be continued in the next issue)



Awakening the Vijnanamaya Kosha (Part 2)

Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati


In the journey to awaken vijnanamaya kosha, first of all, you have to find out exactly where you are standing at this present moment. What exactly is your temperament? Are you tamasic, rajasic or sattwic? While it is true that each individual is a combination of these three gunas or qualities that belong to the realm of prakriti or nature, still one or the other is predominant in us. Are you by nature a procrastinator, lazy, dull and negligent in your duties and responsibilities; if you are, then you are tamasic by nature. Of course, we are all lazy at some time of the day, but tamasic individuals are unable to rise above these tendencies, no matter how hard they try. On the other hand, predominantly rajasic people are always on the go, trying to accomplish and achieve something, having a lot of desires and passions. Or are you sattwic, full of knowledge, peace and tranquillity? Is that the point where you are going to start your journey to the awakening of vijnanamaya kosha?

Preparing for the awakening

After discovering your temperament, you have to prepare the vehicle which is this body, annamaya kosha. The journey starts from the body because it is through this vehicle that you can reach that point of intuition. The next thing you have to gear up is the fuel to move this vehicle to higher states of experience which are beyond the gross and mundane. Just as you need refined high octane fuel to drive your Mercedes Benz, Bentley or Rolls Royce, in the same way you need high octane fuel to drive this body and mind out of the clutches of the sensorial experience into the state of meditation.

According to yoga, that fuel is known as prana. Prana is not oxygen, nor is it the breath. Prana is the energy which flows in the breath. It is the vital energy, the source of life. So first of all you have to prepare the vehicle, and you also have to see that the quantum of prana which is flowing in the body is sufficient to take you to that heightened state of awareness. If there is an insufficient flow of prana in the body, then you simply cannot meditate. You may be able to meditate for a short period, but again the awareness drops. But to awaken vijnanamaya kosha you have to have enough fuel to allow unhindered and uninterrupted meditation.

So you have to find ways to increase as well as conserve the quantum of prana which is being dissipated and lost in the myriad activities you engage yourself in throughout the day. Prana is depleted in the digestion of food; you also lose prana when you talk, sing or dance. In fact everything requires prana, from blinking the eyelids and sneezing to thinking and contemplating. A lot of prana is wasted when you are worried, anxious, frightened or upset, which means you have to also learn the mental disciplines of yoga so that you don’t waste prana in useless thoughts, but instead are able to conserve it for meditation. This means that along with the vehicle and the fuel, you also have to take care of the driver, which is the mind. You have to keep the mind in order if you want to dive into the experiences of vijnanamaya kosha. By mind, I mean the totality of mind which constitutes the conscious, subconscious and unconscious.

The path of yoga

Good health or a beautiful body is not the aim of yoga. Fitness, beauty and youth are a by-product or side effect of yoga, not its final goal. Just as modern medicines produce side effects – for example, long usage of aspirin results in peptic ulcers or some other drug results in night blindness or vertigo or stiff joints – yoga too has a side effect. The difference is that the side effects of yoga are not detrimental; instead, they always have a positive and beneficial influence on the body and mind. You derive good health and attain clarity and focus of mind. Your intellect and memory are sharpened and your capacity to take correct decisions improves. You acquire confidence, poise and grace. These are only some of the side effects of yoga, but they are certainly not the aim or purpose of yoga.

The purpose of yoga is far more sublime. It is to prepare you for that ultimate state of meditation or transcendental experience. Through the practice of asana you first of all purify the entire physical structure and organs which constitute the body. The heart, lungs, liver, kidney, endocrine, nervous and circulatory systems are purified and the body is brought to an optimum condition. Then through the practice of pranayama you increase the level of prana, which increases the flow of blood to all the organs of the body and also to the brain, which is the most vital organ for meditation.

When all the organs are functioning properly and the flow of prana is unobstructed, then calmness and a peace descend on you, which is essential for meditation. In fact, peace of mind is a prerequisite and not a consequence of meditation as we normally tend to think. Unless you have attained peace of mind you cannot ever meditate, because the distractions of mind will simply not allow you to reach that heightened state. Instead of concentration, the mind will be wandering everywhere.

Asana and pranayama are practised to induce a balance and harmony between the body and mind, or you may say the physical and mental activities. Asanas do not just influence the organs, they influence your emotions as well. Together they play an important part in regulating the turbulent emotions which influence your attitude, responses and perception of the events in your life.

Through the practices of asana and pranayama you can directly instigate an immediate influence on the quantum of prana which flows through 72,000 channels or nadis throughout your entire body. Although all the nadis are to be purified, for this there are three which are most important, known as ida, pingala and sushumna.

Ida nadi, which corresponds to the sympathetic nervous system, is responsible for your mental activity, and pingala nadi, which corresponds to the sympathetic nervous system, is responsible for your physical activity. Originating at the root of the spine, they wind their way upwards, intersecting at a few junction points from where they send offshoots to all the different parts of the body, conveying prana right from your head down to your toes. An imbalance in the flow of these two nadis not only results in physical or mental sickness, but also obstructs awakening of the third nadi, sushumna, which corresponds to the autonomic nervous system.

The practices of yoga are intended to create a balance between the flow of these two nadis, which carry physical and mental energy to every part of the body, as that paves the way for the grand awakening of sushumna. Because it is only with the awakening of sushumna that experiences of vijnanamaya kosha begin to take place. Unless and until you are able to awaken sushumna through the balance of ida and pingala, you will not have the experience of vijnanamaya kosha. That is the sum and substance of what you have to do for awakening of vijnanamaya kosha.

Stages of awakening

This awakening takes place in three stages, which yoga terms as pratyahara, dharana and dhyana. As you become proficient in the practices of asana and pranayama and attain a balance in the flow of ida and pingala, you will find your mind becoming more and more introverted and that suddenly it is easier for you to withdraw your awareness from the external to the internal. That awareness, which is deeply attracted by the sense perception of sound, taste, smell, sight and touch, is able to transcend the influence of the senses and turn inwards. In other words, you are able to shut off the external world for some time and enter into the inner dimension. This is known as pratyahara and mastery of this state is essential before you can progress any further to the next stage. There are several ways prescribed to induce pratyahara, but pranayama is one of the most effective ways to perfect it, no matter whether you are temperamentally tamasic, rajasic or sattwic.

In the brief moments when you find that you are able to achieve this enormously difficult feat of sense withdrawal or pratyahara, you will need to fix that awareness on an inner point so that the concentrated energy that you are directing inwards does not dissipate, scatter or diminish. This inner focus or fixed concentration on a point is known as dharana. As you build your proficiency in these two practices with regular practice, the third stage of dhyana or meditation occurs. There are no rigid barriers between pratyahara, dharana and dhyana. Perfection of one spontaneously leads to the other.

When you do the practices of asana and pranayama, particularly pranayama, you may at any time spontaneously experience the state of pratyahara. If this state of pratyahara continues for some time, the mental energy will automatically become concentrated and dharana will occur. And as soon as the mind is concentrated, the internal state of dhyana or meditation simply happens, which is none other than the experience of awakening in vijnanamaya kosha, and glimpses of the experience of bliss and ecstasy related to anandamaya kosha begin to filter through.

Experiencing vijnanamaya kosha

The most important thing you have to know is that vijnanamaya kosha is the realm of your unconscious mind or psyche. It is a world of signs and symbols, colours and lights. And your unconscious is a part of the collective unconscious. It is directly linked to the collective unconsciousness or hiranyagarbha, the cosmic womb, that holds everything that has ever come into existence or is waiting to come into existence. It is the cosmic storehouse to which the unconscious mind of each and every individual is linked. That is why when you have experience of vijnanamaya kosha you become intuitive, because you begin to perceive things which belong to the four dimensions of time, the past, present, future and beyond that to eternity.

When your mental frequencies transcend time, space and object to attain a heightened frequency, that knowledge becomes available to you. The collective unconscious is a definite reality, where everything that has happened, everything that is happening and everything that will happen is stored. You can say it is a bank of unlimited knowledge. For example, it does not have the limitation of country. It is not Indian knowledge, nor is it American knowledge. Nor does it have the limitation of religion, because religions are man-made. This knowledge is universal. It is the knowledge of existence. It is not restricted to time and space.

Therefore, if you want to enter this realm of your being which is mystical and psychic, it is important that you should try to know a bit about your past: what is your ancestry, where do you come from, what is your heritage? Each one of us has a lineage, a heritage and a tribe from which we have descended. I may be an Indian, but that is not my tribe. That may be my national identity, but it does not indicate my tribe. The identity each one of us holds dear to ourselves of nation, religion and sect is fabricated or stitched so neatly around us that ultimately we are reduced to that and cease to be nothing more than that.

Eventually we fit into that mould, but undoubtedly there is something more to us than that. So each one of us has to go through this process of self-discovery which will take us beyond the confines of caste, country and religion back to our origins from where we descended. Who were those people from whom you descended? What was their tribe? What were their beliefs? Which rituals did they follow? What mantras did they chant? What methods did they employ to alter the consciousness?

You may be American by birth, but you may belong to a tribe that has its roots in India. From the North Pole to the South Pole, from Peru to Alaska, there are many, many thousands of tribes that have existed since time immemorial, who later congregated in different countries, different sects, different beliefs and different religions. In the course of time, they lost that tribal identity, but that does not alter the fact nor change the reality that those tribal influences will remain embedded in their psyche.

For instance, an Indian belonging to the Santhali tribe of Jharkhand will have a different psychic influence to an Indian belonging to the Toda tribe of the Niligiris. To reach the roots of your ancestry is important if you want to delve into mystic practices, because knowledge of that will help in ascertaining the practices that will yield quick results for you. This is because every tribe has its own set of mystic practices that are peculiar to them. Some tribes used mantras and mystic sounds to reach that mystical state, others used fire rituals, still others had knowledge of herbs or music and dance.

There is not one but thousands of rituals practised by different tribes, which they preserved as long as they maintained their tribal identity. Once they lost that identity, these rituals may have gradually ceased to exist in the conscious mind, but they would certainly have retained their roots somewhere in the unconscious as memory. It is this unconscious memory in the form of symbols and sounds, colours, lights and visions that comes to the fore in mystical practices and generates an altered state of consciousness.

As long as you want to develop the mind, intellect and intelligence, it is perfectly in order that you resort to the knowledge which is available according to the place where you live and your surroundings. But if you want to delve into the mystic practices that will awaken vijnanamaya kosha and develop your intuition, you will need to correlate yourself with your primitive and instinctive origins. That will give you very good results.

Instinct and intellect

Although instinct and intuition are very similar in expression, they are not the same. However, even though they are not the same, they are deeply linked and you may say that they are two sides of the same coin. At one level the consciousness expresses itself as instinct, as it does in the animal kingdom, and at the other end it expresses itself as intuition in humans.

If you observe birds and animals closely, you will find that they know of natural calamities in advance. Is that instinct or intuition? Not only that, they can know of distant events; leave some tasty meat outside in your courtyard and see the swarm of birds and animals that descend there in just a matter of seconds. This is the instinct of survival which perhaps we have inherited from them, which in the course of time can evolve to intuition if we know how to transform it. The difficulty we face is that we have lost sight of our instincts because we rely solely on our intellect and intelligence to survive. The intellect and intelligence is so highly developed in us that it has simply erased the innate instinctive responses and reactions that are still alive in animals. You have to restore that connection with your primeval past if you want to transform your instinct into intuition. Unfortunately, you have sacrificed your instinct at the hands of intelligence and intellect, which in a sense has corrupted your natural responses and led you away from your inner self.

That self, which becomes apparent as there is awakening in vijnanamaya kosha, cannot be realized through the mind. This mind which is responsible for your present experiences has to be separated and thrown out of its present field or range of experience. It is not this mind that illumines your experiences beyond manomaya kosha, but the self that illumines your path.

Intuition is born when the mind is transcended. So long as you function in this mental state of logic, reason and intellect, your intuition will not reveal itself to you. Intuition has no logic, it is pure feeling. It comes to you with amazing clarity as if that event is occurring right before you. For example, once a lady had come to meet my guru and as she entered the room I saw her in a white sari, although she was wearing a bright red one. It was just a flash of a vision and I did not give it much importance until I learnt a few days later that she had become a widow due to a tragic accident. Imagine my amazement when, two weeks after her visit, she again returned for my guru’s blessings, this time in the white sari which I had seen her in. That was intuition working.

This is an important point as well, for intuition first of all reveals calamities, destruction, fatal events, sickness, tragedy and all that is negative. This why the sage Patanjali in ‘Vibhooti Pada’ of the Raja Yoga Sutras has clearly warned against the use, or should I say misuse, of siddhis that arise as a consequence of awakening in vijnanamaya kosha. In fact, he has called them obstacles in the path of yoga – Te samaadhavupasarga vyutthane siddhayah (3:38). To an ordinary person they are a welcome achievement, one that he can boast about and maybe use to earn money, name and fame, but for a serious aspirant they act as hindrances. For if he begins to use them, in time they will disappear and leave him bankrupt. Even if you do not want the siddhis, they will come to you as you progress on the path of yoga, because awakening of vijnanamaya kosha grants vibhootis (divine attainments) and brings out the inherent pratibha (inner light, intuition) in an individual.

Beyond the mind

To awaken vijnanamaya you have to transcend the influence of mind and intellect. The easiest and quickest way to influence the analytical mind and logical intellect is to provide it with a set of practices that defy all logic. Amazingly, according to yoga and tantra, this really works. Mystic practices, involving mantras, rituals, worship, music as well as dance as in the case of the whirling dervishes and Sufi traditions which have been utilized since time immemorial by millions of races and tribes throughout the world, are a very important heritage which we can delve into. Of course, if you don’t have knowledge of your ancestral past, you can still use the practices of yoga. Because, as I said at the very beginning, yoga is universal, it belongs to mankind. And all mystic practices, all practices dealing with the esoteric, have some link with yoga. So you can easily use the practices of yoga, such as asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha, mantra, pratyahara, dharana and dhyana, to awaken vijnanamaya kosha.



The Moksha Gita by Swami Sivananda Commentary by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 9: The Five Sheaths


1, 2. The Guru said: This Annamaya sheath or food sheath is made up of the five elements. It has a beginning and an end. It is inert and full of parts. It is an effect of the five elements. It is full of impurities. Therefore you are not this physical body or the Annamaya sheath. You are the witness of this body. Understand, therefore, “I am not the body. I am Brahman.”

The physical body is the grossest form of thought. The food consumed by the parents is converted into Sukla (semen) in men and Sonita in women and by the combination of these the physical body is formed. After birth, the body grows by suckling the milk which is only a transformation of the food consumed by the mother. The body is further developed by taking food. It gets dissolved in earth which is another form of food. The body is itself a food for other creatures. Hence it is called the food sheath, the material body or the earthly encagement of the soul. The food sheath is an object of perception. The Atman is the cogniser and the body is the cognised. Hence the Self is different from the body. In dream and deep sleep there is no consciousness of the body.

The five elements constitute the physical body. These modifications of Maya are not the Truth, the body and its Dharmas, size, form, birth and death are not actual modifications of the Self. Varnashrama, name and class differ in different births. They are mere accidental attributes of the body. There is no physical body either before birth or after death. Hence it is non-eternal.

Existence, birth, growth, modification, decay and death are the six Vikaras of the physical body. Just as the ether in a pot is not affected in any way by the destruction of the pot, so also the Atman is not at all affected by the destruction of the body or the Annamaya Kosha. Atman is unattached. Ether is subtle, but the Atman is still subtler. Atman is formless, changeless, birthless, deathless, free from old age. It is neither born nor is killed. Hence one should meditate on this Atman or Brahman.


3, 4. The Pranamaya Kosha or the vital sheath is a product of Rajoguna. It also has a beginning and an end. It is inert. It is an effect. Therefore you are not the Pranamaya Kosha. You are the witness of this sheath. Understand, therefore, “I am not the Pranamaya Kosha. I am Brahman.”

The Pranamaya Kosha consists of the five Pranas and five Karma-Indriyas or organs of action. Though the Prana is waking when one is sleeping, it does not invite a friend and entertain him; it cannot stop a thief who tries to remove the articles in a house. Therefore it is insentient. The Self is a mass of Intelligence. It is Chaitanya-Swarupa. It is entirely different from the Prana. The Self is the knower, seer and witness of this sheath.

Prana is only the active working of the mind. A pure-hearted man breathes rhythmically. The breath of an evil-minded person is disturbed. When the mind is controlled the Prana is automatically controlled. The Vedantic aspirant does not practise Pranayama, because his breath is automatically regulated and Kumbhaka naturally follows when the mental Kumbhaka or concentration and meditation are practised. The Pranas are the Rajasic manifestations of the dynamic mental force which with their ups and downs maintain the balance of individual existence even as the bicycle is kept in balance when its wheels are vigorously turning. When there is a break of this movement, the bicycle falls down and when the Prana is inhibited the individualising mind together with the ego breaks down and dies.

Hence there should be no identification with the Pranamaya Kosha and the aspirant should assert the Self-existent Atman distinct from it.


5, 6. The Manomaya Kosha or the mental sheath is a product of Sattwa Guna. It also has a beginning and an end. It is inert. It is an effect. Therefore you are not the Manomaya Kosha. You are the witness of this sheath. Understand, therefore, “I am not Manomaya Kosha. I am Brahman.”

The Manomaya Kosha consists of the mind and the five Jnana Indriyas. It is a means of enjoying pleasure and pain. The mind causes egoism in the body and “mine”-ness in house, sons, wife, wealth, etc., and passes outside through the avenues or channels of these five Indriyas. It is the internal instrument for gaining the experiences and knowledge of this world. Mind is associated with the Vrittis or waves of lust, anger, etc., and is a terrible objectifying agent. Mind is a Vikari, it constantly changes itself.

The Self is a witness of the Manomaya Kosha. The Self is Nirvikari. The mind is not the Self. The Self is the Atman or Brahman, unblemished, eternal and changeless, and one should meditate on it as such.


7, 8. The Vijnanamaya Kosha or this Buddhi sheath is a product of Sattwa Guna. It has also a beginning and an end. It is inert. It is an effect. Therefore you are not the Vijnanamaya Kosha. You are witness of this sheath. Understand, therefore, “I am not the Vijnanamaya Kosha. I am Brahman.”

The Vijnanamaya Kosha consists of the intellect in conjunction with the five organs of knowledge or the Jnana-Indriyas. During sleep it gets involution or Laya along with Chidabhasa or the reflection of Pure Consciousness. During waking state it is the doer. It is an effect like a jar and is inanimate. It shines in borrowed feathers. It borrows its light temporarily from its source, just as the moon borrows its light from the sun. It is not the eternal Self.

The Pranamaya, Manomaya and the Vijnanamaya Koshas constitute the subtle body. The subtle body is composed of the five unquintuplicated elements. There is neither breathing nor talking, neither seeing nor hearing in the dead body. There is also no warmth. The self-cognitions such as “I speak; I hear; I am hungry; I am thirsty;” and the like appear distinctly in the subtle body. The subtle body operates in the waking and the dreaming states. Ghosts and apparitions are the manifestations of the subtle body only.

The ego is hidden in the intellect and the memory (Chitta) is hidden in the mind. The subtle body thus, contains nineteen principles or Tattwas. It is also called the “Puri-Ashtaka” or the eightfold city. The five organs of sense, the five organs of action, the five vital breaths, the five subtle primary elements, the fourfold Antahkarana, ignorance, desire and action are the eightfold city of the subtle body.

The physical body is only an instrument in the hands of the subtle body. When the subtle body is disciplined through Pranayama, abstraction and concentration, the physical body also becomes very healthy and strong. Whatever the subtle body is, that the physical body also becomes. The mind which is the ruler of the subtle body gets fattened by worldly affections, by avarice for wealth, by the acquirement of women and gold and by attachment to the external fleeting forms of beauties. The mind is thinned out by eradication of the Vasanas and egoism.

The subtle body is the distracted expression of the self through Avidya, the causal sheath. Therefore it is not the Truth. Truth is Brahman and all else is false. One should meditate that he is not the subtle body and that he is the self-effulgent Atman.


9, 10. The Anandamaya Kosha or this bliss sheath is Avidya or ignorance, a modification of Prakriti. It is the effect of past deeds. It is endowed with changing attributes. It is Jada or insentient. Therefore you are not the Anandamaya Kosha. You are the witness of this sheath. Understand, therefore, “I am not the Anandamaya sheath. I am Brahman.”

The Anandamaya Kosha is made of Mula-Ajnana. It is the Karana Sarira or the causal body which is the substratum of all other sheaths which are external to it. Its three attributes or Dharmas are Priya, Moda and Pramoda, affection, delight and intense happiness. It is the indescribable beginningless Avidya, the nescience of the Atma, and is composed of Malina Sattwa. It is inanimate, beginningless, but has an end in Atma-Jnana.

The ignorance of the real nature of the Self constitutes this causal body or seed-body. It contains the potentialities or the seeds for the subtle and gross bodies. It projects the appearance of the whole universe through the subtle sheath. It is the food of ignorance for the hungry ego. The mind has come out of this ignorance and gets involved in it during deep sleep. In the sleeping state there is a vigorous functioning of this ignorance in which everything is lost as in pitch darkness. The Karana Sarira screens the Satchidananda Brahman.

He who knows the ignorance or the negation of the existence of the Atman and the denial of its appearance is the true Self, the Atman. He who knows the effects of ignorance, such as “I am a man, I am the doer and enjoyer, I am happy, I am miserable,” is the witness and the Atman. Hence in reality the Self is the seer, knower and the witness of the causal body or the ignorance. The Self is the Knowledge and the Light itself.

As the light that enlightens the jar is different from it, so is the Self different from the bodies witnessed by it. Therefore the Self is Consciousness itself and not the bodies.

The aspirant should endeavour to rise above the five Koshas to realise the identity with Pure Consciousness. Just as one draws out the thin stalk from the Munja grass by stripping off its upper layers one by one, so also one should take out the innermost essence of the Atman from all objects of perception, i.e. the five Koshas, by the “neti, neti” doctrine of negating unreality. Just as butter is removed from milk by churning the mixture of curd, so also the butter of the Atman should be taken from the mixture of the five Koshas by the churning of constant meditation on the Immortal Brahman which fictitiously appears as the sheaths, the world, etc. When the identification with the sheaths ceases, the self realises the Infinite Being and gets liberated beyond death.


Above Dhruvaloka by 10,000,000 yojanas is Maharloka, above Maharloka by 20,000,000 yojanas is Janaloka, above Janaloka by 80,000,000 yojanas is Tapoloka, and above Tapoloka by 120,000,000 yojanas is Satyaloka. Thus the distance from the sun to Satyaloka is 233,800,000 yojanas, or 1,870,400,000 miles. The Vaikuṇṭha planets begin 26,200,000 yojanas (209,600,000 miles) above Satyaloka. Thus the Viṣṇu Purāṇa describes that the covering of the universe is 260,000,000 yojanas (2,080,000,000 miles) away from the sun.

SB 5.23.9, Translation and Purport:

The body of the Supreme Lord, Viṣṇu, which forms the Śiśumāra-cakra, is the resting place of all the demigods and all the stars and planets. One who chants this mantra to worship that Supreme Person three times a day—morning, noon and evening—will surely be freed from all sinful reactions. If one simply offers his obeisances to this form or remembers this form three times a day, all his recent sinful activities will be destroyed.

Summarizing the entire description of the planetary systems of the universe, Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura says that one who is able to meditate upon this arrangement as the virāṭ-rūpa, or viśva-rūpa, the external body of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and worship Him three times a day by meditation will always be free from all sinful reactions. Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura estimates that Dhruvaloka, the polestar, is 3,800,000 yojanas above the sun. Above Dhruvaloka by 10,000,000 yojanas is Maharloka, above Maharloka by 20,000,000 yojanas is Janaloka, above Janaloka by 80,000,000 yojanas is Tapoloka, and above Tapoloka by 120,000,000 yojanas is Satyaloka. Thus the distance from the sun to Satyaloka is 233,800,000 yojanas, or 1,870,400,000 miles. The Vaikuṇṭha planets begin 26,200,000 yojanas (209,600,000 miles) above Satyaloka. Thus the Viṣṇu Purāṇa describes that the covering of the universe is 260,000,000 yojanas (2,080,000,000 miles) away from the sun. The distance from the sun to the earth is 100,000 yojanas, and below the earth by 70,000 yojanas are the seven lower planetary systems called Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talātala, Mahātala, Rasātala and Pātāla. Below these lower planets by 30,000 yojanas, Śeṣa Nāga is lying on the Garbhodaka Ocean. That ocean is 249,800,000 yojanas deep. Thus the total diameter of the universe is approximately 500,000,000 yojanas, or 4,000,000,000 miles.



Vedic Cosmology – The Planets of the Material Universe

The cosmology and cosmography of the ancient Vedas is awe inspiring to say the least. The more “modern” of the Vedic texts are known to originate from approximately 3000 B.C., thus being the oldest scientific and religious doctrines known to man. The descriptions of our solar system and what modern astronomy has discovered of the visible universe corresponds with the ancient Vedic knowledge, proving that man has had advanced knowledge of astronomy for thousands of years before our modern civilization began. This article describes the Vedic version of planetary systems from the topmost, eternal planets down through the temporary planetary systems within innumerable universes of this material world.

When saying “cosmic manifestation” we speak of two separate worlds, the spiritual and the material. The spiritual planetary systems are eternal, beyond the limits of the material universes, and belong to a “super dimensional” or “anti-material” dimension. These are beyond the limitations of material time and space and therefore beyond our vision, or powers of perception. In these planetary systems there is no occurrence of creation or dissolution, and these planets are unlimited, indestructible, and eternally existing. There are descriptions of these spiritual planets in the vedic literatures, but this article concentrates on those within the material universe.

The material planetary systems are created at some point in time and will be destroyed at another. They are bound by the influences of time and space. Both of these energies (spiritual and material) are of the same divine source called “brahmajyoti”, the spiritual light. About 1/4th of this brahmajyoti is covered by the “mahat-tattva”, the material energy, where are found innumerable material universes. The 3/4th portion is the eternal spiritual sky. In the spiritual world are two realms of existence, “Goloka-dhama” and “Hari-dhama”. The material world has one realm called “Devi-dhama”.

Goloka-dhama is the topmost planet and residence of the Supreme Godhead Sri Sri Radha-Krishna. Below this is Hari-dhama where the spiritual planets of the Vaikunthalokas are situated. Below the Vaikuntha planets is “Mahesh-dhama” (also called Sadasivaloka, or the abode of Lord Siva). This is the realm dividing the spiritual from the material universes. Below Mahesh-dhama is Devi-dhama, the realm of the material universe. It is said that the systems of yoga offer different destinations. Bhakti yoga directs one toward entering Hari-dhama or Goloka-dhama. Jnana yoga directs the aspirant toward entrance to Mahesh dhama, and karma yoga directs one to remain in Devi-dhama, experiencing repeated birth and death in the material worlds.

The Planetary Systems of Devi-Dhama

In the Bhagavad-Gita we find a statement that there are three divisions of material planets in our universe. They are “urdhva-loka” (highest), “madhya-loka” (middle), and “adho-loka” (lower). Above the urdhva-lokas are the coverings of the material universe beyond which lie the eternal realms of existence. Within these three spheres of existence are 14 main planetary systems with different standards of life and duration of existence. The residents of the upper three systems have almost no disease or aging of the body, and they have no sense of fear. As the planetary systems progress downward there is lesser duration of life and standard of living, as well as a greater manifestation of disease and anxiety.

The 14 planetary systems are named as follows, from highest to lowest:

1) Satya-loka

2) Tapa-loka

3) Jana-loka

4) Mahar-loka

5) Svar-loka

6) Bhuvar-loka

7) Bhur-loka

8) Atala-loka

9) Vitala-loka

10) Sutala-loka

11) Talatala-loka

12) Mahatala-loka

13) Rasatala-loka

14) Patala-loka

In one of the Vedic scriptures called the “Hari-vamsa” there is a description as follows: “Above the planetary systems where humans live is the sky. Above the sky is the orbiting sun, which is the entrance point of the heavenly planetary systems. This is the middle of the universe where begins the planets of those elevated by great austerities and penances. The planets above these, up to Satya-loka are the residences of those advanced in spiritual knowledge. All these planets are within the material world and under the control of Devi (Goddess Durga), and therefore called Devi-dhama.”

The term “amara” (deathless) is often used to describe the residents of the heavenly planets because their span of life is inconceivable to us, but although they live for millions of years by our calculation, none within the material worlds can live here eternally. In Bhagavad-Gita there is given a description for the life span of those living on Satyaloka. One day is equal to 4,300,000,000 solar years. On other heavenly planets the day is considered to equal six months of our time, and the night also equal to six months on earth. These souls live in their bodies for 10 million of their years.

Time duration such as day, night, months, and years are different in different planetary systems, and there are also different types of human beings, animals, trees, and vegetation. Some of the planets that are visible to us are considered heavenly planets with different timings. Jupiter, Venus, and the Moon are examples of planets where one day is equal to six months on earth. How can that be, one may ask, when we can see these planets orbiting the Sun?

One point of reference that may be difficult for some to understand is crucial to this realization. All planets have different dimensions surrounding them. The dimension of existence visible to our eyes gives us the impression that the other planets in our solar system are mostly devoid of life. In actuality astronomers have found proof of intelligent life on other planets, regardless of the fact that little is yet public knowledge. The purview discernable by our physical eyes, though, cannot enter into the heavenly spheres of these planets where devas, angels, and higher beings exist, nor even that of humans who enjoy an existence far superior to what is obtainable on our planet earth.

Just as on and surrounding earth there are realms of existence inhabited by ethereal beings invisible to our eyes, some highly advanced and others bound by unfortunate circumstances (such as ghosts), all planets have different spheres of existence. We can never gain knowledge of the multi-dimensional reality on earth with our physical eyes, so how could we possibly expect to enter into the higher realities of other planets with them?

There are also different types of oceans on different planets in the material world. “Siddhanta-siromani”, an ancient vedic astrological text describes them as being of seven varieties:

1) an ocean of salt water

2) an ocean of milk

3) an ocean of curd

4) an ocean of ghee (clarified butter)

5) an ocean of sugar cane juice

6) an ocean of liquor

7) an ocean of sweet water

Our minds may balk at such a conception of different types of oceans, but why should any of these be more fantastic than the ocean of salt water that we have here on earth?

There are also some eternal planets seemingly situated within this material universe, but they are always inaccessible for human beings. The text “Laghu-Bhagavatamrita” describes these eternal planets as follows: “Above Rudraloka, the planet of Lord Siva, is the planet called Vishnuloka. It is 400,000 miles in circumference, and inaccessible for any mortal living being. Above that Vishnuloka is a golden island called Maha-Vishnuloka in the ocean of salt. Brahma and other demigods sometimes go there to meet Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu lies there with Lakshmi (the goddess of fortune). East of here is the “ocean of milk” where within is the island of Svetadvipa, where Lord Vishnu also resides with Goddess Lakshmi. His transcendental island is 200,000 square miles and covered with desire trees for the pleasure of the Supreme Lord.”

This planet is called “Dhruvaloka” and we see it as the polestar. It is said to be 3,800,000 yojanas above the sun (one yojana is equal to 8 miles). Above Dhruvaloka by 10,000,000 yojanas is Maharloka. Above Maharloka by 20,000,000 yojanas is Janaloka, a further 80,000,000 yojanas lies Tapaloka, and above by 120,000,000 yojanas is Satyaloka. The Vaikuntha planets begin 26,200,000 yojanas beyond Satyaloka.

The scripture “Vishnu Purana” describes that the outer covering of the universe begins 260,000,000 yojanas above the sun. About 70,000 yojanas below the earth begin the seven lower planetary systems of Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rasatala, and Patala. Below these planets 30,000 yojanas is the Garbhodaka Ocean where Sesa Naga lies. This ocean is 249,800,000 yojanas deep. This gives an approximate diameter of the universe as 500,000,000 yojanas or 4,000,000,000 miles. These distances are calculated according to the distances between the planetary “planes” of existence. Actual distances between planets may be more.

The higher planetary systems are the realms of devas, demigods, and angels. Bhuvarloka is the abode of ghostly spirits, and the lower planets are populated by those of demoniac consciousness as well as the snakes known as “Nagas”. Development of higher consciousness, which also includes advanced intellectuality, starts with human beings and further increases among the denizens of higher planetary systems. The earth is situated close to the middle of these planetary systems.

Descriptions of the Planetary Systems

This is the abode of Lord Brahma, the progenitor of this material universe. Here there are airplanes controlled by mantra, not by any mechanical means. The residents have mind and intelligence, but no material gross bodies. They feel compassion for those suffering in the lower regions, but do not suffer fear, old age, or death. At the time of final dissolution of the material planets the residents here transform their subtle bodies into spiritual bodies and enter the eternal Vaikuntha planets. Great yogis finally reach this highest planet through the Milky Way, which is the “highway” to this most elevated planet where the duration of life is calculated as 15,480,000,000,000 years.


This is the abode of the four Kumaras named Sanat, Sanaka, Sanandana, and Sanatana. In this world many great sages also reside due to their advancement through spiritual austerity. The enjoyment available to the residents is inconceivable to us as it is beyond anything of our experience. When there is annihilation of the material universe the residents here also transform their subtle bodies to spiritual and enter the spiritual sky.


This planet, still above the heavenly realms, is another abode of great saints and sages. This planet is populated by mystics who move to higher planets, and eventually transform their subtle bodies to spiritual, when the fire of devastation consumes the material planets. These residents can move between any planets within the material universe as mystic “spacemen” at speeds unthinkable to us.


When fully purified from material desire and contamination through sacrifice, penance, and charity one can reach the heavenly planets, and if advancing further can pass through the higher orbits to reach Maharloka. The greatest of sages, such as Bhrigu Muni, live in this place. It is situated beyond the “Sisumara”, which is the pivotal point for the turning of the universe. Advanced yogis reach this planet and live here for 4,300,000,000 solar years. When the fire of devastation almost reaches this planet the residents transport themselves to Satyaloka where they live further before this highest of planets is destroyed. They then transform their subtle bodies to spiritual and enter the spiritual realms.


In every material universe is one Vaikuntha planet with an ocean of milk where Lord Vishnu resides on an island called Svetadvipa. This planet is Dhruvaloka. Living here are completely pure personalities. In our universe this planet is seen as the polestar and is situated above the planets of the Seven Rishis. As it is a spiritual planet, it is eternal and therefore remains when all other planets within the material universes are destroyed. It is said that this planet is the pivot for all material stars’ and planets’ orbits. All planets travel at high speeds in orbit, including the sun, which travels 16,000 miles per second in its orbit around Dhruvaloka. The planets of the seven sages are stars just below this planet that also orbit Dhruvaloka. They are always concerned with the welfare of the living entities within this material world and send emissaries to bring spiritual knowledge at various times and circumstances.

Sanaiscara (Saturn)

Saturn is considered an inauspicious planet astrologically, as he gives painful lessons to us here on earth. It is situated 1,600,000 miles above Jupiter and passes through one sign of the zodiac every 30 months.

Brihaspati (Jupiter)

Jupiter is considered a most auspicious heavenly planet and is generally considered favorable astrologically, depending on placement at the time of our births here on earth. It is a planet of devas, and situated 1,600,000 miles above Mars.

Angaraka (Mars)

Mars is considered to be a malefic planet, which creates lack of rainfall on earth and almost always is capable of creating unfavorable influences here. It is situated 1,600,000 miles above Mercury.

Buddha (Mercury)

Mercury is said to be the son of the moon and is 1,600,000 miles beyond the planet Venus. As does Venus, he sometimes moves behind the sun, sometimes in front, and sometimes along with it. Generally the influence of Mercury is said to be auspicious astrologically, except when not moving with the sun. At such times this planet causes great storms on earth.

Shukra (Venus)

Venus is considered a most auspicious and favorable planet, and is also of the heavenly planets. Venus is said to bring rainfall, another reason for it being considered auspicious to life on earth.

Chandraloka (Moon)

The Moon is one of the four most important residences of the demigods. Those who worship the demigods through sacrifice aimed at great material enjoyment are promoted to the Moon. Here the celestial, intoxicating beverage called “soma” is available. It is not possible to enter into or even see the actual heavenly dimensions of this planet with our present eyes. The Moon passes through the entire zodiac in approximately one month. He influences the growth of vegetation and therefore considered the life-giver for all living beings on earth.

Surya (Sun)

The Sun is the source of light and heat for our universe. Modern science considers many stars to also be suns, but in the vedic literature they are considered to be planets of varying material elements, but not the center, as is the Sun. Surya, the sun god, is considered an expansion of Narayana (a form of Lord Vishnu). He controls the seasons here on earth. It is situated between Bhuloka and Bhuvarloka, rotating through the time circle of the zodiac. Yogis practicing hatha or ashtanga yoga, or those performing agnihotra sacrifices, worship the sun for their benefit. The demigods residing on the sun planet have bodies made of fire, necessary for life here.


Rahu is said to be an invisible planet, which is situated 80,000 miles below the sun. It causes solar and lunar eclipses, as Rahu, along with Ketu, are the north and south nodes of the moon respectively.

Siddhaloka, Caranaloka, & Vidyadharaloka

These planets are 80,000 miles below Rahu. The residents of these planets are born with natural mystic powers, including the ability to fly without mechanical means, even to other planets. They have all the mystic siddhis, and being materially perfect beings can control gravity, time, and space. Their arts, culture, and sciences are far superior to that knowledge possessed by we here in the earthly realm.

Yakshaloka & Rakshashaloka

Beneath these higher planetary systems, in the sky called “antariksha”, are the residences of the Yakshas, Rakshashas, Pisachas, ghosts, and other etheral beings. This realm extends as far as the wind blows and clouds float in the sky. Above this there is no air.

Bhu-mandala (Middle Earth)

The planetary systems of middle earth (Bhumandala or Bhuloka) are abodes of both standards of living such as we enjoy on our planet, as well as some heavenly abodes where living beings may “stop” on the way to, or from, births in the heavenly planetary systems. There are seven planetary systems, which are divided by seven oceans. The names of the planetary systems are Jambu, Plaksha, Salmali, Kusha, Krauncha, Shaka, and Pushkara. Each system is twice as large as the one preceding it, and each ocean between the systems are made respectively of salt water, sugarcane juice, liquor, ghee, milk, emulsified yogurt, and sweet water.
Bhumandala is shaped like a lotus flower and the seven planetary systems are in the whorl of the lotus. The radius of Bhumandala extends as far as the sunshine, and the limits of our vision here to see the stars and moon. As the sunshine reaches earth from a distance of 93,000,000 miles, this is the radius of the plane of Bhumandala.

Lower Planetary Systems

Below the earth are seven other systems called Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rasatala, and Patala. These lower planetary systems are the same size as the earth planet, and begin 560,000 miles below earth. Sunshine does not reach these planets and light comes from jewels on the hoods of serpents. These planets are populated by persons of great power and opulence, yet of demoniac consciousness, who have reached here through austerity aimed at material enjoyment without spiritual development. They do not become old and diseased and fear only the time factor, which ultimately must destroy their abodes. Therefore they are given the name of “bila-svarga”, or subterranean heavenly planets.

The residents here enjoy a standard of material comfort more opulent than even the higher planets due to their desires for high standards of sensual enjoyment, wealth, and influence. The residents are known as Daityas, Danavas, and Nagas and are all engaged in illusory material enjoyment with no thought of spiritual liberation. There are incredible feats of architecture in their cities bedecked with valuable jewels in houses, gardens, compounds, etc. All residents drink juices and bathe in herbal elixirs which free them from any anxiety or physical disease, as well as any sign of physical aging. The visual beauty of these artificial heavens surpasses that of the higher planets and this sensual atmosphere completely captures the mind, allowing no thoughts but those directed toward sensual pleasure and happiness. Since time is not divided into days and nights due to no sunshine reaching these planets, they have no fear produced by time. Only at the time of dissolution does anxiety and fear consume them.

Narakaloka, the Hellish Planetary Systems

Beneath the planet Patalaloka, and slightly above the water of the Garbhodaka ocean, are the Naralokas, or the hellish planetary systems. These planets are of different degrees of suffering for those who must endure life there. Here on earth we can see many hellish circumstances of suffering for people, but nothing like what is experienced on these planets. They are said to be a place of rectification for those who commit the most abominable actions while living as humans on the earthly plane. Although life here seems like it goes on for an eternity, in actual fact the duration of one’s “karmic sentence” here may be only seconds or moments. There are 28 different hellish planets described in the Vedic literatures.

These descriptions of the material creation, as well as the spiritual planets, may be found in several Vedic literatures to a far greater depth. I have out of necessity greatly abbreviated the information given here.

All of the planetary systems in the material world will in time be annihilated. This annihilation takes place in two ways. Partial annihilation occurs every 4,300,000,000 solar years, or at the end of each day on Satyaloka. This extends from the hellish planets through all lower planetary systems up to the heavenly planets. The highest planets are not annihilated at this time. The entire cosmic manifestation is wound up in the universal form of God every 8,600,000,000 x 30 x 12 x 100 solar years. The spiritual world, which is never annihilated, simply absorbs the material creation. It is described that before the destruction there is no rain for hundreds of years. Everything dries up and dies due to continuous sunshine. The sun becomes 12 times as powerful as was previously. Then there are horrendous rains that absorb everything into water.

The mortal bodies of living entities, including all vegetation, merge into the earth. The earth merges into its subtle sensation of fragrance. Fragrance merges into water, and water merges into its quality of taste. That taste merges into fire, which merges into form. Form merges into touch and touch into ether. Ether finally merges into the sensation of sound. The senses all merge into their origins, the presiding devas and demigods, then they merge into the controlling mind, which merges into ego in the mode of goodness. Sound becomes one with ego in the mode of ignorance, and ego (the first of all the physical elements), merges into the total nature. The total material nature dissolves into the modes (goodness, passion, and ignorance). These modes then merge into the unmanifest form of nature, and that unmanifest form merges into time. Time merges into the Supreme Godhead, present as Maha-Vishnu, the original creator of the cosmic manifestation. The origin of all life merges into God, the unborn Supreme Soul who remains one without a second, and from whom all creation and annihilation takes place. This annihilation of the material world is the exact reverse of the process of creation. Everything ultimately rests within the Supreme Absolute.



Please see my related posts:

Networks and Hierarchies

Consciousness of Cosmos: A Fractal, Recursive, Holographic Universe

Boundaries and Networks

Hierarchy Theory in Biology, Ecology and Evolution

Geometry of Consciousness

Mind, Consciousness and Quantum Entanglement

Process Physics, Process Philosophy

Reflexivity, Recursion, and Self Reference




Key Sources of Research:









Early modern cosmology (Introduction)




Worldview: The Great Chain of Being



Gaia and the great chain of being




Translations, Notes, and Questions for A. O. Lovejoy’s Great Chain of Being




General Characteristics of the Renaissance





John Henry




From the Great Chain of Being to Postmodernism in three Easy Steps

Ken Wilber





Man the microcosm, Universe the macrocosm




Plato used Hindu Microcosm and Macrocosm!

Plato used Hindu Microcosm and Macrocosm!




The Microcosm: The World of Quantum Mechanics

VV Raman



Aitareya Upanishad: Origin of the Universe & Man





Eternal Dance of Macrocosm








Microcosm and Macrocosm



Hindu Temple and the Structure of Human Body: Comparison



The Philosophical Foundations of Jyotish

Cyber-Semiotics: Why Information is not enough

Cyber-Semiotics: Why Information is not enough


CyberSemiotics is a framework developed by Prof. Soren Brier.  He is from Copenhagen Business School, Denmark.



From Cybersemiotics: a semiotic-systemic transdisciplinary approach

Since the critique of the logical positivists’ unity of science for being too reductionist to be transdisciplinary, most scientists have abandoned this model. But other candidates have emerged. The first was evolutionary system science and cybernetics, which was instrumental in producing the new information science supporting the development of cognitive science, with computation as the central process. But the new info-computational transdisciplinary framework still lacks a phenomenological and hermeneutical foundation just as system science and cybernetics did. Peircean semiotics has this foundation and includes a theory of information and has a transdisciplinary scope, but lacks the self-organization theory developed in autopoiesis theory, which Luhmann uses in his new communicatively based system theory. Cybersemiotics integrates Peirce and Luhmann’s paradigms into a new transdisciplinary framework encompassing the theory of mind as embodied, extended, enacted and embedded.


From Can Cybersemiotics Solve the Problem of Informational Transdisciplinarity?

A transdisciplinary theory for cognition and communication has at least been described from the following paradigms

  • An objective information processing view or info-mechanicism;
  • A social constructivist view;
  • A systemic cybernetic view of self-organization;
  • Semiotic paradigms of experience and interpretation (phenomenological and hermeneutical aspects) including biosemiotic going into animal, plant, bacterial and cellular living systems. They all have their transdisciplinary shortcomings.

A transdisciplinary framework called Cybersemiotics that
integrate phenomenological and hermeneutical aspect in Peircean semiotic logic with cybernetic and systemic autopoietic emergentist process-informational view, is suggested.


From Cybersemiotics: A New Foundation for Transdisciplinary Theory of Information, Cognition, Meaningful Communication and the Interaction Between Nature and Culture

Cybersemiotics constructs a non-reductionist framework in order to integrate third person knowledge from the exact sciences and the life sciences with first person knowledge described as the qualities of feeling in humanities and second person intersubjective knowledge of the partly linguistic communicative interactions, on which the social and cultural aspects of reality are based. The modern view of the universe as made through evolution in irreversible time, forces us to view man as a product of evolution and therefore an observer from inside the universe. This changes the way we conceptualize the problem and the role of consciousness in nature and culture. The theory of evolution forces us to conceive the natural and social sciences as well as the humanities together in one theoretical framework of unrestricted or absolute naturalism, where consciousness as well as culture is part of nature. But the theories of the phenomenological life world and the hermeneutics of the meaning of communication seem to defy classical scientific explanations. The humanities therefore send another insight the opposite way down the evolutionary ladder, with questions like: What is the role of consciousness, signs and meaning in the development of our knowledge about evolution?

Phenomenology and hermeneutics show the sciences that their prerequisites are embodied living conscious beings imbued with meaningful language and with a culture. One can see the world view that emerges from the work of the sciences as a reconstruction back into time of our present ecological and evolutionary self understanding as semiotic intersubjective conscious cultural and historical creatures, but unable to handle the aspects of meaning and conscious awareness and therefore leaving it out of the story. Cybersemiotics proposes to solve the dualistic paradox by starting in the middle with semiotic cognition and communication as a basic sort of reality in which all our knowledge is created and then suggests that knowledge develops into four aspects of human reality: Our surrounding nature described by the physical and chemical natural sciences, our corporality described by the life sciences such as biology and medicine, our inner world of subjective experience described by phenomenologically based investigations and our social world described by the social sciences. I call this alternative model to the positivistic hierarchy the cybersemiotic star. The article explains the new understanding of Wissenschaft that emerges from Peirce’s and Luhmann’s conceptions.




Please see my related posts:

Meta Integral Theories: Integral Theory, Critical Realism, and Complex Thought

Socio-Cybernetics and Constructivist Approaches

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Integral Theory of Ken Wilber

Semiotics, Bio-Semiotics and Cyber Semiotics

Society as Communication: Social Systems Theory of Niklas Luhmann

Autocatalysis, Autopoiesis and Relational Biology

Systems View of Life: A Synthesis by Fritjof Capra

Systems and Organizational Cybernetics





Key Sources of Research:



Soren Brierøren-brier



A New Foundation for Transdisciplinary Theory of Information, Cognition, Meaningful Communication and the Interaction Between Nature and Culture

Søren Brier

A transdisciplinary and evolutionary framework encompassing information with meaningful cognition and communication through second order cybernetics and Peircean semiotics

Soren Brier





Why information is not enough!

A Trans-Disciplinary Approach to Information, Cognition and Communication Studies, Through an Integration of Niklas Luhmann’s Communication Theory with C. S. Peirce’s Semiotics.




A Festschrift honoring Professor Søren Brier on the Occasion of his 60th Birthday





The Paradigm of Peircean Biosemiotics

Soren Brier




Levels of Cybersemiotics: Possible ontologies of signification

Soren Brier




Cybersemiotics: An Evolutionary World View Going Beyond Entropy and Information into the Question of Meaning

Søren Brier





Soren Brier




Cybersemiotics: A New Foundation for Transdisciplinary Theory of Information, Cognition, Meaning, Communication and Consciousness

Soren Brier



Cybersemiotics: A Semiotic-systemic Transdisciplinary Approach


Søren Brier




The riddle of the Sphinx answered: On how C. S. Peirce’s transdisciplinary semiotic philosophy of knowing links science and spirituality


Søren Brier


Cybersemiotics and the Question of Knowledge


Soren Brier


Habit as a Connecting Nature, Mind and Culture in
C.S. Peirce’s Semiotic Pragmaticism †

Søren Brier

How Peircean semiotic philosophy connects Western science with Eastern emptiness ontology

Cybersemiotics and the reasoning powers of the universe: philosophy of information in a semiotic-systemic transdisciplinary approach

Soren Brier

Cybersemiotics: An Evolutionary World View Going Beyond Entropy and Information into the Question of Meaning

Søren Brier

 Cybersemiotic Pragmaticism and Constructivism

Søren Brier

Cognitive Semiotics


Integral Philosophy of the Rg Veda: Four Dimensional Man

Integral Philosophy of the Rg Veda: Four Dimensional Man


Meditations Through the Rg veda:  Four Dimensional man was published in 1976.  In 1999, Antonio de Nicholas published a review of his work.  See below.


From Forward to the book.


From Infinity Foundations website

Meditations Through The Rg Veda: A Retrospective
(Philosophy East and West. Vol.49. Number 2. April 1999)
by Antonio T. de Nicolas, PhD

Paradigm, Theory, Ritual

It is now twenty five years since Meditations Through the Rg Veda: Four-Dimensional Man was first published in the United States. My earlier work on the Rg Veda was published in 1971 in Bangalore, India. Though the structures of the book were born during my twelve years of consecutive living in India, these structures did not become a paradigm until later. The structures I refer to are the word things and the order of their arrangement I was embodying as I lived there, a context at a time. It was the way the sun rose or the dawn arrived, the slow-motion for the sun to set and the sudden night; the lines of movement, of people, animals, wind or rain; the sudden appearance of forms, by the river, a well, in the sky; the dissolution of familiar and unfamiliar names, in the rhythm of language, Gujarati, Sanskrit, even English or Spanish names; but above all, the new habit of listening with my eyes to the movements in the sky, the forest, the streets, the homes; for the world, and my body, were a musical string plucked at every turn, in every silence , in every sight, sound, smell, touch and movement. Hidden geometries became human flesh, unnoticed. It was a silent world longing to become language, but can a multiplicity of embodied languages be expressed as one? After a while it was life in the twilight; which was the shadow, which the real object? One has to gain distance, and none farthest than an American Ph.D. Nonetheless, dispite the distance, and dispite the academic language, a new paradigm was born, in the Bronx, of all places. The structures I embodied gave way to an experienced, embodied geometry, sustaining all the structures, texts and statements I silently learned in India. Of course, when I set down this paradigm in writing, be it the Rg Veda or the Gita, the actual written text was already a theory, no longer a paradigm, though perhaps the most accurate translation of the paradigm. Those who disagreed kept silent and those who agreed, the majority, repeated my theory as participants in a ritual. In short, the acts by which the paradigm was born in me, or is born in any one giving birth to an original text like the Rg Veda, is not the written text. The act of creation is silent. The text of the Rg Veda, however, as written down is only a theory of itself, an invitation to a ritual. It is not even one text, or one language, but several and can only be expressed in plural linguistic wholes. Paradigms may be tested; they leave invariant epistemologies, but they can never be taught; they are sheer creation. Theories, as short hand of possible paradigms, on the other hand, we learn in the classroom. They are the easy ones to repeat. Those who follow the path of creation, of embodied-vision, follow the path of the gods. The others follow the path of the fathers, the path of pro-creation, the path of ritual, as the Rg Veda indicates. One leads to immortality, the other to rebirth. On which of these two paths stands the author of the text, rsi, commentator, priest or scholar? Besides, the Rg Veda is the sruti (revelation) tradition of India. As such, it is earlier than any other claim of revelation from any of the canonical texts, from the East, Middle East or West. The paradigm of the interpreter, if it coincides with that of the Rg Veda, should also give birth to those gods that gave humans sensation, inspiration and immortality, not just life to a priesthood that changes ritual as the mood strikes, bent on the act of pro-creation for, after all, the immortality of the ritual is more important than the immortality of the soul. Nor is it legitimate while interpreting to disband these earlier gods in the name of a later one, nor the heart-ethics of these original people for the head-ethics of those who came later, and if done it should be made evident. And this is how the “written” Rg Veda began. The priests wrote it down thousands of years later (depending on which initial date you choose). Ideographic language gave way to alphabetic writing, criteria of sound to those of sight, the path of the gods to that of the fathers, the structures of immortality to those of reincarnation, paradigm to theory repeated in ritual. Which Rg Vedic text are we talking about? What is recoverable from such a text? In the end, all we are left with are the technologies by which we recreate either text. Which path do they open for us? Now, once this is said, however, the modern interpreter cannot be blamed for not being a rsi. Let the reader be free to decide between the two paths, and let the interpreter be aware of both.

The Myth of Invariance

The first scholar to find my 1971 edition of the Rg Vedic world “captivating” was Ernest McClain. His interest was my claim that every statement in the oral/aural Rg Veda was tied to a language grounded on musical criteria. Music was once, at the origin of human language, the epistemology of oral cultures. This was all Ernest McClain needed to make a life and a project of his training as a musicologist. We started collaborating, getting together for brunch at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, in 1974. His first book appeared in 1976, The Myth of Invariance: The Origin of the Gods, Mathematics and Music from the Rg Veda to Plato (Nicolas-Hays, N.Y.) In 1978 he brought out with the same publisher, The Pythagorean Plato: Prelude to the Song Itself, and in 1981 Meditations Through the Quran: Tonal Images in an Oral Culture. When we last spoke he had already found confirmation of his work and mine, not only in Greece, but also in Chinese and Biblical texts. In his words: The Rg Veda is the original epistemology upon which humans built knowledge and also immortality. And thus by the hand of music the Rg Veda re-entered human consciousness.

The Artful Universe

At first glance this book is a most welcome addition to Vedic studies. It covers a territory in Indian Studies few dare to tread, and in doing so the author brings to the discussion almost everyone, ancient or modern, who has written anything on the Vedas. The writing style is beautiful and the translations from the Sanskrit have a modern ring that makes the original less intimidating. There is a definitive purpose by the author in the writing and interpreting of these texts! On the one hand, and this is the thesis of the book, the Vedas are the product of the imagination, and on the other this imagination expresses itself as ritual, as the religious imagination of the Vedic religion. Professor William K. Mahoney takes six chapters to develop this thesis. The first two are a preparation to understanding the religious imagination, the third and fourth chapters cover the Rg Veda and the last two the Upanishads. The book, however, does not end here. The Notes that follow these six chapters are yet another book within the book which allow the reader to follow the inner footsteps of Prof. Mahoney in the composition of his book. It is easy here to admire his delicate scholarship and his flare for the happy phrase in translating or interpreting the work of others. While my intention in writing this essay is a celebration of the human effort carried out in getting to the origins of our species, I wish also to sharpen the debate in the hope that “embodied structures” take over where simple or simplistic statements become the origin of the dialogue.

The modern scholar dealing with the Vedic period has several options: Translations of individual hymns under arbitrary categories, as it has been done and can be found in the Bibliography of The Artful Universe; or corrections, very important, as to the date of the Vedas, as In Search of the Cradle of Civilization, as G. Feuerstein, S. Kak and D. Frawley have successfully done, or he/she may try to uncover for us the paradigm and mental faculty through which the Vedic seers “composed” the original hymns. This is what Prof. Mahoney promises us:

“To Vedic visionary poets, the world is – or could be – an integrated whole, a unified structure and process of being in which there are no unbridgeable distances separating the divine, natural, and human worlds” (p.2).

And this world is held together by ” mental abilities or processes associated with what I will call the imagination” (p.5), ” the divine imagination… and the human imagination – especially the poetic, sacerdotal, and contemplative imagination… (and) whether divine or human, it is precisely the imagination that fashions and recognizes the universe as meaningful, abiding, and valuable, that is to say, real” (p. 7).

Here are my first questions. When we take, say the Rg Veda, for examination or commentary, which “text” are we recreating? The oral text the rsis chanted, the written text the priests codified in ten mandalas and became a ritual, or a new mongrel text that repeats a lot of names and quotes but can be used, at most, as the weekend comfort of New Age Evangelicals? And if so, where are the priests in the Upanishads when the Ksatriya instruct them? But above all, if the imagination is the faculty used by the seers in the composition (creation) of the oral, original hymns, which is the faculty that the priests use when they write down the text and when they repeat the same written text in ritual after ritual? But above all, if the imagination is a faculty, how does it work, which are its movements besides naming it, which are its structures, and are these structures the same or different from our own, and if the same why, and if different, how can we understand the Vedic imagination? How many priests does the author know with imagination? Isn’t their job to repeat a ritual imagined by others, deadening thus not only their senses but their faculties too? An imaginative priest is known as a heretic!

These remarks are not to be answered by Prof. Mahoney. He has written his beautiful text. But is this text the Rg Veda, or is it the case that any attempt at writing down one Rg Veda will give us of necessity several texts? It is obvious that this study fluctuates between the “creation” text of the original rsis and the “pro-creation” text of the later, codifying priests. Where once we had sheer power of creation, through an active imagination, giving birth to gods, powers and continuities, very soon we descend to the repetitive ritual of procreation through human semen, and the danger is that this becomes the ritual we celebrate today:

O holy drop!
You are the master of ecstasies!
You are the immortal god’s favorite drink!
Show us the way to success,
as a friend to a friend. (p. 85)

But it is the Rg Veda itself which admonishes us a few hymns later than the one quoted above by Prof. Mahoney (R.V.9.112) to be weary of one single text, be it rituals or anything else:

l. Our thoughts wander in all directions
And various are the ways of men:
The cartwright looks for accidents,
The physician for the sick,
And the brahman for a rich patron.
For the sake of Indra,
Flow, Indra, flow.

4. The horse draws a swift carriage,
The generous host an easy laugh and play.
The penis seeks a hairy slot
And the frog (brahman) hankers for a flood.
For the sake of Indra,
Flow, Indra, flow.

(My translation in Meditations through the Rg Veda).

How does this effort in all of us at producing “one single” text fail when dealing with Indian classical texts, particularly the Rg Veda?

As regards the Notes of this book I have only admiration. It is almost heroic the effort of Prof. Mahoney to footnote his conclusions. It is as if footnoting he were building a path for others to follow. The way he does it, however, may raise serious questions. Is not this the “path of the fathers” leading to the re-incarnation of all ritual, including the ritual of scholarship? Take, for example, part of the footnote he dedicates to my book Meditations through the Rg Veda:

” …The “four dimensions” of the Vedic intentional life outlined by de Nicolas are similar in some ways to the poetic and ritual aspects of the Vedic World I discuss in Chapters Three and Four, below. We overlap most in regards to what de Nicolas calls the “language of embodied vision.” My approach is different from his, however, in that, whereas he concentrates on the linguistic nature of visionary knowledge, I focus my intention on the visionary background of linguistic expression.” (Emphasis mine) (p.238). Does Prof. Mahoney understand that no matter how he “overlaps” me, (ritualizes my writing?) my work antedates his by twenty five years, and supplies him not only with the pertinent Rg Vedic hymns he quotes but also with the secondary sources he needs to gather the community of scholars that will testify to his thesis? Furthermore, was not my book the one to establish not only the “imagination” as a rational intelligence of oral cultures, but also the “moves” it must make to be an imagination in movement, able to keep a diverse society in continuity within the discontinuity of sensation? If this is my thesis where is his? In the ritual of repetition of the original text? I would most probably let this point go were it not for the fact that this “tracing” over other people’s work seems to count these days as scholarship. It seems to be a mind-set of the times. But is this the “text” that gave birth to the Rg Veda? Scholarship is not a ritual, and more so, a thesis is not a ritual. Where is the imagination to get out of other people’s rituals, to rise to ” the path of the gods”? Let’s go on with our conversation. Prof. Mahoney will rejoin us later in the dialogue.

The New Theogony And The Heresy Of Oedipus

” Let us with tuneful skill
Proclaim the origin of the gods,
So that in future generations these origins
May be seen, when these songs are sung.” (R.V. l0.72.1)

Dr. Colavito, in The New Theogony, perhaps the best book on myth written in English, universalizes the “languages” of the Rg Veda, Asat, Sat, Yajna and Rta, to cover the study of all myth.

“What we call “myth”,” she writes “is a fourfold cluster of actions and mental properties that individually and together account for the necessary and sufficient conditions of the mythopoetic worldview, of the nature and workings of the cosmos, and of the individuals and groups of individuals within this cosmos.” For the sake of clarity she summarizes these languages thus: ” These four fundamental acts defining myth are: maia, mythos, mimesis and logos. Each act is a single focus or mental habit; together the four account for the totality of human and divine acts, or mental habits, that have guided the human species to the present shores. Though strictly speaking myth is merely one of the (four) acts in myth making, even this act is incomprehensible unless the other three mental operations are included in the narratives of myth…” She then goes on outline the four “languages”:

“Maia (Gr. midwife) is the term used to signify the bringing forth of action from inaction, cosmos out of chaos, the initial spark that kindles the mind to transform from nothig to something. It is the midwife between the divine realm of immortality and potentiality and the human realm of temporality and human existence. The aspect of maia in the human sphere is represented by the human faculty of imagining. It is the expression of the creative experience; it cannot be described,, it has no form, its proper abode is the midregion between the human and the immortal. Once an individual begins to interpret or reflect upon the experience, maia disappears and the experience receives an existence of its own, outside the real of potentiality, and it is given a form, name, boundary. In short, the reflective act heralds in the aspect of mythos. And with mythos the world moves from chaos to cosmos.

Mythos (from the Gr. delivered by word of mouth) primarily describes the initial reflection of the creative experience. It is the oral transmission of the experience… The first “scream of individuation,” to quote Nietzsche… Mythos, also, represents the original fall from grace, the first act that breaks from the unity of the beginning, from the glory of immortality; for the telling of the experience now has another element, an experiencer, a self, through whom the experience flowed. Thus… the telling of the experience is not the experience… and only those who have had the same experience may truly understand the full import of the teller’s tale…so that communities of experiencers can share common revelations.

Mimesis (Gr. to make a copy) is the aspect that describes the mythopoetic action of re-membering or re-creating… In this manner the story is told with an intent, a moral… What becomes important now is the story not so much as it relates to the original creative experience of individuals, but as it relates to the desire to make a point… The mimetic phase is … the first frozen form: the pictographic mode… geared toward establishing the social mores of the collective group.

Finally, logos, (Gr. the word by which the inward thought is expressed), taking as its origins these mores, completely eradicates the level of personal experience and uses the rules derived from the mimetic to create theories about human action. These mores are founded on human experience, but only on hypothetically universal experience – in other words, experience filtered through the sieve of a collective interpretation. As such, then , no origin in logos has the certainty of an origin in maia… Logos ceases to be a pictographic representation; it transforms into a symbolic or alphabetic system that has only its own correlatives within its own framework, with no derivative capacity from the experiential realm of the individual… Logos has always been the shadow of maia in the mythopoetic world.

This fourfold division is neither a convenient devise for classification, nor an arbitrary tool for interpretation; it is the fabric itself of myth… an abstraction, that, though distinguishable, is inseparable from myth. From a biological perspective this fourfold division is the neurophysiological equipment of the species, its mental habits accumulated through the repetition of the past: imagining, fantasizing, narrating, following the discursive path of logic… )(Thus) while maia stands for an original experience… mythos, mimesis and logos stand for different ways (languages) of making this experience public, either through narrative (mythos), visual forms (mimesis), or… theory…alphabetic substitutions, or conceptual analyses (logos)… Finally, this fourfold system of acts corresponds to the scientific operations functioning within the oral/aural worldview, which has as its verification the ancient science of acoustics.” (pp.6-8)

Using the model of the one dismembering itself or the model of the zero as an addition of objects, Dr. Colavito makes evident the model through which dialogue and understand of myth is possible, and this not in just a few cases, Classical India, Rg Veda, Upanishads, but also the Greek gods and goddesses ending with the education of Pythagoras as imparted on his students, and the acoustic verification in Plato. A breathless trip that ends in the frustrating realization that while simple acts may lead to overwhelming “oceanic” experiences, the unity of maia, once broken, can never be recovered in one single language, but we must learn to move with of plurality of at least four irreconcilable and irreducible languages. Or is this a frustration or a temptation, the temptation to be the shadow of a god, if not god him/her self?

These are very strong claims. If true they may lead to the mobility of the Rta to perform the good act (sukrta), the original act of creation. Can they also lead to reconstructing the original Rg Veda? Where do we find the verification? Dr. Colavito took it upon herself to get to the bottom of the issue. Equipped with two Ph.Ds – one in Comparative Literature and the other in Psychology, her next book, The Heresy of Oedipus and the Mind/Mind Split, introduces us to her “Biocultural Paradigm.” She starts with the Nature/nurture controversy raging in the biological sciences to conclude that neither one nor the other works in isolation, but that nurture opens Nature, and Nature is not activated without nurture. In other words, the neural passages of the brains are open or forever shut if there is not a mutual fecundation. This interaction is limited, and almost chronologically developed in every child from conception to the age of l2; after that, what nurture has not activated in the right hemisphere of the neocortex is forever destroyed, though the left hemisphere, the seat of logic and discourse and the place of the “interpreter module,” keep developing abstract substitutions based on information received by these other brains or by its own conceptual loops, forever. What in her first book was called maia, in the second is the reptilian brain; mythos becomes the limbic brain; mimesis she divides into two: the visual, right hemisphere and the conceptual left hemisphere; and logos is the interpreter module located in the left hemisphere of the neocortex. In this she follows MacLean and Gazzaniga and the latest discoveries in neurobiology. But for the purpose of our discussion, in what way is this relevant to the Vedas and Prof. Mahoney’s or McClain’s books?

Revelation, individual experience, is an affair of the right side of the brains. The left hemisphere can only interpret, translate what the right hemisphere presents as sensation. Thus, while we have five different brains, (not one as Descartes thought and we presume,) only the three of the right hemisphere deal with original experience. And this in different ways. While maia ( the Asat) is the origin, maia is also wired with a geometry capable of letting forms appear, while mythos, the place of gods and heroes, is already a world of forms. However, and this is the point of our discussion, when these two original and originating brains are translated by the right hemisphere of the neocortex they are translated as “visual images;” they are seen as images even if originally they were waves and movement and tactility. In other words, by the time the ritual priests take on the “visual images” to the sacrifice and the ritual, these visual images, originally, were neither images nor visual. Thus by constituting these images as the original text, the followers are removed from the origin, from the source of sensation and are led into a repetition of acts that may crystallize either in a crisis of faith or in a crisis of dogma. The believers may either end up losing faith,( also sensation) or becoming dogmatic preachers in a game of endless logomachy. And the same with any other “text” bound by single language-games, like Western Theology. Thus, according to the Rg Veda it is precisely because of this tendency that the culture calls for cyclical returns to the Asat: to lose all forms, verbal, audial, or visual and break the dragon Vrta open, again. And that excerise, in the Rg Veda, is the true meaning of sacrifice (yajna). The sacrifice is necessary because these languages are invariant biological epistemologies, irreducible to one another.

Dr. Colavito follows up her neurobiocultural bases with studies on myth, Rg Vedic and principally the Oedipus cycle and the whole history of the House of Cadmus, after the mind/mind split took place in the species with the repetition of the technologies developed to introduce alphabetic writing in our mental habits. The paradigm is so explosive that Time magazine (Feb. 1997) could not avoid making a full use of it to describe the early development of the different brains in children, the contrary pole of Dr. Colavito’s thesis as she verified it through earlier cultures, in the infancy of the species. Of special interest in our discussion is her Appendix 2.3 making visible the hidden geometries of the Asat and the two ways of reading those texts: as from the “path of the fathers” or as from the “path of the gods.” How can we overcome the temptation of one single language, and how do we learn to be open to a plurality of four?

The Human Potential

“We can’t put it together; it is together.”

“What we need to understand may only be expressible in a language that we do not know.”

The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, is a mammoth ongoing enterprise to cover all human problems ( l2,000 profiles with 120,000 hyperlinks), strategies and solutions (29,500 profiles with 91,000 hyperlinks), human development (4,400 profiles with l5,000 hyperlinks) and human values (1,900 profiles with 23.000 hyperlinks). The Encyclopedia hypertexts are currently edited at the Union of International Associations (UIA) by Nadia McLaren. It is now in its fourth hardback edition, first CD-ROM edition, and is available in demo version on the Web (http://www.uiaorg/homeency.htm/), although all texts have been accessible since l998. Profiles on the Web can be translated through Alta Vista into a variety of major languages.

It is in this global environment that the paradigm of “languages” in the Rg Veda has found a home. The Director of the Union of International Associations, Dr. Anthony J.N. Judge, in article after article, profile after profile, conference after conference has articulated, and compiled in the Encyclopedia, the modern consequences of academic attempts at synthesis when these attempts are expressed in one common language, namely the one engendering the problems in the first place. Dr. Judge’s point of departure is the need to start from the experiential human origins as described in the Rg Veda and then articulate the ensuing insights in the plurality of languages available for their manifestation in the Rg Vedic model. Thus, the model or paradigm, is part of the “answer” proposed by the Editors of the Encyclopedia. Contrary to the position academics take of locating themselves within the “web” of a discipline, research, culture, department or, at times, a simple desk, Dr. Judge travels with ease the “lines of the webs” linking the totality of squares, within which the rest of us seem to be trapped, to a knowledge that seems to come only to those who are able to travel in his manner. He is at home in the East and in the West, in music and in science, in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism or the Tao, and he seems to know a “knowledge” that comes only to those who travel the “lines” of the “web,” never squeezed by the particular generalizations of the cubicles within each “web’s square.” His summary of the “languages” of the Rg Veda for contemporary guidance to those looking to solve the problems, individual, communal or global, or contemporary life is appealing to him because it takes into account: ” The interrelated formal languages based on tone; (they lead ) toward reintegrating the individual in action; (make ) this integration embodied: re-imagining man; (take care) of the pluralism through an integration of community dialogue; (guarantee) this integrative renewal through sacrifice (of perspectives); (account) for an integrative vision that is encountered in the movement.” ( ” Liberation of Integration, Universality and Concord through pattern, oscillation, harmony and embodiment.” Originally delivered for the 5th Network Meeting of the United Nations University, project of Goals, Processes and Indicators of Development (Montreal) as a contribution to the discussion on integration of the findings of the Project.) And he includes in his remarks the fact that:

” Integration modelled on sound may be inherently more comprehensible to more people than integration modelled on sight.” (Ibid.) In view of Dr. Colavito’s previous discussed work, this conclusion is not so far fetched since the structures of the Rg Veda are the original embodied structures of the humanity that gave us birth, and as such they are embodied structures, bio-culturally invariant, not only in each of us but also in the earlier cultures that preceeded us.

Conclusion: Regathering The Fragments

The Artful Universe provided the occasion for a round discussion of the earliest structures of human “languages” we carry in our genes.

Any one particular language joining the discussion does not only show us the empirical grounding of their speech, experience, academic construction, but also the imperialistic tendency of such mono-linguistic speech universalizing itself. Contemporary discoveries in neurobiology and the paradigm based on them of Dr. Colavito make it clear that life, that is, human life, is life in community. This community is formed through interaction or dismemberment of a sensorium that is plural by its very bio-culture base and becomes integrated through dialogue. All dialogue, all language carries with it the possibility of sharing in the embodied vision of a paradigm that has been with us from the beginning, since through it we had to break through the “experience of separating earth and sky.” In this manner there is no need, as Prof. Mahoney does in one of his initial footnotes with a humility rarely present in Sanskrit scholars, to apologize for not being ethnically Indian while interpreting the Vedas. Interpretation, like everything else, is biocultural not ethnical. We are dealing with neural equipment, genes, receptors and transmitters, not the color of one’s skin, or the geography of one’s birth. And finally, if there is any hope in preserving the integrity of the University or returning it to its original call, especially in the humanities, this hope resides in the work of scholars like Profs. Mahony, Colavito and Judge who through their work in the classical myths were able to avoid the “empiricist languages” of the present Academic fashion and return to us the memories of our distant progenitors with the structures that made them live in innovation and continuity in the company of the gods. If we form the communities to carry these traditions forward, we might be able to share in the glory and celebration of life that once was ours. I am glad and grateful that Meditations Through the Rg Veda was an inspiration to them. But even more so the reiteration that our human makeup is larger, deeper and more full of sensation in the plurality we are than in the oppression of one single language-community-creed.

This is what William Irwin Thompson called, commenting on my work: “the planetization of the esoteric.”


The Artful Universe: An Introduction to the Vedic Religious Imagination.
by William K. Mahoney , Ph.D.
SUNY Press, Albany N.Y. l998

The New Theogony: Mythology for the Real World.
by Maria M. Colavito, PhD
SUNY Press, Albany, N.Y. l992

The Heresy of Oedipus and The Mind/Mind Split: A Study of the Biocultural Origins of Civilization.
by Maria M. Colavito, PhD
The Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston,N.Y. l995

Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential.
Edited by The Union of International Associations
4th. Edition, K.G. Saur Verlag, Munchen, New Providence,
London, Paris l994-95

The Myth of Invariance: The Origin of the Gods, Mathematics and Music from the Rg Veda to Plato.
by Ernest McClain, Ph.D.
Nicolas-Hays Ltd. N.Y. 1976

The Pythagorean Plato: Prelude to the Song Itself.
by Ernest McClain
Nicolas-Hays Ltd. N.Y. 1978

Meditations Through the Quran: Tonal Images in an Oral Culture.
by Ernest McClain
Nicolas-Hays Ltd. N.Y. 1981

Coming Into Being: Artifacs and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness
by William Irwin Thompson
St. Martin’s Press, New York , 1996. (p.187)

Antonio T. de Nicolas was educated in Spain, India and the United States, and received his Ph.D. in philosophy at Fordham University in New York. He is Professor Emeritus of philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Dr. de Nicolas is the author of some twenty- seven books, including Avatara: The Humanization of Philosophy through the Bhagavad Gita,a classic in the field of Indic studies; and Habits of Mind, a criticism of higher education, whose framework has recently been adopted as the educational system for the new Russia. He is also known for his acclaimed translations of the poetry of the Nobel Prize-winning author,Juan Ramon Jimenez, and of the mystical writings of St. Ignatius de Loyola and St. John of the Cross.

A philosopher by profession, Dr. de Nicolas confesses that his most abiding philosophical concern is the act of imagining, which he has pursued in his studies of the Spanish mystics, Eastern classical texts, and most recently, in his own poetry.

His books of poetry: Remembering the God to Come, The Sea Tug Elegies, Of Angels and Women, Mostly, and Moksha Smith: Agni’s Warrior-Sage. An Epic of the Immortal Fire, have received wide acclaim. Critical reviewers of these works have offered the following insights:

from, Choice: “…these poems could not have been produced by a mainstream American. They are illuminated from within by a gift, a skill, a mission…unlike the critico-prosaic American norm…”

from The Baltimore Sun: “Steeped as they are in mythology and philosophy these are not easy poems. Nor is de Nicolas an easy poet. He confronts us with the necessity to remake our lives…his poems …show us that we are not bound by rules. Nor are we bound by mysteries. We are bound by love. And therefore, we are boundless”

from William Packard, editor of the New York Quarterly: ” This is the kind of poetry that Plato was describing in his dialogues, and the kind of poetry that Nietzsche was calling for in Zarathustra.”

Professor de Nicolas is presently a Director of the Biocultural Research Institute, located in Florida.


Please see my related posts:


Meta Integral Theories: Integral Theory, Critical Realism, and Complex Thought

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Integral Theory of Ken Wilber

Myth of Invariance: Sound, Music, and Recurrent Events and Structures

Sounds True: Speech, Language, and Communication

Mind, Consciousness and Quantum Entanglement

Semiotics, Bio-Semiotics and Cyber Semiotics

Systems and Organizational Cybernetics

Society as Communication: Social Systems Theory of Niklas Luhmann


Key sources of Research:



Meditations Through The Rg Veda: A Retrospective

(Philosophy East and West. Vol.49. Number 2. April 1999)

by Antonio T. de Nicolas, PhD




Antonio de  Nicolás


Meta Integral Theories: Integral Theory, Critical Realism, and Complex Thought

Meta Integral Theories: Integral Theory, Critical Realism, and Complex Thought


Three Meta Integral Theories:

  • Integral Theory (Ken Wilber)
  • Critical Realism (Roy Bhaskar)
  • Complex Thought (Edgar Morin)


Please see review papers for each of the theory in the references below.

These are the best meta theories in my opinion.

Ken Wiber, Roy Bhaskar, and Edgar Morin have created ideas worth reading about.


Keynote Address by Sean Esbjorn-Hargens



Keynote Address by Sean Esbjorn-Hargens



Keynote Address by Sean Esbjorn-Hargens




Keynote Address by Sean Esbjorn-Hargens




I also suggest Cyber Semiotics a book by Soren Brier.


Please see my related posts:

Semiotics, Bio-Semiotics and Cyber Semiotics

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Integral Theory of Ken Wilber

Systems View of Life: A Synthesis by Fritjof Capra




Key Sources of Research:



Overview of Integral Theory



Critical Realism



Ken Wilber on Critical Realism

Complex Thought


Metatheory for the Twenty-First Century: Critical Realism and Integral Theory in Dialog

edited by Roy Bhaskar, Sean Esbjörn-Hargens, Nicholas Hedlund, Mervyn Hartwig

2017 published by Routledge




Keynote Address by Sean Esbjorn-Hargens

ITC 2013

Ontological and Epistemic Considerations for Integral Philosophy

Nicholas H. Hedlund-de Witt




A Complex Integral Realist Perspective: Towards A New Axial Vision

By Paul Marshall

© 2017 – Routledge

Situating Critical Realism Philosophically

Ruth Groff

Department of Political Science St. Louis University




Sean Esbjorn-Hargens discusses integrative thinking and the new leadership

June 2017 Podcast




The Future of Leadership for Conscious Capitalism

By: Barrett C. Brown



Edgar Morin



Integral Theory (Ken Wilber)




From the Concept of System to the Paradigm of Complexity

Edgar Morin
Translated by Sean Kelly




Integral Meta-Theory – The What and Why

Zak Stein



Sophia Speaks: An Integral Grammar of Philosophy

By Bruce Alderman




The Variety of Integral Ecologies: Kosmopolitan Complexity and the New Realisms

Sean Kelly

Adam Robbert

Sam Mickey


Metatheory for the Anthropocene: Emancipatory Praxis For Planetary Flourishing (Routledge Studies in Critical Realism (Routledge Critical Realism))

Nicholas Hedlund (Editor), Sean Esbjörn-Hargens (Editor)




Meta Integral Foundation




Toward an Integrative Theory of Higher Education: Connecting Lines of Inquiry from Morin’s Complex Thought, Bhaskar’s Critical Realism, and Wilber’s Integral Theory

Gary P. Hampson and Matthew Rich-Tolsma




INTRODUCTION: On the Deep Need for Integrative Metatheory in the 21st-Century

Nicholas Hedlund
Sean Esbjörn-Hargens
Mervyn Hartwig
Roy Bhaskar




Situating the Mapmaker: An Imminent Critique of Wilber’s Cartography of the
Transphysical Worlds

Prepared by Nicholas Hedlund-de Witt, M.A.

Professor Eric Weiss

California Institute of Integral Studies

Spring 2011

Boundary Spanning in Multinational and Transnational Corporations

Boundary Spanning in Multinational and Transnational Corporations

What are:

  • Boundaries
  • Boundary Spanners
  • Gate Keepers

How do Boundaries evolve?

How do we coordinate and manage across Boundaries?




Global organizations are inherently complex. Rapidly developing emerging markets and increasing spatial dispersion of innovative activities coupled with digital convergence create the need for continuously developing new ways of coordinating, organizing, and re-configuring of organizational structures and routines across inter and intra-organizational boundaries.

Early studies discussed the roles of gatekeepers in the context of technology transfer between different departments or functional areas within organizations. In more recent research, one stream has explored the role of boundary objects as contextual aids for cross-boundary knowledge sharing. A complementary stream has begun to investigate individuals as boundary spanners and their roles in effectively operating across complex inter- and intra-organizational, socio-cultural and geographic boundaries. Individuals are the nested antecedent to organizational level actions and therefore deserve careful theoretical and empirical deliberation.

Existing research on boundary spanning is mainly conceptual or based on a limited number of case studies. The research suggests that a small number of managers with unique skill sets or personality traits have emerged as critical facilitators for cross-boundary coordination. Boundaries can be both explicit as between parents and subsidiaries of multinational enterprises, and also implicit as between line managers and top management. For example, middle managers have been argued to perform the role of boundary spanners between line managers and top management in a general organizational context. A delineation of explicit and implicit boundaries across organizational subunits as well as within organizational subunits is important to understand the boundary spanning function.

From a managerial perspective, little is known about the characteristics of boundary spanners and whether their capabilities are inherent or can be developed. Although the literature has provided some useful insights, most existing research treats the individual actors and the organizational environment as two discrete dimensions. Further, the boundary-spanning role is essentially associated with structural holes and bridging ties, so key questions arise as to how they affect organizations and organizational capabilities, and how organizational structures foster or hinder boundary spanning.

From an organizational architecture perspective little is known about the specificities of boundaries and how they manifest themselves other than those that are explicit in the form of hierarchies, functional domains, or geographic territories. In global organizations, organizational subunits often become embedded in geographical contexts that differ in terms of culture, institutions, language, etc. These organizational realities create implicit boundaries in many dimensions, e.g., cultural and psychic distance, institutional incompatibilities as well as linguistic issues that may be labeled “lost in translation”. The boundary spanning function in such organizations includes a wide range of coordination mechanisms, which need to be explored in greater detail.

The boundary spanning phenomenon provides an opportunity for moving beyond emblematic borrowing of individual level theories and applying them to organizational level research. This will move the research agenda toward addressing both micro-macro linkage and macro-micro linkages systematically, thus substantially advancing theory.

With this special issue we seek to connect different, though loosely related research domains. The buoying microfoundations of strategy discussion, research on strategy as practice, and behavioral strategy could be particularly fertile areas for such an approach. In addition, this special issue seeks to foster cross- fertilization from and between different epistemological orientations. This includes research in the areas of industrial and organizational psychology and behavioral economics, among others.


Building on extant research, we seek contributions that either add empirical insights or/and advance theory building regarding the boundary spanning functions in global organizations as well as the characteristics, development and roles of boundary spanners, a special type of manager that allows organizations to manage more effectively across intra- and inter-organizational boundaries.

We are interested in theoretical, empirical and analytical submissions. We welcome submissions that address both, organizational and managerial based approaches to boundary spanning.

The submission to this special issue must go beyond anecdotal descriptions of the phenomenon and represent a substantial contribution to theory development. The topics that the special issue intends to cover include (but are not limited to):

Definition: What are explicit and implicit boundaries, how do they manifest themselves materially, contextually, intellectually, perceptually and from a structural and/or managerial coordination perspective?

Evolution of boundaries: How do boundaries arise, become entrenched in some circumstances and dissolve in others? To what extent do boundaries evolve dynamically over time and how do boundary- spanning roles emerge? How can analyses of boundaries improve our understanding of conflicts and conflict resolution in general?

Organizational versus managerial level of analysis: Is boundary spanning an organizational capability or a managerial skill or both? What is the role of management in either fostering or hindering boundary spanning? What are managerial or individual boundary spanning skills and how are they developed? How can our understanding of well-known organizational functions (middle managers, staff vs. line managers, etc.) be improved using an analysis of boundaries?

Boundary spanning, a cause or effect: Is the boundary spanning function a cause or an effect? In some contexts, the boundary spanning function could be an outcome of particular forms of organizational values or structures, while in others it could be a means of creating and reinforcing them.

Boundary spanning versus boundary setting: Is boundary spanning always a good thing? Are there situations in which boundary setting (and the associated specialization) is more important than boundary spanning?

Boundary spanners versus gatekeepers: What are the individual, functional and conceptual similarities that boundary spanners and gatekeepers share with each other? What are the differences that distinguish them from each other?

Organizational adaption: How do global organizations adapt over time to new boundary challenges and what are the organizational structures that make boundary spanners more or less effective?

Intra versus inter organizational perspective: Are there fundamental differences between “inter” and “intra” organizational boundary spanning activities? How does boundary spanning relate to the dialectical process of change implementation (theses) and resistance to change (antitheses) in complex/global organizations?

Role of external context in boundary spanning: In global organizations, organizational subunits often become embedded in geographical contexts that differ in terms of culture, institutions, language, etc. How do these differences affect the boundary spanning function as well as the effectiveness of boundary spanners?


What are Boundaries?

Early research defined boundaries as distinctive lines that separate what is within an organization and what is in the external environment with which it interacts (Aldrich and Herker 1977; Friedman and Podolny, 1992). Thus a boundary defines an entity. But boundaries also exist within organizations, either in the form of clearly defined subunits, like MNE HQs and their dispersed subsidiaries, or less clearly defined boundaries, based on, for example, different cultures, demographics, and professions. In organization theory, seminal works from both the economics (Coase, 1937) as well as the sociology (Weick, 1995) paradigms view boundary definition as a core function as well as an essential property. In classical transaction cost economics, the firm’s fundamental decision is to decide what activities are undertaken within its boundaries and what activities are implemented through market transactions (Williamson, 1979; Gibbons, 1999). In the theory of sense-making, an organization is identified in terms of those who share a common identity, often operationalized through their understanding of the external environment (Weick, 1988; 1995).

These two pillars of organization theory provide us with complementary perspectives on the nature of boundaries. The economics perspective is based on an external, explicitly defined notion of legal ownership; the boundary distinguishes between what the organization owns and what it does not (Demsetz, 1983). The sociology perspective is based on an internal, tacit notion of belonging (Durkheim, 1938) whereby the boundary appears between those who identify with the organization and those who do not.

The complementarity of these two perspectives is evident from that fact that they generate co-evolutionary, dynamic boundary drivers. Common ownership often underpins the creation of routines and operating procedures that build common syntax and semantics which eventually result in a common basis of sense-making. A strong organizationally derived identity – as seen in “corporate culture” (Guiso et al, 2015) or “political culture” (Mudambi and Navarra, 2003) – often drives acquisition and location decisions that result in common ownership.

Both economics-based and sociology-based boundaries are intangible, but they often give rise to tangible structures like national borders, factory gates and other physical boundary markers (Hernes, 2004). However, these are merely representations of the underlying reality that is based on the complementary notions of boundaries. It is possible that over time, physical edifices may strengthen boundaries, but they rarely create them.

Key sources of Research:

Exploring the Role of Boundary Spanning in Distributed Networks of Knowledge

Eli Hustad and Aurilla Aurelie Bechina



The Importance of Boundary-Spanners in Global Supply Chains and Logistics Management in the 21st Century

Timothy Kiessling Michael Harvey Garry Garrison



Boundary Spanning in Global Organizations

Andreas P. J. Schotter

Ram Mudambi

Yves L. Doz

16 January 2017

Boundary spanning behaviors of expatriates

Kevin Y. Au, John Fukuda

Journal of World Business, 37, 285-296.




Global Mobility Policies, Social Positioning and the Boundary Spanning Work of Expatriate Managers



Crowding at the frontier: knowledge brokers, gatekeepers, boundary spanners and marginal-intersecting individuals

Aurore Haas



Boundary Spanning Leadership: Tactics to Bridge Social Identity Groups in Organizations

Chris Ernst and Jeffrey Yip


Boundary Spanning Leadership

Mission Critical Perspectives from the Executive Suite


Loosely Coupled Systems: A Reconceptualization

Orton, J. Douglas; Weick, Karl E.
Academy of Management. The Academy of Management Review; Apr 1990;

Beyond brokering: Sourcing agents, boundary work and working conditions in global supply chains


January 17, 2017





School of Business, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, U.S.A. 2 Fisher College of Business, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A.







School of Business, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, U.S.A. 2 Fisher College of Business, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A.





Department of Management, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy 2 Cass Business School, City University London, London, U.K.





ANTONIO CAPALDO* Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan, Italy