the subtle body and the consciousness of the universe

by Milena Braticevic

In order to understand the process of evolution one needs to consider the development of a human being, as well as that of the Universe, and examine how the two are interconnected. The spiritual evolution of the human being, which is intrinsically connected with that of the Cosmos, has a role in the development of the consciousness of the Universe. The physical body of a human being is a manifestation of existence in the material world. A look at the energetic levels beyond the physical uncovers additional, more ‘subtle’ levels of existence. These subtle levels are governed by spiritual laws, each energetic level having its own properties and function. The energetic levels exist simultaneously and interact with one another at all times. Human beings exists within this larger Universe, and develop according to the ultimate wisdom of the Cosmos.

Energetic Bodies: Etheric, Astral, Mental, and Causal Levels of Existence

In his book The Etheric Double – The Health Aura of Man, Arthur E. Powell (1925) explained that the physical body is composed of the dense body (made up of solids, liquids and gases), and the etheric body (made of the finer grades of matter, including etheric, super-etheric, subatomic, and atomic). The role of the etheric body is to receive and distribute the vital force that emanates from the Sun, and keep the physical body together (Powell, 1925, p. 5). The Hindu name of the etheric body is Pranayamakosha, or the vehicle of Prana (life energy). Powell stated that, “On the physical plane, prana builds up all minerals, and is the controlling agent in the chemico-physiological changes in protoplasm, which lead to differentiation and the building of various tissues of bodies and plants, animals and men” (Powell, 1925, p. 11). The etheric aura is also known as the health aura – projecting several inches from the skin, it emanates the health of the individual. Other than being the vehicle of Prana, the etheric body also has the function of acting as an intermediary between the dense physical body, and the more subtle levels, such as the astral and mental bodies of an individual (Powell, 1925, p. 6). The etheric body disintegrates with the death of the physical body. On the surface of the etheric double, there are energy centers or chakras, through which Prana is absorbed and distributed, thereby keeping the body alive. Chakras also have the function of bringing down into physical consciousness the qualities of the corresponding astral and mental centers, which are at even higher energy levels (Powell, 1925, p. 19).

In the book The Astral Body A. Powell (1927) described the astral body as a vehicle in which feelings, passions, desires and emotions are expressed, and which acts as a bridge between the physical body and the mind. Powell believed that few people were aware of their astral body, or could control and function in it in full consciousness. Speaking of the limitless possibilities of the astral body Powell stated:

We shall see that the physical senses, invaluable as they are, by no means represent the limit of what man’s vehicles may teach him of the world in which he lives. The awakening [of the] astral faculties reveals a new world… and when a man becomes able to read its significance, he will obtain such an expanded view of his own life, and all nature, as will reveal to him the almost limitless possibilities latent in men. (Powell, 1927, p. 4).

The world of emotions, passions and desires may seem unimportant or unreal, since it cannot be perceived. In his work The Astral Plane - Its Scenery, Inhabitants, and Phenomena C.W. Leadbeater (1895) stated that the astral world is absolutely real. Leadbeater explained that “the objects and inhabitants of the astral plane are real in exactly the same way as our own bodies, our furniture, our houses or monuments are real” (Leadbeater, 1895, p. 2). Leaderbeater pointed out that the majority of the mankind is unconscious, or vaguely conscious of the existence of the astral plane. The astral plane is the next plane above the physical plane, it is much more changeable, and extends further than the physical realm. Leadbeater described the vastness and complexity of the astral plane in the following way:

So abundant and so manifold is this life on the astral plane that at first it is absolutely bewildering to the neophyte, and even to a more practiced investigator it is no easy task to attempt to classify and to catalogue it . . . (Leadbeater, 1895, p. 7)

Physical, etheric, and astral bodies are connected to the mental body, which is even more subtle in its nature. Powell (1927) believed that the evolution of man, immersed in the physical world, was concerned with his ascension out of the material and into the higher planes. Most individuals, not having full awareness of the functioning of their astral and mental bodies, are not congruent – their physical reality, their emotions, and thoughts being often in conflict with one another. Enormous suffering can result from poor communication between the various levels, some of them being clear, while others are clogged with unnecessary content (such as worry, anger, fear, and unresolved thought patterns).

In the book The Mental Body Powell explained that the particles of the mental body are in ceaseless motion, and constantly changing (Powell, 1927, p. 8). Powell (1927) stated that the mental body consisted of the higher and the lower levels, and that the quality of thought determined which aspect of the mental body was being activated.

Good thoughts produce vibrations of the finer matter of the body, which tends to float in the upper part of the ovoid, whereas bad thoughts such as selfishness and avarice, are always oscillations of the grosser matter, which tends to gravitate towards the lower part of the ovoid. Consequently, the ordinary man who yields himself to selfish thoughts of various kinds usually expands the lower part of his mental body…[while the man] who has devoted himself to the higher ones tends to expand the upper part of his mental body. (Powell, 1927, p. 9)

Therefore, having acute awareness and mastery of one’s thoughts is key in the development of the mental body and the human system as a whole, since the mental body influences the other bodies, and all the levels are interconnected.

Ancient texts such as The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written more than two

thousand years ago, spoke about the importance of training the mind. In the Sutras yoga is defined as “the stilling of the changing states of the mind” (Bryant, 2009, p. 10). Recognizing the incredible speed and fluctuation of thoughts, Patanjali attempted to explain the process of attaining liberation though the practice of recognizing various thought patterns, discerning the quality of one’s thoughts, and consciously quieting the mind. When one is absorbed in the changing states of the mind, one cannot see clearly – the world of illusion and negativity can easily take over. However, if the mind can be stilled through the practice of detachment, the fluctuations can cease and the mind can become still (Bryant, 2009, p. 47). A still mind can reflect on the world clearly, similar to a calm lake perfectly reflecting the moonlight. This often requires an ability to control one’s consciousness and refrain from desiring sense objects (Bryant, 2009, p. 52). Therefore, the skill of quieting the mind is connected to the ability to understand one’s desires and emotions (the functions in the astral body), as well as understand the sensory input that comes in through the physical body. With this skill, one can successfully use the physical, astral, and mental vehicles when communicating with the outside world, and contributing to the development of the world. If the faculties are undeveloped or blocked with selfishness or low desires, then the process of giving and receiving becomes constrained, and a man is not able to fully develop or contribute to the evolution of the world he is a part of.

While the etheric, astral, and mental planes exist for one human incarnation only, and are mortal, there is an immortal level of existence that persists through all incarnations – this is the causal plane (Powell, 1972, p. 4). The causal plane plays a very important role in the evolution of a man. According to information compiled by Powell (1972), it is made up of the Monads or units of consciousness and matter, “fragments of divine life”, as they develop through time (p. 8-9). In his book The Causal Body, Powell explained that the causal body consists of whirling currents of the atoms or spirillae (Powell, 1972, p. 11). These spirillae are influenced by the frequency of the currents, and they develop into full activity in the course of human evolution. Powell believed that many practices of yoga served to develop the spirillae more rapidly. Throughout the life of a man, every action, thought, and emotion is impressed into the causal body, and influences its vibrations. These impressions are stored in the atoms of the causal body, and work to influence all interactions. If a man has the ability to become aware of his vibrations at the causal level, he can start to understand how they influence his mental and astral (emotional) bodies, as well as manifestations on the physical plane. He can gain access into past and future lives, and attain the ability to exercise his will. The causal body is not concerned with the personality of man, as are the lower levels, but it connects the individual to the dynamic of life and the Universe as a whole.

The Process of Spiritual Evolution

The question regarding the purpose of human life has been asked throughout the ages by both scientists and philosophers. Why is it that we are born, and how should one live their life to fulfill their potential? In The Causal Body Powell (1972) described the process of spiritual development as one of involution and evolution. Powell explained that, in the early stages of life, a soul of a person starts to appear as separate from the Universal consciousness, – “always identical in its essence, but separated by manifestation” (Powell, 1972, p. 56). Powell stated:

The purpose of this separation is… that an individual may develop and grow; that there may be an individualized life potent on every plane of the Universe… that it may make for itself the vehicle that it needs for acquiring consciousness beyond its own plane…as pure and translucent media through which all knowledge on every plane may come. (Powell, 1972, p. 56-57)

The spirit of a person forms gradually, out of the Universal into an individual, through the process of individuation. The spirit gains certain intelligent qualities as it descends slowly into matter. This intelligence, if used properly, can propel him further towards spiritual evolution. As the spirit descends towards matter, it also attains qualities, attributes, and powers associated with matter (Powell, 1972, p. 58). At the lowest point in its descent, the spirit fully enters matter. This is the crucial moment in the human journey, since at this point the “great battle of the universe” – the conflict between spirit and matter – takes place. Powell stated:

“Man” has well been defined in Occultism as that being in the Universe…in whom highest spirit and lowest matter are joined together by intelligence thus ultimately making a manifested God, who will go forth to conquer through the illimitable future that stretches before him. (Powell, 1972, p. 58)

At the stage where the spirit and matter converge, an important inquiry takes place. One may ask the following questions: What is the role of matter, and what is the role of the spirit? What is the balance of power between the two - who is the master, and who is the servant? What happens if matter rules one’s decisions and thoughts, and if life is valued purely on material possessions? And what happens if the spirit guides one’s life based on higher principles? Powell described this struggle as one in which ideally spirit transcends matter, and ascends further into unity with the Universe:

Slowly the spirit begins to triumph over matter, which he has mastered and ensouled, turns it to his own purposes, shapes it for his own expression, so that matter may become the means whereby all the powers of the spirit shall be made manifest and active. (Powell, 1972, p. 58)

The entire process of descent into matter, followed by the ascent of the spirit into the Universal, brings about awakened consciousness. Before this process, a man may not know who he is, or what he is meant to do. Through the process of individuation he gains invaluable knowledge about himself; he uses his intelligence to discern situations and make decisions that will honor his true self. Powell explained that “In the course of man’s development, the intellectual evolution must for a time obscure the spiritual evolution. The spiritual has to give way before the rush of intelligence …leaving intelligence to grasp the reins and guide the next stages of evolution” (Powell, 1972, p. 60).

Manifestation on the physical plane seems to be the final test for a man, one where he is faced with the ultimate temptation – to believe in what he experiences through his senses, and accept the physical world as his reality; or to remember where he comes from (Unity) and know that there is a higher, spiritual component to life. The former traps him in selfishness and fear of losing his material possessions, while the latter guides him into selfless action, motivating him to live a life of service, with a sense of belonging in the world. Powell explained that through the process of individuation, involution, and evolution, humanity is transcended and merged into divinity (Powell, 1972, p. 61). Powell stated that a man is “in no way affected by birth and death…[he] is an immortal individuality, who has a mortal personality” (Powell, 1972, p. 61). Gaining individuality becomes of utmost importance, its purpose being to create a strong vessel through which the force of the spirit, the ultimate wisdom, can be poured out.

A Developed Man and His Purpose

The process of individuation is a complex one, and expansion of certain qualities seems to be crucial in achieving a high level of development. Throughout the process, a man can go through many experiences, often struggling to integrate all the lessons learned into his life. Powell explained that everything good is permanent and has in itself a quality of immortality, while everything evil – no matter how strong – has a germ of self-destruction (Powell, 1972, p. 83). The reason for this is that, what is good acts in harmony with cosmic laws of creation, and thereby continues with the stream of evolution, while what is evil is inharmonious with it – not being supported by the cosmic laws, it falls apart. Powell explained that, while evil cannot enter the causal body, it does exist on the lower planes, where it works itself out. The causal body is slowly built up from the good qualities of man, leaving empty space in those areas where good qualities have not yet been developed. Incarnation is viewed as an opportunity to gain good qualities so that the soul of the person can be fully developed. Powell explained that:

This putting forth of part of [the soul] into incarnation has often been compared with an investment. The ego expects, if all goes well, to reclaim not only the whole of his capital invested, but also a considerable amount of interest, and he usually obtains this. (Powell, 1972, p. 116)

Although a return on investment is usually obtained with incarnation, there is a potential problem of a negative return, where the man’s evil contributions exceed the positive ones. As a man’s spirit descends into matter, it may become lost in the trenches of the physical world, effectively becoming less human than before. Spiritual laws may be forgotten, as material well-being and domination over others for the purpose of physical survival become primary concerns. Powell pointed out that, on the physical plane, people only see a very limited aspect of each other:

When we meet another person on the physical plane, it would be somewhere near the truth to say that we know a thousandth part of the real man: moreover the part that we see is the worst part. Even if we are able to look at the causal body of another man, we see but a manifestation of the ego [soul] on his own plane, and are still far from seeing the true man. (Powell, 1972, p. 120)

Powell explained that the soul experiences two kinds of suffering during an incarnation. The first is caused by a limitation, as a result of descent into matter (Powell, 1972, p. 196). This suffering seems unavoidable, since in the physical world the soul is shut-off from the great powers it can have at higher planes. The second kind of suffering is caused by desire, and is entirely avoidable. This desire includes cravings for all kinds of lower things such as power, money, position, and so forth (Powell, 1972, p. 197). Giving in to these cravings ties the man further to the physical plane, limiting his vision of the higher ideals, and delaying his ascension back into the spirit. As long as a man is primarily concerned with his physical wellbeing, he will be consumed with selfish thoughts and actions. This self-centered way of life will obscure his vision, to only show the lowest parts of himself, which are constantly immersed in matter. In the book Consciousness Beyond Life, Pim van Lommel pointed out that a near-death experience can serve to sever the bond with the material world, by “[evoking] the sense that the old self has died and that a new person has been born…the subsequent changes are thus experienced as a spiritual death and rebirth…people report a greater interest in spirituality, meditation, prayer, and surrender” (Lommel, 2007, p. 58). The man’s responsibility is to keep his attachment to the material world in check, constantly questioning his intentions and motives to see if he is acting in selfish ways. By exercising reflection, he will come to see that there is an option to act in ways that benefit not only him, but others around him as well.

In his book Man Visible and Invisible C. W. Leadbeater (1903) described the “developed man” as a “pure minded person, who had definitely and intelligently set his affection on things above and not things of earth” (Leadbeater, 1903, p. 117). This man is a seeker of higher truth, and qualities of love, devotion, and sympathy, together with a refined intellect. Leaderbeater further explained:

We must not omit to notice one of the grandest characteristics of the developed man – his capacity to serve as a channel for higher force. It will be seen that from his causal body streams of this force pour out in various directions, for his attitude of unselfishness, of helpfulness and readiness to give, makes it possible for the divine strength to descend upon him in steady stream, and through him to reach many who are not yet strong enough to receive it directly. (Leadbeater, 1903, p. 120)

It seems that the ultimate purpose of a developed man is to attain a clear path towards a higher knowledge, and assist in the development of others, who are perhaps not as capable to receive clear spiritual guidance. Being able to serve as a channel for higher force implies that a man understands his power, and his place in the Universe. Only with this understanding will a man see the importance of exercising his will, and using knowledge for the improvement of the world.

The Evolution of the Solar System

When we consider a man as an entity going through the process of evolution, we are drawn to ask how his development influences, and is influenced by, the evolution of the Universe as a whole. In the book The Solar System, A. Powell (1963) described that the process of evolution of the Solar System is identical to that of a human being. Just like a man, all the planets exist simultaneously on the physical, astral, mental and causal planes, and evolve in “Planetary Chains”, or distinct stages of development. Powell stated:

The whole of our solar system is a manifestation of its Logos, and every particle in it is definitely part of his vehicles. All the physical matter of the solar system taken as a totality constitutes His physical body, all the astral matter constitutes His astral body, all the mental matter His mental body, and so on. (Powell, 1963, p. 34)

Powell explained that the Sun is a chief manifestation of the Logos of life on the physical plane, giving life to everything. In the book The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, Thom Hartmann (1998) described that the immense power of sunlight is stored in plants, animals (who eat plants, or other animals), as well as layers of fossils that are found deep within the earth, and harnessed for production of oil in the modern world. All life on Earth is essentially made of sunlight, which shows how the Sun is a manifestation of the Logos of life. According to Powell (1963), the Solar System is only a part of the Logos, which extends far beyond our Galaxy. The question remains – how is the will of the Logos exercised, and how does creation take place? To answer this question, it would be useful to examine the history of the Solar System, and the evolution of the planets including Earth, on which conditions for human life were ultimately developed. Powell (1963) stated that “In our Solar System there are 10 separate and distinct Schemes of Evolution. The names by which they are known are those of the physical planets which, at the present time, happen to be part of them.” (Powell, 1963, p. 19). Powell explained that the physical manifestations of planets are only a fragment of the total scheme of evolution, which extends beyond the physical world – similar to the physical body being only a part of an individual’s total being. Further to this, all the planets are deeply connected in the scheme of evolution. Powell likened this connection to a flower:

The system as a whole has been compared with a flower with many petals… Although the planets appear to us as separate globes, there is in reality a connection between them… [based on] the concept of four dimensions of space. If the hand be held with the palm upwards, so as to form a kind of cup, but with the fingers separated, and then a sheet of paper be laid on the tips of the fingers, the circles at the points of contact between the fingers and the paper would represent the physical planets, apparently quite isolated from one another. (Powell, 1963, p. 35)

When it comes to the evolution of Earth, and its inhabitants, Powell described the following root-races as the stages in human development: The first root-race was etheric, during which the Earth was in a stage of great convulsions of nature, with avalanches, storms and volcanoes lasting for 200 million years. Human consciousness was minimal, apart from a sense of hearing and a slight notion of fire (Powell, 1963, p. 151). The second root-race was developed in a tropical climate, with rich vegetation; showing Buddhic consciousness and a developed duality in a sense of hearing and touch. Reproduction was through sweat, through the pores of the skin, and the humans were androgynous (Powell, 1963, p. 152). The third root-race was known as Lemurian, during which man materialized on the physical plane, and showed a separation of the sexes. The continent was going through many changes due to volcanic action. At this stage, humans became egg-bearing, and showed a separation of the sexes, reproduction process being similar to todays. The Lemurian period signified the “fall of man” due to his full descent into the physical body (Powell, 1963, p. 164). During the middle of this period, the Lords of Venus projected a spark of fire into the men, awakening their intellect. This inspired men to become individualized, and human beings started guiding themselves in their evolution. The fourth root-race was called the Atlantean, and was started about 5 million years ago. During this time, great advances in astronomy and astrology were made, on the now diminished continent of Atlantis (Powell, 1963, p. 212). The fifth, Aryan root-race consisted of the first sub-race (Hindu), the second sub-race (Arabian), third sub-race (Iranian), fourth (Keltic), fifth (Teutonic), and the sixth, which is currently in the process of being developed. Powell stated that the new race will have the following qualities:

The psychology of a new race-child manifests as a rapid response to sympathy, pity in suffering, power to comprehend principles easily; quick intuitions; thoroughness, sensitiveness, quick sense of justice… eagerness to help others… A special mark of the consciousness is the recognition of unity, the quality we name Brotherhood, which makes for compassion and self-sacrifice. (Powell, 1963, p. 248)

Powell described that in the future sixth and seventh root-races, education will be of paramount importance, and that all teachers will be clairvoyant, as well as men and women indiscriminately (Powell, 1963, p. 253). There will be no illnesses; study will never be done by destruction, only by clairvoyance, while chemistry will include the study of elemental essence. Much will be done by the power of the will, and the community will be self-sufficient (Powell, 1963, p. 259). History will be taught directly from the study of Akashic records – the unifying field. This description of the future indicates that there will be a much deeper understanding of the complex origin of the world, and of a man’s role in its evolution. Understanding how, at the individual level, human beings are not simply a part of the world, but are an integrated, moving force that is connected to everything, seems to be crucial in unlocking the full potential and power of the human intellect and spirit.

In the book Science and the Akashic Field, Ervin Laszlo explained that the Universe goes through the process of “in-formation”, or setting in motion an “Akashic” or unifying field that conserves and conveys information (Laszlo, 2004, p. 73). Laszlo described the Akasha as an “all-encompassing medium that underlies all things and becomes all things. It is real, but so subtle that it cannot be perceived until it becomes the many things that populate the manifest world” (Laszlo, 2004, p. 76). Laszlo explained that, due to the existence of the Akashic field, all things are global, cosmic, “for all things are connected, and the memory of all things extends to all places and all times” (Laszlo, 2004, p. 80). When one considers that the development of a man, the Solar System, and all Galaxies, potentially starts at the same level – the Akasha – one can see that the degree of differentiation is possibly only at the level of perception. What can be perceived by the senses is the physical manifestation of a very limited number of elements in the Universe, beginning from the cells of the body and extending into the farthest Galaxies observable by man. If one follows the old maxim that “what is in one is in the whole”, the realization of significance of one’s own development, in relation to that of the entire Universe, becomes essential.


In order to understand one’s role the Universe, it would be of great importance to develop an ability to perceive how the subtle world works – how human beings operate at the emotional, mental, and causal levels, and how they evolve and influence the evolution of the Universe as a whole. While the physical boundaries of the human body make one’s activities bound by space and time, no such boundaries seem to exist in the workings of the subtle body – its effects and influence expand across the Universe and into eternity. Due to the immense power of the subtle body, it is important to develop one’s qualities and perfect the physical and cognitive vehicles used to navigate the subtle world. Purification of body, clarity of mind, and development of will, become the tools of human evolution. The process of getting to know one-self, becoming an individual, and contributing one’s unique abilities to the development of the world, becomes a long journey of actualization for every human being, often extending into many lifetimes before it is completed. Understanding the subtle world and its connection with the Cosmos is only the beginning.


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