The Non-material Domains and the Milky Way
July 5, 2007, Tucson, AZ
The first stage of non-material absorption in the Buddha's discourses is often translated as "Base of Infinite Space." I find this translation is a rather poor rendering of the Pali-Sanskrit hybrid term 'Akasanancayatana.' I prefer "Domain of Infinite Space" as a translation, because the prefix is 'Akasa' as in the "Akashic records," etc. It is the term that the speakers of Sanskrit and Pali related languages used for heaven, where the angels live, and the stars reside. Indians call angels 'devas,' thus it is not a 'base' but a domain or realm or dimension, where non-material entities, such as angels (devas) live.
The thing to get about the pre-western science mind of most peoples, including Asians and Europeans, is they believed that the stars that we see in the sky at night were angels (devas) in heaven (akasha), so when they walked around at night they believed they were being gazed upon by the angels (devas) in heaven (akasha).
In fact the term 'angel' is related to the term 'angle' as in the angle of an arc in astronomy/astrology. Let us not forget that all of the early astronomers were astrologers, so for them there was no difference between angels in heaven and stars in the night sky, and the arc of the angle (angel) of conjunction in someone's astrology chart was their angel.
There were other names used by the ancients for the heavens. The major expanse of stars of the Milky Way galaxy were called by the ancient Romans "via lactea," which means of course the "Milky Way." The term 'galaxy' comes from the Greek term 'galaxias,' which comes from 'gala' or 'galakt', which also means milk. To combine the two terms 'Milky Way' and 'Galaxy' is thus redundant.
The Vedas refer to the Milky Way as "manthan," which means the "ocean of milk." In Vaishnava Hinduism Vishnu, one aspect of their Trinity, is said to recline upon the Ocean of Milk. It is interesting to note that both Sanskrit related dialects and European languages refer to milk in their terms for the Milky Way or Galaxy.
In Mahayana Buddhism the Avatamsaka Sutra refers to the heavens as "Indra's Net of Jewels," which is attributed to a Chinese Buddhist patriarch named Tu-Shun (557-640 AD). If we consider that Indra was the Hindu God of the heavens, and the heavens (akasha) was synonymous with the starry sky, and especially the Milky Way, then that "Net of Jewels" is none other than the Milky Way.
Tu-Shun (557-640 AD.) and the Avatamsaka Sutra
The Yoga Sutras refer to something called 'dharma megha•,' which translates literally as the "cloud of truth" or "wisdom." The term 'Dharmamegha' appears in Vajrayana Buddhism as the 10th "Bhumi," which are the qualities of an enlightened mind. The term 'dharma megha•' also appears in the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. Most probably the "cloud of truth" is another reference to the Milky Way since the night sky, when the Milky Way is visible, looks like a luminous cloud in a clear night sky, and the ancients believed wisdom (dharma) came from the angels (devas).
The Milky Way or "cloud of truth," in Patanjali's
Yoga Sutras (4.29-4.34)One who has achieved the highest summit of attainment and has dispassion and discriminative discernment in all circumstances has arrived at the meditative absorption of pervading wisdom called "cloud of truth," (dharma megha•). From this absorption all obstacles and habitual behaviors end. Then, all of the coverings and imperfections are removed, due to this boundless wisdom. What is left to be known is insignificant. Through meditative absorption the fundamental qualities of nature (gunas) have fulfilled their purpose of the transformative sequence. At the other end (enlightenment) the succession of moments that is the transformative sequence can be recognized. Having no more purpose the fundamental qualities of nature (gunas) are reabsorbed upon emancipation into the foundation of its own nature or the power of pure consciousness.Translated from the Sanskrit by Jhananda
Early Christianity appears to have been interested in meditations upon the Milky Way, because the GOSPEL of JUDAS quotes Jesus as instructing Judas in the practice of such a meditation. There is a reference to a cloud in the meditation, which only makes senses if that luminous cloud with stars in the translation is the Milky Way. How else can one see a cloud with stars in it? If you are familiar with Medieval and Renaissance Christian art then you may have noticed that clouds of stars often appear in these paintings, most notably the painting of Our Lady Of Guadalupe depicts the Holy Mother standing on a cloud of stars.
THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS"Look, you have been told everything. Lift up your eyes and look at the cloud and the light within it and the stars surrounding it. The star that leads the way is your star." Judas lifted up his eyes and saw the luminous cloud, and he entered it."
In mystic Judaism (Kabbalah) they describe a mystical experience called "Devekut with the Shekhinah." The Hebrew term "Devekut" means, "Mystical cleaving to God." In this use the concept of cleaving to God is not unlike the Sanskrit term 'yoga,' which means to 'yoke.'
The Hebrew term "Shekhinah" means "God's presence" or the "body of God," and is often expressed as a shining coat of "sparks." The "sparks" of the "Shekhinah," are said to be the 144,000 souls that make up the "body" of God. Thus "Devekut with the Shekhinah" means to "cleave to the body of God," which is none other than the Milky Way.
If we were willing to consider that to the ancients heaven, where the angles lived, was none other than the Milky Way, then this body of God (Shekhinah) is the many stars of the Milky Way. The relatively small number of 144,000 was most probably the largest number the sheep herders, who were the early patriarchs of Judaism, could count. The "Shekhinah," is also referred to as the "tree of life."
In Sufism there is stage a stage of religious ecstasy that is referred to as al Ama. Al Ama means the Dark Cloud or Mist, beyond God and could refer to the milky way or possible the dark spaces between the stars.
After the European "enlightenment" we western peoples came to know the specs of light in the sky are just planets, stars and galaxies. It must have been a profound disappointment for people to have to lose the feeling of divinity when they looked up at the night sky when Galileo proved with his telescope that bright objects in the night sky were planets, moons and star. The Catholic Church was so upset about it that they castrated Galileo and put him under house arrest for the remainder of his life, so much for the hypocrisy of the religious hierarchies.
When I moved beyond the 4th stage of absorption in 1974 I first discovered the Out-of-Body experience. This was the beginning of my first three-year retreat. At that time I was quite enthralled with the ability to fly about without a body so I spent several months flying around the Earth domain. I flew out-of-body every time I lied down so in a short time I had logged many hours of Out-of-Body travel during the body's nightly sleep-cycle. Within the second month I began to turn my attention away from the earth domain to space so I flew to the moon and the planets.
When I began to explore the moon and the planets I was quite surprised to find them teaming with life. I was an amateur astronomy student then so I knew these worlds were uninhabitable on the physical dimension, but on the astral level I found they were literally crowded with beings.
Eventually as I matured in my explorations of the domains of space I found each world had a personality or deity in charge. I met them as well. And, as I continued to mature spiritually I moved beyond the domain of the planetary deities to viewing the whole of the expanse of star-beings of the Milky Way, which would be the (Shekhinah), tree of life or the body of God. This occurred for me by the summer of 1974. Eventually my awareness domain expanded to encompass the whole of the heavenly host of beings, then they became the very fabric of my being. This occurred in the fall of 2000.
My migration from the OOB through the 4 stages of immaterial meditative absorptions parallels the Buddha's descriptions quite closely. The Buddha called the OOB "Manomaya," which means "mind-made." Entering space out of body is what I believe the Buddha called the "Akasanancayatana," which as stated above means "Domain of Infinite Space." This is also known as the 5th stage of samadhi in the Buddha's discourses.
Eventually I was able to stand back from the individual star-beings and view the whole expanse of star-beings while in non-material absorption. I believe the Buddha called that experience "Vinnananaacayatana," which means "domain of infinite consciousness" or maybe better " domain of infinite expanse of beings." This is also known as the 6th stage of samadhi.
At this point the star-beings ceased to me to be things or planets and stars and became just points of light, love and awareness, thus this attainment I believe was called by the Buddha "Akincannayatana," which means "the Domain of No-Things," because at that point I ceased to objectify the objects in space. This stage of absorption is also known as the 7th stage of samadhi.
As one deepens into this domain it becomes a fabric of light, love and beingness, where the most blissful music is sung. I found one can merge one's consciousness into this mass of the fabric of light and being. I believe the Buddha called this stage of meditative absorption "nevasannanasannnayatana," which means "the domain of neither-perception-nor-non-perception." He used this term also for the highest heaven of beings just before nibanna (nirvana/nirvikalpa samadhi).
Finally, once one has merged with the fabric of light (Devekut with the Shekhinah) then it was my experience that this fabric of being or light, or Milky Way, or Tree of Life, or Net of Jewels, or Dharma Cloud, or Milky Way, or Ocean of Milk, became the very fabric of this body in which I could feel in my body where every one I encountered existed or was echoed somehow in this body. Thus when I had a conversation with someone I would feel the cell in my body that was associated with that individual. This we could say is the ultimate in non-dualism when one actually feels everyone is part of the fabric of one's being to the point that there is no difference between the physical human body and the expanse of stars and the heavenly host of angels and gods (devas) and oneself. This might be what Jesus the Nazarene may have meant when he said, "I and my Father in Heaven are one."
Love and blessings to all, Jhanananda
Indra's Jeweled Net of Jewels is attributed to an ancient Buddhist named Tu-Shun (557-640 AD.) who asks us to envision a vast net of Jewels:
The term Dharmamegha appears in Patanjali's