Seven Pillars House of Wisdom > Articles > An Ecology of Consciousness

An Ecology of Consciousness

An E-mail Trialogue Between William Irwin Thompson, David Spangler and Pir Zia Inayat-Khan, Autumn 2009

William Irwin Thompson, David Spangler, and Pir Zia Inayat-Khan

Pir Zia Inayat-Khan, William Irwin Thompson, and David Spangler


My Dear Pir Zia,

My use of the word "daimon" comes out of its use in the Western esoteric tradition in Plato and Yeats. I understand it to mean the part of the soul that is too vast to squeeze into a human body in the process of incarnation, and so it is experienced as an accompanying spirit, or spiritual guide. I have read that the Persians call this "daena." Is this true?

Here is a new poem about all this. It is sort of a continuation of the contemplative cycle STILL TRAVELS I read at the Abode. In my limited experience, the process of initiation is a "matching grant" in which each of the five sheaths in the Yogic system links with an accompanying spirit. The etheric body (pranamayakosa) receives an accompanying Elemental or Primordial Spirit, the astral body (manomayakosa) receives an angel or contrasexual Tara-like figure (to be syncretic), the mental body (vijnanamayakosa) makes conscious contact with the Daimon, and the (anatamayakosa) makes conscious contact with the Christ, and then on to the Holy Spirit and the unutterable God the Father or "the One."

A Dialogue of Self and Daimon

Self: Now that the angel has shifted from me to you,
what use is there for me in your alaya store?
Why did you advance my time and take death over?
Why should you wait until I'm some senile duffer,
or is there something you still can be hoping for?
Daimon: Even if you were to get your ego out of my way--
and you've only begun to get the feel of that,
your end is the most important part of the play,
for how you die marks the trail like the cougar's scat.
Self: For a Daimon, that's really some earthy image.
Next you will be talking of football and scrimmage?
Daimon: I owe it all to you and our hikes in Crestone,
when I kept that cat out of your Tenderfoot zone.
Self: Not to mention the bears with their berry-filled piles,
the slinking coyotes with their Mona Lisa smiles.
Daimon: If it is angels not animals on your mind,
then let's cut to the chase and the real reason--
if she is now linked to me--you feel left behind,
and death still gives you that elemental frisson.
Self: When I die, she shifts automatically to you,
so since she's left, doesn't it mean we two are through?
Daimon: How you die is important to the three of us.
You're right to see us together, waiting for you,
and to empty yourself and make space luminous
is precisely the thing that you now need to do.
Self: Does entering death in managed IV dying
darken the stream we're to follow into the sun?
Daimon: And puts thought in the way of translucent flying,
which is something, remember, you've already done.
Self: Which is my point, since that's done, why am I still here?
Daimon: To work through the body's hold in death you still fear.
When your mind is the mud, the stem, and the lotus,
you will be free to die and not even notice.

Yours in the Fellowship of Lindisfarne,



Dear William,

Thank you for sharing your thought-provoking poem. I particularly like the denouement: “When your mind is the mud, the stem, and the lotus, / you will be free to die and not even notice.”

The Zoroastrian concept of the daena does seem relevant here. In the Avesta, the daena represents the human being’s spiritual individuality, organ of visionary perception, and conscience. En route to heaven the righteous soul encounters its daena in the form of a graceful maiden who declares: “I am your daena … I was fair and you made me fairer still.”

The question arises: do women have male daenas, as Jung’s theory of the anima/animus would suggest? The Avestan and Pahlavi canon, written exclusively by men, is silent on the subject as far as I know.

If we choose to see the daena as a contrasexual figure, perhaps it would fit better within your system at the astral/angelic rather than mental/daimonic level. I recall your memorable description of an encounter with your own personal Angel (daena?) in the heavenly shape of Angelina Jolie!

With every best wish,



My Dear Zia,

Yes, I would say that the Daimon, or the Psychic Being of Sri Aurobindo, is not the contrasexual figure. For Aurobindo, the Psychic Being is the sum of all our incarnations. So I would wish to use the Socratic/Yeatsian Daimon as expressive of a level higher.

For me, the Jungian Anima/Animus is the icon on the screen—to use a computer metaphor—to a much vaster file that is the Angel. Further, I would say that it is only at the point of Initiation that the Anima is "replaced" by the Angel. Similarly, I would say that the Jungian Shadow is a lower reflection of the Daimon, one that expresses the limits to the ego and serves to prevent it from appropriating to itself these higher functions of the soul. At the point of Initiation—the matching grant process—the Shadow is replaced by an Elemental of Earth or what I call a Primordial Being. The Jinn, as your grandfather explained, comes from the sphere of the Moon. Rudolf Steiner called these Beings former teachers of early man who once lived on Earth and nursed our early development before they removed themselves to the lunar sphere to grant us more freedom in which to grow. The Angel is a stellar creature. Thus in "the matching grant" process I discussed before, the lower functions Jung identified become replaced by more cosmic ones as ego confronts its limits and begins to serve less egocentricly the Daimon or Higher Self. Thus we have the fractal pentagram of the five-pointed star of ego/Christ, then stellar Angel, then Daimon, then lunar Jinn, then Elemental or Primordial spirit of Earth.

It would appear to me that various writers in the Zoroastrian tradition are conflating the Daimon and the Angel/Anima, which is understandable as they are both transcendent to the single-incarnation mentality of the ego.

If we add reincarnation and extend this evolving sense of the inner self to a vaster sense of space time, as opposed to the personality or ego, then Daena does correspond to the "Psychic Being" of Aurobindo and the Daimon of Yeats in A Vision and of Socrates in Plato's Crito. The important thing is not to objectify it as an independent "spirit guide" as some mediums do. Also, as it is the Daimon which is capable of multiple projections into space/time, one should not use the ego to appropriate reincarnation to itself in a linear way, as one does in the vanity of saying stupid things such as, "In my last life I was Napoleon, and so forth." This is a case of the glove appropriating the hand.

In my own personal mythological system, I call this union of the incarnated ego with Elemental, Angel, Daimon, Christ, and God the Father or Gottheit, the Entelechy. I envision the Entelechy as a Pentagram, which is a fractal, superimposed upon Da Vinci's man. Yogananda uses the white five pointed star as SRF's emblem of the "Christ Center" one sees upon initiation and the opening of the third eye. However, since the realm of the psychic is labile and participatory, it is influenced by culture and to being shaped by one's culture. I, for example, in a spiritual retreat in Iona saw this as the Celtic trifoil knot on a magenta field. I would assume you Sufis use a different emblem for this initiatory experience. I attach some images to illustrate my images of the Entelechy.

So, David, what do you make of all this. It is your turn to weigh in on this from your experience.

Yours in the Fellowship of Lindisfarne,



My esteemed colleagues in this trialogue, Bill and Pir Zia, bring both inner experience and outer scholarship to our discussion, a valuable combination. I can only bring inner experience as a kind of "freelance mystic" and exploratory "naturalist" of the non-physical realms. For various reasons, I'm not much of a student of the great traditions. But I'm happy to share what I can from the perspective I have.

Let me start with my understanding of incarnation. The popular view is that a soul enters a body and takes on a fleshy, physical covering (or perhaps is even created along with the body, both coming into being at the same time); a common metaphor for this is that of a driver entering a vehicle which it then "drives" around for the duration of the lifespan. In my experience, this view is far too simplistic and is misleading in important ways.

For instance, incarnation is a continuing, dynamic activity—a constantly configuring relationship between soul and earth—not merely an act of entering something. If I want to use a metaphor of driver and vehicle, then incarnation is more like a person exuding a car out of his or her own substance and then constantly molding it to fit the shape and conditions of the road and the countryside. The usual metaphor of a driver sitting in and guiding a vehicle that is separate from him is far too static an image to capture the full energetic and interactive flavor of the incarnational process.

For me, an important understanding is that we incarnate into systems rather than into a body. Our bodies are merely one part of this system. This is a similar idea to what Bill is expressing in his image of the Entelechy, though in my case it is not an image of enlightenment but of the architecture of incarnation.

The reason for this is that the soul is a complex, hyperdimensional entity whose fullness cannot be encompassed by a single body, or really by a single anything in the three-dimensional physical realm. It's as if a very heavy person jumped off the top of a burning building. A single person on the ground trying to catch him would be squashed, but a group of people all holding a net between them can do so safely.

In my understanding, some of the "people" holding this net—the nodes in the incarnational system—are the body and its physical elemental, an aspect of Gaia or the World Soul, an aspect of Humanity as a collective soul, a representative of the subtle worlds, and what I think of as the "incarnational soul," the nature of which I'll explain in a moment. There are other nodes as well, and the ones I've mentioned could be further subdivided, but not without getting into occult complexities and fine-grain distinctions of subtle energies that are important in some contexts but not necessarily in this one.

Another way to look at this is to say that each individual incarnation is an act of collective incarnation—that through each of us, the world incarnates, nature incarnates, humanity incarnates, elementals incarnate, the subtle worlds incarnate. Angelic, devic or elemental representatives of each of these realms connect to us and participate in our incarnations, in effect making them possible. To paraphrase Hillary, it takes a village to be an incarnation!

In most instances, particularly with the kind of highly developed and complex energy patterns that characterize a human soul, the soul does not and indeed cannot fully incarnate. The three-dimensional realm cannot encompass it. So the soul designates a part of itself to conduct and oversee the incarnation.

Here's a metaphor for that. Let's say that I take part in a fantasy role-playing game (abbreviated RPG) like Dungeons and Dragons. In the play of the game, there are three levels of identity. There is my identity as David; I encompass a great deal more knowledge, awareness, life experience, interests, and connections than will ever fit in the game, but I am the one who decides to play. Then there is my identity as a Player, participating in the game itself. Finally, there is my identity as a Character in the game, such as an elf archer, a dwarf paladin, or a human mage. My Character is the one who "lives" within the game world, has the adventures, gains experience, and grows.

As a Player I have much more information than my Character has, plus I'm aware of the "meta-game," the rules that govern play and the structure of the game world. As a Player, for instance, I may know that by entering this cavern, I'm going to be attacked by a vampire, and from reading the rules, I know just what a Vampire can do. But my Character knows none of that and will have to discover it through actual experience. Whatever wounds my Character suffers, I, the Player, remain unharmed, and if he dies, I can simply create a new Character. And when my wife reminds me I have other things I need to do, then I, as David, stop being a Player, who effectively ceases to exist until the next time I sit down to play.

The analog to the Player is what I call the "Incarnational Soul," the part of the Soul that oversees and becomes involved with a specific incarnation. Is this the same as the Daimon? Yes, I believe so. There is part of the Incarnational Soul itself that cannot be fully embodied and does not become the ego or the personality—the "Character." Even though dedicated to the manifestation of a particular incarnation, it is still a more complex patterning of energy and consciousness than can normally function in a three-dimensional world.

However, obviously information and awareness flows between the three levels of David, Player, and Character in a role-playing game. I am still aware of being all three identities when I play. I can say that I "lose myself in the game," but in fact, I don't. I never fully forget that I am David or that I am playing a game and that the Character is only my avatar in the game. This is true for soul, as well. Our personality is not severed from our soul; there is a continuum of consciousness at some level of our being, which we can touch in moments of transpersonal ecstasy or awareness.

And there's something else, which I will call the Consciousness of the Game, again using the RPG metaphor. When I play, a fourth awareness arises that is not the same as my usual David consciousness and which is other than that of the Player and the Character. It is an emergent awareness arising from the experience of the play of the game itself. It's more than just the pleasure at playing; it's a self-reflective awareness of the game itself, of the contrast between my different levels of identity and of the relationship between them. In other words, this fourth level of awareness requires all of the other three to be present and interactive in order to exist. In a way, it is the experience of this awareness and the pleasure it brings that leads me to participate in the RPG in the first place.

I think of this as the emergent presence of my incarnation, and I think of it as the spirit of the incarnational system itself. It's not wholly my soul nor the incarnate soul, nor is it the world soul within me, nor the soul of humanity within me, nor is it my personality. It is no one part of my incarnation, but it is what emerges from the system that these parts together co-create. Perhaps it is the spirit of the Entelechy. Whatever I call it, I believe that a goal of my incarnation is to become aware of and to hold this spirit of the whole system. Furthermore, this is not a transpersonal experience, for this spirit reflects the specificity, the particularity, of my unique incarnation; it is very personal indeed, though it is not egoic.

For this reason, I feel that an over-emphasis on transpersonal states misses the point of the incarnation and actually interferes with the emergence and experience of this spirit of the incarnational system as a whole. To return to my RPG metaphor, if I always keep reminding myself that I'm really David and that my identities as Player and Character are only figments of my imagination and therefore unreal and unimportant, I never truly enter into the spirit of the game and gain the full experience it could offer me. In fact, that's true if I lose myself in any of the roles. It's in the space between them that I find myself.

For me, an incarnational spirituality is one that seeks this central space. Even for angels, it is a holy place.




I would like to add two things that occurred to me after I wrote my previous contribution.

The first has to do with the idea that we incarnate into systems or patterns of relationship rather than simply into bodies. As I understand it, the more participants there are in a system, the greater its potential depth and complexity. A soul might not be able to incarnate fully into a simple three-dimensional physical body, but it can incarnate more of itself into increasingly complex systems developed by solid and dependable patterns, relationships and connections built up over time. In a sense, it may well take an entire world to incarnate a single soul fully, and by the time those kinds of connections and patterns are made, we are all participating is such a communion and thus all incarnating each others' souls. That may well be the meaning of a Master whose love is such that he or she is deeply and profoundly connected with the wholeness of the world and thus able to manifest a robust and "full-bodied" expression of soul, a "planetary soul."

This is the same idea that a net held by many people can catch and support a heavier mass than one held by fewer people or by one person alone. And if in addition I tie the ends of my net to trees, rocks, animals, and so on, then I could "catch" a great deal.

In a practical way, these connections are made through love and compassion, hence the need for these qualities in expression if I am to fully incarnate. (I might say here that some years ago one of my non-physical colleagues made the comment that the problem with humanity wasn't that we were too incarnated or too physical but that we weren't incarnated enough. A deeper understanding of incarnation as engagement and connectedness—as creating a wider and more sturdy net—explains why he might say such a thing.)

One thing this means is, for instance, quite apart from any work I may do to connect with my Daimon or any angels or elementals, that the loving connections I form with others and with the physical flora and fauna of my world create greater energy complexity through which my soul may incarnate. Thus, in my loving relationship with my wife, Julie, I become part of the "net" of her incarnation, and she part of the "net" of mine, each helping the other to "catch" our souls in fuller ways.

Note, though, that this is not a simple numbers game. It's not like some kind of metaphysical Facebook where one seeks to have as many "friends" as possible in order to enhance your personal page. It's not simply pure connection but the quality of love, compassion and awareness that each connection embodies. I am now connected to millions of people on earth each of whom theoretically I could contact via cell phone or Internet, but that doesn't mean I know them. There is no soul connection between us, no mindful flow of love. I have connections but I am not necessarily connected.

As far as that goes, in the subtle worlds we have each always had essentially the kind of connectedness that is now externalized in the Internet and wireless telephones, but it hasn't made us more incarnated. What has been missing is the important ingredient of willing and conscious participation and awareness.

A second thought has to do with the importance of the physical plane. I happen to think that the training the soul is going through is one of holopoiesis, the art of creating wholeness; or I might call it a form of metaphysical systems management and synthesis. How to create and hold a blending of various combinations of beings, consciousnesses, and so forth so that a coherent spirit emerges from their midst? For humanity in particular, this is our challenge as we are a species of spiritual being in whom the angelic, the devic, the elemental, the sacred, the individual, the planetary and the cosmic all come together to be fused into an amalgam of creative consciousness.

What the physical plane offers that other levels do not is stability. Or maybe "slowness" or "density" are better words. The fact is that forms hold their shape on earth; there is none of the fluidity of matter and form that one finds in the invisible realms. Participation in the physical realm forces beings to slow down relative to their native state. This makes their qualities simpler and easier to connect to and hold. It is simply easier for a consciousness to engage with all the elements of a system because the nature of this realm holds those elements in place and supports the existence of the system. A certain amount of coherency is imposed by the laws of nature that define the physical realm, for instance. A chair in my living room will remain a chair and will not morph into something else beneath me as I sit in it. This is not always true in my experience on the subtle worlds. I may be visiting with a being, but if I cannot hold my consciousness steady in its presence, I may suddenly find myself somewhere else entirely, with that being nowhere in sight.

This is why it is a privilege to come here. There is a grace inherent in the stability and constancy of the physical plane that allows us to concentrate on the essential issues, such as learning to master love and compassion, without also having to devote awareness and energy to keeping our environment and our connections stable and coherent in their forms as well. I can focus on loving my wife and children and creating a home, for instance, without also having to think about ensuring that walls remain walls, floors remain floors, and furniture retains its shape. I am confident that because of a momentary change of thought or lapse of concentration, we won't find ourselves suddenly in the middle of the ocean when a moment before we were on land.

Of course, I overstate this a bit to make a point. But the truth is, at least in my own experience and perspective, that the World Soul sacrifices itself to habit and a certain rigidity—the laws of nature—in order to give us a steady and consistent platform on which to stand and learn the arts of holopoiesis, love and compassion.

With blessings,



Dear David,

Thanks for your comments, which cleared up a point for me about Elementals that had been troubling me. It also highlighted some points where you and I diverge, which is OK, since neither one of us is out to convert the other, and we both recognize that we are simply building narratives based on our own experiences. I'll number my points to give you and Pir an easy reference matrix.

1. Your point that the Elemental is the elemental of our physical body and is itself part of the evolutionary Gaian system makes sense. When I would see the Elemental and converse with him, I would always ask him why he took on the form of a human body. I guess I expected some Emerald Crystal Being that was part of the mind of a volcano. When we talked, or when he appeared in the practice of Yoga Nidra, he was always human, but not quite humanly socialized, but rather like someone with Asperger's Syndrome whose semi-autism would not allow him to look you in the eye. He had bangs and always looked downward, and once when I asked him about this, he raised his head and looked at me with wild cat's eyes. (This gave me greater insight into the Lionman statues of Engleherd from 33,000 BCE, a site along with Hohe Fels that has yielded rich insights into Ice Age Shamanism and the religion of early Homo sapiens sapiens.) But if, as you point out, he is part of our incarnational system, then his interest in participating in a human body ecosystem—as the bacteria do in our guts in Lynn Margulis descriptions—makes sense. And so he takes a human form in Yoga Nidra practice.

2. Our physical body itself is Elemental/mineral, with our skeletal system; and is fluid, with our blood and lymphatic system; and then is gaseous with our respiratory system, and finally photonic with our production of vitamin D and serotonin and endorphins from sunlight. This four-fold structure, as I argued at this year's Lindisfarne Fellows Conference, corresponds to the four worlds of Yoga Nidra practice: the world of objects (physical world), the world of images (psychic and astral world), the world of sound (the world of the Cosmic Nadam as the Holy Spirit or Parvati the divine Mother or Shakti), and the world of light (the Mind of Light of Sri Aurobindo or the Buddha Mind of Zen).

3. Now the Dalai Lama's "open question" that Evan presented at the Fellows meeting in July is: "Are these all simply brain-based states?" Is religion merely mythologizing brain functions in exactly the way we turn a sound into an image in our dreams and then use the image to generate the little drama of the dream? Religious rituals, from this scientific perspective, are mythologized images turned into dreams.

Like the complementarity of wave/particle in quantum mechanics, we always seem to have the possibility of two radically different explanatory narratives: artistic/religious or reductionist/scientific. From the reductionist point of view the four states of Yoga Nidra of objects, images, sound and light express the reversal of the evolutionary process through meditation: 1. mammalian perception; 2. reptilian trigger registers a response; 3. cellular and bacterial response to flagella in a sonar/aquaeous chemical medium; and 4. the primal photosynthesis of light in stromatolites and cyanobacteria billions of years ago in the origins of life.

4. As for the Daimon, I still wonder if what Sri Aurobindo calls "the Psychic Being" loosely situated behind the heart chakra is not a still vaster being than the Daimon and maybe represents a longer wave of a greater incarnational cycle—whole solar systems rather than a Great Year of the Zodiacal precession or a planetary formation. Your image of the game is a point where we do converge. In fact, in one of my books I say: "The ego is the video game of the Daimon." I can't remember which book!

5. The point where we seem to diverge is on the nature of Initiation. I see it as an increasing awareness of the incarnational "pit team" as you have sometimes called it. I see Initiation is the point where the Shadow and Anima of the average man is transformed into the Elemental of the Body and the Angel from other stellar systems. At the point of Initiation, we begin to move beyond our identity/awareness of our solar system to other star systems, just as when a child goes to school he begins to extend his identity from his parents and immediate family to his teachers and generational peers. I am sure you of all people can understand this, since you are the eeriest walking earthly extraterrestrial I have ever met—you and Esalen's Michael Murphy!

Well, since this is all in the realm of Seven Pillars, I think we should let Pir Zia have the last word on "all of the Above."

Yours in the Fellowship of Lindisfarne,



OK, but let me have a "middle word" in response to your excellent points.

1. I love the image of the elemental as someone with Asberger's syndrome; it's not a bad analogy. From my standpoint, "elemental" covers a wide ecology of beings, so I use the term carefully since an actual elemental could manifest in a number of different ways, just as there are many different species of bacteria. I think what they all have in common is their function which, it seems to me on the basis of what I have seen but which also may be a generalization, is to "fix" energies from a freer state to a more bounded one and to provide connective and mediating activities. They do not so much generate energies themselves as they receive spiritual and energetic forces and do something with them. What that "something" is depends on the species of elemental they are and the environment in which they are working.

What I think of as the "body elemental" is a sentiency that connects the individualizing forces of the human soul, ego and body with the larger domain of energies and consciousness that we dub "nature," and primarily with the elemental forces of the planet itself. They connect us to the land, to the realms of animals and plants, and so on. They help to "ground us" and "fix' our more mercurial and fluid spiritual natures into particular forms.

2. Yes, I would agree with your depiction of the physical body. It's not the only possible mapping, of course, but it's a good map.

3. If we ask if these are only brain-based states with no other correspondence in higher levels of being and consciousness, I would say no, though I have no idea how to justify or prove that. If we ask if these are also brain-based states, I would say yes, otherwise we would not be able to register them at all.

From my point of view the brain is an organ that participates in the co-creation of "reality states" or "experience states," rather than just receiving and recording on the one hand (as in "reality is 'out there' and the brain records what it perceives of it") or wholly creating on the other (as in "everything we experience is created or generated by the brain").

I think those who say that consciousness must be embodied are exactly right; the question really is what constitutes the body. From my point of view, we are deeply embedded in many layers of being all of which constitute "body." My physical body is obviously one of these layers, but subtle 'bodies' are, too; the physical environment is one of these layers, but subtle environments are, too. It's not so much that it's all one to me, all a unity, as it is an interactive ecology of interdependent but distinctly individual elements, Gregory's ecology of mind expanded to include the non-physical dimensions. There is no mind-body duality problem because everything is either all body or all mind or both: your body and mind are also "body" to the incarnation of my mind, the tree and the elemental are also "body" to the incarnation of my mind, and my mind is body to their incarnations as well.

The way I navigate all this is NOT to give up my personal identity but to use my personal identity as a marker to designate and highlight relationships and interactions that in turn illuminate a larger whole.

A metaphor for this is when we tag a wild wolf in order to track the movements of its clan and migration patterns of wolves in an environment. The tag gives us a point of connection to a fluid and dynamic interaction between individuals, groups, and environments. With out it, we can't see the whole as it is too diffused. Ironically, individuality is important in bringing wholeness into view (and probably the reverse is true, too). So if I try to lose myself in a larger oneness, I may ironically end up losing both myself and that oneness.

I think identifying brain states is a similar kind of marker. Rather than asking, "What does this explain?" or "What does this cause?" we could ask, "What does this allow me to see that I couldn't see before?"

4.  My David/Player/Character paradigm is very simple. The reality is more complex and not always so conveniently structured. I believe a person can be in touch with both the "incarnate soul" or the "player" but also the soul, the "I". Which of these, then, is the Daimon? The soul IS vaster than the Daimon, yet it can under some circumstances function in a Daimon-like way. I'm not familiar enough with Aurobindo's cosmology to know just what he means by the "Psychic Being" or to what it might correspond in my own experience, assuming I've even experienced it!

5. Yes, I would agree. I wasn't trying to define initiation, only to say that one of the objectives of incarnation is to discern and manifest coherency and integrity in the incarnational system so that an emergent consciousness—an amalgam—can arise. But I would agree that there are other developmental steps that either parallel this or are part of it and flow out from it, including what you've described above.

Gee, an eerie walking earthly extraterrestrial: Bill, you always say the nicest things!



(Now Pir gets the last word!)



You said: "I'm not familiar enough with Aurobindo's cosmology to know just what he means by the "Psychic Being" or to what it might correspond in my own experience, assuming I've even experienced it!"

So I looked it up in my collection of Aurobindo's books on my shelf. On page 225 of Volume One of THE LIFE DIVINE, Aurobindo says "this veiled psychic entity is the flame of Godhead always alight within us... It is the concealed Witness and Control, the hidden Guide, the Daemon of Socrates..."

On these terms, it does correspond to what we have been discussing. Unlike Yogananda, Aurobindo does not give specific Tantric practices for the awakening of kundalini and the energizing of the subtle bodies and their re-alignment to "the Life Divine." In Aurobindo's terms the Psychic Being slumbers in most people, but when it comes to the fore and takes over the leadership of the incarnation, then true Sadhana begins. There are no techniques in Integral Yoga, as there are in Yogananda's Kriya Yoga; the Sadhana comes from the inner instructions of the Psychic Being. Aurobindo is not interested in the awakening of kundalini and all that. He was a natural yogi who was not interested in all the elementary stuff, so when Gopi Krishna wrote to him for help with his Tantric sadhana, Aurobindo told him to seek out a Tantric master, as all that downward up yoga was not his Integral Yoga which worked through a process of Top> down, and not bottom>Up. Aurobindo has a "Descent of the Supramental" which is not produced by yogic or shamanic or drug techniques. When Gopi Kirshna received the letter from Aurobindo, he mistakenly interpreted it to mean that Aurobindo was merely a scholar and a writer of books and had not himself experienced Yoga, and so Gopi Krishna inflated to think that he alone in the modern world had discovered "The Secret of Yoga." I stayed in Gopi Krishna's home for a week, and I found him to be a good, kind and gentle follower of yoga, but one who did not really understand what Aurobindo had to say. I had just come to visit Gopi Krishna after my stay in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and my Darshan with "The Mother."

I would venture to say that the Daimon, like the double-faced god Janus, the Roman god of doorways, faces in two directions. One is the Daimon as the sensorium of the Soul that faces in our direction and is interested in our incarnation. But as you have probably noticed in your bouts with cancer, as I certainly did with mine, the Daimon is interested in our suffering as much as our joy, and is especially fascinated with the human oscillation between suffering and joy. Since it already has "consciousness without an object," it is not interested in samadhi as much as we are. It is more aligned to wisdom, compassion and cosmic love. This, I think, is why cults led by yogic masters—who are often nothing more than psychic weight lifters or outright religious psychotics—often focus on "Enlightenment" as an "I've got a secret" culture in which the chela is conned by the cult leader into serving his ego as he strives to parasitize theirs. The other face of the Daimon is turned toward Godhead, and its consciousness is a fractal mind within the greater Divine Mind. This would be what I believe you mean by the Soul. Others use the term soul just to mean the being between incarnations, and reserve the word Spirit for this higher being.




Dear William,

Reflecting on how to translate your Entelechy into the conceptual language of Sufism, it occurred to me that it bears an intriguing resemblance to the Akbarian theory of the Five Divine Presences. There are several formulations of this theory; the version I have in mind names the Presences as follows: Hahut, Lahut, Jabarut, Malakut and Nasut. Hahut is the plane of pure consciousness, beyond manifestation. Lahut is the spiritual plane, where the qualities of being manifest as archetypes, Plato’s Ideas. Jabarut is the astral plane, populated by angels, creatures of light. Malakut is the mental plane, the World of the Image (“where bodies are spiritualized and spirits corporealized”), peopled by jinn. Nasut is the material world.

Mapping your system on to the Five Presences of Sufism would produce the following correspondences:

God the Father – Hahut (consciousness)

Christ – Lahut (spiritual)

Angel – Jabarut (astral)

Daimon – Malakut (mental)

Elemental – Nasut (material)

In Sufism, and in my experience, the human being is a microcosm of the whole. We possess organs of perception (lata’if) attuned to each of the five Presences. Ordinarily our experience is fragmented, each organ functioning in relative isolation. The purpose of spiritual practice is to bring about integration.

The process of creation is called “descent” (nuzul), referring to the top-down emanation of the Universe from its source in pure consciousness. The reciprocal process of bottom-up reintegration is called “ascent” (‘uruj). In this process, the perfume is distilled from the fading rose of the Earth and infused into Eternity.

As souls descend and ascend along the cosmic Jacob’s Ladder, they meet. The rising soul is attracted by the celestial magnetism of the downward-moving soul, and the downward-moving soul is attracted by the terrestrial magnetism of the rising soul. Each of them imparts something of its experience to the other, and the energy of that exchange hastens both on their path.

The account of the Nephilim and the daughters of men in Genesis, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Thomas Moore’s poem “The Loves of the Angels,” and Wim Wenders’s film “Wings of Desire” all seem to allude to encounters of this kind.

My grandfather held that the phenomenon of exchange between ascending and descending souls provides an important and often-neglected perspective on the theory of reincarnation. Substance is recycled at all levels. Just as plants and animals absorb the elements of our physical body when it perishes (and to some extent before as well), so too do other beings incorporate the substance of our mental bodies into their own. This is in keeping, I think, with David’s insight that, “we incarnate into systems rather than into a body.”

Thank you, dear and respected colleagues, for your illuminating words. I hope that our conversation will continue in some form in the future, as I feel that in a sense we are just getting started.

Peace and Blessings,


William Irwin Thompson is a poet and cultural philosopher who has made significant contributions to cultural history, social criticism, the philosophy of science, and the study of myth. Early in his career he left academia to found Lindisfarne, an association of creative individuals in the arts, sciences, and contemplative practices devoted to the study and realization of a new planetary consciousness, or noosphere. Thompson lived in Switzerland for 17 years and describes his most recent work, Canticum Turicum, as “a long poem on Western Civilization, that begins with folktales and traces of Charlemagne in Zurich and ends with the completion of Western Civilization as expressed in Finnegans Wake and the traces of James Joyce in Zurich.” With mathematician Ralph Abraham he has designed a new type of cultural history curriculum based on their theories about the evolution of consciousness. Thompson now lives in Portland, Maine.

Read more about William Irwin Thompson

David Spangler is an internationally known spiritual teacher and writer, and was instrumental in helping establish the Findhorn Foundation community in northern Scotland in the late 1960’s early 1970’s. Since then David has traveled widely within the United States and Canada giving classes, workshops and lectures. His themes have included the emergence of a holistic culture, the nature of personal sacredness, our participation in a coevolving, co-creative universe, partnering, and working with spiritual realms, our responsibility to the earth and to each other, the spiritual nature and power of our individuality, and our calling to be of service at this crucial time of world history. Many of these themes come together in his primary work, which is the development of a spiritual perspective and practice called Incarnational Spirituality.

Read more about David Spangler

Pir Zia Inayat-Khan is a scholar and teacher of Sufism in the lineage of his grandfather, Hazrat Inayat Khan. He received his B.A. (Hons) in Persian Literature from the London School of Oriental and African Studies, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Religion from Duke University. Pir Zia is founder of Seven Pillars House of Wisdom, and also of Sulūk Academy, a school of contemplative study with branches in the U.S. and Europe. His most recent books are Saracen Chivalry: Counsels on Valor, Generosity and the Mystical Quest and Caravan of Souls: An Introduction to the Sufi Path of Hazrat Inayat Khan, both published by Sulūk Press, an imprint of Omega Publications.

Read more about Pir Zia Inayat-Khan

10 November 2009

  • print
© Copyright 2018 Seven Pillars. All rights reserved.