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When our consciousness is altered or expanded through the cultivation of meditative, visionary, or trance states, we are much more in touch with this greater Self and its higher, more lucid awareness. If we transcend the material, one-dimensional perceptions of our this-worldly ego personalities, we are able to become aware of realities far beyond physical reality; we learn to see in a way that the ancients called sub specie aeternitatis, which means “from the eye or perspective of eternity.”
In the writings of early Buddhism, we find a sermon in which the Buddha says something very similar:
With the heavenly eye purified and beyond range of human vision, I saw how beings vanish and come to be again. I saw high and low, brilliant and insignificant, and how each attained, according to his karma, a favorable or a painful birth.
This subtle vision is not nearly as difficult to acquire as one might think. Many of us are already familiar with it through working with our dreams; in fact, it is the same consciousness that is with us in the dream state, particularly if we have developed it to the degree of lucid dreaming. Throughout this book, you will have opportunities to develop your own “heavenly eye,” along with the other subtle senses that are available to us in meditative or visionary states of consciousness.
The key to opening the heavenly eye is learning to work with images, developing our capacity to imagine vividly and deeply. And imaging does not always mean visualizing. Some of us hear images; we have a more auditory imagination than others. Some of us feel or sense images; we know what it is like to be in a certain place physically, to sense the environment, to feel a different body. Playwrights and filmmakers, for example, are often highly intuitive with their physical images; they can set scenes in their imagination with incredible precision before realizing them on stage or film. But everyone imagines in a slightly different way. If our visual images are not clear, we may have strong kinesthetic or physical images instead.
I believe that in its higher form (as opposed to fantasy, its lower or ego-related form), imagination is the bridge to the transpersonal realities of the soul, that transcendent part of the personality we have called the Self. This level of reality is also called the subtle world or the spirit world. Platonism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, all of which subscribe to the idea of the transmigration of the soul, call it the intermediary world, a reality midway between this world and the world of pure light. (In Tibetan Buddhism, this in-between place is called a bardo.) This measureless, infinite world beyond the material world is the source not only of all the memories and experiences of humanity, but also of all dreams and visions. In the Hindu tradition, this is thought to be a universal cosmic substrate or subtle vibrational field, called the akasha, that runs through and underlies every form or event in time and space, whether material or psychic.