Eastern mystics often speak of their experience in higher states of consciousness as a vision from the vantage point of a higher dimension. Sri Aurobindo speaks of "a subtle change which makes the sight see in a sort of fourth dimension." Lama Govinda writes, "If we speak of the space experience in meditation we are dealing with an entirely different dimension." He continues, "Vision is bound up with a space of higher dimension, and therefore timeless." He further explains, "An experience of higher dimensionality is achieved by integration of experiences of different centres and levels of consciousness. Hence the indescribability of certain experiences of meditation on the plane of three dimensional consciousness."*1
In meditative states then, consciousness can transcend the limits of its three dimensional perception of the world. Claude Bragdon writes in 'Explorations into the Fourth Dimension': "Dimensionality is the mind's method of mounting to the idea of the infinity of space. When we speak of the fourth dimension, what we mean is the fourth stage in the apprehension of that infinity." What would it be like to have a vision of the world from a higher dimension? If our intellect could gain some notion of that, could see what our present limits are and what we are therefore missing, then we might be inspired to make the effort to follow the mystics to this higher realm.
Lama Govinda referred to our ordinary consciousness as three dimensional. When we look out into the world, what we actually see is a two dimensional projection, like a photograph or cinema screen, of the three spatial dimensions. We infer the third dimension of space by experience, by light and shading, and by using time as yet another dimension. That is, in time we can move around, gaining further visual perspectives on external objects, and thus determine their solid or three dimensional character. But all we ever really see are the surfaces of things. When you watch a cinema screen, it looks just like the three dimensional world, but you know it is just a flat screen, three dimensions projected onto two. It is our logical, reasoning ability, our intellect, which enables the mind to 'roll out' the third dimension. The mind is so well trained at, and accustomed to, mentally placing the objects of the external world at their proper distances from us, that it does so automatically. The space dimensions are an intellectual construction of relation, right and left, up and down, forward and back.
Time is also an intellectual construct of relation. It is the relation, in our experience of succession, of "past, present and future, the present being real in experience, the past constructed in memory, and the future anticipated in imagination".*3 Time is actually the fourth dimension of space. The point is the 'zeroth' dimension, because it has no extension. Translate the point in any direction and you get a fine, which is one dimensional. Translate the line in a direction perpendicular to itself and you get a plane, which is two dimensional. Translate the plane in a direction perpendicular to itself and you get a solid, which is three dimensional. That is, if you stack a series of planes one on top of the other in a direction which is not in the plane, you get a three dimensional figure.
To get a four dimensional figure you need to stack a series of solids in a direction which is not in that three dimensional space. What 'direction' is there which is neither up and down, right and left, nor forward and back, but in which we can imagine a series of three dimensional figures? Time, the direction of before and after, is the answer. It is a series or succession of moments of our three dimensional space. In Einstein's theory of relativity, space and time make up the four dimensions of 'space-time'.
Time is the limit of man's ordinary state of consciousness. He is three dimensional because he is limited to the present moment in his direct experience. He can be conscious of other times, but only in an imperfect way, based on memory or imagination. The ordinary consciousness can only sample consecutively one moment, then another, and so on. The great yogis tell us, however, that all time- past, present and future, exists together and can be so experienced when the limits of the ordinary consciousness are transcended beyond time-space barriers.
To gain a notion of what it would be like to be able to view space and time from a higher dimension, we will have to proceed by analogy, since our intellect is incapable of formulating a four dimensional image. Such an analogy is partially provided by Edwin A. Abott in a fascinating adventure story called 'Flatland'.*4 Flatland is a world of two spatial dimensions, like the plane of a sheet of paper. It is inhabited by two dimensional beings such as squares, circles and triangles. A square who lives in Flatland is visited by a sphere, a being from the third dimension, which is 'up' from the plane of Flatland, a direction in which the Flatlanders cannot see and to which they cannot go.
As the sphere floats above Flatland, he sees the inhabitants of that planar world just as you would see a group of squares, triangles, etc., drawn on a piece of paper. Since their vision is confined along their own plane, the Flatlanders see each other as Unes only (look at a sheet of paper edge on to understand this). But from his vantage point above, the sphere can see the true shapes of each figure in the plane. He can see the insides of the Flatlanders' houses, the insides of their closed chests and safes, even their own 'insides and stomachs'. The sphere can even see the square's thoughts written upon his brain. He can see the insides and outsides of everything, all that is happening in Flatland, at once.
As the sphere moves down to intersect the plane of Flatland, he manifests himself there as a circle, as a slice or cross-section of himself. (Indeed, are our own three dimensional bodies just slices or cross-sections of beings of a higher order intersecting this three dimensional space?) The sphere can descend and intersect the plane of Flatland, then rise up out of it again, seeming to appear and disappear at will. He can vanish from a locked room in Flatland and reappear outside it. The sphere lifts the square up out of the plane of Flatland and shows him the same view. Not satisfied with seeing the insides of the two dimensional creatures below, the square also wants to see the sphere's insides, and correctly notes that to do so he would have to travel to a still higher dimension.
Abbott does not consider moving to a dimension from which all times as well as all points of space could be seen together, but in 'Explorations into the Fourth Dimension' Bragdon presents an appropriate analogy. Bragdon lets the passage of time be represented by a procession parading past us as we stand on a street corner. Each person or object passing by represents one moment of time. We see the pageant as a sequence of things appearing into the view suddenly and disappearing in the same manner. This represents the ordinary waking consciousness. But now we ascend in a balloon and look down. "From that place of vantage the procession would be seen, not as a sequence, but simultaneously, and could be traced from its formation to its dispersal. Past, present and future would be merged into one."
Things which appear separate can actually be one when seen from a higher dimension. For example, if I were to touch the plane of Flatland with the five fingers of one hand, the Flatlanders would note the sudden appearance of the cross-sections of five separate fingers. They would not realise that the five separate things they see are one hand in the third dimension, Bragdon makes this point very eloquently in the following passage:
"Conceive of this printed page as a plane-world in which every letter is a person; every word a family; and phrases and sentences are larger communities and groups. These innumerable individualities, distinguished by their variations must needs seem to themselves as distant from one another, their very differences of form and arrangement a barrier to any superior unity. Yet all the while, solely by reason of this diversity, they are co-operating toward an end of which they cannot be aware. The mind of the reader unites and interprets the letters into continuous thought, though they be voiceless as stones to one another. Even so may our sad and stony identities spell out a world's word which we know not of, by reason of our singularity and isolation. Moreover, in the electrolyte block, the solid of which the printed page constitutes a plane presentment, all the letters are actually united in such a manner that the whole is one. The metal that has moulded each into its significant form amalgamates them into a higher unity. So also the power that makes us separate is the same power that makes us one."
The nature of the vision from a higher dimension elucidated in these analogies is reminiscent of yogic siddhis attained in a higher state of consciousness. Yogananda's 'Autobiography of a Yogi' abounds in descriptions of the appearance and disappearance of saints.*5 V.A. Devasenapathi writes, "We have accounts of Hindu saints disappearing from human view with their bodies."*6 In the 'Yoga Sutras' of Patanjali are mentioned siddhis such as "knowledge of things obstructed from view or at a great distance" (11:25); "disappearance from view" (111:21); "knowledge of other's minds" (III: 19); "knowledge of past and future existences" (11:39; 111:16).*7
From the higher dimension which is beyond both space and time, all places at all times can be entered into and seen from both the outside and the inside simultaneously. The higher dimensional eye is everywhere at all times, inside and out. In the 'Bhagavad Gita\ Krishna describes himself as "...the One, as the distinct and as the manifold facing in all directions" (IX: 15). "Wearing divine garlands...with face turned everywhere" (XI: 11). "He is without and within all beings. Ho is too subtle to be known. He is far away and yet is He near. He is undivided (indivisible) and yet He seems to be divided among beings" (XIII: 15-16). With the benefit of the supernatural eye bestowed upon him by Krishna, Arjuna can "behold the whole universe" (XI:8), "with its manifold divisions, gathered together as one in the body of the God of gods" (XI: 13).*8 This higher dimensional vision, then, is that which belongs to the Supreme Consciousness, the Infinite.
Referring to that which is of a higher dimension as being infinite, in fact, is just what is done in geometry. A plane is an infinite number of parallel lines, a solid an infinite number of parallel planes, etc. As P.D. Ouspensky points out in 'A New Model of the Universe', "For every figure of a given number of dimensions, infinity is a figure of the given number of dimensions plus one."*9
However, the infinite can also be understood as the reality beyond all dimension. The dimensions of space and time are not all there is to reality; there is also awareness- the pure consciousness of space and time which is the substratum or background out of which space and time unfold. The infinite is the dimension of pure consciousness. Swami Satyananda says that there are an infinite number of dimensions or planes within consciousness but the highest dimension, pure consciousness, reduces them all to oneness.
From the vantage of pure consciousness, all lower dimensions are reduced to one, folded to a single point. To understand how the world of separated things could fold into a point, imagine again the analogy of the sheet of paper having printed on it characters to represent the objects of the world. With the aid of another dimension beyond the plane of the paper, it could be crumpled or folded into a tiny ball. Even though along the surface of the paper the characters are separated from each other, when the paper is crushed these characters are brought close together. Analogously, the Supreme Consciousness enfolds everything within Itself. Bragdon quotes from the sacred books of Hermes Trismegistus: "Comprehend clearly", says Hermes to Asclepios, "that this sensible world is enfolded, as in a garment, by the supernal world."
Swami Satyananda says that consciousness is bindu, the point. Since everything is enfolded within God to a point, to reach the highest consciousness we must penetrate the point. The message of the Upanishads is "That thou art"; the Atman point is equal to the Brahman point. If we can shrink our minds within the point of our own consciousness, suddenly all of space-time will open up for the view, and ours will be the God-consciousness.