Levels of Being

I recently pulled out a couple of old books and notes from a box packed up years ago. One is Advaita Vedanta: A Philosophical Reconstruction by the philosopher Eliot Deutsch. In reformulating Vedantic metaphysics in Western categories, he brings up some useful points. One is the idea of “subration” which he uses to translate the Sanskrit term badha. He defines it thus:

Subration is the mental process whereby one disvalues some previously appraised object or content of consciousness because of its being contradicted by a new experience. A judgment about something is contradicted by a new experience when it is impossible to affirm both the previous judgment and what is learned or acquired in the new experience. … An object or content of consciousness is subrated or subratable when it is or can be disvaluated, denied, or contradicted by another experience.

He applies that definition to different levels of being as described in the Vedanta.

  • Appearance is that which can be subrated by other experience.
  • Reality is that which cannot be subrated by any other experience.
  • Nonbeing is that which neither can nor cannot be subrated by other experience.

Subration involves:

  1. A judgment about some object of content of consciousness (thing, person, place, condition, idea)
  2. The recognition, in the light of another kind of judgment that is incompatible with the initial judgment, that the initial judgment is faulty
  3. The acceptance of the new judgment as valid

How is this related to levels of being? Prof Deutsch points out that the more something is subratable, the less being it has. Clearly, then, the level of being corresponds to the level of knowledge. When we are asked judge not by appearances, but by a just judgment, we are asked to move from appearance to reality. Although Prof Deutsch provides detailed and subtle examples of the various levels and sublevels of being, we are cutting to the basics for now because we are more interested in relating them to esoteric experiences in particular.


There are three types of existents which account for appearances.

  • Illusory existent. This comprises those contents of experience that can be subrated by all other types of experience. E.g., hallucinations, fantasies, daydreams, erroneous sense perceptions, false, inconsistent, incoherent, contradictory theories or concepts. They have no relationship to what is real.
  • Ordinary existent. This can be subrated by other existents or Reality.
  • Real existent. This can be subrated only by Reality.

The first focus must be the overcoming of illusion, since they absorb psychic energy while bringing us no closer to reality. We are buffeted by illusory inputs which challenge our opinions. But rather than subrating them, we protect ourselves with more complex theories or else hang on more tightly to established opinions. That is why esoteric work begins with the tedious process of breaking down our false self images through intense practice of self observation.

Ordinary existents are not as much false as they are incomplete. For example, we may engage in a relationship of convenience, thinking it is the real thing, yet it falls well short of a true spiritual friendship.

Or we may take things to be independent, failing to discern how they are part of a larger whole.

A real existent is the highest level of the experience of appearances since it cannot be contradicted by other experiences. We know a real existent by discursive thought, i.e., dualistically. This knowledge is subrated by non-dual knowledge.


While illusory existents are mere mental artifacts and have no reality at all, the other categories of appearances do participate in reality. Specifically, they are possibilities of manifestation as manifested. Because of privation, they may not be properly recognized. But to know them is to know the idea of them. Since reality cannot be contradicted, it is non-dual. That is, “knowing is being”. When I know the idea of a thing, I am that thing, at least in essence, since its idea is in my mind.

There are more and more comprehensive notions of the real, each higher level incorporating the lower into a larger whole, until Being itself is reached.


Prof Deutsch calls this “unreality”, although I prefer Rene Guenon’s usage for reasons that follow. Prof Deutsch includes in this category self-contradictory concepts, such as a “square circle”, which cannot be manifested. However, the category of nonbeing includes more than that. For example, Guenon mentions the Void and the Silence as other possibilities of non-manifestation. Another example is Chaos. These are pure privation with no actuality at all. Hence, we could include evil, death, and disease in this category. Being itself is part of nonbeing.


At every moment, we are being exposed to two types of influences:

  • Illusory influences, or “A” influences for short.
  • Real influences, or “B” influences.

Figure 20
Their action is illustrated in the diagram on the right, taken from Gnosis by Boris Mouravieff. The A influences come from every direction and their net, or vector sum, is zero. Although we may be temporarily in a region of similar A influences, overall, they subrate each other and lead nowhere.

The B influences (represented by the thicker arrows), on the other hand, are consistent and flow in the same direction. These are our encounters with the Real. Hence, the next step in esoteric training is to be vigilant in watching the thoughts that we entertain in our mind. We learn to discard the A influences, while allowing in the B influences.

Science of Being

Thought Bubble
In the same box, I found a yellowing copy of The Science of Being and the Art of Living, by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Published around the same time as the Deutsch book, it was my initial exposure to Vedantic teachings. Although he was non-traditional in important respects (which we can’t get into just now), he was nevertheless well versed in Vedantic doctrines. Since he did propose a path of self-development while being active in the world, he is of a certain interest. In particular, I want to point to a diagram that may help in the process of moving from ordinary to real existents, and then to reality itself.

The goal of vigilance is to improve the quality of thoughts. The Maharishi writes:

The art of thinking should mean that the manner of thinking is such that the least amount of mental energy is consumed … the thought should not only be powerful but it should be right as well. The art of thinking also means that no useless or wrong thought should occupy the mind.

In esoteric training, we learn to observe thoughts. Ordinarily, we become aware of a thought only when it has become fully formed. At that point, further thoughts arise and start linking with each other. At that point we tend to lose full consciousness and become “lost in thought”.

However, by remaining conscious, we may be able to discern the thought in its formation process. This is like bubbles arising; awareness will keep the thought from fully arising. By going into deeper levels of being, we may be able to move beyond the thought into nondual awareness.

6 thoughts on “Levels of Being

  1. “Nonbeing
    Prof Deutsch calls this “unreality”, although I prefer Rene Guenon’s usage for reasons that follow. Prof Deutsch includes in this category self-contradictory concepts, such as a “square circle”, which cannot be manifested. However, the category of nonbeing includes more than that. For example, Guenon mentions the Void and the Silence as other possibilities of non-manifestation. Another example is Chaos. These are pure privation with no actuality at all. Hence, we could include evil, death, and disease in this category. Being itself is part of nonbeing.”

    I have real experiences of non-beings and I’m happy to give comparison from my reality experience to the above.
    In the remade crime film called “The Sweeney” which was a poor and degenerate remake and managed to pack more f words into a script than i have heard for some time all mumbled in mostly out of context situations, i.e. almost every sentence has an f word, which declares more the state of the persona mouthing it, rather than the f word being used as a reaction to something annoying or whatever , an inversion somewhere took place where previously the swear word was a signal of a momentary peak of anger or annoyance, now that swearword has not the capacity to even express the level of unhinged violent volatility in its speaker , although to be fair , often it is used that way in a comical tone.
    In the uk, they used to call people “squares” if they did not partake in the alcohol or drug or excess sexual behaviours , and a little more, it sort of relayed that a square was a person completely formed by society and put into their little square box of functionality .
    One of the nutcase cops says to his partner , “He’s a f-ing square” talking about the husband of the woman he’s having sex with on the quiet, his cop partner says innocently “whats a f-ing square ? ” the cop then tells him “you couldn’t roll him down a hill ” …………… Now that is dark humour of a reasonable quality for some 🙂

    Now on non-being, for me its not so much on non-being but about non-beings, and I’ve been in the company of some down the years in past times
    A persona that has an i-consciousness , a sense of their i in relation to everything they think and do, that person has “being” in the sense that if you communicate with them, whether you like them or not , you know they have active being.
    Now take an example of an alcoholic or drug addict , when these type of people are deep into the addiction , they reach a stage where they simply don’t have any sense of active being , its as if the hidden energetic emanation of energy that determines the vitality of being to another being, has been switched off, and they sort of emanate a vacuous vampiric energy directly relating to the need for a fix which becomes the predominant modus operandi in their everything , so they still talk and walk, but they are in most cases non-beings, and if you communicate to them , there is actually a tangible sense of the unreality , in that it is as if the vacuous energy starts sucking at you in the vicinity , now that is a good example of the void . There is no sign at all of an active vital i-consciousness in these people , the i has been eclipsed and replaced with only a pure and incessant “need”

    But that is an extreme example , in lesser cases you can get people as referred to above as these “squares” of people that have …maybe not even through 100% fault of their own… and they usually have what could be termed as an imported i-consciousness , i.e. they are a sort of admix of people they have worked around , they think they know the correct society attitudes and feelings about everything , they just can’t see outside their little worldly box , and that can be very unreal to encounter as well as emanating their own type of non-being to someone like i….although i may do that to some too …….. its all down to the dynamics of relation

  2. could you develop in another article NON-Duality please ?

  3. Synchronistically, David, a post on that topic has been planned in regards to the Ray of Creation or Great Chain of Being. Your description from Eckhart sounds compatible with what Guenon writes in the Multiple States of Being.

  4. Greetings Colgero. A question regarding nonbeing. Could you develop more around it ? My understanding of it was mostly based on Eckhart works, and I was under the impression that for him Non-Being was at the center of creation, from which Being sprung forth and was unknowable.

    The diagram with the arrows is quite simple, yet very effective. I will have to meditate on that.

    Thank you.

  5. INVITATION TO THE BRUSSELS HARP FESTIVAL for MANDRAGORE-Mandrake ‘s (Harpist & Singer from Brittany) CONCERT :

    La 4ème édition du BRUSSELS HARP FESTIVAL se déroulera les 10-11-12 octobre prochains.
    Découvrez la harpe dans tous ses états dans l’un des plus beaux lieux de Bruxelles:
    la Bibliothèque Solvay.

    LIEU: La Bibliothèque Solvay – Bruxelles

    Samedi 11 Octobre 2014 : “Féerie Celtique” :

    MANDRAGORE – Harpe celtique

    Certaines fées ont des écailles, certaines sirènes ont des plumes : Mandragore oscille entre le soleil et la lune. Ses compositions personnelles ainsi que les chants du monde (collectés durant ses voyages) accompagnés de sa harpe celtique nous mèneront de rêves dorés en voyages nocturnes.




    LIEU: La Bibliothèque Solvay – Bruxelles

    Top Albums: C.-D.’s “VOYAGES” & “VIRAGE” ( images extraites des sites de
    http://www.myspace.com/mandragoreharpiste + http://mandragore.bandcamp.com ) :

    ” … Reste un nuage par-dessus le Monde (…)”

    Zbigniew Herbert , poëme “Le Voyage” .

    harpanova | 26 September 2014 at 4:46 pm | Categories: Les news du festival | URL: http://wp.me/p1ZDUD-87

    Brussels Harp Festival.


  6. Hello Cologero ,
    I usually read you with an accurate interest , never deceived by the way ;
    nevertheless , I am now very busy in BRUSSELS & LUXEMBOURG again ;
    thus I will not be able to take the necessary time before November or perhaps even December .
    By the way : do you CELEBRATE (the) SAMAIN (I say SAMAIN , not “Halloween” …) where you live ?

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