(Excerpt from Tantra – The Path of Ecstasy)
According to the Puranic-Tantric picture of the world, our earth is at the center of a vast multidimensional and multilayered universe, which is known as the ‘brahmanic egg’ (brahmanda). Tradition speaks of countless such universe islands floating in the infinite cosmic ocean. The observable material earth is merely the coarsest and least spectacular aspect of the universe. The universe reveals its true splendor only to trained meditative vision. As the puranas and tantras describe it, the earth is really part of a vast circular plane called bhu-mandala with a diameter of 500 million yojanas (4 billion miles). This curiously corresponds with the size of our solar system if we consider Pluto’s mean distance from the sun which is approximately 3.6 million miles.
The bhu mandala comprises seven concentric rings of land, or continents, which are separated from each other by equally concentric great oceans. The innermost island, or continent, is known as jambudvipa, which has a diameter of 100,000 yojanas (800,000 miles). It is named after the Jambu tree that grows on top of Mount Meru, or Sumeru, which is situated as the center of the continent and thus at the heart of the entire bhu-mandala. Mount Meru, the cosmic mountain made of solid gold, is said to be 84,000 yojanas (672,000 miles) high. It is sometimes described as a cone that widens with increasing height. The Vedic seers and the visionaries of other traditions and cultures speak of this as the tree of life. The Jambu island is subdivided into nine regions (varsha), eight of which are semiheavenly realms, while the ninth is the heartland of bharata-varsha. This term is generally applied to India, but originally may have referred to the entire earth. However, because scriptures like the Bhagavata-Purana give bharata varsha’s north-south axis as being 9,000 yojanas (72,000 miles), it is clear that the earth enviosioned by the ancient authorities was considerably bigger than the earth that is perceptible by the five senses.
Below the enormous higher dimensional earth plane are the seven successive planes of the underworld, each of which is inhabited by various kinds of beings. Starting at the bottom, they are respectively known as patala, rasatala, mahatala, talatala, sutala, vitala and atala. Sometimes various hells (naraka) are said to be situated between the earth plane and patala.
Above the earth plane (also called bhur loka) are the six higher planes or realm, each of which has its own species of beings – demigods and deities corresponding to the the hierarchies of angels recognized in the Middle Eastern religions. In ascending order these celestial relams are bhuvar loka, svarga loka, mahar loka, jana loka, tapo loka and satya loka. The highest plane, inhabited by the Creator (be he called Brahma, Vishnu, or Shiva), is the only aspect of the brahmic egg that survives the periodic collapse (pralaya) of all the other planes for the satya loka serves as the seed for the next cosmic evolution. But even the Creator does not enjoy true immortality and forfeits his life after 42,200 kalpas, corresponding to 120 brahmic years. Since one kalpa (or brahmic daytime) is 4,32,000,000 human years long, Brahma’s lifespan translates into a staggering 453,248,000,000,000 human years. The present Brahma is said to be in his fifty-first year. His eventual death will coincide with the total destruction of he brahmic egg itself. This is the moment when our present universe will blink out of existence completely. For this reason, the spritual traditions of India al consider the attainment of satya loka as ultimately unattractive. In fact, all Indic teachings praise human life with its intensity of experience as a unique platform for escaping the cycle of birth, life, and death, which is found desirable even by the deities themselves.