A method of self-enquiry
pioneered by Douglas Harding

The Hierarchy


Personal Indentity
Cellular Indentity
Molecular Identity
Atomic Identity
Sub-atomic Identity
The Centre
Human Identity
Vital Identity
Planetary Identity
Solar Identity
Galactic Identity
The Whole
Preface by C.S. Lewis
The Youniverse Explorer

The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth

A View by Richard Lang


The ideas in these website Hierarchy pages are drawn mainly from the book The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth by Douglas Harding (plus some ideas from elsewhere in Harding's work). This work of philosophy is a contemporary view of our place in the cosmos. It brings back into the picture of who we are the implications of the presence and range of the observer. It is a deep book. (Any errors in terms of the understanding and presentation of the ideas of this book in these pages are all credited to Richard Lang! For the way Harding himself presents these ideas, read his books…)

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Below is an introduction to this subject. Either begin here or go directly to the different levels, starting with "Personal Identity".  (See menu to the left)


At Centre

For myself at centre I am headless. I am pure capacity, an empty receptacle. (To test this for yourself, do the experiments.)

For Others (The View In)

What an observer makes of me depends on how far away she is.

An observer stationed several feet from my central no-thingness registers my human body. Moving closer she observes my body resolving into cells, molecules, atoms, particles… Moving away she finds my body absorbed into the rest of society, the rest of life, the planet, the solar system, the galaxy… I who am no-thing at centre am for my approaching and retreating observer spread out through space and multi-layered, like an onion.

For Myself (The View Out)

My own view out is of similar layers surrounding an empty centre. Looking out from my central no-thingness, first I see my (headless) human body; then further away I see other people and animals; even further away I see clouds, planets, stars and galaxies.

Trading Faces

When I meet a friend I see her face here in my no-face, in my empty centre, and she sees my face there in her empty centre - we trade faces. I am stationed here in her human region where she manifests as a human being (being no-thing for herself at centre), and she is stationed there in my human region where I manifest as a human being (being no-thing for myself at centre).

If my observer were stationed at a much greater distance, then I would see her planetary face, say Venus, manifesting here in my centre, and she would see my planetary face – Earth - over there in her centre. Each of us would now be stationed in each other’s planetary region.

The distance between myself and my observer determines the level or status of our appearance for each other. If my observer were to travel further away she would eventually see my galactic face, the Milky Way, and I would see her galactic face – say Andromeda.

If on the other hand she were to approach to a fraction of an inch we would be cells for each other. Even closer and we would practically lose each other. To make something of each other, we must keep our distance.

Reflection And Self-Consciousness

Not only do I see my friend’s face here in my empty centre but I tell her about it – both what it looks like and where it is. I reflect it back to her. Accepting what I say, my friend then sees (imagines) herself as I see her, taking on board that her face is where she is, even though she does not see it there. In this way she becomes self-conscious. In the same way my friend not only tells me about my face but also where it is. She reflects my face back to me. I then see (imagine) myself as she sees me, taking on board that my face is here - even though I don’t see it here, and even though my friend would, if she approached me, find my face replaced by many other things (cells, molecules and so on) and finally by nothing at all. If she were then able to turn round and look out of my nothingness with me, she would find me to be an empty receptacle for what I call her face. Each of us contains the other and no one is simply here or there.

Self And Society

I become human by being capacity for human society and then taking on board how that society sees me. I can only know I am a person in the company of other people, for it is only through them that I become aware of my personhood. My life is the life that others live in me (since I am capacity for them) and that I live in others (since they are capacity for me). Others then reflect back how they see me - taking on their view I become self-conscious. Self and society are inseparable and co-dependent.

This is true at every level. For example, beyond my human region I am capacity for other species. For the robin in my garden I am not a robin, nor an individual person (John or Mary, say) but a human being. Though it doesn’t have the language to describe me so, I see myself in this way through its eyes. I live in other species as a human being just as they live in me as whatever they are. Thus I rise from the status of a person to that of a species when I enter the society of species and become self-conscious. At this level I am responsible for all that is human, for the whole body-mind of humanity is now mine. (Through the eyes of the robin I am indistinguishable from all other humans.) When I look further I become capacity for other planets and, learning what I am from their point of view, a planet, am raised to membership of planetary society - I become a self-conscious planet. At each level I join a society and, taking on board my identity there, participate in life at that level. My mind (or rather my body-mind) is therefore not simply human but also vital, planetary, solar, galactic... and cellular, molecular, atomic… My body-mind expands and contracts depending on the company I keep. This is possible because at centre I am no-thing – infinitely flexible.

Mind And Body

My view out is my mind. The views that others have of me is my body. My mind and body correspond. When I look into the human region of my view out, of my mind, the observers there - other people - see my human body. At this range my mind (view out) and body (view in) are human. When I look further, into the solar region of my view out, the observers there - other stars - see my solar body. At this range my mind and body are solar. At every level my mind and body are of equal status. And at no distance where there is nothing to see, I have neither mind nor body.

I can never experience my body directly - only others can see my body. Nor can I directly experience another's mind but only their body. However, if I place myself in another's shoes, so to speak, I imagine the world from their point of view and so come to understand their mind. Their view out, their mind, includes their view of me - of my body. Putting myself in another's shoes is possible because at centre we are identical - we are both no-thing. Though the contents are different, the Container is the same. It is when I place myself there at another's centre and then look back at 'myself' that I come to know my body and so become self-conscious.

However, conventionally I divide the contents of my mind, my view out, into 'mind' and 'body'. Thus I say that my thoughts and feelings are my mind but my hand is my body. This is a useful convention that facilitates communication with others - a convention that is learned as we grow up. I am distinguishing between the psychological and physical sides of myself. (As a baby I made no such distinctions between 'mind' and 'body'.) But from my own point of view my hand and my thoughts  - and everything - are all in my 'mind', in my view out. (I also divide the content of my view out into 'me' and 'not me'. However, the boundary between the 'me' and the 'not me' is always shifting. In one moment I may draw the line around my body, in another around my family, my car, my city, my football club, my nation, my planet, my star... In one moment you may be included in the 'us' part of 'us and them', in the next you may become part of 'them'!)

Three Stages Of Consciousness

There are three main stages in the evolution of consciousness: unself-conscious, self-conscious, and self/Self-conscious. (Or, the view out; the view in; the view out/view in.)
1. The view out. At the human level I am born unaware of my appearance. Headless, I am capacity for my world – without knowing any other way of being. I am aware of my view out into the world but unaware (in any developed sense) of the views in that others have of me. I am at large. I am the world.
2. The view in. As an adult I see myself as others see me, identifying with my appearance – the view in. Unaware of being headless, of being capacity for others, I dismiss the idea of headlessness as stupid or mad. Overlooking or denying my central timeless immensity that includes all things, I see myself as a separate mortal thing. Self-conscious, I am one person amongst billions.
3. The view out/view in. As a seer I am aware of both the view in and the view out. Continuing to take on board what I am for others (a person at the human level) I also take seriously my own view, that I am capacity for others, capacity for the world.

These three stages apply at other levels too.


At the level of the human species I was originally unaware of the view in – the view of myself as a species distinct from other species. Identifying with my view out I embraced the animals and plants – I was not separate from them, from Mother Nature. Evolving into the second stage I came to see myself from a distance, through the eyes of the other species. I realized I was different from them - I was not an animal, not a part of the forest, not one with Life. With this development came human culture, including language, religion, art, science...  Currently most of us see ourselves in this human way - we are separate from the rest of life. Stage three began appearing several thousand years ago with the emergence of mystics here and there who realized they were not at centre what they looked like to others – meaning they saw who they really were. (Of course each seer has described their experience in different ways depending on their religion, their culture, on when and where they lived.) It may be these seers are forerunners of a transformation in human consciousness as a whole. If this is so, then in the (hopefully near) future it will become generally accepted (because experienced) that consciousness is indivisible - that one's true identity is the One that includes all. The human species successfully made the evolutionary leap from stage one to stage two (unlike other species), so there is reason to hope it will make the equally important evolutionary leap to stage three. Leaping back to the centre (without denying our humanity) we re-discover our unity with the rest of life. The survival of the species may depend on our coming to our senses in this way.

The Earth

At the planetary level the broad outlines of the story are the same. In the first stage (view out) we did not separate ourselves from the living Earth - from our Mother. Consequently we respected her great living body. In the second stage (view in) we have come to distinguish ourselves from the planet - we see ourselves (and the rest of life) from the viewpoint of the mountains, the sea, the air, and we realize how different we are from this inorganic environment. And we say: "We are alive and the Earth is just a dead rock spinning round the sun." This attitude means we study the Earth in a way that was impossible before, when we saw her as alive and sacred, so we have now come to know her as never before. But the view that she is separate from us and dead engenders a lack of respect towards her which has led us to pollute her body. We close our eyes and think we can do what we like with no consequences for ourselves. In the third stage we 'remember' - we see - there is no boundary between inside and outside. Being no-thing at centre, I do not stop at the boundary of this body but go on to include not only other people and other species but the planet too. In other words I see I am the Earth, that my life and her life are one life. The life on Earth is the life of Earth. The living Mother is back. (In fact she never really died - we believed her senseless and dead but she was only pretending, only sleeping.) Hopefully our recognition of our oneness with the Earth and of her aliveness will mean that our attitude and behaviour towards the Earth changes.


Not only is my view out layered spatially from humans in the middle region out to stars and galaxies in the furthest regions, and in to atoms and particles in the nearest regions, it is also layered temporally. Close objects have taken only a fraction of a second to arrive here in me whereas the sun, for example, has taken about eight minutes, and a star may have taken a thousand years. The further I look, the further I look into the past. I am encircled by increasingly ancient time zones.

In the same way as others are in time for me, I am in time for others. Self-conscious, I am dated. And the higher the rank of the object I identify with (reflected back to me by others of the same rank) the older I am so that as a person I may reckon my age in tens of years, as a species in millions, and as a star in billions. And the longer my past, the longer my future – as a person I may have a few dozen years left, but as a galaxy I have many billions.

At my centre everything is different. At the heart of my time-bound, layered universe I am timeless. Here, and here alone I am not then but now. Here as No-thing I take no time to manifest, to reveal myself. Here I am wholly present, all at once. And here, not being in time, I have no past to explain, no future to prepare for. Regret and worry disslove here at centre.

And yet… I look from the timeless into time. Stripped of time here I am clothed in time there. There is no separation. In my unborn and deathless being are the lives of all beings and they are all mine. A perfect arrangement.

A Unitary Science

Each layer of my body has its science. The human sciences study my middle layers; biology, chemistry and physics my nearer layers; zoology, geography and astronomy my more distant layers. (Metaphysics belongs to the centre and the Whole, to my No-thingness and my Allness.) At each level the scientist restricts herself to that zone. It is only the travelling scientist, approaching and retreating from me, who unites all these separate disciplines into one many-levelled whole. This is the unitary science of all my levels, a portrait that not only reveals my indivisible wholeness but sheds new light both on each of my levels and on the relationships between them. It is a contemporary vision of my - of our - place in the universe. Or rather, of the universe's place within 'us' - within this One Awareness.

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