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The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth by Douglas Harding

Douglas Harding cover

New cover

We love the work of Mr. Harding here at NDA, so we were delighted to learn that “The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth” was published as an “e-book/.pdf.” Apparently when Douglas Harding completed the [large] book, he didn’t think it would be published in that [huge] format, so he then wrote a condensed version. This is the version that was first published in 1952, and which C. S. Lewis read and wrote the preface for.

It would be nearly impossible to sum up his work in this intro, yet we wanted to share something about this work.

We thought this passage from the original preface would be suitable to share as it relates specifically to self-inquiry:

“What is man? This is the riddle which everyone, while accepting all the outside help he can get and use, must solve after his own fashion. My solution (if it can be called that) will not in its entirety do for anybody else, and it is offered here more as an incentive than as a guide. In any case I have no complete, self-consistent, well-rounded system, but only the sketch-plan of a philosophy. The nature of man is a baffling and inexhaustible topic, about which I do not wish to dogmatize. While I can say with Thoreau, “I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well”, I have to admit that I am increasingly a stranger to myself. Of the two kinds of men — those who refuse to take the advice” know thyself”, and those who imagine they have done sothe second is perhaps the less wise. Knowledge that is not counterbalanced with knowledge of ignorance is mere dead weight.”

…and [from the conclusion of the preface]:

“Finally, let me emphasize the fact that I carry no stock of patent medicines or labour-saving devices. I can offer no easy way out or in, no short cut to bliss, no philosophy without tears, no brand-new gospel. All I can promise are some ancient teachings in modern dressteachings that are difficult only because they are simple, and must be lived to be understoodtogether with some old recipes for hope and confidence. The merely new-fangled is as useless as the merely traditional. We must go forward to new ideas and back to old ones; we must get down to the facts of science and wake up to those of religion.”


Quotations from The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth

  • How is it that our distance is the making of us, and our nearness our undoing? How comes it that the near view of a colourless, scentless, silent, and altogether poverty-stricken collocation of particles turns out to be a man and a man’s world, with its unspeakable wealth of experience? How does a universe without a whisper, without the palest tint, without a twinge of feeling, become this rich and terrifying place? How does the physicist’s desire to study atoms emerge from them? Latimer was cells, and cells are primitive animals indifferent to moral considerations, yet Latimer’s hand did not withdraw from the flame. Why? From what in electrons and protons does this rather contemptuous reference to them spring?


  • To live is to be the resurrection and the life of others.


  • So thoroughly have we insulated the human from the cosmic that when at last they are brought together the effect may well prove overwhelming, as the pent-up energy is discharged in a flash of illumination revealing undreamed-of beauty.


  • Nevertheless our freedom does not consist in denying all that determines us, and asserting our own self-will. On the contrary, its true ground is our willingness to accept every necessity, so that it ceases to be merely external. We are free in so far as we join our will to God’s. For He alone is by nature free, because subject to no outside influence; yet He lets us share this freedom by uniting ourselves to Him. We have the choice of His freedom or our bondage.


  • The Whole lacks nothing. But even the Godhead needs a photosphere to shine, feathers to fly, legs to walk our earth, fins to swim. Every setting-board is a Calvary, every collector’s pin a crucifier’s nail. Every dust-grain, every electron and proton, every point-instant, is Bethlehem; every nest the manger-cradle; every womb Mary’s.


  • If the mystic’s progress is hierarchical, and his goal is in any sense a sharing in the divine, then we may look to his account of that goal for light upon the divine nature. And his report is that his outward journey through zones of light and darkness ends, not in the longed-for beatific vision, but in the darkest night of the soul. His quest has failed. He is thrust back to the very beginning. Instead of the enjoyment of God, a virtual atheism; instead of the Whole, the Centre. And this state of utter emptiness is the condition of the final phase of union, when, having ceased to be interested in his own spiritual welfare, he is content to be nothing for the sake of the divine object. Now he returns to serve self-forgetfully all creatures, and to demonstrate to us that the divine is not other than this commonplace world seen in its full hierarchical setting.


  • Here I carry this caput mortuum, this undying death’s head, this empty head which is the fountain-head of all heads, this infinitely old head on young shoulders, this head so high and so primitive that it has never fallen from paradise. Fixed at the mid-point of an endlessly elastic dome, I am the still and invisible Eye which takes in all the dome’s restless and many-colored linings from the firmament down to my eyelid. I am this infinitesimal spot on the cosmic map, with nevertheless the map in my hand; for ever caught in this traffic bottleneck, which nevertheless finds room for the bottle. My world-wide wheels can neither exist nor turn without this unmoving hub; my world-wide body has no organ half so vital as this subvital and indeed sub-physical heart of hearts. Here are key and keyhole and door in one – the central emptiness which is the key of the Kingdom, the keyhole which leads to Wonderland, the needle’s eye which is the gate of Heaven. Through this Point of entry I am in all the world and all the world is in me. And if, having entered, I am capable of many things, it is because capability means room; if I am a thinking reed it is because, reed-like, I am coreless. Cogito ergo NON sum. And common sense, for ever trying to salvage some miserable chattel for me, only breaks the conditions of that universal policy of insurance whereby unlimited compensation is given to those who lose all.



Original cover


Thoughts on The Book

richardlang“I will speak from my heart about this book. This book is the book I would take with me to a desert island if I were allowed only one

It is, so to speak, a modern Bible of who we really are. Most people don’t read the whole of the Bible (or the Koran, or On The Origin of Species, I suppose…) but are nevertheless profoundly influenced by such books. I believe The Hierarchy is of the same order. And (like Darwin’s masterpiece) it is a book that is independent of local culture or religion. It is a book for the modern planet.

Douglas Harding spent at least eight years writing this book (in the 1940s)more or less fourteen hours a day, seven days a week. He saw who he really was and then thought, felt and wrote deeply, consistently, passionately, about what he had foundhow it made sense and what it meant for the world.

C.S. Lewis called The Hierarchy “a work of the highest genius.” I fully agree. Lewis declared that it left him “roaring drunk.” I’ve read both the condensed version and this huge original version (many times) and I am like Lewis. I am drunk with its genius.

I believe the publication of this book in digital form is the equivalent of the moment when the Bible was made available to a wide audience with the invention of the printing press. Now anyone with £20 to spend can dip into, and perhaps even read the whole of!, this phenomenal book. Douglas took years to produce this one book (plus one copy). He finished it in 1950. In 1998 the Shollond Trust (with Crowquill) produced 300 copies. Thanks to the generous work of many volunteers, lovingly managed by my friend Navi Blight (supported by her husband Sam) the Shollond Trust can offer this book to as many people as click the button on our website. Thank you friends, thank you Navi and Sam, thank you Douglas. It is a great achievement.

Douglas once said that although the universe is often a tragic and terrible place, even so, a universe that produces the music of Mozart is a wonderful universe, a beautiful universe. I say, a universe that produces The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth is, in spite of all the terror and tragedy in the world, a wonderful, beautiful universe.”

~Richard Lang

(Richard is Co-ordinator of the Shollond Trust, the UK charity set up in 1996 to help share the Headless Way in the world. He first saw who he really was when he attended a workshop with Douglas Harding in 1970. He is committed to making this Vision as widely available as possible).


Douglas E. Harding (1909 – 2007)