On the subject of lokas, there is a considerable mis-emphasis in interpretation of someone else’s subjective experience. Often, it turns into a debate on who is “right” when it’s just different perspectives from an evolving experience of reality. The layers or worlds can indeed be experienced like separate spaces. A better understanding is more like floors of a building. And even better, as existing concurrently in the same space, at different resolutions, much like an aura.
For example, you see Bhuvar described as being between the earth and sun and Svar loka to be between the sun and pole (north) star. But this implies some heaven floating around in material space. This is like the child’s understanding of God as sitting on a throne in the sky. What we’re really speaking about is the size of the planets aura. How far out that level of expression goes.
But that’s also a kind of generalized measure that has little meaning because the layers are not really relative to a physical planet. They inter-penetrate and dissolve into one common field by the time you get to the “heavens”.
Each deeper layer is larger and more diffuse. They inter-penetrate like the colours in a rainbow. As such there are other ways we might model the layers, but corresponding to other more distinct things like chakras makes the 7 tiers a better working model.
Another winner is equating Tapas with austerity. Thus the 2nd highest heaven is the abode of austerity? Oooh – full of fasting monks. Only it’s not. Tapas means heating or warming. It is the shifting of inertia to purity by way of heat (tamas to sattva via rajas). Austerity is just one way to do that. A better understanding of Tapaloka would thus be the nearly purified, almost ready for Satya.
All 7 lokas are said to exist within Hiranya Garbha or the golden egg/seed of the universe. There are somewhat odd graphics, even showing up on Wikipedia, illustrating the lokas as points in the air above the golden ocean, sometimes intermixed with planets. Again, that’s compartmentalizing them into separate physical spaces, rather than recognizing them as inter-penetrating layers of this universe. And the ocean is not inside the egg but rather inside the bubble of awareness that contains the egg. The ocean is the medium of vibration that begins the creation of the world we experience. The egg is the impetus of the vibration.
It’s also worth again noting that lokas are within this universe. They do not include the layers of creation of which this universe is one. This relates to the cosmic body, experiencing all of creation as contained within your body. (ie: I am the Cosmic Body)
Another notable detail about the lokas is that they’re where you “go” when you die. This depends on spiritual progress. The greater the progress, the higher the world, the nicer the real estate. Or more accurately, the fewer the levels you have identification with (body, emotions, mind), the deeper you settle. If you have unresolved feelings and desires, you have attachments on those levels that bring you back to them. When they are resolved, you’re done with them when the karma of this life completes.
Of course, in practice it’s much more complex than this. Many higher beings spend time in lower worlds to help, for example. Many cycle back into another lifetime or have a timeout to balance things out.
In the larger cycles of time, all beings rise above the lower worlds and those lokas dissolve for a time. When all are liberated, the upper worlds dissolve as well, and the universe has a “night”.
In the end, the key take-away is that the worlds are not somewhere else out there but rather are all within us. Heaven is right here, right now. The doorway to heaven is in your heart. 😉