Stages of Consciousness in Hinduism
Since consciousness is the basis of all reality, any shift in consciousness changes every aspect of our reality. Reality is created by consciousness differentiating into cognition, moods, emotions, perceptions, behaviour, speech, social interactions, environment, interaction with the forces of nature, and biology. As consciousness evolves, these different aspects of consciousness also change.
Although every spiritual tradition speaks of higher states of consciousness it is especially in Vedanta that we find such a structured map of these stages of development. The average person only experiences three states of consciousness in an entire lifetime. These are deep sleep, dreams, and waking state of consciousness. The brain functions measurably different in each of these states. Brain biology and brain waves show precise and different characteristics between sleep, dream, and waking states of consciousness.
1) Deep sleep: Deep sleep you also have a certain reality. If I scream at you, you will react. You have a degree of awareness, if your child is crying and you are the mother you will immediately respond. Spirit is in state of surveillance even in deep sleep and spirit creates a physiology for that moment.
2) Dreams: Repertoire of experience. Stories are being weaved by the Karmic software and when we are dreaming it is very real. No one can convince us that is was not real. It is only when we wake up we realize that it is not real and it was only a dream. The insight that is not a dream happens only when we wake up from the dream.
3) Vedanta says when you wake up from that dream you enter another dream that is what is called the waking state of consciousness. Presumably you are in that right now. You are in the waking state of consciousness you are participating in it without knowing that it is ephemeral or transitory. That is why you get caught up in the melodrama and the hysteria and the anxiety of the dream . You will remain in it until you wake up from it and get insight that aha! it was an amazing state.
Spiritual practice or sadhana begins the process by which an individual transforms his or her consciousness from these three common states of consciousness into “ higher states” of consciousness.
You wake up from the “waking state” and when you have the first glimpse of the soul. Walt Whitman said I must not be awake as everything looks to me as it never did before. Else I am awake now and all that occurred before was just a dream. Gautam Buddha said “the lifestyle of ours is as transient as the autumn clouds. To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movement of a dance a lifetime is like the flash of lightning in the sky rushing by like a torrent from the steep mountain. Now I am awake (meaning of the word Buddha), waking up from the insubstantial reality and glimpsing into the soul. You can glimpse into the soul. Example turn your attention to who is listening, there is a presence there and it is not your mind. The ever present witnessing awareness is the soul. As you peel the layers even in dreams and even in wakefulness, you see a body out there you can witness it. You can witness it now without experiencing death.
Through of any of the four primary yoga practices (the yogas of being, feeling, thinking, doing) the mind is led past its conditioned states to its pure unconditioned state. Beyond the first 3 states of consciousness are the following four states: Soul consciousness, Cosmic consciousness, Divine consciousness and Unity consciousness. As each state of consciousness unfolds within us, it opens us into a newer more expanded reality. Let’s discuss each of these in turn:
1) Soul consciousness is the state we experience when our internal reference point shifts from body, mind, and ego, to the observer of body, mind, and ego. We experience and cultivate Soul consciousness when we meditate. This observer is referred to as the witnessing awareness. During meditation, a person begins to identify with this aspect of the Self which is beyond thinking and feeling, (the silent witness), and then he or she begins to feel more calm, centered and intuitive in daily life. As the authentic core of oneself solidifies, there is less emotional drama in their lives. Relationships are more loving and compassionate and one finds a deeper more caring relationship with the environment and nature. With the experience of the silent witness, the biology will also reflect greater balance and the activation of homeostatic mechanisms. Meditation has been shown to lead to the reduction of stress markers, slower heart rate, lower blood pressure, enhanced immune function, and orderly and precise self-repair mechanisms. Those who practice meditation are less prone to sickness.
2) Cosmic consciousness is the state when soul consciousness gets stabilized and the witnessing awareness is present all the time in waking, dreaming, and sleeping states. This state of consciousness is sometimes described in traditions as being both local and non-local simultaneously. The silent witness Self is unbounded, but the body and the conditioned mind is localized. In the Christian tradition the phrase “to be in the world and not of it,” describes this flavor of Cosmic consciousness. In this state, even during deep sleep, the witnessing awareness is fully awake and there is the realization that one is not the mind/body, which is in the field of change, but rather an eternal spirit that transcends space and time. The most remarkable aspect of this state of consciousness is the knowledge of one’s nature as timeless and therefore no fear of death. Although Cosmic consciousness is not the pinnacle of enlightenment, nevertheless it marks the critical transition from an identity bound to a conditioned life, to a life of freedom in self-knowledge.
3) Divine consciousness is the expansion of cosmic consciousness where the ever-present witnessing awareness is experienced not only in the silence of the Self, but also in the most abstract qualities of nature and the mind. Dormant potentials such as the awakening of the nonlocal senses (referred to in Sanskrit as tanmatras) begin to be experienced. As the individual mind starts to access these unused realms of the psyche, they will activate extraordinary spiritual abilities previously thought to be unattainable. These include experiences such as knowledge of past and future, clairvoyance, refined sense of taste, smell, sight, touch and hearing, control over bodily functions, heart rate, and autonomic functions. In other words, objects are experienced simultaneously on a gross sensory level and subtle more abstract level. Appreciation of life from this more refined perspective represents the real engagement of the heart and love as the engine of spiritual growth at this stage. By experiencing the patterns and deeper connections that underlie external diversity, we find our soul is stirred by a profound sense of beauty, awe, compassion, gratitude and love. The integrating power of these qualities brings together the polarized world of Cosmic consciousness which is divided between the Self and non-Self. In Divine Consciousness this harmonizing and synthesizing power is felt as the presence of Divinity in our heart. Wherever one goes one feels the presence of the Divine. The Vedic seers would say in Divine consciousness, God is not difficult to find, but impossible to avoid. At this stage, there is an even greater conviction of the immortality of existence, not only as nonlocal consciousness, but also in the knowledge that you are that enduring presence of divine love. Divine consciousness also brings a deeper experience of liberation, as the external sensory world is no longer seen as a kind of spiritual exile which the soul must endure, but rather the world is a manifestation of the beauty, and love of one’s consciousness and therefore integral to one’s spirituality.
4) Unity consciousness is also referred to as Brahman consciousness. It is a state of consciousness where the ever-present witness is not just recognized as the core Self of one’s existence, it is now perceived as the primary reality of every experience. You, as the observer, are that pure consciousness. The process of observation is also that consciousness. And the object of observation is that same pure consciousness. The culmination of enlightenment is the knowledge that consciousness alone exists, that is all there is , was, or ever will be. That oneness, or unity, dominates awareness even as one engages in the same mundane details of life as before. One ceases to identify with an individual body-mind apparatus and sees the whole universe as one’s physical body. Of course, there is a personal body and there is a material universe, experienced through the senses, but they are now cognized to be incorporated in that one single reality of consciousness.
Dormant potentials previously mentioned are now fully operative. There is the ability to heal and transform others and everything is experienced as miraculous. A flower is seen as a flower but is also experienced as rainbows and sunshine and earth and water and wind and air and the infinite void and the whole history of the universe swirling and transiently manifesting as the flower. In other worlds every object is seen as the total universe transiently manifesting as a particular object. And behind the scenes one can feel the presence of the same ever-present witnessing awareness that is now in both subject and object. Unity consciousness is the ultimate level of freedom from fear. It is characterized by an abiding sense of joy and peace. There is no “other” outside of oneself to be afraid of, and the constant dance of unity masquerading as diversity is seen as the blissful nature of life itself. All of creation is seen as the play of consciousness or leela.
This state of enlightenment is sometimes compared to the drop of water that is experiencing itself as the ocean, knowing that it was the ocean the whole time. You and God are now one because there is no you left any more. Sometimes when people try to conceptualize this by projecting their current sense of self into Unity consciousness they are afraid that in losing their old identity they will lose their existence, memories and individual perspective. But the enlightened person doesn’t’ see it that way. They understand that personal identity was an illusion to begin with. They realize that nothing real or valuable is ever lost on the path to enlightenment. They are experiencing their original identity but only now recognizing it in its completeness and its full glory. This state is of course described in the Vedantic tradition but is beautifully captured in the following verses from T.S. Elliot:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
This brief outline of higher states of consciousness is only intended to give a general sense of the unfolding of human potential. It is important to emphasize that spiritual development is not fundamentally an intellectual or a faith-driven enterprise. Enlightenment is not attained by reading and studying, nor by fervent belief in something outside yourself. The development of higher states of consciousness primarily comes down to regularly and systematically experiencing deeper values of the Self and then integrating that into one’s daily life. The specific experiences an individual has on this journey, will necessarily vary, based on the spiritual tradition and practice one follows, but also based upon your own personal history and tendencies.
Reference: Deepak Chopra’s texts
Originally published at http://philosopher-food4thought.blogspot.com.