My current perspective is that there are three primary stages or shifts in our relationship with consciousness. I mentioned them prior. Each has various ways of being experienced subjectively. Each has it’s own sub-stages but what we notice and how we experience them varies widely.
I started with the 7 states model but have since moved on. Partly because it combines states (waking, dream, etc) with stages (CC, Unity, etc) and partly because it is incomplete. My working model now is derived from the Yog Vasishta. 3 stages and the refined versions of each – the development of Atman/consciousness and of sattva.
Transcendental Consciousness is equivalent to pure consciousness, samadhi, presence, pure being, and so forth. At first, it is experienced during practice or in unexpected moments as a state and is thus described as the fourth state of consciousness. Turiya in Sanskrit, meaning literally the 4th.
Over time, our experience of Turiya or TC gets longer and clearer. We’ll have periods where the breath stops, the mind stops and we just are. Patanjali describes 7 forms of samadhi in the Yoga Sutra which can be looked at as stages.
Depending on prior life development, at some point, Turiya shifts from being a passing state into an ongoing presence. Rather than being a state, it becomes a constant background or foundation. Consciousness is ever present, even in deep sleep.
This happens in one of 2 ways. Either as the witness or observer alone or in a full waking where Self becomes a witness to itself witnessing. ie: wakes up to itself here. (Self is aware both globally and at every point within itself, but this does not become clear until later)
I’m sure others could come up with more but the major sub-stages prior to waking would be:
– tastes, aka samadhi or TC described above.
– shifting into a detached observer or witness for periods of time
– makara, when the kundalini reaches a point just above the third eye and becomes stable. The witness is then ongoing.
– the third eye itself coming online aka cosmic vision
– actual awakening.
Many go through several of these together. For example, witnessing deep sleep is seen by some as the key marker for Cosmic Consciousness. But as described above, a few witness prior for some time. They go through each step distinctly.
Prior to these, there may or may not be a noticeable kundalii awakening, chakras opening and so forth. For many, they just feel a release and greater flow happens. And until makara, kundalini goes up and down so there is nothing very linear going on. Lots of other channels to clear too.
No worries if you’ve not noticed most of these and thus think no progress is being made. Many notice little distinct until it all comes online with waking. But I will say that culturing TC/samadhi is one of the best things you can do for progress. So you want an effortless practice that goes beyond the mind.
And always remember the map is not the road. No concepts will ever meet the reality. I’ve seen a number of people laugh after they wake up, realizing their concepts of it had nothing to do with the reality of it. They are ALWAYS wrong. The map is never the road. But a map is still useful.
One model you may find useful. It’s described various ways but basically any experience has a subject, an object, and a process of experience.
Prior to awakening, the subject is lost or identified with the objects of experience and does not know itself. Consciousness does not recognize itself here. It also doesn’t recognize the process.
In Self Realization or Cosmic Consciousness, the subject wakes up to its own nature as consciousness and detaches from objects. We become a witness to objects.
After some time in that state, through refined perception, we begin to become aware of the process of experience and then the flow of consciousness.
With the Unity shift, we recognize the Self within also underlies all objects. We wake up to the Self/ Consciousness in the world and the division between subject and object end. This leaves only the process of experience. This is the devata value in Vedic terms, otherwise known as the celestial beings who perform all action and perception. (pretty foreign to the average person)
At this point, we recognize all objects arise in self-aware consciousness. They are in and of consciousness. We are the container, Atman, for all to arise in. Thee is no subjective/objective division. There is no such distinction. That ended prior.
The question I would ask – what is real for you now? Adopting a concept of a “better reality” or “higher truth” is just a concept. In many cases, people adopt such ideas as an avoidance for what is real for them now. But if you want to wake up from this, you want to culture acceptance, not avoidance. Avoidance is one of the things that cultures ignorance and keeps us bound.
Quantum fluctuations are what can be described as universal mind or the inner surface of lively self-aware consciousness. Physics is mapping the mechanics of mind. This can be experienced directly. The golden ocean within and all that.
I would suggest its better to understand the “conventional smaller “self”” as real, but not real in and of itself. It’s real like your little finger is real, an aspect of this expression. Any very awake sage or saint you might meet still has a personality and preferences. What ends with awakening is our identification with that and all the stories about a me and what “I do”.
On World as Illusion. It’s useful to recognize this is an effect of the dominant guna, not awakening. It’s common for someone shifting to have this experience but it’s a parallel process, not part of the awakening itself.
As Shankara observed, when tamas is dominant, the world is seen as real and subjectivity an illusion. When Rajas becomes dominant, the world is seen as an illusion. And when sattva becomes dominant, it shifts to Lila, the divine play.
‘Nothing ever happened’ has to be put in context. It could be in the context of world is an illusion so nothing ever really happened. Or it could be in the context of Brahman where there is no illusion either. This is one value of the map – context.
There is a stage between Self Realization and Unity that has been less prominent in the west, probably due to our strong minds and lower sattva. In the 7 states model mentioned above, it’s called God Consciousness. It is the refinement of perception and awakening heart that leads to the perception of the mechanics of creation and role of the divine, however we come to it. (personal or impersonal) Some teachers actually deny this stage exists but it certainly does.
What will unfold [with Unity] if you’re open to it is a three stage process. Again, they may come together or happen in sequence. The first is what Adyashanti called the BBQ in the excellent DVD Journey after Awakening. This is when the core identity I mentioned prior, the most fundamental of the identified me, becomes conscious and is resolved. This can be quick or take a little time.
Then the division between inside and outside dissolves and the sense we are the container of the world grows. Then the entire prior reality falls away and Unity dawns. Thereafter its a whole series of experience and become – what we experience we recognize as being. There are many minor and major layers of this. Maharishi described 10 stages of Unity.
Consciousness is not the ultimate reality. At one point, it certainly seemed that way to me. But it has an origin. And because of the way it works, consciousness can ironically experience it’s own origins. But describing that is the ultimate in abstraction.
Direct experience can be misleading when it’s using the mind. But the direct experiences of pure consciousness, only later processed by the mind to give it words, do not have that flawed filter. There is for example, what is called the resolute intellect. When the intellect becomes founded in consciousness, it doesn’t waffle like the mind. But more deeply, consciousness knowing itself is a form of cognition. Its kind of like a download, an entire experience in a burst that we then have to unpack.
The Vedic Tradition recognizes a variety of Yogas or paths, including the path of the intellect, the path of action and perception, the path of devotion, and so forth.
Different people have different inclinations. I can also note though that different Yogas are more prominent at different stages – we all use a bit of each of them. The path of action is typical in the approach. Culturing God Consciousness is related to the heart and thus devotion. And the Unity switch is one of the intellect, hence the Mahavakyas mentioned above.
Brahman may be seen as God the impersonal. But some also use the term Brahman for Transcendental Consciousness. But Brahman is beyond any sense of personal or impersonal as it is beyond any even subtle dualities. Part of the challenge of the Brahman shift is surrendering ones relationship with God, be it personal or impersonal or both.
And yes, much of the journey is ordinary, practical stuff. Just stuff that helps us make progress rather than stuff that keeps us caught. And then one day, along comes the next shift… when we’re “ready enough”.
I don’t generally take the time to cross-reference everything in these long back and forths. But if you search terms or subjects, everything in this 2 part Q&A is discussed in more detail elsewhere on this blog.