Update: I’ve rewritten and updated this article here.
It is quite common for people writing about enlightenment to mingle different distinct states of consciousness. Different views of reality. There are a number of reasons for this. Human development is not a tidy process, so many people have mixed experiences, tastes of much higher states along with what is established. Many people write of their experience before they are fully established, mixing values. If they have no context or framework, descriptions will tend to be far more subjective. Whole traditions are founded on first awakening. Some don’t move past that, especially if they don’t know there is more.
One of the keys to understand is that states of awakening are about being, not experience. While experiences can offer tastes and symptoms of development, they are not being.
In the early 70’s when I first began reading about consciousness, it was still a young field in the west. There was no Internet, just a mixture of speculative books and ancient hard-to-read texts. Bucke’s old book Cosmic Consciousness was a key for many but it tosses experiences and awakening together in a basket. Without a framework, there is a missing western nomenclature for the process, everyone coming up with different definitions for fundamental terms like consciousness or cosmic. As science has lacked tools for a systematic study of awareness, it’s been relegated to an effect.
A small book I read around then was Anthony Campbell’s Seven States of Consciousness. It was based on Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s teaching which was in turn based on ancient Vedic understanding. It was the first to offer me a framework for experiences and the nature of the process of opening.
The states were as follows with additional remarks by me:
1) Sleep state – dreamless, mind & ego asleep.
2) Dream state – REM sleep, mind is active, body asleep.
3) Waking state – typical ‘reality’
In some ways, these first three are really states of mind within a single state of consciousness.
4) Transcendental Consciousness – a state of restful alertness where the mind is awake but quiet, silent but alert. May be experienced less clearly as a blank spot. Typically arises in meditation but can come up almost anywhere. Characterized by cessation of breath (automatically) and brain wave sync. Stepping into and out of this state one may experience a wave of happiness. We are said to step into this momentarily each time we change states above, like a neutral gear. Has been established by scientific research, with a fully definable unique physiology.
5) Cosmic Consciousness – Where Transcendental consciousness becomes full time, beneath waking, dreaming and sleeping states. The ego idea falls away and we become Self, permanently. We are a witness or observer to all activity, including deep sleep (when clear). This is also referred to as first waking or self-realization. [Self Realization can also arise prior to the actual shift in being of CC] Several recent books talk about the transition; while the shift is distinct, various degrees of clearing may be required after. Fully established, it is Sat Chit Ananda, absolute bliss consciousness. The subject of perception is awake but not the object.
6) God Consciousness – also called Celestial Con. or God Realization. With time in above states, finer values of perception develop and the divine heart opens. We come to experience the finest values of creation; the full mechanics of the story of the world. This is a process of refinement and opening that does not have it’s distinct realization until after Unity. [updated] It can begin before first waking and continues indefinitely. It is the awakening of the object, the bridge to Unity.
7) Unity Consciousness – Also Oneness. Characterized by a realization, when the Self is seen in the object, we realize I am That, Thou Art That, All This is That. (Upanishads) The subject-object duality collapses, the dream of God is seen through and all illusion ends. It is characterized by the loss of identity or sense of person, the subconscious driver of the former ego. There is no longer ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ but rather a continuum. The world ‘out there’ ceases to exist. Many paradoxes are resolved in the inclusiveness of the One.
Now there are no longer states of consciousness, everything is consciousness itself. But this is not the end of the evolution of consciousness. At first in Unity, what the attention is on is One, but memory and other is not. Over time, all becomes one including all past and future. Time collapses into the moment.
I have heard of 5 more stages above this. How could we possibly describe or relate to realities so removed from waking state where we live within a dream of a dream of a dream? But we can know that this is the potential of each one of us and the blessing of a human form. We are said to be in a unique place on the ladder of evolution that gives us the capacity to move very quickly up this road. But that same choice allows us to fall into despair.
Of course, the process is not all tidy. Many have big unity experiences long before they reach that level permanently. Growth and development is ongoing and unique for each of us. But the overall process and goal is the same for everyone. By goal, I mean the deep silence within, not any state.
Some people are real ‘space cowboys’, exploring and experiencing reality in all sorts of ways. If your path is like that, always remember the source. Everything else is just the dream. If your path is not like that, don’t regret that you may be missing something. Flash is trash and tends to hold people back. They may seem to rush forward but often get stuck on a side street.
In my writing, I have often used the word Perspective for State of Consciousness. This is because each state of consciousness brings with it a unique world view. If we understand that world view, we can see its reflection throughout life. In the separation of the baby from it’s mother, in the tribal behavior of teenagers, and the unity we may experience in love. All of human growth is a mirror of the process of awakening. It gives us a sense of where we are going and why.
For some people, understating this process is just a mental game, another story to clutter the mind. Some people are blessed with an easy acceptance of whatever comes along, even a complete change of reality. But for many, this mysterious road is helped by knowing context. It allows us to allow what is unfolding and understand what is happening. It helps us to place experiences on a continuum and assists in validation and understanding.
In the end though, any concept must be shed. Even if a fortune teller gives you an accurate reading of your future, how it plays out is never what you expect. Such is the nature of the path home. If we are to continue forward, at each stage we must let something of what we once held true go. But what replaces it is always better than we possibly could have dreamed.
1 – Deepak Chopra refers to the 7 states as coming from Vedanta. After the first 3 he calls them Soul, Cosmic, Divine, and Unity.
2 – It can be noted that the first 3 continue over top of the last 3. One still sleeps and dreams after awakening. This means that they’re not fully equivalent. In some ways, we could call the first 3 states of mind over 4 states of consciousness however, we can define 7 stages or primary perspectives. This is why I prefer that model.
3 – It can also be useful to think of the first 4 as states of consciousness and the last 3 as Stages of consciousness. Once the 4th, TC, becomes established, it is pure consciousness and not a state or stage but rather underlies all others. Thus, 3 states, 3 stages post waking, and consciousness itself.