aka 7 States of Consciousness, aka Stages of Human Development
See Update: Stages of Development in Consciousness
Periodically on this blog, I write a reference article for background info on key subjects. I can then link back to it for followup by readers, rather than re-explaining key points in detail. The article I’ve linked to the most has also been one of the top 10 hits here for years. That is States of Consciousness.
Since writing that article, my own experience and understanding has deepened. I’ve even gotten a graduate degree in the subject. (laughs) I’ve added several addendum’s to the old article but a rewrite is overdue.
Fundamentally, the evolution of higher states of consciousness or enlightenment is a continuation of the development we experienced growing up. Rather than stalling at personal self-actualization (Maslow), we continue through a natural series of steps into cosmic (boundless) Self (Atman), through the depths of its development, and on into what is known as Brahman.
In the early 70’s when I first began reading about consciousness, there was no Internet, just a mixture of speculative books and ancient oddly translated texts. Bucke’s old book Cosmic Consciousness was key for many but it tossed experiences and awakening together in a basket. The west had no framework or map, not even a language. Many used different definitions for fundamental terms like consciousness or cosmic. As science has lacked the eastern tools for a systematic study of awareness, it’s been relegated to an effect of brain function.
A small book I read 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 experience. It was the first I saw to offer a framework for experiences and the nature of the process of enlightenment.
Basically, the 7 States are:
1) Sleep state – dreamless, mind & ego asleep.
2) Dream state – REM sleep, mind is active, body asleep.
3) Waking state – typical ‘reality’, typically only the physical world is seen as real.
4) Transcendental Consciousness (TC) or samadhi: a state of restful alertness where the mind is awake but quiet, silent but alert. It’s completion is CC below when it becomes full-time.
5) Cosmic Consciousness (CC), awakening or Self Realization: with enough experience of TC, it becomes infused in our life and becomes full-time, beneath waking, dreaming and sleeping states. We wake up to ourselves as cosmic, or more precisely, the cosmic wakes up to itself through us. This shift is permanent though it may take a little time to be clear. We are a witness or observer to an apparently illusory world. Only the inner wakefulness is real. It’s completion is sat chit ananda, absolute bliss consciousness.
6) God Consciousness (GC), Celestial or Divine Con.: the refinement of perception and the awakening heart and fine feelings from lived CC reveals the mechanics and process of creation. In some ways, this is more a process or series of stages than a single state. The inner remains real and the outer world becomes seen as a Lila or divine play. It’s completion is God Realization post Unity where we choose to unite with or remain close to God. Refinement continues through all stages and can take hundreds of years to complete. Thus in the current age we do what we can.
A lot of GC development is skimmed over by western minds. For some, you can barely recognize a GC phase, just CC and UC. But without this development, the fullness of enlightenment will not unfold and later stages will stall. Soma is the mechanism, discussed here. It’s also worth noting that soma and bliss awaken laws of nature that have long been dormant. Personally, that brings us the experience of being fully supported by the world. More broadly, it changes the rules of life over time. Golden ages are very different from what we’ve been experiencing because new laws are awake.
7) Unity Consciousness (UC) or Oneness: where the intellect recognizes the outer experience of the world and the celestial plus the inner experience of silence are of the same thing. The inner and outer world are found to be one and the same reality and their separation ends. Through a series of recognitions, all layers of experience, memory, all space and time, and even the experiencer itself are united in one wholeness. It’s completion is in Brahman.
Beyond Unity, there are no longer stages of consciousness. We transcend consciousness, existence, and Atman into Brahman. I’ll explore that more in a later article.
It should be noted that development of Atman carries forward from prior lives. We pick up where we left off. Thus some seem to move more quickly or slowly than others. Similarly the development of sattva (purity or clarity) also carries forward. This is most related to the refinement of GC. With sattva well-developed, you see people who may not be awake but have amazing perceptions. With Atman well-developed but less sattva, you see clear awakening but a denial of the divine and a drier unfoldment. The ideal is of course a well-balanced development.
Over time and study, it soon becomes apparent there are flaws in this 7 states map. For example, the first 3 are more states of the physiology whereas the last 3 are more stages of development. The first, waking, dreaming and sleep, continue in all stages of development. The later three are stages that are progressively superseded. (although there is much overlap) TC in the middle evolves. At first TC is experienced as a new and transitory 4th state of consciousness. There has been scientific research to validate this experience. However, as it becomes permanent, it becomes experienced as the foundation underlying all states and stages of development. It is no longer a state but rather the permanent, ever-deepening foundation.
Even though the TM organization went on to give Sanskrit names to the 7 states, if you search the Vedas, you will not find a description of the 7 states this way. You do however find them described in the Vedas much as in the prior paragraph. Three states of body-mind and several stages of the development of enlightenment. Two different things.
Maharishi stopped talking about higher states entirely after the early 1980’s. I believe he originally was attempting to bring Vedic ideas of higher stages to the western model of states of consciousness. But there was a huge gap between the western idea of consciousness as a side-effect of brain function and the Vedic experience that consciousness is the source of all physical reality, including the brain.
Dr. “Skip” Alexander, a psychology professor at MUM (where students practice TM) some 20 years ago published several articles, such as in the book Higher Stages of Human Development (1990, out of print), that suggested an alignment of the higher stages with models of human development from psychology. This includes Piaget’s Cognitive states, Kohlberg’s Moral Reasoning, and Loevinger’s Ego stages. Higher stages would simply extend these models. Unfortunately, Dr. Alexander died and though this alignment is still taught, it has not been developed nor has it updated the old 7 states model.
I also explored a related model as an evolution of perspectives. The first 3 stages both map major childhood phases and adult stages if development is less or challenges more.
We can now understand that we should be looking at TC through UC as a process that occurs, underlying our daily experience of waking and sleeping. The stages have a significant impact on our perspective of the world and what is true for us.
Understanding the basics of the development of consciousness is very useful for a number of reasons. For one, understanding our own life and unfoldment certainly makes the whole process easier. I recently explored the issue of Conceptual Barriers. We can also get the jist of where we’re going and verify the experience when it unfolds. And it helps greatly in understanding the perspective described in the spiritual and religious texts of old as well as talks by current teachers.
It’s very easy to fall into conceptual arguments about which teaching or perspective is right or wrong in a cornucopia of offerings. We should avoid attempts to judge the development of a given person and rather focus on the stage they are speaking to or of at the time.
This understanding of stages has been lost from some traditions. It’s clear the Buddha, for example, spoke to various stages but Buddhism today largely does not recognize anything but awakening. Similarly, many today suggest the inner oneness of CC is advaita (non-duality). Because the outer world may seem illusory, it is discounted. But as long as the illusion is separate, this is dwaita, duality. Advaita describes Unity which is totally inclusive and so much more than CC.
This kind of muddling certainly doesn’t help our understanding. Some teachers even mix stages together. Further, if you don’t recognize the underlying process, it’s easy to mix experiences or side-effects with being. This is especially true when it’s new when you’re still separating the wheat from the chaff and trying to catch up conceptually. You even see somewhat comical ideas described as requirements, much as a cat may consider being bumped by the fridge door part of being fed.
It’s also important to differentiate between experience and being. We can have wonderful experiences of higher stages. But this is like being King for the day. This is not the same as being the King. There is a big difference between tasting it and living it, between experience and being. Missing this point, you may fall into the trap of trying to recreate an experience that is inherently transitory. You end up chasing the memory of an experience rather than living it. I’ve seen people deny awakening, they’re so fixed on recapturing an old experience they think is “it”.
Finally, the idea of this description is not to serve as a concept to debate or a philosophical position. It is designed to be a map to guide you. Hold it lightly. 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 go of what we once held true. But what replaces it is always better than we possibly could have dreamed.
We have a profound gift in having a human form. This is the opportunity to reach profound levels of development and return “home”.
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