The next stage is a recognition by the intellect. That pure consciousness I am is directly cognized to be the same as what underlies the world. We don’t just experience the two are the same – we become both as one. We step beneath the waves and recognize the common ocean. The intellect turns from looking out and dividing to looking in and joining. As the Upanishads put it, “I am That, Thou art That, all this is That, That alone Is.” This stage is known as Unity Consciousness.
Unity is characterized by oneness or non-duality, right on the surface. When we touch an object, we feel both the object and, as the object, feel being touched. We are both and they are one and the same, differing only in superficial appearance. Whatever we experience is progressively joined into one wholeness, including such things as the aforementioned Trinity.
Fewer people have reached this stage in the recent wave of awakening and there is some confusion about its existence as some teachers have not recognized it yet. But with time awake, this will unfold for many and become more clear. The traditions of Zen, Tantra and Vedanta still recognize it.
In the fullness of Unity, we can become familiar with all the rooms of consciousness, plus its plumbing and wiring and thus, all facets of creation. But we’re still inside the house, in atman. At this point, we come to recognize that consciousness is internally aware of itself both globally (omnipresently) and at every point within itself. We as humans could be said to have a vantage from one of those points.
As we approach the next stage, we come to the “edge” of the cosmic Self or consciousness itself. We are stepping out of consciousness looking in on itself. One point of awareness is then able to look beyond itself and see consciousness becoming. This may seem nonsense to prior stages – how can something that is boundless infinity and eternal have an outside edge? But as science tells us, there are infinities within infinities. And if consciousness is always looking in on itself, what happens if we turn and look out?
From a unity perspective (not separate things), liveliness stirs alertness and it becomes aware. Awareness flows within itself. Curving back on itself, it recognizes itself. In that recognition is profound love and the enlivening of intelligence mentioned prior.
From this perspective, we can perceive how consciousness becomes and how all creation and experience arise out of the liveliness of consciousness. We can know the origins of the universe and time and space, and the nature of the quantum fluctuations of the field. While science may not have devices that can sense at such fine and large levels, scientists themselves have the ability to systematically discover them subjectively.
What then is Consciousness?
Finally, we’ve stepped out of the house and can see the whole of consciousness and its origins. We can say consciousness is the lively flow of That within Itself. It is made of that which contains it. But that is a Unity perspective.
The next stage is Brahman. Just as we once transcended ego, now we transcend atman. Being beyond consciousness, it is no longer a state or stage of higher consciousness. We’re talking about something beyond being or non-being, beyond even a notion of space or time, beyond all development to that point. Brahman is all of it and none of it, a totality greater than what has been known before. As the Tao says, the Tao that can be described is not the Tao.
These stages we’ve reviewed are not a mental “aha” or an experience or mood but rather permanent major shifts in our relationship with that which contains all experiences. They are as distinct from each other as a teen is from a toddler.
All of this is simply the foundation of a lived stage of development. In the same way, puberty is the transition, not the lived state of adulthood. The old texts give us clues to fully embodied development. It is certainly well beyond our usual concepts of our potential, the nature of reality, and the breadth and diversity of life.
This is a necessarily short overview of human potential and the nature of consciousness. Your mind may be quite unsatisfied with the answer but remember that consciousness is beyond mind. The mind cannot properly conceive of anything that has not yet been experienced. But if you use the general map, you’ll find that sages and saints throughout the ages have spoken to and from the different stages in their own language. Just keep in mind where they’re speaking from and who they were speaking to. The reality and resulting truth depends it.