aka higher states of consciousness or stages thereof
One of the most popular articles on this blog over the years has been on states of consciousness. First as an outline of the 7 states of consciousness model, then a newer version, consolidating the many updates to the prior article.
This article reframes that model a little further to better reflect how people are experiencing the process. I’ve begun making references to this model, so I thought it time for a new Key Post. I’m also working on a book that goes into this in much more detail.
Psychology has begun studying these Transpersonal (post-personal) stages of development. Dr. Cook-Greuter proposed Construct-Aware and Unitive stages. (pdf link) Dr. Skip Alexander observed that eastern models of development of consciousness could be integrated with western models (pdf link) from psychology at this juncture.
In other words, what is called Enlightenment or spiritual awakening is actually a normal part of human growth and development. However, in the cycles of time, those habits of life and understanding that culture higher development become lost in the struggle to survive. But in a rising cycle, as now, the opportunity for such growth is revived and increasing numbers of people become living examples.
However, what is currently understood about enlightenment has largely been divided into various religious and philosophical camps arguing over concepts.
If we can instead find a consistent framework that understands the underlying process and accounts for much of the variety of experience, we will find that the truths of the worlds traditions all have a place within these stages of development.
Keep in mind that this is an experiential process. It is not about building concepts. However much you may think you understand this or that, until it is your lived experience, it will not be known. And in fact our concepts about it must be shed to live it.
Today, there are millions of people in the world who have had very clear tastes of these stages, although they may well not realize it. And some have begun to actually live them. Works like this are designed to support this growing community.
Higher Stages of Development
The post-personal Stages are essentially stages of the development of clarity of consciousness. Our physiology and psychology have matured. The next front is our being. While we might say “stages of development of consciousness”, consciousness itself doesn’t develop. What is shifting is our clarity and depth and relationship to consciousness.
These stages are not altered states and are also unlike the states of consciousness like waking, dreaming, and sleeping. These shifts change the platform in which those states are experienced.
As may thus be apparent, the consciousness I refer to is boundless, universal consciousness, the ground of all our being. This is what we recognize ourselves to be in the first awakening.
It’s also important to understand these are post-personal stages. It is not the individual person who becomes enlightened. It is Consciousness, your true Self, that is experiencing these higher perspectives and greater fullness of Itself. The sense of individual takes a progressively smaller role.
It’s also worth noting that this is a subjective process we’re describing. Reality itself does not change, just our perspective of it.
While the experience of these stages varies widely for a number of reasons, there are common distinct shifts that happen as Consciousness becomes more awake to its own totality. Each stage also has levels of clarity and some have common sub-steps. Thus, there is an apparent process that occurs as Consciousness unfolds to Itself. This is much like puberty. Puberty is experienced a wide range of ways but there is a common underlying process.
This reframing is courtesy of Lorne Hoff and is derived from the Yog Vasishtha. This text is the core teaching from the sage Vasishtha, given to Rama in the royal court during the epic Ramayana. Estimates place these events at least 8,000 years ago.
The post-personal Stages in summary:
1 – Cosmic Consciousness (CC) or Self Realization
1a – Refined CC or God Consciousness (GC)
2 – Unity Consciousness (UC), Oneness or non-duality
2a – Refined Unity and God Realization
3 – Brahman or Beyond Consciousness
3a – Refined Brahman
3b – Parabrahman or Wholeness
By the numbering, you’ll notice there are 3 primary Stages of Consciousness awakening to or from Itself and each has their own Refined aspect. The refined stages are not each separate but are rather a continuous process of refinement. But when the primary stage changes, the context of the refined stage changes as well. Thus, we can describe stages in that process also.
The primary stages begin with what can be described as a realization or becoming or change in sense of being whereas the refined stages are a continuum that can begin well before or after the first realization. The refined stages have climactic realizations instead.
One key detail can help understand the variation in how this unfolds for people. In the 6 bhavas model from Ayurveda, two of them are Atman and Sattva. The development of Atman (cosmic Self) takes us through the primary stages. The Development of sattva (purity or clarity) is what develops the refined stages. (via soma)
With sattva well-developed, you see people who may not be spiritually awakened but have amazing perceptions or gifts. With Atman well-developed but less sattva, you see clear awakening but little of the divine and a drier, flatter unfoldment. The ideal is of course a balanced development of both.
The 7 States of Consciousness model from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi includes only the first 3 to Unity, although he spoke of all of them.
I review the approach to the first shift here. And the Styles and Gradations here.
1 – Cosmic Consciousness (CC) or Self Realization
The cosmic Self wakes up to Itself through this apparent person. We shift from being identified with an ego “me” to being Atman, the cosmic Self. I am That. 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.
1a – Refined CC or God Consciousness
aka Celestial or Divine Con.: the refinement of perception and the awakening heart uncover very fine feelings and perceptions. The direct perception of finer values of creation and the divine unfold. The Refined stages are more a process than a state. The inner remains real and the outer world comes to be seen as a Lila or divine play. This stage climaxes in God Realization post-Unity. Refinement continues through all stages and can take hundreds of years to complete. Thus in the current age we do what we can.
2 – Unity Consciousness (UC), Oneness or non-duality:
when the intellect recognizes the outer experience of the world and the celestial plus the inner experience of silence are of the same thing, the division between them falls. The inner and outer worlds are rejoined as the same reality. Then, through a series of recognitions, all layers of experience, memory, and all space and time are united in one wholeness. It’s completion is in Brahman.
2a – Refined Unity and God Realization
The Refinement of GC continues through Unity in a series of recognitions. It’s completion is God Realization where we choose to unite with or remain close to God. The uniting is the doorway into Brahman.
Beyond Unity, there are no longer stages of consciousness. We transcend consciousness, existence, and Atman into Brahman.
3 – Brahman or Beyond Consciousness
I describe the unfoldment of Brahman here. See also the Brahman section of Key Posts. It’s completion is in Parabrahman.
3a – Refined Brahman
The refinement of Unity continues but now not in a relationship. There is only That. More on Refined Brahman here.
3b – Parabrahman or pure Divinity (Updated)
This is the wholeness of all of it. As Lorne describes it, pure holiness even in non-self nothingness. It is prior to Purusha and Mother Divine (Shiva and Shakti). It is Divine Mother, pure Divinity, the wholeness of all, the source of the source. This unfolds in stages, summarized here.
An early article on Pure Divinity. On the second step of the first stage. Summarizing, and the second stage. Waking the Body. The fourth stage, Krishna Consciousness.
Hopefully, this model offers a more complete and consistent perceptive of the process of enlightenment.
Last Updated on July 8, 2021 by Davidya
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It may be noted that I have much less to say here about the Brahman stages. This is because I have fewer examples to go by. I do link to related articles though and will expand upon this as there is more data.
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I left my life thinking I would sit atop the mountain pondering after reaching a full and happy life. Now in love with God in me, a man unbalanced me. So I ‘asked’ why a man/why a relationship when I can balance my own masculine and feminine? The answer not yet understood was ‘this man will be God on earth for you’. Blasphemy? How do you make sense of that Davidya? Where is this on your consciousness scale?
Yes, there is an outmoded idea due to a prior time in history that we have to withdraw from the world to evolve. This is no longer the case.
The trick is, there’s 2 aspects to this process. First, there is the inner work – cleaning house and discovering the deeper parts of ourselves. This is not just balancing masc/fem but all energetic aspects of our presence in the world. A mate can help mirror our stuff to make it more conscious.
Second, there is bringing that inner clarity out into the world. This is the part some current spiritual teachings have missed. It’s not just about awakening or Self Realization but embodiment. And again, here a mate can be a partner in this process.
If a mans presence unbalanced you, it may have been because he was not growing in ways that you were. Or perhaps because you were not well integrated yet so it was easily disturbed. In that sense, the influence is positive as it can help stabilize the growth. Some new age approaches tend to be rather ungrounded. But real spiritual growth makes us increasingly unfazed by life events and relationships.
Not that we don’t feel, mind you. In fact, we can feel far more fully. But those feelings don’t bind us and they complete and are resolved, ending.
As for ‘this man will be God on earth for you’, this is understood in the east as a devotional approach or yoga. You may be familiar with devotion to God or guru. There is also the Upaguru, one’s mate as an object of devotion and surrender. Obviously though, this requires a relationship of deep trust and connection. And it requires a heart orientation, either as a path or as a phase in the journey (around God Consciousness). This isn’t everyone’s best path but most of us need at least a little of it.
In these books, not blasphemy. Everything is in and of God. To suggest anything is not God is to say God is not omnipresent, which is false. Love is closest to God, so it’s the easiest means however we most easily love, be it God, teacher or mate.
The only separation we have from God is our own shadow. There is no separation in actuality. Thus, all things can be a vehicle to God if we bring the right approach.
What I describe is not a debate about belief. In fact it doesn’t matter if you do or don’t believe in God. But it can help a little if you have an open mind. More important to me is to direct experience. I talk about this more here:
The Stages model I describe above begins at early enlightenment. In a larger version of this, I explore the stages known to psychology that occur prior to this, like post-conventional and Maslow’s Self Actualization.
I skim it here:
A branch of psychology has come to call them post-personal stages – I touch on that in the article. What you talk about is not part of enlightenment but rather what can happen as we approach it.
The point of the article is the development of a better map of enlightenment. Too many are confusing first awakening with Vedanta or saying there is a single shift and I’m “done”. It’s a new thing for recent times that so many people have been shifting and we need to update the understanding to support that better.
The above are also not related to feeling states as some models of “consciousness” you may have seen. They are each profound changes in our sense of Self and being and our relationship with the world. They are as distinct from each other as a 2 year old is from a teen.
I trust this addresses your questions at least to some degree. 😉
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While there is a link above, I want to highlight that I gave a talk on the above artilce at the Science and Nonduality Conference last fall. I first place this in context of childhood development, show how that shift into the above and distinguish the stages in consciousness from the stages of refinement.
Hello Davidya. I was wondering what type of practice were you using to realize Cosmic Consciousness? I dont have any realizations or even peak experiences yet. My path is A Course in Miracles. I think everyone has his own form of traveling to the Place we never left. I also have a question: Do you think that more and more people are engaged in transformative spirituality then in the past? Thank you for your answer. Best wishes from Slovenia!
Welcome from western Canada. For myself, it was a combination. The primary practice was Transcendental Meditation. This cultured an experienced connection with source and helped purify the physiology to increase clarity. I also did a bit of more targeting healing. And finally, some time with the awake helped with the actual shift.
Key from my perspective is a tool that brings you that direct experience. Concepts or beliefs alone won’t do the trick in the time we have available.
And yes. In my lifetime, millions of people have shifted from dogmatic belief to direct practices like meditation. And in the last decade, dozens of people I know have woken up. Some of those have made good progress in the above stages too. This is a huge change.
Hello again Davidya. I was thinking about the reintegration of the subconscious and the process of enlightenment. Some people are saying that first it is essential to completly reintegrate personal subconscious before permanent enlightenment is posible. If we repress different aspect of reality, how can we know the Reality itself. Other people are saying that with the enlightenment the process of reintegration of the subconscious is happening automaticly. Maybe both ways are posible… I also wonder if it is posible to go higher from CC if we still have some aspects of ourself repressed and rejected. I am very interested what you have to say about this. Thanks for the answer. I also have to say that your blog is very informative in many ways. Not many people are writing about higher stages of developement so clear as you do. I know only that Sri Aurobindo was writing alot about higher developement. But for me his writing is dificult to understand. And of course i have to travel this path myself. Only then clear and direct comprehension is posible… Best wishes from Slovenia!
I’d say it’s typically a mixture of both. There has to be enough clarity for the shift to happen, so some falling away of resistance and healing is needed prior.
The shift itself often comes with a lot of clearing. What form that takes varies but awakening is said to roast the latent seeds of karma.
After the shift, there is a further wave of clearing of the stuff broken up by the shift and the presence of being in that place. This depends on our backlog and how much we cleared in the first part.
Then, over time living the shift it deepens and is further integrated. This brings to light further layers of things to be seen.
There is also the parallel process of refinement which also requires clearing and itself will require a new level of clarity.
The trick is, awakening is lived through our humanity. Amazing hunks of resistance and shadow will fall away through this process. But there can still be aspects which require living and experiences to bring to light. Old self-concepts that no longer serve. Things we didn’t know or didn’t like that where repressed and so on.
In other words, the process not only changes who we see ourselves as being, it can shift our understanding of very mundane things too.
I’m in the process of publishing a book in October 2017 that talks about the above process in much more detail. For more information, see:
I recently watched an interview with Ken Wilber where he stated that one can “wake up” at any stage of “growing up” (personal stages of development) as an extreme example he said that a suicide bomber in ISIS could be having awakening experiences or a Nazi. They would however be interpreting it at their current level of “growing up” which is still ego/ethnocentric and dogmatic. Ie. It merely serves to deepen their resolve to destroy all that are not part of their in group/belief system. How do you feel about this view? Does it fit into your developmental model?
I broadly agree with Wilber’s suggestion there is wake up, grow up, and clean up. They are interrelated but somewhat distinct processes. I agree that some people can have a “spiritual” experience that may motivate them to act out their junk. But an experience is not the same thing as waking up. I also agree that people may not be very mature as a human yet can still wake up. However, I wouldn’t extrapolate it quite this way. Waking up does require a degree of clearing and brings a perspective of our underlying wholeness.
This article talks about the sattva side of the process, somewhat related to “clean up.” But people can and often do wake up with other gunas more dominant. I think that’s a better understanding of the dynamics in play. Here’s an article discussing this:
It’s very rare for someone to wake up with Tamas guna dominant. And within that it would be rare for there to be a violent combination. There are certainly examples of people awake who still have issues to clean up just as there are in the general population.
Even the story of Ravana in the Ramayana – the only way for the demon to wake up was to be killed by God.
Wilber has a brilliant intellect. He’s taken the understanding of many traditions to merge them into a complete world-view. However, he’s also often fudged them to fit his vision, distorting in the process. From his description of his own experience, he’s not yet stably awake. I discussed that here:
Trust you are well. Thanks for the note above: extremely helpful.
You’re welcome Eric.
Was interested to know what is the difference between the terms Mother Divine (Shiva and Shakti) and Divine Mother, pure Divinity, the wholeness of all that you refer to in stage, 3b – Parabrahman or pure Divinity. What is the difference between Mother Divine (Shiva and Shakti) and Shaktis that you refer in Parabrahman, Stage 2 here – https://davidya.ca/2017/07/28/parabrahman-stage-2/
Also, which of the stages of Consciousness do Purusha and Mother Divine (Shiva and Shakti) refer to beginning from the first stage, Cosmic Consciousness (CC) or Self Realization.
Totally understand that these models are to provide some kind of broad based map regarding the different stages and layers of consciousness, which is itself infinite and hence, difficult to put into precise words/terms or to explain especially to folks who have not yet moved into these states of consciousness. Moreover, we are referring to one specific model here and there could many varying models and concepts/terms, which are only to point the way ahead. But, was still curious to know.
The way Lorn Hoff uses the terms, Mother Divine is an expressed form of the qualities of Divinity. On the level of Shiva, etc.
Divine Mother is pure Divinity, the source of the source.
From an approach to the first, She seems all encompassing and complete. But we transcend Her in Brahman stage, then come to the essence of all following that.
Shakti has multiple meanings. There is Shakti the being, the duality with Shiva. There is Shakti the energy in the physiology, as in Shaktipat. And there are the Shaktis or powers of Divinity. They’re all the same thing, which is why the same name. But experienced in different ways.
Supreme gods like Shiva seem all powerful but without Shakti, he’d be dead. When you recognize the power of pure Divinity, it completely overshadows what was before.
Purusha is another word for Atman, universal consciousness, the Self. We wake up to that in CC. Then wake up to it in the world in Unity. However, Purusha is also referred to as the indweller so some use it for spirit or soul too.
Mother Divine relates more to GC and Refined Unity. She is one of the forms we may relate to (personal God). But maybe not.
And right, there are lots of variations but some things are fundamental.
Thank you David. Another thing that you have mentioned in one of your blog posts is that, “Cosmic mind or Brahma or infinite consciousness thought they were the source or creator of the world.” I am referring to this post -https://davidya.ca/2017/12/07/the-highest-reality/
In here there is reference to Brahma as infinite consciousness. But, mostly you also refer to Shiva as consciousness. So just wanted to understand the distinction here.
Consciousness is nested like Russian dolls. Cosmic mind experiences itself as infinite consciousness but it’s not the “most” infinite. The highest value is Shiva. The next stage down is Vishnu, the maintainer and then Brahma the cosmic mind that creates the appearance.
Another way to frame this is the self-interacting dynamics of consciousness level, the field I call creation (but which isn’t yet manifest), and then the universes where manifestation begins.
It’s one of the reasons you never take yourself too seriously when you think you’ve become everything. There is always more. 🙂
Thanks David. One more question regarding these stages of consciousness. With respect to one of your blog posts about the Bhedahbeda philosophical system of Vedanta you mention that it talks about the Brahman stage and in that sense it is a philosophical position that points to stages beyond Dvaita, which talks about Self Realization and Advaita, which talks about the Unity stage although you mention that Shankara who was the founder of the Advaita school was more inclusive in his view.
But, in another post you mention, “Ultimately though, Shankara’s is the highest truth” – https://davidya.ca/2012/01/25/dying-awake/
In the first blogpost referenced above it is mentioned, “None of these positions are “better” than another. They simply describe the unfolding.”
Interestingly, there are Vedanta schools other than Advaita that also mention that what Shankara actually pointed out is probably in line with these Vedanta systems.
As far as I understand, probably all the bhedhabheda systems and the dvaita system mention Narayana as the supreme reality. Some schools like achintya bhedabhedha regard Krishna as the Supreme. So, as per bhedhabhedha, Narayana or Krishna is the supreme Brahman and they also refer to him as Parabrahman. I know that you make a distinction between Brahman and Parabrahman but sometimes these two terms seem to be used interchangeably by some depending on the context. In fact , some of the bhedabhedha systems believe that even Shankara pointed to Narayana as the Supreme. For the bhedahabheda systems Narayana or Krishna is Personal but he also has an impersonal aspect as the “Ground of Being”.
My question is thus: Can you please throw some light on Narayana/Krishna as it relate to different Vedanta schools of thought and also, as it relates to the stages of development in consciousness that you refer to in this and other articles.
It’s worth noting here there isn’t a single right answer or truth. Each stage brings it’s own perspective of reality and each of has have a different setup that adds its own flavours to the soup of the whole.
What I share is my perspective, cross-referenced as best I can.
By “highest truth” I meant relative to the other positions. Plus it’s worth noting that Shankara’s perspective evolved markedly over time. Most modern advaitists follow a version of his earlier approach, prior to recognizing Divinity.
And yes, one perspective isn’t “better” than another although some are more complete. Each is a necessary part of the process, just as we all go through the teens.
Sometimes we do get into terminology and context issues. For example, the mahavakya Atman is Brahman. This is a statement of a recognition. Not that they’re the same thing but that Atman arises from and is non-separate from Brahman.
Narayana means first born and to me refers to the cosmic body. A very early expression in creation. We can say Narayana is ParaBrahman but as above, you and I are too.
Another aspect is that from a distance, things look the same. But as you get closer, the distinctions become more clear. For example, Atman, Brahman, and ParaBrahman can seem roughly equivalent words for ultimate reality. But up close, they’re very different (and simultaneously one). People have the bad habit of using the fanciest words they can find too.
Krishna is an avatar of Vishnu and within creation. He is one of the greatest embodiments to ever take a body. But he’s still an embodiment. We can say a living expression of Divinity. But that’s not pure Divinity.
I’m not going to debate different schools of Vedanta aside from pointing out their general approach in articles like you mention. That would require more expertise in the specific schools which means going more into mind. Thats tiresome. (laughs)
Hope that helps a bit.
My point was that since the bhedabhedha systems of Vedanta talk about Brahman, which is beyond consciousness and they identify Narayana as Brahman hence, Narayana would be beyond consciousness as per these systems. In fact, that is what some of these systems probably mean when they say that consciousness is the brahmajyoti or effulgence of Krishna/Narayana. Could it be that when you talk about Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma as values within consciousness the manifestation of Narayana/Vishnu that what you refer to it is one particular expansion of Narayana within creation. ISKCON, which has its origins in the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradya of the acintya bhedabhedha Vedanta system, talks about this as mentioned here:https://iskcondesiretree.com/page/lord-sri-krishna-and-his-incarnations
Could it also be that the different ways of experiencing Shakti that you mention in your response above could also be the experience with Narayana.
Also, it seems Maharishi Mahesh yogi had mentioned Krishna consciousness as the highest state of consciousness. As you have mentioned in your blogposts the Brahmasutras talk about Brahman. Maharishi Mahesh yogi is said to have mentioned thus during a conversation when he was working on the Brahmasutra transcriptions as recounted by his ex personal secretary here:http://btg.krishna.com/wrestling-krishna-meditation-teachers-journey
Apologize but I do not mean to circling round this topic but just had some questions for which I wanted to request some clarification from your perspective and experience. Very much appreciate you taking the time to help clarify things as you see it.
Right, Sanjay, but my point was that Narayana = Brahman was equivalent to Atman = Brahman. Why would a being called “First born” be prior to expression?
Now, there is another angle to this: what I refer to as the Personal God – that form of God we most relate to. If we’re a devotee and our form is Krishna, then we may carry that forward and experience pure Divinity through the lens of Krishna. Ditto for Narayana.
But in the experience here, Narayana is the cosmic body.
As for Krishna Consciousness, Maharishi never defined it. The Kala model lists 16 stages where humans can reach an 8 or 9. Krishna is said to be the full 16. If that’s KC, it’s not available to us in a human form.
We might suggest this was his object of devotion but it wasn’t. His was the Divine Mother.
Not everyone will agree with my perspective but this is what it is.
Thank you very much David. Really appreciate you taking the time to help me understand your perspective on this.
Your blog and comments on higher states of consciousness are very helpful. I have been pondering about the Experiencer, the One that sees. I would very much appreciate your perspective.
Yesterday evening I was listening to a CD of David Hawkins and he said, “Ego is the experiencer.” On analysis, if one has no ego or memory in a high state of Enlightenment like Maharishi or David Hawkins, then, like our class heard a couple weeks ago when Maharishi said, “Atma is the ego” (which really surprised me), Atma would have to be the experiencer for the Being. An individuality who is experiencing at that level of consciousness, with the eternal silence of Purusha as well as the “warmed up layer” of the Absolute which is Atma, must experience through the senses of the point in Consciousness which is the body. Not that the body is really a “point” at that level of awareness, but it must be a sort of a “congealment,” a concentration or thickness in the Unbounded Sea of Consciousness through which the individuality interacts with the Relative manifest level. Madhuchandas “saw” the workings of the Vedas which was his own consciousness. Madhuchandas “saw.” Maharishi “saw.” How did “they” see? Through the senses. Who experienced his own consciousness? One is still sort of a “who” even in Brahman Consciousness. That Awareness experienced.
Am I on the right track, David??
You raise a number of large topics.
On what sees, there is what we recognize as seeing and what actually is seeing. The Vedic model describes layers of self:
– Atman or cosmic Self
– Jiva – the point value of Atman, similar to the western idea of soul
– Ahamkara – the I-sense or ego, created by the intellect distinguishing self from other
– Asmita – the possessive self or my-sense, as in my body, my car, etc.
The jiva enters the body prior to birth and the latter 2 develop in infancy.
Atman is infinite consciousness and is the true seer. Prior to awakening, most consider the ego as the experiencer but really, it’s just a concept or sense of self. When the Self wakes up to itself (Self Realization) there is a shift from a local to a cosmic sense of self. Our identifications fall away over time. Asmita ends. And the I-sense ceases being the center or shifts to the cosmic sense of Self. Much more could be said.
As I’ve written elsewhere, we don’t lose the ego – thats a renunciate orientation. It just ceases being the center. Atman can be described as the cosmic ego if the I-sense shifts there. There are cosmic values of individuality. That is all transcended with Brahman stage.
I’d be careful about mixing the teachings of different teachers. They don’t all use the same terms to mean the same thing. I’d also be careful with Hawkins. He lifted his main ideas from Sedona and is extreme in some positions. His scale of emotions doesn’t do what he claims it does and he rates himself with Jesus.
The “saw” further along is a type of experience called a cognition, of consciousness recognizing it’s own mechanics. It’s not a personal experience through the physical senses.