"The range of human life is not, as is generally thought, restricted to our various ways of living, sleeping, waking, playing, talking or behaving; these are only the gross levels of human values. The real, substantial value of human life is the bliss-consciousness that raises one to the high estate of eternal freedom while he is engaged in the day-to-day world of transitory values." —Maharishi
by Cynthia E. Johnson at Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog online
Our deeply felt “yearning for more in life” has its roots in the fact that our innate human capacity is so much more vast than our current experience. As an anxious, depressed teenager, when I first heard about the possibility of enlightenment, I was relieved, encouraged, inspired, and utterly fascinated. Since that time, the process of discovery has been extraordinarily rewarding. In this series of blogs on the quest for enlightenment, I will share my discovery of Maharishi’s teachings on higher states of consciousness.
In this piece I talk about the universality of Transcendental Meditation (TM), especially in relation to religion. I then give an introduction to the basis of higher states of consciousness, Transcendental Consciousness. In future blogs I’ll go into each of the higher states of consciousness in more depth. I will share fascinating experiential accounts from both TM practitioners and individuals throughout time. We will see how each successive state brings greater joy, splendor, harmony, and expansion to human life.
Summary of Part I
In my first blog in this series, I shared my personal quest for something more—beyond the status quo of work, relationships, material things—to dissolve my debilitating anxiety and depression, and unfold fulfillment and potential. As I searched in both Western and Eastern philosophy, I began to discover something intriguing and promising: the possibility of higher states of consciousness. I began to see that there was a reason for the deep dissatisfaction and unhappiness that I and so many others experienced. Most of us were functioning well below our normal capacity. (See the article Yearning for more: the quest for enlightenment.) There was so much more of our innate potential to unfold.
Universality of TM and Religion
Some people are surprised to hear that many who learn TM find a renewed interest in their religious heritage. This was my experience, and it led me to study at Harvard Divinity School, which delighted my father—a Protestant minister who had also studied there.
While TM is not a religion—the practice requires no belief—it can enrich this area of life, as it enriches all areas of life. Among people who practice TM are clergy, monks, nuns and laypersons of Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, Christian, and Muslim traditions, as well as American Indian and other indigenous spiritual traditions. Recently I discovered that more than 3000 Buddhist monks in 100 monasteries throughout Southeast Asia have learned TM. This was a result of the work by a revered Japanese Buddhist monk who is also a teacher of TM.
When I was at Divinity School I was invited by a fellow student, a Catholic priest, to attend a ceremony for the taking of vows. During the reception I met a group of monks (Trappist), and we discovered that we all practiced TM! I can still picture the radiant faces and warm, playful attitude of these delightful monks. They shared with me that since learning TM they experienced more inner stillness, allowing for more receptivity within their prayer and liturgical practices. One monk laughed and said he noticed he felt more tolerant and appreciative of his monastic brothers, who go through relationship challenges with each other, just as in families. They felt rejuvenated from the deep rest of TM, and experienced more energy and fulfillment in their rather challenging daily routine.
As we stood talking—the Trappists in their monastic robes of rough material, belted with rope, and I in my modern dress—we appeared centuries and cultures apart. Yet we felt closeness in our commonality of experience. We found common ground in our experience of the deep silence within each of us, revealing a foundation that unifies rather than divides.
The monks and I were sharing the experience of restful alertness, or Transcendental Consciousness—the 4th state of consciousness. This is the first taste of “higher states of consciousness” that Maharishi elucidated.
The Fourth State of Consciousness
I first heard Maharishi talk about higher states of consciousness after I had learned TM in high school. I was enthralled by the possibility of enlightenment; it rang a deep chord of truth within me. I recalled the brief but powerful experiences I had had as a very small child—of light-filled bliss and magnificent sounds and sights. I began to realize that we were not supposed to be doomed to the drudgery and depression so many of us were experiencing. Deep inside, I knew we could experience so much more.
Soon after learning TM, when I would read poetry, or go to church and hear my father read scripture, I began to hear things afresh. I began to resonate with expressions of reality beyond the mundane, limited awareness of life. For example: “the kingdom of heaven is within;”and that we are made “in the image of God.” In poetry, I read of experiences of blissful silence, glorious beauty and love, and harmonious unity with nature and all of life.
Maharishi brought out a complete science of consciousness from the knowledge contained in the ancient Vedic tradition of India. “Veda” means knowledge—total knowledge of natural law—covering the full spectrum of inner and outer reality. The Vedic tradition is a science of consciousness. It contains both theory and practice for the unfoldment of higher states of consciousness through the awakening of our innermost selves.
Maharishi taught a simple but powerful theme that underscores the importance of developing higher states of consciousness. He said, "Knowledge is structured in consciousness," and "the world is as we are.” Can't we all relate to this? Think of the times when we’ve been deprived of a good night’s (or nights’!) sleep. Everything we experience that day is dull and a drag on our energy-less mind and body. Instead of being creative, we might be consumed with worry and thoughts of needing rest. Contrast that with a day when we are rested, fresh, and calm. The quality of our awareness—and therefore our experience, appreciation and knowledge of the world—is more powerful, insightful, joyful, and energetic. We are filled with enthusiasm! With the unfoldment of higher states of consciousness, enthusiasm, creativity, insight, knowledge, power and bliss blossom to their fullest value.
We are all familiar with the first three ordinary—yes ordinary!—states of consciousness: 1) deep sleep: the body is at rest and there is no mental awareness;
2) dreaming: the body is at rest, with illusory mental awareness; and 3) waking: the body and mind are both active.
Yet, beyond these three states, our nervous system is also capable of experiencing a more fundamental area of life, what Maharishi defines as the "source of thought," or, “the pure field of creative intelligence.” He explains:
Underneath the subtlest layer of all that exists in the relative field is the abstract, absolute field of pure Being, which is unmanifested and transcendental. It is neither matter nor energy. It is pure Being, the state of pure existence. . . . Everything is the expression of this pure existence or absolute Being which is the essential constituent of all relative life.
We experience this field of pure Being when the mind settles down to its least excited state. The Vedic texts describe this as a unique 4th state of consciousness, or Transcendental Consciousness, distinct from waking, dreaming or sleeping. In this state, while the body and mind are deeply rested, the mind is simultaneously fully alert and awake inside. Unlike waking state of consciousness, there is no object of thought or perception, “just pure consciousness, aware of its own unbounded nature.”
Compare Transcendental Consciousness to a white screen before the image of a movie is cast on it. The screen never disappears; it is only overshadowed by the image. Like this, Transcendental Consciousness is available at all times and in all places; it is just hidden from our perception. Without the white screen, a movie could not be projected. Like this, without transcendental or pure consciousness, experience could not be had. Transcendental Consciousness is the very basis of all experience.
Transcendental Consciousness is our most essential nature, the “capital ‘S’ Self”—the primary seat of all of our thinking, feeling and behavior. The Self is the silent, hidden source of all expression of creativity, intelligence, and energy in our lives. Not having access to this inner aspect of experience—which when experienced is as natural as breathing—life can be that drudgery that I described in my younger years, and what so many of us feel at any and all ages.
When we are awake to it, Transcendental Consciousness is what makes experience most meaningful, most profound and enriched. When our awareness settles down to this field of silence and bliss, we become nourished and rejuvenated. A new meditator describes her experience of Transcendental Consciousness during TM:
I. . .recall . . .my first clear experience of transcending. . . . I began to drift down into deeper and deeper levels of relaxation, as if I were sinking into my chair. . . .I experienced a silent, inner state of no thoughts, just pure awareness and nothing else; then again I became aware of my surroundings. It left me with a deep sense of ease, inner renewal and happiness.
We see beautiful expressions of inner awareness in writings throughout the world. The 16th century mystic St. Teresa of Avila wrote: Everything is stilled, and the soul is left in a state of great quiet and deep satisfaction….There sometimes springs an interior peace and quietude which is full of happiness, for the soul is in such a state that it thinks there is nothing that it lacks.
A current young writer, Mary Osborne, recognizes the significance for cultivating inner silence. In her novel, Nonna’s Book of Mysteries, a young female artist is advised by her mentor, “You have to be still. . . .When you are quiet, you can look through the window and see to paradise.” Her mentor, as well as an ancient manuscript she reads, emphasizes inner silence—as the hidden key for creativity, and for a fulfilling personal life.
We see the same metaphor of a window for the light of pure consciousness, going back to the 3rd century BC. The Taoist sage Chuang Tzu wrote, Look at this window: it is nothing but a hole in the wall, but because of it the whole room is full of light. So when the faculties are empty, the awareness is full of light. He explains elsewhere, If water derives lucidity from stillness, how much more the faculties of the mind! The mind of the sage, being in repose, becomes the mirror of the universe, the speculum of all creation.
Moving forward again in time, we read glimpses of Transcendental Consciousness by highly creative individuals in Rhoda Orme-Johnson’s beautiful book, The Flow of Consciousness: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on Language and Literature:
“Contemporary Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco describes his own experience of transcending to what he calls the center of ‘pure ineffable existence’ in this way: ‘I think that I became one with the one essential reality, when, along with an immense, serene joy, I was overcome by what I might call the stupefaction of being, the certainty of being’….British novelist Mary Webb describes it as a ‘glory that came from the other side of silence’. That alone, she attests, is responsible for happiness and for wisdom.”
Through regular experience of this inner silent state through TM, our stress dissolves. We gradually become imbibed with the qualities of bliss, peace, energy and intelligence.
This experience of fullness and joy is the thing we quest for—as young people, and our whole lives—unknowingly, or knowingly. Without this knowledge and experience, we often wonder what life is truly about. We can become derailed, and life-damaging experiences can fill the vacuum, like drugs and so on.
Fortunately we have an effective and effortless technique—TM—for experiencing Transcendental Consciousness, the silent field of bliss, the unexpressed field of total natural law. Regular practice of this technique brings inner joy, life-supporting direction, and creative intelligence to fulfill our desires. We need not resign ourselves to a life of suffering and cramped limitation. There is so very much more to experience in life.
In subsequent blogs, I will explore with you higher states of consciousness—the 5th, 6th, and 7th states—and share fascinating experiential accounts and inspiring stories of women whose lives are transformed as a result of their TM practice.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, The Science of Being and Art of Living.
The Flow of Consciousness: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on Literature and Language, edited by Rhoda F. Orme-Johnson, Ph.D. and Susan K. Anderson, Ph.D., MUM Press.
Higher States of Consciousness in the Vedic Psychology of Maharishi Mahesh by Charles Alexander, Robert Boyer and Victoria Alexander.
The Way of Chuang Tzu, Thomas Merton, translator/editor.
Cynthia Johnson is a teacher of the Transcendental Meditation program. She holds a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and is a mother, wife, and writer. She is a contributor to the book, A Symphony of Silence: An Enlightened Vision by George Ellis.
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