Summary of Research on Higher States of Consciousness
Over the past 35 years, a growing body of research on individuals practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique suggests a fourth and fifth state of consciousness-distinct from waking, dreaming, and sleeping-can be systematically experienced and scientifically documented.
During practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique, individuals report an experience of the Self aware of itself-free from the incessant thoughts, feelings and perceptions that usually fill their minds. Maharishi explains that this is Transcendental Consciousness, a fourth state of consciousness called Turiya Chetana in the Vedic tradition. Repeated alternation of the fourth state with customary waking activity gives rise to a new integrated state in which Transcendental Consciousness co-exists across the 24 hours of waking, dreaming and sleeping consciousness. Maharishi explains that this is Cosmic Consciousness, a fifth state of consciousness called Turiyatit Chetana. In Cosmic Consciousness, Transcendental Consciousness is experienced as a foundational state that is full in its Nature and is untouched by ongoing experience during waking, sleeping and dreaming. It is analogous to the vastness of the ocean not being lost with each rising wave of daily life.
Transcendental Consciousness: Subjective Experiences
In the last decade, science has been able to delineate the subjective experience of these two states and their defining physiological patterns. A content analysis of Transcendental Consciousness experiences yielded three themes that characterized this experience: silence, unboundedness and the loss of time, space and body sense. "Time, space, and body sense" are the essential framework for understanding waking experience. Specific qualities (color, shape, size, movement, etc.) are the content of waking experiences. During the experience of Transcendental Consciousness, both the fundamental framework and the content of waking experience were reported to be absent. This suggests that pure consciousness is not an "altered" state of waking. This state of Self-awareness is not described as a distorted waking experience. Rather, it is described by the absence of the customary qualities and characteristics of waking experience. Subjective descriptions of Transcendental Consciousness portray a state of self-awareness without waking processing and contents, that makes possible and is necessary for any experience.
Transcendental Consciousness: Physiological Patterns
Pysiologically, Transcendental Consciousness is associated with profound physical relaxation as exhibited in spontaneous respiratory suspensions (10-40 sec periods of essentially no respiratory activity), global, high amplitude alpha EEG, and high EEG coherence, especially between frontal sensors. EEG coherence is a measure of functional coupling-the degree to which different brain areas are working together. When frontal brain areas are more coherent, then their activity of decision-making, planning, short-term memory, moral reasoning and sense-of-self is enhanced. Greater coherence in frontal brain areas during practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique supports the experience of enhanced sense of self during Transcendental Consciousness.
Cosmic Consciousness: Subjective Experiences
New research coming out in June documents how one's sense of self changes from waking to Cosmic Consciousness. The authors (Travis, Arenander and DuBois) interviewed non-meditating individuals, short-term meditators, and long-term meditators reporting the experience of Cosmic Consciousness. The non-meditating subjects described themselves predominantly in terms of their thoughts, feelings and behavior: "I guess I'm open to new experiences…" or "I tend to appreciate those things that are different…" or "I kind of like to forge my own way." They were completely identified with their thoughts, feelings, and actions. Maharishi explains that this is life in bondage. Your great unbounded status is lost. All that remains is the object you see, the thought you think. This is object-referral life. The short-term meditators had practiced the Transcendental Meditation technique for an average of seven years. They described themselves as directing thinking and behavior-the first stages of the self become separate from the processes of thinking and behavior. "I'm my own capabilities; my ability to learn." And another: "I am my ability to perceive and be aware." While not completely identified with their experience, these subjects still described themselves primarily in terms of what they did. The long-term meditators had practiced the Transcendental Meditation technique for an average of 24 years. They described themselves as separate from what they were thinking and doing. "My self is immeasurably vast... on a physical level. Not just restricted to this physical environment." And another: "It's my Being. There's just a channel underneath that's just underlying everything. It's my essence there and it just doesn't stop where I stop." This sense of expanded self-awareness is written with a capital "S"-"Self"- to differentiate it from the objective-referral experience of being identified with objects. In Cosmic Consciousness your Self, your unbounded dignit,y is an all time reality, untouched by ever-changing experiences. Based on these self-reports, this study defines an Object-Referral/Self-Referral Continuum of Sense of Self. This continuum demonstates that nothing needs to be added to our life to grow to enlightenment, we should need to wake up to our real status that has always been there.
Cosmic Consciousness: Physiological Patterns
In the past decade, research has investigated individuals reporting this experience of the integration of pure, self-referral consciousness with sleeping and waking. Mason in 1997 reported that 11 individuals reporting Cosmic Consciousness exhibited similar levels of delta activity during deep sleep compared to 11 non-meditating controls, but elevated levels of theta and alpha EEG. It is noteworthy that the co-existence of the EEG patterns of deep sleep (delta) and practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique (theta and alpha) was associated with the subjective experience of co-existence of deep sleep along with the continued inner awareness. Last year, Travis and colleagues measured EEG patterns during computer tasks in individuals reporting the experience of Cosmic Consciousness. The computer tasks involved responding to pairs of numbers. The individuals reporting the experience of Cosmic Consciousness had higher frontal EEG coherence during these tasks. Their response also better matched the task demands. These EEG measures were combined to form a brain "Integration Scale." Higher scores on this Scale are associated with higher levels of frontal EEG coherence and better task performance. Recent research reports that brain Integration Scale scores are correlated with high levels of moral reasoning, happiness, emotional stability and lower levels of anxiety.
These self-report and physiological studies used the tools of science to document the reality and nature of higher states of consciousness-deep inner peace, bliss, unbounded awareness, and oneness with the universe-which have been esteemed throughout the ages by all great cultures. Through the language of science, the development and characteristics of higher states of consciousness can be documented in this age. This will validate the ancient records of the Vedic tradition and the growing experiences of people practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique throughout the world.