Close encounters of the Fourth kind

Indic traditions have long held that waking, dreaming and deep sleep are three conditions that appear and disappear in pure consciousness. Given that conventional reality is considered to be the one in which we are in the waking state, and we seem to transition from the dream and deep sleep states, generally, that there is another “state” underlying these, is not particularly well known. To even get to start thinking about this “fourth” state requires a certain degree of intellectual clarity and keen powers of phenomenological observation.

But the “fourth” (as in fourth state after waking, dreaming and deep sleep) is really not the fourth at all (misnomer). It is only fourth from the perspective of the waking state. It is actually the underlying awareness in which waking, dreaming and sleeping occur. It is called “Turiya”.

Conventional wisdom considers the waking state to be the “real” state and dreams unreal and deep sleep one of not much significance vis-a-vis consciousness. However, indic traditional systems (specifically Vedanta) considers these three states to be appearances in the fourth (Turiya), which is our true nature, the base awareness underlying all appearances. That got me thinking about how we can correlate these seemingly separate occurrences of the numbers three and four.

One Two Three Four
waking dreaming deep sleep Turiya/Pure Awareness/Objectless Consciousness
physical body – vaishvānara subtle body – taijasa causal body – prājna Atman/Self – Has no attributes, cannot be an object
Material Universe – Virāt Subtle Universe (Universal Mind) – Hirańyagarbha Cause -God – Ishwara Brahman – Has no attributes, cannot be an object
Intelligence manifested as form and speech – vaikhari Intelligence manifest as thought form and energy – madhyama Intelligence manifest as archetypes and motifs (Deities and divine beings) – pashyanti Pure Intelligence  – Silence – parā, has no attributes

If we look at the table above (or the diagram below), it becomes sort of clear that there seems to be something going on here in terms of correlating the Ones, Twos, Threes across the board.

The Waking state

What is most evident and which everyone will agree upon, is that the waking state, the physical body and the material universe co-exist. In other words, they make up the same reality.

The Dreaming state

A bit more difficult to agree upon is the fact that the dreaming state, with the subtle body and the universal mind (subtle universe) are interrelated. The fact that we seem to possess a subtle body in the dreaming state is evident, as well as the fact that we seem to exist in a dream universe apart from the waking universe. This dream universe (subtle universe) and the dream body (subtle body) appear and disappear in our (individual’s) consciousness is evident. What is not evident is how it relates to an universal mind (if at all that exists). There are three options faced by an individual here.

  • Believe that there is no such correlation and continue to live with the accepted model
  • If you accept the authority of the spiritual texts such as various tantric texts, upanishads and the commentaries of recognized sages and masters, you have to initially accept it in good faith.
  • Try to find out whether there indeed is such a correlation – towards that end, there are many activities that will give us the ability to do. Dream Yoga, lucid dreaming, Astral traveling, etc. While this is not an easy path to follow, but it will without any doubts leave you with a practical and direct experiential understanding of this.

The Causal state

The next (and even harder) aspect to grasp is that of the causal state, because it is associated with the state of deep sleep. The salient feature of deep sleep is that of blankness. There are no memories, no dream objects or any “thing” that one can be aware off in deep sleep. There are no memories even, because memories are predicated on experiences and experiences are predicated on objects of experience. However, deep sleep is not absence of awareness. It is rather the awareness of absence. The same awareness of absence is possible when one enters a meditative absorption state called Nirvikalpa samādhī where the mind has suspended temporarily. Again, one has a few options at this juncture.

  • Reject the premise of the causal state and treat deep sleep as hibernation of the brain (CPU).
  • Accepting the authority of spiritual texts such as Upanishads and Tantric scriptures, accept that there indeed is such a causal state and that it correlates with the deep sleep we all experience.
  • Experientially verify this. When we wake up in the morning after a good night’s sleep (deep sleep), there is a sense of well being. A sense of rest and relaxation that is usually missing when there has not been deep sleep. That knowledge of having slept well is not exactly a memory, but an awareness of being present even in deep sleep, when there is no mind in play.
  • Once one is able to, via meditation enter nirvikalpa samādhī, it becomes apparent that there is pure awareness without any objects and that it is the substratum of our being and experiences. With sufficient purification of the antahkarana (which comprises mind, ego, intellect and storehouse of memory and impression namely, manas, ahamkāra, buddhi, and chitta) via meditation, the awareness of being continues through deep sleep as well.

This still doesn’t solve the problem of whether and how it relates to the causal body of Brahman, aka God or Ishwara. When one is able to access the causal realm, one can directly access these archetypes (not to be taken in a jungian sense). These archetypes are what we call deities and the sage can directly access them.

The work done at this level is one of resonating with the deities both energetically and mentally. Deities have a significantly higher level of energetic frequency and mental range. When someone meditates on a deity properly, they can resonate with the deity at both the energetic and mental level. The deity works as a tuning fork and a pump, tuning the subtle energy of the individual and expanding their mind.

A note about mind/consciousness and energy — They are really not different, but the (appearance of) movement of (objects in) consciousness is energy.

That is the purpose of mantra meditation too. Once we have internalized the mantra, and can go from spoken to whispered to mental repetitions (vaikhari to madhyama), the power of the mantra starts to manifest and we can directly connect with the deity of the mantra (pashyanti). In other words, the mantra is no longer needed to be incanted mechanically. Just thinking of/visualizing the deity as sitting in our spiritual heart center and surrender to his/her (male or female deity) energy and awareness is sufficient. It is a dualistic way of practice, but it helps us transcend the limitations of our physical world.

With enough practice, and with the realization that we are not “actually separate beings” in the ultimate sense, we can connect with and share presence with anyone we want. There are traditions where the teacher (guru) shares presence this way (I have been fortunate to receive this type of direct transmission from two such teachers). There are certain conditions that apply, in that, the recipient of the shared presence may not be able to recognize the shared presence due to certain aspects of their energetic body not being “opened” yet (the individual needs to be active at the heart level or higher (anāhata chakra)).  This type of practice is called deity yoga or guru yoga and usually these are practiced by Tibetan buddhists and Tantric traditions of India such as Kashmir Shaivism (that I know of).

At this juncture, I’d like to point out that the purpose of all this information isn’t to stay mired in the dualities and subtle-dualities such as the “almost non-dual dualities” of deity/guru yoga, but to point out that there is a practical tool available for people who are ready, to accelerate their uncovering (of the Self) by practicing these.

In my humble opinion, this is what the sages meant when they suggested that we should connect with, and develop a personal relationship with an “Ishta Devata” (Personal Deity). With regular practice, we can not only develop self-surrender (to the Deity) but also expand our conscious mind beyond the limitations imposed by our senses. Or in other words, subtler senses will start manifesting, which open us up progressively to a much vaster and much more fluid existence.

Eventually, the goal is that we learn to recognize and abide as the underlying awareness, which ultimately is the only reality, upon which all other experiential realities are dependent. This is evident as the pure awareness underlying our daily experience of waking, dreaming and deep sleep. And is none other than Brahman who appears to us (the jiva) in the form of the material universe, dream universe (universal mind) and deities (aspects of Ishwara). The jñāna (knowledge/intelligence) that is the basis of existence (creation/dissolution) is silence of Atman/Brahman/Turiya and it is itself parā. And it appears to manifest along with and as the causal, subtle and physical forms as pashyanti, madhyama and vaikhari.

These are my thoughts and I’ll be happy to see some responses here, that might correct, clarify or add upon them.


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2 Replies to “Close encounters of the Fourth kind”

  1. Dear Dwai,
    This is a good summary.

    You have stated, ‘This still doesn’t solve the problem of whether and how it relates to the causal body of Brahman, aka God or Ishwara. ‘ in the text.
    Ishwara is the sum total of all causal bodies. Jiva’s causal body, called Prajna, is Brahman reflected in Avidya maya. Ishwara, the sum total of all causal bodies, is Brahman reflected in Sattva Maya and controls Maya.

    Best Regards

    1. Dear Pradip da,

      Thanks for pointing this out. Actually I was making that point from the perspective of the lay person — what is the “conceptual bridge” between prājna and Ishwara?

      Most people go about their daily lives under the belief that there is no awareness in deep sleep!

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