The school of Transcendental Meditation (TM), founded by the renowned mystic Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (who, incidentally, is probably best known for being a mentor to the likes of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, David Lynch and others), identifies seven basic levels of consciousness, as revealed to the adept in the meditation practice, in the Vedic tradition.
The first three levels are waking, deep sleep and dreaming (REM) – universally experienced by pretty much everyone. The four others are less widely known or appreciated. They may be described as follows:
Transcendental consciousness – which may be described as the pure silence of the deeper levels of the mind, beyond the superficial mental chatter that crowds waking consciousness. This state of mind is best experienced in a deep meditative state.
Cosmic consciousness is achieved when one becomes deeply immersed in the transcendental state, over time and a habitual meditative practice, to the extent that one is able to see through the illusory superficialities of the material world and appreciate one’s true self as eternal consciousness.
Beyond all these levels is “God consciousness,” in which one’s heart opens up to such a degree that one finds joy in the simplest of things and one is enamored by the beauty of creation.
Finally, at the pinnacle of the spiritual journey, achieved through a consistent meditative practice and internal reflection, is the experience of “Unity consciousness” – the rarest state of being that the adept can achieve – a state characterized by the ability to see through and past any form of duality or separateness and to perceive all of creation, all of reality, as an integral, unified whole – all aspects of a single state of being – an universal oneness. In this state of consciousness, there is only the “universal self” – there is no ego and no concept of “the other.”
The idea of “unity consciousness” – a state of being more colloquially described as “being at one with the universe” – is hard to appreciate, for all the platitudes and clichés that tend to trivialize the nuance and subtlety associated with its deeper levels of meaning. It is a state of consciousness that we can all appreciate to some degree, because the human mind naturally tends to move in that direction. And yet, it is a state of consciousness from which the human mind is far removed, given that the human condition, such as it is, is fundamentally characterized by duality – one might even say, of alienation or separation from the self and others.
Insofar as we are slaves to the ego and to the superficial trappings of the illusory reality that we find ourselves in – insofar as we feel ourselves to be defined by labels constructed out of ego, ignorance and a limited comprehension of reality – labels based on religious, ethnic, cultural or geographic identity, for example – we remain divided from others and separated from our true selves. For at the core of the idea of “unity consciousness” is the notion that every individual – everything in nature, in fact – is a fractalline fragment in the vast mosaic of reality, or analogous to the crest of a wave in the vast, infinite, universal oceanic field of conscious energy that permeates everything and constitutes the fabric of reality itself – variously referred to as the “unified field,” the “zero point energy field,” or “God.”
These may be difficult metaphysical concepts for the average layperson to wrap their head around, but, perhaps, it is possible to gain some appreciation for what “unity consciousness” really means when we gain a better understanding of what “duality,” its opposite, really means – notably, the duality that characterizes the human condition.
If I may be excused for contradicting myself somewhat by bringing up the subject of television in a blog about “out-of-the-box ideas” – in which I have previously explicitly equated TV with the so-called “idiot box” – I must note that the original Star Trek TV show is one of the few instances of really high quality, intelligent programming on TV – a show that took dramatic television to levels rarely achieved before or since. In some of its best episodes, the show addressed issues that few others have in the domain of popular culture, in ways that remain vivid and accessible to this day, more than half a century later.
One of my absolute favorite Star Trek episodes, entitled Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, deals with two warring aliens encountered by the crew of the starship USS Enterprise. What makes these aliens remarkable is their distinctive physiognomy – they look almost identical, their faces literally being half black and half white – a line of division going down the center of their faces, seeming to separate the left and right cerebral hemispheres while signifying the yin/yang duality of their consciousnesses. And even as their individual consciousnesses are seemingly internally divided by this line of separation, so also are these two-faced beings perpetually at war with each other – perpetually at each others’ throats in a never-ceasing conflict that has continued unabated for over fifty thousand years of tribal warfare.
The aliens’ mutual animosity is completely bewildering to the crew of the Enterprise – especially when considering their distinctive appearance, which makes them seem to be identical twins – at least at first glance. Puzzled by one alien’s derision of the other as the member of “an inferior breed,” Captain Kirk wonders out loud how either of them could possibly consider the other to be any different from themselves. The alien bristles at this suggestion and interjects, “Are you blind?” The alien then points out that each of them is actually the mirror image of the other – not the identical twin. One of them is black on the left side and white on the right, while the other is white on the left side and black on the right.
This seemingly minor detail completely escapes cursory observation from a third-party vantage point, but has become an all-important point of differentiation to the warring aliens themselves – to such a degree that they are irreconcilable, generational, mortal enemies. Kirk, Spock and the others recoil at this realization – the expression of disbelief on Kirk’s face clearly suggests exasperation at the seeming absurdity and triviality of this point of contention.
Rarely have I seen a work of art, on television or elsewhere, that more profoundly captures the essentially dualistic and conflict-oriented nature of the human condition than this episode of a 1960s retro sci-fi TV show! Is this how alien visitors to our own planet possibly see us, especially when they come to recognize the underlying causes of conflict and dissension among human beings, which must be absurdly trivial and insignificant from their point of view?
That duality and division are fundamental to the human condition is evident in any study of history. The earliest literary and historical records recount sagas of internecine tribal warfare between rival factions. The Biblical story of Cain and Abel is one of the foundational myths of western civilization, recounting the tale of a fraternal rivalry turned deadly. Archaic societies as well as more recent tribal societies are frequently characterized by clan warfare. In American folklore and history, there is the Hatfield-McCoy feud of the post-Civil war era and the gang warfare between the Northside and Southside gangs of Prohibition-era Chicago. Around the world and through history, we continue to see this recurrent motif of warring factional dualities – from the Protestants and Catholics of Ireland, to the Shi’ites and Sunnis of the Islamic world, to the Hindus and Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, to the Palestinians and Jews of the middle east.
One of the all-time greatest poets and playwrights of the western world – William Shakespeare – captured this condition of human duality – of humanity in a perpetual state of conflict with itself – most profoundly and movingly in one of his best known and most popular literary works, the play Romeo and Juliet. In the play’s depiction of the warring Montague and Capulet families of Renaissance-era Verona, Italy, the bard makes the profound observation that love is the antithesis of this condition of entrenched war and hatred that, historically, has characterized the human condition. Tragically, in Shakespeare’s drama, young love is no match for the deadly pressures of the ancient feuds that have ripped apart human society since time immemorial, and Shakespeare’s celebrated star-crossed lovers pay the ultimate price for their innocent dream of a unifying love.
The renowned French philosopher and academic, René Girard, described this condition in human nature as mimetic rivalry. He observed that “mimesis” or imitation is one of the key, central characteristics of human nature:
All conflict, competition and rivalry therefore originate in mimetic desire (mimetic rivalry), which eventually reaches destructive stages of conflict both between individuals and social groups that requires them to blame someone or something in order to diffuse conflict through the scapegoat mechanism.Wikipedia entry on René Girard
Girard’s key observation, in his earlier philosophical works, is that the deadliest of rivalries and enmities invariably arise between individuals or groups not so much because of their differences but, rather, in spite of their similarities. The deadliest of enemies tend to be identical to one another for the most part – but the relatively minor differences invariably become magnified into a point of major contention and even deadly conflict. This profound observation by the philosophical genius fits in only too well with everything we know about history and the human condition – duality and conflict are central to the human experience and have been since time immemorial.
When we realize this, it becomes evident that the idea of a “unity consciousness” based on Christ-like charitable love (or agape) and mutual empathy and compassion might represent a massive leap
forward in human evolution – as, in fact, suggested in the mysterious text entitled The Law of One, which was supposedly “channelled” from extra-terrestrial authorship, between 1981 and 1984, by a team of independent researchers – Carla Rueckert, Don Elkins and Jim McCarty.
It would seem that the idea of transcending personal ego through the practice of charitable love and forgiveness, aided by a sound meditation practice, is not merely the crux of a positive, healthy lifestyle, nor is it just a feature of 1960s hippy culture, of which John Lennon and the Maharishi were an indelible part. In fact, it may be the key to the next stage in human evolution – to rising to a higher “density” of consciousness – from the current level of “dualistic consciousness” to the higher level of “unity consciousness” – a state of being where there is no ego and no concept of “the other” and one which is, presumably, characterized by both hemispheres of the human brain working together in harmony with one another.
It must be noted, however, that esoteric ideas like these are invariably subject to distortion, misinterpretation and trivialization. Even as duality and conflict have characterized the human condition since the beginnings of recorded history (at least), so also have human beings sought to achieve peace, harmony, order and unity in society through any number of methods – political, religious, cultural, philosophical and educational all describing attempts to “civilize” human beings into living in peace and harmony with one another, to some degree at least. Some of these efforts have been more successful than others – the foundation of the United States of America being a relatively recent, relatively successful political endeavor, while the foundation of the European Union has, thus far at least, been less successful by comparison.
All that said, I am personally of the opinion that “unification,” in the mode of achieving an “unity consciousness” – and as expressed in John Lennon’s classic rock music ballad Imagine – must ultimately happen organically and spontaneously, from the heart. The fall of the Berlin Wall is one such event of human unification in recent history, in which divisions were surmounted through a spontaneous, organic, heartfelt movement of popular consciousness. Attempts to forcefully unify dissenting populations through the exercise of political dictates, military might or even rational debate and discourse are invariably doomed to failure. If the heart is not in it, any attempt at unification will, at best, likely be a tentative truce or cease-fire and, at worst, a potentially devastating, bloody failure.
Even so, despite a history of thousands of years of bloody conflict behind us, there remains, all the same, the promise of “Ascension” – of somehow rising above the petty, egocentric, illusory differences that divide us and finding true common ground and truly coming together as a species, from the heart, and ascending to a higher level of being together – achieving “unity consciousness” and a new way of living in harmony with each other and nature.