The Superconscious State: Turiya, the Fourth State of Consciousness
The highest of all states of consciousness is turiya, for it goes beyond the other three. This is a transcendent state, far beyond conventional awareness or apprehension. In this elevated state, the agent realizes Brahman, or ultimate reality.
In some of the early Upanishads, the two last states of prajna and turiya are combined, but the two states — of deep sleep and superconsciousness — are not the same. Similar to the state of mind of mystics through the ages, turiya is a state beyond describable qualities. In this sense, it is ineffable; that is, it cannot be expressed in precise words. Nonetheless, an attempt can be made.
The Upanishads call this a state that is none other than the Lord. He, Brahman, is the supreme of life. He is infinite peace and love, so he ought to be realized. In a passage from the Svetavatara Upanishad (6.1–10) this is referred to as “knowing God.” The passage reads:
Some say that life created itself; others say that life evolved through time. God is the ruler of creation and time; all that exists comes from him.
God is pure consciousness. He is everywhere; he possesses all power; he sees every event. He created time; and living beings evolve at his command.
Those who act without thought of personal gain, and who control their actions, will eventually discover God; and then they will know that all forms of life are one. Those who work in the service of God are freed from the process of cause and effect.
Know God as the source of life, whose glory permeates the entire world. Know him as the one who is beyond space and time, and yet can be found within the human heart.
Know God as the one who makes the sun and the moon move across the sky. Know him as the one who determines what is right and wrong, and whose law is written in the human heart.
Know God as the king of all kings, the lord of all lords, the ruler of all. Know him as the one who never moves, and yet who is constantly active in the world.
Know God as the first cause of all things, and yet who himself has no cause. Know him as the Lord of love, who conceals himself in all living beings, as a spider conceals itself in its web.
Also, the scripture says turiya is represented by “Om.” It says in the Upanishad:
Turiya is represented by AUM.
Though indivisible, it has three sounds.
A stands for Vaishvanara. Those who know this,
Through mastery of the sense, obtain
The fruit of their desires and attain greatness.
U indicates Taijasa. Those who know this,
By mastering even their dreams, become
Established in wisdom. In their family
Everyone leads the spiritual life.
M corresponds to Prajna. Those who know this,
By stilling the mind, find their true stature
And inspire everyone around to grow.
The mantra AUM stands for the supreme state
Of turiya, without parts, beyond birth
And death, symbols of everlasting joy.
Those who know AUM as the Self become the Self;
Truly they become the Self.
This is a supreme consciousness of consciousness. Our normal knowledge is knowledge of something; the knowledge of turiya is knowledge of nothing in particular, but knowledge of the ground of all-being and all-knowing. It is the self knowing itself for what it is — not the function of an isolated capacity of the mind, but pure awareness and knowledge of the subject itself.
Those who search for the soul find the soul. Those who find the soul acquire all knowledge; they have no further questions to ask. They see the soul in every living being whom they encounter; thus, they serve every living being they encounter. By knowing the soul, they are united with all beings.
Spiritual advancement is made by renunciation. By renouncing worldly knowledge, you acquire spiritual knowledge; by renouncing worldly life, you attain immortality; by renouncing the pleasures of the body, you are freed from the pains of the body.
This state, sometimes referred to as jnana, is the self-consciousness of reality. Beyond this knowledge, there is no objective content of a world. There is no multiplicity, literally no thing with which this knowledge can be identified. It is not possible to have this knowledge in part; one has it all, or not at all. It is the knowledge of atman, which is indivisible.
This fourth condition of knowledge is purity. The senses are turned neither outward nor inward; there is neither wakefulness nor dreaming. This is the condition of supreme consciousness, when there is complete awareness of the soul. This fourth condition is expressed by the word “Om.”
In sum, the Mandukya Upanishad distinguishes between a para, or higher, and an apara, or lower, knowledge. The lower is the knowledge of the Vedas and Vedangas, or traditional knowledge. This higher knowledge is that “wherewith the imperishable is grasped”; it is also that which leads to self-realization.
The eye cannot see it; mind cannot grasp it.
The deathless Self has neither caste nor race,
Neither eyes nor ears nor hands nor feet.
Sages say this Self is infinite in the great
And in the small, everlasting and changeless,
The source of life.
Mandukya Upanishad 3:2.3–8
Another passage from the Chandogya Upanishad (6:1.1–7) includes a conversation between a twelve-year-old boy, and his father, Aruni. It illustrates this kind of “knowing the unknown” that constitutes higher knowledge:
When his son reached the age of twelve, Aruni, who was a priest, said to him: “It is time for you to go to a spiritual teacher, and become his disciple. Every member of our family studies spiritual knowledge.” So the son went away for twelve years. During this time he learnt all the Vedas, and he returned home at the age of twenty-four.
His father said to him: “You seem to be very proud of all the knowledge you have acquired. But did you ask your teacher for that wisdom which enables you to hear the unheard, think the unthought, and know the unknown?” The son said: “What is that wisdom?” Aruni replied: “By knowing one lump of clay, we come to know all things made of clay; and we realize that in essence they are the same, differing only in name and form. By knowing one gold nugget, we come to know all things made of gold; and we realize that in essence they are the same, differing only in name and form. By knowing one tool of iron, we come to know all tools made of iron; and we realize that in essence they are the same, differing only in name and form. In the same way, through spiritual wisdom we come to know that all life is one.”
What falls away in this state of consciousness — this way of seeing — is the usual subject-object distinction or polarity. The knowing mind doesn't experience his mind as set apart from the world, and the world as other; rather, his mind is united with the world.
Two more passages from the Upanishads illustrate the point more clearly. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (4:3.9–10) the supreme goal of life is discussed:
The soul is itself is free from desire, free from evil, and free from fear.
When a man is in the arms of his beloved, he is oblivious to what is happening around him and within him. In the same way when we are in union with the soul, we are oblivious to what is happening around us and within us. In this state all desire is fulfilled, because union with the soul is the only desire; there can be no suffering.
In this state there are no parents, no worlds, no spiritual forces, and no sacred texts. In this state there is neither thief nor murderer; there is no low caste or high caste; there is neither monk nor ascetic. The soul is beyond good and evil, and beyond all sorrows of the heart.
In this state we see without seeing, smell without smelling, taste without tasting, speak without speaking, hear without hearing, touch without touching, think without thinking, know without knowing — for nothing is separate from us. Where there is separateness, there is a subject which sees, smells, tastes, hears, touches, thinks and knows; and there are objects. But where there is unity, there is no subject and no objects.
This is divinity. This is the supreme goal of life, the supreme treasure, the supreme joy.
And in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (4:4.6b), this same kind of higher metaphysical knowing is elaborated on:
The soul is not born, but always exists, It is the consciousness of life, and dwells in every heart; it is the master of all, the lord of all. The soul is not made greater by good actions, not diminished by bad actions. It is the supreme sovereign, and the protector of all living beings. It is the bridge between this world and the world beyond; and it is also the dike which separates them.
Those who love God, seek the soul through studying the sacred texts, through worship, through acts of charity, and through abstaining from pleasures. Those who find the soul, become sages. They demand nothing for themselves, because those who know the soul. Possess the whole world. They do not desire offspring, and nor do they desire wealth; they regard all desire as empty.
The soul cannot be defined; it is not this or this. The soul cannot be comprehended, because it is beyond comprehension. The soul cannot pass away, because it is imperishable. The soul is free, because it has no bonds of attachment. The soul is serene, because it cannot suffer or fear suffering.
Those who know the soul, feel no grief at the evil they do, nor elation at the good they do; they are beyond good and evil. They are indifferent to what is done and left undone. They are masters of themselves, and they are utterly calm and tranquil. They see the soul within themselves, and they see the soul in all beings.
This is the highest knowledge, for it is a knowledge beyond material reality.