The Ladder of Consciousness

The ancient scriptural texts of India were in many cases deeply clothed in symbolism which portrayed various psychological movements and states of consciousness. It then becomes necessary to identify the deeper sense being portrayed to gain a real understanding of the depth of the psychological knowledge being conveyed. Sri Aurobindo has provided a key to understanding the states of consciousness identified in the ancient texts as waking state, dream-state, sleep-state, and the Transcendent state of consciousness. As can be expected, these do not refer to individuals and their habits of sleeping and dreaming!

Sri Aurobindo observes: “…we shall find that the waking state is the consciousness of the material universe which we normally possess in this embodied existence dominated by the physical mind. The dream state is a consciousness corresponding to the subtler life-plane and mind-plane behind, which to us, even when we get intimations of them, have not the same concrete reality as the things of the physical existence. The sleep-state is a consciousness corresponding to the supramental plane proper to the gnosis, which is beyond our experience because our causal body or envelope of gnosis is not developed in us, its faculties not active, and therefore we are in relation to that plane in a condition of dreamless sleep. The Turiya beyond is the consciousness of our pure self-existence or our absolute being with which we have no direct relations at all, whatever mental reflections we may receive in our dream or our waking or even, irrecoverably in our sleep consciousness. This fourfold scale corresponds to the degrees of the ladder of being by which we climb back towards the absolute Divine.”

It is difficult, if not impossible in practical terms, for an individual to move consciously and easily between these different states of awareness. In order to experience the inner vital or mental consciousness, the outer focus and awareness needs to be put aside. The inner development and receptivity required to experience the gnostic consciousness, which represents a reversal of our normal outer ways of seeing and responding, needs an even deeper form of separation from the outer consciousness. It just this difficulty that brings about the use of the trance of Samadhi as a tool for reaching, experiencing and shifting the awareness to these inner or higher states of awareness.

“Hence to those who desire to have the experience of these higher degrees, trance becomes a desirable thing, a means of escape from the limitations of the physical mind and nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 26, Samadhi, pg. 499

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