It is difficult, if not impossible, for the mental awareness to understand experiences of consciousness outside of the mind’s normal ranges of operation. Just as we now recognise that our visual perceptions are framed within a range, and that other beings can actually see things we cannot see, such as bees seeing UV light emissions, and we recognise that our auditory perceptions are framed within a range, and other beings can hear things outside that range, such as dogs hearing high pitched sounds inaudible to us, so also the mind is able to comprehend and respond to stimuli and act within a fixed narrow range and there are ranges both below, and above, that in which our mind operates.
Western psychology has attempted to broaden the range of our understanding of the levels of awareness outside the mental frame, but their focus has been primarily on those ranges below the conscious level, the subconscious and the collective unconscious, for instance, although modern day researchers are beginning to focus their efforts on understanding ranges above the mind, and exploring powers that are activated outside the mental range through a heightened awareness.
The Vedic Rishis understood that there were ranges of consciousness above the mental range. Today as people take up the practices of yoga, meditation, concentration, mindfulness, as well as practices which take them out of the mental space such as Sufi dancing, vision quests, etc. they are gaining experience of various states of consciousness experienced above the mind, characterised by light, power, clarity, and a sense of wideness and perspective not available through the logical mental intellect. Due to a certain amount of vagueness and confusion when the seeker experiences these higher realms, there has not been, until now, any defined view of what these planes or stages of consciousness beyond the mind are and how they can be understood. It is in this arena that the work of Sri Aurobindo stands out as he has mapped and described the ladder of consciousness above the mind.
Sri Aurobindo notes: “The Self governs the diversity of its creation by its unity on all the planes from the Higher Mind upwards on which the realisation of the One is the natural basis of consciousness. But as one goes upward, the view changes, the power of consciousness changes, the Light becomes ever more intense and potent. Although the static realisation of Infinity and Eternity and the Timeless One remain the same, the vision of the workings of the One becomes ever wider and is attended with a greater instrumentality of Force and a more comprehensive grasp of what has to be known and done. All possible forms and constructions of things become more and more visible, put in their proper place, utilisable. Moreover, what is thought-knowledge in the Higher Mind becomes illumination in the Illumined Mind and direct intimate vision in the Intuition. But the Intuition sees in flashes and combines through a constant play of light — through revelations, inspirations, intuitions, swift discriminations. The overmind sees calmly, steadily, in great masses and large extensions of space and time and relation, globally; it creates and acts in the same way — it is the world of the great Gods, the divine Creators. Only, each creates in his own way; he sees all but sees all from his own viewpoint. There is not the absolute supramental harmony and certitude. These, inadequately expressed, are some of the differences. I speak, of course, of these planes in themselves — when acting in the human consciousness they are necessarily much diminished in their working by having to depend on the human instrumentation of mind, vital and physical. Only when these are quieted, they get a fuller force and reveal more their character.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being, pp. 62-65