I believe the audience for this blog in the world is a grand total of less than a couple of dozen and fewer who would understand the desire to chase Turiya - I frankly don’t understand it myself :-). Thus, I am documenting this as a reminder to myself for a few years down the line. If you want to know what an advanced state of meditation looks like - read on.
Twenty years ago - pre-internet era, I read a book called “Living with Himalayan Masters” by Swami Rama, a Guru of “Advaita Sri Vidya”. This book had fantastical stories of Yogic masters performing incredible feats. I bought it hook-line and sinker, perhaps, because I had just lost my younger sister and I was looking for a grander explanation to life than “it just the way it is”. Never found a teacher, because Swami Rama had passed away in 1996.
Nevertheless, this was the first time I came across “Turiya - the 4th” and have been on its hunt ever since.
Advaita (non-duality, formless) philosophy posits the universe as one single consciousness or universal consciousness and each human as a manifestation of the universal consciousness. Though, as with anything hinduism, oxymorons abound just as “hai bhi aur nahin bhi” or “it exists and doesn’t exist at the same time”;”Advaita” is achieved through “Dvaita” or duality or in this case the “Goddess and the God” - take your pick - literally - take a pick of what you resonate towards (no God - consciousness, God, Godess). The goal is to experience universal consciousness. The easiest way to think about consciousness in the Advaita world is it is the “force” that is behind everything (Star Wars anyone!). Turiya is the best way to experience it and meditation takes you there.
Thus, meditation (Dvaita) –> leads to –> meditation (Advaita) –> leads to –> Turiya –> makes you experience –> universal consciousness.
So last week, I attended a week of intense practice of “Advaita Sri Vidya” practice with Avdhoot Shivanand and after years of off-and-on practice I finally consistently hit Turiya and hopefully can hit it without being in the presence of the master. Side note: Avdhoot Shivanand is perhaps the only living master who teaches Advaita Sri Vidya today.
What is Turiya?
Typically, we think of three states of consciousness:
The Upanishads describe Turiya as the fourth state of consciousness that is behind the three states. It is beyond the typical dreaming, sleeping or waking states, on in which, you are completely relaxed, calm, composed and active at the same time. The rate of flow of thoughts flowing through your mind is close to zero. You are aware and in the Here and Now. Timelessness is a fundamental quality of this state.
This state is the one that Yogis achieve to maintain all the time because of supposedly innumerable benefits to mental and physical health. That said, the prime attachment to this state is because you are aware and constantly in touch with universal consciousness.
I liken it to the “flow” state which athletes, musicians get into when they do deep practice. They, unfortunately can maintain this only for a few minutes but a Yogi in meditation can be in it for hours. As an ex-programmer, I experienced this state when in deep coding where I lost track of time.
What was my experience of Turiya
The experience is on so many different levels and hard to explain - there is no existing frame of reference to compare it with so bear with me.
First, I did lose track of time. Everyday, we went into meditation for what seemed like a 15-20 minute session and then when we opened our eyes - it was about 2-3 hours into the meditation. The longest session was about 3.5 hours. Note: I have a back that gives me problems after about 15 minutes in one posture and here we were on one of the more uncomfortable chairs that you see in conference rooms and I was rocking it.
I have been in Buddhist practices, where they take your watch away and make you close your eyes for practice to experience time and unfortunately you are aware of every excruciating minute of that practice. But not Turiya - you walk out of a Turiya session and go “what the hell! I could’ve stayed there for an hour more - lets get back in”!
As I mentioned, I could sit through long sessions without much discomfort. The desire to move wasn’t there at all. The breathing is very fine and very “deep”. Deep breathing has real benefits on your health and I guess I accrued some :-). Utter and complete relaxation is perhaps a better description of the physical state. This relaxation is a better quality than one where you get up after long sleep. I wasn’t drowsy; I was awake; Here and Now.
Awake; Here and Now.
Typically, the mind is racing at a few dozen thoughts a minute. In Turiya, thoughts completely disappeared or were coming at a very slow rate.
Why is this important?
Advaita says that thoughts have either a happiness or unhappiness quality to them. You are either in the past or in the future and rarely here either reflecting on an unhappy or a happy past or future. In Turiya, the thoughts that come have neither quality, their quality is observational (my words). You can dispassionately observe them and insights flow in. It is almost like connecting a diagnostic tool to your computer - you just know what needs to happen to fix that problematic pattern you have been carrying around. Often, I was “observing myself” as a third person which is a deeply reflective state and resulted in interesting experiential insights.
That said, absence of thought is more often experienced than presence and analysis of thoughts.
Experiencing universal consciousness
The experience of universal consciousness was truly other wordly. I don’t quite have words to describe it. The gates to universal consciousness start from body consciousness and the meditation session started by making me very aware of my body consciousness (hard to describe) and at some point a metaphorical gate opened and I entered a deeper state and I realised that I was experiencing universal consciousness. How do you know it is universal consciousness - you just know - deep in your bones. Weird!
The closest description is when in the move “The Matrix”, Neo realises that he is the One. He realises that the matrix is running underneath him and the agents and they are the same. That description gets you close enough.
It felt like I was plugged into a battery and getting my charge in. Typically, I don’t realise that I am connected but now I was completely aware that I am being charged and could “see” the source. I use “see” as “see it in the third eye”.
Finally, the “I” disappeared even if it was for a short time and I became part of the universal expression where me and the chair and then neighbour and her chair were all one. Just one part of this fabric called the universe existing together Here and Now. This state is called “Tat tvam asi” or “Thou are that” or “being one with the force but better ;-)”.
Seems like that the entire experience was perhaps less than 5% of what you aspire to.
More practice ahead :-).