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The Hindu Vedas mention a fourth state of pure consciousness called Turiya (restful alertness). This is a higher state of consciousness that self-realized people are said to be able to access. Many great spiritual masters have spoken of this state, but it remains quite rare and most of us never experience it during our lives. Hence it has been hard to determine exactly what it is and the mechanism by which it occurs.
Some have suggested that the pineal gland is the gateway by which we access higher consciousness. The pineal gland becomes less active after puberty but continues to have a role in the body’s endocrine system producing melatonin (sleep regulator). Others have suggested that the reptilian brain has a connection via the medulla oblongata to universal consciousness. Microtubules have also been suggested as a mechanism by which we connect with the universal consciousness.
The fourth state of consciousness that the Upanishads talk about is a rare but not unknown experience to long-time meditators. During meditation, when one is fully alert, ie CEN active (see diagram below), and the DMN and ego at rest, the state is of expanded awareness free of thoughts (though the attention may be engaged or disengaged at will). Completely in the moment; a state some may describe as unity or “at one”. It is a “blissful” state, because there is absence of happiness, sadness, emotional turmoil; consideration of anything. Just oneness and awareness in the moment.
The diagram above, and much of the discussion on this website, is intended to show the mechanism by which this state becomes possible. A quiescent DMN, an active CEN attentive to the moment and external awareness, but not necessarily solving problems. The 4 states of consciousness roughly correspond with:
- Deep sleep – Thalamus active
- Dreaming sleep – Limbic brain activity (memory processing in the hippocampus)
- Waking consciousness – DMN active
- Turiya – DMN quiet, CEN active
It is hard to describe further in words; experience of the state yourself is best, and that is best learnt through meditation. Turiya is real and can be experienced, and may be the state some associate with enlightenment. Just don’t expect to have access to all the knowledge of the universe; it’s about being in the moment.