BY LINDA EGENES

Book Review

Laozi, the Buddha, Plato, St. Teresa of Avila, Wordsworth, Emerson, Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Black Elk, Einstein—throughout history, great men and women have described sublime experiences of extraordinary wakefulness, freedom, and bliss, as different from our ordinary waking experience as waking is from dreaming. 

In his new book, The Supreme Awakening: Experiences of Enlightenment Throughout Time—And How to Cultivate Them, Craig Pearson, PhD, shares transcendent experiences representing a wide range of times, cultures, and religions. The book is one of the most comprehensive anthologies of such experiences ever assembled.

But Dr. Pearson goes further. He explains how they can be understood and categorized using Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s model of seven states of consciousness. And he shows how anyone can cultivate the same kinds of sublime experiences celebrated by some of history’s great geniuses simply by practicing the effortless technique of Transcendental Meditation.

Dr. Pearson is the Executive Vice-President of Maharishi University of Management and the author of The Complete Book of Yogic Flying. Here he talks about what inspired him to write The Supreme Awakening and his experience along the way.

archive18-stories_02Linda Egenes: What inspired you to write this book?

Dr. Pearson: I’ve always been fascinated by people’s experiences of higher states of consciousness. Early in my meditating career, I came across a passage from Wordsworth describing a transcendental experience and found that quite remarkable. I started looking for more, and I found them. I began putting a few of these in University publications—and saw that other people found this interesting too.

I soon realized that there is a scientific hypothesis in this, namely that the capacity to experience higher states of consciousness is universal. If this is true, it should be possible to find descriptions in the writings of great people of different cultures. I pursued it more seriously, and eventually it became the topic of my Ph.D. dissertation and now a book.

Linda Egenes: What was your research method? How did you find the writings of more obscure people such as Dov Baer of Mezericht from the Ukraine, for instance?

Dr. Craig Pearson: It was like panning for gold, sifting through lots of gravel to occasionally find a gold nugget. I’ve lost track of the countless books I’ve combed through to find these experiences.

I found ways of narrowing the search. For example, there’s the whole field of mystical and religious experience, which includes experiences of the kind I was looking for. Books on this topic yielded more frequent nuggets. Books on the creative process turned up a few.

Other times I would just have a hunch. For instance, I hadn’t seen references to Helen Keller in my research, but I thought about the unique life she led, blind and deaf from the age of two, yet rising to become one of the most important people of the 20th century. I read all of her books and found some really beautiful experiences of transcendence. In reading the books by and about these people, and especially reading how they describe these intimate experiences, I felt like they became my friends.

Sometimes I felt that their experiences were trying to find me. I was browsing through a Lands’ End catalog, reading a photo essay in the center about the Kashmir goats in Mongolia that provide the wool for the company’s sweaters—and suddenly found the writer describing a beautiful experience of a higher state of consciousness. I ended up corresponding with him.

Another time, close to publication, I was walking through the Fairfield Public Library and chanced to pick up a book on a display shelf. I opened to a random page—and there was a statement from Jesus, from the New Testament, clearly describing the experience of a higher state of consciousness. I thought, “How could I have missed this?” I felt as if this passage did not want to be omitted.

Linda Egenes: One interesting theme came through in your book, that these transcendental experiences are beyond words.

Dr. Pearson: A number of people said this—even after expressing their experience in the most beautiful, poetic words. The French playwright Eugene Ionesco wrote, “Words can only disfigure” the experience.

Imagine being color-blind in a color-blind world, then suddenly, for a few moments, glimpsing color. How can you describe color to someone who hasn’t yet experienced it? And how much more difficult it must be to describe a different state of consciousness. Higher states of consciousness entail a completely different mode of experiencing one’s self and one’s environment.

So while the words of Ionesco and Wordsworth and so many others are glorious, we should not imagine we understand the experience of higher states of consciousness just by reading these words. You have to have the experience.

Linda Egenes: Was this an elusive experience for most people—something they spent the rest of their lives searching for?

Dr. Craig Pearson: I believe that some people in the book—Laozi and Shankara come to mind—were well established in higher states of consciousness. Maharishi has made the point that there have been enlightened people in every age. But most people in the book seemed only to glimpse these states. Many wondered where the experience came from and how they could get it back.

Linda Egenes: This brings us to Maharishi’s contribution.

Dr. Craig Pearson: Yes. First of all, Maharishi has given us the Transcendental Meditation technique, which is a simple, natural, effortless procedure for cultivating these experiences. This is an incredible gift, because until now these experiences have been extremely rare, fleeting, and unpredictable. Now anyone can systematically develop them.

Second, Maharishi has given us a new model of human development that includes seven states of consciousness altogether—four higher states beyond the three familiar states of waking, dreaming, and sleeping. This gives us a powerful way of understanding and categorizing these experiences.

And finally, we have all the scientific research on the Transcendental Meditation technique, which Maharishi strongly encouraged from the first. Research on the TM technique really means research on higher states of consciousness, higher human development. The findings here have been unprecedented.

And what comes out of the research is that higher states of consciousness are not a matter of some mood or dream or poetic flight of fancy. They are real experiences, contingent on achieving certain thresholds of integration and purification of the brain and body. They have a unique physiological basis.

Linda Egenes: Can you say a little more about higher states of consciousness and enlightenment?

Dr. Craig Pearson: By higher states of consciousness, we mean more expanded creativity, expanded intelligence, and even more important, expanded experience of the Self and the universe around us—far beyond anything we experience in the ordinary waking state, even on a good day.

Maharishi named these four higher states Transcendental Consciousness, Cosmic Consciousness, God Consciousness, and Unity Consciousness. Each higher state is a progressive stage of enlightenment. The fourth state, Transcendental Consciousness, is what we experience during our daily Transcendental Meditation practice. The fifth state, Cosmic Consciousness, is what we are cultivating day by day through our daily TM practice. The sixth and seventh states grow naturally out of these.

Each higher state of consciousness is as different from the waking state as waking is from sleeping or dreaming. Maharishi refers to “the seven worlds of the seven states of consciousness.” That drives home the point that each state of consciousness, starting with waking, sleeping, and dreaming, presents us with an utterly different world of experience from the others. At the same time, each one is completely natural and normal, a quantum expansion of our unlimited potential.

This is a developmental model. Maharishi has described the dynamics of how each higher state builds on the previous one. We now have a clear and detailed picture of how human development progresses beyond the adult waking state.

Linda Egenes: So reading this book could be a great way for people who already meditate to understand their own experiences better?

Dr. Craig Pearson: Also a great way to introduce people to the Transcendental Meditation technique. It’s important for people to see that the TM technique offers far more than relief from stress and anxiety, or lowering high blood pressure, as important as those things are. Those things are early stepping stones on the way to fulfilling our highest potential as human beings. The ultimate goal is enlightenment.

Linda Egenes is co-editor of Enlightenment: The Transcendental Meditation® Magazine. She is the author of five books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 18. Reprinted with permission.)

An Interview with Craig Pearson, Ph.D.

BY LINDA EGENES

Craig Pearson, Ph.D., is the Executive Vice-President of Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, IowaCraig Pearson, Ph.D., is the Executive Vice-President of Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, and the author of the forthcoming book, The Supreme Awakening: Experiences of Higher States of Consciousness—Cultivating the Infinite Potential Within. Dr. Pearson has spent many years researching the expression of higher states of consciousness in the writings of great philosophers, saints, scientists, artists, and writers. Here Dr. Pearson speaks about humanity’s age-old quest for enlightenment.

 

Enlightenment: What is the relationship of enlightenment and human potential?

Dr. Pearson: Enlightenment is a term that has been used for thousands of years, in traditions east and west, to refer to the most fully developed expression of human potential, far beyond the ordinary.

Enlightenment: How common is it?

Dr. Pearson: Although this extraordinary experience has been described by individuals in different cultures over the millennia and is celebrated in the world’s spiritual traditions, it seems to be exceedingly rare. But obviously it lies within the realm of human potential.

Enlightenment : What has Maharishi contributed to the understanding of enlightenment?

Dr. Pearson: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is often credited with reintroducing the concept of enlightenment in a systematic manner in our modern age. He has put forward a comprehensive understanding of enlightenment that embraces the great traditions and thinkers who have described this experience across time. Maharishi was also the first to promote scientific investigation into enlightenment, bringing the phenomenon of spiritual development into the arena of modern science.

Enlightenment: How does Maharishi describe enlightenment?

Dr. Pearson: For Maharishi, enlightenment is the ultimate development of one’s inner potential as a human being. It means being established in the highest state of human consciousness.

Enlightenment begins with experiencing the reality of your innermost Self as unbounded and eternal and being established at that level. This means the consciousness of an enlightened person is no longer subject to the ups and downs of emotions, mind, and body but steadfast, anchored in inner silence.

Enlightenment brings the ultimate unfoldment of one’s creativity and intelligence. It means living in harmony with all the laws of nature and easily fulfilling your desires. It means being of maximum use to yourself and others and creating a powerfully nourishing effect in one’s environment.

At the highest stage, enlightenment means experiencing the universe as the expression of your unbounded Self. It is a state of perpetual freedom and bliss, supreme fulfillment.

Enlightenment: Can we relate this in any way to our day-to-day experience?

Dr. Pearson: Although this vision of human development may seem idealistic, we have all had experiences in this direction. Some days we just feel happier inside, more appreciative of others—life is easier, fuller, richer, and more rewarding. We may have moments of enhanced mental clarity or heightened levels of creativity, when we surprise ourselves with how quickly the solution to a problem may come. Athletes sometimes experience the zone—periods of peak performance that are effortless and euphoric.

Dr. Pearson reads an experience of higher states of consciousness by the Nobel laureate poet, writer, and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore

At these times we are using a bit more of our potential. But enlightenment is far, far more than this. It goes far beyond just having a good day. People who have had experiences of enlightenment report that words simply cannot capture the sublimity of the experience.

Enlightenment: You have researched how individuals from different historical epochs and different parts of the world have shared this same experience. Can you talk about that?

Dr. Pearson: In traditions throughout time we find remarkably similar descriptions of this extraordinary experience of human life lived to its fullest—in the writings of great philosophers, religious figures, artists, scientists, and writers, as well as in the great religious traditions of the world. The terminology may vary from tradition to tradition and age to age. But when you have the clear and precise description of enlightenment provided by Maharishi, it becomes easy to appreciate what these people are talking about.

Enlightenment: So the experience is universal?

Dr. Pearson: Yes. And the recognition that many have shared this experience throughout history is not new either. Some scholars have called it the perennial philosophy or theprimordial tradition. The perennial philosophy holds that although various spiritual and philosophical traditions appear different on the surface, at their core all traditions share common, universal principles.

Enlightenment: What are these universal principles?

Dr. Pearson: The perennial philosophy has three basic tenets: (1) Underlying the diversity of the world is a field of unity. (2) We can subjectively experience this field of unity deep within us. (3) The purpose of life is ultimately to experience and live this inner, divine reality of life.

This inner field goes by different names. Laozi called it the Tao. Plato called it the Good, the One, and the Beautiful.Aristotle called it Being. The Greek-Roman philosopher Plotinus called it the Infinite. In Judaism it is called Ein Sof, in Christianity the kingdom of heaven within. In more modern times, Ralph Waldo Emerson called it the Oversoul.

These different names are not referring to mere philosophical or spiritual ideals. They point to the inner reality of life—a reality that can be experienced directly and, when experienced, brings fulfillment beyond words.

Enlightenment: How does Maharishi talk about this inner field?

Dr. Pearson: Maharishi characterizes it as an unbounded field of pure consciousness, an all-pervading ocean of creativity, intelligence, and bliss, beyond space and time. Maharishi asserts, moreover, that this field of pure consciousness is identical with the unified field of natural law that modern physics describes mathematically. Thus the inner field that gives rise to all our thoughts and feelings is the same field that gives rise to the entire universe.

Enlightenment: And we can experience this inner field of pure consciousness?

Dr. Pearson: Every human being has the natural ability to experience this field. It simply requires “diving within,” allowing the mind to settle inward, beyond the thinking process. This is calledtranscending.

People throughout history have described and celebrated this experience. It is a simple and natural experience—but by most accounts seems to be rare and fleeting. People have lacked a technique for experiencing it systematically. This is the gift Maharishi has given us—the Transcendental Meditation technique, a simple, natural, effortless procedure by which anyone can dive within at will.

Until Maharishi started teaching in the West, the understanding of how to transcend had for the most part been lost. The Transcendental Meditation technique, which has its origin in the ancient Vedic tradition, provides direct experience of pure consciousness. It is easy to learn and practice, validated by hundreds of scientific research studies, and practiced by millions of people throughout the world.

Enlightenment: What happens in the process of transcending?

Dr. Pearson: Maharishi compares the mind to an ocean. Like the ocean, the mind is normally “wavy,” filled with perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. But like the ocean, the mind can become still, while remaining alert.

During Transcendental Meditation practice, our attention settles inward, beyond the noise of perceptions, thoughts, feelings. When this happens, consciousness is left to experience itself alone, in its pure form—silent, serene, wide awake within itself—unbounded pure awareness, the unified field. This is the true nature of consciousness, our inmost Self.

Simultaneously the body becomes deeply restful while brain functioning becomes integrated, suggesting the total brain is awake. In this deeply relaxed state, the body dissolves stress, strain, and fatigue with maximum efficiency—which is crucial, because stress is what inhibits the natural expression of our full, enlightened potential.

This experience during meditation may be fleeting at first, or so natural and subtle that one is scarcely aware of it. But in every case the mind becomes as inwardly settled as the physiology will allow.

Enlightenment: How does the experience of transcending differ from normal waking, dreaming, and sleeping?

All human beings have the natural ability to transcend, to dive within and experience the infinite sea of pure consciousness deep inside—and from there to rise to higher states of consciousness, to enlightenment, and realize their full potential.

Dr. Pearson: Waking, dreaming, and sleeping are the three states of consciousness we are all familiar with. With the very first research studies on the Transcendental Meditation technique, it became clear that people were experiencing something quite different. Their bodies were deeply relaxed, and their minds were settled yet alert. Scientists recognized that this was a fourth major state of consciousness. Maharishi calls it Transcendental Consciousness and describes it as a state of restful alertness.

Enlightenment: What role does the experience of transcending play in growth to enlightenment?

Dr. Pearson: Every human being has the natural ability to experience this field. It simply requires “diving within,” allowing the mind to settle inward, beyond the thinking process. This is called transcending.

With regular, repeated experience of Transcendental Consciousness, the mind and body become accustomed to this restfully alert style of functioning—one maintains unbounded awareness, the fully expanded state of mind, at all times, along with waking, dreaming, and sleeping. The physiology is now free of stress, and brain functioning remains integrated throughout the day.

This stage of development represents a fifth state of consciousness, which Maharishi calls Cosmic Consciousness. With consciousness now fully expanded and open to the unified field, you live in accord with natural law—your actions are spontaneously life-nourishing, and you fulfill your desires without strain.

But growth of enlightenment does not stop here. Maharishi describes the full range of human development as encompassing seven distinctly different states of consciousness altogether. This model of higher human development—seven states of consciousness—is another of Maharishi’s great contributions. (See Enlightenment, Issue 6, forthcoming.)

Enlightenment: And you find experiences of these stages of higher human development described in literature throughout the world?

Dr. Pearson: Yes. With Maharishi’s framework of human development in mind, we can look back at records of human history, at the writings of saints and poets and philosophers and the texts of different religious traditions, and we recognize and more clearly understand these exalted experiences.

Enlightenment: Can you give some examples?

Lord Tennyson

Dr. Pearson: The great English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892),
seems to have had experiences of transcending, the fourth state of
consciousness, starting from boyhood and lasting throughout his life.
For example, he describes:

When I have been all alone… all at once, as it were, out of the intensity of the consciousness of individuality, the individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being, and this not a confused state, but the clearest, the surest of the sure … utterly beyond words…. It is no nebulous ecstasy, but a state of transcendent wonder, associated with absolute clearness of mind. [1]

Hakuin Zenji

This next experience comes from Hakuin Zenji, also known as Hakuin Ekaku(1685–1769), one of the most influential figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism. Hakuin describes a state in which the silent calm of unbounded pure consciousness (which he calls “the spirit of the Way”) is maintained at all times, even while one is involved in dynamic activity—reminding us of the fifth state of consciousness, Cosmic Consciousness:

The spirit of the Way is never to be lost even for a single moment…. What is of absolute importance, is that the two states—activity and calm … must have the pure, unmixed, complete, and whole truth in the forefront. It must be such, indeed, that so that even if one were surrounded by a thousand or ten thousand people one would be as if one were dwelling alone in a wide open space of thousands of miles…. [2]

Peace PilgrimPeace Pilgrim

One last experience I’d like to share suggests Maharishi’s final stage of human development, Unity Consciousness. This experience was described by a woman who dropped her given name and became known as Peace Pilgrim (1908–1981), devoting the last decades of her life to speaking on the need for peace, crisscrossing America on foot seven times. She wrote:

I was out walking in the early morning. All of a sudden I felt very uplifted, more uplifted than I had ever been. I remember I knew timelessness and spacelessness and lightness…. The most important part of it was not the phenomena: the important part of it was the realization of the oneness of all creation. Not only all human beings—I knew before that all human beings are one. But now I knew also a oneness with the rest of creation. The creatures that walk the earth and the growing things of the earth. The air, the water, the earth itself. And, most wonderful of all, a oneness with that which permeates and binds all together and gives life to all…. [3]

I could give many more examples of such experiences of higher states of consciousness. The point is that experiences of these exalted levels of human development are natural and universal—and they can now be systematically cultivated through the technologies of consciousness Maharishi has brought to light from the ancient Vedic tradition.

Enlightenment: So Maharishi’s vision is that enlightenment doesn’t belong only to the great seers, it can be experienced by every person?

Dr. Pearson: Yes. All human beings have the natural ability to transcend, to dive within and experience the infinite sea of pure consciousness deep inside—and from there to rise to higher states of consciousness, to enlightenment, and realize their full potential. This, Maharishi emphasized, is the birthright of every human being, the destiny of everyone. And this is why he brought the Transcendental Meditation technique out of the Himalayas and made it available to everyone on earth.

Watch the video  

REFERENCES

1.  Hallam Tennyson, Alfred, Lord Tennyson: A Memoir by his Son, Volume I (London: Macmillan, 1897), 320.

2.  The Embossed Tea Kettle: Orate Gama and Other Works of Hakuin Zenji, trans. R.D.M. Shaw (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1963), 82.

3.  Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words, compiled by Friends of Peace Pilgrim (Santa Fe: Ocean Tree Books, 1983), 21–22.


You can read more about higher states of consciousness, as well Maharishi’s advanced program for enlightenment and world peace, the TM-Sidhi® program, in Dr. Pearson’s newest book, The Supreme Awakening:Experiences of Enlightenment throughout Time—and How You Can Cultivate Them.

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 5. Reprinted with permission.)