What is Transcendental Consciousness?

Transcendental Consciousness
Many scholars have noted that experiences of Transcendental Consciousness are universal, found in all cultures, in both religious and secular settings, although their interpretation varies according to the cultural contexts.(1-8)  Typical reports of the period immediately prior to the Transcendental Consciousness experience by TM meditators is of mental activity becoming "subtler", "finer", "vaguer" until all mental and perceptual activity ceases in the state of Transcendental Consciousness.(5)

A meditator says of his first experience of the TM technique: "I began to drift down into deeper and deeper levels of relaxation, as if I were sinking into my chair. Then for some time, perhaps a minute or a few minutes, I experienced a silent, inner state of no thoughts, just pure awareness and nothing else; then again I became aware of my surroundings. It left me with a deep sense of ease, inner renewal and happiness."(4)

TM practitioners variously describe their personal experiences of Transcendental Consciousness as: "inner wakefulness", "unbounded awareness", "enormously great calm and peace", "timelessness", "blissful awareness", "a balanced state of fulfillment that just is—being beyond change, time, and space", "the experience of one's innermost Self—the Self is consciousness in its pure nature", "the 'I' alone is and nothing else," "pure subject with no object", and as "a feeling of having arrived at the destination, completeness, satisfying to a very complete degree."

Some comment that the experience is indescribable: "Any explanation will sound strange because our vocabulary is derived from experience in the waking state and these words are not really adequate to describe this experience. The experience speaks for itself."(5)

These experiences are similar to ones found throughout history. Plotinus, the 3rd century Alexandrian philosopher, described one who has this experience as: "he had attained unity and contained no difference...he was tranquil, solitary, and unmoved....He was indeed in a state of perfect stability, having, so to say, become stability itself..."(9)

The German philosopher Hegel described Transcendental Consciousness as "wholly abstract universality...transcendent, self-consciousness, which is identical with itself and infinite in itself..."(10) 

Poet William Wordsworth described Transcendental Consciousness in Tintern Abbey as "...That serene and blessed mood, in which the affections gently lead us on. Until the breath of this corporeal frame And even the motion of our human blood Almost suspended, we are laid asleep in body, and become a living soul." (11)

Another British poet, Tennyson, described it as "...individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being, and this not a confused state, but the clearest of clearest, the surest of the surest...utterly beyond words, where death was an almost laughable impossibility...I am ashamed of my feeble description. Have I not said the state is utterly beyond words?"(12) 
Modern French playwrite Eugene Ionesco wrote of his experiences of Transcendental Consciousness: "It was as if, first of all, every motion, every reality was emptied of its content. After this, it was as if I found myself suddenly at the center of pure ineffable existence. I became one with the one essential reality when along with an immense serene joy, I was overcome by what I might call the stupefaction of being, the certainty of being." (13 -14)
These personal experiences suggest that Transcendental Consciousness is not just a state of relaxation, but has an alertness or awareness component as well, albeit an inner awareness of consciousness itself rather than of an outer awareness of an object of conscious experience. Wallace described Transcendental Consciousness as 'restful alertness', and pointed to increase EEG alpha/theta as an index of undirected inner awareness.(15, 16) Several subsequent studies that focused on the objective correlates of specific periods of Transcendental Consciousness during the TM technique have found that the physiology of TC is not what the relaxation response would predict. During Transcendental Consciousness respiration is abruptly reduced by 40% or even suspended for up to a minute without compensatory breathing afterwards. (5, 17-19)

EEG power and coherence in the 6-10 Hz band peaks, with large individual differences in peak frequencies and scalp locations.(19) Contrary to the Relaxation Response hypothesis, however, skin conductance, an unambiguous marker of sympathetic nervous system activity, increases at the onset of the Transcendental Consciousness period.(19) This is interpreted as corresponding to the subjective experience of heightened inner awareness during Transcendental Consciousness.(19) As seen above, this 'exhilaration' component of Transcendental Consciousness is universally reported, e.g., "become a living soul" (Wordsworth), "the clearest of clearest, the surest of the surest" (Tennyson), "immense serene joy", "stupefaction of being" (Ionesco).

TM meditators describe Transcendental Consciousness as "exhilarating", 'lively alertness", "absolute stillness that is alive and full", "my mind in this state becomes fully alert and completely relaxed", "...being aware of nothing, yet this awareness is very alive", "...even if there were no thoughts or any the content in the awareness, I was awake, it was far from any sleep-like state."(5) 

Thus, there is an activation component to Transcendental Consciousness and it is not simply a state of relaxation.

What is "transcending?"

Who was Maharishi—what is his role in TM?

Is TM just another form of "mantra" meditation?

Will other practices give the same results?

How does Transcendental Meditation compare to Zen? 

How is Transcendental Meditation different from mindfulness?

What is brain wave coherence?
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2. James W. The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: Mentor/NAL, 1902/1958
3. Stace WT. Mysticism and Philosophy. London: Macmillan Press, 1973
4. Alexander CN, Boyer WR. Seven states of consciousness. Modern Science and Vedic Science. 1989;2:325-371.
5. Severeide CJ. Physiological and phenomenological aspects of Transcendental Meditation. In: Chalmers RA, Clements G, Schenkluhn H, Weinless M, ed. Scientific Research on Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi Program: Collected Papers. Vlodrop, the Netherlands: MVU Press, 1979/1989:
6. Chandler K. Experiences of Higher States of Consciousness & Philosophy. Fairfield, IA: Fairfield Press, In press
7. Pearson C, Pearson M. Waking Up from the Waking State. Fairfield, IA: Fairfield Press, In press
8. Shear J. The Inner Dimension: Philosophy and the Experience of Consciousness. New York: Peter Lang, 1990:243.
9. Katz J. The philosophy of Plotinus: Representative books from the Enneads. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1950
10. Hagel GWF. Phenomenology of mind. (2nd ed.) London: George Allen & Unwin, 1910/1949
11. Wordsworth W. Tintern Abbey. In: Abrams MH, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 4th ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1798/1979: 155-158. vol 2).
12. Tennyson H. Alfred, Lord Tennyson: A memoir by his son. (new ed. ed.) London: Macmillan, 1899
13. Ionesco E. Present past past present: A personal memoir. New York: Grove Press, 1971
14. Orme-Johnson RF. A unified field theory of literature. Modern Science and Vedic Science. 1987;1:323-373.
15. Wallace RK. Physiological effects of Transcendental Meditation. Science. 1970;167:1751–1754.
16. Wallace RK, Benson H, Wilson AF. A wakeful hypometabolic physiologic state. Am J Physiol. 1971;221:795–799.
17. Farrow JT, Hebert JR. Breath suspension during the Transcendental Meditation technique. Psychosom Med. 1982;44:133–153.
18. Badawi K, Wallace RK, Orme-Johnson D, Rouzeré AM. Electrophysiologic characteristics of respiratory suspension periods occurring during the practice of the Transcendental Meditation program. Psychosom Med. 1984;46:267–276.
19. Travis F, Wallace RK. Autonomic patterns during respiratory suspensions: Possible markers of Transcendental Consciousness. Psychophysiology. 1997;34:39-46.

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