Maharishi and States of Consciousness
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, often considered the leading scientist of consciousness in our time, brought out the TM technique from the ancient Vedic tradition. That tradition of teachers for millennia has maintained the knowledge of frequencies of sound and how to use them for the evolution of life. The sounds were originally cognized by rishis in their own pure consciousness as the vibratory structure of creation. Maharishi was able to systematize the teaching to make it available to people around the world, and he encouraged scientific research so that meditation and its experiences were not shrouded in mysticism.
What has emerged over the last 50 years are seven stages of growth of consciousness based on specific measurable changes in the human nervous system. Pure consciousness has turned out to be a natural 4th state of consciousness (beyond waking, dreaming, and sleeping) that we all have within us. It is our own internal antidote to stress as well as the key to creativity and health. Maharishi called the 5th state Cosmic Consciousness (where inner silence and outer activity coexist 24 hours a day), the 6th state Refined Cosmic Consciousness (where perception refines and the heart expands), and the 7th state Unity Consciousness (where inner and outer merge in one united awareness).
It’s rare to have an enlightened sage comment on specifics of literature, but part of Maharishi’s mission was to bring his attention to every aspect of modern life to identify the most fundamental or ideal state of that discipline. I have organized my summary of his ideas on literature in answer to four questions: 1) What is literature? 2) How do we experience literature? 3) How does literature develop consciousness? and 4) How does literature affect writers, readers, and society?
What is literature?
In a 1976 discussion in Switzerland with Professor Peter Malekin of the University of Durham in England, Maharishi brought out the Quantum Theory of Literature. Its main tenet is that “the flow of consciousness is at the basis of all literary expression.” He noted that the Latin root of literature is littera which means letters, adding that a written piece – words, phrases, paragraphs — is thus a “flow of letters.”
But from the deepest point of view, he said, a letter is really simply a fluctuation of consciousness, and different letters make different fluctuations. Maharishi’s definition: “Literature is a path in which pure consciousness flows, and it flows on both levels, sound and meaning, comprehending the entirety of the value of consciousness, the entirety of life.”
Thus, he defines literature as the kind of writing that is “naturally helpful to the path of evolution.” (That’s a good description of Visionary Fiction, I would say.) Through their flow, such works are “naturally inspiring. They structure orderliness; they structure rhythm in life.”
How do we experience literature?
The thing with flow is that sometimes it’s muddy and sometimes it’s clear. Maharishi points out that this is a problem with literature in that there are always different levels of consciousness between writer and reader. If the reader’s level of consciousness is higher than the writer, then the reader will understand the writing on a brighter, grander level. But, if the reader’s consciousness is lower than the writer, then he or she will struggle to understand the writing and not enjoy it as much.
Maharishi goes on to say that “literature is the flow of life, and one can enjoy the flow of life if the awareness which actually flows is really crystal clear, fluid.” He elaborates that a frozen level of consciousness, caused by a stressed mind, cannot flow with any purity. Thus, he emphasizes that, to really be a good reader or a good writer, one must develop the highest level of consciousness possible, which naturally occurs, he says, by practicing TM. Then, one’s ability to appreciate literature will increase, and one’s ability to write it with “timeless values that last” will also increase!
How does literature develop consciousness?
Maharishi identifies the key technique for great writing (what he calls “the gift of the study of literature”) as its ability to have “great contrasting values close together.” What writers do is tell the story of the deeper values of life while describing surface values. They bring out “the deeper values, the deeper significance. It is the flow of speech in such a beautiful way that the surface uncovers the depth, and this is what makes a piece of literature.”
This swinging of the reader’s awareness back and forth from abstract ideas to concrete images is what brings evolution or transformation. Maharishi says, “The whole personality gets refined because there is that very concrete appreciation of something. Then there is that very abstract appreciation immediately after that, and this expands emotions and intellect, expands awareness.” He goes on to say that the more these opposite values come together, the more literary the work becomes.
In this process, the reader is able to filter out unwanted values and sustain life-supporting values. Maharishi explains that giving “jerks and jolts to the awareness and to the emotions is a process of purification.” This mirrors life which can experience simultaneously the unbounded awareness of pure consciousness and the rigid boundaries of small pieces of time and space.
As an example, Professor Malekin in his discussion with Maharishi pointed out that Shakespeare, in addition to his deep meaning, also employed contrasts in his staging. He noted how action on stage varies from high volume with lots of people talking to silence with no one talking. It’s the same with physical movement. If everyone is rushing around all over the stage all the time, it is meaningless. But alternate it with stillness, and you get a pulsation, a play that breathes.
On another level, the professor explained how a viewer may identify with a character, and yet, of course, still be in the audience. This provides the contrast of involved and uninvolved at the same time, which is a quality of higher states of consciousness. Maharishi commented that the play has “silence and activity. This is exactly the evolutionary process. There is always a flow in nature.”
Another example is my recently published book where I attempted to use at least ten contrasts close together. I had light and dark, young and old, free and not free, ancient and modern, forest and factory, seeing and not seeing, surface and depth, abstract and concrete, personal and universal, as well as long speeches and short utterances in dialogue.
Contiue here for part 2 of the series where MR Neer ties in Maharishi’s key ideas about literature regarding how it affects the reader, writer, and society.
If you would like further details, all of Maharishi’s talks on literature and language have been collected in The Flow of Consciousness (available used on Amazon or new at www.mumpress.com), edited by Rhoda Orme-Johnson and Susan K. Andersen, 2010
M.R. Neer (aka Michael Roy Neer) has enjoyed a long career of organizing words in creative ways as an English teacher, curriculum specialist, magazine publisher, book editor, and long-time teacher of the Transcendental Meditation technique. He has won awards for journalism, newsletter writing, and teaching, and makes his home in Fresno, California.
He likes to think of organizing words as similar to connect-the-dot puzzles he enjoyed as a kid. When you connect the dots, something that is hidden suddenly appears; it’s magical! The light goes on! This quest for connections, for light, has directly led to his first novel, The Elixir of Freedom, Book One in The Light Finder Legends series. www.mrneer.com