It is commonly suggested that there are three states of consciousness: Sleep, Dream, and Awake. Some mystics add a fourth state called “Superconsciousness”. This state is supposed to be “above” the normal three states of consciousness and it is the aim of yoga to put the mind into this state. The technical name of this fourth state of consciousness is “Turiya”. So how does one explain Turiya? This is best left to the sages who have experienced it. One such master was Ramana Maharishi. To explain Turiya he used the analogy of the light on the stage of a theater. This analogy was first used in a fourteenth century text written by Vidyarana
When a drama is being played the light is there, without distinction on all actors. This is irrespective of the part played by the actors, be it the role of a king or a slave. The light will be there before the drama begins, during the performance, and even after the performance is over. This light is analogous to “Turiya”. This light does not care what part the ego-self is playing or what it is going through. From the point of view of the light it is just a play and all ego-selves in the play are equal.
Turiya is equivalent to the light that lights up the mind-body that can then experience other forms of consciousness. Some commentators have said that the fourth state of consciousness is akin to the “witnessor”. Another analogy that has been used is that it is like the screen on which a movie is being played.
Reading technical and philosophical texts on this subject can be confusing. One has to pay careful attention to capitalization. The Self with the capital S refers to the entity that is in the state of superconsciousness. The self on the other hand with the lower case s refers to the ego-self that experiences the other three mundane forms of consciousness. The ego-self itself is seen as something that is not real in that it is transitory. The ego-self is seen just as a thought or an idea projected on the screen of the Self. The whole purpose of yoga it seems is to change the capitalization of the s in self to go from self to Self. That is to go from the temporary and unreal to that which is permananet and real. To go from the ego-self that experiences the normal three states of consciousness to a Self that resides in the state of superconsciousness.
Related post: Is Everything Just Maya?