Updated: May 21, 2021
Q. What is the relationship between the three minds and the seven levels of consciousness (expounded upon by Maharishi)? For example, it is often said that unity consciousness is the same as pure consciousness, the ground of all existence and our ultimate stage of integration or enlightenment. Yet Anoop says that the second mind is about oneness or unity while the Third Mind is pure potentiality, neither one nor many... In short, I thought that unity consciousness is the goal of all goals---but this appears to be, according to Anoop, only the second mind, not the third, which is pure consciousness. Please clarify.
A. The timeless question, which is as relevant today as it was millennia ago and will be millennia into the future, is: What is consciousness? All those who explore and communicate about consciousness through the lens of its non-locality and primacy in relationship with experiences such as matter, brain, body, mentality, physicality, worlds, dimensions, and universes will have to develop some framework to communicate degrees of experience, just as one who is wading into the ocean may describe vastly different experiences beginning at the beach and moving steadily onward to the magnificent world of the ocean floor. There is no correct framework per se; there are only stepping stones to recognition and integration.
Take the Mandukya Upanishad, for example, which describes four states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, deep sleeping, and the fourth. The rishis used this map because it is very simple in that three-fourths of the map (waking, dreaming, deep sleeping) is easily recognized by everyone. Only one-fourth of the map ("the fourth" state) remains to be investigated.
The very same map could be further simplified into three states: projection, non-projection, and potential. The projection state can appear as dreaming or as waking (we are in the "waking" condition now), and non-projection would be deep sleeping.
Which map is correct? Both of course, but the first is likely easier to recognize and therefore use.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's map makes use of Mandukya's stable foundation for the first three states. The latter four describe his experience of further identity-transmutation and integration. Although there are relatively specific descriptions given of the experiences along the way, it's important to keep in mind that this progression will not be the same for all. For some, different aspects of the latter four states will occur together. Sometimes, a "later" state may come before an "earlier" state. There will be vacillation or emergence from and mergence with states, as evidenced by movement of the body, experience of worlds, and production of speech–activities which coincide with particular states. All this indicates there is no straight line anyone can walk into the ocean of consciousness, yet noting some of the scenery along the way can serve as a landmark for orientation.
A second point to note is the 7 levels model is based on detailing the experience of the individual whose identity is transmuting, similar to the approach of Patanjali in the yoga sutras. Any model of consciousness we create in our society ultimately has to begin here because it is the individual mind–the First Mind in the Three Minds framework–that is looking at the map after all.
The goal of the Three Minds framework isn't to detail the changes an individual experiences along the way, but rather to function as a map across spiritual, philosophical, scientific, and most importantly, daily practical experience by delineating three broad categories of being, each of which represents a radically different understanding, worldview, perception, and "experience" (for lack of a finer word) of the "world." In this sense, the aims of the Three Minds framework and the 7 levels framework are different.
With this important background set in place, let's address the question directly.
The Second Mind represents unity or oneness of different extents across a range: all-in-one, one-as-all. It is of the nature of origin-al, undifferentiated light. In many traditions, this is the goal for the individual: recognizing and moving toward the veritable lighthouse that signals unimaginable replenishment, fulfillment, bounty, and rest to the weary traveler tossed about the stormy seas. This is the home of poetry, philosophy, love, and beauty, and the headquarters from which we emerge and take important action as individuals in the world. It is the domain that physics is asymptotically approaching via field theories, mathematics is approaching via infinities, and IT is approaching via software for VR worlds.
From the First Mind perspective, the Second Mind is pure potential. The problem is that from the Third Mind perspective, that relationship goes away. Once we use up the words potential and unity, what is left? For the sake of reason and map-making, we can say the First Mind appears as particulate materiality, the Second Mind is non-localizing potentiality, and the Third Mind is pure potential.
The Third Mind is simply what already is. Nothing fancy. Beyond, as, and prior to changing and unchanging. Beyond, as, and prior to light and dark. While the Second Mind can be described relative to the First Mind, the Third Mind cannot be described. It is not a goal for the individual. It is. At the risk of further obscuring this with First Mind language, we can say the Third Mind is, it is not only theoretical, and it is not an it.
Why talk about the Third Mind at all, then? Because, most importantly, it is what we are and what this is, and this surely deserves mention. Secondarily, no framework can truly be complete without a nod to the Third Mind. Since the Three Minds framework aspires to go beyond spirituality and serve as an all-encompassing vision, it attempts to the touch this land beyond existence and non-existence.