by Marinus Jan Marijs
Both nirvana and turiya are forms of emptiness, but nirvana is the emptiness of space and turiya is the emptiness of spacelessness. The question treated here is how their phenomenology differs.
The difference between nirvana and turiya during sleep is easy to recognize: while in nirvana one goes to sleep and loses consciousness, in turiya the physical body goes to sleep, but one remains conscious. So if a person goes to bed and remains for eight hours in turiya, then there will be permanent consciousness throughout those eight hours. Phenomenological, then, it is easy to tell the difference between the emptiness of nirvana and the emptiness of turiya at night.
But what is the difference between nirvana and turiya during the daytime?
If one is in nirvana and there is a sudden shift into turiya, the change is remarkable: suddenly the consciousness of the emptiness of space changes into the consciousness of the emptiness of spacelessness and timelessness. In practical terms, this means that the point of awareness can no longer shift in space. It is as if your head is fixed, immovable, as if you can’t move your head to the left or to the right. It is as if the center of awareness becomes extremely silent, while the surroundings seem like a tornado in contrast.
References to turiya and turiyatita are philosophical descriptions most of the time rather than phenomenological descriptions of what is or is not perceived by a person who is in such a state. The information about these states is therefore rather limited.
Both turiya and turiyatita are non-dual. Turiyatita being one with the witness position of the Absolute peering into the relative world Click here for more details. Although turiya is often confused with the ‘causal’, the two are nevertheless different. Both states are formless, but causal formlessness is relative (there is a causal body), while turiya formlessness is absolute (there is no turiya body). The emptiness of the causal is the emptiness of space, while the emptiness of turiya is spacelessness.
The causal state is the highest level, turiya is not a level.
When one is in turiya, there is unbroken consciousness 24 hours a day. This is not necessarily the case with jnana samadhi. When a person is in permanent jnana samadhi (nirvana) then turiya becomes completely dreamless.
Turiya and turiyatita are not ecstatic states like bhava samadhi, but a condition of total clarity.
Turiya is a spaceless and timeless void, oneness with the Absolute (Brahman, the Godhead). It is the essence of consciousness.
One can be in turiya while awake, while dreaming (but then these will be ‘lucid dreams’), and in dreamless sleep, but turiya itself is in essence totally dreamless. Staying fully conscious during sleep, with no dreams (not even for a few seconds) and during the day for 24 hours, for several days or weeks or even longer is not the same as sleep deprivation, where people have hallucinations after two nights without sleep/dreaming. In turiya, consciousness can remain unbroken for days, or even longer, but the physical body is fully rested and there are no hallucinations afterwards.
In turiya, as in nirvana, thinking processes are absent. Thinking in this condition is possible, but it requires conscious effort.