According to Vedanta, the first stage of true enlightenment (or “awakening”) is not non-duality but DUALITY: experiencing the true Self, ATMA (pure unbounded awareness, transcendental consciousness) as separate and apart from relative, changing existence. This is a lovely and cherished state of duality. The Self is experienced and spontaneously lived as unbounded, eternally silent and awake within itself, completely separate from the boundaries of relativity. This is "Self-Realization," but is not the ultimate state of Unity or non-duality (advaita).
This higher state of consciousness is traditionally known as COSMIC CONSCIOUSNESS, or "C.C." It dawns when the transcendental field of life, pure consciousness (the fourth state, turiya) has become stabilized in the nervous system and is lived as an all-time cognitive reality along with waking, dreaming and sleeping states. This is the first stage of awakening and is the fifth state of consciousness (beyond waking, dreaming, sleep [the first three] and transcendental consciousness [the fourth]).
The transcendental Self is a non-dual state: a unified state of oneness (knower, process of knowing and known are unified in this state of "knowingness"). But in CC, life itself is not lived in a non-dual state, because, at this stage, only the Self is a non-changing field of unity; the rest of life — the outer world, one's active daily life — is a changing field of diversity. Life in CC is experienced as the Great Duality: Self and non-Self. This is actually the duality that Vedanta aims to unify. But the prerequisite for total nonduality in life ("Brahmi Chetana") is this state of duality that is lived in Cosmic Consciousness ("turya teet chetana").
In CC, one's Self is awake to Itself even during sleep—and witnessing oneself sleep is a primary indicator that Cosmic Consciousness has been stabilized. When the non-changing transcendental Self is upheld by the nervous system, the continuum of pure consciousness is present spontaneously, as a living reality, throughout all of one's waking moments, and also throughout deep sleep. The non-changing Self is a silent witness to the ever-changing phases of existence. Longfellow’s "Men may come and men may go, but I go on forever” expresses this beautifully. And EEG studies on subjects experiencing higher consciousness have verified the unique, integrated style of brain functioning at the basis of this advanced stage of human development (REFERENCE: Consciousness and Cognition 19, No. 4 (2010): 1110-8).
Before Cosmic Consciousness, the individual mind (jiva) identifies itself with the changing, relative aspects of life. In CC, in this state of MOKSHA (liberation), one is freed from bondage, liberated from suffering, one’s inner Self cannot be touched or changed or shadowed by anything in the outer, relative world. The Self is experienced as separate from all change, and one is fulfilled in that unboundedness of life. "I am THAT" is the reality.
But "ALL THIS IS THAT," or the ultimate state of non-duality, is not one's reality—yet. Before the ultimate non-dual state can be realized and experienced as an all-time, living reality, the duality of CC must be stabilized and lived in day-to-day life.
The next stage of growth lies in uniting these two very different aspects of life, Absolute and relative. Otherwise, until one has realized the Self as separate from activity, there is nothing to unite. In a very "real” but superficial sense, life before CC is already non-dual: it is the unity of diversity, the unity of ignorance; meaning, there is but one field of life: the unstable, ever-changing field of relative existence. There is no permanency, no Absolute, nothing is transcendental, life is all change and impermanence; any talk of non-duality in this state is merely conceptual. Before CC, advaita has no real validity.
Until CC, there is no practical value to striving for the state non-duality, for there is nothing to unite—and one is already living the unity (non-duality) of ignorance. Prior to CC there is only one field of existence: the relative.
Once CC is attained, through proper practice and correct understanding, growth of the heart overtakes multiplicity and the heart begins to unite these two separate fields of existence. This is a process of refining the senses to perceive finer and finer values of the relative world, truer and truer levels of relative existence, until one perceives the ultimate essence of the relative. When the finer than the finest value of the relative is perceived, one experiences that the transcendental field of unity is not only the essence of one's own mind or Self, it is also the essence of everything that is—the entire universe is cognized as one’s own Self, pure consciousness.
Just as CC involves a shift in perception (the shift from identifying with the relative changing phases of individual existence to identifying with the Absolute non-changing field of pure consciousness), there is also a fundamental shift of perception when CC evolves to Unity Consciousness, and this is the shift of perceiving that the true nature of the relative is also that same field of pure consciousness that is the Self. Reality is then described as, "I AM THAT, THOU ART THAT, AND ALL THIS IS THAT."
This is Brahmi Chetana, Brahman Consciousness, Unity Consciousness, where one spontaneously lives the Great Non-Dual Reality. It is the ultimate state of enlightenment, the goal of advaita philosophy, and the highest pinnacle of human evolution.
Thus the first step to awakening is not to strive for non-duality, but, instead, to unfold the natural state of duality, Self and non-Self; that is, stabilize transcendental consciousness and realize the Self as separate from one’s outer activities. This process takes place effortlessly and spontaneously through correct practice of regular meditation—the kind of meditation that allows the mind to “transcend,” a process that directly infuses the mind with pure consciousness. Practices that involve contemplation or focused attention typically keep the mind active and engaged in waking state consciousness, and are not designed for inducing the fourth state of consciousness in the physiology.
This unique perspective on duality and non-dulaity is based on the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whose technique of Transcendental Meditation is understood to be a revival of the classical knowledge and practice of Vedanta. This essence of Vedic wisdom was given to Maharishi by his master, Brahmananda Saraswati, who was the Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math, the highest seat of scholarship in the Vedic Tradition.
Jai Guru Dev.