According to Vedanta, there are seven states of consciousness. In India, one of the greatest seers of the twentieth century, Sri Aurobindo, said that because we are in a very early stage of human evolution, most of us experience only the first three: sleeping, dreaming, and wakefulness.
Each of the seven states of consciousness represents an increase in our experience of synchronicity, and each progressive state moves us closer to the ideal of enlightenment.
The first level of consciousness is deep sleep. In deep sleep there is some awareness–we still respond to stimuli such as sound, bright light, or touch–but mostly our senses are dulled and there is very little cognition or perception.
The second state of consciousness is dreaming. During dreams, we are a little more awake and a little more alert than during deep sleep. When we dream, we are having experiences. We see images; we hear sounds. We even think in our dreams.
The third state of consciousness is being awake. This is the state most of us are in most of the time. Measurable brain activity during the waking state of consciousness is quite different when compared with brain activity during both sleep and dreaming.
The fourth state of consciousness occurs when we actually glimpse the soul, when we transcend, when we become, even for a fraction of a moment, absolutely still and quiet and become aware of the observer inside us. This state of consciousness occurs during meditation, when we experience the gap, that quiet moment between our thoughts.
The fifth state is called cosmic consciousness, the sixth state divine consciousness, and the seventh state unity consciousness.
Adapted from The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire, by Deepak Chopra (Three Rivers Press).