Meditation is often considered a practice to help us attain a certain state of consciousness, in some circles, but what state of consciousness is that? What is a higher or an altered state of consciousness? Philosophers and scientists, from India to Indianapolis, have been discussing this concept of consciousness for a very long time. As a meditator one might seek an altered state of consciousness. Mystics the world over seek this state in the hopes of being delivered from the suffering inherent in human existence. Others simply seek a union with an unseen, all-pervading, ever pure, ever free source for no other reason than it seems to be their nature. These people appear to be like moths drawn to a flame. These folks are often termed sages or saints.
A simple perspective on consciousness is this: consciousness is synonymous with awareness. Consciousness is being aware that you hear something. You are conscious of hearing things. The same can be said for all the sense faculties that you have that are in good working order. Is this awareness the consciousness that the sages refer to?
Then there is the fact that you are simply alive and that you exist, you are aware of this. You notice the difference between when you are awake and when you are in dreaming sleep, for instance. Don’t dogs dream, and aren’t they aware that they are awake? Are we the same as dogs in this? What is this awareness that views both these states – waking and dreaming? Is it the mind? Is this awareness? Is this awareness consciousness; is this the same thing the sages have been speaking about? In the classic texts of Vedanta, and per the experience of the sages, consciousness is said to be the substratum of all that exist. It is not the mind. It is not a higher or altered state, it is the state on which everything else relies. These sages would say that our sense of separateness and attachment to the body/mind complex is the altered state.
Ultimately, some of the side effects of meditation are things like relaxation, lowering blood pressure and stress management. These things are merely precursors, sign posts on the way to what meditation truly is. Meditation is tool to help us unravel the mystery of pure awareness - aka pure consciousness - aka pure and unending peace.