States of Consciousness – 2, 3, 4 and 1/2?

Okay, here is your starter for 10 – your time starts now! (If you’re not familiar with this phrase, it relates to the quiz show ‘University challenge’, which was on British television for many years.)

The question is: how many states of consciousness are there?

I can almost see your mind tripping up and reading that question again. Surely, you will say, there are three states of consciousness – waking, dreaming and deep sleep. What can I possibly mean by querying this? Well, actually, depending upon how you answer this question, the number of states of consciousness could be two, three or five (or 4 ½) or you could argue that the very question is misconceived!

It is true that most of the scriptures refer to 3 states. If you have read my book ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’, you will know that it refers to jAgrat, svapna and suShupti. These three states are mithyA and the reality underlying them is called turIya. In the tattva bodha (attributed to Shankara), the question is asked: avasthAtrayaM kim? – What are the three states? Admittedly, this is a somewhat leading question but the answer is given: jAgratsvapnasuShuptyavasthAH – they are the waking, dream and deep sleep states. And it goes on to explain each in turn. Continue reading

Q. 388 – Fear of Deep Sleep

Q: I am reading Dennis’ book ‘The Book of One’, and I am on the chapter about deep sleep.

From the age of around seven ( I am now 51), I have had a morbid terror of sleep. Not dreaming sleep which I enjoy (I am one of those rare people that has quite regular lucid dreams), but deep sleep, and equate it with “unconsciousness or non-consciousness” or death which leads to death anxiety. I understand that this fear is a result of constructs that I have devised, and am my own torturer. But the enquiry in this book and other books on Hinduism I have read seems to be returning me to the same cul-de-sac that is the dead end of my search.

Just reading the chapter now left me cold with fear and even worse complete dissappointment, as it doesn’t feel intuitive to me that this is our natural state? I really don’t want to return here at all, is this a normal reaction people feel when they are introduced to this concept?

I am not an intellectual. I have persevered with the book and it’s concepts, even though at times it is quite clearly beyond my comprehension. But is that it? Is that all there is? A kind of acceptance of annihilation of this ego-mind… forever?

I have some recollection of the Indra story where they ask the same question of Prajāpati and wasn’t quite satisfied?

Will this fear pass?

A (Dennis): You should take up meditation with the determination to practice fully. The nature of this would depend upon which method you chose. I took up mantra-based meditation similar to TM, which required 30 mins practice twice per day. This sounds impossible to begin with I know but, after a few months, it becomes part of your routine. And you benefit in so many ways, both mentally and physically. But the point is that, eventually (the time varies from one individual to another), you reach the point where you begin to experience periods of samAdhi. At these times, your mind becomes totally still. You are still aware of external and internal events but you remain entirely detached from both. You know that you are neither the body nor the mind but the observer of these. There is no ego at these times because you recognize this independence. Ego IS identification with one or other.

In deep sleep, you do not experience anything. But this is because there is nothing to experience, not because ‘you’ have disappeared. You see neither external world (because the senses are inactive) nor internal thoughts (because the mind is inactive). But the Self that is the witnessing Consciousness in deep meditation is still present in deep sleep. It never ‘sleeps’ (or dies) because it is the only thing that really exists. It is who you really are.

Hope this helps!

dhyAna and samAdhi

Meditation

dhyAna and samAdhi are quite fascinating, pretty alluring and romantically inspiring terms for an aspirant on the spiritual path. They are almost always spoken in a tone that creates an awe. They sound mysterious, other worldly and ethereal. Many stories are told in the Purana-s about highly revered Sages lost in deep meditation or samAdhi to the extent that they were unaware of their own body being buried in heaps of sand or eaten away by critters and crawlers. Hair-rising narratives too are often reeled out about the powers that dhyAna and samAdhi lead one to – clairvoyance, multiple accomplishments (aNimAdi siddhi-s), infinite longevity (ciranjIvatva), visitations to subtler worlds inaccessible to normal human beings and so on. There is hardly a spiritual Guru who does not harangue about the glories a seeker will be bestowed through practicing dhyAna and samAdhi. Some teachers would even make these as a pre-requisite before any true ‘knowledge’ is imparted. As a result, the words dhyAna and samAdhi acquired varying meaning. Teachers too historically used or interpreted them in different ways. We shall attempt to take a synoptic view particularly from a Non-dual perspective what these terms connote and their role and relevance for a seeker who has adopted the jnAna mArga (The Knowledge Path) in his/her pursuit of liberation.

The write up is structured as a Power Point Presentation downloadable as a pdf file at: http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/downloads/dhyAna_samAdhi.pdf. Continue reading