Four years, four weeks and a fortnight ago exactly to this day, we discussed Deep sleep in these columns. As we know, the traditional Vedanta (TV) following mANDUkya upanishad and Gaudapada’s kAkrikA, considers Deep sleep as one of the three states that plays on the substratum of turIya (the Fourth). Even amongst the TV people, there are schools that hold that prAjnya is no different from turIya. Swami Ishwarananda of RK Mission, Kerala produced a short monograph expounding this theory supported by Upanishadic quotes. I presented those arguments in a three part series of posts here, here and here. The followers of Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati of Holenarsapur too support this contention. Atmananda Krishna Menon (1883 – 1959) who propagated the “Direct Path” (DP) approach of Self-Inquiry too taught that Deep sleep itself was Pure Consciousness knowing Itself as Itself. The actual experience of Consciousness experiencing Itself in Deep sleep cannot be known or conceptualized by the awake state mind. The Consciousness knows Itself by being Itself and another name for that is Happiness. Happiness here does not mean any state of excitement or arousal. It is simply the absence of ‘unhappiness.’ In other words there exists during Deep sleep neither a sense of lack nor any desire. It is not a state triggered by or obtained through the contact of the sensory systems. It is acausal.
In the normal parlance, Deep sleep is described as an experience of dark, blank nothingness. It is anything but that. In the words of Rupert Spira, “Deep sleep is simply the presence of Consciousness without the appearance of mind (taking mind here to include all thinking, imagining, sensing and perceiving). It is Consciousness ‘experiencing’ itself, which means there is only the presence of Itself. This is neither deep, nor dark, nor blank nor asleep. It is dimensionless, present, luminous, alive and awake.”
The DP school utilizes the Deep sleep as a metaphor in the preliminary stage of teaching in order to negate the presumption of the seeker that s/he exists as a finite entity having a gross body-mind which she thinks herself to be during her awake state. The metaphor breaks this stranglehold and separates the “knowing element” (i.e. the “I” principle) from that which is seen. From the example of the Deep sleep, a realization dawns that * “I” shine as my true nature* even in the absence of a body-mind. Once this understanding gets stabilized, the seeker learns to identify herself with the ‘knowing element’ and NOT with what is known (the body-mind). She will also learn that this self-effulgent “shining” nature of “I” does NOT stop at any time, whether it is awake or dream states and also whether a form is present or not.
Then the teacher tells her that this formless true “I”, can shine in any form It chooses because there are no limiting conditions restraining Its freedom. In Deep sleep the “I” stays as Itself, being Itself and knowing Itself and shining as the Deep sleep. The same “I” shines and knows Itself as the dream world. The same “I” shines and knows Itself as the awake world. It never stops shining ( = knowing) and takes on the forms of Deep sleep, dream and awake worlds. Thus what one considers as dream world or awake world are only Its luster like the sunlight that spreads all around beyond the Sun disc.
Once the above understanding is ingested, it will be also clear that it is not that the three forms of deep sleep, dream and awake worlds are events that happen along an irreversible arrow of time. All happening is in a timeless NOW (which is not a point in time) and a placeless HERE (which is not a point in space). It is not that the shining “I” travels through the three worlds of deep sleep, dream and awake worlds. They are forms of “I” Itself passing through “I” Itself and are known by “I” Itself. Thus, the self-luminous “I” never stops shining and manifests as Itself by being Itself (as Deep sleep), or in a subtle from (as the dream world) or in a gross form (as the awake world).
An example from Yogavasishta will help drive home the idea. Sage Vasishta asks you to think of Gold. Think of just Pure Gold without a form or color or luster and of no particular size or shape. It will be impossible for the mind to conceive of “pristine pure Gold without a form.” The mind cannot imagine anything having no objective qualities. That’s what the Deep sleep is like. It is the Pure Gold. “Deep sleep” is just a name we give in our awake state to ‘something’ that the awake mind has no access to. It only conjectures what Deep sleep could be. But honestly speaking, “this awake you” were NOT there in deep sleep and you never have a chance to know what Deep sleep IS. It is simply a confabulation of the mind when it describes Deep sleep. The mind will know Deep sleep only when the Deep sleep takes on a subtle or gross form. Continuing the analogy of Sage Vasishta, if you think of Gold in the form of a nugget or a necklace chain, the nugget can be said to be the dream world and the chain is the awake world. The formless unimaginable true “I” is the unknown Deep sleep.
The ‘happy-feel’ factor felt in the awake state is neither an experience nor a memory of what was actually there in that timeless and spaceless Deep sleep. What is experienced by the awake mind is the after-glow of the Deep sleep. The Happiness that was the Deep sleep leaves Its footprint in the form of a totally relaxed body-organism and this relaxation is stored in the form of tension-free muscles etc. On awaking from sleep, the mind senses this relaxed state and expresses it as “I had a sound sleep; I feel relaxed.” The after-glow gets stored in the brain cells too. That is expressed by the awake mind as “I am refreshed.” As the day progresses, the body muscles accumulate tension and the brain cells accumulate toxins. Thus the awake mind does not any more sense that relaxed and refreshed feeling as the day goes on.
Atmananda explains Deep sleep in both his works, Atma Darshan and Atma Nivritti. Below are a few of the verses from those texts translated into Englsih:
- The True “I”
In the Deep sleep state and whenever a desire is accomplished, “I” alone shine as the undisturbed Peace and Happiness. “I” am the inmost principle which is sat-chit-Ananda Itself. I am That which transcends all.
Verse 4: It is that Atma again that shines as bliss in Deep sleep and also when a desired object is attained.
Verse 16. In between thoughts and in Deep sleep state, shines the principle to which the word “I” points. There the mind has dissolved and cannot therefore perceive it.
Verse 17. No one sees anything, no one hears anything, and no one thinks anything, because objects and sense-activities have no existence.Thus all are in Deep sleep state, where there is no ignorance (non-Knowingness).