Fear of annihilation

A (Martin): I have made a life-long search for the meaning and reality of ‘myself’ and the world.

Apart from the advice (and different diagnoses) given by others, I am thinking of something else, which has a psychological as well as a philosophical side to it. It is not just fear of death but self-annihilation, an emptiness or void where there is no longer an experience of selfhood or continuity (“What if I don’t wake up?”).

This can become an obsession – an existential angst – one of the worst kind. A sensitive child may (I experienced it) entertain the idea of nothingness, including that of *me/myself*, that is, my very personal, intimate consciousness not existing or vanishing into nothingness. It may or may not be associated with the thought “Why is there something (a world) rather than nothing?”.

If that strikes a chord – and it is a question of temperament and inclination – there is an answer, which can be obtained at the end of a lengthy, arduous journey: ‘Know thyself’, as it was written on the frontispiece of the oracle of Delphos in ancient Greece. After a lifelong search, I found the most complete, satisfying answer in Advaita Vedanta. According to this philosophy or discipline, deep sleep is the most blessed state short of full awakening – that is, awakening from the ‘darkness’ of the awake state and its narrow ego-centered vision, shot through with doubt and suffering.

13 thoughts on “Fear of annihilation

  1. Of course they are not, Rick. Only a jIva can be ‘in deep sleep’ and jIva-s are not conscious while in deep sleep (whether or not they are enlightened). (That is why it is called ‘deep sleep’)! (Pardon the sarcasm!)

    The point is that ‘fully realized’ or ‘jIvanmukta’ refers to the jIva, not to Brahman.

    Best wishes,

    • I may have the wrong idea of what a jivanmukta is, but from my studies (admittedly full of gaps), I’d say that both a jivanmukta and a jiva are living fleshly human beings that experience vyavahara ‘reality’ like conventional human beings. Assuming this is true: 1. Why can a jivanmukta never experience deep sleep? And: 2. If a jivanmukta doesn’t experience deep sleep, what *does* he experience besides waking and dream?


      • Interesting! Krishnamurti implied that he didn’t dream in his talks and writings, and Mary Zimbalist shared a quote in which he stated that he didn’t dream explicitly:

        Krishnaji spent the day in bed sleeping, reading. He said, “I don’t dream anymore. Somewhere in Madras or RishiValley, I forget which, I dreamt Rajagopal was chasing me and then I woke up. I said this is silly to keep thinking of that man. That is enough. And so I went into it, and I haven’t dreamt since.”

        But I am unaware of his saying he didn’t go into deep sleep. Do you have a quote?


  2. I don’t understand your question, Rick. Maybe you misunderstood what I said?

    I said that the word ‘jIvanmukta’ refers to the person, the jIva, who goes into deep sleep when he goes to bed, just like any other person. No one has an ‘experience’ in deep sleep, because the senses and mind are inoperative.

    Do you now agree with this?

    Best wishes,

    • > No one has an ‘experience’ in deep sleep, because the senses and mind are inoperative.

      I used the wrong word, experience. I meant: consciousness.

      Let me ask you this: What (if anything) is the essential difference between the deep sleep state of a jiva and a jivanmukta?

      • My newest LLM AI friend, Claude 3 says:

        In deep sleep, the jiva completely lapses into unconsciousness.
        The mind and all its functions are unmanifest.
        The jiva does not abide as the witness consciousness (Sakshi).

        A jivanmukta, being already established in Self-knowledge, remains as the witnessing consciousness (Sakshi) even in deep sleep.
        The mind becomes dissolved, but not the jivanmukta’s abidance as the non-dual Atman/Brahman.
        The jivanmukta continues to exist in the natural state of undivided consciousness.

  3. I don’t believe it, Rick. Ask your AI-guru to give you an actual quotation from scripture or Shankara or Sureshvara that states this (and give the Sanskrit, rather than an AI translation!).

    As far as I am concerend, there is zero difference between the deep-sleep state of an aj~nAnI and that of a jvanmukta.

    You should also remember (and tell your AI friend) that both aj~nAnI and jIvanmukta are already “non-dual Atman/Brahman”. The difference is that the latter has ‘confirmed and established’ his knowledge of this – in his mind. This alone should tell you that, since the mind is resolved in deep-sleep, both must be the same.

    • Roger that. My AI friends are fickle, they mostly get things right, but other times get them subtly (to dramatically!) wrong. All 5 agree that the deep sleep state of a jiva/ajnani and jivanmukta is nontrivially different. But when I asked for quotes from Shankara, they all either made up fake quotes or said they couldn’t find any. I.e. this appears to be an example of a subtlety in Advaita that all the best AIs flub! The alternative is that you’ve got it wrong, but I’m betting on the human who’s been studying the scriptures for 20+ years. 😉

  4. RIck,

    This is one of those examples where you really don’t need to study scriptures. It is simple logic. If Advaita teaching contradicts it, then Shankara would be wrong regarding what he said about reason versus Vedas.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.