Q: In advaita, we use the recall of a “good deep sleep” as a very important argument for proving continued presence of awareness… the question is, how does this recall happen? We have a process in advaita by which ‘the presence of a pot is known’. How is deep sleep known? Or – How is the fact that one slept well, recalled?
A (Dhanya): When I was a child, there was a TV show I liked to watch. It was called ‘You Are There.’ As I recall, the show depicted a famous scene from history, and then ‘you’ (meaning in this case the narrator), magically showed up in the scene and got to ask the historical figures all sorts of questions. (I guess I should Google it to make sure I recall the details of the show correctly). Anyway, I do remember that I enjoyed the show, and often these days recall the title, because one could ask oneself the question, ‘How is anything known?’ and the answer would be because ‘You are There!’ The whole point of deep sleep in the teachings of Vedanta is to is highlight ‘You are There’ Your nature is consciousness, i.e. that by which anything is known. The absence of any thing is also known. Thus one can recall the fact that one slept well. Why? Because You are There.
A (Ramesam): When I say “I see a pot (out there),” the “I” in the sentence refers to the waker (or dreamer). This process of cognition is called as ‘Direct perception.’ The perceiver (subject) obtains the knowledge of the percept (object) through the direct means of using the sense of vision.
The knowledge or experience of deep sleep is not strictly speaking a “recall” based on memory. The waker who says that he slept well was actually not present during deep sleep. By definition, deep sleep is when the waker is absent as the experiencer. Hence deep sleep cannot be known through direct means like seeing a pot or a tree. It can be known through inference only. Hence the knowledge that “I slept well” is inferential.
How exactly is the inference about deep sleep made?
The scriptures and experts follow two different routes in their explanation. The more popular approach is the one followed by mANDUkya upaniShad. Comparable to the awake state sentence “I cognize a pot,” the corresponding sentence made with respect to deep sleep in this approach is to say: “I cognize ignorance (in deep sleep).” According to this approach the really real cognizer is someone different from the waker (dreamer) and deep sleeper. He is the fourth (turIya). This Fourth one is the true “I.” The followers of this approach tell us that the waker “I” is only a fallacious entity and they exhort us to know the true “I.”
The teachers of the second route (taittirIya, aitareya upaniShad-s) suggest that the waker “I,” who was actually absent during deep sleep, is an imposter when he explains away his own absence saying “I slept well.” The true “I” is actually deep sleep Itself when the true “I” is being Itself – happy, peaceful and timeless. Hence the true “I” knows Itself in deep sleep. There is no other thing to be known in deep sleep.
Perhaps a simple common sense approach that “I” as the true knower have always been present irrespective of the fact whether it is awake, dream or deep sleep state is to ask oneself: Am I ever aware of my own absence? The answer should be obvious.
For more details on deep sleep, please read ‘DEEP SLEEP KNOWINGLY’ – THE KEY TO BRAHMAN’ here. You can find an exhaustive discussion on deep sleep in a series of posts on “The Enigma of Deep Sleep” at the Advaita Academy site ( http://advaita-academy.org/Blogs/ramesam.ashx# ).
A (Martin): Mind does lapse from time to time – such as in deep sleep and during brief periods between thoughts or mentations – even though its nature is to be constantly active. Consciousness, however, is ever present, also during deep sleep, even if mind has no recollection of it. Mind is consciousness with thoughts; consciousness without thoughts is still consciousness.
Mind may remember this or that experience, which happens through time, but Consciousness is beyond time, and does not need to remember anything. It is the background to all experience and the ultimate knower or witness. Thus, mind does not know or witness deep sleep. This is known through intuition or higher reason.
A (Ted): The memory of having slept soundly arises in the mind in the same way that any other conceptualization does. It arises spontaneously as a vRRitti, a thought-wave, in the antaHkaraNa, the subtle body or mind, and is illumined by awareness and, thus, made known. This thought-wave is the offspring of a vAsanA, a subtle impression, left in the chitta, the storehouse of impressions of one’s past experience, or what we might call the unconscious mind as a result of the experience of deep sleep.
Though we say that the mind has resolved entirely into the causal body or avyakta, the unmanifest state, during deep sleep, this does not mean that the mind ceases to exist. The mind is not an object, per se, that could cease to exist. The mind is simply the name we give to the continuous stream of objective phenomena that appear within the theater of the subtle body when illumined by awareness. In this regard, we might say that in the deep sleep state the mind is reduced to its most elementary form, which obtains as a single, extremely subtle thought of avidyA, pure ignorance. In other words, the mind has taken the form of a single thought entirely “colored” by AvaraNa shakti, the veiling power of mAyA, and entirely absent of the influence of vikShepa shakti, the projecting power of mAyA, which is the power responsible for appearance of all the vast array of nAma-rUpa, names and forms, that constitute the manifest universe or apparent reality in both its gross and subtle aspects.
Though the mind is not present in the sense that it has no cognition of objects, it is present, so to speak, as the capacity for relative knowing within the “field” or scope of being of absolute non-relational awareness. Thus, even the unmodified state of deep sleep leaves a subtle impression of limitlessness that can be inferred as having obtained as an extremely subtle known object once the mind reassumes its function as the relative subject-knower in the waking state.
A (Dennis): Consciousness is always present, throughout all so-called ‘states of consciousness’, including deep-sleep, anaesthesia, etc. It is the turIya of the Mandukya Upanishad. When we say that we ‘slept well’, what we mean is that our sleep was not disturbed by periods of wakefulness or dreams. In fact, we could say that we were ‘aware of nothing’. And this is not an inference, based upon some memory; rather it is certain knowledge. And the only way we could have such knowledge is that Consciousness was present. Consciousness reflects in the mind to animate the body and senses but these are resolved in the deep sleep state; there is only Consciousness, knowing nothing – it is the bliss of ignorance. Since there is no subject-object differentiation, the deep-sleep state is ‘without division’ – nirvikalpa.
If you are looking for a vyAvahArika explanation of the mechanism, I suggest you are doomed to failure! An explanation for ‘knowing a pot’ is possible (though all is mithyA) because pot and ‘knower’ are both in the gross, vishva realm. But when you ask ‘How do I know that I slept well’, you ask a meaningless question. You are trying to ask how the waker ego knows that the deep-sleeper ego did not know anything. But waker-ego, dreamer-ego and deep-sleeper-ego are distinct states which can never interact. Waker and dreamer can ‘pass messages’ via the mind but the mind is resolved in deep-sleep so not available for this.
Of course, who-I-really-am is none of these but the Consciousness that pervades them all. I am present throughout but I do not ‘know’ in any objective sense; I simply know.