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

What is Brahman? (Part 2)

brahman4(Read Part 1)

Positive ‘definitions’ of Brahman are given by such expressions as satyam j~nAnam anantam brahma, in the Taittiriya Upanishad. The words are to be understood as svarUpa lakShaNa, i.e. a definition that differentiates what is described from all other objects. The example often given for svarUpa, which literally means ‘own form or nature’ is sweetness, as being the svarUpa of sugar. But the word ‘sweet’ does not actually convey the quality of sweetness; it only works if we have had the experience of tasting something that is sweet – then there is no problem at all. In the case of Brahman, however, we cannot have the experience of Brahman because it is not an object of experience. Our understanding of Brahman comes from the shruti.

In the expression, Brahman functions as the noun with satyam, j~nAnam and anantam functioning as adjectives. But, as already noted, Brahman cannot have any attributes so that we cannot really use adjectives at all. Therefore, instead of the noun-adjective relationship [visheShya-visheShaNa], this is what is called a lakShaNa-lakShya sambandha [relationship between an indirect pointer and the thing to be defined]. anantam means eternal, limitless; satyam incorporates the ideas of truth, reality and existence, and j~nAnam means knowledge. But a simple translation will not do – this is where the guru needs to come in to ‘unfold’ the explanation step by step. satyam, for example, has to convey the meaning of absolute existence; anantam, free from all limitations of time and space; never changing; j~nAnam, pure awareness, consciousness (neither knower, known object nor means of knowledge), and again unlimited. And so on! Continue reading