When we go into the deep sleep state, we start withdrawing each of the kosha-s, one by one, with the desire or thought of going to sleep. The ‘I want to sleep’ thought forms the contents of the vij~nAnamaya kosha or the intellect, when it goes to sleep or when it goes into an unmanifested state. In the process of sleeping, there is a withdrawal of each of the grosser kosha-s into the subtler ones: annamayakosha to prANamayakosha, prANamaya to manomaya, manomaya to vij~nAnamaya. At the time of sleep, the vij~nAnamaya or intellectual sheath becomes unmanifested with all the kosha-s as part of its ingredients, but in undifferentiated form. That unmanifested state of the intellectual sheath with all its constituent kosha-s is now called Anandamayakosha, since there is absence of any discriminative thoughts and associated relationships, other than the homogeneous thought of ignorance or avidya. This is referred to as avidya vRitti. It is, in a sense, an experience involving the knowledge of the absence of anything and everything. Hence the Mandukya (mantra 5) says – na ki~nchana kAmam kAmayate – there is absence of desire for any object, since there is no perception or recognition of any particular object of any kind in that unmanifested state.
Along with the ignorance there is an experience of happiness, as the absence of any duality that involves all relationships. In essence, all human suffering comes from the notional relationships and ownerships that arise due to individual rAga-s and dveSha-s or likes and dislikes. Hence, it is happiness born out of the absence of suffering. It is still a reflected happiness or consciousness, since it is reflection by the homogenous ‘ignorance thought’ or avidyA vRitti. The Tai. Up classifies the degree of happiness in the Anandamayakosha in terms of moda, pramoda, etc (obtaining and enjoying a desired object respectively). The very classification implies it is not an absolute happiness but only reflected happiness as in waking and dream states.
Hence it is Anandamaya, and it is a kosha since there is inherent identification with the vij~nAnamaya now in potential or unmanifested form. It is now in its pure existential form since there is no apparent duality or plurality. Pure existence is nothing but Brahman. Hence, one can say that it is Brahman in the form of Anandamayakosha which exists in the deep sleep state. Identification with the vij~nAnamaya kosha is now shifted to identification with the Anandamaya kosha. The experience of ‘I slept well’ involves both the existence (sat aspect of Brahman) as well as the bliss or Ananda aspect of Brahman.
In essence, this sequence of withdrawal of grosser kosha-s to the finer ones up to the Anandamaya kosha is called going into the deep sleep state. Since there are no two thoughts to differentiate from the other, and there is just an experience of a single homogenous thought of ignorance called avidya vRitti, there is no concept of space and time. Time arises as a gap between two sequential thoughts and movement in time is space; both are absent in the deep-sleep state.
What is there in the deep sleep state is only an undifferentiable homogeneous thought that started originally as the thought ‘I want to sleep’. Also the knowledge in Anandamaya kosha, which is nothing but vij~nAnamaya kosha in potential or unmanifest form, occurs spontaneously, as the all-pervading consciousness or sAkShI illumines this Anandamaya kosha with the avidyA vRRitti. Although we can say that Anandamaya kosha acts as a knower and the known is the absence of everything or avidyA vRRitti, it is unlike knowledge in the waking state, where the knower and known duality involves a distinct pramANa or means of knowledge resulting in the tripuTI or triad mentioned earlier. In the deep-sleep state, consciousness reflected in the Anandamaya kosha as chidAbhAsa acts as the subject knower and the thought of ignorance as avidyA vRRitti forms the object of knowledge. Since avidyA vRRitti involves homogeneous undifferentiated ignorance of everything, the reflected consciousness only illumines this ignorance as the object of knowledge. The knower is the enlivening Anandamaya kosha which is nothing but vij~nAnamaya kosha with all its components (other kosha-s) in undifferentiated potential form. Hence, in deep sleep, there are three factors:
a) vij~nAnamaya kosha in potential form as Anandamaya kosha;
b) the reflected consciousness, chidAbhAsa, reflected in this Anandamaya kosha;
c) undifferentiated homogeneous ignorance as avidyA vRRitti.
When one awakes from the deep sleep state (due to pressure of vAsanA-s), the unfolding of the kosha-s occurs in reverse order, with vij~nAnamaya kosha taking its manifested form, unfolding each of the kosha-s in turn, first the manomaya, then prANamaya and then annamayakosha. The knower-known duality in potential form is now unfolded, where the knower is the vij~nAnamaya kosha and the known is the homogeneous ignorance of everything. Hence, when the mind (vij~nAnamaya kosha) says “I slept well”, this implies that I was there in potential form and I did not know anything, expressing both experiences: 1) my existence, as I was there to sleep well, and 2) my ignorance while I was in that state.
‘I’ being referred to here is again the combination of the pure consciousness with the Anandamaya kosha or unfolded vij~nAnamaya kosha. One can also say that ahaMkAra in the potential form slept very well since, as we mentioned, the ahaMkAra is identification of ‘I am’ with ‘this’ – ‘this’ here being the Anandamaya kosha. Thus, it is upahita chaitanya (RC or reflected consciousness) identifying with the upAdhi as ahaMkAra jIva that slept very well and did not know anything in the deep-sleep state. As we mentioned before, the pure all-pervading consciousness has nothing to do with the waking, dreaming or deep-sleeping states. It is the witnessing consciousness that is every shining principle without any duality whatsoever. Hence, even the deep-sleep state is from the vyAvahArika standpoint only, as declared by the Mandukya Upanishad in mantra 7 – turIyam as na praj~nAna ghanam (not a ‘mass of consciousness’, i.e. not the deep-sleep state). Since the experience in deep-sleep involves the absence of all dualities, it is an experience of non-duality but without any knowledge of the absolute truth of advaita. (Here I am differentiating non-duality from advaita and the reason is that ‘advaita knowledge’ involves knowledge of non-duality, in spite of apparent duality, whereas the in the deep-sleep state there is only the absence of duality and knowledge of the ignorance. Thus, advaitic understanding differs from just the experience of non-duality. This aspect is very important since many want to ‘experience’ non-duality as the goal of self-realization. What is required is the knowledge of the absoluteness of the self that is aham brahmAsmi or ‘I am the infiniteness’. That knowledge has to take place with the mind and in the mind only. Hence, the advice of the scriptures is to approach a teacher for this knowledge.
Analysis of the deep sleep experience provides many insights for a keen Vedantic student:
- It is an advaitic experience without knowledge of the absolute truth – indicating that self-realization does not involve an experience of non-duality by shunning or shutting off the mind, since we are experiencing this all the time when we go to deep sleep state. No one gets up from deep-sleep with advaitic knowledge or with self-realization. (This points to the mistaken interpretation of the concept of manonAsha – see https://www.advaita-vision.org/manonasha-not-the-literal-death-of-the-mind/.)
- Self-realization therefore involves the clear understanding of my advaitic nature, irrespective of the presence or absence of duality. That understanding comes only with the mind, which is ready to learn via shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana as prescribed by the scriptures. That is listening to the scriptures from a competent teacher who has learned this himself from his teacher, reflecting on the teaching until there are no more doubts, and contemplating on the teaching until one recognizes all the time that I am that pure existent consciousness, one without a second.
- In the deep sleep state, the j~nAnI sleeps as a j~nAnI and the aj~nAnI sleeps as an aj~nAnI. This is because the mind that has the knowledge or ignorance of one’s true nature is folded, together with its knowledge, in potential form. Hence j~nAnam or aj~nAnam of oneself is in potential form in the Anandamayakosha.
- Knowledge, including self-knowledge, occurs with the upahita chaitanya or reflected consciousness reflected in the vij~nAnamayakosha. Hence viveka or discriminative intellect becomes an important tool along with shraddhA or faith in the teaching.
There are several misconceptions about deep-sleep state in the literature. See for example the discussion between Shree Ananda wood and Shree Dennis relating to Shree Atmanandaji’s account of deep-sleep state. The discussion can be found at http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/atmananda/atmananda4f.htm
It appears from the discussion that deep-sleep is being described as being somewhat similar to turIyam, while in fact in the description of turIyam the scripture negates the deep-sleep state as mithyA only. The confusion can be due to the misunderstanding that pure consciousness involves objectless awareness as the description indicates. Even if one takes that operational definition, the deep sleep state is not objectless awareness. In the deep sleep state, we are aware of the homogeneous ignorance just as stated above; c.f. the example of a pitch dark room, where we are aware of objectless-ness. In both the pitch dark room and in the deep sleep state we have an object for awareness: darkness in the pitch dark room, and ignorance in the deep-sleep state. For that reason only, we can say: “I do not see or know anything there in the pitch dark room or in the deep-sleep state.” Knowledge may be gained from the absence or non-existence of an object; this means of knowledge is called anupalabdhi pramANa. As a final note, self-realization does not necessarily involves objectless awareness but is the recognition that ‘I am awareness’, with or without thoughts or object-thoughts. Hence, advaitic knowledge involves the recognition that I am pure existence-consciousness-limitless-ness, with or without the world of plurality present (since the plurality that is present is only mithyA and therefore cannot disturb my advaitic state)