This is the first of a four-part article by Acharya Sadananda of Chinmaya Mission Washington (edited by myself) clarifying the nature of the deep-sleep state and addressing a number of problems which frequently cause confusion in seekers.
I wish to express my appreciation to Pujya Sastriji and Shree Subbuji for directing me to the Panchadashi Ch.11, where the deep-sleep aspects are discussed extensively by Shree Vidyaranya. This article is in response to a question posed by a sincere seeker in a private mail. His question focused on the following: Who is the experiencer, knower, and the recollector of the deep-sleep state, when the mind is not there? In essence, who slept well and knows that he slept well and is now recollecting that information when he is awake. This response to the question is based on my understanding of the 11th Chapter, together with a private communication from Shree Sastriji the post to Advaitin by Shree Subbuji.
In searching for answers, I came across the article by Shree Ananda Wood on the topic of Shree Atmananda Krishna Menon’s understanding of the deep sleep state. Given the fact that all descriptions of the deep-sleep state are necessarily from the vantage point of the waking state, we can only rely for analysis on 1) shaastra pramANa and 2) those experiences that are universally common. The problems with Shree Atmanandaji’s interpretation of the deep–sleep state are noted at the end, since there are many people that I see on Facebook, as well as elsewhere, who follow Atmanandaji writings relating to deep sleep state.
Common Experiences in Deep-Sleep State
We all experience the deep sleep state. Everyone longs for it and prepares all the things they needed to ensure uninterrupted relaxing sleep, such as soft bed, pillows, mosquito curtain where needed, etc. The external accessories do contribute to comfort and happiness for the one who is preparing to sleep. This is the object-induced happiness, when the mind is still awake. This happiness that is born out of comforts enables the mind easily to give up the waking state, by detaching oneself from the body-identification, and glide into the dream and deep sleep states.
This object-induced happiness has nothing to do with the happiness or suffering that we subsequently experience in the dream state. In spite of a comfortable bed one can go into uncomfortable dream experiences, in which the dreamer’s body, mind and intellect (BMI) can undergo severe pain and unhappiness. Conversely, in spite of the uncomfortable BMI conditions in the waking state, the dreamer’s BMI can have all the comforts in the dream. In essence, the dream experiences can be contradictory to the waker’s experiences. While it is still dark in the bedroom where we are sleeping we can dream of a bright and brilliant sun in the dream. We all experience these contradictions during our waking and dream states. When we go to the deep sleep state however, there appears to be no more identification with BMI-s and their related experiences. Everyone enjoys the deep sleep state, whatever conditions one has during waking or dream states. There is a famous Telugu song by Annamacharya that says: nidra okkate – the sleep-experience is the same whether one is a beggar lying down on the street-pavement or an emperor sleeping in a comfortable bed in the palace.
Thus, everyone experiences happiness in the deep sleep state. This happiness differs from the happiness that one gains during the waking and dream states. In these two states, the happiness is related to fulfilling desires and thus is an object-induced happiness. The object can involve physical, mental or intellectual fulfilment. In essence, there is a tripuTI or triad that involves experiencer-experienced and experiencing, each differing from the other. This duality or plurality is inherent in the happiness that one gains in the waking and dream states. In contrast, the happiness that one experiences in the deep sleep state is devoid of the obvious duality of experiencer-experienced. The object-oriented happiness arises not from the object per se, but is due to the reflection of intrinsic fullness of the self when the mind is momentarily quietened, satisfied with the objective gains. That satisfaction can arise, for example, when a desire for an object is fulfilled. Vidyaranya calls this vishayAnande brahmanandaH – where the happiness which is the intrinsic nature of Brahman is reflected in the mind as object-induced-happiness.
One who has understood the absolute truth and hence has sublimated all desires for object oriented happiness and therefore revels in himself by himself is a realized master, says Lord Krishna – prajahAti yadA kAmAn sarvAn pArtha monOgathAn, Atmanyeva AtmanA tuShTaH. Therefore, the happiness of the realized person comes with the clear understanding that he is full and happy by himself, and has no need for object-oriented happiness. This understanding comes about in the mind, as a result of using the mind and not in the absence of the mind. In essence, the happiness that one enjoys comes from oneself, either via fulfillment of desires or by renunciation of desires.
In the deep sleep state, there is no object-oriented happiness, since no objects are perceived; the perceiving senses are folded and there is no subject-object duality. In addition, the mind that experiences happiness also appears to be folded. The question arises as to who experiences the deep sleep state? Is there an experiencer-experienced-experiencing triad in the deep sleep state? When I awaken from the deep sleep state, I say that I enjoyed the sleep or I slept well. The law of memory is that the experiencer and the recollector of that experience have to be one and the same. I cannot recollect somebody else’s experience. Therefore, in principle, I was the one who slept and thus experienced the happiness in the deep sleep state, in spite of the apparent absence of experiencer-experienced duality, since I am able to recollect that I slept very well and that I was happy. I do complain and become irritated, if I did not have a good sleep. Hence the benefits of the deep-sleep experience of happiness are felt in the waking state. Some even take sleeping pills in order to get into this deep sleep state of non-duality where one is relieved of the pains of BMI. Thus the first experience of deep sleep is the happiness that one enjoys.
The second aspect of this deep-sleep experience is that I have no knowledge of that experience, while I am in the deep sleep state. This is also a common experience of all beings. I experience the homogeneous absence of everything; the absence of the duality seen in the waking and dream states. Scripture (Mandukya Up.) states this with: na kanchana kAmam kAmayate – there is no desire to enjoy any objects in the deep sleep state since their existence is neither perceived nor experienced. There is no experienced, knower-known duality. Hence, all the objective-knowledge gained in the waking and dream states is as though absorbed into a homogenous mass of undifferentiated knowledge, which scriptures call praj~nAna ghanam. The praj~nAna ghanam includes the knowledge of things I know and also the knowledge of the ignorance of things that I do not know, viditam vA aviditam vA. In one sense, in the deep sleep state, I have the knowledge of the absence of particular knowledge of any kind. What we have is knowledge of the deep sleep state as ‘I do not know anything’ – that is lack of any particular or differentiable knowledge. Non-existence of objects is also knowledge, since when I am awake I say that I did not know anything during the deep-sleep state. This is anupalabdhi pramANa – knowledge of the non-existence of a thing – just as when I say that I see there is no pot here. That is, I know that I do not see a pot here, or I have the knowledge of the absence of a pot. I should have prior knowledge of a pot in order for me to be able to say that I do not see any pot here. I cannot say there is no gaagaabuubu here, since I do not have any prior knowledge of what a gaagaabuubu is. The absence of an object is knowledge, only if its presence in the universe was known before and is stored in the memory.
To be continued…