Sunday, 18 March 2007

The consciousness that we experience in sleep

On page 119 of the present e-book version of Happiness and the Art of Being there is a paragraph in which I write:

Generally we think of deep sleep as a state of 'unconsciousness'. But what we were unconscious of in sleep was only things other than 'I', such as any body or world. We were not, however, unconscious of our own existence. We need other people to tell us that our body and the world existed while we were asleep, but we need no one to tell us that we existed at that time. Without the help or testimony of any other person or thing, we know 'I slept'. In sleep we may not have known exactly what we were, but we did know very clearly that we were. The knowledge that we clearly possess about our experience in sleep, and that we express when we say 'I slept peacefully, and knew nothing at that time', would not be possible if in sleep we had not been conscious that we were having that experience. If we did not know 'I am' while asleep, we could not know so clearly 'I slept' after we wake up. Since in the waking state we know clearly not only that we slept, but also that in sleep we did not know anything, is it not clear that sleep was a state that we actually experienced? The 'unconsciousness' of sleep – the absence at that time of any knowledge about anything other than 'I am' – was our own experience, something that we ourself experienced or knew at that time.
Today I have been checking all the changes that I have made while revising Happiness and the Art of Being in preparation for its forthcoming publication in print, and while doing so I decided to expand the explanation given in this paragraph as follows:

Generally we think of deep sleep as a state of 'unconsciousness'. But what we were unconscious of in sleep was only things other than 'I', such as any body or world. We were not, however, unconscious of our own existence. We need other people to tell us that our body and the world existed while we were asleep, but we need no one to tell us that we existed at that time. Without the help or testimony of any other person or thing, we know clearly and without any doubt 'I slept'.

In sleep we may not have known exactly what we were, but we did know very clearly that we were. The clear knowledge that we possess about our experience in sleep, and that we express when we say 'I slept peacefully, and knew nothing at that time', would not be possible if in sleep we had not been conscious of that experience — or to be more precise, if we had not been conscious of ourself as the consciousness that was unconscious of anything other than our own peaceful and happy being.

If we did not know 'I am' while we were asleep, now after we have woken from sleep we could not know so clearly 'I slept'. That is, we could not now know so clearly that we were then in the state that we now call 'sleep' — in other words, that we did indeed exist in that state. We know that we existed in sleep because in that state we did actually experience our own existence — our essential self-conscious being, 'I am'.

Since in the waking state we know clearly not only that we slept, but also that in sleep we did not know anything, is it not clear that sleep was a state that we actually experienced? The 'unconsciousness' of sleep — the absence at that time of any knowledge about anything other than 'I am' — was our own experience, something that we ourself experienced and knew at that time.

4 comments:

ramaa said...

In sleep, mind stops funtioning (or goes to dormant state), but physically every part is fit. Since mind is the reflecting medium animating the body, the sensory perception does not take place. The pure consciousness alone is there. Only by reflecting over the mind it can animate the body. Pure consciousness does not perceive itself. So, during sleep we are not aware that we sleep. After waking up we feel we slept or we guess so.
In hospital, after anaesthesia we become unconscious. After some time when we come out of it, we say we were unconscious and did not know anything.
Only in Samadhi, there is an awareness of the bliss of pure being. Sleep does not seem be the same.

P R Natarajan

Anonymous said...

You see, this is THE central issue of Advaita.

We can say pure consciousness is eternal and the only “real.” But, if we as a body/mind are not directly aware of anything or of itself in the deep sleep state, how can we prove directly that we exist eternally?

All the Advaita arguments for the eternality of consciousness lay not in direct experience, but in logical inference of the type:

We must have been that eternal consciousness in sleep because when we wake up we are aware we slept, well or not.

That is inference from the mind in the waking state. Many of Ramana’s arguments are the same, like the Self has a location in the heart, the proof being when referencing the oneself, we point to the right breast. But we are right handed mostly, and would naturally point to the right side of the chest as opposed to the left anyway. Do left handed people point to the left side to the chest when referencing the self?

Anyway, the Jnani goes further in trying to teach us that pure consciousness is not self aware and is only aware in dream and waking.

Well, what kind of eternal existence is that when pure consciousness is aware of nothing? Is that not what scientists and ordinary people call death, the loss of awareness of anything, including awareness itself? Are we not saying the unborn state is just the same as the existence we ascribe to a corpse? That is, it is not an empty concept.

Also, that same argument that we must have existed in Turyia, deep sleep, etc., because we “recollect” having been aware in the deep sleep state when we wake up, which some say is what Ramana meant, or we must have existed as the Self in deep sleep because we say we slept well or not, falls empty when we apply it to the supposed eternal state before birth and after death. Are we aware we died well or died fitfully? Are we not unerringly aware of the peacefulness after death, which proves the eternality of Self?

I say not. If we were aware, even unconsciously or by inference, of the utter peacefulness after death, why is it almost everyone fears death but not sleep? That is, Ramana’s arguments are hollow.

In fact, I don’t remember Ramana ever saying what his experience was during deep sleep.

In other words, the eternality of the eternal Self is just inference, a concept, just like the world and the body. Nisargadatta talks about a conviction. Again, conviction is only a concept, just as is the world and the waking state. The latter I know through direct experience.

My own first experience was of being aware of my “true” self was when I passed or now do pass from dream sleep or deep sleep into waking. I see both states as being added onto “me,” and that I am not touched by either. Sometimes I am aware during deep sleep, or believe I am aware during deep sleep, of being aware of nothing but an illuminated space, but this awareness is not continuous, therefore no proof of my existence even in deep sleep. It could be just a dream of awareness without characters.

That I saw both states being added onto me, as illusory states, does not mean I actually existed during the deep sleep state. I can infer it, but it is not my direct experience.

In the literature, I only remember one of Ramana’s disciples stating he was continuously aware even during deep sleep.

If we are not even aware during deep sleep, how can we make any judgments about what happens before birth or after death? If there is only an unselfconscious self, what kind of existence is that? What kind of eternal Self is that?

Ed

Ed Muzika said...

I forget to mention, when deeply merged into one sense of being, being without an I, all such arguments disappear. All concepts disappear. All such reasonings, disappear. I am the self and self alone, perfect and in bliss.

But in no way I can I prove this state is eternal, it is just that it does not matter as the question itself is only concept, therefore of no reality.

Ed

Michael James (www.happinessofbeing.com) said...

Ed, thank you for your two comments above.

What you have written deserves a detailed reply, but at present I am busy with some other urgent work, so I cannot write such a reply immediately, but I will do so as soon as I have some spare time.

For the time being, I will just say that the seed of the real answer to all that you wrote in your first comment is contained in your second comment. By immersing ourself deeply in and as our essential self-conscious being, ‘I am’, we will gain the true clarity of self-consciousness that alone will convince us indubitably that ‘I am’ is the only absolute, immutable, eternal and self-evident reality, and that the passage of time and the appearance and disappearance of states such as waking, dream, sleep, birth and death are all mere transitory phenomena, which have no substantial reality and which cannot alter or effect our fundamental consciousness of being, ‘I am’, even in the least.