Sunday, 2 November 2014

Our memory of ‘I’ in sleep

In one of my recent articles, The essential teachings of Sri Ramana, I wrote:
Though we generally believe that we are not aware of anything in sleep, it would be more accurate to say that we are aware of nothing. The difference between what I mean here by ‘not being aware of anything’ and ‘being aware of nothing’ can be illustrated by the following analogy: if a totally blind person and a normally sighted person were both in a completely dark room, the blind person would not see anything, and hence he or she would not be able to recognise that there is no light there. The normally sighted person, on the other hand, would see nothing, and hence he or she would be able to recognise the absence of light. The fact that we are able to recognise the absence of any experience of anything other than ‘I’ in sleep clearly indicates that we exist in sleep to experience that absence or void.

The fact that we do actually experience sleep can also be demonstrated in other ways. For example, if we did not experience sleep, we would be aware of experiencing only two states, waking and dream, and we would not be aware of any gap between each successive state of waking or dream. But we are aware that sometimes there is a gap that we call sleep, in which we experience neither waking nor dream. We do not merely infer the existence of this third state, sleep, but actually experience it, and that is why we are able to say after waking from a period of deep sleep: ‘I slept peacefully and had no dreams’.

Why it is important to understand that we do actually experience sleep, even though sleep is a state that is completely devoid of any knowledge of multiplicity or otherness, is that our experience of sleep illustrates the fact that we do experience ‘I’ in the absence of the mind. Therefore the mind cannot be what I actually am.

The only experience that exists in all these three states is ‘I am’. It is I who am now experiencing this waking state; it was I who experienced dream; and it was I who experienced the absence of both waking and dream in deep sleep. Therefore ‘I’ is distinct from anything else that we experience in any of these three states.
Referring to this, a friend called Josef wrote a comment on that article in which he remarked: ‘That we are able to say after waking from a period of so-called deep (=dreamless) sleep ‘I slept’ can only be the declaration from memory about a former event/situation’, in reply to which I wrote another comment, in which I explained:
Regarding your questions about our memory of having slept, there is a subtle difference between our memory of anything we experienced in waking or dream and our memory of what we experienced in sleep, because whatever we experience in waking or dream has numerous features, whereas what we experienced in sleep was featureless, because it was nothing other than ‘I’, ourself. Because ‘I’ remains essentially unchanged in all these three states, we remember that in the past I experienced waking, I experienced dream and I experienced sleep. To remember the existence of ‘I’, we do not require the mind, because our self-awareness, ‘I am’, carries within itself, so to speak, its own memory of itself.

In sleep we cannot remember anything that we experienced in waking or dream (other than ‘I am’), because in sleep the mind is absent. Because it is the mind that experiences anything other than ‘I’, it is only the mind that can remember experiencing anything other than ‘I’. However, because ‘I’ experiences itself even in the absence of the mind, it does not require the mind to remember itself, and hence we can remember that I slept, even though the mind was absent in sleep.
In a later comment Josef replied:
The subtle difference between our memory of anything we experienced in waking or dream and our memory of what we experienced in sleep is also well elaborated. I am happy about the wonderful power of our self-awareness ‘I am’ who/which carries within itself its own memory of itself. And that even in the absence of the mind in deep sleep! So it is not the mind that remembers of having slept (featureless ‘I’) but the ‘I’ itself who/which remains essentially unchanged in all the three states.
This prompted me to think that this subject perhaps requires further consideration and clarification, so the following are some more reflections on our memory of ‘I’ in sleep:

Our memory of ‘I’ is quite unlike our memory of anything else. What experiences and remembers other things is our mind, but what experiences and remembers ‘I’ (our own existence and awareness) is only ‘I’ itself. Our experience ‘I’ or ‘I am’ is essentially timeless, because whether we experience time (as in waking and dream) or no time (as in sleep), we always experience ‘I am’, so this ever-present experience is beyond time.

When we think of time, we cannot but think of it in relation to ‘I’. The present moment is experienced as being present because it is the moment in which I am now present, so it is the presence of ‘I’ (myself) that makes this particular moment seem to be present. The past is past in relation to this moment in which I am now present, and the future is future in relation to this moment in which I am now present. Though we think I was in the past and I will be in the future, when we actually remember a past moment or anticipate a future moment, we do so as if I am now present at that moment to experience it, so the ideas ‘I was’ and ‘I will be’ are just expressions of our ever-present experience ‘I am’ in relation to the idea of a past or future time.

When we think of death, we can imagine our body being dead, but we cannot really imagine the non-existence of ‘I’, because the very act of trying to imagine this entails ‘I’ being present to envisage its own non-existence, and so long as it is present it cannot be non-existent. Therefore, when we try to imagine the non-existence of ‘I’, the ‘I’ that we are imagining to be non-existent is not our actual ‘I’ but some other imaginary ‘I’. This is why the idea of our own death or non-existence never quite seems real to us, and why Sri Ramana once remarked that even in a battlefield when a soldier sees others dying all around him, in spite of his fear of the bombs and bullets he always feels inwardly, ‘I will not die, at least not now’.

If we try to imagine ‘I’ ceasing to exist, and if we try to make what we are trying to imagine seem more real by trying to imagine ‘I’ ceasing to exist not just at some distant time in future but now, at the very next moment, we cannot really manage to imagine it, because without ‘I’ there could be no experience, so to imagine the non-existence of ‘I’ we must imagine absolutely nothing — not even an experience or mental image of ‘nothing’, but nothing at all.

Just as we cannot really imagine the future non-existence of ‘I’, we cannot imagine its past non-existence. In terms of our body, we know that we did not exist before we were born, but when we try to picture any moment before our birth, we picture it as if we were there (at least as some sort of disembodied spectator, as we seem to be in relation to the people and events we witness in a film while we are watching it), because we cannot picture or imagine anything without the presence of ‘I’. Everything that we experience, remember, anticipate or imagine is experienced, remembered, anticipated or imagined only by ‘I’, so we can never actually exclude ‘I’ from whatever it is that we experience, remember, anticipate or imagine.

Moreover, when we remember, anticipate or imagine anything, at that moment whatever we remember, anticipate or imagine is present in our experience, so it is remembered, anticipated or imagined by and in relation to the ‘I’ that is now experiencing itself as ‘I am’. In other words, whatever we remember, anticipate or imagine is experienced by us at that moment as ‘I am remembering’, ‘I am anticipating’ or ‘I am imagining’, so the past and future exist for us now only in this present moment and are experienced only by this ever-present ‘I’.

Time seems to exist only because we experience change, so in the absence of any change there would be no experience of time. In sleep we experience nothing other than ‘I’ (our essential self-awareness), and since ‘I’ does not change, we do not experience any time in sleep. Our fundamental experience ‘I am’ is thus the basis on which time appears and disappears, like the screen on which cinema pictures appear and disappear, and hence ‘I’ is not time-bound. Everything else is time-bound, because it appears and disappears in time, so ‘I’ is the only thing that transcends time.

Since ‘I’ is timeless, and since we cannot think of time except in relation to ‘I’ (that is, except in relation to ourself, who conceive and experience time), we cannot imagine experiencing any time or state in which ‘I’ is absent. Whatever we experience is experienced only by ‘I’, so there can be no experience without ‘I’, and no memory of any experience without ‘I’. Thus whatever experience we may remember entails a memory of ‘I’, so when we remember the experience of having slept — that is, of having been in a state in which we seemed to experience nothing — we cannot remember it without remembering that it was ‘I’ who slept.

Though our mind was absent in sleep, we experienced its absence, so we cannot but remember the ‘I’ that experienced that absence. Therefore our memory of ‘I’ is independent of our mind.

Whatever we may remember other than ‘I’, we are liable to forget it, and sooner or later we will forget everything that we can now remember — except ‘I’. Whereas we can forget other things, and sooner or later will forget each and every one of them, we can never forget ‘I’, because ‘I’ is our ever-present experience.

We are not this mind, because it appears and disappears in our experience, but we now experience ourself as if we were this mind, so the fact that we experience ourself as something that is not actually ourself — not actually ‘I’ — means that we can forget what ‘I’ actually is. However, though we can forget what I am, we cannot forget that I am, because we always experience that fact that I am, and we could not experience anything else unless we simultaneously experienced that I am.

Therefore we can never forget ‘I’, and hence we cannot but remember ‘I’ at all times. Whatever else we may remember or forget, we always remember the ‘I’ who experienced, knew or believed whatever we have now remembered or forgotten. ‘I’ is the basis of all experience and all knowledge, because without ‘I’ (the experiencer or knower) there would be no experience or knowledge. Likewise, our ever-continuous experience of ‘I’ is the basis of all memory, because it is the thread that connects all experience together, and because whatever is remembered is something that was experienced, known or believed by ‘I’.

When we experience anything other than ‘I’, that experience makes an impression on our mind, and though such impressions tend to fade, some of them to a greater or lesser extent leave a trace that we can later recall. Thus when we remember something other than ‘I’, we are recalling the impression of a past experience — an experience that no longer exists. Our memory of ‘I’ is therefore quite unlike our memory of anything else, because when we remember ‘I’, we are not just recalling the impression of an experience that is now past, but are remembering an experience that is ever present.

Since ‘I’ is aware of its presence in every experience and every memory, its memory of itself is inherent in its self-awareness. Its memory of itself is not just a memory of a past impression, but is a memory of an every-present experience. Therefore, though we talk of remembering ‘I’, our memory of ‘I’ is not a memory like the memory of any other thing.

Because things other than ‘I’ are experienced only by our mind, they can be remembered only by our mind, and they cannot be remembered in the absence of this mind. Though ‘I’ now seems to be experienced by our mind, it is experienced not only by our mind but more profoundly by our essential self-awareness, which underlies and supports the appearance of our mind in waking and dream, and which endures in its absence in sleep. Because our self-awareness — our experience of ‘I’ — endures in all states, at all times and even in the absence of time in sleep, it in effect carries within itself its own memory of itself irrespective of the temporary presence or absence of the mind.

Neither the appearance nor the disappearance of the mind in our experience interrupts our ever-continuous and unbroken experience of ‘I’, ourself. However, when our mind appears in waking or dream, our attention tends to be attracted by all the multitudinous phenomena that accompany its appearance, and thus our attention is distracted away from ‘I’, as a result of which we overlook and take little interest in this fundamental and continuous experience of ‘I’. So little interest do we take in ‘I’, our essential self-awareness, that we tend to dismiss sleep as a state in which nothing is experienced, even though it is actually a state in which we experience ‘I’ but nothing else.

Since everything else appears and disappears, ‘I’ is the only enduring reality, so it is the only thing that is really worthy of our interest. Other things appear only when we mistake ourself to be a finite mind, and they disappear when we cease to experience ourself as this mind, as we do in sleep. Therefore the cause of the appearance of anything other than ‘I’ is our present failure to experience ourself as we really are, so we need to investigate ourself — the ever-present ‘I’ — by trying to experience this ‘I’ clearly and alone, in complete isolation from everything else.

40 comments:

Joel said...

Why do you talk of the Self remembering itself? It IS itself, so what is there to remember? The notion of the Self 'remembering' the Self during deep sleep when now awake is merely a creation of the mind to justify a continuity through the three states that actually is not in need of justification, because apart from the mind there are no three states.

Josef Bruckner said...

Many thanks, Michael for your response and further clarification given in great detail.
Now I have to digest/assimilate the subject matter carefully.

Mulaipal Thirtam said...

You write:"When we think of death, we can imagine our body being dead, but we cannot really imagine the non-existence of 'I'.
That I can acknowledge:
Forty years ago I have got into difficulties while climbing in the mountains. My situation was highly dangerous namely standing in a rock wall around 80 meters over the ground.
I could not step further neither upwards nor downwards because the rock was only of sandy composition.
As the fall seemed inevitable for me sure death was very near.
I only considered in which posture I would feel the smallest amount of pain. In that situation of imagined death of the body and in spite of my fear I did not imagine my own non-existence.
Next morning after fourteen hours I was rescued by a rope-team which was put down from an helicopter.

R Viswanathan said...

It was a very nice article discussing in such great detail the experience in sleep, Sushupthi.

I infer that the sleep gives a glimpse of what Self Realization is. Despite just being just a glimpse, it is a very valuable and perhaps only hint that is experiential, and not just intellectual. I feel that it remains just a glimpse because the mind has not been annihilated and the subsided mind (or ego) would sprout again upon waking or dreaming.

Though the veil of ignorance existed all the while during sleep, one experiences the happiness, the nature of the Self. One wonders, who saves the information during the sleep and declares upon waking "I have slept happily"? Sri Nochur Venkataraman writes in his book Swathmasukhi that it is the brain which tells this although it was at rest during the sleep. The happiness that remained in sleep gets hidden by the ego that rises upon waking, but with a subtle brain (or subtle intelligence), the hidden happiness could be sensed (or recollected).

Consistent with what Joel commented, Nochur also writes that it is all the mind (or reference to its functionality) that seems to constitute the three states: while the mind is fully on, it is a waking state; while it is partially on, it is a dream state, and while the mind is off, it is a sleep state.

At so many places in his book, devoted to Bhagavan's Ulladhu Narpadhu verses, Sri Nochur Venkataraman beautifully brings in discussion of Sushupthi (deep sleep): pages 46, 60, 65, 71, 98-101, 119-120, 195-197, 205-206, 223, 237, 293.

Joel said...

In reference to what R Viswanathan said concerning Nochur, this isn't what I meant.

I meant that the very notion that there are three states is a creation of the mind in what we refer to as the waking state. There is no waking state, no dream state, and no deep sleep, save as an idea in the mind right now. So the attempt to say that the Self is present during deep sleep is just an idea of the mind in the waking state, the waking state also being an idea of the mind right now. There is no time-line beyond the mind during which these states lie in succession.

Michael James said...

Joel, I have replied to both your comments above in a new article that I have posted here today: Why should we believe that ‘the Self’ is as we believe it to be?. I hope that what I have written there helps you to clear up the confusion you seem be in about the subtle subject that I discussed here.

Michael James said...

Viswanathan, in your comment you write:

‘One wonders, who saves the information during the sleep and declares upon waking “I have slept happily”? Sri Nochur Venkataraman writes in his book Swathmasukhi that it is the brain which tells this although it was at rest during the sleep.’

Are you sure that he wrote this? What was the Tamil word he used that you have translated as ‘the brain’? Please quote exactly what he wrote in Tamil in this regard.

If he did write this in a commentary on Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, I would be very surprised, because it should be obvious to anyone who studies Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu carefully that according to Sri Ramana in the absence of the ego or mind nothing else (other than our real self) exists. For example, in verse 26 he says ‘அகந்தை உண்டாயின், அனைத்தும் உண்டாகும்; அகந்தை இன்றேல், இன்று அனைத்தும்’ (ahandai uṇḍāyiṉ, aṉaittum uṇḍāhum; ahandai iṉḏṟēl, iṉḏṟu aṉaittum), which means, ‘If the ego comes into existence, everything comes into existence; if the ego does not exist, everything does not exist’, and in verse 6 he says:

உலகைம் புலன்க ளுருவேறன் றவ்வைம்
புலனைம் பொறிக்குப் புலனா — முலகைமன
மொன்றைம் பொறிவாயா லோர்ந்திடுத லான்மனத்தை
யன்றியுல குண்டோ வறை.

ulahaim pulaṉga ḷuruvēṟaṉ ḏṟavvaim
pulaṉaim poṟikkup pulaṉā — mulahaimaṉa
moṉḏṟaim poṟivāyā lōrndiḍuda lāṉmaṉattai
yaṉḏṟiyula kuṇḍō vaṟai
. […]

பதச்சேதம்: உலகு ஐம் புலன்கள் உரு; வேறு அன்று. அவ் ஐம் புலன் ஐம் பொறிக்கு புலன் ஆம். உலகை மனம் ஒன்று ஐம் பொறிவாயால் ஓர்ந்திடுதலால், மனத்தை அன்றி உலகு உண்டோ? அறை.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): ulahu aim pulaṉgaḷ uru; vēṟu aṉḏṟu. a-vv-aim pulaṉ aim poṟikku pulaṉ ām. ulahai maṉam oṉḏṟu aim poṟi-vāyāl ōrndiḍudalāl, maṉattai aṉḏṟi ulahu uṇḍō? aṟai.

English translation: The world is a form [consisting] of five [kinds of] sense-data, not anything else. Those five [kinds of] sense-data are sensory phenomena [pertaining] to the five senses. Since the mind alone perceives the world by way of the five senses, say, is there [any] world besides [excluding, if not for, apart from, other than, except or without] the mind?

Since the body and its brain are a part of the physical world, they cannot exist when the world does not exist, so when Sri Ramana says the world does not exist without the mind, we should infer that the body and brain do not exist in the absence of the mind. Therefore since the mind does not exist in sleep, the body and brain also do not exist then, so how can the brain tell us that we existed in sleep or were happy then?

This inference is confirmed by Sri Muruganar in verse 99 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai, in which he records Sri Ramana saying:

உடலொழிந் தில்லை யுலகம் — உடலும்
உளமொழிந் தோர்காலு மில்லை — உளமும்
உணர்வொழிந் தோர்காலு மில்லை — உணர்வேயும்
உண்மையொழிந் தோர்காலு மில்.

uḍaloṙin dillai yulaham — uḍalum
uḷamoṙin dōrkālu millai — uḷamum
uṇarvoṙin dōrkālu millai — uṇarvēyum
uṇmaiyoṙin dōrkālu mil
.

பதச்சேதம்: உடல் ஒழிந்து இல்லை உலகம்; உடலும் உளம் ஒழிந்து ஓர்காலும் இல்லை; உளமும் உணர்வு ஒழிந்து ஓர்காலும் இல்லை; உணர்வேயும் உண்மை ஒழிந்து ஓர்காலும் இல்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): uḍal oṙindu illai ulaham; uḍalum uḷam oṙindu ōrkālum illai; uḷamum uṇarvu oṙindu ōrkālum illai; uṇarvēyum uṇmai oṙindu ōrkālum il.

English translation: Besides the body there is no world; besides the mind there is never [any] body; besides awareness there is never [any] mind; and awareness is never other than the reality [what actually is].

Therefore, since there is no mind and hence no body or brain in sleep, our memory of what we experienced in sleep cannot have been recorded by or stored in our brain. What existed and what we experienced in sleep was only ‘I’, ourself, so our memory of ourself in sleep cannot have been recorded by or stored in anything other than ourself alone.

Anonymous said...

Michael, great article!

Your first paragraph starts:

“Though we generally believe that we are not aware of anything in sleep, it would be more accurate to say that we are aware of nothing…”

And it ends:

“The fact that we are able to recognise the absence of any experience of anything other than ‘I’ in (deep?) sleep clearly indicates that we exist in sleep to experience that absence or void.”

Would “cognise” be a more accurate term here than “recognise”? This could be one reason we are unable to describe the extended gap between thoughts that is the bliss of deep sleep. There is just no referent.

In Ramana Smriti, on page 150, Shantamma reports Bhagavan’s words as follows:

“A jnani has no mind. How can one without a mind remember or even think...”?

It seems to me that the gap between consecutive thoughts that Bhagavan has mentioned in other places is new every time and cannot be recognised but only cognised.

I bring this up because for ordinary mortals deep sleep is the nearest approach to the Self...my personal opinion.

R Viswanathan said...

"What was the Tamil word he used that you have translated as ‘the brain’? Please quote exactly what he wrote in Tamil in this regard.

If he did write this in a commentary on Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, I would be very surprised..."

My translation was of that portion given in page 99 of the book Swathmasukhi by Nochur. It is a commentary for Ulladhu Narpadhu verse 11 (pages 94 to 101).

I don't know how to type Tamil words here. I type it in English letters, the Tamil words Nochur used in page 99:

"Sushupthiyil avaranam ulladhu enralum athmasukha anubhavam undu. Adhanaldhan sukhamaga thoonginen enru kooruvadhu. Indha ninaivai sekarithu solvadhu yar? Buddhi than solgiradhu enralum adhu sushupthiyil azhndhu vittadhu allava? Piragu yardhan sukhathai ninaivil vaithu solgirar? Atmavin svarupamaga dehadhigalin abhavaththil sushupthiyil vilangiya sukham, ahankaram mudhaliya upadhigal ezhumbum pozhudhu, avatrukku pinne maraivadhu sukshma buddhiyal kanak koodiyadhudhan."

It is possible that my translation was not congruent with this Tamil passage, but I feel that Nochur does mention that one can see the happiness that remained hidden behind the ignorance through use of subtle buddhi.

As I mentioned, in so many places he chooses to discuss sushupthi, which shows the importance of this state (or the imaginary state as those of waking and dream states).

When I meet Nochur in person next time I visit Thiruvannamalai, I will discuss this subject, if Bhagavan permits such a discussion.

I discussed this subject with David Godman through e-mail, and his reply is the following:

" There is no experiencer in the sleep state. When one awakes and says 'I slept well,' this is not a conclusion based on a memory of what the state was like. It is an inference brought about by collating non-sleep data such as how awake and rested one feels. One can make further inferences such as 'There is no suffering and no perceived world when the mind is not functioning in sleep,' but these are after-the-event conclusions. Bhagavan has remarked that no one ever says 'I did not exist while I slept,' and that this validates his assertion that beingness persists when the mind is absent, but again for non-jnanis this is a post-facto conclusion. It is not based on an awareness of beingness while one is asleep. The nescient state of the mind during sleep covers up the happiness of the Self so completely, it's true nature can only be guessed at retroactively when one wakes up. When the 'I' is definitively eliminated in the waking state, it disappears in the sleep state, enabling one to have the direct knowledge that the avasthas are just superimpositions on the underlying substratum of the Self. While one still creates and experiences a world through the distorting prism of individual identity, there is no way of knowing or ascertaining the true nature of sleep. "

Michael James said...

Viswanathan, thank you for quoting exactly what Nochur wrote. In the passage you quote he makes no mention of the brain, but seems to be saying that the disappearance of the ego, body and all other adjuncts in sleep can be seen by the subtle intellect (sūkṣma buddhi) after they arise. This is certainly better than saying that it is the brain which tells us what we experienced in sleep (as you wrote in your previous comment), but in the passage that you quote Nochur does not explain how the subtle buddhi can see what we experienced in sleep even though (as he says in an earlier sentence) it (the buddhi) had subsided in sleep, which is what I tried to explain (though in terms of ‘I’, ourself, rather than in terms of our buddhi or intellect) in both this and my more recent article, Why should we believe that ‘the Self’ is as we believe it to be?.

However, I am surprised to read the email from David Godman that you quote, because he seems to deny that we experience (or are aware of) our being in sleep, and he says that it is only by inference from what we experience in waking that we are able to know that we existed in sleep. But if everything we experience in the waking state is an illusion, like a dream, as Bhagavan says it is, how can we rely upon any inference we can make from such an illusory experience?

Moreover, and still more seriously, if we did not actually experience our existence in the absence of our mind in sleep, how could we know that we are anything other than this mind, which is what we now seem to be? If David is correct in asserting that our knowledge that we existed in sleep is only a ‘a post-facto conclusion’ based on inference and ‘is not based on an awareness of beingness while one is asleep’, why did Bhagavan always insist that we do experience our existence while asleep?

(Due to the restriction imposed on the length of each comment, I will continue in my next comment to explain why David is wrong to deny that we are aware of our existence while asleep.)

Michael James said...

In continuation of my precious comment in reply to Viswanathan’s latest comment:

In fact, in denying that we are aware of our existence while asleep David is directly contradicting what Bhagavan wrote in the very first sentence of Nāṉ Yār?:

சகல ஜீவர்களும் துக்கமென்ப தின்றி எப்போதும் சுகமாயிருக்க விரும்புவதாலும், யாவருக்கும் தன்னிடத்திலேயே பரம பிரிய மிருப்பதாலும், பிரியத்திற்கு சுகமே காரண மாதலாலும், மனமற்ற நித்திரையில் தின மனுபவிக்கும் தன் சுபாவமான அச் சுகத்தை யடையத் தன்னைத் தானறிதல் வேண்டும். [...]

sakala jīvargaḷ-um duḥkham-eṉbadu iṉḏṟi eppōdum sukham-āy-irukka virumbuvadālum, yāvarukkum taṉ-ṉ-iḍattil-ē-y-ē parama piriyam iruppadālum, piriyattiṯku sukham-ē kāraṇam ādalālum, maṉam-aṯṟa niddiraiyil diṉam aṉubhavikkum taṉ subhāvam-āṉa a-c-cukhattai y-aḍaiya-t taṉṉai-t tāṉ aṟidal vēṇḍum. [...]

Since all living beings desire to be always happy without what is called misery, since for everyone the greatest love is only for oneself, and since happiness alone is the cause of love, [in order] to attain that happiness, which is one’s own [true] nature that is experienced daily in sleep, which is devoid of the mind, oneself knowing oneself is necessary. [...]

By saying in this context ‘மனமற்ற நித்திரையில் தின மனுபவிக்கும் தன் சுபாவம்’ (maṉam-aṯṟa niddiraiyil diṉam aṉubhavikkum taṉ subhāvam), which means ‘one’s svabhāvam that is experienced daily in sleep, which is devoid of the mind’, Bhagavan clearly implies that we do all experience our svabhāvam (our own being or real nature) in the absence of our mind in sleep. Since he began the first two clauses with the words சகல ஜீவர்களும் (sakala jīvargaḷ-um) and யாவருக்கும் (yāvarukkum), which respectively mean ‘all living beings’ and ‘to [or for] everyone’, it should be obvious that he was referring to the experience of all of us and not just to the experience of a jñāni when he wrote ‘one’s svabhāvam that is experienced daily in sleep, which is devoid of the mind’.

If we consider our experience carefully and deeply in the light of Bhagavan’s teachings, it should be clear to us that we did experience ourself being in sleep, and that it is not by mere inference that we are able to understand that we did exist then. Just as we experience the seeming existence of our ego and a world in waking and dream, we experience their absence in sleep, so whereas we experience ourself in all three states, we experience other things only in waking and dream but not in sleep.

Since self-awareness is the very nature (svabhāvam) of ourself, if we did not experience ourself in sleep we would not have existed then, and hence we could not have experienced anything, not even the absence of our mind and the world, so it would be absurd to suggest that we did not experience ourself but only the absence of everything else in sleep.

Josef Bruckner said...

Michael,
your comments are surely all precious.
However, your latest comment in reply to Viswanathan continues your previous comment.

Michael James said...

In reply to the anonymous comment above asking whether ‘cognise’ would have been a more accurate term here than ‘recognise’, I used the word ‘recognise’ in this context because I was writing from the perspective of our waking mind, which does not exist in sleep and which therefore cannot experience or cognise anything then. However, though it does not exist to cognise anything in sleep, after waking we (as this mind) are able to recognise that we (as our real self) did exist and experience our existence in sleep.

This does seem to be a paradox, but I tried to explain how this is possible in my latest article, Why should we believe that ‘the Self’ is as we believe it to be?, where I wrote:

“Since our mind had then subsided, what experienced our existence in sleep was not our mind but only our real self, but paradoxically what now remembers having experienced our existence in sleep is our mind, which was then absent. How is this possible? It is possible only because what we now seem to be (our mind or ego) is actually nothing other than what we actually are (our real self), just as what a rope seems to be (a snake) is actually nothing other than what it actually is (a rope). It was we as we actually are (our real self) who experienced our existence in sleep, and it is we as what we at present seem to be (our mind or ego) who now remembers having experienced it.

“That is, our mind or ego is a confused mixture of what we actually are and various extraneous adjuncts — things such as our body which we now seem to be but which are not what we actually are. The self-aware element of our mind (the element that is aware of its own existence, ‘I am’) is what we actually are, and all the other elements are merely extraneous adjuncts, which are not self-aware. Whereas all the other elements of the mind rise and endure only during waking and dream, but subside and cease to exist in sleep, the self-aware element of our mind endures always: in all states, at all times and even when time does not seem to exist. It is this self-aware element (our real self) that experienced itself in the absence of everything else in sleep, and it is because of this self-aware element (the essential element of our mind) that our mind is able to remember ‘I existed and was aware that I existed in sleep’.

“In other words, though our mind as mind did not exist in sleep, it did exist as our real self, which is its essence. It is therefore this essential element of our mind, which alone endured in sleep, that experienced its own existence in sleep, and that now seems to be the mind and thereby enables the mind to remember its existence in sleep. Though the actual memory of having been in sleep belongs only to what we actually are (our real self), what is now able to recall that memory is what we now seem to be (our ego or mind).”

Michael James said...

Last night when looking up some other reference in Maharshi’s Gospel I noticed two portions that are relevant to what I explained in the two comments I wrote above (here and here) in reply to the comment in which Viswanathan quoted an email in which David Godman claimed that our knowledge that we existed in sleep is only a ‘a post-facto conclusion’ based on inference and ‘is not based on an awareness of beingness while one is asleep’. The first portion is in the first chapter (2002 edition, p. 9), where it is recorded that Bhagavan said:

“Sleep is not ignorance, it is one’s pure state; wakefulness is not knowledge, it is ignorance. There is full awareness in sleep and total ignorance in waking.”

The other portion is an extract from a conversation between a devotee and Bhagavan about our awareness of our existence in sleep, which is recorded towards the end of the final chapter (2002 edition, pp. 93-4):

D: What I mean by blankness is that I am hardly aware of anything in my sleep; it is for me the same as non-existence.

M: But you did exist during sleep.

D: If I did, I was not aware of it.

M: You do not mean to say in all seriousness you ceased to exist during your sleep! (Laughing). If you went to sleep as Mr. X, did you get up from it as Mr. Y?

D: I know my identity, perhaps, by an act of memory.

M: Granting that, how is it possible unless there is a continuity of awareness?

D: But I was unaware of that awareness.

M: No. Who says you are unaware in sleep? It is your mind. But there was no mind in your sleep. Of what value is the testimony of the mind about your existence or experience during sleep? Seeking the testimony of the mind to disprove your existence or awareness during sleep is just like calling your son’s evidence to disprove your birth!

Do you remember, I told you once previously that existence and awareness are not two different things but one and the same? Well, if for any reason you feel constrained to admit the fact that you existed in sleep be sure you were also aware of that existence.

What you were really unaware of in sleep is your bodily existence. You are confounding this bodily awareness with the true Awareness of the Self which is eternal.

Michael James said...

Josef, thanks for your latest comment. Sorry, I’m a bit thick, so when I read it yesterday I did not understand what you meant. However, I have now understood that you meant that in the second of the two comments I wrote yesterday in reply to Viswanathan I began by saying, ‘In continuation of my precious comment’ when I meant ‘my previous comment’.

Thanks for pointing this out, but unfortunately there is no edit facility for comments once they have been posted, so I cannot correct it. However, please continue for the record to point out any other such typos you notice either in my comments (which I cannot correct) or in my articles (which I can correct).

Josef Bruckner said...

Michael,
it is good that you encourage me to point out any typos which I notice in your articles or comments.
Would you prefer to get an email in case of comments which you cannot correct due to the lack of edit facility once they have been posted ?

Michael James said...

Josef, in case of any typo in a comment, for the record it is perhaps best to point it out in a comment, but in the case of any typo in an article, you can let me know by email, because I can easily correct it. Thanks.

Josef Bruckner said...

okay Michael,
from today
typo (article).....point out by email
typo (comment).....point out in comment

Michael James said...

Yes, Josef. Thanks.

Joel said...

You quote page 93/94 of Maharshi's Gospel, but page 92 is quite interesting too: "For the jnani all the three states are equally unreal. But the ajnani is unable to comprehend this, because for him the standard of reality is the waking state, whereas for the jnani the standard of Reality is Reality itself. This Reality of Pure Consciousness is eternal by its nature and therefore subsists equally during what you call waking, dreaming and sleep. To him who is one with that Reality, there is neither the mind nor its three states…"



Manakulla said...

Joel,
what practical advantage can the ajnani gain by quoting
the viewpoint of the jnani ?
The teachings of Sri Ramana are surely "quite interesting".
Are we not all one with that Reality of Pure Consciousness ?
But it's a bit worrying that we the seemingly ajnanis are unable to comprehend this.
But there's nothing to panic about.
Chin up ! I assure you everything will be all right.
So pull yourself together. The situation is not as grim as you imagine :
We need only to investigate ourself - the everpresent 'I' and to experience this 'I' clearly and alone, in complete isolation from everything else. But do not feel bad about our present failure to experience ourself as we really are.
Sorry, please excuse me for writing sarcastically, sometimes I have to blow off steam.

Michael James said...

Joel, yes, as you point out in your latest comment, Sri Ramana did often say that ‘all the three states are equally unreal’, but he also said that in order to understand why we cannot be the body and mind that we now seem to be we need to analyse our experience of ourself in each of these unreal (but to us nevertheless seemingly real) states. This is why we should not take any particular teaching he gave in isolation from the entire coherent framework of his teachings, and why if we do so we are likely to come to some wrong conclusions.

In the clear view of the jñāni what exists is only ‘I’ and not any of these three states or anything else, but in the view of us ajñānis these three states and all their contents do seem to exist. The fundamental difference between the jñāni and an ajñāni is that the jñāni is nothing other than our infinite real self, which always experiences itself as it actually is, whereas an ajñāni experiences himself or herself as a finite body and mind. What experiences itself as this body and mind is our ego, so it is only in the view of this ego that these three states and everything else seem to exist.

This ego is not real, but is just a confused mixture of what we actually are (our real self) and other things that we merely seem to be, such as our body. The two states in which this unreal ego seems to exist are called waking and dream, and because it seems to exist only in these two states everything else that it experiences also seems to exist only in these two states.

Because this ego and everything else do not always seem to exist, the state in which they do not seem to exist seems to us (the ego) to be a third state, which we call sleep. Therefore it is only in the view of the ego (which did not exist in sleep) that waking, dream and sleep seem to be three distinct states rather than the one real state in which ‘I’ alone exists.

Though these three states seem to come and go alternately, and though in each of them we experience ourself as something different, the one thing that we experience in all of them is ourself — our own existence, ‘I am’. Therefore, though these three states are unreal, our experience of them does demonstrate that the only thing that is real is ourself, because we alone endure unchanged amidst all the changes that seem to take place in these three states.

Therefore, since we alone are real, we should try to experience ourself as we really are, which we can do only by experiencing ourself alone, in complete isolation from the seeming existence of anything else.

Until we experience ourself thus, all our putative knowledge is merely conceptual and hence unreal. Therefore the only purpose of analysing our experience of ourself in the three seeming states of waking, dream and sleep is to convince ourself that we alone are real, but are not what we now seem to be, and that we should therefore try to experience ourself as we really are.

Manakkula said...

Thanks Michael for giving a sound
comment to Joel.

Joel said...

Michael -- If you have realised through your efforts of self-investigation that the 'ego is not real', as you say and thereby imply is a realisation and so are satisfied to repeat as if it were a self-evident fact, then why have you not similarly realised that the three states are unreal? Do you not see some incongruity there? Do you just cherry-pick aspects of Ramana Maharshi's teaching that you have some slight resonance with and ignore the rest until you can say you also have some resonance with that?

Do you think only Ramana Maharshi ever realised this, such that it is obviously nonsense for someone else to say so and that they are only repeating what they have read? Why find fault so vociferously with what I said and yet accept it perfectly willingly because Ramana Maharshi said it? Do you not see that the only reason for that is that you accept that he had realised who he was, but you do not accept that I have realised who I am, and yet who are you to make such judgments, a self-confessed ajnani? Please, at least consider the ridiculousness of your stance, regardless of whatever you may believe about me.

Anonymous said...

I read this blog because I find Michael’s exegesis of Sri Ramana’s teachings helpful in my own efforts to make some little progress along this path.

It is true he is a “self confessed ajnani” and that is a big plus as far as I am concerned. So if his exegesis is infected with a little (very little!) unavoidable eisegesis it becomes more credible, in my opinion.

On the other hand the pronouncements of a “self confessed jnani” cannot be taken lightly. But I must confess right away that such self confessions leave me a bit confused because then I wouldn’t know whom to believe if there is a difference of opinion.

I have chosen to put my faith in Sri Ramana’s teachings because many great intellects and spiritually advanced individuals (I can’t tell you what spiritually advanced means but I have a strong feeling about such people) gave him their seal of approval.

If that is an argument from authority, so be it.

To lighten the mood a little here is the peerless Bertrand Russell:

"I once received a letter from an eminent logician, Mrs. Christine Ladd-Franklin, saying that she was a solipsist, and was surprised that there were no others. Coming from a logician and a solipsist, her surprise surprised me." (Russell, p. 180).

Russell, Bertrand., Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits,London: George Allen & Unwin, 1948.

Michael James said...

Joel, in answer to your latest tirade, this blog is intended to be for those of us who genuinely want to reflect upon the teachings of Sri Ramana in order to understand them more clearly and to put them into practice by trying to experience ourself as we really are. It is not meant to be an arena in which our respective egos can clash with each other by trying to show that we are smarter or more ‘self-realised’ than others, nor is it meant for anyone who claims as you do, ‘I have realised who I am’, because if you had truly experienced who you are, you would have no need either to show off your wisdom to us or to try as we do to understand and practise what Sri Ramana has taught us.

In the sense in which you use the term ‘realised’ (that is, to mean that one has experienced what is real as it actually is), I do not claim to have ‘realised’ anything. I am speaking simply from the perspective of one who still experiences himself as a person (an ego), but who has understood — just by studying the teachings Sri Ramana, reflecting upon them and trying to investigate what I actually am — that I am not what I now seem to be, and that I therefore need to persevere in trying to experience myself as I actually am.

The reason why I accept what Sri Ramana said is not merely because I blindly believe that ‘he had realised who he was’ (which you say is the only reason I accept it), but is primarily because he has given us very good reasons for accepting it, based on a simple and clear analysis of our experience of ourself in our three alternating states of waking, dream and sleep. On the other hand, I questioned your reasons for asserting what you asserted only because you gave us no good reasons for believing it. That is, without giving us adequate reasons you tried to argue that since these three states are unreal (which is a premise that I never denied) it is wrong for us to say that we experienced ourself in sleep — or to put it in your own words, ‘the attempt to say that the Self is present during deep sleep is just an idea of the mind in the waking state’.

When we mistake a rope to be a snake, the illusory snake is certainly unreal, but that does not mean that the real rope is not present in that illusion of a snake. Likewise, though the three states are unreal, that does not mean that we (our real self) are not present and aware of ourself in each of these illusory states, because we could not experience any illusion unless we were present to experience it. Of course these three states seem to exist only in the view of our ego and not in the view of our real self, but our ego could not seem to exist unless its appearance were supported by the presence and awareness of our real self, just as the illusory snake could not seem to exist unless its appearance were supported by the presence and our perception of the rope.

I agree that whatever we may say about our experience in any of these three states is ‘just an idea of the mind’, as you say, but so long as we experience ourself as this mind whatever we experience is just an idea. However, though ideas are what nourishes and sustains our mind, certain ideas (such as the ideas that constitute the teachings of Sri Ramana) indicate to us the means by which we can go beyond all ideas by experiencing ourself as we really are. Therefore, until we are able to free ourself from our primal idea called ‘I’ (the ego or mind), we should not underrate the value of the ideas taught by Sri Ramana.

As he used to say, we sometimes need to use one thorn to remove another thorn that has stuck in our foot, meaning that his teachings and the practice of self-investigation are the thorn that we need to use to remove the first thorn that has stuck in us, namely our ego.

Joel said...

Michael -- What I said was hardly a 'tirade', simply reiterating that what I said in the first place was not in any way at odds with what Ramana Maharshi said. The rudeness with which you have welcomed it is quite simply uncalled for. If speaking from self-realisation is only seen as 'showing off' here, and your blog is intended to be a compendium of one unrealised person's views for the benefit of other unrealised persons, then of course I will respect your wishes and say no more.

R Viswanathan said...

The discussion between Michael James and Joel Biroco certainly is beneficial to understand the essential matter - 'I am one'.

I thought that it might be pertinent to refer to Bhagavan's Ulladhu Narpadhu verse 33 here, the English translation for which was given By Michel James himself:

Besides that, saying (either), “I do not know myself”, (or), “I have known myself”, is a wide ground for ridicule. Why? To make oneself an object known, are there two selves (one of which can be known by the other)? Because, being
one is the truth of everyone’s experience (that is, whether
they be a Jnani or an ajnani, everyone experiences the truth
‘I am one’).

I remember Sri Nochur Venkataraman saying that Bhagavan often used to say: There is no Jnani or Ajnani. There is only jnanam.

Dana Lomas said...

Well then, it seems that 'jñāni' is just another interchangeable name for the nameless 'I', or That which alone exists. And if one holds the following statement by Michael to be true, "In the clear view of the jñāni what exists is only ‘I’ and not any of these three states or anything else, but in the view of us ajñānis these three states and all their contents do seem to exist," then how explain the seeming absurdity of an ajñāni, which doesn't actually exist, talking about what seems to exist to it? It all seems to get unnecessarily muddled, once the focus is on other than the 'I', i.e. That which alone exists -- in truth, no-thing at all.

Michael James said...

Yes, Dana, all our confusion arises only because we attend to things other than ‘I’, and we will remain confused so long as we continue to experience anything other than ‘I’.

Bhagavan’s teachings are actually extremely simple, so trying to understand them clearly does help to reduce our confusion at least at a conceptual level, but we can get rid of our confusion entirely only when we experience ourself as the one infinite reality that we actually are, other than which nothing exists.

Dana Lomas said...

Thanks Michael for that mercifully concise response. Truth be told, I haven't made much of a study of Ramana's teachings. But I trust that, in their essential simplicity, they are efficacious. Suffice to say here, it turned out quite simple as well, for after the age-old myth of an apparent unenlightened self seeking/striving to become an apparent enlightened self was ended, so ended that mythical seeker, and, needless to say, the seeking/striving. And thus ends this saga of a myth that ended. What remains, well, no such words can truly speak of -- as it ever is.

R Viswanathan said...


For those who would like to read more about 'true nature of sleep' please see this link from David Godman's blog

http://sri-ramana-maharshi.blogspot.in/2008/05/true-nature-of-sleep.html

I sought views of David Godman for giving the link in this blog, and this is what is his reply:
If there is a discussion on sleep going on on Michael's blog, please feel free to post the link to the Guru Vachaka Kovai verses on sleep there. I feel that Bhagavan's own words on this topic are always more useful than other people's opinions.

R Viswanathan said...

I have just read another very beneficial article by Michael James on sleep in 2007:
http://happinessofbeing.blogspot.in/2007/01/self-consciousness-alone-is-true.html

It is explained clearly in this article that the sleep state indeed denotes our experience of true consciousness, although not of objective consciousness which everyone is used to and familiar with.

Vilcomayo said...

Michael,
what exactly means 'absence of the mind' in sleep ?
In a state in which our mind is/was absent or subsided, does/did the mind "go" to any other place or does/did it rather subside in its source ?

Vilcomayo said...

Michael,
I do not want to appear as impatiently and become a nuisance to you, but may I repeat my question put on 4 September 2015 at 22:25 ?
Please take your time over answering.

Michael James said...

Vilcomayo, I am sorry that I delayed so long in replying to your question, but I have now tried to answer it in a new article that I have just posted: What happens to our mind in sleep?.

Vilcomayo said...

Many thanks, Michael, for your response to my question in a new article.
Regarding R Viswanathan's advice in his comment of 11 December 2014 at 03:41:
Do we really have to draw a distinction between true consciousness and objective consciousness ?
Is it not said that there is only one self-consciousness ?

Michael James said...

Vilcomayo, if you read the article that Viswanathan refers to in his comment, namely Self-consciousness alone is true knowledge, you will understand why it is necessary to distinguish true knowledge, which is self-awareness or consciousness as it really is, from objective consciousness, which is awareness of anything other than ourself.

There is only one thing that is conscious or aware, namely ourself, but we are sometimes aware of ourself alone, as we are in sleep, whereas at other times we are aware not only of ourself but also of other things, as we are in waking and dream. Since we alone are what is real or what actually exists, being aware of ourself alone is true knowledge, whereas being aware of anything else is only ignorance, as Bhagavan explains in verses 10, 11, 12 and 13 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu.

When we are aware of ourself alone, we are experiencing ourself as we actually are, whereas whenever we are aware of anything other than ourself, we are experiencing ourself as this ego or mind. In other words, what we actually are is pure self-awareness, whereas our ego or mind is the same self-awareness mixed with awareness of other things, so in order to experience ourself as we actually are it is essential that we distinguish pure self-awareness from self-awareness mixed with even the slightest awareness of anything else.

Trying to distinguish pure self-awareness from self-awareness mixed with even the slightest awareness of anything else, which we can do only by trying to be aware of ourself alone, in complete isolation from awareness of anything else, is what is called ātma-vicāra (self-investigation), as I explained in another recent article, Trying to distinguish ourself from our ego is what is called self-investigation (ātma-vicāra).

Vilcomayo said...

Thank you Michael,
for explaining again the matter of true knowledge/pure self-awareness and ignorance/self-awareness mixed with awareness of anything other than ourself.
Once more you remind us that renunciation of self-investigation would let us miss the target.

Vilcomayo said...

Michael,
You write:
"In sleep we cannot remember...
Because it is the mind that experiences anything other than 'I', it is only the mind...
However, because 'I' experiences itself even in the absence of the mind, it does not require the mind to remember itself, and hence we can remember that I slept, even though the mind was absent in sleep."

May I only for my clear understanding of the subject put the following further questions ?
Is the mind in addition to the above experiences able to experience also 'I am ' ?
If yes, does it actually experience also 'I am ' ?