by Swami Krishnananda
The phenomenon of sleep is not easy to study, because we have no consciousness in sleep. Nobody can know what is happening then, as there is no one to know what is happening. This has been the difficulty, due to which many psychologists have left out of consideration this subliminal aspect of our lives. Most of the psychologists have been busy with the study of waking life and waking phenomena. What generally goes by the name of psychology is only a study of waking phenomena; but human nature is not exhausted by waking experiences. We have many other things within us which are not entirely comprehended in our wakeful life. As we noticed previously in our study, there is a difficulty in our waking life on account of which we are not able to know things properly.
The difficulty is twofold. The one is that we are confronted with objects, and the object you have seen is known as the adhibhuta. It may be another person, another thing or the vast world in front of us—it makes no difference. That which is outside us is in the position of an object. It will not be possible to know the object independently, because it is always beyond the grasp of the subject. No proper or intelligible relationship has been established between the subject and the object. Just as one may walk toward the horizon but never reach it no matter how much one may walk, in all our scientific and psychological analyses the object never comes within our grasp. It seems to be further off than any place we reach. The more we try to see, the further it appears to be. The object is just like the horizon. It seems to be nearby, but we cannot reach it.
That is why the Samkhya thinkers turned their gaze inwards and decided that there is no use running after the mirage of the phenomenon of objectivity. The universe has no end or no limits. You can never reach the end of the universe. You may start traveling for a million years, but you will never reach the end of the universe. Then, what is the good of this subjective analysis? Let us try another method, was the conclusion of the Samkhya. Go inward and see if anything can be seen. Neither was the waking world a help, nor was the dream world, because it is also a kind of objective world. The help came from the phenomenon of deep sleep, not from waking and dream. The difficulty was, who is to know sleep when we go to sleep? Everything goes to sleep with us, including that which wants to know the sleep. The known and the knower get involved in the same problem, and there is no one left to make this investigation with which purpose we try to enter sleep. We close our eyes, go to sleep, and strive to study what is happening, but when we get up in the morning, we are none the wiser. We will know that we fell asleep, that is all. We want to know how much time has passed. In the spaceless and timeless phenomenon, everything enters into sleep. The object of our study absorbs the subject of study. When the policeman becomes a friend of the thief, the thief cannot be detected. Likewise the investigators get involved in the very object of investigation, and we come out of it no wiser. We enter into it like wise people, but come out like fools. Though our goal is to study sleep, we seem to have no equipment for it. We cannot use a microscope to study sleep. We seem to be losing ourselves entirely.
The philosopher’s difficulty is very peculiar. How to study sleep when we ourselves go to sleep? Through perceptional methods sleep cannot be known. However, perception is not the only way; there are several other ways of knowing. For example, there is the way of inference. We do not see everything with our eyes, but we can infer certain things from observed premises. If we see that the water of the river is muddy, we can infer that it must have been raining upstream, otherwise how would the water be muddy? We have not seen it raining, but we infer it. There are many other ways of approach. Another method is through implication. Certain things imply certain other things. The sleep phenomenon is studied mostly by this method of implication, and in some way we may say by inference. We know ourselves in sleep—not by direct perception—but by implication and a sort of inference. How do we know that we exist in sleep? We cannot easily answer this question, but we are cocksure that we did exist. We were not non-existent in sleep, but how did we know that we were existent? Who told us? We were not consciously there, yet we are so sure that we did exist while in deep sleep. To what is the surety due? Not to perception. No direct perception was there, as we did not perceive anything directly. No one could have been of any use to us there. We imagine a knowledge situation which seems to be a recollection of having slept. This is a very interesting analysis, and please observe it carefully, because this is a great aid that we have in truly knowing ourselves.
How do I know that I slept? What makes me feel that I had a sleep when I had no knowledge of sleep, and I was totally unaware? We have only one resort. The resort is memory. I have memory or a recollection. What is the remembrance? When we say, “I remember something,” we thereby imply that we have a present consciousness which can be connected with our past consciousness. That is what we mean by remembrance. The past conscious experience has produced an impression in our minds, and when it becomes activated by our present state of consciousness, that impression becomes a memory. Memory is the activation of a mould created in the mind by a past experience. Suppose we have a crucible which has a particular shape. We can cast liquid metal in that crucible any number of times, and we can have the same shape. A crucible is a kind of vehicle that one creates for casting liquid any number of times, so that when the liquid solidifies itself, it can take the shape of the crucible.
To give another example, one has a gramophone record has grooves impressed into it, and through the permanent grooves one can go on replaying the sound. The grooves are formed only once, but one can hear the sound produced by it any number of times. Likewise, experience happens once, but the memory of it can be retained for a long time because a groove has been formed in the mind. The mind acts like a crucible, and it becomes the mould for the experiences that we previously had.
The sleep experience produced an impression in the mind, and that impression is retained even when we wake up the next morning. Consciousness is like a liquid in that crucible, and consciousness takes the shape of the crucible or the moulded mind, thus becoming a memory or recollection. “Who forms this groove in the mind?” is another question that comes to us. How is it that a groove is formed in the mind while in the state of deep sleep? What causes the modification of the mind? In yoga psychology, sleep is also a modification of the mind. It becomes very clear that it must be a modification of the mind, because it cannot be only a mould or a groove only. If the mind does not undergo a modification in sleep, there cannot be memory. One should not think that sleep is an unmodified condition of the mind. It is a modification of the mind. It is a change of the mind in some form or manner. The present consciousness is connected with the past conscious experience—only then could one have memory. There cannot be memory when consciousness is not connected.
Dead matter cannot remember anything. Even the mould of the mind cannot have experience of its own accord unless it is attended with awareness. Memory of sleep is nothing but a peculiar modification of consciousness connected with the phenomenon of sleep. Suffice it to say that we are aware that we slept, and the awareness of having slept is called the memory of sleep. As I said, this awareness of having slept is possible, and this memory becomes meaningful only when the present remembering consciousness has a connection with another state of consciousness. Consciousness cannot be connected with dead matter. Birds of a feather flock together, as they say, but incompatibles cannot join together. Consciousness must have had a relation with another state of consciousness in order that the present can know its past. We imply or infer that there must have been some sort of consciousness in deep sleep if memory of it is to be explicable. If consciousness were completely abolished in the state of deep sleep, the memory of it would be unintelligible.
What memory could we have, if there was no connection of our present state of consciousness with the past experience of sleep? This is an implication: the fact of memory implies the existence of a kind of awareness even in the state of deep sleep. We can call it inference, in a way. If memory has any meaning, we have to trust our confidence that we did in fact exist in sleep. There is no other way than to conclude that there was a sort of consciousness in the state of deep sleep. We cannot have a greater infallible confidence than the fact of our having existed in the state of deep sleep. We do not require any proof of this. We ask for a proof for everything, but we never ask for proof that we existed in sleep. How wonderful! We had no consciousness whatsoever in sleep, so what is this confidence we have about having existed in sleep in spite of there having been no intelligible phenomenon, and nobody else to inform us? Why is it that we do not ask for proof for having existed in sleep? We want proof for everything; we even want proof for the existence of God. We distrust everything – we even distrust God, but not ourselves. Even when we were completely oblivious to our own existence, we were sure that we did exist; but when so many things are told to us about God, we don’t believe. This is a peculiar interesting feature of our own selves. Nothing can attract us as much as our own selves. We feel so happy when we see ourselves in the mirror that we would rather see our own face than other faces.
This phenomenon of sleep reveals a tremendous fact that we did exist incontrovertibly in a state where we were not related to anything else. Remember this very important truth. While we are not related to anything else in the outside world, we did exist and we can exist in an unrelational condition. It is not true that our life is only social. Someone once said to me, “What is life, if it is not social?” Well, there is a kind of life which is not social, which we love more than any kind of social life. It is possible for us to exist without having any kind of social relationships. We will be surprised that we did exist in sleep without relation to human society, to the objects of the world, or to space, time and causal relationship—without relationship even to our own body and the sense organs, or without relationship with anything that we usually take ourselves to be in the waking and dreaming states. These states are but intimations of what we truly are. We can know what we truly are in deep sleep, not otherwise. Now we cannot say what we are. We are so much entwined with other-consciousness; body-consciousness and the needs of the body and its accompaniments. So much are we engrossed in these vicissitudes of what we call external life that we are completely oblivious to what we truly are. But what we really are, we know in deep sleep.
What are we in the state of deep sleep? The first question is: did we exist in sleep? Do we regard ourselves as wholly present in sleep, or partially present in sleep? We cannot say that only a part of ourselves was in sleep. We are sure that the whole of ourselves was present in sleep. The whole of us was present in deep sleep—not a part of us. Then what is it that we call ‘I’ in waking and dreaming states? Do we add to the whole? Nobody can add to the whole—the whole is whole. When we say, “I was wholly present in deep sleep,” we do not add anything to ourselves when we come into the waking condition. What is it that so holds our interest in the waking life, other than the whole that we really are?
So many things attract us and confront us, and we are obliged to pay attention to them. What are these things? It is the so-called world outside? Is it a part of ourselves? Is the body a part of ourselves? Are the senses a part of ourselves? We may say yes. Then we must say that in the state of deep sleep we were not wholly present, because a part of us was outside. The body, the senses, our friends and relationships—they were all outside. We cannot say that only a fraction of ourselves was present in sleep—nobody will say that. “I was totally, wholly, completely, perfectly present in the state of deep sleep. I was healthy,” one would say. If we are wholly present in sleep, unrelated to anything else, then the unrelated condition is wholeness—not the related condition.
So, relationships are essentially false. This is what is implied in an analysis of deep sleep. All relationships are false. They are not true, because they do not belong to the whole. What does not belong to the whole cannot even exist. What can be outside the whole? This is why some people say that the world does not really exist. I will not go into the details of this question, as we are not concerned with it here. “The world is maya; it is non-existent; it is a creation of your mind,” some metaphysicians will tell us. We can appreciate this point of view to a small extent when we dispassionately analyse the wholeness of our being present in sleep and the meaninglessness of any kind of relationship with things apparently outside our whole selves. If we are wholly present in sleep, then everything else outside that whole presence must be false. Hence, we are living in a false world. That is why the world does not satisfy us.
We ought to have existed perfectly and consciously in the state of deep sleep. Why were we not conscious in sleep, and yet seemed to be conscious in sleep? This enigma is what is called ignorance. Ignorance is not an absence of consciousness. Ignorance is rather a difficulty in knowing a situation. It is a positive state and not a negative absence of knowledge. When we are in a peculiar difficulty where we cannot decide anything, we are said to be in a state of ignorance. Now we have come to the last point of the Samkhya analysis. Our true nature seems to be unrelated, and at the same time a state of consciousness without which memory is impossible. What then am I truly? I am unrelated consciousness, not related consciousness, because one cannot have relations with the whole. Remember this. Our true nature is—by implication we learn—unrelated wholeness of consciousness. It is not part consciousness, but whole consciousness, unconnected with anything else.
This is what the Samkhya calls the purusha. Purusha means the true being in us, the reality or the truth. Our essential unrelated nature seems to be a state of consciousness which does not stand in need of any external kind of relationship. We can exist without external relationships. This is one thing that follows from the analysis of deep sleep. Something else also follows, to which I hinted in the previous chapter. We get up from sleep with a tremendous sense of freedom, refreshment and happiness. It means that when we are unrelated to anything, we are happier. When we are related to something, we are not as happy. We are not so happy in the waking and dreaming conditions as in deep sleep. Even an emperor is not going to be happy if he doesn’t sleep for a month. The whole earth may be ours, but if we are not able to sleep, which would we choose—sleep or emperorship? Not emperorship, because sleep is better. The emperor is not made happy merely through relationship.
What is emperorship? It is relationship with externals. That is what it means to be a king, ruler or a great person. All these mean a bundle of relationships, which are not our true being. Our ‘bigness’ is a false self. The so-called big person that we are is our false self, brought about artificially by relationships which do not belong to us, which we are not. We as a whole are not a bundle of relationships. We are happy when we go back to our true selves. We are not happy when we are in connection with other things because we are not those things. The many things that we seem to possess in the world are relationships which, as we now have understood, do not really belong to us and are not us. They do not bring us happiness.