It is easily recognized that when we are awake both the body
and mind are active. Their activities include not only performing
karma, but also experiencing its fruits. In the dream state
however, the physical body is inactive and only the mind functions.
Both the waking and dream states are tiring for the jiva.
So as a bird flying for a long time in the sky gets tired
and returns to its own nest for rest; after the hard work
in the wakeful state and dreams, the jiva too enters into
deep sleep (sushupti). Here he is totally free from tiresomeness
(Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3.19; Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.2).
In deep sleep there is no desire for anything, nor are there
are any dreams (Mandukya Upanishad 5).
Sushupti is the Non Dual State
In the waking and dream states, we do not know anything about
what another person is experiencing. The only way to know
his experience is to ask him. For e.g. a doctor can know the
details of his patient’s pain: where it is located, whether
it is increasing or decreasing etc, only after the patient
informs the doctor himself. Similarly, a patient’s dream experiences
also can be known by the doctor only by asking him.
On the other hand however, to understand the experience of
deep sleep of another person, we do not have to ask him. As
soon as somebody says that he had a sound sleep we are able
to understand his experience, without asking him at all. This
is very perplexing, why is it so?
We have to ask the other person’s waking and dream experiences
because we are different from him in these two states. However, if
anybody’s deep sleep experience is understood by us even without asking,
it automatically shows that during deep sleep there is no difference at
all between us; I am himself. In other words, it is clear that I exist
in everybody’s deep sleep.
In the waking state, we experience the world through our
sense organs and mind, which are different for each individual.
In dreams however, the sense organs are inactive and only
the mind functions. Therefore, whether it be the waking or
dream state, it is through the sense organs and mind that
we experience the world. But since these instruments vary
from individual to individual, the experiences received through
them are also different, varying with each personality. Thus
in these two states we can know the other’s experience only
when he tells us himself.
In sushupti however, we are embraced by everyone’s indweller God, and everything
becomes One. Just like a man embraced by his dear wife does
not know anything within or without, the jiva in God’s embrace
has become one with everything (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3.21).
Therefore, the apparent difference that is found in the waking
and dream states between himself and others is completely
absent in deep sleep; one is all alone. In other words: he
is himself in everybody else. In this way the atman who appears
to be different in different creatures when we are awake,
loses the apparent distinctions and stays undisturbed in deep
sleep. This is precisely the reason why we do not need to
ask others to know their experience of deep sleep. It is already
known without asking.
Thus we realize that no differences exist at all from one to another when the
conditioning adjuncts (upadhis) like the body, sense organs
and mind etc are dropped in deep sleep. According to the Brhadaranyaka
Upanishad: ‘In deep sleep, there is no distinction of child
or adult, king or beggar, educated or uneducated, man or woman....everyone
has the same state of happiness’ (2.1.19). The word happiness
in this shloka is qualified by an adjective ‘ati-ghani’, meaning
an Ananda in which grief is totally destroyed. That is why
there is no trace of dukha in sushupti. It is pure unalloyed
sukha (Ananda). I is a state free from desire, and free from
paap and punya. This is the state of Abhaya (fearlessness):
Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 4.2.20.
However this Ananda terminates with the termination of deep sleep. The oneness
which resulted from the disconnection of the instruments (body,
senses, mind) is gone the moment a connection is established
with them as soon as we wake up. This is because our attachment
to the body, nurtured over several births, is still intact.
The Upanishads describe what happens using the following imagery:
‘One who had lost kingship becomes king again, one who had
lost poverty gets it back again. Similarly a tiger or a lion
or a wolf or a worm or a butterfly or a mosquito becomes what
it was, immediately after returning from deep sleep (Chandogya
This is Paramananda
The Ananda experienced by us in deep sleep is Paramananda,
i.e. there is no happiness equal to it and certainly none
greater than it. ‘Here the jiva is transparent like water,
he is alone without a second and therefore is free from fear.
This is Paramatman. It is the highest destination for the
jiva, his highest treasure, his highest world and his highest
happiness’ Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (4.3.32).
It is difficult for people to
understand this description of deep sleep given by the scriptures. We
fail to have faith in these words because we have always been accustomed
to obtaining sukha only through an effort, and here is a state which
gives us the maximum happiness precisely because there is the absence of
Generally the experience of deep sleep is taken very lightly
and the following objections are raised: How can it be called
the state of maximum happiness? In fact, it cannot be called
happiness at all since we obtain happiness only by interacting
with various objects (vishayas), but there is no object at
all in deep sleep. Actually, deep sleep is not a positive
experience at all, the happiness there signifying only the
absence of grief rather than the presence of sukha per se.
Reply: To understand the
answer to all these queries, let us assume that happiness indeed is the
result of our interaction with external objects. However, we do know
that our happiness terminates after we have been in contact with an
object for quite some time. If it be true that our sukha results from
contact with various objects, then how are these two to be reconciled?
Why should happiness terminate when still in contact with the object? Or
at the very least, why doesn’t the desire to come into contact with the
object arise again soon after the termination of happiness?
The non believer would answer these questions as follows:
‘There is no question of reconciliation here, because that
is the nature of the process. The only meaningful pursuit
in life is to extend the duration of the pleasure by some
means. All efforts should be directed only towards that end.’
This however is not correct. Suppose that one is deprived of sleep, food and
pleasurable objects for a long time and then all of them are
simultaneously offered to him. It is known that the first
thing he would seek would be sleep, then food and then the
pleasures from outside objects. Even in the case where pleasurable
objects are in good supply and one is deprived only of the
pleasure of sleep, he would give up everything and take pills
to get sleep. If there is obstruction for sleep, one would
reject one’s wife or children or wealth. Therefore, it is
clear that the pleasure from outside objects, the pleasure
from food and the pleasure of sleep are in an increasing order.
Hence, sleep is not merely the absence of grief, but also
the greatest happiness.
Thus we see that the all compassionate God is everyday giving
us an experience to understand our oneness with Him. We would
not deserve to be called human beings if we did not stop to
ponder on this profound aspect of our daily life, realizing
that such a union is not mere speculation, but something which
falls well within the ambit of our experience.
This article is based almost entirely on the teachings of Param Pujya Swami
Paramanand Bharati Ji. However, any errors are entirely the author's own.
& Further Reading: