Shri Datta Swami

Posted on: 04 Aug 2021


Consciousness In Deep Sleep

Note: This article is meant for intellectuals only

O Learned and Devoted Servants of God,

Dr. Nikhil asked: Is it impossible to prove that consciousness is absent in deep sleep, on the basis of both experience and logic? A famous teacher of Advaita Vedānta claims in his video that it is an error to say that consciousness is absent in deep sleep. I have tried to put together some of the main arguments made by him below.

1Q:- As per Advaita, only the mind is absent in deep sleep, whereas, consciousness continues to exist. The inability to distinguish between consciousness and mind leads to this erroneous conclusion that consciousness is absent in deep sleep.

Swāmi Replied:- Anybody can distinguish consciousness or awareness from mind. Consciousness is the special work form of basic energy and it is called as awareness. Based on its functions, awareness is classified into 4 categories called internal instruments: 1) Mind or Manas while doing planning (Saṅkalpa like that I shall go to college) and variation (Vikalpa like that I shall go to shop), 2) Intelligence or Buddhi while doing decision (Niścaya) through analysis (Now I shall go to college since it is my duty in this time, I can go to shop even in the evening after returning from college), 3) Citta or Memory while remembering some past happenings and 4) Ego or Ahaṅkāra, which is the basic thought of I representing the total physical and mental personality. Basic current functions in different ways, which becomes sound energy in radio, light energy in bulb, mechanical grinding work in grinding machine etc. Hence, nobody will confuse the basic awareness for its specific function called mind. In meditation, one can find the existence of basic awareness when all its functions are stopped. There also, experience of consciousness (awareness of awareness) alone exists and such experience itself is the awareness. The awareness itself becomes object of itself in the meditation (Ātmajñānam). In deep sleep, absence of other external objects of the world (Awaken state) and absence of internal mental objects of dream (Dream state) exist. But, you can’t say that awareness of awareness exists in deep sleep because both experience of other objects as well as experience of itself do not exist since experience or awareness disappeared here. When experience is absent, awareness or consciousness is also absent because all the three (experience, awareness and consciousness) are one and the same. You are experiencing yourself or something else. You are aware of yourself or something else. You are conscious of yourself or something else. In the awaken state, awareness is functioning as mind. This point is true. But, in the same awaken state; you can enter into state of meditation where you are aware of yourself, which means that consciousness is aware of itself. If you say that in deep sleep also consciousness is aware of itself, then, both deep sleep and meditation have to become one and the same. This is meaningless because in deep sleep, awareness does not exist due to which consciousness or experience of itself is absent whereas in meditation awareness of itself exists. In deep sleep, awareness itself is absent and not to speak of its functions and hence, mind is also absent in deep sleep. You cannot say that in deep sleep awareness is aware of the dormant mind because both awareness and mind are absent in deep sleep.

Logic or Tarka is nothing but science because in both, the items of the creation are analysed perfectly. The food digested is oxidised by the oxygen in mitochondria and the inert energy is produced. This inert energy is converted into awareness, which is the electrical pulse in neurons. These electrical pulses are called awareness. In deep sleep, a specific part of the brain does not function and hence, the awareness becomes non-functional or non-existent. Even if you say that neurons exist, awareness or consciousness or experience is absent because the concerned part of brain is shut down in rest. When you shut down your computer, even though current exists, the activity of the computer, which is the experience or consciousness or awareness is also shut down and is non-existent. You can’t say that since current is present; the activity of computer exists inside the computer. If it existed, at least the screen should glow. What I mean is that if power supply to the computer (supplier of signals) as well as monitor is stopped, there is no any activity in the computer including the glow of screen. In meditation, only monitor functions so that pure awareness of awareness exists even though the activity of the computer is not seen and experienced. Unless you differentiate meditation and deep sleep, you cannot understand the truth of this concept.

2Q:- The knowledge of the existence of consciousness in deep sleep is not a logical inference (anumāna) after waking up; it is a first-person experience (anubhava). Upon waking up, the person says, “I was sleeping peacefully, earlier. I was not thinking any thoughts or dreams (Etāvantaṃ kālaṃ sukham aham asvāpsam, na kiñcid avediṣam).” This means that the person was (earlier) experiencing the state of deep sleep, even though his mind (thoughts) was absent in that state.

Swāmi Replied:- Such experience came to you only after the deep sleep in awaken state only. If the consciousness is experiencing the state of deep sleep, this statement is the infinite climax of ignorance because no person in deep sleep experiences the absence of mind. If it is experiencing the absence of mind, it must be like yourself experiencing the absence of horn on the head of rabbit in the awaken state existing in the external world. Absence also is experienced. In deep sleep, such experience of absence of anything other than itself (consciousness) is totally absent as per the direct experience. You say that the experience of deep sleep is the first experience. This statement itself is funny. When you are experiencing the past happiness of the deep sleep, deep sleep does not exist during such experience. The freshness or happiness of the rest of the part of the brain is freshly experienced as soon as you awake from deep sleep. Based on this, you inferred the past rest to be its reason and you are saying that you have slept well with happiness. Happiness is experienced now and its reason (rest) is also inferred now. Moreover, you clearly said “I did not know anything in the deep sleep”. This means that you are announcing your state of deep sleep as absence of any experience or awareness or consciousness. You yourself are telling the fact that awareness of any object including itself did not exist in deep sleep.

Once you have inferred fire on the top of the hill by observing its smoke, such logical conclusion comes out automatically as first experience that fire existed on the hill. Every time you need not think that there is fire on hill due to smoke and that smoke and fire are always interconnected (wherever there is smoke, there is fire) as you have seen many times in the kitchen. Every time this logical analysis of inference need not repeat since the final conclusion is stored in the memory (Cittam), which comes out spontaneously on seeing second time the smoke from the hill. Whenever there is absence of logical discussion of inference, you should not conclude that it is direct perception of fire and smoke to give first experience. You have not seen the fire on the hill and how can you say that it is first experience?

3Q:- If the knowledge of the existence of consciousness in deep sleep were a logical inference, instead of a first-person experience, then upon waking up, the person would have said something different. He would have said, “I know I am awake now. I remember, I had lain on this bed, several hours ago. I remember the thoughts I had before falling asleep. I also remember some of the dreams I had. But after that, I do not remember anything. So, I conclude that I must have been in deep sleep.” But even without going through this logical exercise, one effortlessly knows that he or she had slept deeply. It means that knowledge of the state of deep sleep is an experience and not a logical inference.

Swāmi Replied:- You told just above that the person is experiencing the happiness of the deep sleep saying that he did not know anything in deep sleep. Now you say something different about the state before deep sleep. All these things are utter failures because in deep sleep, the consciousness is not aware of: 1) Absence of mind as in the case of experiencing absence of horn on the head of rabbit and 2) itself as in meditation. “You are having the first experience of happiness coming from the rest of the part of brain after awakening from the deep sleep only. You inferred the reason of this happiness to the rest in the deep sleep. You also directly say that you are not aware of anything including yourself or consciousness.” This is the essence of the logical analysis of deep sleep.

4Q:- On the basis of logic too, one can establish that the knowledge that consciousness existed in deep sleep is not an inference. Drawing an inference requires a previously-established invariable concomitance (vyāpti) of the observation and the conclusion. So far, whenever we have seen smoke, we have also seen the fire which is the cause of the smoke. This is invariable concomitance (vyāpti), which means that the cause and effect are invariably found together. Hence, in a new situation, when we only see smoke (observation), but not fire, we can infer the existence of the fire (conclusion).

Swāmi Replied:- What I have told above is exactly said by you now. The logic applies only for the first incident of seeing smoke coming from top of the hill. From the second vision of the same incident onwards, the logical conclusion drawn in the first incident that was stored in memory comes out spontaneously and such conclusion is also the logical conclusion only and not the first experience of finding smoke from fire in the kitchen for the first time. How can you tell that the unseen fire existed on the hill without seeing the fire? The first experience is based on the vision of both fire and smoke together.

5Q:- a) There is no previously-established invariable concomitance between the observed non-existence of experience and the conclusion of the absence of consciousness.

Swāmi Replied:- a) When you observed the absence of horn on the head of the rabbit for the first time, since there is no concomitance of such experience before that first observation, shall we also conclude that there is no validity for the absence of horn on the head of the rabbit?

b) The observed non-experience of any object of the mind, can only lead to the conclusion that the mind is absent. One cannot say that consciousness is absent.

Swāmi Replied:- b) If consciousness is absent, mind also becomes absent and this is the case of deep sleep. In meditation, consciousness is present while its functioning faculty called mind is absent. Deep sleep is like absence of water and water wave together. Meditation is like presence of standstill water and absence of water wave. By this logic, you cannot say that deep sleep and meditation are one and the same. Based on this single point, that the commonality is absence of water wave (Mind), one lake containing standstill water without waves and another lake containing no water without waves must be one and the same. One commonality does not bring total similarity and oneness, which is very bad logic.

c) Hence, the absence of consciousness in deep sleep cannot be established on the basis of logic.

Swāmi Replied:- c) The absence of consciousness is established by direct experience supported by logic as well as science. Nobody in deep sleep experiences either presence of anything or absence of anything. In deep sleep, the experiencing subject itself is absent and hence, it itself cannot experience its own absence. Due to this, absence of total experience is the result of deep sleep. Please don’t forget that experience itself is awareness or consciousness.

d) Finally, the absence of consciousness in deep sleep can neither be established on the basis of experience, nor on the basis of logic. Hence, the Advaita claim that consciousness exists in deep sleep is valid.

Swāmi Replied:- d) This is the most topmost climax of fun to say that consciousness exists even though its existence can’t be established by experience or logic! Even the unimaginable God is established based on the logic and experience. Unimaginable God exists as the source of unimaginable miracles, which are seen and experienced like the smoke from the top of the hill and based on this logical experience, the existence of unimaginable God is established (Astītyevopalabdhavyaḥ…- Veda). Your consciousness is really greater than the greatest unimaginable God, which can’t be established by logic or experience in deep sleep! The absence of any type of experience during the deep sleep, which was inferred after awakening from the deep sleep, establishes absence of consciousness in deep sleep perfectly. You must remember that the absence of any experience is not experienced during the deep sleep. In the absence of every type of experience, no experience exists and the direct proof for this is the absence of any type of experience during the deep sleep. Such total absence is established through the inference made after awakening from the deep sleep. From the happiness coming from the total rest taken by the part of the brain leads to the conclusion of absence of every type of experience in the deep sleep. Experience itself is a form of work and if experience existed, it would not be total rest characterised by total absence of work. Awareness is only subject form of work. To be aware of something is work like visualising, talking, walking etc. Awareness is the subject form of work (Kriyāpadam) like vision, talk, walk etc. God is not this petty awareness, which was born from food (Annāt puruṣaḥ… Veda) in course of creation. Awareness indicates work only and in the case of a living being such subject form of work happens to be the subject (Jīvātman) also. But, in the case of unimaginable God since subject is unimaginable and omnipotent, only subject form of work stands without becoming subject. This means that the subject is doing the work of awareness because the subject is omnipotent with unimaginable nature. Unimaginable awareness can be used as the alternative word for God in the sense that the unimaginable God is aware of something due to His omnipotent unimaginable nature and not because the unimaginable God is awareness as in the case of a living being. In the imaginable domain, you can clearly say that any item which is not awareness can’t be aware of any other item or itself. But, this worldly logic is not applicable in unimaginable domain. Even though unimaginable God is not awareness, He is aware of everything including Himself. The very basic foundation for all this crooked logic is to feel oneself already as the ultimate unimaginable God and to live with false satisfaction and climax ego. Only Śaṅkara was that unimaginable God (Śivaḥ Kevalo'ham…) and He told that every soul is God so that the atheistic soul will become theistic. His disciples could not drink the molten lead and He taught the actual truth to His matured disciples.

The Gītā did not condemn the theory that says that soul is born daily and dies daily (Atha cainam… - Gītā). From the point of awareness (Jīva), it is taking birth and death daily. From the point of its basic inert energy (Ātman) its eternality is also maintained by the Gītā. Jīva can be also viewed as eternal from the point of basic thoughts or qualities, which are like the inert pulses stored in the memory like the pulses in the information disk of the computer. But, by using the word consciousness, you are talking about the current that enters the computer exhibiting the activity of the information on the screen. In the time of death, this bundle of information activated by current (awareness) leaves the gross body and goes to the upper worlds in the activated state only. Here, in this context, current shall not be taken in the sense of inert power (Ātman) only, but it shall be taken in the sense of power supply creating the activity in the computer (jīva). The disk of information along with supply of current can be taken alive in the form of your cell phone, which is active throughout your journey. The constancy of awareness can be justified while the individual soul takes up the journey after death. The put off and put on works of your cell phone daily does not mean that you cannot carry the cell phone in put on condition during your journey. By such constancy, you should not argue that the cell phone can never be put off in your house daily.