Friday, May 23, 2008

The true nature of sleep

Here are some verses from our new translation of Guru Vachaka Kovai on the true nature of sleep. The verses themselves are in bold; supplementary comments by Bhagavan, added by the editors, are in roman; editorial comments are in italics.


The ignorance of forgetfulness which makes you say that the waking state is a state of illumination makes you [also] declare that sleep is a sheath [kosa] of ignorance. If the belief that the waking state is the illustrious and unique state of truth goes, then sleep will become, and shine as, pure non-dual reality.

Bhagavan: Destroying the waking state [and transforming it into] the ‘distinguished sleep’ [the state of waking-sleep] is subduing and destroying the sleep of delusion.

In the glorious state wherein the mind has died, even deep sleep will become God-consciousness. (Padamalai, p. 183, vv. 21, 22.)

Bhagavan: Again, sleep is said to be ajnana [ignorance]. That is only in relation to the wrong jnana [knowledge] prevalent in the wakeful state. The waking state is really ajnana [ignorance] and the sleep state is prajnana [full knowledge]. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 314)

Question: Sushupti [deep sleep] is often characterised as the state of ignorance.

Bhagavan: No, it is the pure state. There is full awareness in it and total ignorance in the waking state. It is said to be ajnana [ignorance] only in relation to the false jnana prevalent in jagrat [the waking state]. Really speaking jagrat [the waking state] is ajnana [ignorance] and sushupti [the sleep state] prajnana [wisdom]. If sushupti is not the real state where does the intense peace come from to the sleeper? It is everybody’s experience that nothing in jagrat can compare with the bliss and well-being derived from deep sleep, when the mind and the senses are absent. What does it all mean? It means that bliss comes only from inside ourselves and that it is most intense when we are free from thoughts and perceptions, which create the world and the body, that is, when we are in our pure being, which is Brahman, the Self. In other words, the being alone is bliss and the mental superimpositions are ignorance and, therefore, the cause of misery. That is why samadhi is also described as sushupti in jagrat [sleep in the waking state]; the blissful pure being which prevails in deep sleep is experienced in jagrat, when the mind and the senses are fully alert but inactive. (Guru Ramana, pp. 112-13)


The ego, the embryo [of manifestation] who suffers in the two states of waking and dream, imagining, ‘I am the one who sees’, is also the one who, by thinking, ‘I did not see anything in sleep’, loses his greatness and gets mentally perplexed.

Bhagavan: The same person sleeps, dreams and wakes up. The waking state is considered to be full of beautiful and interesting things. The absence of such experiences makes one say that the sleep state is dull. Before we proceed further let us make this point clear. Do you not admit that you exist in your sleep?

Question: Yes, I do.

Bhagavan: You are the same person that is now awake. Is it not so?

Question: Yes.

Bhagavan: So there is a continuity in the sleep and the waking states. What is that continuity? It is only the state of pure being.

There is a difference in the two states. What is that difference? The incidents, namely, the body, the world and the objects appear in the waking state but they disappear in sleep.

Question: But I am not aware in my sleep.

Bhagavan: True, there is no awareness of the body or of the world. But you must exist in your sleep in order to say now ‘I was not aware in my sleep’. Who says so now? It is the wakeful person. The sleeper cannot say so. That is to say, the individual who is now identifying the Self with the body says that such awareness did not exist in sleep.

Because you identify yourself with the body, you see the world around you and say that the waking state is filled with beautiful and interesting things. The sleep state appears dull because you were not there as an individual, and therefore these things were not. But what is the fact? There is the continuity of being in all the three states, but no continuity of the individual and the objects.( Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 609)


Through the destruction of the doltish ego, the triputis [seer, seeing and seen, and knower, knowing and known] that are based on it fade away and end, along with sakala [the waking and dream states]. The pure [suddha] state of daylight that [then] shines forever is Sivaratri [the night of Siva].

Sakala also implies states in which manifestation occurs. The pure state was explained in the first sentence of Guru Vachaka Kovai verse 265:

The pure state [suddha-nilai] exists and shines as unceasing pure being in the Heart [ullam] after the other thoughts that rise from oneself [vikshepa] and the Self-forgetfulness [avarana] that is the basis for their rising are fully destroyed.

Sakala, which comprises the waking and dream states, alternates with kevala, sleep. However, the three are actually states of the mind or ego, not of the Self. In sakala, the mind creates the states of waking and dream. Kevala is its state of dormancy in which it remains unaware of itself, the body or the world. When the ego dies, sakala and kevala both disappear, leaving the state of illumination that is referred to in the verse.

The daylight that shines in the night of Siva is a metaphor that indicates waking sleep, the state in which there is luminous and continuous Self-awareness even in the apparent darkness of physical sleep.

The theme is continued in the next verse where it is explained that once the vasanas that caused the waking and dream states to manifest have been eradicated, the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep cease as alternating states of mind. When the mind has died, leaving only the light of the Self, sleep ceases to be a state of unconsciousness in which one is unaware of anything. Though the body will continue to sleep after the mind has died, the jnani will be fully aware of the Self at all times. There will no longer be a daily period of unconsciousness as the mind lies dormant.


If the beginningless, impure vasanas that remain as the cause for waking and dream leave and perish, the state of sleep [previously perceived as] void-like and dull, and which led us into a state of ignorance and suffering, will become the transcendent state of turiya.


Only in an intellect that has developed a desire for the waking state will the eminent state of deep sleep, which is all bliss, be classified as a state of ignorance: ‘I did not know anything during sleep.’ By failing to enquire into and realise the true experience that exists and shines in the same way forever, one becomes deluded and thinks, ‘I am the one who woke up’. If that powerful sheath of the intellect, the ignorance that is experienced in the waking state, is destroyed by the sword of vichara [that leads to the knowledge] ‘I am not the one who woke up’, then the eminent state of sleep will shine, remaining as pure bliss, its ignorance destroyed.


If the illumination that is awareness of your being exists so firmly that it remains unshaken until sleep overpowers you, then there will be no need to feel jaded and disheartened, lamenting, ‘Oh, the forgetfulness of nescient sleep has come and unsettled me!’

Bhagavan: The awareness is at present through antahkaranas [the mental faculties]. Prajnana [true or perfect knowledge] is always shining, even in sleep. If one is continuously aware in jagrat [the waking state], the awareness will continue in sleep also. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 481.)


Only if the other three avasthas truly existed could the state of waking sleep [jagrat-sushupti], the pure state of jnana, be termed ‘the fourth state’. Because the other three states become false in the presence of turiya, you should know that [turiya] itself is the sole and transcendental state.

Bhagavan: The turiya that pervades as the unique primal state when the three avasthas of waking, sleep and dream end, becoming false, is itself atita [the transcendental state]. (Padamalai, p. 184, v. 24.)

Bhagavan 18

To those who experience waking, dream and sleep states, there is beyond these a state of waking sleep that is given the name of ‘the fourth state’ [turiya]. Because this fourth state alone exists, and because the other three do not really exist, know that turiya itself is atita [transcendent].


Whether the estimable state of turiya, true jnana, is described either as ‘the excellent sleep totally devoid of waking’ or as ‘the unique and unceasing waking that has nothing to do with forgetful sleep’, you should know that both descriptions are entirely appropriate.

Bhagavan: The state of the jnani … is neither sleep nor [the] waking state but intermediate between the two. There is the awareness of the waking state and the stillness of sleep. It is called jagrat-sushupti [waking sleep]. Call it wakeful sleep or sleeping wakefulness or sleepless waking or wakeless sleep. It is not the same as sleep or waking separately. It is atijagrat [beyond wakefulness] or atisushupti [beyond sleep]. It is the state of perfect awareness and perfect stillness combined. It lies between sleep and waking; it is also the interval between two successive thoughts. It is the source from which thoughts spring; we see that when we wake up from sleep. In other words thoughts have their origin in the stillness of sleep. The thoughts make all the difference between the stillness of sleep and the turmoil of waking. Go to the root of the thoughts and you reach the stillness of sleep. But you reach it in the full vigour of search, that is, with perfect awareness. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 609)

Question: What is the meaning of being in sleepless sleep?

Bhagavan: It is the jnani’s state. In sleep our ego is submerged and the sense organs are not active. The jnani’s ego has been killed and he does not indulge in any sense activities of his own accord or with the notion that he is the doer. So, he is in sleep. At the same time he is not unconscious as in sleep but fully awake in the Self; so his state is sleepless. This sleepless sleep, wakeful sleep, or whatever it may be called, is the turiya [fourth] state of the Self, on which as the screen all the three avasthas, the waking, dream and sleep, pass, leaving the screen unaffected. (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 21st November, 1945)


Until [waking] sleep occurs in the waking state, you should not abandon enquiry in the form of self-questioning. By the same token, the proper course is to perform that questioning enquiry until the [waking] sleep pervades and shines in the dream state as well.

Bhagavan 19

The state of waking sleep will arise through continuous enquiry in the form of self-questioning. Until this pervades and illumines both the waking and the dream states, you should practise that enquiry unceasingly.


You who are trapped in the powerful snare of the world, who are pierced by the sharp arrows of intense suffering, who are extremely frightened and agitated, and who are wandering in search of the wealth of supreme bliss! You should know that the sleep in which there is no loss of consciousness is indeed the happiness that never ends.


Only those who have established themselves in the lotus-like shrine of the Heart and who have settled in conscious sleep there, without dwelling in the sense objects that deceive those who trust them, have totally awakened to the world of liberation, the firmament of being-consciousness. The rest have entered the dense darkness, the false ignorance that is termed worldly knowledge, and have gone to sleep there.


Murali said...


In a related context, can you kindly put together a topic which tells how the world is but a projection of the mind and ceases to exist when the mind dies? I have problems understanding this. What bothers me is what Major Chadwick ( I think it was he) who asked Bhagavan that how can the world be a projection of the mind when it is known that the world continues to exist even when we are in deep sleep? I did not much understand the replies of Bhagavan on the matter. This topic simply baffles me. Is it not true the world existed even before we were born.

Regards Murali

David Godman said...

This is a hard one for many people. I could put together a series of replies by Bhagavan on this topic, but if you have already gone through his comments on this subject and don't find them convincing, I am not sure that a few more pages will make it any clearer or more believable. However, it's a good idea for a posting. I will have a look and see what I have on this subject.

Anonymous said...


Thanks a lot for all the posts. They have been really good to read and provide a lot of joy.

I read in Talks or Day by Day, about a Devotee (I think Dr. Syed) asking Bhagawan about the proverb - Thinking of Arunachala results in mukti. I did not get the full hang of Bhagwan's reply nor was I able to locate it again. It will be great if you can have a post on that.

Thanks and Regards

David Godman said...


This is how Michael James began his essay on 'The Power of Arunachala'. All the references you need are here. You can read the full essay on my site:

The Thought of Arunachala

'By seeing Chidambaram, by being born, in Tiruvarur, by dying in Kasi, or by merely thinking of Arunachala, one will surely attain Liberation.'

'The supreme knowledge (Self-knowledge), the import of Vedanta, which cannot be attained without great difficulty, can easily be attained by anyone who sees the form of this hill from wherever it is visible or who even thinks of it by mind from afar.'

Such is the assurance given by Lord Siva in the Arunachala Mahatmyam about the power of the mere thought of Arunachala, and this assurance has received striking confirmation from the life and teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana.

In the second line of the first verse of Sri Arunachala Ashtakam Sri Bhagavan tells us that from his very earliest childhood, when he knew no other thing, Arunachala was shining his mind as the 'most great'. And this thought of Arunachala so worked in his mind that at the age of sixteen a great fear of death arose in him and turned his mind Selfwards to drown forever in its source.

In his writings Sri Bhagavan has repeatedly confirmed the mysterious power that the thought of Arunachala has over the mind. In his Tamil Collected Works, under the picture of Arunachala, there is a verse that can be considered as his dhyana sloka (verse of contemplation) upon his Sadguru, Arunachala Siva.

In this verse he sings, 'This is Arunachala-Siva, the ocean of grace that bestows liberation when thought of'.

In the first verse of Sri Arunachala Aksharamanamalai (The Marital Garland of Letters) he sings, 'O Arunachala, you root out the ego of those who think of you in the heart as ''Arunachala'''.

In the 102nd verse of Aksharamanamalai, he sings, 'O Arunachala, the moment I thought of Arunai [the holy town of Arunachala] I was caught in the trap of your grace. Can the net of your grace ever fail?'

And in the last line of the second verse of Sri Arunachala Navamanimalai (The Necklet of Nine Gems) he sings, 'Mukti Ninaikka varul Arunachalam,' meaning, 'Arunachala, the mere thought of which bestows liberation'.

But only in the tenth verse of Sri Arunachala Patikam does Sri Bhagavan actually reveal how the thought of Arunachala works in the mind to root out the ego. In this verse he sings:

I have seen a wonder, a magnetic hill that forcibly attracts the soul. Arresting the activities of the soul who thinks of it even once, drawing it to face itself, the One, making it thus motionless like itself, it feeds upon that sweet [pure and ripened] soul. What a wonder is this! O souls, be saved by thinking of this great Arunagiri, which shines in the mind as the destroyer of the soul [the ego].

The words 'oru tanadu abhimukhamaha irttu,' 'drawing it to face itself, the One,' used here by Sri Bhagavan are a mystic way of saying 'drawing the soul to turn inwards and face Self, the one reality'. Thus in this verse Sri Bhagavan reveals how the thought of Arunachala works within the mind to arrest its activities, to attract its attention towards Self and thereby to make it still. In other words, Sri Bhagavan assures that the thought of Arunachala will lead the mind to the path of Self-enquiry, the 'direct path for all', as indeed happened in his own case.

Knowing from personal experience this unique power of Arunachala, Sri Bhagavan confidently advises us in the last line of this verse, 'O souls, be saved by thinking of this great Arunagiri, which shines in the mind as the destroyer of the soul!'

Anonymous said...


Thanks for pointing to Michael James article.

Thanks and Regards

David Godman said...

I just added another four verses to this post

David Godman said...

I have just added three more verses. Apologies for the fragmentary way I have assembled this post. The extra material popped into my consciousness too late to be included in the first installment.

jay said...

Great Information. Thanks for all the posts regarding this.

Anonymous said...


do you think it would be more useful to consider sleep as a gap between states of mind (a gap between thoughts), or as a state of mind in which one is entertaining the thought 'i am sleeping' ('i have no body')?

David Godman said...

michael said...


do you think it would be more useful to consider sleep as a gap between states of mind (a gap between thoughts), or as a state of mind in which one is entertaining the thought 'i am sleeping' ('i have no body')?

Sleep is state of mind, rather than a gap between states. The 'I' remains but the thought 'I am sleeping' is not there.

michael said...


do you think it would be more useful to consider sleep as a gap between states of mind (a gap between thoughts), or as a state of mind in which one is entertaining the thought 'i am sleeping' ('i have no body')?

Fidarose Isha said...

I am practicing Self-enquiry based on the awareness of breath, that i have learned under Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. The writings of Bhagavan Ramana is very relevant to the Sadhana i am pursuing.

Unknown said...

The 4th is the real state of non-being & being. Well I am going to remember this on some level. As I turn to my little self and bow. Let me take care of myself. I am so glad to be able to read these writings. Namaste~

Unknown said...

I am grateful to be able to read such writings. What a 4th state of being and non-being. The formless one is so full of loving goodness and gentle heart. Namaste~

Sankarraman said...

The so-called unawareness in the deep sleep is only the absence of the phenomenal contents, and not the absence of the Self, whose nature is rhetorically described in the Brhadaharanyaka Upanishads as, " The Knowledge of the Knower has no end." Tirumular also describes the fullness of the deep sleep as follows," In the state of deep sleep one is aware of the realm of Sivam, one is aware of the bliss of Sivam, one is aware of the true Yoga of Sivam. How could one describe the unique state of deep sleep baffling the description verbal?

Sankarraman said...

Somebody has asked whether sleep is a gap between two thoughts, or there is the thought one is sleeping. There cannot obviously be a thought while sleeping, which, if it were so, it wouldn't be sleep, but either a waking or dream state. I have a serious idea that one has never had a deep, dreamless sleep, but it is a case of dreams having been forgotten. Were sleep to have been there bereft of dreams, one would have been enlightened. That is why Patanjali classifies sleep as one of the mental modifications to be inhibited for the Seer to abide in Himself, the rest of the modifications being right knowledge, wrong knowledge, misconception, and memory.