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The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

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CHAPTER IV

Third Brahmana: The Self in Dream and Deep Sleep

  1. tad yathāsminn ākāśe śyena vā suparṇo vā viparipatya śrāntaḥ  saṁhatya pakṣau saṁlayāyaiva dhriyate, evam evāyaṁ puruṣa etasmā antāya dhāvati yatra na kaṁ cana kāmaṁ kāmayate, na kaṁ cana svapnaṁ paśyati.
  2. tā vā asyaitā hitā nāma nāḍyaḥ, yathā keśaḥ sahasradhā bhinnaḥ, tāvatāṇimnā tiṣṭhanti, śuklasya, nīlasya, piṅgalasya, haritasya, lohitasya pῡrṇāḥ; atha yatrainaṁ ghnatīva, jinantīva, hastīva vicchāyayati, gartam iva patati, yad eva jāgrad bhayaṁ paśyati, tad atrāvidyayā manyate, atha yatra deva iva rājeva; aham evedam, sarvo'smīti manyate; so'sya paramo lokaḥ.

Now, as was described earlier, there are various nerve currents within the subtle body and the physical body. These are called Hitā Nādis and they are very fine in structure, finer than even the thousandth part of a hair. Through these very fine, subtle nerve currents pass the serum of the essence of the human individual, which is of various colours. The Upaniṣhad says it can be of various hues like white, red, blue, yellow, brown, green, etc. according to the intensity of the humours of the body and the strength of the impulses of the mind. Due to their action or the effects of these serums that pass through the nerve currents and the connection of the mind with these serums, there are differences in dream experiences. Hence, one may be suddenly elated or suddenly depressed in dream.

Dreams are occasioned by many causes, by various types of impulses, which are the motive powers behind dream experience. It is not possible to trace back all dreams to a single type of cause. Though it is generally said that a memory of waking life is the cause for the experience in dream, it is only a general statement. It does not mean every kind of dream is caused by memories. Dreams are also caused by other reasons, other factors than what can be merely comprehended by the term 'previous experience'. Someone may be thinking of you very strongly in some distant place. You can have a vision of that person in dream. This is something very strange. If I very strongly think of you, for some reason or the other, you may experience it in your dream, and if the thoughts are intense enough, you may have the same thoughts that I have in my mind at that time. This is because of the intensity of the thought concerned. If the thought of the other person is extremely intense, you may feel that thought even in the waking state, not merely in dream. If the thoughts are powerful enough, even in your waking life you can feel the thoughts of somebody else. These thoughts are communicated to you because of the strength of the thoughts. Generally, such influences are felt more in dream than in waking, because in waking life we have an egoism which is active and which prevents the entry of other thoughts. Your personality is so strong in the waking state, your consciousness of your own self is so intense and your own thoughts influence you to such an extent, that others' thoughts cannot noticeably enter your mind in the waking life, usually. But their entry is easier in dream when the ego is not so active, and their effect is much more in sleep because of the complete withdrawal of the ego in the sleeping condition. Sometimes, other invisible forces may work in your dream if your thoughts during waking in relation to these forces were intense enough. A person who has done protracted Japa of a Mantra, for instance, has done deep meditation for days and days together, offered worship, prayers, etc., may dream of the deity who was worshipped, the deity who is representative of the Mantra. Even the Grace of God can be felt in dream through various visions, perceptions of deities, etc. So also the Guru's grace can work in dream, and it can become the cause of certain visions, instructions, etc. to the disciple. And it is said that one's strong Prārabdha Karmas which would cause great pain if worked out normally in waking life can be mellowed down and worked out in one's dream by the Grace of God and the blessings of the Guru, so that only minor suffering is caused. The suffering through which one may have to pass in waking due to one's Prarabdha may likely be experienced in a much milder form in the dream condition, and thus be wiped out because of the strength of our Sadhana, the blessings of the Guru, or the Grace of God. So, there can be various causes behind dreams. Whatever be the causes, the pattern of experience is the same in all dreams. They are brought about by a joint action of the nerve currents, or Nādis carrying Prāṇa, and the impulses of the mind which pass through them, on account of which there are pleasurable or painful experiences in dream, experiences of exaltation, joy and sometimes of depression, sorrow, pain, etc.

Yatrainaṁ ghnatīva, jinantīva, hastīva vicchāyayati, gartam iva patati, yad eva jāgrad bhayaṁ paśyati, tad atrāvidyayā manyate: There are dreams caused by wrong actions and dreams caused by righteous actions. Sorrowful experiences are supposed to be the results of erroneous actions performed in waking life, in this birth or previous births. Dreams of falling from a tree, being pursued by animals, falling into a pit, breaking one's leg, etc. are some examples of such dreams resulting from erroneous actions. Such experiences in dream are the process of exhaustion of Karma which is of an unfavourable nature. There can be other dreams where the causes may be of a diviner or a more purified character. One can feel oneself raised to paradise or the region of the celestials; one can have visions of gods in heaven or similar experiences of an exalting type. If a person is highly evolved in the spiritual field, he may even have the very same experience in dream which one has in the condition of meditation. What do you feel in meditation? Your identity with the Supreme Being. That is the essence of meditation. Your all-pervasive character and your attunement with the Absolute, this is what you affirm in your meditation. If the meditation is strong, the very same feeling of unity with the Absolute may be felt even in dream. You will feel that you are one with all things, that you are commensurate with every being, that everything is included in your own self, and you are in harmony with the whole of creation. Even in dream, such experiences can be had – atha yatra deva iva rājeva; aham evedam, sarvo'smīti manyate; so'sya paramo lokaḥ. So, when the waking mind becomes intensively charged with a thought, it carries with it the same impression in dream, and that impression can be of any type. It may be a spiritual one or an unspiritual one.

  1. tad vā asyaitad aticchando'pahatapāpmābhyaṁ rῡpam. tad yathā priyayā striyā sampariṣvakto na bāhyaṁ kiṁ cana veda nāntaram, evam evāyam puruṣaḥ prāj˝enātmanā sampariṣvakto na bāhyaṁ kiṁ cana veda nāntaram. tad vā asyaitad āpta-kāmam, ātma-kāmam, a-kāmaṁ rῡpaṁ śokāntaram.

The Upaniṣhad takes us now to the state of sleep. What happens there? In the Upaniṣhads, there is often a description of sleep, comparable with the state of liberation, or Mokṣha. Especially here, the sections that we are now going to study in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad contain descriptions that are applicable to both the state of sleep and to the state of liberation. There is some similarity between the state of ultimate freedom, or Moksha, and the state of sleep, though obviously there is a lot of difference between the two. The similarity is that all impulse for objectivity is obliterated completely in both conditions. There is a withdrawal of the mind and consciousness into their source, so that there is a feeling of homogeneity in one's experience. The heterogeneity that one feels in waking life is wiped out due to the uniformity of feeling and experience in sleep. One does not know what one is in sleep. It is something very peculiar, incomparable indeed. It is an experience which is totally impersonal. It is impersonal in the sense that you do not know that you are a person. Your experience is independent of your personality. It is no doubt an 'experience', because you pass through it. Afterwards you have a memory of it. You experience a great joy there. It is your experience; yet, not yours in the sense of a person, because in the state of sleep you are not a person, not even a human individual. It is doubtful if the sleep of a human being is different in quality from the sleep of an animal or an ant. It is said that the sleep condition is uniform in all created beings. Everyone has the same experience. One does not know whether one is a man or a woman, tall or short, black or white, learned or otherwise during sleep. Even pains are forgotten. Even the worst of sorrows become absent in sleep, and even the greatest of joys are forgotten, and there is only a uniform state of unconscious bliss. Whether you are highly placed or lowly placed, it becomes immaterial in sleep. There is a levelling of all personality into a single homogeneity of character. In this sense the sleep state is similar to the state of absolute liberation. There too, something like this happens. The personality is withdrawn and merges in the Absolute, as rivers go into the ocean, where their personality gets merged into the oceanic expanse. The individualities of the rivers cease due to their getting absorbed into the bosom of the ocean. So do personalities become one due to the homogeneity into which they enter in the Absolute, and all desires cease on account of an utter fulfilment thereof.

But, there is a significant difference between what happens in the Absolute to the state of desires, and what happens to them in sleep. Notwithstanding the fact that desires are absent in sleep as well as in the Absolute, they are absent in two different senses. The unconsciousness of the presence of desires is the condition of sleep. The consciousness of the absence of desires is the condition of the Absolute. This is the great difference. The presence of a thing is not known, and therefore you are not feeling the pain of its adverse juxtaposition with you. That is one thing, but if it is not there at all on account of something that has happened, that is a different matter altogether. However, there is freedom from desires for the time being, says the Upaniṣhad. Aticchanda is the state of freedom from all desires, and there is no consciousness of virtue or sin. It is a destruction of all these characters. Apahatapāpmābhayaṁ rūpam: Even the worst of fears are withdrawn there, and one knows not what is inside, what is outside, due to the immensity of pleasure.

What the Upaniṣhad tries to make out is that we are really in contact with the Absolute in sleep, but that contact is something like the contact of a blindfolded person with a rich treasure of a high position in society. He cannot understand what has happened to him, but he is in contact with it. If you are blindfolded and placed on the throne of an emperor, you will not be aware as to what has happened to you, because you have not been allowed to perceive what has happened. Likewise is this placement of the individual in the Absolute in sleep where the occurrence does not materially affect the condition of the Jīva, or the individual, due to the absence of consciousness. The being has not merged in Absolute Consciousness. They have been kept separate on account of the presence of a thick veil of ignorance which is the form taken by the unfulfilled impulses, desires, etc. It is true, as the Upaniṣhad will point out, that sleep is identical with the freedom of liberation but for presence of desires lying latent in sleep. Like the uniform covering of the sky by clouds which spread themselves in a thick layer preventing the light of the sun from penetrating through them, even so, desires become a homogeneous stuff, as it were, in sleep and cover the entire firmament of consciousness, so that the blaze of the sun of consciousness is not allowed to penetrate this thick layer in the form of the homogeneity of desires still present. In short, unfulfilled desires are the cause of our not knowing what is happening to us in sleep, even as they are the cause for our waking up after sleep.

If you can be conscious in the state of sleep, that would be liberation from bondage. But that consciousness is not possible because of the presence of certain impulses for satisfaction, desires as you call them, which spread themselves as a thick layer separating the Jīva from consciousness. And so, though you are virtually on the borderland of eternity and have temporarily transcended empirical experience in sleep, you are not conscious of it. So you come back merely with the impact of that contact, that impact being felt in the form of an intense satisfaction of delight, a happiness, a revival of spirit, a resurgence of energy and a feeling of fulfilment. The satisfaction, the joy, the fulfilment, the revived spirit that we feel after sleep is due to the contact with the Supreme Being there in sleep. But when you wake up, you are again the same individual as before, with all your desires, because you were not actually aware of the event that took place in sleep, irrespective of the pleasure, irrespective of the strength and energy that you gained.

But liberation is different. In this condition there is a fulfilment of all desires and a full awareness. There is a shift of emphasis here in the Upaniṣhad, from sleep to the state of ultimate liberation. The Upaniṣhad wants also to tell us what happens in the state of liberation, together with its explanation of the state of deep sleep, so that we are given two informations at the same time. In the state of liberation, all desires are fulfilled. You have no desires left afterwards because of the fact that there is only one desire there – the desire for the Self. It is actually not desire for the Self even, because there is no such thing as 'for' or 'of' there in the state of liberation, due to the universality of that experience. It is A-kāmaṁ. It is not merely Ātmā-kāmaṁ, but actually A-kāmaṁ. The desire for the Self is identical with absence of all desires. That Self which we are speaking of in the state of liberation is not an individual self, and so the desire we speak of is not desire of an individual self, but desire of the Universal Self. 'Desire' of the Universal Self is a self-contradictory term. It cannot be there; therefore it is A-kāmaṁ. It is freedom from all desires, and Śokāntaram – freedom from all sorrow.

  1. atra pitā'pitā bhavati, mātā'mātā, lokāḥ alokāḥ, devā adevāḥ, vedā avedāḥ; atra steno'steno bhavati bhrῡṇahābhrῡṇahā, cāṇḍālo'cāṇḍālaḥ paulkaso' paulkasaḥ, śramaṇo'śramaṇaḥ, tāpaso'tāpasāḥ, ananvāgataṁ puṇyena, ananvāgatataṁ ananvāgataṁ pāpena, tīrṇo hi tadā sarvān śokān hṛdayasya bhavati.

In this state, all social relationships also get engulfed. All feelings which are associated with the human personality are transcended once and for all. All the values that you regard as worthwhile in life are superseded at one stroke. You have feelings for father, mother, brother, sister, high, low, etc. in waking life in this individual state, but when you reach the Absolute you have no such relationships. All relationships are completely overcome in the unity of that Being. There is neither father nor mother. Atra pitā'pitā bhavati, mātā'mātā, lokāḥ alokāḥ: The father becomes no father; the mother becomes no mother; and the worlds cease to be worlds. Though these worlds, these universes are present there, no doubt, they are no more called worlds; they become the very substance of that experience of liberation. Lokāḥ alokāḥ, devā adevāḥ, vedā avedāḥ; atra steno'steno bhavati bhrῡṇahābhrῡṇahā, cāṇḍālo'cāṇḍālaḥ paulkaso' paulkasaḥ, śramaṇo'śramaṇaḥ: All these are terms representing different strata of beings, all of whom shed their differences in the state of liberation. Neither do you have the awareness of differences outside you in that condition, nor is there a difference of an internal nature. It is free from internal differences and outward distinctions. It is absolutely non-attached to any principle of externality such as space, time, etc. The knots of the heart are liberated here only, and the knots of the heart are nothing but the knots of desire. They are called the Granthis-Brahma-Granthi, Vishnu-Granthi, Rudra-Granthi, etc. These are the knots of desire-Avidyā, Kāma, Karma-desire propelled by ignorance and moving in the direction of action. Avidyā, Kāma, Karma is a complex which is called the Hṛdaye-Granthi, or the knots of the heart, which are broken open at once by the realisation of the Self.

In one place it was said, in the context of the conversation between Yāj˝avalkya and Maitreyī, that when there is a transcendence of personality there is no 'consciousness' whatsoever. This confounded the mind of Maitreyī and she immediately queried as to how it was possible for consciousness to be absent in the state of liberation. Not so, it is not that there is no consciousness. Consciousness is there, but it is not a consciousness of anything particular; it is a general consciousness. Here you have a very beautiful passage, very poetic also in its nature, which tells us that while apparently it is a non-knowing of all particulars, it is a knowing of all things.