The Nature of the True Religious Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 2: Understanding the Experience of Deep Sleep

Now bring your mind back to where we left yesterday, and continue the thread of the analysis. A study of the phenomena of waking and dream has given us an indication that we are perhaps neither the body nor the mind.

A very strange circumstance seems to overtake us when we are fast asleep. Very few might have found time to contemplate the mystery and the enigma that is hidden behind this experience called sleep. We generally just go to sleep, as if everything is fine and it is all a simple affair, but it is not so simple as it appears. There is an indescribable satisfaction that follows our entry into the state of deep sleep. Everyone knows the importance of getting into the state of sleep. It brings us not merely a novel type of satisfaction incomparable with the joys of the world, but it energises us. Even a sick person wakes up with a new strength and a rejuvenated spirit, a result that follows spontaneously by the mere fact of your having gone to sleep. It is difficult to understand from where we receive this energy when we have eaten nothing in sleep – no vitamins, no injections. We have come in contact with nothing which we can call an object of the world. There was practically no relationship with any type of objective existence. Yet the satisfaction of sleep is superior to every other delight that we may be familiar with through contacts of senses with physical objects. From where has this joy arisen, and how come that we are energised and seem to receive a strength of our own? No one can know how this happens and why it should be like that.

But before we try to seek an answer to this difficult question, we should pursue the chain of the argument that we followed yesterday. When we are fast asleep, we are not bodies, we are not minds. It is very clear that even in dream, we seem to be operating as individuals independent of bodily connection; but in sleep we seem to be existing even without the activity of the mind. Minus the body and minus the mind, what are we?

Physiology and psychology get exhausted in the body and the mind, and therefore, you seem to be in a condition of sleep, which physiology and psychology cannot touch. Therefore, physiologists, doctors, medical men, biologists cannot understand you. Nor can psychologists understand you, because you can exist independent of the area which is accessible to the psychologist or the medical man. But in what condition do you exist in sleep? Perhaps you would be able to conclude that you did not exist even as a human being there. You never felt that you were a man, that you were a family individual. You never knew that you belonged even to this Earth itself. It was a state of utter unawareness. I knew nothing. This is what everyone says when he wakes up from sleep.

Now, this is not a very simple statement that a person makes. You are making a very significant statement when you say, “I knew nothing.” You are saying this without knowing what you are saying, like a child blabbering a great truth without being able to probe into the intricacies of it. We merely blurt out that we knew nothing. But if you make a judicial enquiry into this statement, you will find that you have been caught by this very statement. If you knew nothing, how could you say you knew nothing? One who knows nothing cannot even make a statement that he knows nothing because it is a contradictory statement. An obliteration of awareness automatically precludes any statement regarding it, because no statement is possible unless there is an awareness precedent to the statement. You cannot have a statement made about a condition of which you have no experience. You cannot say anything about what you have not experienced in some form or the other, positively or negatively. You had an experience of sleep; no one would deny that. “Yes, I did sleep.”

This memory, or remembrance, of the fact of having slept is a great clue to a secret of your own existence. Here we have a key to open the door of a great enigma. Argue logically, very leisurely, without any emotions and without any presuppositions. The memory of having slept is a result that follows from your experience of having slept, because memory is nothing but a recollection of a past experience. When you say, “I remember something,” you mean that you can recollect having passed through a condition of some sort or the other.

To have a memory of an experience, you must have had an experience. And what is ‘experience’? Experience is a conscious undergoing of a process, a state of affairs, which becomes a content of your awareness. Where there is no awareness, there is no experience. We do not speak of experience where consciousness is completely absent. There is no experience when there is no consciousness. And if in sleep, as you are likely to believe, there was absolutely no consciousness, there cannot be any experience of it; and if there is no experience, there cannot be any memory of it.

Now, the fact of memory indicates there ought to have been some sort of an experience in which consciousness was hidden, latent or patent. We cannot observe the phenomenon of consciousness in sleep. We can only infer. When we see muddy water in the Ganga, we infer there must have been rain uphill. We have not seen the rain, but we conclude it must have been raining; otherwise, the water would not be muddy.

There is a very interesting analogy which epistemologists sometimes bring forward to substantiate the logical conclusions we arrive at by this sort of reasoning: There is a person who never eats throughout the day. You never see him eating even once, right from morning till the night, but you find him becoming bulkier and bulkier, stouter and stouter every day. He is putting on weight. How is it possible if he never eats? So you infer he must be eating in the night; otherwise, how could it be possible that a person becomes heavier and stouter and healthier by eating nothing? This argument is called arthapatti in epistemological circles. Likewise, the memory of having slept soundly brings out the truth that this memory would have been impossible had there been no consciousness whatsoever. You would have not existed at all if there was nothing left. But you know that you existed. How could you know that you existed unless there was some sort of an awareness? Here is a very important point for you to probe into. And the study is not yet complete.

This awareness that you existed in sleep is not conditioned either by the mind or the body by any sort of objective phenomenon. Neither the physical nor the psychological world was there to limit this awareness. It was, therefore, a pure principle of an unlimited awareness. It is unlimited because it is not restricted by either mental phenomena or physical phenomena. Apart from this fact of its having been unrestricted by the mind and the body, the very nature of consciousness would reveal that it cannot be limited by any external presence.

The study of consciousness is the most difficult of studies because it cannot become an object of study. Consciousness can never become a thing visible to the senses, or even cognisable by the mind, because of the fact that consciousness precedes the operation of the mind and the senses. It is the experiencer and, therefore, it cannot be experienced as an external to its own self. “A” cannot become both a subject and an object at the same time. Consciousness is always a subject, and it is the seer, the hearer, the toucher, the experiencer and the knower of everything.

The consciousness in which state you existed in the state of deep sleep is not capable of limitation by anything that exists anywhere because – listen to me very carefully here – the very awareness of the presence of limitation would prove that awareness is beyond limitation. When you say there is a boundary and a limitation to a particular thing, you are aware at the same time there is something beyond the boundary. The consciousness of limitation implies an awareness of that which is beyond the limit. Hence, even to imagine that consciousness can be limited, consciousness should be beyond limitation.

And also, you cannot imagine that consciousness can be divided into parts. It cannot be segmented or partitioned because to imagine that there can be parts in consciousness would be to imagine simultaneously that there could be a gap of space between one part and another part. But who is there to know there is a gap between one part and another part? Nobody can know it except consciousness itself. So consciousness should be present even midway between the two imagined parts, which means to say parts are impossible in consciousness.

What does follow from all these analyses? Consciousness is not capable of division. It is indivisible. It is impartite; it is limitless. This is only an inference we can draw. Actually, we cannot see or experience it, for an important reason which will be the subject of our studies a little later.

This fact of your having somehow or other stumbled upon an indivisibility and an unlimitedness is the source of your joy in sleep. Why are you so happy when you go to sleep? Because knowingly or unknowingly, you have been enthroned in the kingdom of the Absolute, but you are blindfolded. You have been lifted by some power and placed in the context of a limitless being, only you are prevented from being aware of this fact. Suppose somebody blindfolds you, covers your eyes tightly, does not allow you to see anything, and lifts you and places you on the throne of an emperor. You would not know that you are seated on the throne, though it is true that you are on it.

The Upanishads give another analogy: Going into the state of deep sleep is something like a person walking over a treasure every day, not knowing that he is walking over it. There is a treasure trove under the earth, and every day you are walking over it. What is the use of walking over it when you do not know that it is there – or being very wealthy, very rich, but not being aware that you are so? Therefore, you can know the importance of awareness. Your being anything would convey no meaning to you if your consciousness is not attached to it. Therefore, the greatest principle and reality of the universe is consciousness. Minus consciousness, everything is a corpse. All your possessions, all your relationships, all your wealth and glory amount to nothing when consciousness is dissociated from it. To be a king is to be conscious that one is a king. To be rich is to be conscious that one is rich. To be anything is to be conscious that one is that thing. Minus consciousness, nothing is.

Hence, the deep potentiality of an indivisibility of being into which you are taken in the state of deep sleep brings you an indivisible happiness. The happiness of sleep is incapable of limitation. If an emperor who rules the whole Earth cannot sleep for one year, he would rather sleep and not be an emperor than be an emperor without sleep, because in sleep you go to your own self. In waking and dream you move away from yourself. There is an aberration of consciousness. In a philosophical style, you may say in waking and dream you move towards the not-Self. In sleep you go towards the Self.

Now, you will be wondering how such an energy and such a satisfaction can follow from an entry into one’s own Self. While the common belief is that happiness is due to the contact of the consciousness with the object, the common-sense view is that the powers and the joys of life are the results of coming in contact with the things of the world. But you say a different thing altogether. The joys of the world are not true joys. They are a sort of make-believe into which you are diverted by a peculiar circumstance in which you get involved. Why do you feel happy when you have a desirable object under your possession? You may be under the impression that the object gives you joy: “I have this possession; I am so happy.” Possession makes you happy. Even the thought of a dear object brings you joy, and when you see the object with your eyes, it brings you greater joy. When the object comes nearer you, it is a still greater joy. When the object is under your control and possession, it is indescribable joy. When the object has become part of your nature – you have become one with it, you have absorbed it into your being, it is no more outside you – you go mad with joy. So joy is the union of the subject and the object. The nearer the object comes to you, the greater is your satisfaction in respect of it.

Think over this phenomenon once again. You are happy because you have a consciousness of your having come in union with the object. It is not enough if merely the object is placed on your lap, minus a consciousness of it. There must be an inward organic association with it. The governor of the Reserve Bank or the Bank of England cannot be said to be very happy because he has millions of pounds or rupees in his hand. He has a control over a large sum of currency because he is the governor of the Bank of England, but he is getting a petty salary like anybody else. There is no organic connection between the object on which he is sitting or the object which is on his lap or head, while the organic connection is with a very small circle. Hence, a mere physical contact with an object cannot bring joy. If you hold the purse of someone else in your hand, it cannot bring you joy. It must be your purse. Another’s purse will only bring dissatisfaction and agony and insecurity.

So the coming into contact with an object is not enough. There must be a conscious participation in the existence of that object. Again we come to the phenomenon of consciousness. You can imagine how important it is. If your consciousness cannot organically participate in the presence of the object, you would not derive any satisfaction from it. And even if it remains outside you as a disconnected object, you would not be satisfied. There should be an inward relationship between the object desired for and the subjective awareness. You know this very well as experienced people in this world. There can be a deep dissatisfaction of a few members within the family if there is no inward relationship among them, notwithstanding the fact that one is only a few inches away from the other. One would not like to speak to the other and their face is turned away from that person, even if they are physically touching. So physical contact is not enough, and that is not the cause of your joy. It is an entry of consciousness into the object and the object’s participation in the structure of your consciousness that becomes the source of satisfaction. So how does it follow that the object brings joy in the world? They do not bring any joy. You are under an illusion.

What happens is this. When there is a desire for any particular thing in the world, consciousness moves out in space and in time through the channel of the mind and the senses in the direction of that object. When consciousness moves out of yourself, you have gone out from your own self. There is a self-aberration of yourself. You are no more yourself. When you love an object, when you think deeply of an object with a longing for it, you have transferred your personality to that object. The subject has become an object. You have become somebody else, and there can be nothing worse for you. To lose yourself and transfer yourself into the position and the structure and the context of another would be to become a slave of that thing, to sell yourself into that, and to lose your existence itself. When the subject enters into the object by desire through the movement of consciousness channelising itself through the mind and the senses, there is a loss of self-consciousness.

What you call unhappiness is the same as the loss of self-consciousness. The more you love an object, the more you forget yourself. A person who is intensely in love with something else has no consciousness of his own self. He becomes mad practically. He becomes a crazy individual, losing self-control totally. This has become an unfortunate event in the mind of a person because one has lost oneself. We remember here the great saying of Christ: What good is it to gain the whole world and lose your own self? But everyone in the world is trying to do only this – to gain the whole world and lose one’s own self.

We run after the things of world and would like to possess the things of the world, and even the sun and the moon, and Jupiter and Mars. It doesn’t matter. We want only these; but we have lost ourselves. We have cut the ground from under our own feet and we are in a totally helpless condition, but we are not aware that this is happening to us. In the movement of the mind towards an object, therefore, there is a loss of Self, and the Self has become the not-Self, the Atman has become the anatman. Then what happens? Great sorrow befalls us. A person who has desired an object but could not get it is in a very unfortunate state. What happens to the mind when the object comes nearer and is apparently possessed? The mind ceases to think of the object.

The necessity to think of the object ceases because of the satisfaction or the conviction that the object has come into one’s own possession. When you cease from thinking of the object on account of the belief that you are in control of the object, the mind has returned to the Self. The mind returns to the Self; you come to the Self. The not-Self has come back to the Self under the notion that there is no further necessity to move into the not-Self. When you have entered into the Self, you have touched the border of this indivisible core that you are, about which we discussed a few minutes before as a state into which we enter in the state of deep sleep.

What happens in deep sleep happens also when you come in contact with loveable objects. The phenomenon is the same. When you go to sleep, you know nothing about yourself, and when you are in possession of the dearest object that you can think of, you are again in a state of deep sleep only, but of a different type. You are in a rapturous mood which cannot be described. “Oh, I have got it.” And this feeling that you have got what you require has brought you back to yourself. This coming back to yourself is the source of your joy, and not the possession of the object physically. As I told you, a mere physical contact cannot bring you joy.

Hence, it is untrue that the world can give you joy. The joys of the world are only a phenomenon which arises on account of this peculiar inward mystery that operates behind the fact of our coming in contact with the objects. While we see an object, we do not know what is happening to the mind. So whether we are in a state of happiness in waking or we are in a state of happiness in sleep, we are in our own Self, and when we are unhappy, we have moved away from our Self. This Self cannot be an object. It has to be always a subject.

“Who can know the knower?” says the Upanishad: Vijñātāram are kena vijānīyād (Brihad. Up. 2.4.14). Who can see the seer? You cannot see your own eyes, because your eyes are they that see. And with a greater emphasis, it is true that consciousness cannot become an object of consciousness. Consciousness cannot become its own object because it is the knower of the objects; inasmuch as we have concluded by a study of the nature of consciousness that it is impartite, it is indivisible, it follows that it is universal. Anything that is indivisible is universal because to be divisible is to be involved in the relation of subject and object, and such a division is not possible in consciousness for the reasons already noted. This again will lead us to the conclusion that our essential core is universality and not particularity.

So when we go to sleep, what happens to us? We unconsciously touch the border of universality. That is why there is such a reaction set up and we suddenly get transformed into a superhuman state, as it were, and come back with an experience which we cannot describe through words.

Now, if you connect what I told you today with what I told you yesterday, you will realise that the essential core of us as human beings is inseparable from the structure of the universe. Yesterday I told you something about the nature of the universe, and the possible relation that subsists between ourselves and the universe. Today I took you down deep into your own self, and here again we seem to realise that not only our external structure, but even our essential pith is inseparable from the pattern of the universe. We are organically connected to all things. Hence, when we come back to our own selves either by the phenomenon of the so-called possession of a dear object or by entering into sleep, we suddenly contact the whole universe, not knowing what is actually happening to us. But this experience is only for a flash of a moment. We cannot be happy for a long time. Even if we have the fortune of enjoying the greatest satisfaction of life, it cannot be a continued satisfaction. It has a beginning and an end; it has breaks in the middle. We cannot be always in that condition because this contact with the universal is not given to us for a long time, for various reasons.

The practice of yoga, about which you have heard so much, is nothing but this graduated attempt that you are making to come in contact with your deepest essence which is commensurate with the structure of the universe. In yoga you try to do two things at the same time: go deep into your own self, and to expand yourself to all things. There is an increase in the dimension of your personality on one side, and there is an entry into the deepest essences of your being on the other side. So to go within very deep, and to go without very far, mean one and the same thing. This is why modern science which has tried to move externally and reach the farthest limit, as it were, of externality, has come to the very same conclusion which the ancient masters arrived at by an inward analysis. This is the meaning perhaps of the oft-quoted saying, “Thou art That. Know thyself and be free.”

How could you be free by knowing your own self? You can have a little idea as to how this could be. Knowing your own self is not knowing yourself as a Mr. or a Mrs. You have already understood to some extent that you are not any of these things – neither a man nor a woman, not even a body, not even a mind, not even a human being you are. So to know your own self would be to enter into the impersonal quintessence of your being, which is also the quintessential essence of everything else. When you sink below the surface of a wave in the ocean, you have touched the ocean which is the root of all other waves at the same time. So is the case with you when you go deep into your own self. You have touched the depths of everybody in the world. So to know yourself is to know everybody at the same time. Wonderful is this discovery. To know yourself is to know everybody. If you know your self, you have known the whole creation.

Again to repeat, to go to a particular wave in the ocean is to know that which is at the root of every other wave also, so to know that which is the deepest essence in you would be simultaneous with the knowledge of the deepest essence of the whole cosmos.

This will, to some extent, solve the great question of the existence of God, a problem that is generally discussed in the philosophy of religion. I have not mentioned the word ‘God’ up to this time. Now I bring you to this theme of a well-known interesting ideal which religions generally speak of as God. What is meant by it?

The analyses that we have conducted up to this time seem to be complete in themselves, yet there is some question which remains to be answered concerning the religious ideal of God-realisation, about which people speak so much and so many books are written. Often we are frightened by this word. We can be shaken from our roots by the very thought of a thing called the Almighty or the Godhead. We are frightened because of a subconscious suggestion that it is a terrific force, an incomprehensible power which we cannot confront with the apparatus of which our individuality is at present constituted. Normally we look upon God as an object of awe. It is a frightening Something. Religions have managed to keep us always in a state of awe by saying that God is above; the Father is in heaven; He is not on Earth. Because He is not on Earth, we seem very helpless. If our great Father is in heaven and he is not on Earth, we are wretched indeed. This brings a sort of fear, and we always look to the skies when we pray to God. We are introduced into these religious moods by the education that we have received through our families and our schools and colleges and the traditions in which we are living.

The teachers of religion, both in the West and the East, have deeply considered this matter. Great thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, and even much earlier Plato, Aristotle and others, and in India Acharya Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhava and the teachers of the Vedanta philosophy have bestowed sufficient thought on the problem of the existence of God in its relation to the structure of the universe and the makeup of man. This consideration generally goes by the name of philosophy or, in a restricted sense, it is called metaphysics. The study of the relationship between God, world and soul is philosophy proper. It is the foundation of religion, and you cannot practice even yoga without knowing something about these things because when you do yoga, you must know what you are aiming at finally.

What do you want by yoga? Try to answer this question to your own self. You cannot have an easy answer to this query unless you analyse all these questions and problems threadbare so that all these issues of life become perspicuous before your mental eye and there is no doubt left in your mind.

Into this theme of the foundation of religious philosophy we enter now.