Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 19: The Reign of Relativity > Chapter 3: The States of Consciousness

The States of Consciousness

Consciousness is a property of Mind operating at various levels--sub, super, and ordinary. It is not nullified when it passes out of the ordinary level.

There are different levels of consciousness through which a man may progress but only one level of the Real Consciousness.

When the Bible says, "No man hath seen God at any time," it means that the sense and thought perceptions of man, being finite and limited in range, cannot comprehend what is infinite and unlimited. That Jesus knew of a Real beyond intellection may be gleaned from his saying, "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?" which is curiously reminiscent of an Indian saying by Ashtavakra: "A million thoughts will only yield another thought." Simply because it eludes conscious grasp, we can form no conception of Mind as reality. For consciousness of anything particular is a signal that the thing is intellectually graspable--that is, finite and limited. But that whose holy presence itself makes thought possible, cannot be expected to step down to the level of denying its own grandly immeasurable and timeless infinitude. The moment particularized consciousness appears, that moment there will also be relativity, and the moment relativity appears, that moment duality with all its transience and destructibility must be there too. Consequently, we cannot have our Overself with all its nonduality and non-limitation and have this kind of consciousness too.

Consciousness is the parent of consciousness, as the greater circle includes the smaller.

Consciousness ordinarily implies some object which confronts it, or some idea which occupies it, or some image which appears in it. Hence there is some duality, some relativity, present.

The boundaries of his present consciousness have been set up by physical sensation and logical thinking.

The consciousness which inheres in the personal self is the palest possible reflection of the intensely real consciousness which inheres in the Overself.

Consciousness is the first kind of existence, however limited it may be. But at its best it is divine.

The mistake too commonly made is to believe that the ordinary level of consciousness is the only possible one. Successful meditation is one way of getting free from it.

If we carefully study Descartes' use of terms, it becomes clear that "I think, therefore I am" refers not to the capacity of being self-aware, but of being somehow conscious.

The principle of consciousness in every human being is indeed the same thing as his spiritual consciousness and not a second thing, but he interposes so many clouds of thoughts, sensations, emotions, and passions into it that he seldom comes to this knowledge. He seldom isolates this consciousness principle.

There are different modes of being among living creatures, and different modes of consciousness sometimes appear among human creatures.

Consciousness is a continuum but, at deeper levels, changes its form until its projection, the little ego, is shut out as in deep sleep.

The doctrine of opposites and complementaries, of Yin and Yang, applies not only to the relativity of the universe itself, but also to the human being, to his physical body and mental states.

When the mind unites itself with the world outside, we call it waking; when it withdraws attention from the world and unites with its own thoughts or fancies, we call it dreaming; and when it lies settled in itself, uninterested in anything, we call it deep sleep.

If anyone could fully perceive the astounding implications of the dream and sleep states, he could not become or remain a materialist. For he would perceive that there is something within him which is able to announce a fact of his experience but which is nevertheless outside his conscious experience. That fact is deep sleep; that "something" is the witnessing element, the soul.

Mind is the most mysterious of all things pertaining to human life, yet it is also the most significant. Take its three states of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep and you will find they not only contain wonders for ordinary observers but also great instruction for thoughtful inquirers, for Mind has cast so deep a spell upon us, its projections, that we have forgotten what we were and why we are here.

In unwittingly setting up waking consciousness as the sole arbiter of all his knowledge, Western man limits that knowledge unnecessarily. And in regarding other forms of consciousness as mere copies or aberrations of waking consciousness, or else denying their existence altogether, he bars himself from the supreme insight and the highest felicity open to him. Unless he brings the dream and the deep sleep states also into his reckoning, he will continue to be deceived by the Unreal and to mistake the shadow for the substance.

Unreflective life is often impatient with such enquiries into the relative value of the waking state, for to them its superior reality in contrast with dream is completely beyond all question. They denounce the sleep enquiry as being altogether too flimsy a premise on which to build great conclusions. Yet when we remember that all living creatures from ant to man are plunged into intermittent sleep for substantial portions of their whole lives, how can we hope to grasp the meaning of their existence and the meaning of the universe of which they are parts, without examining the full meaning and proper value of sleep-states? Whatever we learn from a single state alone may always be liable to contradiction by the facts of another state. Therefore unless we coordinate and evaluate the truth of the waking state with the truth of the sleep state we cannot hope to arrive at ultimate truth in its fullness. But when we venture to make such a coordination we shall discover that in sleep there lies the master-key of life and death!

This comparison of the three states offers a clue to the real nature of first, the self; second, the world; third, consciousness; and lastly, Mind--the deepest mystery of all.

It would not be hard for a man who has thought much about this situation to ask: Am I only dreaming that I am awake? If I attain the transcendental consciousness will both states vanish, and I with them?--an empty-handed triumph!

The forms taken by consciousness when it appears within time can be quite variable. Each variation seems a real experience while the others seem dreamlike or even illusory.

Waking is but a unit in a triad of facts about the world's existence. All waking investigations into the universe do not exhaust its meaning; they will always leave a residue too important to be ignored. The world as known to the dreamer is not the whole world. But it is equally true that the world as known to the waking man is just as limited. The facts offered by the dream state differ from those offered by the sleep state while both differ from those of the waking state. Each standpoint will necessarily arrive at a different conception of the world from others.

Now it would be too much to expect that any human being could collect all the facts about human experience. But it is possible to collect the principal facts about the three different categories of human experience--wakefulness, dream, and deep sleep--and this is precisely what metaphysics does.

It is an ironical fact that even the most ardent subscribers to the doctrine of materialism cannot for long endure material existence but must repeatedly escape from it in sleep or dream. Unfortunately they fail to see the metaphysical significance of this necessity.

Even animals have to pass through the experience of three states.

The mysterious significance of sleep has yet to be realized by the Western thinkers as it has been by those of the East. It is an independent and distinctive aspect of life with special characteristics too important to be undervalued and too decisive to be ignored. Our great error has been to neglect its investigation, to relegate it among the curiosities of nature when we should have vigorously pursued its ultimate meaning. The secret of life cannot be got from the study of one side of it only--the waking. Man's research must embrace its obverse side too--the sleeping.

The term "waking state" suggests the actual moments of passing from one state to the other, the transition itself, and is therefore inaccurate to describe as a static condition. Hence I try to use the term "wakefulness" or the "wakeful" state instead.

Here, in this wakeful state, on this physical plane, we may move towards the fulfilment of life's higher purpose. But in ever-changing dream or ever-still sleep there is no such opportunity. Hence the New Testament suggests that we work "whilst it is day, for the night cometh when no man can work."--John 9:4

Waking world is the crux. Realization must be won here and now.

That mental images and mental facts, emotional trends, and intellectual tendencies still exist in a deeper level of mind when they are absent from our consciousness; that the very ego itself still exists therein even when our conscious existence has become utterly blank in deep sleep--these facts indicate how wonderful a thing the mind is.

The first question is also the final one; it is quite short, quite simple, and yet it is also the most important question which anyone could ever ask, whether of himself or of others. This question is: "What is consciousness?" Whoever traces the answer through all its levels will find himself in the end in the very presence of the universal consciousness otherwise called God.

An evolutionary process in Nature has given a higher quality of consciousness to the waking state over the dream state precisely because of the greater usefulness of the waking state in carrying out the essential, as well as ultimate, purpose of Life Itself.

The dream state is the key to the mystery of who he is, while the more advanced deep sleep state indicates what he is; but it only indicates, points, and does not reveal. However, the problem of sleep is humanity's great study because it solves many others.

Sleep is such a disparate fragment of man's life that the dismissal of its silent offering of fact as unimportant is an act of emotional prejudice and one harmful to intellectual honesty. This partial view of life is not enough. The man who confines his views of existence only within the limits of its waking field is really a narrow specialist whose conclusions cannot be trusted beyond their empirical boundaries. Nay, his conclusions are positively dangerous because within such boundaries they may be indubitably correct. He has separated a fragment of universal existence--most important, doubtless, but nevertheless a fragment--yet expects to discover the whole truth of that existence from such incomplete data. He has come to believe that his knowledge of the waking world suffices to cover the other two worlds. The instant this belief arises he falls into the trap of imagining that he understands the others when in fact he does not understand them. This delusion is dangerous also because it prevents further enquiry, hinders his advancement, and ultimately renders his mind incapable of apprehending truth.

It must not be thought that either the mind of dream or the unconsciousness of profound sleep is ultimate reality. They are not. They are only illustrations drawn upon to help our limited finite minds to form a truer conception of that reality.

The mysterious significance of dreams

Is there nothing real during the experience of dreams? Is it completely illusion? The sharpest analysis enables us to detect a residue of reality. The consciousness itself, carried over from waking, was real.

Usually each dream is not a complete cycle but a jumble of separate dreaming moments. The fact of this discontinuity of the dream state cannot be used as proof of its unreality. There is an evolutionary process in Nature which gives a different quality to the working of consciousness in the waking state from that of the dream state, precisely because of the greater utility of the waking state to the outworking of its purposes.

Nobody dares deny that dream ideas act in so powerful a manner upon the dreamer's mind as to give him the feeling of all that intensity and reality of experience which he possesses during the waking state. People are plainly seen; objects are solidly felt--as much in one case as in the other. The powerful effects of a very vivid dream will sometimes be remembered for days afterwards. And who that has experienced that awful form of dream called the nightmare can find any waking experience which can surpass it in intensity, in immediacy, and in actuality? Yet the same experiences which are accepted as being so real during dream are repudiated as being so unreal after waking! When we consider that this same paradox holds good of all the millions of dreamers throughout the world, we must indeed admit there is something wholly mysterious and momentous in it.

A comparison of the waking with the dream state yields two striking similarities. Firstly, neither in one state nor the other do we make our planetary environment, or the other persons who figure in it, or cause all its happenings. We are born into our waking world--it is there ready-made. We find ourselves abruptly in our dream world. The other persons just happen to be in both worlds with us. We do not deliberately prefabricate most of the everyday happenings in the waking world and we do not do this with the dream happenings either. Secondly, in neither world can we predict exactly how we shall behave, react, or feel in all their situations. This is all intended to say that our waking life is really a kind of sleep, from which we need to wake up; that just as the dreamer only awakens when his fatigue exhausts itself or when someone else arouses him, so we, too, only awaken from life's illusions when we are exhausted with all the many different kinds of experience we get from many different incarnations or when a teacher appears to reveal the truth to us. Further, what we have done or desired in former incarnations predetermines a large part of the picture of our present one. Yet, the connection between this cause and this effect is unseen by us until someone else, a master of insight, shows it to us. Until then we are like sleeping dreamers.

While he is inside the dream he is outside its real nature, unable to measure its true dimension.

There is an intermediate mental state which lies between the unconsciousness of pure mind and the wakefulness of full consciousness. It corresponds to dream, to reverie, and to trance. It is the subconscious.

The adept not only knows when asleep that his dream-world is only mental, but he also knows when awake that his wakeful-world is also mental.

It is only after you awake that you consider your dream to be only a spurious imitation of real life and to possess a pseudo-existence. This difference of view, as against your view during the actual dream itself, must be carefully borne in mind. However trivial you think it now, when you were experiencing the dream it seemed as important as your present waking phase.

The contents of dream experience are as external in space as the contents of wakeful experience. But their mutual relations are not governed by the same intrinsic conditions.

We know that the dreamer's mind produces a world which not only proceeds wholly from and is substantially dependent upon itself, but is also wholly confined within itself at the time of dreaming. But the world which is experienced during waking is, on the contrary, common to all men. This, it would seem, is an important difference.

A dreaming body which believes itself to be running away from a tiger is really lying flat and motionless in bed. Behind the dream figure of a tortured man projected by the dream mind stands the dreamer himself. He is actually undergoing no torture at all. Similarly, if a waking-world tortured man could penetrate deeply enough into his own mental being, he would find the deeper portion of his mind which has projected his own waking self and which is likewise undergoing no torture at all. To achieve this, however, he would have to be as able to stand aside from the waking standpoint as he already is able, after awaking, to stand aside from the dream standpoint. But it must never be forgotten that the waking, dream, and deeper selves are three standpoints of one and the same mind, are all parts of the complex character of ourself. The mind wears three faces, as it were, two of which are visible and the other invisible.

A nightmare is the strongest example of what reality dream life can apparently attain. Suppose for a minute that one's own body has become the imagined body belonging to one in a vivid dream. During the period of dream, men may gash it with knives and stab it with daggers. The skin will be cut, the flesh penetrated, the nerves severed; pain will be felt, and blood will pour out of this body. All may happen during such a horrible nightmare precisely as it may happen during the waking state and with the same dramatic vividness. Yet during the whole ghastly experience the skin, nerves, flesh, and blood were merely imagined, were only ideas! The whole apparatus of sense, whether it be eye or ear or skin, and the whole mechanism of nerves, are themselves mental experiences no less than those dream ideas and those dream perceptions which we unhesitatingly accept as such.

The truth is that the so-called unconscious has an immensely wider and more wonderful range of activity than the conscious mind. It can accomplish much more in less time, too.

The unconscious is very conscious.

Stimuli involved in the dream state are not identical with those of the waking state. In the dream state they are entirely self-suggested, whereas in the waking state the results of World-Mind's activities take precedence over self-suggestion.

Every experience possible to the physical body--even that of awakening from a dream!--can find its perfect parallel in an experience possible to the dream body. It is utterly impossible to mark out any difference between the two bodies in this respect.

Descartes: When I considered that the very same thoughts which we experience when awake may also be experienced when we are asleep, while there is at that time not one of them true, I supposed that all the objects that had ever entered into my mind when awake had in them no more truth than the illusions of my dreams.

The intelligence which sometimes solves our problems for us during dreams is of a higher quality than that which ordinarily solves them during wakeful hours. It is indeed of the same order as that which we call intuition.

The space-time sense is so modified in dream that you may be here at one moment and across the world at the next.

The state of dream is purely an intermediate one between the seeming life of wakefulness and the seeming death of sleep.

The sense-experiences of the dream world occur without the use of any of the body's sense organs at all. They give us the experience of colour, without the eyes and without light; of form, without the touching hand and without an external object. Do they not point to the independence of the mind, to its reality in its own right, to the separateness of its sensations from physical causes?

It is true that the mind imposes its own ideas in dreams but this is only one of several factors to be considered. It is necessary to distinguish between the different classes of dreams. Some are dramatizations of physical disturbances but others are symbolic messages from the higher self. Thus most of our dreams are unimportant, but some are significant.

A dream may be trivial or important, inspired or commonplace, prophetic or symbolic, irrational or significant, an imagination or a revelation, terrifying or satisfying, uplifting or degrading, an echo of the day or an invention of the night, other-worldly or this-worldly, quickly forgotten or long remembered--it can be any of these because the mind's possible workings are widely varied.

Dreams occur for several different reasons. And two parts of one and the same dream occur for two different reasons. It is unscientific to say--as the materialistic medicos, many psychoanalysts, and the fortune-tellers stubbornly say--that dreams are determined by a single particular cause. And it is just as unscientific to say that dreams have only one function to perform. Therefore the student must move warily when trying to understand dream processes or to interpret individual dream happenings. It is quite true to assert, for example, that some dreams or some parts of a dream represent unconscious desires or repressed emotions, but it is equally true to assert that most dreams don't represent them at all. It is fallacious to make the dream a metaphor pointing to future events. More often, it is a stew cooked up out of past ones. For most dreams merely reveal what happens when the image-making faculty breaks loose from the general mental equipment and works out a series of self-deceptive illusions based on real material picked up during the previous day's experiences.

Just as the spiritual ignorance of man reveals itself during his slumbers by his total lack of knowledge that the dream-experience is only a series of ideas, so the evil character of man reveals itself during his slumbers by the rule it imposes--unrepressed by legal sanctions or social codes--upon his dreams. This is one of the elements of truth in Freud's otherwise grossly materialistic teaching. The dream is partially a self-revelation. Hence it is the teaching of the mystical order of Turkish Sufis that the progress of a disciple is partially to be measured by his teacher by the progressive purification attained in the character of his dream life.

The meaning of an event which eludes him on the ordinary world level may reveal itself on the dream, meditational, or psychic levels.

You may have a dream which puts itself in a purely symbolic form. This taken literally may seem ridiculous but interpreted becomes meaningful.

Sleep is a strange affair; dreams are even stranger. Few know that they can be converted into coherent rational experiences, that they can be consciously shaped.

If waking life events contribute to dream life, so do dreams themselves contribute to waking life.

In that mysterious moment when blankness falls upon the mind and sleep supervenes, the cross-over into conscious sleep is possible.

The fact that most dreams are merely mechanically formed and do not signify anything important should warn us not to fall into superstition about them or to be guided unduly by them.

Dreams are often mixed because the mind is more negative to other minds and thus a telepathic receptivity is set up, which works so loosely, however, that a kaleidoscopic presentation results.

The same sleeping man plays several roles in a single dream. And he plays them all at once. More, he even creates the varied environments in which these characters perform.

Our dream-self passes through five-sensed experiences and space-timed events which would entirely justify its assertion that the dream world is a material one. Yet the enlightenment gained on awaking entirely proves that the dream world is only a mental one.

Such is the extraordinary working of the dream-mind that a single remembered person, idea, incident, or emotion is quite enough to arouse instantly a whole string of associations, near or remote, rational or fantastic, whose images it forms effortlessly and projects into its own external world.

The belief of psychoanalysts (of the older schools) that all man's dreams are either a projection of his repressed sex wishes or an atavistic reversion to his primitive past, may sometimes be correct but is more often incorrect.

Both dream and delusion prove the creative power of mind.

He detaches, albeit without loss, a fragment of himself and gives it a new shape and a new life. Yet all this is an unconscious process.

Dreams give us the forms of reality, but do they give us the content of reality? If we take the general experience of nearly all dreams, the answer must be that they do not. If, however, we take the special experience of a few dreams which synchronize perfectly with the wakeful state in their memories, figures, or predictions, the answer is that they do.

A dream can condense the events of a whole day into a few minutes. Where has the change taken place? The mind that experiences both wakeful and dream events has changed its condition, and with that its sense of time.

It is rare that in a dream anyone knows that he is dreaming.

A single idea will henceforth dominate all his dreams--the idea that he is dreaming.

In dream we find a key to comprehending some occult phenomena that would otherwise be quite incomprehensible. Take, for instance, the appearance of an adept to his disciple hundreds of miles distant from his physical body.

As he lifts himself out of the dreaming state, the focus of his awareness becomes sharper and the field of his activity becomes a shared one.

That physical conditions produce many dreams is indisputable. But not all dreams. That many dreams are merely echoes of happenings during the past day or two is also indisputable. But they have passed into the sphere of memories--that is, mental events, ideas which are non-physical things. Mind can affect brain, brain can affect mind: they are separate things.

Most dreams are produced by imagination, but most dreams are not guided from unusual sources.

It is quite possible to visit in dream a place where the individual has not been during his present and waking life. This is not a trick of the mind; rather it is one of the powers of the mind to be able to see or be at a distance from the body.

Usually each dream is not a complete cycle, but a jumble of separate dreaming moments; hence most dreams are worthless and prove nothing.

In the very midst of his dream he knows what in it is true and what is only imaginary.

While yet sleeping on his bed, his conscious mind unites with his dreaming mind to wake into a new world.

Too many dreams are broken fragments or random mixed-up pieces or chaotic unhelpful stories.

Most dreams are too hazy and incoherent to be worth special study, but some dreams are so vivid and so reasonable that they might be taken from waking life.

Millions of dreamers enter their private dream worlds every night. It is then that the image-making power of the mind becomes quite extraordinary. It creates seemingly independent beings and living personalities during its dream state.

Ordinarily dreams lack a constant rational quality. The controlling hand of reason and coherence seems curiously but fitfully absent, while materials drawn from waking life seem curiously and irrationally mixed together.

The bedside notebook and pencil will be better used for the intuitions with which we may awake from deep sleep than for the pictures which may survive from dream.

The mistake in J.W. Dunne's theory of dreams is the belief that what was quite true of his own personal dreams was equally true of all other persons' dreams.

It is a startling moment when he wakes up to the fact that he is dreaming without waking up to the physical world at all. For then he is able to know as a scientific observable fact that the measurable space around him, the sensations of resistance and solidity in his feet and the hardness or smoothness of objects in his hands, are nothing else than mental creations.

The deep stillness of sleep

There is a strange happening which comes often to every man: first he is embraced by sleep, then during sleep he is embraced by imagination in the form of dream. All this is happening outside his ordinary awareness and independently of his personal control. What happens when he is embraced by deep dreamless sleep? The answer is that he has been taken to the source of his being for renewal of his forces physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. That which took him there is Grace.

When we step into the deep pool of the sleep state, mysterious yet momentous things happen. The worst pains of a disease-tortured body vanish as though they never were, as the worst anxieties of a troubled mind are cast aside completely. We find healing peace and strength. We rotate in a cycle of waking dream and slumber. It is therefore not enough and cannot be enough to examine our waking state alone.

In sleep, which supervenes when the intellect becomes fatigued, the latter retires to rest in the higher mind, when no thoughts arise.

The presence of the personal ego in the dream state accounts for the presence of joys and sorrows in that state too. Its absence from deep sleep accounts for the latter's satisfying tranquillity.

Deep dreamless sleep removes anxieties from the mind because it removes the ego which suffers them. It removes exhaustion from the physical body because the complete relaxation of tension consequent upon the ego's absence allows the universal life-force to permeate every cell.

If the sleeping state is completely deep, this return to the source leaves an afterglow. The newly awakened man is loath to get up, not only for obvious physiological reasons, but also because of this one. It vanishes quickly, this delightful feeling, because the ego takes over with its tendencies and memories and, above all, its outward-turned world-seeking nature. The informed person will not miss the chance to surrender to that glow and bask in its serenity, letting the ego wait. "I dozed, and my book fell from my weary hand. When I woke up, I was full of joy and smiled silently," wrote Ts'ai Ch'o, a Chinese poet of Ts'ai, the Taoist mystical-philosophic school.

If advantage is to be taken of the solar currents of magnetism, the main axis of a bed should lie north-south.

Sleep provides a highly valuable counterweight to the ego's activity, a denial of its real existence, and a lesson in the true meaning of mind.

Those who think that sleep is all we need to remove the body's fatigue after activity and work may be surprised to learn that this is only true of deep dreamless slumber. In the case of dream-filled sleep, it is not more than partially true.

There is a kind of sleep which has a special quality about it--intensely deep and refreshingly blissful. Those who are physically ill awake from it feeling much better, sometimes quite healed. Those who are practising meditation just before passing into it get as much spiritual benefit as if they had continued to practise in a state of wakeful alertness. The ancient priest-physicians called it "temple-sleep" and the modern Oriental mystics (Indian and Muhammedan, not Japanese) call it "yoga-sleep."

He may be dead or he may be living but the sleeping man does not know what his condition is.

If the finite human mind cannot form any correct idea of the Unknown Infinite and Eternal Mind, it can make something of the fact that it itself exists, apparently unknown and unexperienced, in deep sleep.

What I saw in this jungle hermitage of The Andavar reminded me of an ancient attempt to banish sleep by Syrian holy men who seated themselves at the top of a 300-foot obelisk which was planted in front of the celebrated temple of Emesa. There, on this lofty perch, the fakir rang a handbell so frequently through twenty-one days and nights that he hoped to evade sleep. It reminded me, too, of what Ramana Maharshi once told me about yogis who, with the same object in view, had themselves tied to a ladder planted upright so that they could not fall into a sleep-inducing recumbent position. In the Maharishee's opinion, these forms of asceticism were extreme and violent attempts to force a premature evolution.

When the ego suspends its action and falls--without an object for its consciousness or a body for its working--into profound slumber, it has returned to its source. The real "I" then rules.

The belief that the two hours before midnight are most valuable for recuperative purposes is an old one. It was propagated by Manu the lawgiver, as well as by the rishees of ancient India, in whose ashrams and schools all retired to sleep at ten, to rise again at four or five.

If there are no pains in deep slumber there are no pleasures either. The ego is then not annihilated, but only withdrawn.

During those serene moments which follow immediately after an awakening from dreamless and undisturbed slumber, the erstwhile sleeper feels inexpressibly rested, divinely at ease. Those moments do not and cannot last, however, and with his speedy absorption into the affairs and cares of the new day, the man soon loses their delightful and unusual quality.

The necessity of sleep humbled even Alexander the Great, for it reminded him that he was mortal.

"In Cuba, as a young subaltern, Churchill learned the habit of afternoon siesta. Later, as the First Lord of the Admiralty, he found he could add two hours to a long working day by taking an hour's sleep after lunch. His gift for hard work is incredible."--from a London newspaper

"Sleep is the idea based upon the conception of absence."--Patanjali, Yoga Sutras I:10

The need of an unconscious is demonstrated by the need of deep sleep and represents the need of biological self-preservation. For an excess of memory would paralyse all possibilities of active life. We would be unable to give to the immediate everyday duties that definite attention which they require. The great number of such memories would utterly destroy all possibility of concentrating on the practical needs. And similarly, an inability to bring the thought-mechanism to rest regularly would end by overwhelming the individual with a myriad of unwanted thoughts and again render the simplest concentration difficult or impossible. The senses do not provide merely the conditions under which we become aware of the external world but also the inhibitory mechanism which prevents us from becoming aware of too much. The range of visual vibrations, for instance, is but a fraction of those which are actually present. Similarly, Nature has ordained that the individual mind should shut out of consciousness more than it is able to attend to, should be a representative mechanism which permits us to concentrate on what is relevant in our personal life without distractions that would render life intolerable.

In the state of deep sleep the things of the world are put far from us and we emerge refreshed, calm, and happy. Let dreams, with their confused memories of the world which has been left behind, enter into this sleep and at once it loses some of its peace. Does anyone ever trouble to put the two together in connection, the absence of the worldly life and the presence of a happy mind?

The definition from Blavatsky of dreamless sleep is correct insofar as no impression upon the physical brain is left. Her statement that the higher self then reverts to the original state is, however, very loosely expressed. It is the lower ego that thus reverts.

Saint Francis Xavier's achievements were impressive, even amazing, yet he slept only three hours at night.

With the onset of deep sleep we retreat into a timeless world, which swallows up and holds in suspension all our past and present existence.

Animals which hibernate in winter are the bear, whose sleep is light; the bat, whose sleep is heavy; the woodchuck, whose eyes are tightly closed; and the racoon, which rolls itself into a ball. What is to be noted is that during this period, lasting many weeks or even several months, the rate of breathing is gradually reduced to a mere fraction of what it is during the period of ordinary activity. The Colombian ground squirrel almost stops its pulse-beat during its half-year-long hibernation.

Why do so few know the exact moment when they enter into the sleeping condition? What happens to their consciousness then?

During deep sleep we experience the sublation of the whole pluralistic world. What has become of it then? Has it lost its reality? This we may not say. Has it kept its reality? This too we dare not assert. Thus the nature of the universe is seen to be indeterminate.

Once he has attained the philosophic realization of the Overself, he goes nightly to sleep in it, if the sleep is dreamless and deep, or inserts it into his dreams if it is not. Either way he does not withdraw from it.

What is known during deep sleep is the veil of ignorance which covers the Real. That is, the knowing faculty, the awareness, is still present, but caught in the ignorance, the veiling, and knowing nothing else. The sage, however, carries into sleep the awareness he had in wakefulness. He may let it dim down to a glimmer, but it is always there.

It is hard for Western-educated minds to accept this Vedantic view that in deep sleep consciousness goes on. Sir William Hamilton, one of the best of British metaphysicians of the early part of last century, in a lecture asked, "Can I know without knowing that I know? This is impossible."

If the nightly return of the man to his Overself were really full and complete, he would not awake the day after into spiritual ignorance. Instead, he would consciously enjoy the peace and presence of the Overself.

That which is present during the interval between two thoughts is also present during deep sleep.

Is it not strange to observe that the same men who are so attached to their personality when active in the waking state, become indifferent to it when inert in the sleeping state! Can it be that there is something which transcends it and which ordinarily is hidden, covered up by the thoughts of the waking state? That in the stillness which dissolves such thoughts, the Overself can reveal itself? That deep sleep stops short of the revelation because, although it dissolves thoughts, it annuls consciousness?

Chandogya Upanishad: "Just as people, who do not know where wealth lies buried, walk over the ground without securing the wealth, even so owing to their covering of ignorance people do not attain divinity within their hearts, though they come in contact with It during deep sleep. . . . The true Self lies within the heart. That is why the heart is called (He is within the heart.) He who knows that self is within the heart realizes divinity during the state of deep sleep."

Although the sage withdraws with the onset of sleep from wakeful awareness, he does not withdraw from all awareness. A pleasurable and peaceful sense of impersonal being is left over. In this he rests throughout the night.

Muhammed: "I am not as one of you. Verily, I pass the night with my Lord, and he gives me food and drink."

Ernest Wood, Practical Yoga: "In this philosophy sleep is not regarded as a total cessation of the mind's activity. There is still an idea there. The mind dwells upon the idea of the absence of everything; so this idea needs a class to itself. It is not considered to be an unconscious state. That is why, it is argued, when we wake in the morning we may say: `I slept well,' meaning not that we now feel refreshed and we therefrom infer that we slept well, but that we remember that we slept well, that we enjoyed the pleasurable idea of absence of anything. We may note here that the mere suppression of ideas--not the system of control propounded in the aphorisms--would be only the concentration of the mind on absence, which would not lead to yoga."

Koran: "And one of His signs is your sleeping."

If the sage's sleep is wholly without those varied mental experiences of persons and places which manifest as dreams, then it will pass so swiftly that an entire night's sleep will take no longer than a few seconds of wakeful time.

In slumber the activity of consciousness disappears but the possibility of consciousness remains.

What happens to the feeling of one's physical body, to all the thoughts in awareness of one's personal self, to the perceptions of all the things outside, when one falls into a sleep without dreams? Everything vanishes and yet the next morning everything reappears. Therefore not one thing was lost. Where were they all? The sleep itself provides an answer. Its own deeper level receives and holds the self and its objects of attention and then projects them forth again. That level is the Mind, the Real, Consciousness-in-Itself.

No one gets out of deep slumber with the feeling that he did not exist during that period, nor even out of dream-filled sleep when he may have assumed a different identity. Both states are looked on as different but not as annihilatory: so deep sleep shows that consciousness can exist despite the person's ignorance that it is an entity by itself apart from him and his body, thoughts or emotions.

No ordinary man thinks of himself when he is sleeping but not dreaming. Why is it that the idea of "I" is then lost? Obviously the mind itself is not lost, only its products are. But is not consciousness associated with mind? It too could not have been lost. Then why does it seem to be absent? No answer to this last question can possibly be found. The reason is that it is not absent at all. This is why consciousness goes on during deep absorption, in listening to music, even though I have forgotten myself. The more complete the absorption, the more complete is the forgetfulness.

Behind the dreams or the unconsciousness of ordinary sleep there is, also, for some seekers upon this Quest, another form of life where contact is made with, and instruction obtained from, sources which are remote from the physical environment. Ultimately, the results filter through the subconscious mind, expressing themselves in a general way through mental direction and emotional ideals.

Sleep is a condition which nature imposes on man. No one, not even the sage, can alter its general course and therefore even the sage has to accept this condition as an inevitable part of his own human lot. But if he is to attain full self-realization, this must eventually pertain to his sleeping state as much as to his waking state, else it will not be what its name suggests.

When we assert that there is emptiness in deep sleep we overlook the fact that some mind must have been present to note the emptiness and thus enable us to make the assertion afterwards.

The objection that self-consciousness disappears in deep sleep and hence is not real and lasting is incorrect, for we know afterwards that it existed and disappeared. When we awake we know it and are conscious that we experienced deep sleep although we do not know it at the time of the sleep. So it is known after sleep that consciousness persisted in it.

This state of conscious transcendental sleep is symbolized in some mystical figures of antiquity by forming or painting them without eyelids.

Sleep comes when attention goes down to the throat centre.

When a man falls totally asleep, when no thoughts and no dreams are active, he has withdrawn (or more accurately been withdrawn) into the centre of his being. He can go no farther inwards. He is really alone with the Overself but, being unable to harmonize with it, the principle of consciousness is not active.

Bhagavad Gita, Chap. II, sloka 69: "That which is night to all beings, in that the self-controlled man wakes. That in which all beings wake, is night to the Self-seeing Muni."

Sleep, by shutting off conscious thought and conferring oblivion of the ego, relaxes tense nerves and pacifies agitated hearts. During its reign, the mind merges back into its source. With the difference that he seeks full awareness and permanent continuance, the mystic seeks this same result.

In sleep the non-existence of things is not known to you; therefore sleep is a state of ignorance, not of Gnanam, for the Gnani knows everything to be Brahman. The nonduality of sleep is not the nonduality of Gnanam. Brahman is not known in deep sleep but is known in Gnanam.

In the ordinary waking state, men are well aware that they are not sleeping; but in the dreaming state they mistakenly believe that they are in the other one. A few, however, have come to a degree of development where they know that they are dreaming, and fewer still know that they are in deep thought-free sleep. They are the sages.

The moments between sleep and waking or between waking and sleep are very sensitive and very important. They should be used to switch thought to the highest ideal one knows.

As taught in The Wisdom of the Overself, use the last few minutes in the twilight state of consciousness before falling asleep at night for constructive self-improvement. The best form this can take during your present phase of development is to relax in bed, empty the mind of the day's cares, and make definite, concrete suggestions about the good qualities desired and imaginatively visualize yourself demonstrating these desired qualities. Furthermore, you should go even farther and visualize yourself in possession of the Higher Consciousness, attuned to the Higher Will and expressing the Higher Poise. All this will be like seeds planted in the inner being and growing during sleep.

Character can be bettered and weaknesses can be overcome through the regular use of constructive exercises in meditation, either at any time during the day or just before falling asleep. Whatever the fault, weakness, or vice may be, it should be firmly coupled in meditation with pictures of its dangerous consequences, and then with a mental attitude of its dangers and their horror. Such an association of ideas will tend to produce itself automatically whenever the fault manifests itself.

Pre-sleep exercise: If he is trying to cure himself of a bad habit, for example, let him think of a situation which gives rise to it and then of the physical and mental miseries which result from it. Then he must picture to himself the development of such a situation and of his reaction to it in a positive reformed way. If this exercise is repeated night after night, he will one day find that when the situation occurs in real life, he will react rightly to it, resolutely turning his back on the bad habit. No special effort of will need be made; the change will be natural easy smooth and without strain. It will be as though some external force had intervened and resisted the bad habit on his behalf, achieving instantaneous triumph.

This pre-sleep exercise of recalling the day's events would be worth doing for the sake of its value to anybody in developing memory and fostering observation. But to the disciple it has very much more to give. This will be given, however, only if his self-examination is rigorously impersonal; if he does not let the personal self or animal nature interfere with it.

The late President Kennedy was another man who drew many of his best ideas intuitively from the waking-up period each morning. He was also one of those, like Napoleon and Churchill, who fall asleep immediately the eyes are shut.

In those delicious moments where sleep trembles into waking, there is some sort of a beginning Glimpse but alas, it vanishes without fulfilling its promise as soon as the world of objects comes more fully into the circle of attention. And this is precisely where the value of such a state lies, both for the ordinary man and for the would-be yogi. It has no objects. It is "I" without a world. It is awareness-in-itself. True, it is fleeting and does not last, but a man can learn to practise holding himself to it.

Two of the mysterious psychological moments when a good thought can be thrown into fertile soil are on the verge of falling asleep and on the verge of awakening from sleep.

The returning consciousness waking from sleep or withdrawing from reverie is in a better position to sense intuitive truths than when actively and entirely wakeful.

Ask yourself before sleeping the questions that puzzle you and the answers may be there, waiting for you, on waking.

In those first moments when awakening from the nightly sleep, we may enter a heavenly thought-free state. Or, if we cannot reach so high, we may receive thoughts which give guidance, tell us what to do, warn us against wrong decisions, or foretell the future.

The moment he awakens in the morning he should turn his attention for a few minutes to the thought of the Quest. It this is done faithfully every day, it becomes a useful exercise with excellent results in the subsequent hours.

On awakening from the night's sleep, take the inspired book, which you are to keep on a bedside table for the purposes of this exercise, and open it at random. The higher self may lead you to open it at a certain page. Read the paragraph or page on which your glance first rests and then put the book aside. Meditate intently on the words, taking them as a special message to you for that particular day. In the course of your activities you may later find this to be so, and the message itself a helpfully connected one.

If, in the act of falling asleep, he invites the higher self through aspiration, he may one day find that in the act of waking up an inner voice begins to speak to him of high and holy things. And with the voice comes the inspiration, the strength, and the desire to live up to them.

Plato's precepts to Aristotle: "Do not sleep until you have put three questions to yourself: (a) Have I committed any sin?

(b) Have I omitted any duty by accident? (c) Have I left anything undone intentionally?"

The point where one can pass from wakefulness to pure consciousness is naturally most difficult to find. Everyone misses it because habit-patterns compel him to do so. Much patience is needed for these exercises. This is indeed a task for one's whole lifetime. But there are easier objectives and more accessible goals which are quite excellent for most people of the present day.

Pre-sleep fourth state exercise: The secret of a successful passage into the transcendental state consists in insisting on retaining consciousness but not on retaining self-consciousness. For if, at the moment when you are about to slip into the fourth state, you suddenly become aware that you are doing so, then you will at once be hurled back into the ordinary condition. The ego-sense has therefore to subside completely before the pass-over can be effected. So long as the ego knows what is happening to it, so long does the cross-over remain impossible. It must not be allowed to intrude itself at the fateful moment yet neither must consciousness itself be allowed to lapse.

What is this magic that hides in sleep? The founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, an organization of redeemed inebriates for helping men master the liquor habit, felt he had reached the end of his tether through drink. The habit was beyond his power to overcome, its results proving too dangerous and disgusting even for him to tolerate any more. Suicide seemed the only way out. He uttered a last prayer to God to help him and fell into a long deep sleep. He awoke cured!

Method of falling asleep by Su Tung-po, poet and mystic: "I lie perfectly still. I listen to my respiration and make sure it is slow and even. After a short while, I feel relaxed and comfortable. A state of drowsiness sets in and I fall into sound sleep."

The ruling ideas with which he falls asleep will form a connection with the wakeful life and profoundly influence it.

This exercise need not necessarily be practised just before or after sleep. These periods are most effective for novices. But for those who have made progress with meditation, it may be done at any time of the day during a meditation period.

The famous "Battle Hymn of the Republic," to which great armies of soldiers marched during the American Civil War, was the fruit of this mysterious sleep composition. Julia Ward Howe had often tried to think out the words for a new marching song but without success. But one morning she awoke in the grey dawn with the verses of the new hymn forming themselves spontaneously in her mind. She rushed to write them down before dressing and before they fled away.

Some who have attained sufficient proficiency in meditation have cured themselves of insomnia by affirming the divine Presence when they close their eyes in bed at night, and holding on to this affirmation.

There are certain intervals of consciousness between two thoughts--such as those between waking and sleep and those between sleep and waking--which normally pass unobserved because of the rapidity and brevity associated with them. Between one moment and another there is the timeless consciousness; between one thought and another there is a thought-free consciousness. It is upon this fact that a certain exercise was included in The Wisdom of the Overself which had not previously been published in any Western book. But it is not a modern discovery. It was known to the ancient Egyptians, it was known to the Tibetan occultists, and in modern times it was probably known to Krishnamurti. The Egyptians, preoccupied as they were with the subject of death and the next world, based their celebrated Book of the Dead upon it. The Tibetan Book of the Dead contained the same theme. Between the passing out of the invisible vital-forces-body at the end of each incarnation and its entry into that state of consciousness which is death, the same interval reappears. If the dying man can lift himself up to it, seize upon it, and not let it escape him, he will then enter into heaven--the true heaven. And it was to remind him of this fact and to help him achieve this feat that the ancient priests attended his last moments and chanted the pertinent passages from these books. This mysterious interval makes its appearance throughout life and even at death, and yet men notice it not and miss an opportunity. It happens not only at the entry into death but also in between two breaths. It is possible to go even further and say that the interval reappears for a longer period between two incarnations, for there is then the blocking out of all impressions of the past prior to taking on a new body. Plato must have known it.

Trance and the 4th state of consciousness

There is a deep, very deep, level of meditation where we have the same experience as dreamless sleep but keep our awareness. Because the ego with its thoughts and emotions, its motives, desires, and calculations is no longer present, it must be described as a condition of generalized being. (The oft-used term "universal" is not quite accurate.)

If by yogic concentration and withdrawal the body-thought is expunged from consciousness, it vanishes together with the world it sensed. This is no longer there. But this does not entitle the yogi to assert after his trance has ended that the world is still not there.

Professor Sen Gupta, on the "Four Buddhist Jnanas": "It is again stated that the process of contemplation of `emptiness' and of the negation of self-hood leads to a sense of joy. Both of these concepts, `emptiness' (Sunyata) and the negation of self-hood (nairatmya), however, seem to signify the same type of transformation of consciousness, the growth of a plane of non-relational experience of the nirvikalpa stage. The stage of `emptiness' as defined above is said to develop through the practice of Pratyahara, with withdrawal of the senses from the objects. Man's mind loses in this way its contact with things outside: desires no longer fixate upon things that fulfil them; mind, so far as its operations can be observed from outside, is asleep. In earlier Buddhism, in which the discipline of the Yoga was generally followed, we find mention of pleasant emotions: `When, aloof from sensuous ideas, aloof from evil ideas, he enters into and abides in "First Jnana," wherein attention is applied and sustained, which is born of solitude and filled with zest and pleasant emotion.' In the `Second Jnana,' again, there is an `inward tranquillizing of the mind self-contained and uplifted from the working of attention' and there arises `zest and pleasurable emotion.' In the `Third Jnana' likewise the individual is said to `experience' in the body that pleasure of which the Aryans speak. `It is only in the last stage that man goes beyond joy and sorrow.'"

The awareness of this higher self need not annul the awareness of the ordinary self, although in the deepest mystical trance it will certainly do so. But man does not live by trance alone.

In this strange condition he is neither asleep nor awake. He is free of the flesh. It is a dream-like state without the irrationality, the pictures, or the happenings of most dreams.

It is a condition of the wakeful and dream phases of human existence that thoughts should flow through the human consciousness. For they are the active phases of the divine entity wherein it is incessantly creative. Only in the negative phase of deep sleep can thoughts be absent. This is the normal truth. For in a fourth phase, attainable through intense self-absorbed meditation and for a brief interval only, the thought-free state can be induced without any loss of awareness.

Consider the fact that our individual lives are totally suspended during sleep, that the waves of personal consciousness then merge utterly in the ocean. How clearly this shows the Divine to be also the Infinite and Universal, our lack of true spirituality, and our possession at best of its pale reflection! For where else could we go to sleep except in this Infinite and Universal Mind? Yet we know it not! To get rid of such ignorance, to attain transcendental insight into the fourth state of being, is the most wonderful of all the tasks which this philosophy sets before us.

It is the presence of the physical ego in the wakeful state that paralyses all spiritual awareness therein. It is the absence of the personal and physical ego in the deep sleep state that paralyses all material awareness therein, too. By keeping it out and yet keeping in wakefulness, the transcendental consciousness is able to provide the requisite condition for an unbroken spiritual awareness that is not only superior to the three states but continues its own existence behind theirs.

Ordinarily we simply cannot grasp this amazing concept of "pure consciousness." All the consciousnesses of ordinary human experience imply a consciousness of some object and an entity to whom this happens.

There are two kinds of consciousness, one is in ever-passing moments, the other ever-present. The one is in time, the other out of it. The ordinary person knows only the one; the enlightened sage knows both.

A man never leaves Consciousness. The world comes into it as perception, that is, as idea. Whether anything, object or state, comes into it or not, Consciousness remains as his unchanging home. Whether asleep or awake, wrapped in himself or out in the world, his essential being remains what it is. His thoughts and sense-impressions, feelings and passions are produced by it or projected from it: they exist in dependence on it and die in it.

In our view, even deep sleep unconsciousness is a form of this "consciousness" which transcends all the states we ordinarily know--waking, dream, and deep sleep--yet includes them when they merge back into it. Such a "consciousness" is unthinkable, unimaginable, but it is the true objective awareness. It is also the I you are seeking so much. But to reach it, then you have to let go of the I which you know so well.

The transcendental being is not an unconscious one. The absolute consciousness could not be other than self-conscious in its own impersonal way. Hence the fourth state is not the same as deep sleep.

Is it not a strange thing that after a night's dreaming sleep when we may become some other person, some other character during our dreams, we yet wake up with the old identity that we had before the dream? And is it not equally strange that after a night's sweet, deep, dreamless slumber when we actually forget utterly that same previous identity, we are able to pick it up once more on awakening? What is the explanation of these strange facts? It is that we have never left our true selfhood, whether in dreams or deep slumber, never been other than we really were in essence, and that the only change that has taken place has been a change of the state of our consciousness, not of the consciousness itself.

We must see it as ordinary experience transcended into a consciousness which defies comprehension.

We exist for a fragment of time only and therefore relatively. But is there something behind time itself which is absolute, a principle of Foreverness? The Buddhists firmly deny it; the Advaitins just as firmly proclaim it, while philosophy accepts and reconciles both schools.

Every man is conscious being, even in deep sleep. This then is his real being: this consciousness as it is in itself, not in the limited form it takes in his ego.

The deep sleep of night, when nothing is known or remembered, followed by the wakeful activity of day, when the world is perceived and self-identity recollected, must have some principle common to them on which they depend and in which they are linked. Otherwise we could not have understood that we slept or picked up again the continuity of consciousness from the previous day.

"I would that thou hadst passed right through thyself as one who dreams in sleep yet sleepless."--"The Secret Sermon on the Mountain," Chapter 14 of Volume 2, Thrice Greatest Hermes by G.R.S. Mead

In his inmost being every man is rooted in the World-Mind. The three states pass away--sleep, dream, and waking go--but the fourth still remains: it is this root--being.

In the waking state we experience the physical world, in the dream state our experience corresponds to the etheric astral world, in the deep sleep state we enter a still higher level of experience which is that of the God whose will is expressed in the other and lower two worlds. This God the Hindus call Ishvara; I have called it World-Mind. Now underlying these three states and therefore the Reality, the consciousness, the real consciousness underneath them, man experiences as enlightenment. The other three are states whereas this is the Reality supporting those three states--waking, dream, and deep sleep. In deep sleep man reaches God, it might be said, but owing to his ignorance he is unaware so he does not benefit by it.

Psychological states are quite distinct from pure consciousness: they are thrown up from it and have, relatively, only a transient existence.

One of the first things a student of philosophical psychology must learn to understand is that the different states of consciousness are not the same as pure basic essential consciousness-in-itself. The states are like little circles within larger ones. They possess various limits and limitations, belong to lower levels, and are subject to alteration. Basic consciousness transcends all these things, all these conditions, and may therefore be called transcendental consciousness.

What is called Turiya or the "fourth state" in Sanskrit, although it is neither waking, dreaming, nor sleeping, is related however to all three as their background. Therefore, before one falls asleep it comes into play. Before one wakes up in the morning it also comes into play. Or before a dream comes to an end and deep sleep supervenes, it comes into play. This is why either the practice of meditation or the brief practice of spiritual remembrance at any of these three natural pause periods takes the fullest advantage of them. This is also why during the interval between two separate thoughts, it comes into play. Thus, throughout a man's life, he's comfortably being brought back into touch with his divine Self. But because his face is turned the other way and he's looking in the wrong direction, he never takes advantage and becomes aware of that Self.

The fourth condition is attained when the true nature of the other three is fully comprehended, so fully that all the thoughts, feelings, and acts of the man are henceforth based upon the unshakeable conviction that the three are only appearances within the Real.

Intellectual standpoints and emotional moods may change, and do, but this heavenly consciousness stops all that, for it belongs to a timeless world. There, no arguments can begin, whether with others or oneself: no feelings can toss the man about with each new event or circumstance. There, a superior wisdom reigns, so lucid, so penetrating, that it certifies its own worth, debate being quite unnecessary. And there, finally, the self is at last purified and stabilized in its higher identity and is therefore at peace.

The most extraordinary thing about it is that this Supreme Principle, which is the fundament of all things, runs like an underground stream through all the three states of man yet he knows it not. His ignorance is due to heedlessness, his refusal to turn inwards and pay attention to what is going on inside.

How paradoxical: that the fourth state should be the First Principle of Being!

The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.