The Highest Prize
What is your experience of this state of “deep sleep”?
The state of deep sleep is an idea that occurs from time to time in the waking state and is conceived in terms of the waking state itself, that is, in terms of objects, time and space. In other words, the waking state imposes the presumptions of the waking mind onto what it conceives to be a state similar to its own, in which it is not, by definition, present and of which therefore it has no knowledge.
In other words, just as the waking mind conceives of the waking state to be a vast, four dimensional container of time and space, in which all objects, including a little intermittent spark of consciousness, are supposed to appear and disappear, so it conceives of deep sleep to be a similar vast, four dimensional container in which all objects have been removed leaving a blank, dark, unknown object called ‘nothing.’ Furthermore, the waking mind conceives that the separate entity remains in deep sleep but without its appendage of consciousness.
However, the mind has absolutely no knowledge of a state in which it is not present. Deep sleep is defined as the absence of mind, so what can the mind legitimately say about it? The mind imagines the existence of a state in time, because it can only think in its own terms of time, space etc., and then superimposes a further presumption that that state is full of ‘nothing,’ a blank object. This ‘blank object’ is the closest the mind can get to imagining what a non-objective experience might be like.
The idea that deep sleep lasts for a period of time, say for four hours, is entirely a projection of the waking mind. There is no experience of mind in deep sleep and therefore no experience of objects. And in the absence of objects there is no time. Therefore deep sleep has no duration.
So deep sleep cannot be understood from the perspective of the waking state. The ideas of blankness, nothingness, void, dark, are all attempts of the mind to superimpose its own limitations onto Consciousness. A ‘blank state’ is the very best conception of Consciousness that the mind can come up with. This conception is the mind’s attempt to assert its dominion over Consciousness and to bring it within its own grasp.
So in order to attempt an understanding of deep sleep from the waking state, which is the only state in which we can examine it, we first have to understand the waking state. It is not possible to have a correct view of deep sleep when we have an erroneous view of the waking state.
It would take too much time here to dismantle the basic presumptions of the waking state which conceives the presence of a separate entity born into and moving around in a separate and outside world, possessing intermittent consciousness, making independent choices and decisions etc. Much of my book, The Transparency Of Things was devoted to this, so we can start here with the conclusions arrived at there, that is, that even in the waking state, all that is truly known is Consciousness and it is known by Consciousness. There is only Consciousness knowing itself.
In other words, even in the waking state Consciousness doesn’t know itself through a mind or a body. It is only the mind (which is itself the shape that Consciousness takes ‘from time to time’) that conceives itself to be a mind, separate from Consciousness, inside a body, which is in turn considered to be inside a world. In the absence and in the presence of this superimposition, our actual experience is only one of Consciousness knowing itself.
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In order to understand the relationship between our view of the waking state and our experience in deep sleep, we can imagine that someone is watching a film on TV. You ask the person what he sees and he replies that he sees people, houses, cars, the street etc. Then you turn off the TV and ask him again what he sees and he simply responds that he sees nothing.
The nothing that he now sees is only in relation to the something that he previously saw.
However, if while the TV is off, you were to point out that he does not in fact see nothing but rather that he sees the screen, he would obviously agree. If you now turn on the film again and ask him if he sees anything other than the screen, he would of course concur.
In this metaphor, the playing of the film is equivalent to the waking state, and the images of the film are the thoughts, sensations and perceptions of the waking state. The turning off of the film is the moment of falling deeply asleep.
The ‘nothing’ that is seen when the film is off, is only in relation to the ‘something’ (something other than the screen) that was seen while the film was playing.
As soon as it is understood that the ‘something’ while the film is playing is in fact only the screen, it becomes immediately obvious that the ‘nothing,’ the blankness, when the film is turned off, is not nothing. It is still the screen.
Likewise, if we consider that objects have a reality that is independent and separate from Consciousness during the waking state, the natural corollary of this belief is the belief that deep sleep is a blank ‘nothingness.’ And just as in the waking state our belief that objects have a separate and independent reality makes it seem as if we actually experience it as such, so this same belief will correspondingly make us feel that we actually experience nothing, a blank void, during deep sleep.
The removal of this ignorance during the waking state changes the way we actually experience the world, in that in the absence of ignorance Consciousness is known to be the sole reality of all experience. Similarly this removal of ignorance has its counterpart in our experience of deep sleep, which is now experienced as the peace of our true nature.
In other words, just as the waking state appears in conformity with our beliefs or understanding, so does deep sleep.
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Another way to consider deep sleep is to consider the gaps between perceptions.
The timeless gaps that are present in between perceptions (and deep sleep, as conceived by the mind, is simply one of these timeless gaps in between two states of dreaming) are only gaps of emptiness lasting for an infinitesimally short period of time, from the point of view of the waking state, in which objects and therefore time are considered absolute realities.
From the point of view of Consciousness (if we can speak of Consciousness having a point of view) it is itself not a timeless gap in between anything. From this point of view, Consciousness is the ever-present Reality and the only Reality. Consciousness is all there is.
From this point of view we could say that Consciousness does not appear momentarily in a timeless gap in between a stream of objects, but rather that objects (time, space and the waking state) appear within the ever-present timelessness of Consciousness and as a result create little pockets of apparent time.
It seems that when the mind makes its appearance, Consciousness then knows something other than itself, and it is this presumption that gives rise to the idea that Consciousness returns to itself in the gaps between perceptions.
But on closer examination Consciousness doesn’t in fact know anything other than itself, even when the mind is present. It is always only knowing and experiencing its own ever-present Reality. From this point of view there are no states. In fact states are only states from the point of view of the waking mind with all its erroneous presumptions about the nature of experience.
In other words, it is impossible to correctly examine deep sleep from the false perspective of the waking state, because it is that very perspective itself that is responsible for the erroneous conception of states in the first place. In other words, how could an illusion examine an illusion of its own making? The perspective of the waking state is the problem, not the solution!
It is the removal of the waking states’ ideas that is the solution to the problem of deep sleep, However, with their removal, the idea of a deep sleep state itself is also removed!
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To understand the relationship of the apparent gaps between perceptions and deep sleep, we can imagine a situation in which one has lost his car keys and urgently needs to find them. The agitation of the mind triggered by this situation veils the peace and happiness that is inherent in Awareness. When he eventually finds the keys the agitation that was motivating the search instantaneously ceases and a wave of happiness or peace floods the body and mind.
It is not the keys that are responsible for the peace and happiness. It is the cessation of the agitation. In fact it is not even the cessation of the agitation. The cessation of the agitation simply allows the underlying peace and happiness that is inherent in Awareness to be experienced. It experiences itself. It is no longer veiled by the agitation of the mind.
The reason for mentioning this here is that this is exactly the process of falling into deep sleep. When the keys are found the mind briefly comes to an end and the peace, which is inherent in our true nature and yet seemingly obscured by the agitated mind, is experienced as a result. In fact we could say that he falls asleep the moment the keys are found. That is, the mind comes to an end.
In fact this process occurs at the end of every thought, sensation or perception, so it could be said that we fall into timeless deep sleep on numerous occasions during the day.
When the mind and body reappear after this momentary dive into our true nature, they are permeated with the peace and happiness of that timeless experience, just as they are when they reappear on waking up in the morning.
This timeless moment which is experienced upon the fulfilment of a desire, in between perceptions or during deep sleep is the same moment. In fact it is not a moment. It is the ever-present timelessness of our true nature, relieved of the superimpositions of mind that make it seem to appear and disappear in time.
Relieved of the superimposition of mind, deep sleep is known as Awareness itself. It is always present. It never comes and goes. It never becomes anything other than itself, even though it takes the shape of the mind that seems to be other than Awareness itself. Taking the shape of mind in this way creates time and space and as a result Awareness is then consigned to a momentary appearance or state in between perceptions.
Once this is understood, it is understood simultaneously that nobody falls asleep or dives into their true nature between perceptions etc. Such formulations as these are given to one who is convinced that he is a separate entity, to point towards a clearer understanding of experience. In reality there is no such one who goes into or comes out of deep sleep.
Rather it is deep sleep itself, not the state of deep sleep that is conceived by the mind, but deep sleep itself, that is in fact the underlying and ever-present reality of experience. This ‘deep sleep’ which is also simply known as Awareness or Consciousness or ‘I,’ is present and knowing itself right now in the knowing of these words.
It is only the appearance of mind that seems to veil this presence of Awareness and as a result splits experience into three states in which it seems that Awareness is an intermittent experience.
So to understand deep sleep, look no further than the true nature of this very moment. Deep sleep is the reality of this and every experience.
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From this understanding, the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep are understood to be superimposed abstractions upon the one ever-present reality of Consciousness knowing and being itself.
So in the problem of deep sleep, we first imagine a state of nothingness that exists in time and then wonder about our experience there. The short answer is, therefore, to cease imagining a state of deep sleep and see what happens to the question. However, in order to cease imagining a deep sleep state, we have first of all to cease imagining a waking and dreaming state.
From the point of view of Consciousness there is no discontinuity in its experience of itself. What would experience such a discontinuity? Consciousness! In other words the experience of discontinuity, if there is such an experience, implies the continuity of Consciousness.
From the point of view of the waking mind in which time seems to be real, the peace that we look forward to on going to sleep and that we remember upon waking, is an acknowledgement of the peace that is present in the non-objective and timeless experience of deep sleep itself. The closest the mind comes to touching this experience is its expectation of happiness and peace prior to sleeping and its subsequent memory of it that colours and pervades our first perceptions upon waking.
The ‘nothingness’ that deep sleep is conceived to be, from the point of view of the waking state, is a subtle superimposition, in its own terms, onto Consciousness’ ever-present and peaceful experience of itself.
Deep sleep is conceived as an absence only from the point of view in which objects are considered to have an absolute reality in their own right. A soon as this reality of objects is understood to be the reality of Consciousness, the ‘nothingness’ of deep sleep gives way and is experienced as the peace of Consciousness knowing and being itself.
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I know the waking and dreaming states, and can see how Awareness is present in each, but I can’t say that I have an experience of any sleep state that does not also include dreams. Are you “aware” of some deep sleep that is not dreaming? This seems important because it seems to be an experience of Awareness that is not associated with body or mind.
In order to conceive of an Awareness that is independent of the body or the mind we first have to conceive a body and a mind that is independent of Awareness. However, there is no such body or mind. How, therefore, can it be proved that Awareness is independent of a non-existent entity?
It only needs to be seen that the body and the mind are non-existent as such. There is only Awareness taking the shape of thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions, and one of the these thoughts is a rogue thought which conceives these thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions as being independent of the Awareness out of which they are in fact made.
In other words even in the presence of the apparent body and mind, Awareness is not knowing itself through the agency of that body and mind. It is knowing itself through, by, in and as itself. That is the only way it knows anything.
Where then is the need to be certain at the level of the mind that Awareness knows itself independent of the body and mind? That very mind itself mistakenly imagines that Awareness is known through the body and the mind in the first place and then poses questions about whether or not it is or can be experienced independent of that body/mind.
That same mind cannot and need not arrive at a new certainty about the nature of Awareness. It only needs to see clearly, not even to get rid of, the false premise of its presumptions about the nature of the body and mind.
I think the essence of my inquiry with you is your sense of being identified with an Awareness that you know to be free and boundless.
It is not so much that there is an ‘I’ that is identified with Awareness that ‘I’ know to be free and boundless, but rather that I, Awareness, know myself in this moment to be the Awareness that is seeing these words and experiencing whatever else is being experienced. In other words it is not that ‘I’ am identified with Awareness but rather that Awareness is not exclusively identified with a bodily sensation or a thought.
Awareness is identified with itself alone. It is itself alone. That is what the word ‘I’ means. ‘I am that I am.’ I am the Awareness that I am.
These words and whatever else is being experienced, that is, thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions, are all intermittent, but I have no experience of the Awareness that I am, coming and going.
It is also my experience that it is the same Awareness that experiences each passing perception. There is not a new Awareness for each perception. And at the same time it experiences itself as the substance of every perception that appears within itself. Awareness is the identity of all things, the reality of all things.
In other words the images on the screen are all fleeting but they all appear on the same ever-present screen. That screen therefore must have a reality that is independent of the images but the reality of the images can only be the screen.
Thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions are all known by the same Awareness and share its reality. It is only a thought that superimposes the limitations of the perceived onto the perceiver and then takes those limitations as a fact of experience.
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So, to prove the independence of Awareness we have to first imagine its dependence on objects. If we cease to image its dependence on objects (by seeing clearly that such a dependence is not our experience) where is the need to prove its independence? The independence of Awareness depends on the belief in its dependence. If we get rid of the belief in its dependence we realise that it is beyond, or rather prior to, either dependence or independence.
In other words it is not necessary to think of Awareness as being free and boundless as soon as we have ceased believing it to be bound and limited.
In fact all that can be truly said is that Consciousness is. Even that is too much because even this statement names and qualifies ‘that which is.’ Statements that Consciousness is unlimited and impersonal are only made as an antidote to the statement that Consciousness is limited and personal. Once such a statement has successfully uprooted the belief that Consciousness is limited and personal, it should also be abandoned, leaving that which is unqualified by anything other than its own knowing presence, to itself.
In other words the burden of proof is with the one who claims that Awareness is limited and personal, not with the one who, as an antidote to this, proposes the unlimited nature of Awareness.
In the absence of the first claim, there is no need for the second claim. There is just the ever-present reality of Awareness being and knowing itself, as the totality of all thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions when the mind is present, and in and as its own peaceful and happy self when the mind is absent.
I think I am stuck on the idea that Awareness somehow arises concurrent with the body/mind and associated with it, as if it were some product of this cluster of energy and will likely dissipate with the dissipation of the body/mind.
Yes, this fear of the disappearance of Awareness (as a result of its being exclusively attached to an object, the body, which will certainly disappear) is the essence of the separate entity.
To be convinced at an intellectual level, or even simply open to the possibility that there is no evidence to suggest that this Awareness is either bound, personal or limited, is just a prerequisite, in most cases, to a deeper exploration of our experience at the level of feelings, that is, at the level of the body, not just the mind.
At this level of exploration all the pseudo locations of Awareness within the body are exposed and as a result their power to delude us into thinking and more importantly feeling that we are a limited, located entity gradually in most cases, dissolves.
This exploration at the level of bodily sensations is an experiential exploration and does not translate very well into the written word. It is best undertaken in the moment, fresh, although some indications can be given.
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If you and I were conversing in the same room, would you say that we share the same Awareness, even though our experiences are quite distinct?
The table and the chair that are present in your room are quite distinct but that doesn’t imply, let alone prove, that they do not share the same space.
Similarly if you and I were conversing in the same room our experience would be that of thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions appearing in Awareness. No thought, image, sensation or perception can see, experience or know another thought, image, sensation or perception. They are seen, known or experienced.
In fact each person’s thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions are entirely private and personal, even when we are sitting next to one another conversing in a room.
And yet there is an unmistakable sense that something is shared. What is that? If all thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions are private, what else could account for our deep sense of communication and sharing? In fact, through what medium could we communicate? What else is there in our experience that is not a thought, image, sensation or perception, that could account for this sense of sharing, communication and friendship?
None of the thoughts, images, sensations or perceptions that appear to us tell us anything about the nature of that which sees, experiences or knows them.
That understanding alone should be enough to leave the question as to whether Awareness is limited or not, completely open. The result cannot by definition be found within the mind, although it may be formulated provisionally from time to time.
So, if the answer to this question is not to be found within the mind where can the answer be found? There must be an answer because Awareness is by definition always experiencing its own nature, so it must be possible to ‘know’ the nature of its own reality.
That thought is very powerful. It means that we are fully equipped at every moment to know the truth of our experience, which means to know the truth about the nature of Awareness. The answer must be ‘knowable’ and yet it must come from beyond the mind.
Peace, happiness and love……are they not beyond the reach of the mind? And, being the most highly prized and sought after experiences, would they not be the highest form in which the answer to our question could come? Look for the answer in that direction.
Most of us have spent so many decades thinking, feeling and acting on the assumption that Awareness is personal and limited, and it has brought us mostly conflict, individually and world-wide, punctuated by moments of respite. Hence our quest.
Having understood that there is no logical or experiential foundation for this belief and that at the same time the answer cannot be found within the mind, try to give the other possibility, the possibility that Awareness is not personal or limited, a chance to show itself to be true or otherwise.
Try with human beings first, then with animals, then with everything. Every time you find yourself conversing or interacting in any way with another person be open to the possibility that the Awareness in them that is hearing, seeing, thinking, feeling etc. is the very same Awareness that is hearing, seeing, thinking, feeling etc. in you. In other words be open to the possibility that that other is you.
Think, feel and act as if this was the case and see what response you get. Be very practical. Try it with the checkout girl, the telephone operator, your partner, your dog, the bus driver. It doesn’t mean we go around hugging everyone! There is an appropriate way for every person and every occasion and we can never second guess what that way is. It is spontaneous but always coming from the same place.
The response that we get from life in terms of peace, happiness and love is the highest prize. We know that for ourselves because they are the qualities we most value and desire.
After all, does it not make sense….even in ordinary parlance, do we not conceive of love as a dissolution of boundaries between our self and another, a moment of opening when the normal separating boundaries are relaxed and we feel one with another?
Could it be that what we call love is the confirmation at the level of feeling, that what we are, Awareness, transcends the limits of the individual personal body and mind? Could it be that love is to our feelings what understanding is to our thoughts - their dissolution in unlimited, impersonal Awareness?
In short, could it that love and friendship are the answer to your question?
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How can Awareness of all these things be boundless when I obviously can’t share your set of experiences? Thus I am left feeling limited and local.
The one that feels limited and local cannot be essentially limited and local, just as the one that feels ill is not essentially ill. The feeling of illness just colours that one from time to time, but doesn’t become its identity.
The fact that you feel limited and local and that that feeling is not always present, proves that you are not limited and local, because you are still present when the feeling is not!
You are not a feeling. You are that in which all feelings appear and out of which all feelings are made. Take your stand as that, knowingly. That is peace and freedom.
Do not make feelings of limitation or locality a problem, and certainly not something to be got rid. They are just to be seen clearly for what they are….feelings! Little ripples of energy, like the sound of the traffic, the sensation of hunger, the blue of the sky, the turmoil of thoughts….all appearing in, pointing towards and celebrating your own welcoming, ever-present openness.
And likewise do not try to replace the belief that Awareness is limited and local with the assertion that it is unlimited and universal. Understand that the mind cannot know either way and remain in that open unknowing.
However the heart can know in its own way. Peace, Love, Happiness and Beauty are the ways that the heart knows.