Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Deep Sleep and turIya

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(Edited from a post to the Alan Watts List March 1996.)

In his dialogue 'The Ending of Fear', Francis Lucille talks about our experience of deep sleep. He says we tend to think of it as a blank. (Indeed I suppose we regard it as one step removed from 'unconsciousness' except that we know that we can be awoken if someone calls our name and therefore there must be something still aware.) The reason for this is that there is no 'objective' knowledge, and this is the only kind of knowledge available to us in the waking state. In order to clarify, he differentiates between the actual condition of being in deep sleep, which he calls 'deep sleep' and our perception of it (attitude/viewpoint) from the waking state, which he calls the 'deep sleep state'.

Clearly we can only actually talk about the 'deep sleep state' - the experience of 'deep sleep' itself is not available, by definition, to the waking person. Thus our attitude that it is a 'blank' or an 'unconscious' state is a view entirely of the waking mind. In fact, claims Lucille, deep sleep is our true nature. It is the same condition as that which exists between thoughts when the mind is still. It is not a 'state' as such but the background to all other states (turIya).

He uses the analogy of faces carved in stone. Our natural tendency is just to see the faces but if we look closely, we see the stone in between. Subsequently, it is possible for us to look at the faces and see that they are stone too. So it is with the three states of which we talk in our waking state viz. waking, dreaming and deep sleep states - these are the faces. Deep sleep (turIya) is that which underlies all of our experience, the 'stone' and, indeed this is all that there is, in fact. This entire analogy is, of course, like the one about mountains:

Initially, mountains are just mountains. Then you embark upon a path towards truth and get embroiled in philosophical circling thoughts and mountains cease to be mountains. Finally you are 'enlightened' and mountains are once again mountains. I had some qualms about this exposition before. In the metaphor of the stone faces, it is clarified. Having 'woken up' we can see the faces (mountain) once again but we now know it to be, in reality, just stone (turIya).

Thus, to recap, deep sleep is the condition underlying all of the other states and, once appreciated, is seen to be, in effect, all there is.

Lucille says:

"The actual experience of deep sleep is turIya, consciousness knowing itself by itself, a timeless non-experience. Once this is recognised, one will also recognise that the actual experience of anything, including any state, is also turIya."

Deep sleep is "the ultimate witness in the absence of any witnessed mentations." I had previously understood that there were four states, viz. waking, dreaming, deep sleep and turIya but Lucille says:

"There is an ambiguity here which originates from the confusion between the levels of illusion (waking, dreaming and sleeping) and the level of reality (turIya). Since illusion and reality never co-exist, there were never four states in the first place, but three (illusory ones), from the vantage point of an illusory personal entity, or one (reality), from the vantage point of consciousness. In reality, there is only one state, turIya.
Everything else is illusion."

As far as the ego is concerned, Lucille says that it arises directly from the basic experience of 'I am', the simple feeling of existence. This experience then gets metamorphosed into the concept 'I am this' (a man, hungry etc.) however and as soon as this happens, duality is created since, if 'I am this' then there is something other about which I must say 'I am not that'. (Whether this requires language or not is another question.)

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