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What Are the Four States of Consciousness? C


onsciousness is not a mere metaphysical concern of little practical relevance to us. It is the source and ground of our every experience in life. India’s sages knew that each day for us is a journey through consciousness, and they spoke


of four states (avastha chatushtaya): waking, dreaming, deep sleep (technically called Non-REM sleep), and a fourth state beyond. We are ordinarily concerned only with the waking state and its demands, but dream and deep sleep also have their value, identity and experi- ences. These two subtle states have a profound impact on us, from health to spirituality, and should not be ignored.


1. The Waking State, Jagrat Avastha We do not dwell in a uniform state of consciousness throughout the day. The nature of our consciousness changes radically through the states of waking, dream and deep sleep. The waking state shows us a R R õ ô S õ


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for us. If we are not in control of our mind, the dream state can easily degenerate into bad dreams, nightmares or connections with lower astral worlds of turbulence, violence, desire, anger and hatred. Without control of our emotions, our dream reality will remain agitated.


3. Deep Sleep, Sushupti Avastha Deep sleep draws us into a realm of unmanifest con- sciousness in which everything is obscured and brought back to its seed form. Deep sleep is easy to overlook but functions as the source and support of the states of waking and dreaming, without which they could not function. It is the ultimate state of rest and renewal that we look forward to when we go to sleep. In deep sleep there is a mergence into the heart in


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and can be experienced objectively by each of us. Yet, our waking ex- perience has many variations relative to our thoughts, emotions and attention span, from moments of clarity to periods of distraction and õ


tions, uncertainties and is ultimately transient.


2. Dreaming, Svapna Avastha The dream state provides an inner, imaginative consciousness that is dramatic and colorful, changes rapidly and is subjective in nature. In dreams we create our own personal reality, with its own sense of time and space, but with seemingly little lasting effect on our outer lives. Ordinarily we take the dream world to be unreal, as compared to the reality we give to the waking world. Yet, dreams and astral experienc- es have their own beauty and fascination. Most of us look upon the dream state as simply a condition in


which our memories and subconscious patterns reverberate and ex- press themselves. Often these patterns are meaningless, but we do at times have meaningful dreams. Sometimes we have inspiring dreams that enrich our waking life. Or we may have disturbed dreams that make us fear the dream state. Examining the dream state, psycho- U3 3 ^ õ3


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state. Its explorations are limited to the subconscious and unconscious states of awareness, with little understanding of the deeper layers of consciousness that lie beyond. Overall, we often live in fantasy, which means dreaming even in ô S


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exploring the realms of imagination and dream a fascinating pastime. Today technology is providing us with “virtual reality” and “augment- ed reality,” which are much like dream projections in the waking state. Soon people may prefer this virtual reality, which is somewhere be- Sôô S


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but with a stronger connection to physical reality than the dream state. Such miracles of technology are now bordering on the occult. Yoga teaches that there is an entire dream world and we have a


dream self with its own existence and identity. This is our astral body, in which our soul resides after our death experience. While we also abide in the astral body all the time, most people are aware in it U 3


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throughout life. Many such inwardly aware beings become artists, mystics, occultists and psychics. While in the waking state, we work with an objective world born of


collective karma. In the dream state, we work with a subjective world born of our own thoughts and imaginations. This poses a dilemma


38 hinduism today april/may/june, 2017 -


which we all feel peace, rest and gain renewal. We are not aware of ourselves in this state, but only hold its es- sence, or rasa. We awaken feeling we have slept well. Deep sleep is the blissful sleep in which we naturally experience happiness in our inmost sheath, anandama- ya kosha, which also gives us access to the thought- based, or savikalpa, samadhis. The root of our human incarnation dwells in the state


of deep sleep, in which we return to the divine source of our being, though unknowingly. In deep sleep we 5


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energy and awareness get cleansed and vitalized for an- other day. But our experience in deep sleep is covered over by the deep ignorance and forgetfulness of maya, the illusion of the world. We hardly notice our sojourn in deep sleep unless


we fail to sleep properly, in which case tiredness and fatigue can dominate all else that we do. In the absence of proper deep sleep, the mind and prana, along with the doshas, or biological humors—starting with vata dosha, the core physiological motivating force—become imbalanced, causing a progressive breakdown in our or- ganic functioning. Deep sleep balances our pranas and grounds us in our deeper vitality (what is called ojas in ayurvedic thought), without which our energy remains erratic and depleted. Without deep sleep, our immunity, endurance and patience collapse, leading ultimately to collapse of body and mind. In Vedantic thought, deep sleep is understood as the mula-avidya,


or “root ignorance,” behind our lives. It presents the primary barrier to any higher consciousness. It is a kind of darkness or unknowing that conceals the greater reality of universal consciousness within us. Yet, it is also the main potential doorway to the liberation of conscious- ness, if we learn to examine it, understand and move beyond it. Deep sleep is our natural samadhi or unity state, but it is born of ôK ! 3


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qualities of peace and happiness, in which the mind can become re- newed. Cultivating samadhi in meditation is a means of moving be- hind and beyond deep sleep. Until we learn to move beyond deep sleep through a deeper aware-


ness, we will remain bound by karma, desire, birth and death. We will live in the shadow of darkness and unreality, which is our inability to see beyond the darkness of deep sleep into the inner light of truth. Deep sleep is not just a biological phenomenon; it is a spiritual limita- tion. It is the core mystery of our lives. Unless we learn to awaken from this primordial darkness, we will not know our true, cosmic reality.


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