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The Real Purpose of the Three-States Teaching
Mauro: I do have a question about Self-inquiry.
Advaita Vedanta is teaching about the three states: waking state, dream state and deep sleep. I am only conscious in two of these states. I see a dream jiva in a dream world playing out some vasanas. And these vasanas are present in the waking state while I experience a waking-state jiva. But I do not experience deep sleep. How is that possible? And is this necessary for enlightenment? I am confused by this, because if I am consciousness, I should be conscious in three states, right?
I hope you can help me with these questions. Thanks and have a nice weekend.
Sundari: Hello, Mauro, I have added a simplified teaching on the three states, which clearly you have not understood. To further assist you, please let me know if you have followed our instructions on the contact page of ShiningWorld explaining the requirements for Self-inquiry. I would like to know what your sadhana consists of.
Mauro: And what’s the benefit of rooting out those vasanas? Is that only a benefit for the jiva you play in the waking state?
Sundari: If you have been reading the scripture correctly and undertaking Self-inquiry properly, you would know that moksa – which is freedom from dependence on objects for happiness – can only take place if the doer has been negated and the binding vasanas rendered non-binding. This applies to the jiva in the waking state, obviously. The dream doer is simply the vasanas outpicturing themselves in the dream state, explained in-depth below. How free can you be if you are pulled by the nose of your fears and desires, your likes and dislikes?
The Three-States Teaching
The main import of the three states teaching, also called the avastha-traya prakriya (a prakriya is a proof or method of inquiry employed by the scriptures to elucidate the Self), is an analysis of the three states of experience available to everyone: waking, dreaming and deep sleep. The main aim is to establish that the true nature of the Self by revealing through a logical process of inquiry the relationship between the jiva (the individual), Isvara (the creative power) and awareness. By removing all the inconstant variables, or incidental attributes of the jiva and the three states, we are left with the unassailable truth that the Self, atman, is free of all attributes and states and is the one and only invariable constant. consciousness can never be negated, but everything else can. It is ever-present and unchanging, the non-experiencing witness of all the objects that appear in it, such as the jiva and the three states it exists in. The ability to discriminate consciousness from experience at all times is called moksa, freedom from the illusion of duality.
Jiva manifests as three “little” jivas according to the state that it experiences:
1. As viswa, the waking-state entity. In this state its mind is totally extroverted. It is hypnotized by duality. It chases and consumes experiences. Viswa appears in two forms: (a) free of identification with objects (a jivanmukta) or (b) as a doer (karta), or “person,” identified with objects (a samsari). Both a jivanmukta, a liberated person, and a samsari, a bound person, have a common identity as awareness.
2. As taijasa, the “shining one,” awareness with a subtle body, illumining the dream state. In the dream state the subtle body is turned inward facing the causal body, the vasanas. The experiences the dreamer has are just experiences of the vasanas. Jiva is not present in the dream state in the same way that it is present in the waking state. In the waking state, jiva identifies with the doer, so the doer is not seen as an object. It is thought to be the subject. In the dream state, there is also identification but the doer/ego can also appear as an object illumined by taijasa, awareness reflected on the subtle body. For instance, in the dream, you can see the waker going about its business, walking, talking, eating, etc. The doer/ego is a dream doer/ego similar in some respects to viswa but with unique powers. These powers are inherent in the dream state and do not belong to taijasa although in normal dreams it identifies with them. The doer-ego and the events appearing in the dream are just waking state events that have become vasanas that outpicture as dream events.
3. As the sleeper, prajna, in the deep sleep state. Prajna means “almost enlightened.” It is almost enlightened because it experiences the limitlessness and bliss of awareness but lacks knowledge of what it is experiencing because the intellect is not present in deep sleep – that is why we the deep sleep state is called blissful. Consciousness identified with the causal body is called prajna, or consciousness operating as the jiva, experiencing the macrocosmic causal body, i.e. the deep-sleeper. Prajna refers to awareness experiencing its own nature, or bliss, i.e. the absence of objects, because all vasanas are dormant in deep sleep, so there is no mental activity. The only objects present in deep sleep are ignorance and nothing, which are experienced and known through inference when the deep-sleeper wakes up. We use the three-states teaching to elucidate that the jiva is not real because it is not always present and it is always changing. The waker disappears and becomes a dreamer; the dreamer disappears and becomes a deep-sleeper; the deep-sleeper disappears and becomes a dreamer or waker – etc. The only constant is the knower of all three states: consciousness.
Dreamless sleep is known as the bliss sheath: ananda-maya-kosha. In moments when there seems to be no doer/experiencer, there must have been a witness who knows the joy/bliss. If not, how would the jiva, or deep-sleeper, know joy/bliss was there in the first place? How can the jiva say that it did not know anything while it was asleep unless awareness was there to witness the absence of knowledge? Therefore the deep-sleeper cannot be the lack of knowledge, or ignorance, the experiencing entity. Deep sleep is called experiential bliss because it ends as all experiences do. The bliss one is after if one is seeking moksa is the bliss of Self-knowledge, which never ends (anantum), because it is one’s true nature.
The subtle body disappears in deep sleep state as does the microcosmic causal body (personal subconscious). The personal subconscious belongs to the jiva and produces the jiva’s karma. The deep-sleep state is defined as “a state with no mental activity.” It is the same for everyone because the personal subconscious is subsumed into Isvara, the macrocosmic causal body. The macrocosmic causal body, another name for Isvara, is the deep-sleep state. Deep sleep is the presence of tamoguna alone. Rajas and sattva are dormant. There is no sense of individuality (ahamkara) in this state, because the subtle body of the individual is not there to be conditioned. The ahamkara belongs to the subtle body, therefore the deep-sleeper is called “almost enlightened.” There is a subtle vritti, called prajna, in deep sleep that makes it the experience of bliss possible.
Although the nature of both the jiva and Isvara is awareness, both the jiva and Isvara are inconstant factors with reference to awareness. Jiva is inconstant because it changes from state to state and because Self-knowledge removes the notion that it is a limited entity, revealing its nature to be pure awareness. Isvara in the role of Creator is inconstant because logic and scripture – which is just science – informs us that it disappears at the end of the Creation cycle; whatever is created will be destroyed.
The dream state has two aspects: waking dream and sleep dream. It is called the pratibasika state, the subjective state of reality. It is jiva’s creation (sristi). It is an individual jiva’s interpretation of reality. In the dream state (whether the jiva is awake or asleep), vasanas influence how reality is interpreted by the jiva. Isvara provides the raw material for the interpretation, but not the interpretation itself. Ultimately it is all Isvara, but to get to that understanding (which is tantamount to moksa) the jiva must understand its oneness with Isvara and its difference from Isvara so that it can be free of both itself and Isvara.
Lucid dreaming is a condition that sometimes happens in the dream state when jiva is one with paramatma and the individual jiva is either absent or appears in the dream as an object. The light illumining the dream is paramatma, pure awareness, reflecting on the subtle body. Moksa is dismissing appearances as “not-Self” and fully embracing one’s identity as awareness, the knower of what appears and the constant or invariable factor in all three states.
Mauro: Thanks, Sundari, for this helpful answer. I now realize that I identified with the subtle body.
I am trying to write down a complete story of what has been happening over the last couple of years (sorry for my terrible English).
I went to psychotherapy for years, and suddenly in a session I realized that I was not my thoughts and that everything was conditions I picked up during life. After that I started meditation and then came in touch with Neo-Advaita. I have been reading many books and have been watching a lot of YouTube content. I instantly knew that this was what I was looking for. After a while I have been reading the Dutch books of Swami Dayananda and also came in touch with James and “his” teachings. I have watched his YouTube workshop in Westerwald many times and also ordered the Panchadasi series and The Yoga of the Three Energies. I also have read The Essence of Enlightenment and still have his book Inquiry into Existence: The Lamp of Knowledge.
After a while, I realized that because I wasn’t getting it, I wasn’t prepared. So I developed a sattvic lifestyle, meaning I got rid of destructive relationships, destructive habits (like playing poker, going to festivals or bars and using alcohol and drugs), eating healthy and doing yoga. My life is very peaceful and quiet, and the mind is pretty still most of the times.
The last couple of weeks I started with some meditation where I focus my attention on my breath and repeat sentences like “I am not the mind, I am not the body,” or, “I am whole and complete.” Suddenly I started to dream lucid by accident during the night, and since then I am reading a book about lucid dreaming and the benefits of it by recognizing vasanas. While I came out of a dream, which I was fully aware of, I was wondering why I couldn’t experience the deep-sleep state. My doubt is that if I am awareness I should be able to be aware in all the three states. I don’t experience bliss and a witness of bliss in the deep-sleep state. I only experience dreaming and waking, and because of the changing bodies and worlds, I do know they exist but are not real. But my doubt is that if I am the witness of those three states, why can’t I experience the deep-sleep state?
I think I make the mistake of identifying with the subtle body, so I can never experience myself, because I am myself. Whatever I experience I am not it, since it is changing and not constantly present and there is some distance. So the impersonal observing which takes place in the dream state and waking state is still not me, because I am still aware of that? Do I understand it correctly now?
Sundari: Yes, you have reasoned correctly. Awareness is not an object of experience, because it is the subject, that which without which no experience can take place, but which does not itself experience anything. If it did, it would have to mean that there is something other than awareness, which is not possible, because this is a non-dual reality. The subject always knows the object (experience), but the object can never know the subject. The subject never “becomes” the object.
You are only ever experiencing awareness regardless of what state the mind (subtle body) is in. Thus inference is a valid means of knowledge because even though you do not remember anything from deep sleep (because it is defined by the absence of objects, i.e. thoughts) you can infer that consciousness was there witnessing the absence of thoughts in deep sleep. If it was not, the jiva would be dead.
Next time you have a doubt like this one, ask yourself: who is talking here? Is it the jiva identified with the body-mind? Is it the jiva who knows about awareness (indirect knowledge) or is it the jiva who knows IT IS AWARENESS, and knows what that means, i.e. has direct knowledge?
Self-inquiry always involves discriminating between satya (that which is always present and never changes) and mithya (that which is not always present and always changing). Deep sleep is an object known to you, awareness – it is mithya. You never sleep, dream or wake but are always present, never conditioning to anything. Moksa is understanding this, honouring the jiva for what it is (a construct), free of the doer and binding vasanas, and living as the Self, always.
Thank you for sharing your story and your sadhana – and congratulations for understanding that purifying the mind in preparation for Self-inquiry requires bringing your life in line with the teachings. If the qualifications for Self-inquiry are not all present or not strongly developed, assimilation will not take place. Many inquirers do not understand how important it is to clean up their lifestyle. Good for you, keep up the good work!
~ Love, Sundari