This came in from a friend who had seen a question asked in an internet discussion about dreamless sleep. The following has been edited slightly to simplify the point:
The topic of the state of dreamless sleep is a classic one in nonduality and advaita philosophy. Ramana Maharshi always comes back to it, it is central in his teachings–and in Indian philosophy in general. It is really a challenging, crucial and enlightening question. If Consciousness is all, then what about the state of dreamless sleep, when we seem to be totally unconscious?
The actual question was, “How do you know that you were in deep sleep?”
There are various answers, some of which seem better than others. One is discussed in Chap 5 of CIA (free on this site). There, it addresses a similar question, “As Consciousness is All, then why is there is no ‘consciousness’ when one is ‘knocked out’?” In other words, how could a Consciousness that is ALL get knocked out? If It could, It wouldn’t be All.
To put it briefly here, it is because that seeming “consciousness” that gets knocked out is only the finite body-mind or “sense-mind” that gets incapacitated—not Infinite Consciousness. It really is all the finite phenomena, the appearing stuff, that gets “knocked out” not Consciousness. See the chapter for a detailed discussion.
However, upon looking closer at the foregoing answer, it can leave a bit of an implication that Consciousness was present during or for the duration of, this so-called period of being knocked out, or dreamlessly sleeping. It implies there was a time-period of a body being “unconscious” even though it didn’t affect Consciousness Itself.
Is that all there is to it?
There is another answer that really “wipes the slate clean” so to speak—with no chance of equivocation or argument. It is based on taking a stance that at first may seem “radical,” but which in Truth isn’t radical at all. It is a matter of “starting from” or “taking a stance” as the Pure Present-ness that Awareness is (which, to Present Awareness definitely isn’t radical!). After all, this is what this Present Awareness Itself is “doing” or being.
In other words, in dealing with the question, is one identifying with, or as, a would-be body/mind—or as Present Awareness? Depending on where one “starts” or “identifies” will yield very different answers. Again, the point is, where is Present Awareness (the only One aware, alive, right here, now) “starting”? What is true of IT—given that IT is the only One being conscious?
From Here, what then “answers” the question is what is pointed to in the second half of Chap 22, about there being no past, no prior time whatsoever to Present Awareness. The notion that there has been a prior time actually would be just a thought trying to arise in the current moment—that’s all there would be to all of the would-be “past”—just that seeming current thought.
So…the answer is NO, there can’t honestly be any knowing that one was in deep sleep, because to Present Awareness (the only One aware) there has been no past in which to have been asleep! To Present Awareness “sleep” does not occur—and there is no other.
The entire notion that there was a past, a “night before” in which there was sleep, would just be a dream-like thought trying to arise in the current moment—none of it is “back there” in time! And to even entertain that thought, Awareness would have to first ignore Its utter, unchanging Present-ness, which actually is impossible. And again, there is no other being aware.
Admittedly it may seem to take some clarity to accept this “stance”—but—Awareness being the only Self, who needs clarity? Does Awareness have to accept what It changelessly is? Does Awareness need more clarity before It will be the unfailingly Present Awareness It already is?