Posted by: adbhutam | November 17, 2009

The Vedantic Utility of the Dream and Sleep states

Srigurubhyo namaH

The triad of states is the characteristic of samsara.  The states of waking, dream and sleep occur alternating and the jiva-consciousness ‘goes through’ these states.  The Mandukya Upanishad teaches that gaining the knowledge of the Truth, Turiya, Brahman, is the only way one can transcend the triad of states.  In the sadhana involved to gain this knowledge, the Acharyas, based on the scripture, have taught us the method of utilizing the very states of dream and sleep in the waking to benefit from the states rather than becoming victims of the states.

The Dream state:

In the Panchadashi Swami Vidyaranya teaches:

Ch. 7 –  तृप्तिदीपः
स्वप्नेन्द्रजालसदृशं अचिन्त्यरचनात्मकम् ।

दृष्टनष्टं जगत्पश्यन् कथं तत्रानुरज्जति ॥ 170

170. The illumined man knows that the enjoyment of desires is unreal. He therefore controls his desires and prevents impossible or new ones from arising. Why should such a man be subject to misery?

स्वस्स्वप्नापरोक्षेण दृष्ट्वा पश्यन् स्वजागरम् ।

चिन्तयेदप्रमत्तः सन्नुभावनुदिनम् मुहुः ॥ 171

171. One should, when awake, first picture to himself vividly what he has seen in a dream and then carefully and constantly think over the conditions of dreaming and wakefulness.

चिरं तयोः सर्वसाम्यमनुसन्धाय जागरे ।

सत्यत्वबुद्धिं सन्त्यज्य नानुरज्जति पूर्ववत् ॥ 172
172. An aspirant must observe long and find out the essential similarity of the dream and waking worlds. He should then give up the notion of the reality of worldly objects and cease to be attached to them.

इन्द्रजालमिदं द्वैतं अचिन्त्यरचनात्वतः ।

इत्यविस्मरतो हानिः का वा प्रारब्धभोगतः ॥ 173

173. This world of duality is like a magical creation, with its cause incomprehensible. What matters it to the wise man who does not forget this, if the past actions produce their results in him?

As a daily practice one ought to recall to the mind the dream one has experienced and analyze the dream.  Questioning the reality of the objects experienced there in dream one arrives at their unreal nature.  This questioning involves considering how the dream objects and events appeared ‘so real’ but only vanished, ended, when the waking occurred.  They were ‘as real’ as the waking objects and events; their reality was never questioned, doubted, then.  Yet, upon waking, they all ended.  One has to extend this to the waking objects and events too and conclude, based on the scriptural teaching and one’s own analysis, that the waking objects and events are no different from their dream counterparts.  The purpose of this exercise is dual:

1. To determine the unreal nature of the objective world

2. To recognize the unchanging and the only real nature of the observer consciousness, the subject.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3.10 too speaks of the unreality of the dream objects.

// There are no real chariots in that state, nor animals to be yoked  to them, nor roads there, but he creates the chariots, animals  and roads. There are no pleasures in that state, no joys, no rejoicings, but he creates the pleasures, joys and rejoicings.  There are no pools in that state, no reservoirs, no rivers, but he creates the pools, reservoirs and rivers. He indeed is the agent. //

The Mandukya Upanishad too declares the unreality of the dream and waking worlds by term ‘prapanchopashamam’ and specifically negating those two states by the terms: naantaH prajnam, na bahishprajnam… in the crucial seventh mantra that teaches the nature of the Turiya, Brahman, Atman.

The Brahmasutra: 3.1.3 mAyAmAtram tu… also declares the unreality of the dream objects.

Above all, one has one’s own experience of the unreality of the dream objects/events upon waking.  Thus, the Shruti, Sutra and anubhava prove the unreality of duality, dvaita.

Thus, the contemplation of the nature of the dream state is of great importance to a mumukshu.  Its utility being the conviction that the objects seen in the waking too are unreal, being non-different from the dream.  The Gaudapada Karika-s of the second, third and fourth chapters are the authority that a mumukshu ought to resort to. Since the ‘reality of duality’ is born of ignorance, even to a just born animal, and therefore the cause and characteristic of samsara, bondage, misery, the Upanishads and the Acharyas who have followed the Vedic tradition teach the ‘unreality of dvaita’ and redeem the suffering humanity from the misery caused by dvaita.  Fort the sincere spiritual seeker dvaita and duhkha are synonyms.  So also Advaita and sukha are synonyms.  The Veda, especially the Upanishadic portions, are full of teachings directed at establishing the unreality and miserable nature of duality and upheld the non-dual nature of the Atman, the sole reality.  Repeatedly the Upanishads criticize dvaita-darshana and eulogize the advaitic vision.


The Sleep State:

The Upanishad has spoken of the sleep state at length.  This has several purposes –

  1. To reiterate that the objective world does not have a permanent reality
  2. To demonstrate that the subject alone remains as the non-dual reality in the sleep state and therefore in all the states.
  3. To prove that the sleep state, being non-dual, gives the greatest bliss to the subject consciousness.
  4. To prove to the subject-enquirer that bliss is obtained not from objects but on the contrary, in the absence of objects.
  5. To prove that duality is samsara, misery and non-duality is liberation, bliss.
  6. To give to the sAdhaka a  ‘preview’, a foretaste,  of the liberated state.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3.22 alludes to this experience:

अत्र पिताऽपिता भवति, माताऽमाता, लोका अलोका, देवा अदेवा, वेदा अवेदा । अत्र स्तेनोऽस्तेनो भवति, भ्रूणहाऽभ्रूणहा, चाण्डालोऽचाण्डालः, पौल्कसोऽपौल्कसः, श्रमणोऽश्रमणः, तापसोऽतापसः, अनन्वागतं पुण्येन अनन्वागतं पापेन, तीर्णो हि तदा सर्वाञ्छोकान्हृदयस्य भवति ।

[In this state a father is no father, a mother no mother, ……gods no gods, the Vedas no Vedas.  In this state a thief is no thief, the killer of a noble brahmaNa no killer, …a monk no monk, a hermit no hermit..This form of his is untouched by good work and untouched by evil work, for he is then beyond all the woes of his intellect.]

The above shows that the non-dual state experienced in deep sleep is a semblance of the realized state for the Upanishad explicitly states that the jiva in this state is untouched by good work and untouched by evil work.  The transcendence of punya and paapa, good and evil acts and their results, is indeed liberation. The Upanishad calls this state: ‘samprasada’, a blissful one.

How to put the sleep state to practical use?

In the foregoing it was shown how the dream state could be put to practical use as taught in the Panchadashi of Sri Vidyaranya.  In the sequel is shown the method of utilizing the sleep state for sadhana.

In the Vivekachudamani, Shankaracharya says:

एकात्मके परे तत्त्वे भेदवार्ता कथं भवेत् ।

सुषुप्तौ सुखमात्रायां भेदः केनावलोकितः ॥ 404

How can the talk of diversity, dvaita,  apply to the Supreme Reality which is one and homogeneous, Advaita? Who has ever observed diversity, dvaita, in the unmixed bliss of the state of profound sleep?

Commenting on the above verse, citing many a vedic passage, Sri Chandrashkehara Bharati SwaminaH, the 34th Jagadguru of Sringeri, teaches the method of utilizing the sleep state for sadhana:

यदि कश्चित् जाग्रत्पुरुषः सुषुप्ति-स्थितं चिन्तयन् मनसा अज्ञानं विविञ्च्यात्, तदा अन्तःकरणवृत्तेरेव अज्ञानभञ्जकत्वात्, तदीयं मनः निष्प्रपञ्च-ब्रह्माकारं जातमेवेति तस्या एवावस्थायाः ज्ञानावस्थात्वात्, तदा केवलं अखण्डब्रह्मैव मनसावाप्तमिति सिद्धं समीहितमिति श्रुतेरभिप्रायः। विक्षेपाभावस्य उभयत्र समत्वात्, आवरण-सत्त्व-असत्त्वाभ्यामेव सुषुप्ति-समाध्योर्भेदात् ।  अत एव ह्युक्तं ’निद्रा समाधिस्थिति’ इति । इदं वचनं जाग्रता पुरुषेण सुखमयी सुषुप्तिः चिरं चिन्त्यते चेत् तस्य समाधिः भवति इत्यभिप्रायेणैव ।

The purport of the above is:  If a waking person deeply contemplates on the sleep-state discriminating the ignorance with the mind, then the mental-vRtti itself destroys ignorance and the mind takes on the form of Brahman itself.  This state is itself realization and in that state the all-pervading Brahman Itself is ‘attained’ by the mind. This is the intended meaning of the Shruti.  While the absence of duality, vikshepa, is common in the states of sleep and samaadhi, the presence and absence of the aavarana, deluding power, makes the difference between sleep and samAdhi.  Sri Shankaracharya in His ‘Shiva mAnasa pUja’ stotram says the devotee considers his daily sleep itself to be a practice of samaadhi:  निद्रा समाधिः स्थितिः.  The intent of Shankaracharya is this: a waking person contemplating deeply on the sleep experienced by him will culminate in the samAdhi experience.  And Self-knowledge will ensue in this samAdhi.


The Upanishads and the Acharyas have thus taken up the very features of samsara for a deep examination and shown how even these can turn out to be the means to redeem one from samsara.  It is the very glory of Maya to display a samsara constituted by the triad of states and place within them the secret method of coming out of samsara.  The Vishnusahasranama has a couple of names: भयकृद् भयनाशनः – He creates fear and He destroys fear. The Lord says in the Bhagavadgita 7.14:

दैवी ह्येषा गुणमयी मम माया दुरत्यया ।

मामेव ये प्रपद्यन्ते मायामेतां तरन्ति ते ॥

14. Since this divine Maya of Mine which is constituted by the gunas is difficult to cross over, (therefore) those who take refuge in Me alone cross over this Maya.

Sri Shankaracharya comments:

Hi, since; esa, this, aforesaid; daivi, divine; Maya mama, of Mine, of God, of Visnu, which (Maya) is My own; and which is guna-mayi, constituted by the gunas; is duratyaya, difficult to cross over; therefore, this being so, ye, those who; wholeheartedly prapadyante, take refuge; mam eva, in Me alone, in Me who am the Master of Maya and who am their own Self, by giving up all forms of rites and duties; te, they; taranti, cross over; etam, this; mayam, Maya, which deludes all beings. That is to say, they become freed from the bondage of the world.

When the aspirant develops devotion to the Lord by shifting his devotion to the world, the very Maya, the Power of the Lord that creates bondage will open ways and means to redeem one from bondage.  This is called the Grace of the Lord.  The Grace operates through the medium of Maya, His redeeming power.  Thus Maya has two faces: the binding one and the redeeming one.

  • Dream experience is used in the waking to establish the unreality of the waking world.
  • The reality of the observer is confirmed by considering the passing nature of the dream and the waking states but the abiding nature of the observing consciousness that is able to recall the dream as well as the waking states.  Thus the states keep changing but the observer remains ever unchanding.
  • The sleep state is used in the waking to understand the blissful nature of oneself where the total absence of the world which we consider ‘so real’ is experienced first-hand.  The bliss that does not depend on the world is experienced.
  • Thus both dream and sleep confirm the unreality of the world of duality, dvaita, and the only reality of the observer Consciousness, the Brahman/Atman, the Advaita.
  • Sleep analysis proves that dvaita is misery, duhkha, and advaita is bliss, sukha.
  • All human endeavour is to acquire bliss and avoid misery.  The Vedantic method of enquiry into the dream and sleep states shows that one is bliss naturally and the dualistic misery is never there for him.  This discovery is called liberation.


A very rich resource for the study of the unreality of the dvaita prapancha and the sole reality of the Advaita Atma is the Mandukya Upanishad with the Kaarikaa-s of Sri Gaudapadacharya and the commentary of Sri Shankaracharya.  The English translation by Swami Gambhirananda is published by the Advaita Ashrama, (Sri Ramakrishna Mission), Kolkata and is available world-wide.

Also see this article:  The World is anitya, but is it mithyaa? :


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