Published: 22 July 2009 | Written by Swami Veda Bharati
Why do we sleep?
The great Shankacharya says that everyone is ananda. Being of bliss. You know these three words that we often use? Sat Chit Ananda. I’m sure everyone has heard those words. Sat chit ananda, sat chit ananda. Sat the being, the very being. Chit, awareness, awareness of being, consciousness of being or just the force called consciousness. And ananda, purnam, completeness, bliss, totality of bliss. All the pleasures of the world are little sparks of that fire of ananda. All the pleasures of the world are just drops of the ocean of ananda, and every drop is trying to experience what it feels like to be the whole ocean. Every drop that is you and I, every drop is trying to feel, trying to see what it would be like to be the whole ocean of that joy and bliss.
We think that by increasing our worldly pleasure we will have that perfect joy, but that never happens. No matter how much worldly pleasure you have, whether of the body or of the mind or of the possessions, no matter, it’s never enough. It’s never satisfactory. So there must be some other way that each one of us, the drops of the ocean of joy, can experience what it feels like to be the ocean of that ananda. Each one of us sparks is longing to feel what it feels like to be the universal fire, but we do not succeed. The well known principle in all the spiritual philosophies is that, until you calm your outward opening senses, the inner ananda will not be yours.
So we have been given a state of ananda called sleep. This is not the Yoga Sutras definition of sleep. This is the Vedanta definition of sleep. The sleep is our effort to experience the ananda that we are.
The Yoga Sutras say that sleep is not an unconscious state. I have written about it in my commentary on the Sutras. Sleep is not an unconscious state. If sleep was an unconscious state, says the great sage Vyasa, how would we wake up and say, I slept so beautifully. I slept so comfortably. How do we remember if we were unconscious?
The closest that we get to that ananda in which everything reaches the state of laya, dissolution, we have in this sleep, and that is why the word Shiva, the Lord of dissolution, the Lord of laya, the word is derived from the verb root shi to sleep.
Well then, our task is easy. Everybody go to sleep and stay asleep and we are in perfect bliss and if you wake up just put a sleeping pill in the mouth and put your head on the pillow and the pillow will take care of Brahmananda.
What is all this talk about samadhi? The difference is that in sleep we are not aware that we are in ananda. In samadhi we are aware that we are in ananda, and that is the difference.
In the Bhagavad Gita, repeatedly Krishna calls Arjuna Gudaakesha, the master of sleep. Most people think that it is probably because Arjuna sleeps so little. That is not the real reason. The real reason is that the turiya, the fourth state, the ananda state, the samadhi state does not come until we have mastered the three lower states of jagarat, swapna, and shushpti, of wakefulness, dream, and sleep.
Aum represents jagarat, swapna and shushpti, wakefulness, dream and sleep. Although in other traditions, it has other meanings which are equally valid. For example, in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition the word Aum speaks of the devotee, the sadhaka, merging his mind, speech and body into the mind, speech and body of the Buddha, and that is the meaning of the word Aum in Mahayana Buddhism. And in the Jain tradition, it’s a different meaning.
So, now let me explain one point here. A question is raised in Vedanta. If Brahman is nirguna, has no qualifications, then why is that Brahman being the qualifications of sat, chit and ananda. If he is nirguna, no qualifications and no conditions, then why are we calling it sat, chit and ananda? That becomes a qualification. The great Shankacharya answers that these are not qualifications of Brahman. He uses the term swalakshana, the words themselves denote the very being. Not that God has existence, not that God has consciousness, not that God has bliss. If we said God has existence, God has consciousness, God has bliss, then we would be giving God qualifications; that God is blissful. But the word is not anandatita, blissful. The word is ananda, bliss, God is the bliss. These are not qualifications or qualities. These are its swalakashanas. The term is swalakshana, swa – lakashana. Swa in Sanskrit means one’s own. Something one’s own. Something that oneself is. Lakshana, something that defines the being.
The three words sat, chit, ananda, they simply express the being of Brahman, not qualities of Brahman. Sat is Brahman, chit is Brahman, ananda is Brahman. Brahman is sat. Brahman is chit. Brahman is ananda. Not that Brahman has sat, has chit, has ananda. So this is not a guna; it is not a guni sambhanda. It is not a relationship between the qualifier and the qualified. It is the very statement of its very being. It simply is.
In sleep the levels of mind which fall asleep are not aware of that ananda though they are in ananda. When one has mastered the three states of jagarat, swapna and shushpti, then one is qualified for the turiya. One is an adikaran, one is ready for that next step. What Krishna is saying to Arjuna is: Arjuna, you have mastered sleep.
If somebody says you are now are at mile ten, that means you are finished with mile one, mile two, mile three, mile four. He doesn’t have to keep saying you’ve finished mile one, mile two, mile three and mile nine, and mile ten. He says you have finished mile ten. So he doesn’t have to keep saying you who have mastered wakefulness and you who have mastered dream. He just says you who have mastered the sleep state.
Now that you have mastered the sleep state, now that you have understood all its secrets, now that you have entered the conscious sleep which is the mastery of sleep state, now that you have reached the state of yoga nidra, now, Arjuna, you are ready for the virat rupa darshan. You are now ready for the universal view of consciousness. Until then you were not ready, but now that you have mastered that, you are now ready, I consider you qualified. I consider you a qualified student, a qualified sadhaka. I will therefore show you what the next step is in the experience of universal consciousness.
So in a way, we can say that to be initiated into samadhi, one has to master the sleep state, and the mastery of sleep state means mastering yoga nidra.
Now here let me explain one thing very clearly. There are books and there are cassettes and CDs by various swamis including this one which purport to teach yoga nidra. They are not yoga nidra cassettes. They are presented as yoga nidra cassettes, but they are not yoga nidra cassettes. Those are exercises preparatory to yoga nidra. In Swami Rama’s book Path of Fire and Light, Vol. 2 [note: the original 1988 printing], there is a chapter titled “Yoga Nidra” in which he has given all very detailed steps. Take five breaths up to this point. Take ten breaths up to this point, and so on and so on and do this lying on the left and do it lying on the right and if you read it carefully, those who are teaching the philosophy of Swami Rama, there are only two lines on yoga nidra proper at the end, and those lines don’t define, they just indicate. Yoga nidra itself cannot be taught by a cassette. That you have to go in. So whatever is in that chapter is also preparation. Preparing a person for being able to be taught yoga nidra.
When do we know that we have mastered technique? The state of consciousness to which a technique is meant to lead you, when you go into that state of consciousness without the technique, then you have mastered the technique, that state of consciousness. A lot of times our ego comes and says I have mastered it. A lot of times. There are a lot of masters nowadays, and it’s easy to become a master in this Kali Yuga. A little taste and they think they are now masters. Though once again, the state of consciousness which a particular technique is capable of giving to you gives you the taste of that, then you no longer need the technique. You can go into that state of consciousness instantly and never need that technique again. Then you have mastered the technique. That is the definition of mastery.
So how long, how much time will you take every time doing a relaxation and doing sixty one points, blue star exercise, and so many breathings from the head to the toes and from the head to the ankles and head to the, come on, get in there, go right there? Make you house on the next hill. Don’t keep climbing up and down, up and down, and up and down. When you have made your house on that hill, you don’t need to keep climbing up and down and then live there. Live in that consciousness, live in that awareness. Then the ups and downs of the valleys below that house no longer matter to you. It was very laborious to climb all those valleys of sorrows and little pleasures, and expectations, and disappointments, and I can’t sleep, and I had a deep sleep that now I’m not getting. You don’t have to keep doing these zigzags. Build your house on the next hill. When you build your house on the next hill, then you climb the next hill, come down, climb the next hill, come down. Climb up, climb down, slowly, slowly, slowly then you abandon this house, and you now build a house on the next hill until you start living among the Gods on the top of the Mount Meru. Do you know Mount Meru? Have you seen?
So very simply, if you really need to define yoga nidra, these processes are not yoga nidra.
There is a cave in the heart, the interior cave of the heart. For some practices that guha, that cave, is entered and filled with light, becomes a jyotir guha, cave of light, as we have done many times in our Shivaratri meditations and other heart center meditations. Sometimes it is filled with sound, because it is the anahata, the place of the un-struck sound. There are two centers of sound, of nada in mediation. There are two centers. One is the Anahata chakra, the cave of the heart, the center of the un-struck sound. The other is what we call Brahmar guha, the cave of the bees. The yogis call it the cave of the bees, which is in the right hemisphere of the brain. In modern brain research also, the center of music in human beings is in the right hemisphere. That is why we give the mantra in the right ear.
Now if you try to enter the cave of the heart just like this sitting, you will not manage. You try to enter the cave of the bees just like that, you will not manage. You will sit there, you will imagine. There’re people who read books. From books they try to start concentrating on the center between the eyebrows, or they start imagining the right hemisphere of the brain. They are pathways, they are channels through the energy channels.
I have not mentioned the throat as a center of sound, because here we are talking of the anahata nada, un-struck sound. Sound has the four levels, the para, pashanti, madhyma, vikari. So this is only vikari, the spoken sound; the spoken sound in the Indian philosophy of grammar is called vikari, which simply means the sound that is perhaps of a donkey, donkey sound. Vikari means possibly a donkey sound. There is no difference between the braying of a donkey and by mouth praying of a human being. They are all vikari sound. So when we speak of these centers of sound we don’t speak of the throat. The concentration on sound. Sometimes people sit and they, I’ve seen people sitting in yoga classes and concentrating, articulating Aum, listening. Better to do, rather than not to do. Nothing to do with Aum. Aum that can be sounded is not Aum. Aum that can be sounded is not Aum. Aum, coming back.
We have pathways to go into these caves, special nadis. You take the mind through those. Then you can enter. If you are on the outside of the city, you cannot enter the city center just by sitting there and imagining it. You have to know the road. Those who are trying to do this without the road map and without a guide don’t manage it well.
The center of mastering dreams is the throat center, but again if you lie down there and concentrate on the throat center, it will not happen. You have to know the way to go to that throat center. There are channels. It is all part of Shri Vidya.
The center of the mastery of sleep is in the heart cave, but there are caves within caves within caves. The Mandala Brahmana Upanishad speaks of five akashas, five spaces one after the other, one inside the other. Spaces within spaces, within spaces, within spaces, and the light and the sound at each one of these levels of spaces differs.
Do you know what our problem is? Do you know why we are not making progress? If we are not making progress, it is because we have no ambition. That’s why we don’t make progress. When you have ambition, you work for it. Then you do what needs to be done. Then you abandon something and you sacrifice something. But you have no ambition to want to get there, to devote your time and effort for that purpose.
I appreciate it and I am happy when you come for ten days of silence and I welcome you, but ten days of silence is not going to make you a master. When you see a swami who has been silent for eighteen years, you will see the light of silence.
When you are entering the cave of the heart and you are seeing a light, that will not take you to yoga nidra. If you are hearing a sound, that will not take you to yoga nidra. If the yoga nidra cave is within the same space, then there are many different caves; otherwise, when you open it, there is no cave. A medical student will say, “What nonsense are you talking. What cave? Where is the light burning, where is the drum beating?”
So you have to know that you go into the right cave right in the same space, and that cave is absolutely silent and absolutely dark. Darkness so thick you cannot cut it with a knife. That is the one into which all senses dissolve. Remember then that yoga nidra and laya, dissolution of the universe, are very closely linked. When there is no thought, no light, no sound, no stir, no movement, then you are there. It feels as though that darkness is breathing. Then in that absolute stillness you are not unconscious, you are conscious of being there. You are not unconscious the way people are unconscious in sleep. You are conscious in that cave, and you are observing the fact of being there without any words, without any sound, without any light, without any movement, without any memory, without any samskaras arising; then it is yoga nidra.
Then out of that laya state you can create a whole universe. You can write poetry, you can write an epic, you can have the vision of any subject in a flash.
Poor children, students memorize, memorize, memorize. What is the meaning of forgetting? Nothing is ever forgotten. Nothing is ever forgotten. The mind remembers that it has a memory that you had winked your eye, and that memory remains and becomes a samskara. Even when the brain stops functioning, the samskara in the mind remains. That samskara goes into the next life. Nothing is ever forgotten. It is a matter of bringing it up. The problem is not in memorizing. The problem is in recall, in what you call information retrieval. Finding in which program it is filed and going in there and bringing up the file. But if you have got ten thousand files open and you want to open then thousand and one file, now how much effort do you have to make on the computer? The computer says there is no more space now. Shut some, close some files, then you can reach the file you want.
That is yoga nidra. Close the files. You cannot even write the last sentence I have spoken absolutely correctly because you have so many files open in the brain. So shut those files. That is called yoga nidra.
Then you open in that state of yoga nidra, you open the file you want. You lie down and you say, ok, where’s my Spanish file or where is my Italian file, where is my Sanskrit file, where is my English file. Do you think beliefs have to adopt themselves? Do you think beliefs have to adopt themselves to the present of the sentence I read? I can repeat that sentence tomorrow, day after, exactly as it is, because when I was reading it, my mind was not divided into all the other places, and I can do that in Spanish and I can do that in Italian or in Portuguese or Sanskrit. When you read, the best time is when you are really sleepy; you convert that sleep into yoga nidra, and then the imprint will go and will be clear.
The question is asked that when we take on, take in the imprints of all the samskaras, all the activities that we do, they leave imprints on us, right? How to stop them forming samskaras?
If this cup is full, I can’t put any more water in it. If in your mind you already have something else starting with your mantra moving onto higher states of consciousness and awareness, then the yogi has to wash the previous samskaras, but forms no further samskaras.
So don’t worry about how to stop the samskaras. Don’t worry about how to stop the thoughts arising in the mind, in the meditation; don’t worry about that. Don’t worry about the thoughts arising in the mind. The extraneous thoughts. Only make that one thought arise that you want. When only that keeps arising, then there is no space for other thoughts. That is why we say no break between the breaths, because in that tiny gap millions of thoughts enter.
How to forget some unpleasant experience? Every time you remember it, it becomes stronger. You keep putting the same stamp exactly at the same spot again and again; how strong that imprint will be. So why do you keep doing that? Put some other imprint, some other stamp. And if you said ok, mantra, mantra, mantra. Keep putting that stamp again and again so you can remember nothing else.
My Gurudev said that Tulsidas, the author of that Tulsi Ramayan, which is the most popular, wrote the most popular religious text in the whole of north India, the Ramayan Tulsidasa in the Awadhi language, and everybody reads it. Mothers recite. No matter how a person is quoting, no matter how much effort you make, you cannot reach the end of that Rama. So no matter which language people speak, the most popular Ramayana is this one written in Awadhi in the sixteenth century. Mothers who cannot read and write, they teach chapters while they are cradling the baby.
In India, religion is taught by mothers, not in the Sunday school. In America and Europe, people have Sunday schools. That’s where their children go for learning religion. In India, they learn in their mother’s lap, and mothers recite the texts without reading as the way their mother recited and the way their mother recited and the way their mother recited.
How many Italians can recite one canto of Dante? Take out one beautiful canto of “El Paradiso” on the light. It can elevate children’s consciousness. The love that moves the sun and all the other stars, why can’t you recite that to your children? Why do they have to sit down and analyze the poetry in university classes? You who are the daughter of your son, Dante speaks to Maria, to Mother Mary, you who are the daughter of your son. Such depth in every language.
This text, Tulsidasa Ramayana, has sixteen thousand verses. My Master said that in the entire Tulsidas Ramayana, sixteen thousand verses, he said there are only seven, I don’t remember, seven or nine or eleven or five verses in which the sound ra and ma does not come. There is hardly any verse in which the sound ra or ma, which was the personal mantra of Tulsidas, does not come. They are verses that are learned at the mother’s knees, but the point is that the imprint of the word Ram in his mind was such that in all sixteen thousand verses there are hardly any that do not have either the sound ra or the sound ma.
That was also with Gandhi. This country got its independence under Gandhi’s Ram Nam. People don’t realize that. The whole country sang. I remember the times when thousands of volunteers would go to get arrested, would go singing this. The whole country of three hundred and fifty million sang this Ishwara Allah Tere Naam. Ishwara and Allah are thy names. That was a little modification on the original from the Ramayana. It was a leper yogi who gave the Ram mantra to Gandhi, and Gandhi fought the battle of independence by reciting that Ram mantra and taught the whole nation. If I was shot, I would say ahh. When he was shot, He Ram!, He Ram!, then he fell. That’s the power of mantra.
When I am teaching in the eastern countries like Taiwan and Korea, people don’t ask me what is the meaning of my manta. They ask me is: will this mantra then go with me in death? That’s what they ask. They don’t ask for the meaning because it’s a blessing, it’s a gift. “It’s a divine gift I have received. It doesn’t matter what it means, but will it go with me to the next shore?” That’s the question they ask. There are some things I greatly respect in the American and European cultures, in the western culture. When I pray for someone’s wellbeing who is in hospital, when I do it for the Americans and Europeans, it’s so much different. You have to keep doing and keep doing and keep doing. It takes so long to bring a result. And when I do it for the Chinese or the Koreans, it happens within the hour. They are open. Their minds are not locked by the idea of “me, me, me.” Even now.
This is the answer to the question about samskara.
The beauty of space is that within one space there can be other levels of spaces which I have been speaking about as to the cave of light, cave of sound and so forth. The deepest is the cave samadhi.
So practice, but first learn. Between now and next year, just master five breaths in which you do not have any break between the breaths anytime you sit down and start counting your breaths. Then it’s mastery. Then come back in the next year for the next lesson.
The question has been asked, “How do I feel when there are two or three students here who really have this ecstasy in their meditation already, and they say, ‘we sit down and we feel now we are doing it right. It happens very nicely and we were successful in the meditation but one can be fooling oneself. How do we know that we are not fooling ourselves?’” When you sit and meditate in front of the Guru, he will detect your signs and he will tell. There are ways of detecting those signs, but enjoy what you have. If you had a beautiful meditation, don’t let it become a point of ego – “Now I am such a great meditator, now I am the universal teacher, now let me call the nearest advertising agency and declare myself the master.” Stay away from that.
When you succeed with five breaths without a break, then try for seven. When you can take twelve breaths without a break, you will already begin to touch the first rungs of samadhi. It’s only twelve breaths away. I assure you of that.
The question is asked how is it that the breath stops. I said the breath stops, because we all have a bad habit of dying. Keep dying every time. Every time we are given a body, we go die. Is that a good habit? What is death? It’s a long pause between two breaths that reflects in our breathing. You want to stop the long pause, stop the short pause.
Understand the physicality of the breath, the energy content of the breath and the mind content of the breath. The physical content of the breath which is the physical breathing process, the pranic content of the breath which is the flow of pranic energy in the breath, and the mental content of the breath which is the thought that moves the breath.
That which does not see with the eyes wherewith one sees the eyes know that to be Brahman, and not this that you are all worshiping. That which does not breathe by the breath. That by which the prana is impelled and is moved so that mental content of the mind says to the breath, ok, move. Only then breath moves. The mind is switched off, the breath stops.
So to merge the breath in the space element, when it becomes as invisible as space, the pause that occurs at that state that is mastery of death. There are cases where the yogi is waiting for his favorite disciple to arrive, and the favorite disciple has not arrived. He says he will arrive tomorrow morning, and the yogi who had announced that he was going to leave his body in the evening says, “I’ll wait till tomorrow morning.”
A Yoga Nidra Exercise
This should be done lying down. Switch off the lights.
Relax the way you have learned to relax all parts of the body. Just check every part starting from the forehead in the sequence of the anatomy. Every muscle and every joint. As you relax, your breath relaxes. It automatically lengthens and becomes deeper. When you have relaxed completely, bring your attention to your breathing. Breathe gently, slowly, smoothly.
I’m taking you through a very short version.
Observe the gentle rise and fall of the stomach and the navel area. Observe how that area gently relaxes as you inhale. How it slightly shrinks as you exhale. In this practice, no mantra, no thought, only the feel of the breath flow.
Now feel as though you are inhaling from the crown of your head. Feel as though you are exhaling from your navel . No mantra, no thought, only the feeling of a flow as you exhale from the navel going upward again inhale from the crown.
Now inhale from the crown and exhale as though you are exhaling from the heart center. No mantra, no thought, only the feeling of the flow.
Now inhale as though you are inhaling from the crown and you are exhaling from the throat center. As though you are inhaling from the Brahma-randhra and exhaling from the Vishuddha chakra.
Inhale as though you are inhaling from the crown, as though you are exhaling from the center between the eyebrows.
Now inhale as though from the crown, exhale as though from the throat center.
Inhale from the crown and exhale from the heart center. No mantra, no thought, only a feeling of the flow.
Now feel as though you are inhaling and exhaling both from the heart center. No break between the breaths.
Now when you breathe in, go into a dark cave. Let the breath continue as though from the heart center. It is the cave that is breathing. Your primary focus is in being in that cave. The consciousness is in the darkness of the heart cave. Total rest. No thought, only a feeling of being in the cave.
Slowly come out of the cave and come to your normal awareness of breath.
Gently open your eyes.
Turn on the lights. Feel rested? Five minutes in the cave, rest.
I use that for my cardiac condition. One who practices this before leaving the bed cannot suffer from constipation; he will have to run straight to the bathroom. It’s a total rest, heart, intestine, digestion. People don’t know this yoga nidra practice. This beginning level can help with the heart condition, with the lung condition, with digestive, intestinal, colon, everything. Five minutes two or three times a day, wonderful.
(This is from a lecture on “Yoga Nidra Refined Silence” given by Swami Veda Bharati in Rishikesh, India, in 2004.)