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Three states of consciousness, death, and liberation || Acharya Prashant, on Raman Maharshi (2019)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
13 min
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Questioner: Ramana Maharshi says, “There is no difference between the dream and the waking state except that the dream is short and the waking state is long.” Further at another place he says, “Just before waking up from sleep there is a very brief state free from thought. That should be made permanent.” What does Ramana Maharshi mean here? Are these two states of dream and waking the same or different? What is this brief state between dreaming and being awake, and how to make that brief state permanent in daily life?

Acharya Prashant: If you are someone who is identified with fragmented consciousness, then the two states are indeed different, as they are to most people. Most people, when they see a waking man, will immediately know the difference between the waking man and the sleeping man. Nobody would say that the waking man is in the same state of consciousness as the sleeping or the dreaming man, correct? So, most people indeed see a clear difference between waking and dreaming.

It’s almost like being inside a house. When you are inside a house, you clearly see the difference between being in one room and being in another room of the same house, correct? You say, “This fellow is in the drawing room, and that fellow is in the bedroom.” So, there is a difference, because you yourself are contained in the house.

Now, shift the frame of reference; consider someone who is standing outside the house. To the fellow who is standing outside the house, the only possible distinction is: are you in the house or outside the house? The house has three rooms and a lawn. The ones who remain confined within the house are surely going to be found either in one of the rooms or in the lawn. You cannot be found simultaneously in two rooms, or can you? If you are within the house, you will be found in one of the three rooms or in the lawn. That’s the situation of the normal mortal being. He is either awake, or dreaming, or sleeping without dreaming—these are the three rooms—or he is dead—that is the lawn. All this happens within the boundaries of the house.

So, there are these three states of what you call as life, and then there is a fourth thing called death, which again happens within the boundaries. And because this man never manages to break free of the house, because this man never manages to leap out of the boundaries, so all that he ever knows is the three rooms and the lawn. If you ever ask him, “Where are you?” he will say either the bedroom, or the drawing room, or the study; or if he is gone, then he would be found in the lawn, buried.

When alive, you are found in one of the three rooms. When gone, you are found in the lawn. But even death does not liberate you from the boundaries. Both life and death of the ordinary, the common being are within the four walls of this house. As long as you are alive, you will be found sauntering between these three places, sometimes here, sometimes there, and when you are gone, you are in the lawn—still not liberated.

Then there are those who stand in the free space outside all boundaries. To them this four-fold distinction holds no good. They do not understand what is this distinction about the three states and death and all that. They know only one distinction: are you in or are you out? They do not even know what is going on inside the house; they do not bother. They stand outside. To the one inside there are four distinctions. To the one outside there are only two things: are you in or are you out? If you are in, it doesn’t matter whether you are in the lawn or in the pantry—if you are in, you are in.

So, the saint who stands outside—somebody like Ramana Maharshi—does not really distinguish between the waking state, which is the drawing room, and the sleeping state, which is the bedroom. He says, “How does it matter whether you are waking or dreaming? Whether you are waking or whether you are dreaming, the fact is you are still in bondage; you are within the four boundaries.”

Now you will know why the word ‘waking’ is used so differently by the worldly man and the saint. When the worldly man says, “Wake up! Wake up!” what he means is, “It’s 7 a.m.! Get up and go and earn your bread! And drop Nunnu to school!” That is the meaning conveyed by ‘wake up’ when exclaimed by a worldly man, right?

All of you have sometimes, or often, or very regularly been told to wake up. “Wake up! Wake up!” All that this person wants to say to you is, “Come on, get up and move from the bedroom to the drawing room.” This fellow does not want to say, “Come on, get up and move out of the four walls.” That’s what the word ‘wake up’ means in worldly parlance: move from one room to the other. When the saint tells you, “Wake up!” what does he mean? “Come on. If the gates do not open, break through the wall. Wake up!”

Therefore, the word ‘awakening’ has very different meanings when used by a saint and when used by a commoner. When a saint says, “Awaken and arise,” he doesn’t mean that you should now come over to the drawing room all decked up. You know what he means. He says, “Come on, pole vault! Outside! And if the walls do not allow you to break free, then you break your head against the walls. But under no conditions must you accept to remain confined. Wake up! These three rooms and that lawn should not become your destiny. You do not belong here.”

Now, you tell me, are the two states of consciousness, which is the waking state and the dreaming state, the same or different? Seen from the point of view of the worldly man, they are different. Seen from the point of view of the saint, they are the same. The saint will say, “You know, son, when you are dreaming, you are dreaming, and when you say that you are awake, you are still dreaming. So, to me it makes no difference whether you are in sleep or awake, no difference at all. You just keep on moving from one dream to the other. Sometimes you dream with your eyes closed, at other times you dream with your eyes open, but never have you ceased dreaming. You dream all the time. You dream for a hundred years, and then the dream does not end—then you start dreaming that you have died. Even your death is a dream. Your entire life was a dream spent in three compartments, and then comes another dream called death which is spent in the fourth compartment called the lawn. Even death does not end your dream; death is just a continuation of the dream.”

And that is why India said that death will not liberate you. Death does not mean liberation at all. That which was within the four walls will continue to remain within the four walls even after your death. Is the lawn outside the walls? It is not. So, how will death liberate you? So, wake up!

That which happens to us every morning, this perfunctory, biological movement of the eyelids, is a very comical and utterly false indicator of awakening. Just because these little muscles over here start twitching, that does not mean that you have woken up, or does it? Tell me, please. Is awakening such a cheap thing that you can achieve it merely by the ringing of an alarm bell? An alarm bell rings and you are awakened—can that happen?

So, surely that which we call as the waking state of consciousness is just an extension of the dream state of consciousness; it is not different at all. It is utterly ignorant and arrogant of us to call the dream in the night as dream and the stuff in the daytime as real. The stuff in the daytime is as much of dream stuff as the stuff in the night. There is a dream in the night, and then there is a dream in the day. All this that you see is the dream in the daytime—just dream, nothing else.

So, this is the palace of dreams. What is life? Palace of dreams. What is life and death? A grand palace of dreams!

And that is why the common man attaches so much importance to his dreams. “You are my dream man!” “This is my dream world!” “You are my dream girl!” Without knowing, he is being honest. Actually, he can be honest only when he does not know that he is being honest. So, the dream girl is really that—a dream girl. She does not exist at all!

Is freedom from dreams possible? Obviously. If there is someone who is talking of dreams, it means he has woken up. And there have been the ones who have been able to look at the three rooms and the lawn from a distance. So, freedom from dreams is indeed possible. There is life outside the four walls, provided you choose it, provided you pay the price for it.

Then, “What is this brief state between dreaming and being awake, and how to make that brief state permanent in daily life?”

The way the questioner is posing this query, it appears as if there is a little space between the drawing room and the bedroom, and that little space is outside the four walls. Is it possible? But that’s the way the words of saints have been miscomprehended, that between dreaming and waking up there comes an interval of about two minutes when you are neither in the dreaming state or the sleeping state nor in the waking state, and hence you must be in some other state. If you are neither in the bedroom nor in the drawing room, does that mean you are outside the house? No, you are just at the juncture, at the threshold; that’s all.

But these things have been very often said. They are meaningless. You do not so easily get to taste freedom. Freedom is not so cheap that you can taste it merely, as we said, by the ringing of an alarm bell. “The alarm bell rang, and there was a brief period of a few seconds when I was neither asleep nor awake, so surely I must have been in turīya (the fourth).” This is nonsensical. It doesn’t happen that way.

What Ramana Maharshi really means to say is, the house might be very, very confined, but there is no house that can exist without a foundation, and there is no house that can exist outside of space. So, even if the house is as barricaded and as closed as a penitentiary, still it has glimpses of freedom to offer you. Even if you are in a jail, you still do get to look at the sky, don’t you? No wall is ever high enough to hide the sky from you, and no structure can ever enclose you so completely that you do not even have a window or a crevice or some kind of a little opening from which to look at the sky or space; some fault line would always be there. Why? Because the world is imperfect. If the world is imperfect, then can the world become a perfect prison? Ah! Therein lies your hope. Because everything in the world is imperfect, so even the prison that the world is, is an imperfect prison. So, there surely would be some little openings, some little glimpses that would be available to you. Use them. Let them be your inspiration. Let them remind you of something.

There would be occasions when you would not know what state of consciousness you are in. You have been through that experience again and again; you know that experience, right? There are times in your life when something entirely new happens to you, something which has never been in your experience before. Those are the glimpses, those are the little cracks in the wall. Through them you get some little idea of what it means to be free. Those moments are precious, those encounters are precious. Stick to them and let them really motivate you.

And that’s the real meaning of the word ‘motivation’. Freedom has to be the only motive. Therefore, all motivation must pertain only to freedom. If you say you are motivated, it must mean that your motivation points towards liberation. Otherwise, you are just abusing the word ‘motivation’. Let those little intervals be your motivation. That’s what Ramana Maharshi really means.

In those moments, would you call yourself awake? No. Would you call yourself asleep? No. Would you call yourself dreaming? No. And it does happen to many of you often. You are sitting with your eyes open, but you ask me, “Acharya Ji, that which is happening right now, is it a dream?” It is because you cannot be certain where you are right now; it is neither a dream nor the normal waking state. Within the house itself, you have been demonstrated that which is not within the house.

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