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Consciousness in Deep Sleep, Science and Shastra
Questions & Answers

Consciousness in Deep Sleep, Science and Shastra

man in deep sleep

Question: I have heard that in the Gauḍīya sampradāya, the ātman is conscious as well as aware of itself. In Advaita Vedānta, the ātman is mere consciousness. Can you please explain how the ātman is aware of itself since in deep sleep we are the awareness (consciousness) but still not aware (conscious) of anything?

Answer: The problem with hearing is that you are not sure whether what you have heard is right, partly right, or wrong. When you pose a question, please refer to śāstra. This is my request. Otherwise, it becomes my responsibility to defend what you have heard. Or, it is better that you ask those from whom you hear these things.

Question: I apologize for not giving references. I read it in your short e-book called “The Self and Free Will in Chaitanya Samprayada.” I am quoting it here.

Ātmā possesses consciousness and is self-aware

Ātmā is not mere consciousness. It is an entity that possesses consciousness. It is consciousness itself, and it possesses consciousness. Therefore, it is described as “self-luminous” (svayam-prakāśa). Objects like a table or a book, for example, are not self-illuminating. They need to be illuminated by a light source before they can be seen. A light bulb, however, is self-illuminating, it illuminates itself as well as objects in its vicinity. But a light bulb is not aware of what it illuminates, because it is insentient, inert. Ātmā is not only self-illuminating but also self-aware. Ātmā illuminates itself and the body, and is conscious of the things it illuminates, including itself. For this reason, ātmā is called cid-rūpa, “sentient by nature.” Although self-luminous like a bulb, however, ātmā does not reveal the body to others, but only to itself. This concept of ātmā is in contrast to the notion of Advaita Vedānta, where ātmā is proclaimed to be mere consciousness, rather than possessing consciousness. In that school consciousness is only seen as the nature of ātmā, but not as its attribute.

How are we (the ātmā) self-aware in deep sleep? According to Advaitins, we are just pure awareness, not being aware of anything (in deep sleep). The ātmā is not aware of itself in Advaita Vedanta. How are we self-aware in deep sleep, according to the Gauḍīya sampradāya?

Answer: So your question is only about self-awareness in deep sleep. What about in the wakeful state? Are you not aware of yourself in the wakeful state? Do you need help of someone else to tell you that you exist? Certainly not. 

We are all aware of ourselves in the wakeful state. Therefore, we use the word “I” to refer to ourselves. This sense of “I” belongs to the ātmā. In the conditioned state, we identify with our body and mind, therefore, we also use the word “I” to refer to these. If the ātmā did not have the sense of “I,” it would not be able to identify with the body etc. To identify with something, first you have to have the sense of “I.” Otherwise, who is identifying with whom? This does not need deep philosophical knowledge. If we have the sense of “I” in the wakeful state, it should also be present in the state of deep sleep. There is no reason for it to disappear in deep sleep.

So the ātmā has a sense of “I” in deep sleep also but it is not aware of it because it is disconnected from everything. That is why when one wakes up, one only remembers, “I slept well.” Such remembrance is only possible if one has experienced it. Experience is not possible without the sense of “I.” And the sense of “I” is not possible without consciousness.




Question: Why do our scriptures clash with the pratyakṣa pramāṇa of science? A few things seem similar but a major part of the śāstra is contrary to our direct experience. Can you elaborate on this?

Answer: To which direct experience are you referring specifically? Unless you refer to something specific, how can I answer you?

Question: Can you explain the 8.4 million species mentioned in the Purāṇas?

Answer: Very interesting question. Now can you tell me how it clashes with the pratyakṣa pramāṇa of science? Has science counted the total number of species all over the universe? I am not aware if this. Assuming that that they have done so, please give the number as per the pratyakaṣa pramāna of science.  When śāstra says there are 8.4 million species, you also need to consider if the definition of śāstra for species matches with that of science. My understanding is that they do not match. The word used by śāstra is yoni, which is loosely translated as species. But śastra says there are some 400 000 yoni of human beings. This certainly cannot pertain to “species”. What it really means is body types.

What I am most amazed is that you wrote: “A few things seem similar but a major part of the śāstra is contrary to our direct experience.” And when I asked you to list the contradictions, you came up with just one, and you did not give any proof of the contradiction. 



  • Indira dasi December 11, 2023

    With respect to your knowledge, since sastra does not mention the existence of human or animal clones (artificial biological machines built without a soul and conscience), do we have to deny the existence of them in contrast to the information about them in real life?

    • Babaji December 11, 2023

      No, we do not have to deny them.

  • Vraja Kishor December 11, 2023

    I’m very curious to find more details about what these 400k human types actually are. Could you suggest any information, or where I could begin looking?

    • Babaji December 11, 2023

      I have not read anything on it.
      My guess is that it refers to distinctly recognizable appearances.
      Just as we sometimes can recognize a person belonging to a certain part of country by his accent,
      similarly, we also can recognize people belonging to a certain country by their facial structure.
      So my guess is that among human beings there can be 400k varieties at most.
      There is a Nyaya sutra of Gautama Rishi that says that a jāti (species) is known by its ākrti (shape) – ākṛtir jāti-liṅgākhyā.
      There is a similar statement in Mahābhāṣya of Patañjali.

  • परीक्षित: December 12, 2023

    The part of Rajasthan I live in has a change in accent and tone every few kilometres. Just by listening to a person speak, their local geography can be located. However, this cultural feature is disappearing as more people, especially the young, now learn language watching movies and popular online content. To distinguish what part of the region the young come from is difficult. I deliberately maintain a regional touch in my manners of speaking, as it sounds beautiful, at least to me and those who enjoy the local unique mannerisms. Same is true of my parents, who hail from what now falls in Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh. A distinct touch in speech reflecting their place. 😊

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