Waking state, the dream state, and the deep sleep state are the three states of experiences. Of these, the waking state is objective reality. It is Isvara-srsti or the projection of the Lord. The dream state is subjective reality. It is jiva-srsti or the projection of the individual.
Waking represents a higher degree of reality than the dream. There is continuity in the state of wakefulness, while there is no continuity in the state of dream. The waking world of yesterday continues to be there today, but the dream of yesterday will not be the dream of today. In its own time, however, the dream appears real. It appears to be real as long as it continues and is known to be unreal only when one wakes up. If we were aware of this apparent reality while in the dream state, we may relate to it differently, but are not aware at that time that the dream world is unreal. As a result, we unfortunately experience the same kind of pleasure and pain in dream as we experience while awake.
What is a dream? It is a projection. How do we say that? Because it is negated; when we wake up in the morning the entire world of the dream is negated or falsified. Therefore, we know that the dream is a projection. But the waking state is also not substantially different from the dream state. You may say that the world around you today is the same as it was yesterday, and, therefore, this wakeful state is not a dream or a projection. But you could just as well be saying something similar in your dream! As far as the dreamer is concerned he seems to experience the same kind of continuity in the dream, as we say we do in our wakeful state. Therefore, it points to a possibility that what we call wakefulness could also be a dream. By dream, we mean something that can be negated, something that, resolves into a higher reality. Negation means the resolving of a lower reality into a higher reality. The dream state is a lower order of reality, which resolves into the waking state, the higher order of reality. But then, the fact that the experiences of the waking state follow a pattern similar to those of the dream state shows that it may be possible for the waking state to resolve into yet another higher level reality.
The waking state is the most important, because it is the state in which we can learn and grow. However, the other two states, of dream and deep sleep, are also important because they reveal something about us.
The dream state becomes an excellent example for illustrating mithya or the unreal Mithya means that which depends upon something else for its existence. Nobody has any problem in understanding that the dream state is mithya. Each one of us has had the experience of waking up and recognizing that the dream was mithya. The duality of subject and object, which we experience in the dream state, is also dismissed as an aspect of mithya. Hence, it stands to reason that any state in which there is an experience of the duality of subject and object is mithya’. We experience the fact of subject-object duality in the waking state. Hence, the waking must be just as mithya as the dream state. In this manner, the dream state helps us to understand the reality of the wakeful state as ‘ also being mithya. For this reason, the dream state is a very important experience. It also shows us how a lower reality gets resolved into a higher reality.
The deep sleep state is also important. After that experience, we feel well rested upon awakening. We say that we slept happily and were not aware of anything. This is a common experience, which goes to establish that there is an experience of well-being or happiness in the deep sleep state. It shows us what our true nature could possibly be. If there is an experience of happiness in the deep-sleep state, where does that happiness come from? What is the desire that is satisfied in deep sleep? What is the object of enjoyment that one has in deep sleep? None at all; the deep-sleep state marks the absence of all conventional, recognized sources of happiness. However, even though there is no means of happiness in the deep sleep state, it is clear that there is happiness during deep sleep. Where does the happiness come from? The only one who is present in that state is the sleeper. From this, we infer that the happiness experienced during deep sleep must be his very nature! Therefore, the experience of deep sleep shows us the possibility of happiness being our nature. It also tells us that, to experience happiness, we should either be in deep sleep or create a condition similar to deep sleep.
How is it that we are happy during deep sleep? It is because we do not experience any subject-object duality or distinction in that state; there are no likes and dislikes, and no worries and anxieties. How is it that there are no worries and anxieties in the state of deep sleep? This is because the personality of the worrier, the person who gets anxious, is not present in that state.
What is the reason that we generally do not experience happiness in the waking state? The reason is that, while awake, we generally have some worry, anxiety, insecurity, fear, sorrow, sadness, grief etc. These afflictions are like a cloud that veil the sun of happiness. For the sun to shine through cloud-cover, we don’t have to do anything to the sun. All that is required is for the clouds veiling the sun to move away. Similarly, to be happy, all we need to do is to remove the cloud of unhappiness, characterized by fear, anxiety, sorrow etc.
Where does unhappiness come from? It comes from our sense of individuality, the ahamkara or ego. This ego, which is the source of unhappiness, is absent in the state of deep sleep. What is there when unhappiness is absent?
It is happiness alone. Unhappiness clouds happiness, and when this cloud of unhappiness is removed, what remains is unalloyed happiness. We experience happiness during deep sleep, because the tremendous burden of the ego, which obstructs the experience of happiness in the waking and the dream states, is not present at that time. This heavy burden is dropped in the deep-sleep state and we are, therefore, totally relieved.
Thus, the deep sleep state gives us an indication of our true nature.
What is the ego? The ego is atma, the Self, identified with an upddhi, the body-mind-sense complex. What is atma? Atma the ego minus all identification With the body-mind-sense complex. If we consciously become free from identification with the body-mind-sense complex, we will be able to own up to the happiness or ananda that is our very nature; ananda becomes evident only when the ego, which obstructs, it, is given up. This happens effortlessly or naturally in the deep-sleep state. Therefore, we should consciously and deliberately negate the ego, even in the waking state. This is the अवस्थात्रय-विवेक avasthatraya-viveka (three-state discrimination) that Vedanta teaches.
Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati