Tom: In the following quotes Sri Ramana Maharshi gives us a teaching on the correct relationship between Deep Sleep & Self-Realisation or Jnana:
Questioner: Sushupti [deep sleep] is often characterised as the state of ignorance.
Sri Ramana Maharshi: No, it is the pure state. There is full awareness in it [deep sleep] and total ignorance in the waking state. It is said to be ajnana [ignorance] only in relation to the false jnana prevalent in jagrat [the waking state].
Really speaking jagrat [the waking state] is ajnana [ignorance] and sushupti [the sleep state] prajnana [wisdom]. If sushupti is not the real state where does the intense peace come from to the sleeper?
It is everybody’s experience that nothing in jagrat can compare with the bliss and well-being derived from deep sleep, when the mind and the senses are absent. What does it all mean? It means that bliss comes only from inside ourselves and that it is most intense when we are free from thoughts and perceptions, which create the world and the body, that is, when we are in our pure being, which is Brahman, the Self. In other words, the being alone is bliss and the mental superimpositions are ignorance and, therefore, the cause of misery. That is why samadhi is also described as sushupti in jagrat [sleep in the waking state]; the blissful pure being which prevails in deep sleep is experienced in jagrat, when the mind and the senses are fully alert but inactive.
~ Guru Ramana, pp. 112-13
Tom: Here are some verses from Sri Ramana Maharshi taken from Guru Vachaka Kovai that make similar points, namely that deep sleep is not actually ignorance at all but actually the Self. It is only our belief that the waking state is Reality (and that we are the body-mind) that makes us feel that Deep Sleep is a state of total ignorance. It is actually Pure Knowedge:
Having experienced fully the great bliss of the sublime state of sleep where no other object exists, it is sheer ignorance not to value that state and to regard it as one’s salvation, but instead to desire something else, imagining it to be one’s defence against the misery one experiences.
The ignorance of forgetfulness which makes you say that the waking state is a state of illumination makes you [also] declare that sleep is a sheath [kosa] of ignorance. If the belief that the waking state is the illustrious and unique state of truth goes, then sleep will become, and shine as, pure non-duality.
Only in an intellect that has developed a desire for the waking state will the eminent state of deep sleep, which is all bliss, be classified as a state of ignorance: ‘I did not know anything during sleep.’ By failing to enquire into and realise the true experience that exists and shines in the same way forever, one becomes deluded and thinks, ‘I am the one who woke up’. If that powerful sheath of the intellect, the ignorance that is experienced in the waking state, is destroyed by the sword of vichara [that leads to the knowledge] ‘I am not the one who woke up’, then the eminent state of sleep will shine, remaining as pure bliss, its ignorance destroyed.
Tom: We see the same teaching in Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi. The following is from talk number 314:
Again, sleep is said to be ajnana [ignorance]. That is only in relation to the wrong jnana prevalent in the wakeful state. The waking state is really ajnana [ignorance] and the sleep state is prajnana [full knowledge].
Tom: Here Bhagavan Ramana explains that the waking and dream states are mere projections of the minds habitual tendencies (vasanas), and when these are removed, only Deep Sleep remains, and this Deep Sleep is nothing but the Self (here called Turiya, the ‘forth’ state.):
If the beginningless, impure vasanas that remain as the cause for waking and dream leave and perish, the state of sleep [previously perceived as] void-like and dull, and which led us into a state of ignorance and suffering, will become the transcendent state of turiya.
Tom: What about if we fall asleep during Self-Inquiry, what then? Bhagavan Ramana reassures us as follows:
If the illumination that is awareness of your being exists so firmly that it remains unshaken until sleep overpowers you, then there will be no need to feel jaded and disheartened, lamenting, ‘Oh, the forgetfulness of nescient sleep has come and unsettled me!’
Tom: Note that the word nescience in the above verse is just a synonym for ignorance, the root meanings of the words being the same, ie. not-knowing. Ignorance negates the Greek word ‘gnosis’, which means knowledge, and nescience negates the Latin word ‘scientia’ which also means knowledge.
The above verses allow us to more fully understand the somewhat cryptic but important verse in the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2, verse 69. It also reveals to us the depth of knowledge present in the Bhagavad Gita:
What all [ignorant] beings consider as night, is the day for the wise,
And what all [ignorant] beings see as day, is the night for the sage.
Tom: We can see that the above verse from the Bhagavad Gita is saying that most people consider deep sleep as being total darkness and ignorance, whilst the Sage considers this to be Knowledge, ie The Self. Conversely, what most people consider to be the ‘waking state’ is actually considered by the Sage to be a state of pure ignorance and delusion.
The waking state is considered by most to be a state in which we know things (other objects) and in which we ‘live our life’ as a human being – this is the meaning of ‘day’ for most people. The sage considers this ‘day time’ or ‘waking state to be pure illusion and delusion, or ‘maya’.
Because most people identify as being the body-mind in the waking state, and because most people consider the waking state to be a worthy state in which we experience ‘real life’ and gain ‘worthy life-experiences’, they therefore consider deep dreamless sleep as being a dull dark state full of ignorance. However the sage, who has lost the ego-identification as body-mind, sees Deep Dreamless Sleep only as the Pure Self in which there is only Perfect Love-Being-Bliss devoid of space, time, creation, body, mind, thoughts and concepts.
This same teaching that Bhagavan Ramana has made so clear to us above is also given in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, see here for details