The three states (avastatraya) of Consciousness: Waking, Dream, and Sleep

The three states (avastatraya) of Consciousness: Waking, Dream, and Sleep
This is a most unique feature of analysis is that it takes into account all three states of our existence, avastatraya—waking, dream, and deep sleep. Generally, we tend to take the waking state to be the only true mode of our existence. Any system of thought that fails to account for all three states of consciousness cannot be taken as complete. In order to obtain a complete picture of our existential reality, we need to include evidence from all three states—since we have experiences during all three states. This is a fundamental difference between the Western and Eastern modes of thinking.
Vedanta reemphasizes the ultimate unreality of body/mind complex by invoking the three states of existence. If our body/mind/intellect/ego were real, so to speak, they should remain unchanged in all states of our existence. For anything to be called really real, it has to pass the Vedantic litmus test: It has to exist unchanged in all the three states of existence. We know from our personal experience that our waking body/mind complex no longer exists as such during dream state or deep sleep. In the dream state, for example, we slip into the dimension of a dream body and a dream
mind. And the waking/dream body and waking/dream mind cease to exist in the deep sleep. This is another key point to grasp in understanding our ultimate reality. The dream state furnishes some very important data regarding our essential nature. In the dream state our experiences are ―internal‖ to the mind, as mere ideas or thoughts. Although when we are dreaming they feel every bit as real (and external) as our experiences during the waking state: for the dreamer, the dream state is the waking state! Commenting on the dream state, the waking state, and, finally, the realization of the Self. ―When we wake up, the dream phenomenon disappears, making us realize that everything was in the mind. Similarly when the Atman is realized, this truth, viz., that the whole phenomenal universe was inside the Atman, is recognized.

A word of caution here in approaching our existence as a dream. ―It will be a great error to write that the world is a dream: It is not. The correct statement is: The world is like a dream. It is because both dream and waking are mental constructs. Sri Ramana Maharshi once said that the gist of entire Vedanta is contained in verse # 170 of Sankara‘s masterpiece, Vivekacudamani: In the dream state, even though there is no contact with the external world, the mind alone projects the entire dream-universe of enjoyer etc. Similarly, the waking-state is no different. All this (world of myriad phenomena), is but a projection of the mind.


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