I would like to begin our inquiry into the awakening process with some universally recognized experiences which we observe daily in our lives and in the lives of others, including the lives of our pets and even of unwelcome visitors in our homes, such as roaches and mice. All of us appear to cycle through three different states of consciousness during any given day, states that we have labeled waking, dream and deep sleep. There can be other states of consciousness that we can experience, such as the higher states of samadhi achieved by yogis and spiritual adepts, but these are relatively rare. For now let us focus on the three common states everyone experiences. I would like to propose that we need to redefine how we view these states, in order to more closely align our conceptual understanding with the truth of our being.
Let us start by considering this present state that we are now in. We call it the waking state and we consider it to be the principal state by which we define ourselves. This is the familiar state of consciousness in which we communicate through the physical body, its mind and its senses. But, to call this the waking state is a lie, for in doing so, we delude ourselves into perpetuating a fiction that we are in truth individual beings, conscious of what is happening around us and within us, and that the perceived separation between us and everything else is real.
From now on, I suggest that we might more accurately think of this so-called waking state as the sleep state. It is the state in which the familiar serial dream of life in the world is playing on the screen of consciousness. In this state, consciousness has not only become impure but, apparently, it is also unaware of itself as consciousness. It seems to have become unconscious. To avoid confusion with our previous use of the term waking and sleep, let us refer to this state as the serial dream. This state can, of course, be active at any time of day or night, but it is most commonly associated with our day-time consciousness, and for clarity I will sometimes refer to it as the day-time serial dream. Here the pure screen of consciousness is covered by the drama of our serial adventures as individuals, which we experience daily. We consider this to be real and view it as our normal conscious state; but it is not real and it is not our natural state at all.
Also daily, whether they be human beings or animals, most living beings go through a change of consciousness which we call going to sleep. But calling it that is still more of the lie. Here we do not fall asleep. In this familiar state of fading out from our serial dream, which usually happens, at least for us humans, when we go to bed at night, turn out the lights, and close our eyes, we are really coming out of sleep. We are beginning to awaken, or so it seems. First, we usually experience the night-time dream, in which we take on a new persona, a new body, immersed in a new world, with a new perceived reality and new perceptions of time and space. While it is happening, it appears to be just as self consistent and just as believable as our serial dream of the daytime. But this night-time dream is not of a serial nature; it is usually a one time affair, generally having some vague relationships to the forms, emotional and psychic agendas of the day-time serial dream.
In this ephemeral night-time dream, time and space as we know them in the serial dream, seem to be warped. Sometimes, a number of story lines appear to be happening simultaneously and sometimes the mind seems to run riot, what the Course in Miracles calls ‘having a perceptual temper tantrum’. Unlike the seemingly endless string of connected dreams making up the day time serial dream, with an ongoing story line that continues 365 days a year for all the years of a given life, the night-time dream is usually a one-time happening, like a movie you see once or perhaps a number of times, but not day after day. There being no reinforcement coming from the serial nature of a repetitive reality, the level of absorption by the consciousness is lessened. The obscuring clouds are not quite so thick and we might say it is more like an afternoon shower than a prolonged season of ongoing weather. It usually passes quickly and is soon forgotten; but while it is remembered in the serial dream, it is clearly seen for what it is, merely a dream, not reality.
Like the day-time serial dream, the much more transitory night-time dream is just another form of impure unconsciousness, but with the veiling power of the clouds of illusion appearing less thick; the light of consciousness occasionally seems to shine through. For instance, it is not uncommon even as the dream is proceeding, to have the experience that one is dreaming and has the power to influence and change the events and outcomes in the dream, what we call lucid dreaming. It is also not too uncommon, at least for spiritual aspirants, to experience their spiritual master entering their dreams to provide teachings and life directions, or for the dream story line to unfold in a particularly poignant way that provides deep spiritual insight into the serial adventures of our day-time dream. So, this process which we normally call falling asleep and having a dream appears to be more like a step in waking up from all dreaming.
I say appears because the night-time dream does not lead to final awakening from all dreams. It is merely a representation of the awakening process, a metaphor which demonstrates the power of the mind and the I-thought with which it identifies, to make a world. In our dreams there will always be the personal pronoun I and the subjective dream character associated with it, and there will be a world of separate objects and individuals which might be called you, he, she, they, it. The latter are all dependent on the individual I, which is really just a thought, namely, the I-thought. In the dream, this I-thought always comes first.
As soon as the I-thought appears, it hides the substratum of pure consciousness and projects on to it a story which centers on itself, a self that may be clothed in a different persona from the familiar one of the serial-dream. The story unfolds, and then, quite inexplicably, sometimes in the middle of the plot, the veiling clouds begin to dissipate and the story suddenly ends. This fading out of the dream story on the screen of consciousness did not happen as a result of some event within the dream, or by a desire of the dream character for this to happen. We might say that the dreamer put forth no further energy into maintaining the story, and so the separate existence perceived by the I in the dream faded away and all the characters and objects of the dream, the I-thought itself and the dreamer who is the God of the dream, all receded again into the background screen of consciousness.
The thinning of the clouds of illusion can also appear in the day-time serial dream, as is sometimes spontaneously experienced by ordinary people and more frequently experienced by accomplished spiritual aspirants. For the latter, it appears that their spiritual practice is leading to awakening. But, just as events or desires or activities within the night-time dream did not lead to awakening from that dream, events or desires or activities within the day-time serial dream do not lead to awakening from that dream. As was mentioned earlier, every cause and effect relationship we perceive within the dream is illusory, and just as illusory as all of the rest of the dream. There are not different intensities or levels of illusion.
All of the dream, in which a separate subjective I character appears surrounded by an objective reality, is just made up in the mind. And every thought and perception of this I character is also made up. Whether the dream is one of ordinary worldly life or of a spiritual seeker in the advanced stages of awakening, it is still dream and something we totally made up. It cannot be stressed too strongly or repeated too often that anything whatsoever perceived to be outside of the one universal I, is made up. This includes not only the world and individual beings and objects perceived to be outside of ‘ourselves’, but also our body, all our mind creations, our emotions and feelings, our desires and repulsions, all our past memories and concepts, and whatever else we mistakenly believe to be part and parcel of what we have been calling I, but which have no connection at all with the true I. In short, just like the images we fabricate in our imagination, everything objective and subjective we perceive in the world is made up. None of it is real.
Within the made-up story, ie. within the relative plane of the dream, spiritual effort is called for, whether in the current incarnation or in some previous or coming incarnation. It appears to be a prerequisite for awakening to take place. As a result, spiritual effort and the process of awakening usually are perceived to happen at the same time within the serial-dream. But, as has already been pointed out, one is not the cause of the other. What is done or not done by the dream character within the dream is not relevant to awakening. The need is not for the dream character to change his life within the dream, although his life will change quite naturally in a more spiritual direction. The story line that is playing in the dream, what we might call the content of the dream, which so strongly holds our fascination as dream characters, in not at all important. What is needed, however, is to totally transcend the serial-dream by having the subjective dream character, the dream world, and the dreamer all vanish back into their basis, the pure field of consciousness from which they appeared. This is not something we can make happen from within the serial-dream. It happens when it happens, in the same way that our ephemeral night dreams spontaneously come and later spontaneously depart on the blank screen of the mind, which is in no way affected by the rising and setting of the dream world that appears to have come and gone on it.
This leads us to the third of the three familiar daily states of consciousness. As the night-time dream fades away we fall into a remarkable dreamless state which we erroneously call deep sleep, yet, in which we are anything but deep asleep. It is not a true state of awakening because, with the apparent absence of mind in that state, consciousness appears not to be aware of itself, but nevertheless, for most beings, it is as close as they get on a daily basis to pure being, ie. to being awake. This state is a reflection of the ultimate reality, the immortal, fully awake Self. What makes the dreamless state so remarkable from the standpoint of our reference point within the serial dream, is that in this state there is no perception of the subjective I-thought, and of course there is no perception of the mind and its flow of thoughts. Nothing seems to be going on to disturb the tranquil field of consciousness. It is a more subtle state than even the most sublime and ethereal of dreams.
In this state, consciousness no longer appears to be covered by the impurity of the I-thought, the limited individualized consciousness which plays out its story line in a world of otherness. So, there are no clouds that come and go; there is only a very fine haze, a blanket of stillness that covers the field of consciousness. Although the I-thought has disappeared, it has only reverted to its potential state. It has not been destroyed. Consequently, the dreamless state continues to contain the seed of the I-thought. And so, from it the I-thought again sprouts forth and either resumes the adventures of the serial day-time dream or produces dreams of the more ephemeral night-time variety. For that reason, the dreamless state is sometimes called the causal state.
What needs to happen then, is for the fine haze to lift and for the consciousness to become fully aware of itself, while at the same time, no new clouds arise to disturb the pure, objectless state. This is known as being awake in dreamless sleep. As the Vedas speak of it, this will happen when all the seeds of memory consisting of past actions and desires which adhere to us as limited individual beings, ie. the seeds of karma, are burned-up so that they cannot again pop-up from the dreamless state. This state of being awake in deep sleep is not an exotic, unreachable state; it is a totally natural state which is readily accessible every moment of every day. We will explore this further in a later section.