With reference to my recent post, The true import of ‘I am’, a friend asked:
Is the self aware of itself without manifestation?
I replied as follows:
The simple answer is yes, it is, as is clearly illustrated by our experience in sleep.
Who knows any manifestation? To whom does it manifest? It is known only by us, because it manifests only in our own mind. Nothing that is known by us is known outside our mind, except our fundamental consciousness of our own essential being, which we always experience as ‘I am’, whether our mind and its contents are manifest, as in waking and dream, or remain unmanifest, as in sleep.
All manifestation is known by us only in waking and dream, and not in sleep. However, in all these three states we experience our own being, ‘I am’. I am now awake, I was dreaming, and I was asleep. We are aware of all these three passing states because we exist in each one of them, and know that we exist in them.
If we did not know our own being in sleep, we would not be aware of sleep as a clearly distinct state that intervenes between various passing states of waking and dream. We have a positive knowledge ‘I slept’ only because we existed and knew our existence in sleep. That is, we remember sleep as a state that we actually experienced, and we are able to do so only because in sleep we were truly conscious.
Without consciousness we could not experience anything, not even the seeming darkness or so-called ‘unconsciousness’ of sleep. We know sleep as a state in which we know nothing other than ourself, but even that certain knowledge ‘I knew nothing in sleep’ is experienced by us only because we were conscious in sleep to know that absence of objective knowledge.
In chapter 2 of Happiness and the Art of Being, particularly on pages 110 to 113 and 118 to 123, I have examined and discussed in great detail our experience in sleep, and by careful analysis of this experience I have attempted to establish the fact that we are indeed conscious in sleep, but conscious only of our own being and not of any other thing.
The fact that we are conscious of our own being in sleep is the cornerstone of the ancient philosophy of non-duality, which is the philosophy that Sri Ramana taught to us and which is generally known as advaita vedanta. It is also the insight that distinguishes this radical philosophy from all other forms of philosophy, which fail entirely to examine and analyse our experience in sleep, or at least to do so sufficiently deeply and seriously.
The non-dual consciousness of being that we experience in sleep is the only clue that we now have to our true nature. It is also the only conclusive proof now available to us that we are not either this body or this mind, because from our own experience in sleep we know that we exist as this fundamental consciousness even in the absence of the manifestation or appearance of either our body or mind, or of any other thing.
This understanding that we do indeed experience our basic consciousness of our own being in sleep, which is a state devoid of all other things, is essential to our understanding of the practice of atma-vichara, self-enquiry, self-investigation, self-scrutiny or self-attentiveness, because only when we recognise this true, non-dual and non-objective form of consciousness will we understand exactly what is the ‘self’ or ‘I’ that we are to scrutinise or attend to. If we do not recognise the fact that we do indeed exist and know our own existence or being even in the absence of all other forms of knowledge, we will have difficulty understanding what is really meant by terms such as self-attentiveness, self-awareness, self-consciousness or self-abidance.