Sleep and Samadhi
Articles By Sister Devamata
From a Lecture published in The Message of the East.
Sleep is generally recognised as essential for replenishment of vital energies. But cannot this be done, at least in part, by other means? By samadhi, for instance, instead of normal sleep?
Sleep is not merely a physiological fact. It something more than a simple state of inactivity, a time of passive forgetting. It has a deep spiritual significance and value.
When the individual soul came out from the Absolute and, plunging down into matter, began its weary ascent up from the protoplasmic cell back to the Absolute again, the all-loving, all watchful Divine Mother knew that, unless once at least in the twenty four hours, that striving soul touched the supreme soul, it could not live and go on its journey. So she laid upon it the blessing and obligation of sleep.
Sleep is the call of the mother to each child to come home from toil or play and to rest close to her divine heart until the child is recharged with life and ready to take up again its task of unfoldment. It is nature's chief restorative, the refuge she offer to every creature.
We see this pre-eminently among the lower animals. When they are weak or suffering, do they not always creep away into some hidden spot and go to sleep? They may not know why, but a dumb brute instinct tells them that they must hurry back and touch anew the source of their life.
Among human beings, too, the great majority demand long periods of rest. How often do we hear people declare, 'I cannot keep well and do my work unless I have eight or nine hours of sleep', but the results of sleep, the replenishing of their vital energies, and they have not discovered that this can also be accomplished in other ways.
The actual suggestion for us is not: how much we need to sleep? Rather it is: how can we reach the main reservoir of strength as well in waking as in sleeping? In other words: how can we learn to do consciously and voluntary that which, through sleep, we have been doing involuntarily and unconsciously?
What happens when we fall asleep, the first thing is, we forget our body and bodily conditions. A man may be racked with pain, he may be beset with great anxiety or affliction, but he drops asleep and the hurt is gone. We who stand facing the stress and difficulties of our complex life can we not learn to do this at our will? If sleep or some drug can do it for us, why not find the way to do it for ourselves?
These nerves may quiver with pain or pleasure, but why identify ourselves with them? Rather look at them and say:
'This is only a fleeting sensation in the body, but I am no more the body now than when I am sleep. At this moment let me fall asleep to this bodily condition and awaken to the mind, like a man who goes to sleep and dreams.
'As such a man may forget he is a pauper and in dream become a king, so I will create a new mind-world. And when the body brings a weak or painful thought, I will counteract it by a thought of strength, of cheerfulness and courage.'
But suppose all dreams cease, what follows then? A deeper sleep. The restless activities of the dream-realm vanish, the whole mind grows still, and man enjoys perfect rest. Why no try to reach that state in our waking hours be detaching ourselves from the ever-changing mind? Let us watch its play of moods and say:
'It is true, foolish mind; you have these little waves of anger, these waves of worry and distress. You feel out of sympathy, you criticize and condemn, but you are only a small part of me.
'Why should I, who am greater, go your foolish way? I will choose a wiser path, a path of calmness, a path of steadiness, of such unwavering trust in a Supreme Guiding Power that I shall remain unshaken even when you are disturbed and falter.'
Stand like a Witness
If we can cultivate the habit of standing like a witness, looking upon the ever-shifting panorama of the mind as upon so many moving pictures, soon its troubled surface will grow quiet, and we shall pass into a state of conscious dreamless sleep. Then, as in sound sleep, this outer shell, which is born and dies, which gains and loses, which suffers and enjoys, will be forgotten. But are we gone? Is it a death-like state, a state of annihilation? Each one can answer for himself.
When a man has been in sound sleep and awakes, is he not re-animated? Could that be if he had touched death? Life does not come from death. Is his mind clear? Then thought has not been annihilated, for clearer vision comes from thinking, not from mental blankness. Has he new hope and courage, as man always has when he rises from refreshing sleep? Then he has not returned from a region of dull hopelessness.
The condition of sound sleep (called 'deep sleep' by some) cannot therefore mean a suspension of activity, a blotting out of consciousness, but the passing into a subtler form of activity and thought, a withdrawing from the outer to the inner, from the many to the one, from the manifested to the power that manifests. Only because man has touched that power seated in his heart does he come back recharged with life and energy.
When the individual ceases to be a detached part and becomes one with the whole, when his entire organism seems unified and all the warring forces flow in one homogeneous current, what is that state?
It is the state of Samadhi or super consciousness. And by the loving provision of the Divine Mother, we attain this state unknowingly once at least in every day, when we sleep soundly.
It is the state of new life. Without it we are dull and heavy.
It is the state of new joy. Without it we are sad and soul-weary.
It is the state of the new light. Without it we grow blind and fall.
Is it not then the state which every man must work for? It cannot be left a matter of chance. It is something which he should hold within his grasp at every moment.
No human being can afford to be disconnected for the one instant from his source. If you knew that here is the only pure water in the universe, would you leave it? No; you would build your house beside it and you would call out to others to join you, until a city would spring up around you. If you had been told that in one spot only is there pure air and everywhere else is death, would you not always keep the road open to that place and never wander far enough not able to return?
Similarly, if you believe that there is one source of life, one source of knowledge, one source of bliss, should you not discover for yourself the road to it and the way to travel that road? That is why the great Vedic Seers constantly call to every man:
'Go within. (Know thyself thy Self.) Find your true nature, the Divine Essence of your being. Identify yourself with That, for until That is found, danger threatens you on every side.'
Be not content to sleep eight or nine hours out of twenty-four. Sleep every moment the sleep which means contact with the source. Let all your life be a waking in the sound-sleep state and a sleep in the hours of waking. Let the thread of your consciousness bind you unceasingly to the centre.
You will say, 'Surely there is a difference between sound sleep and Samadhi. Otherwise, why are not all men illuminated when they wake?' A great teacher in India once defined the difference to me thus:
'A man, when he falls asleep, is like one who backs into a room. His face is turned towards the door and his back to all that is in the room. Therefore he sees only what is outside and nothing inside the room.
'On the country, the man who goes into Samadhi is like one who enters face forward. He sees everything in the room and what is left behind is not visible to him.'
So it is with us. We go into the state of sleep always with our thoughts pointed outward to the world. We drop asleep thinking of our worldly grief's and worldly needs, of all the things which concern this little outer man. And, when we wake, our thoughts are still pointed in that direction, and we have no consciousness of the place where we have been. Yet we have been there just the same and have had the benefit so far as we could without seeing it. The proof is that we come back refreshed.
When a man goes into Samadhi, he goes with the whole soul quivering for God. Every fibre of his being is turned Godward, his inner eye is strained to perceive him; so he quickly loses sight of what is left behind and sees only what is there. Which one gains the greater good from his visit to that room? Which one is able to bring back the richer store of new strength and power? There can be no doubt as to the answer. We have only to look at the contrasting lives of the sense-bound worldling and the God-illuminated prophet to divine it.
That which we have been doing like dumb animals is it not time for us to begin to do as wise men? The whole lesson has been set before us. We need not search the Scriptures for it, or to go to a mountain cave to learn it. We have only to study what we do once at least in every turn of the sun. There the lesson is written out clearly for us, and we have been repeating it all the while without understanding. Now the time has come for us to repeat it intelligently and at our will.
We cannot master the whole of it at once, however. We must begin gradually. Let us first try to detach ourselves from the tyranny of this body. As we drop our physical ills and discomforts at the hour of sleep, so let us learn to drop them out of our waking consciousness. At present we add to their power and reality by constantly dwelling on them, whereas, if we kept our attention fixed less on our bodily states, many of them would pass unperceived. Also, the body would be stronger, for constant thought turned on it wears and weakens it. It needs to be left to itself, as children do. Give it necessary simple care and them forget it. Do not always be a body. Sometimes be a soul, or even a thinking mind.
This does not mean, however, dwelling in the memory or imagination. A wholesome mental life does not consist in constantly feeding on one's own experience and opinions or on those of others, but in passing beyond the petty personal plane to larger problems and in forming habits of original thought. Everyone can do this who has the desire and determination to go to the origin of things.
The Value of Memory
The value of memory is much over-rated. Remembering too often clogs the mind with useless material and becomes a serious obstacle to concentration. It makes man retrospective rather than introspective. The enlightened man has no need of memory. It is necessary only to the little man. He is like a poverty-stricken housewife who saves every small bit of cloth for some future garment, or like one who lives far from the spring and must store his water in rows of pails. It is because we do not keep in contact with the source that we attach such importance to collecting facts and experiences. Let us touch that and we have just the knowledge we need at every moment without the aid of memory.
There is in the world one supreme consciousness. As that universal consciousness trickles down through the narrow channels of the senses, we call it sense-perception. As it runs in broader stream through the mind, we call it thought. When it flows through the intellect, we call it reason or discrimination. As it pours in spontaneous current through the heart, we call it moral beauty. But when it passes though no one limiting channel, but manifests itself pure, undivided, single, then it is Samadhi or the state of complete illumination. Light flood the whole organism and every faculty attains its highest efficiency. Then alone is man's education complete.
Every living being is travelling towards that goal, but each one of us may by our choice make the journey a long or a short one. We may linger content and sense-bound in the dim cave of this body, we may grope our way about in the deluding twilight of the mind, or push on into the clearer light of intellect and reason, but never shall we stand in the full daylight until we develop our super conscious faculties. With those only can we see 'face to face'.
When we come into conscious possession of our whole being and learned to live in unbroken contact with our source, we shall find within us an inexhaustible store of refreshment. We shall be like a man with an unlimited bank account. The poor man carries all his earnings in his pocket, but the multi-millionaire can afford to go about with only a few cents on his person, because he knows that he may always draw upon his bank. So will it be with us. When we have established a conscious connection with that divine power within, we shall never lack for anything.
If a perplexing problem confronts us, we shall have just the wisdom necessary to solve it. Is there an unexpected call upon our strength? We shall have more than enough for the occasion. Does someone turn to us in trouble or perplexity? By a look we can pierce to the core of his heart and understand his need better than he himself. Such is the power for help and blessing latent in each one of us.
A Sleep like Meditation
Have we the right, then, to go on in heaviness and darkness, asleep though we believe ourselves awake? Let us rouse ourselves from this little sleep and begin to master the secret of that larger sleep.
You may say, 'I have not the time'. Then leave your daylight hours as they are and begin merely with your hours of rest. Take five minutes night and morning from your bodily sleep and spend it in spiritual practice. Before you lose consciousness at night, if you can fix your mind on higher thoughts, all your sleep will be like a meditation, and your whole system will be renewed, not only physically but spiritually.
When you wake, do not throw away the real benefit of your sleep by loosening at once your hold on the inner and seizing the outer. Rather tighten your grasp by directing your first waking thoughts towards the supreme fountainhead of all life and consciously uniting every part of your being with him. Make it a rule never to let your worldly concerns enter your mind until you have filled it full of God by prayer and meditation. At the close of a few days take another five minutes from your rest, then another, until, without perceiving it, you have transmuted at least one hour of sleep into an hour of meditation.
Through such simple practice the entire organism will become refined and purified, a sense of lightness will replace the heaviness which now so often overpowers us, and we shall suffer less from fatigue. Also, the mind and nerves will be quieter, each task will be done with less strain and friction; there will be in consequence less waste of energy, and the system will no longer demand so many hours of rest. We find this among those who have attained a high spiritual development. While others sleep, they meditate. Yet they show no signs of wakeful weariness.
More than all else, a new world will open before us a world of spiritual joy and beauty. As by our higher vision we begin to discern the God within all things, we shall feel that those around us who live unconscious of that presence are really sleeping, while only those truly wake who walk with all their super conscious faculties alert. As the Bhagavad-Gita says:
'That which is night to all men, therein the self-subjugated remains awake; and in that where all beings wake, that is night for the knower of the Supreme.'