Fundação Maitreya
Vedanta - Avasthatraya

de Y. Subrahmanya Sarma

em 14 Set 2006

  All the Vedic schools agree that the System of Vedānta, as found in the principal Upaniṣads and elaborated by Badarayana in his famous Sūtras, attaches great importance to the examination of the three Avasthas or conditions of life called, Waking, Dream, and Dreamless Sleep.

The Unique Method of Vedānta

All the Vedic schools agree that the System of Vedānta, as found in the principal Upaniṣads and elaborated by Badarayana in his famous Sūtras, attaches great importance to the examination of the three Avasthas or conditions of life called, Waking, Dream, and Dreamless Sleep. There is divergence of opinion, however, regarding the purpose which this examination is intended to serve in the system. With profound respect to all Āchāryas, who no doubt have equal claim on us, as having ministered to the needs of countless souls, I propose to show in these pages what a veritable magician's wand this method of enquiry has been proved in the hands of that matchless thinker, Śri Śankarāchārya; for where all the other commentators saw no more than a confirmation of man’s inherent weakness and helplessness as justifying his eternal dependence on a scripture-revealed God by whose grace alone he could hope to attain a post mortem salvation, this great apostle of Vedic Monism alone envisioned the most comprehensive method devisable to demonstrate scientifically, the essential identity of the human soul with Brahman or Absolute Existence, Consciousness and Bliss.

It is neither possible nor desirable that chapter and verse should be quoted for each and every one of the statements made here in order to convince the reader that Śaṅkara actually regarded the Avasthaic Method as possessing such paramount importance for Vedānta as has been indicated above. It will be enough to adduce two typical passages extracted from his Bhashya on the Mandukya Upaniṣad, with Gaudapada-karika - the smallest of the ten principal Upaniṣads, which exclusively treats of the Avasthas. A careful reader will not miss the significant remark with which Śaṅkara introduces the work:
“This is a summary of the essence of all Vedānta teaching”.
Again, in introducing the Avasthaic method as set forth by Gaudapada in his explanatory Karikas on Mandukya, the Āchārya observes:
“The views of different schools contradict one another and lead to Samsāra (transmigration) as engendering the evils of love and hate; hence they are all misconceived. Having shown this through their own arguments, it has been concluded that the Adwaita, free from the fourfold defects already mentioned as well as from the evils of love and hate, naturally conduces to peace and is, therefore, the only right view. And now this section is begun in order to set forth the peculiar method of this philosophy”. (IV- 87 to 90.)
It is of more practical interest to enquire about the special features of the method which render it impossible to be superseded or stultified by any other. In the first place, it is the only method which considers life in all its aspects. Waking, Dream and Sleep exhausts all independent manifestations of Reality and, as Śaṅkara observes, “there is nothing beyond these three to be known, for all the postulates of different schools are comprehended in these”.

And, in the second place, any metaphysical conclusion based on the co-ordination of experiences of the three Avasthas, cannot possibly be stultified for the simple reason that, while stultification can happen only in time, such a conclusion would take us to heights where time is conspicuous by its absence.
In explanation of the second statement made above, it will be useful to observe that sitting in judgment over the Avasthas really means taking an attitude of self-dissociation from and objectification of all phenomena whatsoever. My waking condition, for instance, includes, on this view, the whole universe of my precepts and concepts, the entire universe containing all that I perceive, all that I can infer or imagine or conceive in that state; not merely men, animals and things, suns, moons and stars, angels, devils, and other spirits, or even imaginary persons, creatures and things inhabiting worlds ever conceived in poetry or fiction, or creation of frenzied brains, but also my own body, mind, intellect and ego as well. In one sweep, I include all the subjective and the objective elements of my waking and stand, as it were, an unaffected witness of this vast panorama.

It must not be forgotten that waking time, past, present and future, is wholly within this broad embrace of Waking; so it’s space with its distinctions of here and there, up and down. The disposition of the mind herein depicted may be very difficult for one to adopt; but granted the willingness to take a detached view of things and the capacity to reflect, one cannot escape the conclusion that the witness of the waking condition is, in fact, the witness of all that is perceivable or conceivable there, of all the worlds with which one commerces in actual experience or imagination there. I may refer the reader interested in this study to Śaṅkara's commentary on the Mandukya where Ātman in the Waking State as described as (consisting of seven organs). Śaṅkara shows there how the Ātman in Waking is, as the witnessing Consciousness identical with all the embodied selves.

If we now turn to a consideration of the Dream State, and assume the same attitude of dissociation, we are struck with the marvellously identical nature of the two conditions. No doubt, from the monobasic view which induces us to identify ourselves with the little ego of Waking alone, we are persuaded that the waking word is common to a number of souls in contrast with dreams which are exclusively our own. But the moment we incline to the tribasic view of Vedānta, the moment we wish to occupy a position from where we can examine all the three states without any partiality for either the waking ego or the dreaming ego, the scene changes entirely.

The Dream condition now presents an exact replica of Waking, so much so that we are at a loss to fix up any marks of identity by which to recognize Waking as such. For in Dream we are confronted with all the contexts both subjective and objective, set in an exactly similar framework of time, space and causation. (Compare the Mandukya Mantras which apply the same epithets and to the states). On waking, of course, we do detect that dreams are only subjective and temporary and that the phenomena there are neither coherent nor governed by irreversible laws of time or causation; but as this is only from a different thought-position where we identify ourselves with the waking ego, the conclusion drawn from the impartial view described above remains unaffected.

An important corollary from the identical nature of Dream and Waking thus established, is that the witnessing Ātman, who is the sole warranty for this identification, has to be necessarily regarded as transcending the limitations of both the subjective and the objective aspects of either state. A verse in the Kathopanishad declares this profound truth thus: “That great all-pervading One, through whom one is enabled to see both dream and waking, realizing Him as the Ātman the wise man grieves no more”. Time, space and causality appropriate to each state are found in either; and so are the subjective and the objective parts of the world peculiar to each state. Now, while as the ego in each state, we are undoubtedly subjected to the joys and sorrows of the particular world, it is not difficult to see that, as the witnessing Ātman who spans both the states, we transcend both, and are above all the petty joys and cares of the passing moods. The Brihadaranyaka, gives a striking illustration of this when it compares Ātman to a mighty fish which swims from bank to bank of a river unaffected by the gushing stream which it cuts across.

We are now in a position to assert that our real Self or Ātman, witness of Dream and Waking, knows no limitation of time space or causation. It is not delimited by a second which can claim the same degree of reality; for none of the entities to be found either in Dream or Waking can get out of the clutches of time or space restricted to that particular sphere. Nor can any of them in either state pass on to the other, maintaining its self-identity like Ātman. Besides, none of the states can co-exist at the same time along with the Ātman, whereas our Ātman can with equal ease manage to be alongside of both as long as it lasts. So far, then, we see that the Ātman, as the witnessing consciousness of the two states, enjoys absolute independence. But can He cut off all connection states? Can He continue to exist by His own right regardless of either manifestation or the complete effacement of both? The one answer to this question is Deep Sleep, the state which defies all analysis from the monobasic view, but yields its secrets without reserve to the all-comprising method of enquiry we have been describing.

Like Waking and Dream, Sleep also presents a Mayic aspect to the monobasic view warped by its
partiality for Waking. From that thought-position we regard Sleep as a passing cloud of ignorance in which we are daily enveloped, and as a temporary inactivity into which we are daily thrust, by nature. But so soon as we try to assume the philosophic position of the witness of the three states, this much-neglected state comes to have entirely another meaning for us, which we can ill afford to ignore. It is then seen to be an intuition of our true nature, divested of its apparent individuality and its personality, and an experience unburdened with the complex psychic machinery of the ego, mind and senses. Nothing like the Waking or Dream world or the network of time and space in which it is enmeshed, is to be met with here. We are, indeed, lifted up to our own Self which is unalloyed bliss unconditioned by the fatigue of action and enjoyment. None of the limitations of either Waking or Dream have entrance here; saint and sinner, rich and poor man and woman, child and adult, all shed their respective limiting adjuncts before they enter the portals of this, their own Kingdom of Heaven.

Without tarrying to consider the most glowing terms in which the ineffable glory of this peculiar state is described by the Upaniṣads (such as Brihadāranyaka IV 21 to 32, and Chandogya VIII- 3 to 6) I shall just invite the attention of the reader to the twofold aspect of this peculiar expression of Reality, for we may contemplate on it, in its relation to Dream and Waking, or reflect upon its intrinsic worth as a distinct experience in itself. In its relative phase, we have to admit that Sleep, whose sole content is Pure Consciousness untainted by a second, is essentially the cause of Dream or Waking; the fact that this, in other words becomes Pure Consciousness intuited as unlimited in sleep, somehow manifests itself in the other two states as subject and object, appearing as the ego endowed with a body, senses and mind on the one hand, and as a world governed by the laws of time, space and causation on the other. This Pure Consciousness has to be supposed as invested with an inscrutable power in virtue of which it brings into existence this magnificent universe, and after sustaining it for a while, dissolves it into Itself without a residuum. As Mandukya says:
“This is the Lord of all. He is Omniscient, He is the Internal Controller, He is the one source of all, the origin and dissolution of all beings”.

At the same time, however, we cannot forget that the three states so called are really no states of consciousness. In the first place, the witnessing principle in us which is no other than Pure Consciousness, remains intact quite unaffected by the appearance or disappearance of these states; and, in the second place, the three states admit neither juxtaposition in space nor succession in time. Strictly speaking, therefore, we ought to conclude that Sleep is only Pure Consciousness, which as having no relation whatever with its manifestation in the shape of ego and non-ego, is neither waking, nor dreaming nor sleeping at any time. It is therefore neither cause nor effect from this absolute stand-point. It is this phase of sleep as identical with the ever-changeless Ātman that is described as “the Fourth” relatively to the empirical egos of the three states and serves as the theme of (non-genesis) found in Gaudapada's famous explanation of that Upaniṣad.

We may now briefly recapitulate the salient points of the Vedānta method of Avasthas which we have touched upon in the course of this short essay. The method assumes nothing, entails no belief in authority and seeks the aid of no special intuition. It is built upon the fundamentals of human experience and insists that all the three Avasthas, the Waking, Dream and Sleep, should be investigated, before we can light upon the Absolute Reality underlying the manifestations of life. It sympathetically points out the basic error involved in speculations which confine the application of reason to the facts of Waking State, and while admitting the practical utility of such speculations so far as they go, it shows their utter futility and helplessness in constructing a Science of Reality. By a procedure peculiarly to its own, it teaches us to look upon each of the three states as a complete expression of Reality, and then equating each of them to the other two, arrives at the remarkable result that our Ātman as the Witnessing Consciousness of all the three states, is the Highest Reality free from the taint of all the three illusory Avasthas which are superimposed upon it by the empirical understanding; is, in brief, essentially nothing more than Pure Being, Pure Consciousness and Pure Bliss. The following benedictory verse with which Śaṅkara begins his masterly commentary on the Mandukya contains in four lines the sum and substance of Vedānta teaching based on this unique method of Avasthas:

“That which pervades the worlds through its rays of Consciousness, spread out and diffused in animate and inanimate beings, thus experiencing the gross pleasures and pains in Waking and the subtle ones fancied by mind and born of desire in dreams; that which absorbs within Itself all distinction and sleep enjoying bliss, thus causing us the taste of all these states through its Māyā – to That which is “the Fourth” relatively to this illusory number three, but is absolutely the Highest, Immortal, Unborn Brahman, I make obeisance”.


Impresso em 8/6/2023 às 12:24

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