How Deep Sleep Dispels The View That I Am The Body


Quite beautifully, Sri Sadhu Om, in The Path of Sri Ramana Maharshi: Part One–The Jnana Aspect of the Teaching, showed me how Sri Ramana Maharshi deployed “I am sleeping soundly” to unseat the “I am the body idea.”

After all, most people believe that they are their bodies, that they are their minds, or that they are some composite bodyminds. I suspect that you and I, dear reader, have often identified ourselves with these gross physical bodies and perhaps have even done so daily. Maybe even now.

Short of near death experiences, out of body experiences, or very deep meditation, how could some flavor of the truth that I am not the body be revealed to us?


We could use, at least for a start, what Sri Atmananda Menon called “higher reasoning.” Which I do in what follows.

The position that Sri Sadhu Om so clearly formulated, the one that serves as the crux of the argument, is this:

Sat = Chit = Ananda

I. Who Knows?

If you say, “I slept soundly last night,” how did you know this?

It must be that you were aware (chit). You were aware of the peaceful nature (ananda) of deep, dreamless sleep. Even that isn’t quite right. Better: your awareness was itself peaceful.

First doubt: “But what was aware? Wasn’t the mind aware?”

In our direct experience, mind arises only when thought or feeling arises. As direct experience and Ramana Maharshi both demonstrate, in the absence of thinking or feeling there is no mind. In the case of deep sleep, there is no thinking or feeling. As a result, there is no mind.

Therefore, the mind could not be aware of this sense of peace. Better: the mind could not be this peaceful awareness.

According to the seminal claim above, awareness (chit) = existence (sat). Consequently, “I” must be the aware existence that is also peaceful.

II. Am I the Body?

We can run the argument again in order, at least at the level of intellectual understanding, to dispel the illusion that I am the body.

For if I am the body, how can I continue to exist in deep sleep while the the body does not?

Second doubt: “But that’s already begging the question. Everybody knows that the body and the world continue to exist in deep sleep. It’s just that I am not conscious or aware of my body or the world. If others were to observe me while I was sleeping, they would report that my body surely continues to exist.”

Not at all. In fact, the doubt, so posed, is question-begging. One of Ramana Maharshi’s most basic claims is that “you” and “we” both rise from “I.” That is, an “I” must first rise in order a “you” or a “we” to subsequently rise. If there is no ego-I, then, there can be no you and no we.

This is a crucial methodological remark. It states, “We must begin and hold ourselves fast to the direct experience of the rising ‘I.’ In so doing, we cannot admit as evidence that which already comes ‘too late’–i.e., from a ‘you’ or a ‘we.'”

Hence, we can revisit the question: “while holding onto my direct experience only, how do I account for the fact that I continue to exist in deep sleep while the body subsides?”

We can return to our original statement: “I slept soundly.” In the first place (as Ramana Maharshi often says), you don’t doubt that you slept soundly, peacefully, or happily. This you know for certain. In which case, what is self-evident to you is a glint or hint of ananda. So far, so good.

In the second place, there must be some continuous awareness that allows for the statement–“I slept soundly”–to be made. In II., since we are not considering whether I could be the finite mind, we can set that matter to the side for now. (But see, again, I. above.)

Given our supreme identity–Sat = Chit = Ananda–we have all that we need to draw the conclusion: if I am aware while in deep sleep, then I exist in deep sleep. That is, I cannot be aware without also existing.

Despite the abstract reasoning, the conclusion at hand should not be lost on us. It is that deep sleep demonstrates that I am not the gross physical body. In other words, my existence, since it continues in deep sleep and thus in the absence of body-rising, is not limited to the gross physical body.

III. Making It Concrete

Throughout the day, then, you can ask yourself at odd moments, “I am the body?” Let the question be mysterious, real, vibrant.

Ask the question earnestly and just see.