Understanding How Awareness Can Be Universal: Deep Sleep And I Amness

The nondual teaching which states that Awareness is global (that is, universal) can seem as if it doesn’t make sense. Certain satsang-style questions abound. Like: 1.) If I am Universal Awareness, then why can’t I read others’ minds? 2.) If I am Universal Awareness, then why do I feel “tethered” to a narrow set of experiences? 3.) Or, simply, if I am Universal Awareness, then how come I don’t know it?

Let’s see whether we can make sense of this teaching from the point of view of manana (or seriously pondering the Truth).

Ignorance: Experience and Identification

We begin, quite naturally for any Advaitan, with a brief account of avidya, or ignorance. Because phenomenal experience (touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, hearing, thinking, desiring, and so on) is, seemingly almost immediately, turned into “I am in pain,” “I am seeing,” “I am thinking,” and the like, it can seem as if I must be identified with the body, the senses, or the mind.

Here, we must underscore two facts. First, early on in sadhana, there can seem as if there is a preponderance of rapidly arising experiences (seeing, thinking, etc.). Second, the “I am this” thought can also seem to occur lightning-fast. As a result, ignorance through superimposition is intelligible: it certainly seems as if I–this bodymind–am the one occupying this limited world in this manner (e.g., “I am thinking”).

Deep Sleep

You may have come across ample arguments about the relevance of deep sleep in the teaching of Advaita Vedanta but have yet to experience “much flavor.” If that’s so, then let’s take another pass at a different kind of argument.

For our purposes here, deep sleep can be defined simply as Awareness-without-experiences.

Then two things are immediately clear. First, since there are no experiences (no seeing, thinking, etc.), there can be no preponderance of experiences. (Obviously.) Second, since there are no experiences, there can be no “this” to which “I am” can mistakenly identify itself (“I am thinking,” etc.). That is, there is no such thing as “I am thinking” in deep sleep.

Absent experience, there is also, then, the absence of any apparently limiting identifications with body, senses, or mind. The latter, in short, is simply not possible.

Deep sleep, on this account, is essentially equivalent to kensho in Zen: that is, to “sudden awakening.”

Deep Sleep, So To Say, in the Waking State

Then the question arises: what is conducive to bringing about deep sleep, so understood, in the waking state? For Ramana Maharshi often says that one can only see through ignorance in the waking state. After all, awakening is being deep sleep knowingly–that is, being Awareness knowingly.

Nisargadatta on I Amness: Concentration

It’s right here that we can fully understood the astonishing gift that Nisargadatta has given to us. His atma yoga essentially amounts to this: “Abide in I Amness.”

But what is it that makes this an astonishing gift?

First, Nisargadatta wants us to remain at the very incipience of all manifestation: remain, that is, right when and where subtle form emerges. Do you see the relevance of this?

And, second, like a great Chan master, Nisargadatta urges us to concentrate completely and only on I Amness. And–this is especially noteworthy–intense concentration on I Amness makes it impossible for experience to arise. But if no experience can arise, then there can be no lower identifications. And if no experience can arise, then I Amness must sink back into the Absolute. Because there can be nothing that would apparently limit Awareness, it can be understood, now, as only universal, as only ever having been universal.

Now, on account of philosophical contemplation, it is clear why the teachings, over and over again, urge us to constantly meditate on the Self.

The essential point, at this point, is sraddha: the deep faith or conviction evinced in diving deep into meditation.