Prasna Upanishad (Part-4)-Who in man sleeps, dreams, and keeps awake


Vedanta considers life in its  totality and not in segments. It examines the experiences taking place in life  in all the three states of its consciousness viz., waking (jagrut),  dream (svapna) and deep-sleep (sushupti). We have seen that the third  question in this Upanishad ended with the teacher asserting that whoever knows  the relationship of prana with the mind discovers the rationale behind the  continued existence. Mind and body are inter-related and this  inter-relationship is due to functioning of prana.  It was explained that if the body is to  remain healthy with vitality, prana should be effectively and properly  functioning. But the functioning of prana in the body depends upon the mind and  hence the students turn their attention now to the mind. Thus Suryayani Gargya  asks Pippalada the fourth question which is concerned with the functioning of  human consciousness or with the operations of the mind in all the three states of  consciousness.



Mantra 1

atha hainaM sauryaayaNi gaargyaH paprachchha | bhagavannetasmin.h purushhe kaani svapanti kaanyasmiJNjaagrati katara eshha devaH svapnaan.h pashyati kasyaitat.h  sukhaM bhavati kasminnu sarve sampratishhTitaa bhavantiiti || 1||

Next Sauryayani, belonging to  the family of Garga, asked: Sir, what are they that sleep in man and what are  they that remain awake in him? Which deity is it that sees dreams? Whose is the  happiness? In whom, again, are all these gathered together?

All the questions asked in this section basically relate to the Supreme Brahman. They are:

1. Which organs in the human body go to sleep and rest? Cessation of physical activities distinguishes sleep from waking state and therefore the activities of the waking state are attributed to the body and the senses and not to the Self or Atman. Without discrimination between the body and the Self, the knowledge of the Self is not possible. The answer to this question is given in Mantra 2.

2. Which organs again keep awake and continue to work?  Who preserves the body during waking, dreaming and deep-sleep? Prana is the protector of the body. The preservation of the body is attributed to Prana and not to Atman. The answer is given in Mantras 3-4.

3. Between these two groups of organs, one that is active and the other inactive, which one sees dreams? Who sees the dreams? Is it the body or is it the senses? The dreams are attributed to the mind. This is dealt with in Mantra 5.

4. Who is it that enjoys the mystery of sleep with no dreams? Where do all these organs rest at the time of deep sleep? This question relates to the state of dreamless sleep, characterized by bliss resulting in the absence of any pain at all. This state is because of absence of mind’s contact with any objects. When a man gets up from dreamless sleep he feels very happy. The question is who is the experiencer of this blissful state of mind? The experiencer of this bliss is attributed to the undifferentiated cosmic ignorance due to which the Atman remains covered at the time of deep sleep. The answer is explained in Mantra 6.

5. In whom, again, are all these  gathered together? The implication is who is it that is free from the three states  of waking, dream and deep sleep and is also man’s final goal? The answer is the  imperishable Atman, known as Turiya. All the experiences of waking, dreaming  and deep sleep blend together indistinguishably in the imperishable Atman as  honey collected from different flowers blend in the honey found in a bee-hive  or as rivers blend in the ocean. They are non-different from Atman and  disappear in it. This is discussed in Mantras 7-9.

The question is that when the  physical body is asleep, is there any other energy ingredient which keeps the  body functioning, for instance even in sleep the heart beats and supplies blood  to other parts, digestion system goes on working, the body continues to  maintain its warmth although the sleeping person is not aware of these activities  taking place in his own physical structure. Similarly when a man enters into a dream  state he literally goes into different kinds of situations. The inquiry is what  is the nature and configuration of the dreamer. Likewise, although we are not conscious  about anything in deep sleep state, when we get up we remember that we had a  sound a sound blissful sleep. The student wants to know who enjoys the blissful  sleep. Lastly the student asks about the substratum on which all these three  states are finding place in the individuals.

Although these three states  apparently look different from each other, there seems to be one common  denominator which remembers all these different sets of experiences.  In order to remember these things we must be  possessing that factor in us which itself experiences all the three states and  yet it is not the waker or the dreamer or the sleeper. The disciple is  demanding an explanation for this all-witnessing-factor, the divine-spark, the  life center by asking “on what do all these depend”?

It may also be noted that these  questions relate to the dream and deep sleep states and not to the waking  state. The reasons may be that the waking state has been covered under the  earlier questions raised by the other students or it may be due to the fact  that according to Vedanta waking state is not different from dream state as the  perceiving mechanism in both these states is one and the same.

Mantra 2

tasmai sa hovacha | yatha gaargya mariichayo.arkasyaastam gachchhatah sarvaa etasmi.nstejomandala ekiibhavanti | taah punah punarudayatah pracharantyevam ha vai tat.h sarvam pare deve manasyekiibhavati tena tarhyeshha purushho na shrinoti na pashyati na jighrati na rasayate na sprishate naabhivadate naadatte naanandayate na visrijate neyaayate svapitiityaachakshate || 2||

To him Pippalada replied: O  Gargya, as the rays of the sun, when it sets, become one with the luminous orb  and again go forth when the sun rises, even so, verily, all these - the objects  and the senses - become one in the superior god (highest Deva), the mind.  Therefore at that time a man hears not, sees not, smells not, tastes not,  touches not, speaks not, grasps not, enjoys not, evacuates not and does not  move about. He sleeps - that is what people say.

The question was “what are the factors in the sleeping man”? This Mantra clearly defines what ‘sleep’ is and enumerates the factors and faculties that go into a dormant position or sleep-mode during deep-sleep state.

The waking state is that period of our experience when, through the instruments of cognition, we are aware of the sense objects of the world. This state is where all our sense organs are active in our physical structure. Sleep is not like that waking state. Hence the teacher says that at the time of sleep all the indriyas retire into their very source, the mind.

Mind is the prime-mover of all the sense organs. There cannot be any functioning of the sense organs without the mind actively directing them. In a pyramidal structure the mind is the apex, below which are the sense organs and at the base are the five great gross and subtle elements, The teacher says that in the deep sleep state the entire world of plurality cognized through the sense organs become one with the Deva, the mind, meaning thereby that the powers of perception by the sense organs get withdrawn from the respective spheres of operation and get merged as it were with the very mind which impelled them to function.

This concept has been explained by the teacher with the example of the  rising and setting sun. The rays of the setting sun look as if they are  withdrawn and deposited in the sun’s orbit for the night which again shoots up  when the sun rises in the morning. So also in an individual his sense organs  are withdrawn to their source of perception (mind) temporarily during sleep and  come out to the normal state of functioning when he awakes.

Thus the period of experience in life when the mind of an individual has  withdrawn its contacts from the five organs of knowledge and five organs of  action is considered as sleep. Therefore sleeping is a condition when the human  mind has parked itself for the time being. When it emerges out the individual  comes back to his waking state of experience.

The enumeration of bodily functions narrated in the Mantra covers all the  tasks of the instruments of knowledge and instruments of action. When both of  them are inactive the individual is said to be ‘asleep’.

Receive Site Updates