According to the Upanishads, the happiness experienced by us during deep sleep is ParamAnanda (the highest happiness possible). There is no happiness equal to it and certainly not greater than it. In deep sleep we are alone, nobody is different from us, hence, in this state, we are free from fear. In deep sleep the individual soul (jiva) merges into the supreme soul (Param Atman). This is the highest destination for the individual soul, his highest treasure, his highest world.
It is difficult for people to understand this description of deep sleep given by the Upanishads. They have no faith in these words and because the happiness of deep sleep is got without any effort it is taken very lightly. Some objections raised against what the Upanishads say are as follows:
Objection: The maximum that can be said is that sleep is free from grief. Happiness however does not merely mean the absence of grief. Happiness is a positive experience. We all know that we become happy when we come into contact with the objects of our desire. We also know that one happiness is greater than another. Hence maximum happiness must result only after coming into contact with some object. But there are no objects at all in deep sleep. Therefore, how can happiness there be maximum?
These objections are answered as follows:
We assume that our happiness is the result of an interaction with external objects. But everybody knows that after being in contact with an object for some time, the happiness terminates. Afterwards, one does not even desire to come into contact with the object for quite some time. If it is true that happiness is the result of contact with objects, why should the happiness terminate even while the contact with object is still there? Or at the very least, why doesn’t the desire to come into contact with the object arise again soon after the termination of the happiness?
A non believer may explain it like this: There is no question of reconciliation here, because that is the nature of the process. The only meaningful pursuit in life is to extend the duration of the pleasure by some means. Efforts should be made only to that end.
This is not correct. Suppose that an individual is deprived of sleep and food and pleasurable objects for a long time and then all of them are simultaneously offered to him. It is known that the first thing he would seek is sleep and then food and then the pleasure from outside objects. Even when the pleasurable objects and food are in good supply and he is deprived of the pleasure of sleep, he would give up everything and take pills to get sleep. If there is an obstruction for sleep, he would rather reject his wife or children or wealth. Therefore, it is clear that the pleasure from outside objects, the pleasure from food and the pleasure of sleep are in their increasing order. Therefore deep sleep (Sanskrit Sushupti), is the greatest happiness.
Objection: How can there be happiness when there are no objects at all?
Reply: Are you not getting happiness in dreams where also there are no objects at all?
Objection: The object of happiness in dreams is the vasana (impressions of desires) of objects.
Resolution: But are you not happy in sushupti where there is not even a single vasana?
Question: In that case it means that there is no connection at all between happiness and the objects. Then how is it that one gets happiness while in contact with an object?
Answer: Actually, seeking the answer to this question is the most significant pursuit in life. One will have to make deep introspection to get the answer given by the Upanishads to this question. One thing is certain however; in the presence of objects there may or may not be happiness. Therefore, it cannot be unambiguously stated whether or not the happiness comes from the object. But the experience of happiness in sushupti (deep sleep without dreams), where the objects are totally absent is well known. This shows that happiness has no connection whatsoever with external objects.
Without knowing this, the jiva in wakeful state hankers after pleasurable objects. When he comes into contact with the desired object, he gets happiness because of his identification with it (tadatmya). At the time of contact with it he is unaware of everything, even the object. Indeed, the transient happiness he experiences is a consequence of the removal of the veil on his own Ananda during that period. This happiness was triggered by his past good deeds (punya). The moment the punya that triggered this happiness is exhausted, the happiness terminates. The veil comes up again and the duality returns.
Therefore, the reason for feeling happiness in sensual contact with an object is not the object, but the removal of the veil on one’s inherent nature of Ananda. Nevertheless, it is called happiness derived from external objects (vishaya sukha) because the process was triggered by contact with the external object (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.5.4). In this way, we realize that even sensual happiness is only a fragment of Paramananda and is not the result of contact with any object different from us.The Nature of Grief (Sanskrit: Dukha)
In this background, we can now analyse the nature of dukha (grief). Dukha occurs when we are unable to attain a desired sensual pleasure or we are deprived of some pleasure which we already possessed. We have seen above that material pleasure is the result of the temporary removal of the veil over one’s own inherent nature (swarupa). This implies that grief is the result of the veil on our inherent nature. Thus we realise a significant difference between grief and material pleasure. In material pleasure, though the notion that it is coming from a particular object is wrong, the pleasure is only his inherent nature. On the other hand, grief has no connection with this nature at all.
Conclusion: Right from Lord Brahma (the creator) to all the creatures, all are Anandis, i.e. those who experience Ananda (happiness). This experience is got only through an instrument like mind, brain etc. But there are no instruments in deep sleep. Therefore, the supreme happiness (Paramananda) there is natural. There is no experience of Ananda there. There is no division of Ananda and Anandi (one experiencing Ananda). The sleeper is Ananda itself, not one experiencing it. Actually, this Paramananda is always there in the cave of our heart (hrdya guha), but it is generally covered by darkness. When a desired object comes into contact, the ensuing mental form clears this mental covering and the already existing Ananda is just felt. But this mental form is not stable. Therefore, such a happiness is only momentary. For permanent happiness we need to be in constant realisation of our inherent nature as Ananda. This is achieved through Vedanta Sadhana under the guidance of an able Guru. The purpose of this analysis done by the Upanishads is to demonstrate that permanent happiness is not an abstract promise, but a fact which can be glimpsed everyday in our deep sleep.
This article is based almost entirely on the teachings of Pujya Swami Paramanand Bharati Ji. However, any errors are entirely the author's own.References & Further Reading:
- Bharati, Swami Paramananda. Vedanta Prabodha: The Most Exhaustive Book Ever Written on Shankaracharya's Advaita Vedanta, Bangalore, 2008.