Deep Sleep, Death and Reincarnation (Rupert Spira)
In this essay, Rupert Spira explores three of the most common topics raised by students of non-duality: deep sleep, death and reincarnation. As Rupert explains, thoughts, sensations and perceptions do not take place in a waking state, a dream state or an after-life state. The waking, dream and after-life states are only made of the always-now thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions which all appear in the same timeless, placeless, here-and-now of Presence.
On the subject of death, Rupert asks, What is Consciousness’ experience of death? It has none. How could Consciousness experience its own death or disappearance? It would have to remain present to ‘have’ such an experience. In order for Consciousness to disappear, its substance would have to disappear into something. What would Consciousness dissolve into? There is nothing present other than itself into which it could go. We, that is Consciousness, have never and could never experience our own disappearance. The death of what we are, Consciousness, is therefore simply an idea – never an experience.
We invite you to join Rupert Spira as he explores these topics in-depth and offers a glimpse into That which is dimensionless, present, luminous, alive and awake. -Jeff Keller
Deep Sleep, Death and Reincarnation
Q: On waking up after dreamless deep sleep, identification continues with the same set of bodily sensations. Does that mean identification still remains at a subtler level while in deep sleep? If so, does this tendency of identification continue even after the death of physical body? If so, this would imply that mind survives death?
Identification is always in the form of a thought. For instance, the primary identification is a thought that goes something like this: “I, Consciousness, am located in and as the sensation called ‘the body.’”
RUPERT SPIRA: The only substance to that identification is the thought that thinks it, although it is further substantiated by feelings in the body. Consciousness itself is not actually implicated by this thought any more than a screen is implicated by an image that appears on it.
Consciousness is always only ‘experiencing’ itself, in the sense of being itself, just as the screen is only ever being itself.
The identifying thought is known as a ‘thought’ only to thought itself. It is only thought that says it is a ‘thought.’ Consciousness only knows ‘it’ as itself.
The same is true of all sensations and perceptions. Only thought knows them as ‘sensations’ and ‘perceptions.’ Consciousness is too close to all experience, too intimately, utterly ‘one with’ all experience to know it as something other than itself.
Only thought seemingly steps back from experience and labels one part of it ‘thought’ or ‘mind,’ another part ‘sensation’ or ‘body’ and another part ‘perception’ or ‘world.’ Without this ‘stepping back’ of thought, there is only the utter intimacy, directness and immediacy of Consciousness being itself. Experiencing is another name for this.
However, thought can never really ‘step back’ or ‘out of’ experience itself. It seems to ‘step back’ or ‘out of’ from its own imaginary point of view.
Now, having seen that the identification of Consciousness with anything other than itself never really happens, that is, it is only imagined to happen, let us consider deep sleep. We can look at deep sleep from two points of view: 1) from the perspective of the waking state, that is, ‘on waking up,’ and 2) from the point of view of experience itself.
From the perspective of the waking state, deep sleep appears as a vague memory of a blank nothingness, which apparently lasts for an undetermined period of time. This memory, like all memories, comes in the form of a thought, which, like all thoughts, irrespective of whether they are about the past, present or future, take place ‘now.’
The ‘deep sleep,’ to which the ‘memorising-thought’ refers, is utterly non-existent at the time of the memorising thought. In other words, the only evidence, in the waking state, for the existence of an experience called ‘deep sleep’ comes in the form of a thought.
That thought refers to a period of deep sleep that is not present at the time of the thought about it and can therefore never be verified. Therefore, the memory of deep sleep in the morning does not prove deep sleep. It proves nothing but itself. In fact, it doesn’t even prove itself, because it (the thought to be proved) vanishes as soon as it appears. So truly, thought, be it in the form of memory or indeed any other form, indicates nothing but Consciousness.
Waking-state-thought imagines that time exists independently of its being thought about. As a result of this presumption thought imagines that deep sleep (which is conceived as an absence of mind) lasts for a period of time.
In other words, thought ‘forgets’ that time is a creation of its own imagination and imagines it to be present even when thought is not, that is, in deep sleep. As a result deep sleep is imagined, from the point of view of the waking state, to have lasted for a period of time.
However, the state of deep sleep that the waking mind imagines is never actually experienced as such. Nor could it even be imagined, for to imagine something, some apparently objective quality would have to be present. Therefore thought first imagines deep sleep and, in order to conceive of it in its own language of apparent objectivity, it superimposes onto it the qualities of blankness and duration.
From the point of view of experience itself, which is the only valid point of view, what is known as deep sleep, is simply the presence of Consciousness without the appearance of mind (taking mind here to include all thinking, imagining, sensing and perceiving).
Prior to the arising of mind there is only Consciousness knowingbeing its own self. However, there is no appearance of time or space ‘there’ let alone any of the objects that are imagined to populate time and space. And therefore, of course, there is no ‘prior to the arising of mind’ because without mind there is no time. In fact, even with mind, there is no time, but there is at least the illusion of time ‘then.’
Therefore, what is known as deep sleep is only ‘deep’ and only ‘sleep’ from the point of view of the mind. By ‘deep’ the mind means, deeper than its usual surface thinking and by ‘sleep’ the mind means ‘the absence of itself.’
In its ignorance the mind conceives this absence of itself as nothingness, because all it knows and values are apparent objects. It does not know and cannot know the presence of Consciousness and hence it conceives of deep sleep as a dark, blank nothingness.
But from the point of view of experience, which means from the point of view of Consciousness, there is no experience of a dark, blank nothingness. Rather, there is only the ‘experience’ of itself, which means only the presence or being of itself. This is neither deep, dark, blank or asleep. It dimensionless, present, luminous, alive and awake.
Consciousness is not the opposite of un-consciousness. For Consciousness there is no ‘off.’ It is always ‘on.’ It never ceases to know/be itself. However, to say ‘always’ or ‘never’ already brings in imaginary time in which Consciousness is imagined to reside. Consciousness does not reside in time. It resides in itself, as itself, alone.
What is considered to be deep sleep from the point of view of the waking mind is ‘wide-awakeness’ for Consciousness. There are three states of waking, dreaming and sleeping only from the imaginary point of view of thought. For Consciousness there are not three states. There is only the one ever-present reality of itself alone.
The three states could be likened to a film, a document and a screen-saver appearing on a computer screen. The differences are not for the screen, they are for the mind.
Consciousness ‘never’ ceases to be this ‘wide-awakeness.’ The term ‘deep sleep’ is a misinterpretation of the reality of experience from the ignorant point of view of thought, that is, from the point of view that ignores the reality of experience.
The ‘dream’ and ‘waking’ states are two other interpretations or names that the mind gives to the reality of Consciousness, when it (Consciousness or experience) is imagined through the limiting and distorting lens of thought.
When we watch television we say that we are seeing a ‘film,’ the ‘news’ or a ‘documentary.’ Each of these labels is only a different name for the same screen, just as the waking, dreaming and deep sleep states are different names that thought gives to the reality of Consciousness.
For the screen there is always only itself, just as for Consciousness there is only knowingbeing itself.
It takes something outside the screen, one who imagines they are not the screen, to see the ‘film,’ the ‘news’ and the ‘documentary,’ just as it takes an imaginary entity who has seemingly separated itself from the seamless totality of experience to apparently see something other than Consciousness.
For Consciousness, there is only its own ever-presence. The categories of ‘waking, dreaming and deep sleep’ or of ‘mind, body and world,’ that is, the apparent multiplicity and diversity of all seeming things, is for the mind, not for Consciousness.
We could say that in this ever-present wide-awakeness, which the mind calls ‘deep sleep,’ the dreaming and waking minds arise, project a world that is seemingly outside Consciousness and ‘then’ subside.
However, the adventure of the dreaming and waking mind is for thought alone. It is not for Consciousness. Consciousness is always ‘at home,’ resting in its own being. It never takes the journey!
At no time is there ever an entity that falls asleep, that dreams a dream, that rests unknowingly in deep sleep or that subsequently wakes up. Such an entity and the states in which it considered to operate are all made only of the current thought that thinks them.
Now, with that as background, we can look more closely at the question as to whether identification remains at a subtler level in deep sleep.
Identification is simply a thought and a thought does not last in time. Time ‘lasts,’ or rather, is imagined to last, only with the thought that imagines it.
It is only from the point of view of thought that identification is considered real at all, let alone that it lasts in time. In other words, it is thought alone that imagines identification to be real and then imagines a duration of time in which it is supposed to last.
Why then does identification re-appear on waking? It doesn’t. Nothing re-appears. Even if we concede provisionally that ‘something’ truly appears, then, when that ‘something’ disappears it disappears absolutely, never to appear again.
It is only a thought that claims that the current appearance is a reappearance of an old appearance. However, every appearance, including the thought that imagines re-appearance, is brand new.
Identification and re-identification are as substantial as the thought that think them and all thoughts are paper tigers.
If identification was real and if it had lasted for countless millennia through innumerable births, we would have a real problem on our hands. Fortunately that problem is only real for the imaginary one that imagines it. For Consciousness, there is no identification, no bondage, no liberation and no problem.
All that is ‘required’ is to stand knowing as That, which simply means to notice that That is what we eternally are. In due course the mind and body are gradually realigned with this ‘new perspective,’
Now, does the mind survive death?
Let us consider what is meant by ‘death.’ Death could refer to the body, the mind or Consciousness.
In the conventional model of experience, it is believed that the body is born into a ready-made world and contains the mind, which in turn contains Consciousness.
We have seen, however, that it is truer to say that Consciousness contains the mind and that the body, made only of sensing and perceiving, is ‘part’ of the mind.
That is, we have seen that there are, in experience, no physical bodies or objects. We have seen that the apparently perceived object, body, other or world is made only of sensing/perceiving. In other words, we have seen that all so-called physical objects are made out of mind.
Therefore, it no longer makes sense to speak of the death of the physical body. Any theory of death that takes, as its starting point, the reality of the physical body and, therefore, its subsequent death, is flawed from the outset.
A truer (but not completely true) statement would be to say that the body is simply the current sensation or perception ‘of the body’ and that that ‘body’ disappears or dies every time that sensation or perception disappears. We have seen that a body, or indeed any object, does not last in time and that the ‘lasting body’ is a concept, not an experience.
In other words, every time the current sensation or perception of the body disappears, the ‘body’ dies, so we have experienced countless ‘deaths’ of the body. In fact, the ‘body’ is being born and dying ‘all the time’ and each appearance of the body is a brand new body.
Does the mind survive these deaths? In this question the mind is conceived not only as a vast container of all thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions, but also as a vast generator of such. However, no such mind has ever been experienced. Such a container/generator is simply a concept. It is imagined with the thought that thinks it.
The mind, in the broadest sense of the term is simply the current thought, image, sensation or perception. Like the body, it is born with every new appearance and it dies with every disappearance. It neither survives or continues.
In other words, there is no mind, body or world, as such, so we cannot meaningfully speak of their possible survival. The mind, body and world are simply the names that thought gives to the current thought, sensation and perception, respectively, and there is no continuity of thoughts, sensations and perceptions.
At a deeper level the mind, body and world are the names that thought gives to Consciousness and consciousness does not continue. It is ever-present.
Either way, there is no survival or continuity. There is only the ever-presence of Consciousness.
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However, this does not mean that when a sensation/perception (the body) disappears, it will not be ‘followed by’ a thought. In that sense there is nothing to suggest that the mind does not survive the death of the body. Thoughts keep coming after the ‘body’ has disappeared.
In fact, that is exactly what happens at night. When we ‘fall asleep’ the body, that is, the current sensation or perception vanishes, but dream thoughts and images appear. This is the experience of mind without a body. In fact, mind is always experienced without a body. The body is just one of the possible ‘shapes’ of the mind.
In a dream a new, seamless body/world-image appears. Dream-thinking subsequently identifies the ‘I’ of Consciousness with the dream body, thereby apparently separating the new dream-body/world-image into two ‘things’ – the ‘dream-I’ and the ‘dream-world’ – creating the illusion of duality in exactly the same way that waking-thinking does in the waking state.
Dream-thinking then wonders whether its thoughts will continue after the death of the dreamed entity, without realising that the dreamed entity, the dreamed body and its dreamed death are themselves simply thoughts.
What is also interesting to notice is that the thoughts and feelings of the waking state tend to become the environment of the dream state. In other words, what was on the ‘inside’ during the waking state becomes the ‘outside,’ in which the dream seems to take place. Hence the value of dream analysis in psychology.
There is nothing to suggest that this pattern will not continue after the ‘death’ of the waking body, which as we have already seen, is simply the disappearance of a bodily sensation, but not necessarily the cessation of mind. In other words, there is nothing to suggest that thoughts and feelings that ‘continue’ to arise after the death of the body will seem to derive their content from the previous thoughts and feelings of the now apparently deceased entity, just as dream images seem to derive their content from the waking state.
In the new ‘after-death’ dream, the imagined entity may again imagine that its thoughts and feelings are a continuation of a previous day or a previous life and hence the myth of the reincarnated entity will forever perpetuate itself in the dream of the imaginary entity.
Therefore, what for the imagined entity is life after life after life is, from the point of view of reality, dream within dream within dream all ‘taking place’ timelessly, placelessly.
However, even if we provisionally accept the above model (and it is only a half true model, truer than the conventional model but not completely true) it is important to remember that the mind, as it is normally conceived, is also only the current thought or image. Every time a thought or image ends, the mind dies.
So, having first seen that the body is, as it were, a subset of the mind and that the mind ‘continues’ to ‘produce’ thoughts, images sensations and perceptions, after the ‘death’ of the body, we can now see that the mind is equally fragile, that is, it never survives, as such. It is always vanishing. In other words, thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions do not take place in a waking state, a dream state or a after-life state. All thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions take place in the same timeless placeless here-and-now, and the waking, dream, deep sleep and after-life states are all simply made out of the thought that thinks them.
Now what about Consciousness?
Consciousness is all that is conscious or knowing and all that is truly present. What is Consciousness’ experience of death? It has none. How could Consciousness experience its own death or disappearance? It would have to remain present to ‘have’ such an experience.
In order for Consciousness to disappear its substance would have to disappear into something. What would Consciousness dissolve into? There is nothing present other than itself into which it could go. We, that is Consciousness, has never and could never experience its own disappearance.
Therefore death is never an experience. It is a concept. The entire dilemma about death originates with the thought that mistakenly identifies Consciousness with a limited body. In other words, the idea of death is only possible when Consciousness is seemingly ignored or forgotten.
Of course, Consciousness cannot ignore or forget itself. It can and does only ever know itself. It is only an arising thought, which imagines that Consciousness is not present, that seemingly obscures Consciousness’ knowingbeing itself and, as a result, posits as a reality, death and the attendant fear of disappearance, which is the hallmark of the apparently separate entity.
What has been said thus far is based upon the idea that thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions appear and disappear within Consciousness.
This idea is useful in that it overturns the conventional view that Consciousness is located inside a mind, which is located inside a body and which is, in turn, born into the world, and replaces it with a model that is closer to experience, where the mind, body and world are all seen as spontaneous arisings or appearances within Consciousness.
However, this new model should also be abandoned in due course because if we go deeply into experience itself, we find that it is not accurate.
In experience we do not find a succession of appearances. A succession of appearances can never be an actual experience because it is only possible to experience one appearance at a time. In other words, a multiplicity and therefore a diversity of appearances is never a current experience but rather only the current thought about ‘multiplicity and diversity,’ which refers to something that is never actually experienced.
In other words, multiplicity, diversity, appearance, disappearance, birth, death, time, space, causality are all paper tigers. They are made only of the thought that thinks them.
Our actual experience is that experience itself is ever-present. And the only substance present in all experience is Consciousness itself. Therefore we can say from our own intimate direct experience that all we know is Consciousness’ knowingbeing itself, that is, all Consciousness knows is itself.
Nothing ever appears or disappears. The same is true, relatively speaking, in a film. It seems as if people, objects, places, events and situations are appearing and disappearing but actually there is always only ever the screen. It doesn’t come or go. It does nothing. And because the screen is the only reality of the film, nothing can be said to truly come or go. What or where would anything come from or to where would such a thing go? It would have to come from outside the screen. But there is nowhere in the film outside the screen.
The same is true of experience. There is nothing outside Consciousness. There is nothing inside Consciousness. Consciousness is ever present and dimensionless, always knowing its own being. Nothing new comes into it. Nothing disappears out of it. There is nowhere from which or to which such a ‘thing’ could come and go and nothing out of which such a ‘thing’ could be made.
Consciousness is timelessly, placelessly, ever-present knowingbeing itself alone.
RUPERT SPIRA is an artist and Non-duality Teacher. Check out his website here, where he shares his views and experiences related to Non duality, Ceramics, Meditation, Advaita, Vedanta, Consciousness and Awareness.
*All ceramics above by Rupert.