Does consciousness know itself in deep sleep?

Does consciousness know itself in deep sleep?

Would you say that in deep sleep consciousness knows itself? Consciousness can only know itself with the appearance of an object, I guess. In deep sleep or what we call death, consciousness remains, but can it know itself without an object?

Balsekar says there is consciousness not conscious of itself and conscious of itself with the waking state. In deep sleep I am not conscious that I am conscious, whereas in the waking state I am conscious that I am conscious. How would you articulate that?



Dear Jérôme,

First of all, I would like to say that I do not wish to comment on any other teacher. My comments are in response to your questions only. Yes, I would say that in deep sleep consciousness knows itself – as you say, ‘in deep sleep or what we call death, consciousness remains’.

But no, it is not true that consciousness can only know itself with the appearance of an object. Consciousness always knows itself without an object. The suggestion that awareness or consciousness does not know itself is an expression of fundamental ignorance or dualism.

Let us be clear to begin with that by the words ‘awareness’ and ‘consciousness’ we simply mean whatever it is that is aware or conscious of this current situation. For instance, it is aware or conscious of these words. 

We have no doubt that consciousness is present and that it is what we most essentially are. It is what is referred to as ‘I’. It is the experiencing element in every situation. The experience ‘I am’ is known, and it is not known by anything or anyone other than myself. I am that alone which knows myself to be. It is ‘I’ that knows ‘I am’.

In other words, it is consciousness that knows that it is present. And it does not know itself through any agent or medium, such as a mind or a body. It knows itself directly, prior to knowing any ‘other thing’. This establishes that in the absolute certainty of the experience of our self, both the knowingof our self and the beingof our self are present.

Neither one of these two aspects of our self, knowing and being, can be present without the other. In order for knowing or consciousness to be present, it must be; there must be being. And in order to experience the presence of our own being, consciousness must be present ‘there’ to experience it.

Therefore, we can say, from our own intimate experience, both ‘I know that I am’ and ‘I am that I am’. However, we know that whatever we are, we are only one ‘thing’. ‘I’ is one, not two.


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In simply acknowledging the firsthand experience of our own presence, in recognising that ‘I am’, we recognise that consciousness and being are one, and that this one is what we call ‘I’. We recognise that beingour self and knowingour self is one and the same experience. This non-objective knowing-being is prior to and therefore independent of the body, the mind and the world.

There is nothing more essential or primal in our experience than this knowing-being. So the essential nature of our self, ‘I’, knowing-being, is consciousness and presence. It can never cease to know and it can never cease to be. This essential knowing of our own being is what is referred to by the word ‘happiness’. It is for this reason that what we are is described not simply as knowing and being, but rather, knowing, being and happiness.

It is not just that consciousness knows itself at all times; consciousness isthe ever-present knowing of itself. It is consciousness that knows itself to be consciousness. It does not know itself through any other agency, such as a mind or a body. Therefore consciousness is said to be self-luminous, because it is the light by which it knows itself (and by which everything else is known).

Consciousness is said to be self-knowing because in the simple being of itself isthe knowing of itself. And consciousness is said to be self-evident, because it is through itself, by itself, in itself and as itself that it knows itself. It is its own evidence.

Consciousness can never notknowitself and it can never notbeitself.

When an object appears, the knowing or experiencing of that object is consciousness’s knowing or experiencing of itself as that apparent object. Objects are only ascribed their own independent, separate reality (separate, that is, from consciousness) when consciousness’s knowing of its own self (as itself and as the substance of all things) seems to become veiled, by mind.

In other words, to seem to know an object, other or world is to seem not to know consciousness. And to know consciousness is to understand that we never know an object, other or world.

Or we could say that normally we think that consciousness is the unknown element in every experience and that the object, other or world is the known element in every experience. However, it is in fact the other way round. Consciousness is the known element in every experience and the object, other or world is the imagined element in every experience.


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Having established this, let us look again at the statement that consciousness doesn’t know itself in this moment.

‘Something’ is undeniably known in this moment: the screen, these words, thoughts, sensations, perceptions, and so on. Even if all these turn out to be an illusion or a dream, nevertheless ‘something’ is still being experienced.

If we claim that consciousness or awareness is not being experienced in this moment, then whatever this ‘something’ is cannot be consciousness or awareness. Moreover this ‘something’ must be made out of something other than consciousness or awareness.

In order to have this current experience, consciousness must be present. It is also our direct experience that consciousness ispresent now. In other words, we are suggesting that two things are present in this and every experience: consciousness and its object. We are also suggesting that the consciousness ‘part’ of the experience is unknown and the object ‘part’ is known and, moreover, is made out of a substance other than consciousness.

This ‘other substance’ is what is known as matter or mind. It is everything that consciousness is considered not to be.

So the view that consciousness is not experienced is a fundamental statement of the existence of ‘two things’, that is, an unknown subject and a known object. It could be called fundamental dualism.

The statement that there are two things implies an infinity of things, because if there is one object that has a real and independent existence, separate from consciousness, when this object disappears, the next object will have to have its own unique and independent existence.

Therefore, the existence of two things, in fact implies the existence of an infinity of things, each with its own independent reality. An infinity of things, implies an infinity of realities. This is logically and, more importantly, experientially impossible, because there is not and cannot be more than one absolute reality.


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If every object contains its own reality, what would happen to that reality when the object disappeared? Its reality would have to disappear with it. How long does a perception last? A moment? What kind of reality could it be that only lasts a moment? It would hardly be worth the name. 

What would remain in between the disappearance of one reality and the appearance of the next? Absolute nothingness? Has anyone ever experienced absolute nothingness? That is an impossibility, because consciousness would have to be present to know such an experience of ‘nothingness’ and would therefore be its witness and substance.

Moreover, if we assert that we experience separate objects, we imply that we are a separate subject, because the subject and the object, by definition, always appear together. If the object has a limit, the subject must also have a limit.

If we are limited and separate, we, consciousness, must end. In other words, there must be a place or a time, or both, when we, consciousness, are not present. But what would remain over after we, consciousness, had disappeared? Absolute nothingness again?

If we are a separate subject, we must be limited and therefore finite. We, consciousness, would be limited and finite. Who has ever experienced a limited and finite consciousness? It would have to be experienced by a limited and finite consciousness, if that is what we are. However, how could a limited and finite consciousness be in a position to judge whether or not there is anything that is absolutely real or ever-present, when it is itself considered to be intermittent?

If we look deeply into our experience we find that, far from consciousness being unknown and objects being known, it is consciousness that is in fact all that is ever known, and that which we previously considered to be known, that is, the world, others and objects, are in fact never known.

‘That which is never ceases to be. That which is not never comes into being’ (Parmenides).

That which knows is consciousness, and all it ever knows is itself. It is not possible for consciousness to know or experience anything other than itself.

Consciousness not only knows itself but alwaysand onlyknows itself, throughout and in between the three states of waking, dreaming and sleeping. In fact, the three states of waking, dreaming and sleeping are like modulations of one substance, like an eddy or a current within the ocean of consciousness.


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It is sometimes said that the experience of consciousness knowing itself is a non-objective experience. However, this is a half-truth spoken to those who deeply believe in the real existence of objects.

To say that consciousness is non-objective, suggests that there is something else which isobjective. It is to suggest that objects are real in themselves. However, there are no objects as such and no subject. There is no subjective experiencer and there is no object that is experienced. There is only experiencing, from moment to moment, and the substance of this experiencing is only consciousness.

The mind, the body and the world are projected within consciousness and made only out of consciousness, and yet they are projected in such a way as to seemto be both separate from and made out of something other than consciousness.

So consciousness not only creates whatever it imagines. It also has a veiling power with which it veilsthe true nature of its creation from itself and projects it in such a way as it seems to be other than itself. This veiling power is sometimes called ignorance, because it is the ignoring of consciousness. Consciousness, as it were, veils, ignores or forgets itself by taking the shape of ignorance.

However, even this shape is only an expression of consciousness knowing and being itself. Consciousness is never truly veiled, and therefore there is no true ignorance, although the illusion of ignorance is very powerful.


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It is this veiling, ignoring or forgetting which allows the mind, the body and the world to appear as ‘outside’, ‘separate’ and ‘other’, that is, that allows the mind, the body and the world to appear real. In this way the mind, the body and the world seem to appropriate the reality which properly belongs to consciousness alone.

This veiling, ignoring or forgetting is the birth of the separate self and the separate world. It is also known as suffering or unhappiness. It is the veiling of the happiness which is inherent in consciousness’s knowing of its own being.

However, just as consciousness has this veiling, ignoring or forgetting power, it also has a revealing or remembering power, with which it comes to know again, to re-cognise or to remember the real nature of its creativity as its very own self.

There are also ‘times’ (they are in fact timeless) when consciousness takes no shape at all and simply shines in and by and as itself, self-luminous, self-knowing, self-evident, self-existent.

We could say that in this eternal presence, consciousness abides knowingly in and as itself, knowing itself as peace or happiness. In the presence of apparent objects, consciousness knows itself as each of these apparent objects. That is, it knows itself taking the shape of our experience from moment to moment. However, in doing so it never knows anything other than itself.

When each of these apparent objects disappears, it disappears or merges into consciousness. At this point consciousness simply continues to know itself as it always does. This is known as the experience of love, peace, happiness, beauty or understanding. These are some of the many names given to consciousness when it knows itself unmediated through the apparent veil of objectivity.

Experience is one ever-present, homogeneous, substantial, self-knowing, self-luminous, self-loving presence. It is always only ever itself and it always only ever knows itself.

With love,


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