उद्दालको हारुणिः श्वेतकेतुं पुत्रमुवाच स्वप्नान्तं मे सोम्य विजानीहीति यत्रैतत्पुरुषः स्वपिति नाम सता सोम्य तदा सम्पन्नो भवति स्वमपीतो भवति तस्मादेनं स्वपितीत्याचक्षते स्वंह्यपीतो भवति ॥ ६.८.१ ॥
uddālako hāruṇiḥ śvetaketuṃ putramuvāca svapnāntaṃ me somya vijānīhīti yatraitatpuruṣaḥ svapiti nāma satā somya tadā sampanno bhavati svamapīto bhavati tasmādenaṃ svapitītyācakṣate svaṃhyapīto bhavati || 6.8.1 ||
1. Uddālaka Āruṇi said to his son Śvetaketu: ‘O Somya, let me explain to you the concept of deep sleep. When a person is said to be sleeping, O Somya, he becomes one with Sat [Existence], and he attains his real Self. That is why people say about him, “He is sleeping.” He is then in his Self’.
Uddālakaḥ āruṇih, Uddālaka Āruṇi [the son of Aruṇa]; śvetaketum putram, to his son Śvetaketu; ha uvāca, said; svapnāntam, the concept of [deep] sleep; me, from me; somya, O Somya; vijānīhi iti, learn; yatra, when; etat puruṣaḥ, this person; svapiti nāma, is said to be in deep sleep; somya, O Somya; tadā, then; sampannaḥ bhavati, he is merged; satā, with Sat [Existence, Paramātmā]; svam apītaḥ bhavati, he attains his real Self; tasmāt, for this, reason; ācakṣate, people say; enam, about him; svapiti iti, he is sleeping; svam hi apītaḥ bhavati, he attains his real Self.
In ancient India, all skills were passed from the father to the son. This is how the caste system eventually became so rigid. A father tended to be selfish and favour his son over his other students, especially if the father was a great scholar. Unless he had a student who was exceptionally good and intelligent, he would generally pass on the best things to his own son.
Why does Uddālaka call his son Śvetaketu by the name Somya? The name Somya means one who is quiet, humble, very good, and gentle. If you want to learn something, you must be quiet and modest. So the father is saying, vijānīhi—‘learn from me, you who are so quiet and humble.’
The word puruṣa means pure, ‘in the heart,’ and śayate, ‘residing.’ That which resides in the heart—i.e., the Self. It is a living being. It could be a man, a woman, an animal, or an insect.
The word svapnāntam means the concept of deep sleep, or dreamless sleep. When we dream, our sleep is disturbed, and it does not give us any rest. But dreamless sleep is very restful. If we have that kind of sleep for even a few minutes, we become temporarily free from this world. When we wake up then, it takes us some time to realize where we are and what time of day it is. While we were sleeping, the whole world was wiped out for us.
When we say, ‘This person is sleeping,’ what does that mean? What happens when we sleep? Where does the mind go? That is what is being discussed here. The Upaniṣad says, during deep sleep a person becomes united with the Self. The individual self—that is, the jīva who is ignorant—merges into the Cosmic Self.
The individual self has to have a body and a mind, and it is the mind that is closest to the Self. In fact, many people think the mind is the Self. The mind, however, is like a crystal. A crystal has no colour of its own, but suppose you put a red flower next to it. What happens? The crystal assumes the colour of the flower. Similarly, the mind has no consciousness of its own. But because it is close to the Paramātman, the Supreme Self, it gets the reflection of consciousness from the Self. Then, through the mind, all our organs function—the eyes, the ears, the hands, the feet, etc. The organs and the mind are all dependent on the Self.
When we are awake, the body and mind are both functioning. Then when we are dreaming, the body is not functioning but the mind is still functioning. But when we are in deep sleep, the mind also ceases to function. We then become one with our own Self. That is why deep sleep is so refreshing. Yet when we wake up we are the same individual that we were before we slept. The Self is there. We are always one with it. Yet sleep does not give us any knowledge of our Self. Why? Because our ignorance creates a barrier that keeps us from knowing our real nature.
But if we are one with the Self, how can we be separate from it? In reality, we are never separate from the Self, but when we are attached to our names and forms, we have desires. And when we have desires, ignorance has its full grip on us.
During dreamless sleep the barrier that keeps us from the Self is temporarily removed, but we are not conscious of it. That is why, when we wake up, we are exactly the same person we were before we slept. If I was a tiger before I went to sleep, I am a tiger again when I get up. A sleeping tiger cannot do any harm, but if it wakes up, beware! Similarly, if I was a bad person before, I am still a bad person when I wake up.
So, when I sleep, for the time being my ignorance is also sleeping, as it were. Only Self-knowledge can dispel my ignorance and give me true peace.
It is a common belief in India that if you bathe in the Ganga, you will get rid of all your sins. Sri Ramakrishna used to say, though, that the sins are very clever. As you go to the river the sins say to each other: ‘Well, this person is going into the Ganga. Let’s take shelter on that tree.’ So they fly off and perch on a tree. Then, when you come out of the river, they all pounce back on you and once again you are in their grip.
Similarly, deep sleep can give us temporary rest, but it cannot remove our ignorance. Only if we have real knowledge, knowledge of the Self, can we remove the seeds of our karma. Knowledge is like a sword. With that sword we can cut off the roots of our ignorance and become free. Once we attain Self-knowledge we are totally transformed, because it goes to the root of our being. And when we wake up from our sleep of ignorance we are no longer the same individual.