Friday, August 22, 2014

The three states (avasthA traya) according to Shri Ramakrishna

The three states (avasthA traya) according to Shri Ramakrishna
by Guy Werlings

[Shri Guy (pronounced in French as 'gi' in give) Werlings was born into a religious Roman Catholic family.  At the tender age of ten, he lost his father in an accident and that shook his faith in an embodied saviour God. Being deeply spiritual yet analytically inclined as he was, Guy was soon drawn to the teachings of “jnAna yoga” by Swami Vivekananda. As a teen ager, he was initially under the tutelage of Rakhal, the disciple of Swami Siddheswarananda and a monk at the local Ramakrishna Mission near Gretz. He then moved on to study many Advaita texts including the advanced works like the Mandukya Upanishad and karika of Gaudapada, Drig Drisya viveka of Shankara, several books by Shri V. S. Iyer, Swami Ishwarananda and others. Guy acquired some knowledge of Sanskrit and dedicated over 50 years of his life in the pursuit of avasthA traya vicAra. He translated many Advaita writings from English to French for local dissemination. Post retirement, he lives with his wife Rachèle in Corribert, a small village in Champagne district, about 125 km east of Paris.

I am obliged to Shri Guy for his short contribution to our Blog and look forward to his active interaction in the future – ramesam.]

The three states (avasthA traya) according to Shri Ramakrishna
by Guy Werlings

Guy Werlings
Sometime in 1990, after having pursued Advaita for 30 years, I wondered if Shri Ramakrishna had ever talked on the three states of consciousness (avasthA traya). When I decided to check on this, I was pleasantly surprised to note that Shri Ramakrishna did in fact discuss this subject, though his exposition of the avasthAtraya approach was not in the style and manner of Gaudapada or Shankara.  I found reference to the three states in the index of the book called “Gospel of Ramakrishna,” – a compilation of the notes taken by his lay disciple Mahendranath Gupta, known as “M.” The book was originally written in Bengali but later got translated into English by Swami Nikhilananda. I translated the relevant excerpts into French.

I am presenting here a few instances, though not exhaustive, to show how Shri Ramakrishna used avasthA traya in his talks with his disciples. I have provided full citation and reference to the extracts to facilitate further study. At a few places, I could not refrain from interspersing, within brackets, short remarks of my own.

All the quotes are from “The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna,” New York, 1952, Second Edition.
1.  Chapter 21 — A day at Dakshineswar,  Saturday, April 5, 1884 [Page: 417]
According to Vedānta the waking state, too, is unreal.
Once a wood-cutter lay dreaming when someone woke him up. Greatly annoyed, he said:  “Why have you destroyed my sleep? I was dreaming that I was a king and the father of seven children. The Princes were becoming well versed in letters and in military arts. I was sure on my throne and ruled over my subjects.
“Why have you demolished my world of joy? Fool!,” said the wood-cutter.  
‘But that was a mere dream’ said the other man. ‘You do not understand my becoming a king in the dream was just as real as is my being a woodcutter. If being a wood-cutter is real, then being a king in dream is real also’”.
2. Sunday, October 26, 1884, Page: 651
(To Mahimacharan) “In the light of Vedantic reasoning the world is illusory, unreal as a dream. The Supreme Soul is the Witness – the witness of the three states of waking, dream, and deep sleep. These things are in your line of thought. The waking state is only as real as the dream. Let me tell you a story that agrees with your attitude.
[Here I note that the alleged illiterate non-advaitin seems to have at least heard something about the matter — Then he proceeds with one of these vivid illustrations, sometimes inopportunely termed as parables which were very typical of him, (it is true he was only a Bengali priest of peasant origin – and definitely not a pundit)].
Shri Ramakrishna, Dec 1881
There was a farmer who lived in the countryside. He was a real jnani. He earned his living by farming. He was married, and after many years a son was born to him, whom he named Haru. The parents loved the boy dearly. This was natural, since he was the one precious gem in the family.
On account of his religious nature the farmer was loved by the villagers. One day he was working in the field when a neighbour came and told him that Haru had [652] had an attack of cholera. The farmer at once returned home and arranged for treatment for the boy. But Haru died. The other members of the family were grief-stricken, but the farmer acted as if nothing had happened. He consoled his family and told them that grieving was futile. Then he went back to his field. On returning home he found his wife weeping even more bitterly. She said to him : How heartless you are ! You haven't shed one tear for the child”. The farmer replied quietly: “Shall I tell you why I haven't wept? “I had a very vivid dream last night. I dreamt I had become a king; I was the father of eight sons and was very happy with them. Then I woke up. Now I am greatly perplexed. Should I weep for those eight sons or for this one Haru?”
The farmer was a jnāni; therefore he realized that the waking state is as unreal as the dream state. There is only one eternal Substance, and that is the Atman.
[Not that bad for a non-advaitin tantric bhakta!]       
But for my part I accept everything: Turīya and also the three states of waking, dream, and deep sleep. I accept all three states. I accept all – Brahman and also māyā, the universe, and its living beings. If I accepted less I should not get the full weight”(all laugh).
3.  Chapter 33 Sunday, October 26,1884, [Page: 653]
Mahima: “’A’, ‘u’ and ‘m’ mean creation, preservation and destruction”.
A Scene from Corribert
Master: “But I give the illustration of the sound of a gong: ‘tom’, t–o–m. It is the merging of the Lila in the Nitya: the gross, the subtle and the causal merge in the Great Cause; waking, dream and deep sleep merge in Turiya. The striking of the gong is like the falling of a heavy weight into a big ocean. Waves begin to rise: the Relative rises from the Absolute; the causal, subtle and gross bodies appear out of the Great Cause; from Turiya emerge the states of deep sleep, dream and waking. These waves arising from the Great Ocean merge again in the Great Ocean. From the Absolute to the Relative and from the Relative to the Absolute. Therefore I give the illustration of the gong's sound, ‘tom’. I have clearly perceived all these things. It has been revealed to me that there exists an Ocean of Consciousness without limit. From It come all things of the relative plane and in It they merge again. Millions of Brahmandas rise in that Chidakasha and merge in It again. All this has been revealed to me; I don't know much about what your books say”
[For Shri Ramakrishna the matter was not a question of punditry but of experience, anubhava, or as Shankara would have perhaps termed it aparoksha anubhUti.]
4.  Wednesday, February 25, 1885, [Page: 699]
Shri Ramakrishna was at the house of Girish Ghosh in Bosepara Lane, Calcutta. It was about three o'clock when M. arrived and prostrated himself before him. The Master was going to see a play at the Star Theatre. He was talking with the devotees about the Knowledge of Brahman.
Master:  “Man experiences three states of consciousness: waking, dream, and deep sleep. Those who follow the path of knowledge explain away the three states. According to them, Brahman is beyond the three states. It is also beyond the gross, the subtle and the causal bodies, and beyond the three gunas – sattva, rajas and tamas. All these are māyā, like a reflection in a mirror. The reflection is by no means the real substance. Brahman alone is the Substance and all else is illusory”.
The knowers of Brahman say, further, that it is the identification of the soul with the body that creates the notion of duality.[700] In that state of identification the reflection appears real. When this identification disappears, a man realizes ‘I am He; I am Brahman’”.
[Rest of the conversation not dealing with the three states.]

A Scene from Corribert