Is Enlightenment a State of Consciousness?

By Tristan Dorling

Q. I have heard you describe the endgame of spiritual practices as a 24/7 experience of bliss. I have also read teachers like Yogani mention the experience of “witnessing” sleep and, I believe, something from Ramana Maharshi about enlightenment being similar to experiencing the bliss of deep sleep at all times.

I am curious: For me, deep sleep is an utter blank. No experiences (that I can remember), nor any sense of time passing (but for dreams, it would seem like no time passed during 8 hours of sleep). In your book – “Kundalini Awakening – Questions and Answers”, you answer in the negative to someone who asks whether enlightenment is like nirvikalpa samadhi, which I guess is an experience of nothingness while awake (perhaps similar to deep sleep in terms of experience but still awake and functioning?), stating instead that it was sahaja samadhi.

I am curious then: What is it possible to experience during deep sleep? A kind of blissful awareness with no objects? I assume when Ramana Maharshi speaks of bringing the bliss of deep sleep into daily life he doesn’t mean nirvikalpa samadhi, but rather something like “inner silence” or “the witness,” which, so far as I have experienced them, feel like a kind of objectless awareness beyond sensory experience and thoughts. Is that what is experienced during deep sleep (for those in sahaja samadhi)?

Although one in sahaja samadhi is not unaware like in nirvikalpa samadhi, does the quality of deep sleep the Maharishi speaks of create a “beyond time” quality to waking life as well?


There are different states that can be experienced and then there is the process of enlightenment which is moving beyond all experience. There is also a relationship between these different states and the process of enlightenment.

The witness (inner silence) is a state where we are able to perceive objects without getting caught up with them. Without becoming attached to them, or trying to push them away, or becoming identified with them. It is an early stage on the path of awakening which still involves the subject/ object relationship. It is still within the realms of duality.

Savikalpa samadhi is a state where objects are present but where we are primarily aware of ourselves as pure awareness. So, awareness comes to the foreground and objects go to the background. Objects means mental objects and the objects of the senses, so we can still see, hear, think, etc. and be functioning fully in the world in this state.

Nirvikapla samadhi is a state of meditative absorption without objects. So, no thought, no memory, no sights, sounds etc. It is not possible to function in the world in this state. There is only the bliss of the Self.

If someone is conscious in deep sleep then they will be aware of the bliss of the Self and also of the huge ecstatic flows of prana in the body that happen during deep sleep as the body is rejuvenated. So it is a state of ecstatic-bliss. But is someone walked into the room and said their name, they would be aware of that and could reply. So there is still sensory perception even if there is no thought, or dream states.

So, these are all different states and someone on the path of enlightenment could be moving between these different states many times during one day. They could sit down to meditate and enter savikalpa samadhi, then it could deepen into nirvikalpa samadhi. Then after their meditation they could be cleaning their house and be in the witness state. Then at night they could be asleep and be fully conscious during deep sleep. They may find that they spontaneously enter samadhi during the day, which is called sahaja samadhi, or naturally arising samadhi.

But enlightenment is not a state. It is beyond all states. It is directly perceiving that we are That, beyond all the states that come and go. It is unity, so the subject-object relationship of the witness state is transcended. It is characterised by freedom (moksha), unity (kaivalya) and bliss (ananda) and is not dependent on any particular state being present.

But, as I mentioned, there is a relationship between the various states and the process of enlightenment. It is important to cultivate the witness in order to progress on the path to enlightenment. It is important to cultivate savikalpa samadhi and nirvikalpa samadhi and to experience these states many times. In these states the habit of false identification will gradually dissolve and that is important for the process to evolve.

So, the yogic practices involve both cultivating these various states, and eventually taking us beyond them to come to know That which we truly are. And Ramana Maharshi was right in saying that we are bringing the bliss of deep sleep into daily life. You could equally say that we are bringing the bliss of nirvikalpa samadhi into daily life.

As for time, the Self is always situated beyond time. Time requires separation, as things need to change in order for time to be experienced, and the true Self is a state of Unity, beyond separation. However, it is still possible to operate in time. If you need to catch a bus at 9 in the morning, you would know what that means and you can catch the bus. But time is part of the play of the mind, just as separation and the idea of being someone, going somewhere, are part of the play of the mind. So, you would know that, and you can enjoy the play.

This blog post is part of a discussion from the AYP Academy Community. It is a private Community Forum and can be joined by anyone.