Part VII — Questions and answers: Portland State University
Question: Is there a difference between sleep and meditation?Sri Chinmoy: Yes, there is the greatest possible difference between sleep and meditation. In a sense ordinary people are always sleeping as long as they are in ignorance. Even when they are physically working or running, unless and until they are spiritually awakened, they are fast asleep. From the spiritual point of view, he who is not aspiring is fast asleep.
Physical sleep is necessary, for the body needs rest. Every day the seeker goes out into the battlefield of life and fights against fear, doubt, anxiety, jealousy and other undivine forces, so he does need rest. When the body is tired and exhausted, it needs sleep. But we have to know whether our desire for sleep is the body's necessity or the necessity of pleasure-life, whether it is the body's need or merely its demand. If the body has worked very hard, then certainly the body deserves rest. But if the body demands ten hours or twelve hours of sleep, unless we are sick we are only making friends with inertia, lethargy, ignorance and death.
When we indulge in excessive amounts of sleep, we do not create anything; we just add our own contribution to ignorance, to death's capacity-might. Because of lethargy and our love for idleness, if we wallow in the pleasures of ignorance, then the time that we are offering to sleep, we are unable to offer to God. Time does not wait for us. Time comes to us, and we can use it either to pray or meditate or to take rest. But when we have established inner peace, we diminish our need for sleep, because peace itself is rest. We can sleep for only two hours or we may not sleep at all for days and nights. For the beginner it is advisable to sleep for seven hours; but eight, nine or ten hours is too much.
The great spiritual Masters have a different kind of sleep. It is called Yoga-nidra. Because of their realisation, they are constantly one with the soul. When they sleep, others may see and feel that they are fast asleep, but their souls are all vigilance. These Masters may snore, and their bodies may be totally inert, but at that time they have separated the body from the soul and have become inseparably one with the soul. They are allowing the body to take rest because it has worked hard and it needs and deserves rest, but they know that they are not asleep, their consciousness is not asleep. Their real reality, which is the soul's reality, is absolutely alert. The soul is meditating most powerfully. For ordinary seekers this is not possible. This dreamless sleep, which is at a very high state of consciousness, is experienced only by seekers on the verge of realisation or actually realised. This kind of sleep is inseparable from meditation. But normally, sleep is sleep and meditation is meditation. If it is beyond what is necessary, sleep is friendship with ignorance. Meditation is always friendship with illumination.