Sometimes in discourse, I suddenly come to consciousness and realize that I don’t know where I’ve been, and yet the discourse is coming to a close. Your words were coming through, but I’m not sure if I was awake. If I’m not conscious, am I asleep? Are these the only two possibilities? Is there some stage in-between? How to tell the difference?
Mary Catherine, the question you have asked is the question everybody needs the answer for. Man is asleep, but it is no ordinary sleep; he is asleep with open eyes. His sleep is spiritual, not physical.
Just as in physical sleep your consciousness is filled with dreams, in spiritual sleep your consciousness is filled with thoughts, desires, feelings – a thousand and one things.
It is not that you are unconscious in the sense of being in a coma; you are unconscious in the sense that your consciousness is covered with too much dust. It is exactly like a mirror: if covered with many layers of dust, it will lose the quality of reflecting, will lose the quality of being a mirror. But the mirror is there; all that is needed is to remove the dust. Your consciousness is there – even while you are physically asleep your consciousness is there, but now more covered than when you are awake.
You are asking, “If I’m not conscious, am I asleep? Are these the only two possibilities? Is there some stage in between? How to tell the difference?”
You are not unconscious in the sense a person falls into a coma; you are not conscious in the sense a Gautam Buddha is conscious. You are in between. A thick layer of thoughts does not allow you to be in the present. That’s why, while you are listening to me, you are listening and yet the listening is very superficial – because deep down there are so many thoughts going on. You are listening but it is not reaching you, and as I stop speaking, suddenly you realize that you have been listening, certainly, but you have not understood it. It has not penetrated you; it has not become part of your being. Something has prevented it, like a China Wall. Those thoughts are transparent, but they are thicker than any China Wall can be.
You are neither asleep nor awake, you are in between – awake as far as your day to day mechanical activities are concerned, and asleep as far as a clear consciousness is concerned. A pure consciousness, a deep innocence like an unclouded sky, is absent.
The pope was sitting with his cardinals signing papers and proclamations. The phone rang and his secretary answered. “Your holiness,” she said. “It is about the abortion bill. A reporter wants to talk to you.”
“Don’t bother me,” the pope interrupted.
“But he wants to know what you are going to do about the bill.”
“Just pay it,” the pope replied. “Pay it quick!”