We have to fall asleep, but we don’t have to fall for sleep
Sleeping is a biological need for resting and rejuvenating the body. The Bhagavad-gita acknowledges the indispensability of sleep when it (06.16) recommends avoidance of too little sleep – and recommends such avoidance even for renounced yogis.
Yet the same Gita (18.39) later declares that the pleasure coming from from lethargy, intoxication and sleep is in the mode of ignorance. When sleep is a bodily necessity, why is it considered characteristic of ignorance? Actually, what is ignorant is not sleep per se, but the pleasure sought from sleep.
Different people sleep for different purposes. Yogis see the body as a means for spiritual growth. Kalidas echoes this in Kumarsambhavam (5.33): shariram aadyam khalu dharmasaadhanam “The body is certainly a vital instrument for performing dharma.” Bhakti-yogis see the body as Krishna’s gift. Knowing that its condition determines significantly the quality of the service we can offer him, we take due care of it by doing the necessary things such as eating healthily and sleeping adequately.
In contrast, the ignorant sleep not to rest the body, but to escape from life’s problems – just as some people seek similar escape through laziness and intoxication, the other two things mentioned in the same verse as characteristic of ignorance. Such ignorant people don’t fall asleep; they fall for sleep. They succumb to the lure of sleep as an escape-way. Such indulgence in sleep arises from ignorance and it aggravates ignorance.
When, after a day of diligent service, we sleep with gratitude to Krishna for having received and used opportunities for constructive contribution and when, after a good night’s sleep, we wake with prayerful enthusiasm looking forward to another day of similar service, our sleeping becomes spiritually subsumed in a life of fulfilling devotion that elevates us from ignorance towards transcendence.
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