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The other night at a group meditation meeting, I mentioned to another practitioner that sleep is a 'lazy form of Nirvana'.

My memory tells me that Tara Brach or another teacher jokingly referred to sleep in that way, but after looking on Google, I can't find the reference :\

I would feel a little guilty if my reference was false, but I know that Nirvana is in a lot of ways the opposite of sleep and I'm sure she did too.

I ask this as a joke, but has anyone heard of sleep referred as a 'lazy form of Nirvana?' If so, which teacher made that reference?

  • I thank everyone for their clear and concise definitions of Nirvana and its obvious difference from the state of sleep. But the intent of my question was simply to ask if someone had heard of a monk or nun mentioning the phrase, 'lazy Nirvana' in a Dharma talk. If you have, please leave a note below. – halfmut Apr 30 '17 at 19:37
  • Deep sleep is said to be a fourth state of consciousness by many teachers, at which time one would be in communion with Self but in an ignorant state. I can see why this might be called 'lazy Nirvana'. – PeterJ Oct 31 '18 at 12:40
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Sleep is not really Nibbana because Nibbana is defined as the "uprooting" & "destruction" of the mental defilments, as follows:

To whatever extent there are phenomena conditioned or unconditioned, dispassion is declared the foremost among them, that is, the crushing of pride, the removal of thirst, the uprooting of attachment, the termination of the round, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, nibbāna.

AN 4.34

In sleep, the mental defilements of an non-fully-enlightened mind remain dormant as "underlying tendencies". Therefore, sleep cannot be Nibbana.

However, the teacher Bhikkhu Buddhadasa make some comments about how the 'Nibbana element' operates in everyday life, here: Nibbana for Everyone. which includes 'sleep'.

Nibbāna is one of the dhātus (natural elements). It is the coolness that remains when the defilements – greed, anger, fear, delusion – have ended.

Any reactive emotion that arises ceases when its causes and conditions cease. Although it may be a temporary quenching, merely a temporary coolness, it is still Nibbāna, even if only temporarily. Thus, there’s a temporary Nibbāna for those who can’t yet avoid some defilements. It is this temporary Nibbāna that sustains the lives of beings who continue hanging onto defilement. Anyone can see that if the egoistic emotions existed night and day without any pause or rest, no life could endure it. If such life didn’t die, it would go crazy and then die in the end. You ought to consider carefully the fact that life can survive only because there are periods when the defilements don’t roast it. These periods outnumber the times when the defilements blaze.

These periodic Nibbānas sustain life for all of us, without excepting even animals, which have their levels of Nibbāna, too. We are able to survive because this kind of Nibbāna nurtures us, until it becomes the most ordinary habit of life and of mind. Whenever there is freedom from defilement, then there is the value and meaning of Nibbāna. This must occur fairly often for living things to survive. That we have some time to relax both bodily and mentally provides us with the freshness and vitality needed to live.

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I've heard Jack Kornfield make this reference in one or more audiobooks. Might have been in "A Wise Heart" or "The Roots of Buddhist Psychology". Not sure exactly where though. He speaks of hard working busy middle aged business people coming to a retreat center for the first time, and realizing how tired and worn out they are. He goes on to say that if students are sleepy the first couple of days at retreat, it doesn't bother him. He knows people need to rest up in order to get the most out of the retreat. And he jokes that sleep is the lazy man's nirvana. He might have even attributed this joke to HIS teacher Ajahn Chah.

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Sleep is mentioned as an impotent state of life, by Buddha.

Nirvana requires the growth of Saptha Bojjang which will not take place while asleep.

More details on Bojjanga is available here: Bojjanga Samyuttaya

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There are some Zen koans that allegorically refer to this. The most famous one is:

Blue Cliff Record, Case 89

Yunyan asked Daowu, “How does the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion use so many hands and eyes?”

Daowu said, “It’s just like a person in the middle of the night reaching in search of a pillow.”

Yunyan said, “I understand.”

Daowu said, “How do you understand it?

Yunyan said, “All over the body are hands and eyes.”

Daowu said, “What you said is all right, but it’s only eighty percent of it.”

Yunyan said, “I’m like this, elder brother. How do you understand it?”

Daowu said, “Throughout the body are hands and eyes.”

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