The topic for the month of February is Dreams and Dreaming
Here also is an opportunity to ask questions on this topic and receive answers from the bloggers.
We always assume the present to be the waking state and, by contrast with it, the previous state sublated by the present to be dream. It is impossible to distinguish them otherwise by any subtle definition. (Loose translation of Gaudapada kArikA 2.5) (Please, no reference to EEG to refute this!)
Ah, yes, one of my favorite topics.
Here are the first three paragraphs of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Silver Key”:
Regarding Gaudapada’s assertions, I think there are other ways to distinguish the so-called waking state from the dreaming state. As any lucid dream enthusiast is perfectly aware, one can perform various tests (“reality checks”) to see if one is dreaming or not. The most common ones are looking at one’s hands, looking at the ciphers of a digital clock, and looking at a piece of text. If one is dreaming, the hands, ciphers, or text will be distorted, scrambled, and/or unstable. One can also try flying, changing one’s surroundings by spinning, shape-shifting, or even eliminating one’s physical body altogether (how’s that for a “you’re not your body” exercise?).
That said, it can be argued that these tests cannot prove that the dreaming state is false any more than they can prove that the waking state is true. At most they prove that one state is distinguishable from the other – and that one is the central dreamer of one state but not the other. Blaise Pascal had a point when he said, “For life is a dream, only slightly less inconstant.” As did Havelock Ellis, when he said, “Dreams are real while they last; can we say more of life?” The nursery rhyme also comes to mind: “Row, row, row your boat, / Gently down the stream. / Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, / Life is but a dream.”
False awakenings are possible in dreams. Why not in the waking state? The waking state could be nothing but one long false awakening.
Here’s an excerpt from the Upanishads:
Some more good quotations:
Great quotes, PtN – thanks for that! (Dreams are one of my favorite topics, too – I always wanted to write a novel on the subject.) I read H. P. Lovecraft back in my early teens (along with vast amounts of SF); too early to appreciate what a good writer he was.
Here is what I say in my new book on the subject of lucid dreams:
“This is the situation in which I am dreaming but suddenly realize that I am dreaming. I am then able to manipulate the dream consciously in whatever way I wish. Most people have probably not experienced this and may view it with suspicion but I can confirm that this really is the case. Having read a little on the subject, it seems that one can actually train oneself to increase the frequency of lucid dreaming also. But there is no new state here, according to Advaita. It can be considered as being a special case of the dream state.
“The ‘world’ that exists for the lucid dreamer is still a mind-generated one. It is just that the mind is now able to play some conscious part in the creation of this world and influence the ‘actions’ of the dream-self. There is no consciousness of the external, gross universe and the physical body remains in its relatively inert state, apart from (one presumes) its rapid eye movements or other characteristics of dream activity (e.g. brain wave patterns) as perceived by another waker.
“There are some claims to experience of lucid dreams in which the dreamer has access to waking memories, which can be consulted while the dream is taking place – these are called ‘fully lucid’. And, in so-called ‘super lucid’ dreams, one can dispel the current dream completely and direct the mind to other pursuits, such as consulting Shankara on the subject of lucid dreams, for example!
“One could therefore argue that the extremes of lucid dreaming do involve the ‘waker’ and could be considered to be a mixture of waking and dream states. Even so, these would still fall into the realm of what is referred to in the 7th mantra as ubhayataHpraj~naM. And it is pointed out there that the fourth – turIya – is not this either.
“Any state that we could conceive would still be merely a superimposition upon Atman and would be mithyA only. Atman is always the substrate, and is the only reality.”
(The new book is on the Mandukya Upanishad and Gaudapada kArikA-s – ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’. I will announce it shortly and include some more excerpts.)
Interesting analysis, particularly the notion that the lucid dreaming state is a cross between the waking and the dreaming state. I wonder if you would say something similar about astral projection (out-of-body experience)?
I find that dreams are quite helpful for understanding Advaita. As the entirety of a dream takes place in your mind, there is nothing in there that isn’t yourself, whether it’s the roads and buildings in the background that you see, the food you eat, or the people you interact with. Everything is composed of the same “dream-stuff,” so to speak. (One recalls Nisargadatta’s statement, “What you see is nothing but your self.”)
I’ve been anticipating the new book for a while. It’s good to know that it will cover this most fascinating subject.
I’m afraid that all I can say about astral projection is that I don’t believe in this. And my view on Near Death Experiences is that they are caused by a cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters triggered by a brain that is fighting for survival.
I find the idea of Yoga siddhi-s quite strange, actually. Scriptures and traditional teachers seem to refer to them as perfectly reasonable and accepted. I used to be interested in extrasensory phenomena in my youth but never found any convincincing evidence for any of them (although I did have a strange precognitive dream once!)
Dreams are excellent for helping understand Advaita, I entirely agree. And Gaudapada obviously did too, since he refers to them quite a lot. He even uses anvAya-vyatireka logic to ‘prove’ that anything we experience cannot be real!
I’ve had some experiences that might be classified as OBE by some observers. My own stance is that OBEs are as supernatural as lucid dreams – that is, not supernatural at all, being merely mental phenomena, with any “out of body” travel taking place within the confines of one’s skull. However, my experiences have vividly communicated to me the possibility that there’s something more to life than what is usually referred to as the “real world” – something that is not mere illusion.
The original Matrix film (apparently drawing much inspiration from Hindu philosophy in addition to other schools of thought) has some well-articulated commentary on dreams (as well as free will, among many other subjects). Here’s part of Neo and Morpheus’s exchange during their first meeting:
Needless to say, the “Matrix” equates with mAyA.
The waking dream is more logically consistent than sleeping dreams, but one who pays attention to the sequence and flow of events in the former perceives a striking similarity with the latter – namely, the ephemerality, the insubstantiality. Heraclitus’ observation that one cannot step twice into the same river comes to mind. I think this is sort of what Tony Parsons is referring to when he describes his revelation of nonduality in The Open Secret:
When I recall a memory of, say, an old job, or a period of school, I often ask myself whether the memory is of something that really happened – whether I was really in such and such a place at such and such a time in such and such a phase of psychosomatic development. It’s not like I can go back to a certain point in space-time and gather evidence (e.g., a video recording) that I was in a certain place at a certain time doing certain things. The recollection of events is there all right, but given the faulty and limited nature of memory, that’s hardly what I’d call concrete proof of the reality of those events.
Joseph Conrad articulates what I’m getting at:
As does Ranjit Maharaj:
…and Nisargadatta Maharaj:
I do think there are ways to distinguish between dreams and waking life— although maybe not in essence. Exploiting these differences are used as “reality” checks to help lucid dreaming. A reality check might be something simple, such as looking at one’s hands or trying to read a line of text twice. In waking life, this is relatively easy. In dreams, it isn’t.
1. Dreams tend to change more rapidly, i.e. they tend to be more unstable. Lucid dreamers are often told not to look too closely at dreams or they’ll wake up.
2. Dreams don’t follow rigorous laws— like physics. This follows from from their instability. In a dream, one may be able to fly or walk through walls. Again, interfering with this can lead a lucid dreamer to wake up. Technology, for me, is notoriously unreliable in dreams.
The exception is the rare dream that is stable, detailed, and follows the laws of physics. However, I have not found that these dreams last long.