Topic of the Month – Dreams

frescoThe 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!)

6 thoughts on “Topic of the Month – Dreams

  1. Ah, yes, one of my favorite topics.

    Here are the first three paragraphs of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Silver Key”:

    When Randolph Carter was thirty he lost the key of the gate of dreams. Prior to that time he had made up for the prosiness of life by nightly excursions to strange and ancient cities beyond space, and lovely, unbelievable garden lands across ethereal seas; but as middle age hardened upon him he felt these liberties slipping away little by little, until at last he was cut off altogether. No more could his galleys sail up the river Oukranos past the gilded spires of Thran, or his elephant caravans tramp through perfumed jungles in Kled, where forgotten palaces with veined ivory columns sleep lovely and unbroken under the moon.

    He had read much of things as they are, and talked with too many people. Well-meaning philosophers had taught him to look into the logical relations of things, and analyse the processes which shaped his thoughts and fancies. Wonder had gone away, and he had forgotten that all life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other. Custom had dinned into his ears a superstitious reverence for that which tangibly and physically exists, and had made him secretly ashamed to dwell in visions. Wise men told him his simple fancies were inane and childish, and he believed it because he could see that they might easily be so. What he failed to recall was that the deeds of reality are just as inane and childish, and even more absurd because their actors persist in fancying them full of meaning and purpose as the blind cosmos grinds aimlessly on from nothing to something and from something back to nothing again, neither heeding nor knowing the wishes or existence of the minds that flicker for a second now and then in the darkness.

    They had chained him down to things that are, and had then explained the workings of those things till mystery had gone out of the world. When he complained, and longed to escape into twilight realms where magic moulded all the little vivid fragments and prized associations of his mind into vistas of breathless expectancy and unquenchable delight, they turned him instead toward the new-found prodigies of science, bidding him find wonder in the atom’s vortex and mystery in the sky’s dimensions. And when he had failed to find these boons in things whose laws are known and measurable, they told him he lacked imagination, and was immature because he preferred dream-illusions to the illusions of our physical creation.

    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:

    ‘The person has two states: this one and the state of the other world. The third, intermediate, state is that of dreaming sleep. When he rests in the intermediate state, he sees both states: this one and the state of the other world. When he has gone by whatever way it is that one gains the state of the other world, he sees both evils and joys. When he falls asleep, he takes with him the material of this all-containing world, himself breaks it up, himself re-makes it. He sleeps by his own radiance, his own light. Here the person becomes lit by his own light.
    ‘There are no chariots, nor chariot-horses, nor roads there, but he creates chariots, chariot-horses and roads. There are no pleasures, nor enjoyments, nor delights there, but he creates pleasures, enjoyments and delights. There are no ponds, nor lotus-pools, nor rivers there, but he creates ponds, lotus-pools and rivers. For he is a maker.’

    Some more good quotations:

    “As dream and illusion or a castle in the air are seen (to be unreal), so this whole universe is seen by those who are wise in Vedānta.”

    —Gaudapada, Kārikās

    “Let the dream unroll itself to its very end. You cannot help it. But you can look at the dream as a dream, refuse it the stamp of reality.

    “… You need not bring your dream to a definite conclusion, or make it noble, or happy, or beautiful; all you need is to realise that you are dreaming. Stop imagining, stop believing. See the contradictions, the incongruities, the falsehood and the sorrow of the human state, the need to go beyond.”

    —Nisargadatta Maharaj

    “With a bad dream you are unhappy, and with a good dream you are happy. Both go off when you are awake.
    If you awaken here, then it is nothing but a long dream. It repeats, so we call it a long dream. Why do realized persons call it a long dream? What was yesterday, is today. It is nothing, it never happened, but memory creates the link. Everything seems separate so you take it as true. You feel it is true due to remembering. You keep it in the mind. That is Ignorance. A man was crying yesterday, but is laughing today. What is the meaning in it? Why does it happen? I ask you now! Both are wrong, no? Nobody was crying, and nobody was laughing. So, you can change at any moment yourself. The world is so changeable at every moment. A good breeze comes and you say, ‘It is very nice,’ and if the heat comes you say, ‘Put on the fan, or the A.C.’ What to do? If you are sick, then you don’t want the fan or air conditioning. Let me be hot, I don’t mind.”

    —Ranjit Maharaj, Illusion vs. Reality

    “I am not a human being. This is just a dream, and soon I will awake. It was too cold and the blood kept coagulating all the time.”

    —Per Yngve “Dead” Ohlin

    “I would be very happy to have you back home. Really glad to see you out of this foolishness. …Of thinking that you were born and will die, that you are a body displaying a mind and all such nonsense. In my world nobody is born and nobody dies. Some people go on a journey and come back, some never leave. What difference does it make since they travel in dreamlands, each wrapped up in his own dream. Only the waking up is important. It is enough to know the ‘I am’ as reality and also love.”

    —Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That

  2. 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.)

    Best wishes,

    • 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.

  3. 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:

      MORPHEUS: I imagine that right now, you’re feeling a bit like Alice. Tumbling down the rabbit hole? Hmm?
      NEO: You could say that.
      MORPHEUS: I see it in your eyes. You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up. Ironically, that’s not far from the truth. Do you believe in fate, Neo?
      NEO: No.
      MORPHEUS: Why not?
      NEO: Because I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.
      Morpheus: I know exactly what you mean. Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?
      NEO: The Matrix.
      MORPHEUS: Do you want to know what it is?
      NEO: Yes.
      MORPHEUS: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
      NEO: What truth?
      MORPHEUS: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.

      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:

      One day I was walking across a park in a suburb of London. I noticed as I walked that my mind was totally occupied with expectations about future events that might or might not happen. I seemed to choose to let go of these projections and simply be with my walking. I noticed that each footstep was totally unique in feel and pressure, and that it was there one moment and gone the next, never to be repeated in the same way ever again.

      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:

      Faith is a myth and beliefs shift like mists on the shore; thoughts vanish; words, once pronounced, die; and the memory of yesterday is as shadowy as the hope of to-morrow….
      There is no morality, no knowledge and no hope; there is only the consciousness of ourselves which drives us about a world that… is always but a vain and fleeting appearance….

      As does Ranjit Maharaj:

      Scientists say that matter never dies. I have spoken so many words, where are they now? Where have they gone? So many people have died, where have they gone? In a graveyard? Are they there? Before you die you say “Bury me beside my husband.” All these nonsense thoughts are there. Where to find anything or anyone? Nothing exists.

      …and Nisargadatta Maharaj:

      Childhood itself is a cheat. There is no truth in that. Supporting all this, whatever your body form—and your body form went on changing—your objective knowledge also continued to change; ultimately, you grow old. Whatever happens, it is all like a dream; it has no substance. And supporting this entire dream, this untruth, is that child; it all began there. As a child, you began gathering knowledge and when you became very old, you forgot everything. So all that objective knowledge was of no use. Now, I am asking, what are you at the moment? Whatever you have gathered as your identity or your form, you are in the process of losing. So what then is your real identity?

  4. 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.

Comments are closed.