The Several Dimensions of Life and Dreams
The Theosophical Movement
Throughout history and legend, many references have been made to dreams - generally to prophetic dreams or dreams of warning. Sometimes references have been made to dreams about a dead friend or relative, bringing comfort to the dreamer, and to allegorical dreams. Many of these latter are not always easy to interpretation. Man has from very ancient times realized that something happens to him during sleep. But what this is, he does not know. Let us ask a few questions and see if we can gain some light on the subject.
Where is man’s consciousness focused at night?
What functions during sleep?
Why do dreams vary from the sublime to the ridiculous?
What use are dreams?
To answer these questions we have to consider the teachings of Theosophy on the subject of man and his constitution, and if we wish to learn through dreams we must practise the methods suggested.
First, man’s awareness of his surroundings is possible only by his recognition of “myself and other things.” What makes him think of himself as being separate from others is, first, his body with its openings or sense organs. If a man is blind, deaf, disabled, his environment is unknown to him to the extent of his disability. But man also has an inner nature. He is aware not only of the things he can touch, taste, smell, etc., but also of his feelings and thoughts. These he can, when awake, ponder over and discuss with others. He knows that his thoughts are subjective, that his feelings affect his thoughts and also his body. But, when he sleeps, his bodily senses do not send messages to him, his outer environment is not felt or seen. (The exception to this is when some disturbance is sufficiently strong to awaken the sleeping man partly.) But where is his awareness when it has left the body? This brings us to our second question.
What functions in man during sleep? We know that the bodily senses are not functioning, that the brain is not being used, that memory is latent; all except the automatic, organic functions of the bodily machine, such as circulation, heart beats, etc., are dormant and at rest. During waking life there is a constant telegraphic communication between the physical brain and the inner man or the Ego; and at night also such a telegraphic communication is open, though little used, since the brain is not a single organ of matter but has, like all other things, seven layers of receptivity. The will is inactive during sleep. When we are awake the voice of our Ego, the inner man, can reach the personality as the voice of conscience, but during sleep the Ego lives its own life and does not contact the outer plane. To understand this we shall have to see what Theosophy teaches about the state of sleep.
It is necessary to familiarize ourselves fully with the fact that the physical body we use is a machine. Machine parts wear out. Machine parts, when active, become heated and it becomes necessary to let them rest. Our body functions by means of the life force, Prana, which flows through it. We are told that at the end of a day our body seems, to a clairvoyant, to be surrounded by a mist of golden-orange hue, composed of atoms which whirl with an almost incredible spasmodic rapidity. This is because the person is too strongly saturated with Prana, the life force. If the body is to be healthy, therefore, it becomes necessary to stop the strain imposed on it during the daytime by the rest of sleep, to be surrounded by rhythmical vibrations of the life currents, golden, blue and rosy. These are the electrical waves of Life, no longer jumbled, but harmonious.
During waking life other constituents of our make-up, besides the body, get worn out. Our desire and passional nature has been active and must rest; our thoughts have engrossed us; our will or aspirations may have been stretched almost to breaking point. These, too, must have rest. In the article on “Seership” we are told:
Jagrata - our waking state, in which all our physical and vital organs, senses, and faculties find their necessary exercise and development, is needed to prevent the physical organization from collapsing.
Swapna - dream state, in which are included all the various states of consciousness between Jagrata and Sushupti, such as somnambulism, trance, dreams, visions, etc. - is necessary for the physical faculties to enjoy rest, and for the lower emotional and astral faculties to live, become active, and develop.
Sushupti state comes about in order that the consciousness of both Jagrata and Swapna states may enjoy rest, and for the fifth principle which is the one active in Sushupti, to develop itself by appropriate exercise. (See “The Heart Doctrine”, by William Judge, Theosophy Co., Mumbai, India, 1977, p. 92)
We note here that the fifth principle, Manas or mind, is the one that functions in Sushupti and, we are told, can “develop itself.” The difference between the mind and its vehicles or avenues of expression should be noted. In sleep, the mind leaves the Jagrata state (waking consciousness in the body), leaves Swapna (the dreaming consciousness) and, so to say, enters into its own world where it is unhindered and may “develop itself by appropriate exercise.”
The words “appropriate exercise” and “develop” are arresting. What exercise? How can the mind be developed? In Sushupti, Mr. William Judge says, “there are subjective and objective states, or classes of knowledge and experience.” Since the language of the Ego is that of colour, we need to learn that language in order to understand it. In the deep-sleep condition or Sushupti, the personal mind free from Kama is on a plane analogous to that of Devachan, that of illuminated mind, and is helped and purified even if it does not understand to the full what is happening, being in a half-dazed condition.
With this in mind we can try to understand in general what dreams are and why they vary from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Ordinary confused dreams, called idle visions, are caused by the desires awakened into chaotic activity by the slumbering reminiscences of the lower Manas. During sleep, Kama and lower Manas receive and send out electric shocks from and to the various nerve centres. The brain hardly registers them, unless the impression is strong enough, and they are stored in the memory without order or sequence. On waking, these impressions fade out gradually.
Real dreams are stray pages torn out from the life of the inner man, the higher Ego. Our dim recollections of these thoughts and deeds of the inner man during the deep-sleep condition are distorted on waking by our physical memory. The Ego, the real man, lives its own life when it becomes free from the trammels of matter, but the personality, with its brain and thinking apparatus, is paralysed more or less completely. Therefore the physical man cannot be conscious during dreams.
Real dreams are sometimes of a prophetic nature or are dreams of warning. If the Higher Self wishes an idea to reach the waking consciousness, then it impresses it deeply on our memory, and when we awake we are able to recall it. If the sympathetic tie between the Ego and the personality and the brain is not sufficiently strong for this to be done, then the message or the warning may be impressed on another person, whose brain is porous enough.
We must now take note of the effect of memory on dreams, the effect of thoughts, desires, emotions; for, just as bad digestion or mental troubles will produce nightmares and chaotic dreams, so desires and thoughts which have filled our waking consciousness and disturbed our astral counterpart will distort our dreams.
The memory of the sleeper, H.P.B. has said -
“is like an Aeolian seven-stringed harp; and his state of mind may be compared to the wind that sweeps over the chords. The corresponding strings of the harp will respond to that one of the seven states of mental activity in which the sleeper was before falling asleep. If it is a gentle breeze, the harp will be affected but little; if a hurricane, the vibrations will be proportionately powerful. If the personal Ego is in touch with its higher principles and the veils of the higher planes are drawn aside, all is well; if on the contrary it is of a materialistic animal nature, there will be probably no dreams; or if the memory by chance catch the breath of a ‘wind’ from a higher plane, seeing that it will be impressed through the sensory ganglia of the cerebellum, and not by the direct agency of the spiritual Ego, it will receive pictures and sounds so distorted and inharmonious that even a Devachanic vision would appear a nightmare or grotesque caricature.”
The higher memory of the spiritual Ego is imprinted in the Akasha. The memory of the animal man is impressed in the Astral Light, the dregs of Akasha or the Universal Ideation. The Astral Light is the medium between that Ideation and our thought-faculties. For this reason we see the need for purifying our thoughts and feelings so that they are not impressed on the lowest plane of the Astral Light, that storehouse of all human and especially psychic iniquities.
It is necessary to remember that if the Astral Light is the medium between the higher and the lower and we have to pass through it before awakening, as also on our way to Sushupti, we must cut a channel through it so as to remain unaffected by those iniquities. This channel is made during waking life by directing our thoughts towards the Ego. Especially when we get ready for sleep should our brain be impressed with a spiritual idea, our emotions given a devotional bent and our thoughts placed on the highest that we know.
Why should we bother about dreams? What use are they? What use is knowledge about them? Bad dreams teach us to look after our thoughts and feelings and to view the coming day with extra care. Good dreams have to be analysed to see whether they are of value - whether they are deceptive and soul-stupefying, or really inspiring.
It is not by asking others to interpret our dreams that we learn. Each man has his own symbols through which he expresses himself, and he alone can interpret his dreams.
There is no one who has never dreamed. With most of us, dreams vanish suddenly upon waking, which only means that whatever happened during the hours of sleep did not impress itself on the brain sufficiently to be remembered.
The above article is reproduced from the February 2003 edition of “The Theosophical Movement”, the monthly magazine published in India.