Variety of Dreams

(Often following the silent evening group meditations at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama, Swami Veda Bharati felt inspired to say a few words, or to answer a question or two that seekers had sent. Below is one of such presentations by him recorded on April 10, 2015, edited and somewhat expanded.)

A seeker has sent me a question about the nature of dreams.

It is a long topic and will take a whole book to explain. You may inquire about my recordings from the 1970’s at The Meditation Center in Minneapolis. It was a series on philosophy of sleep or art of sleep. You may listen to that series. That comprises very old material.

As you will read more of our Gurudeva Swami Rama’s literature and whatever I have written and spoken many of these questions will be answered slowly.

I am not one of those who try to find future by looking at my dreams. There is a variety of different kinds of dreams.

  1. Some very rare ones, very very rare ones are divine dreams.
  2. These may come from God and from one of His/Her manifestations or Incarnations. An example of these is to be found in the description given by Vachaspati Mishra in his commentary on Yoga-sutra 1.38 (see Swami Veda Bharati’s commentary on the Yoga-sutras, vol.1). Or, Jacob’s dream of a ladder to heaven (Genesis 28.10-19).
  3. Some dreams may be messages from one’s own Guru.

Such dreams are extremely rare and are received by (a) very pure minds or (b) the minds that have paid off some of their karmas, burnt off their heavier samskaras (imprints from past life that constitute the ‘store house of karma’ --karmashaya) and are at a place where they can respond to the divine call.

But many people in their ego like to think that every dream is a divine message - it is not so!

  1. In the second category are the dreams wherein a divine message is mixed up with one’s own emotions, samskaras, impressions in the unconscious mind. One does not know which part is which. It can be so very misleading as one starts looking for answers to one’s questions and problems in these dreams. These all create many confusions.
  2. Then there are dreams that come purely from unconscious mind. There the brain is working out the stuff of emotions that it has not completed during the wakeful state so during the dream state the mind tries to work them out; the brain tries to work them out. It is done in symbols and not in language.

Variety of DreamsIt is not being done in a conscious state especially during the REM sleep (rapid eye movement phase of sleep). Just lights and shades are received by the eyes and then go into the brain. The brain interprets those according to its emotional states.

To Freud, who developed the modern science of dream analysis, dreams of snakes are sexual.

To me dreams of snakes are of kundalini.

To some Buddhists, the dream of a snake may be that of Naga Muchalinda who coiled himself under the Buddha when a flood threatened to dislodge Buddha from his meditation seat under the bodhi tree.

For a Christian, dreams of snakes are of the devil. But then there are the descriptions of (a) Moses’ staff becoming a serpent (Exodus. 4. 3-4) and Aaron’s staff becoming a snake as part of a miracle (Exodus 7.8-13).

For a Hindu, dreams of snakes are of the naga-devata, serpentine demi-gods, the divine in the forms of serpents and the kundalini.

So we cannot have one set interpretation. Then at some point Freud said: “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” which is often misquoted as "and sometimes a snake is just a snake".

Allow me to share something I have discovered in my experimentations with sleep and dream. Please understand that the image of the entire body of all its cells, all its vessels, all its nerves, the image of this entire personality and its constituents, like a somato-sensory homunculus, is maintained somewhere in the brain. There are places in the brain that maintain the consciousness and awareness of this entire system.

That is a very active part of the brain and of the mind.

Then, in sleep when the external influences are not being fed into us through the senses (so there is no disturbance from outside), the mind scans the whole body. It scans for what is happening in the body and then according to what is happening in the body, it creates an image. Because it does not work in our scientifically descriptive and definitive language, it works in visualizations of symbols. 

So, you are dreaming that you are flowing down a river. It is probably the mind scanning a blood vessel. Now, while flowing down the river you have come across a log. Maybe it is a clot you are encountering. On the other hand it may just be symbolic of some obstacles in the fulfilment of some of your wishes.

I am diabetic and have to be very careful about my high and low blood sugar level. I dream that I am giving by self a blood sugar test. Then I wake up and I know it is a message: "Check your blood sugar". I check it and it turns out to be low.

Or, I am dreaming that I am buying food. I wake up and I check my blood sugar level. Yes, indeed, I am in need of food.

These kinds of dreams have saved me so many times from the fatal effects of hypoglycemia.

So there is this scanning of the whole body that the mind undertakes nightly, and likewise the scanning of the whole mind that the mind does. It scans the whole brain: what are the unfinished emotional businesses, and all these other things in the unconscious that the mind has to catch up on, sort out, to un-tire and dis-fatigue itself.

So a dream is not always a divine message or a prophetic indication of the future. There are many many types of dreams.

Here I have not included the philosophy of wakefulness, sleep and dreams as taught by our Gurudeva Swami Rama, nor the many ancient texts like the Brahma-sutras (3.2.1-6) or lyrical chapters after chapters in Yoga-vasishtha. Of these at some other time.

So it is the best to practice stillness. Samadhi is the state above what? Above jagrat, svapna and sushupti - wakefulness, dream and sleep. A yogi aspires to rise above these three and have all three under his control.

God bless you that you may wake up from the dream of this worldly existence (samsara).

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