Sri Swami Sivananda

This article is a chapter from the book “Bliss Divine”.
Swami Sivananda has also written a book titled “Philosophy of Dream”.

A Change in Consciousness
Waking, Dreaming and Deep Sleep
The Mind in Dream
Dreams and Karma
Dreams Are Created by the Lord
Prophetic Dreams
Dreams, an Index of One’s Moral Condition
Subjective Reality, Objective Reality and Absolute Reality
Waking–A Long Dream
Objections Refuted
The Dreamless Atman
Wake Up and Realise


Chuang Tze, a Chinese philosopher, once dreamt that he was a butterfly. On waking, he said to himself, “Now, am I a man dreaming that I am a butterfly, or am I a butterfly that thinks, ‘I am Chuang?'”

When you dream, you see the events of fifty years within an hour. You actually feel that fifty years have passed. Which is correct, the time of one hour of waking consciousness or the fifty years of dreaming consciousness? Both are correct.

Pascal is right when he asserts that if the same dream comes to us every night, we should be just as much occupied by it as by the things which we see every day. To quote his words: “If an artisan were certain that he would dream every night for fully twelve hours that he was a king, I believe that he would be just as happy as a king who dreams every night for twelve hours that he is an artisan”.

A Change in Consciousness

Just as a large fish swims alternately to both the banks of the river, the right and the left one, or to the eastern and the western, so glides the Purusha between both the boundaries, the boundary of dream and the boundary of the waking state.

Consciousness changes. This change in consciousness brings about either the waking or the dream experience. The objects do not change in themselves. There is only change in the mind.

Waking, Dreaming and Deep Sleep

Dream is called Sandhya or the intermediate state, because it is midway between waking and the deep sleep state, between Jagrat and Sushupti.

The dream world is separate from the waking one. Deep sleep is separate from both the dream world and the world in the waking state.

The sun is the source and the temporary resting place of its rays. The rays emanate from the sun and spread in all directions at the time of sunrise. They enter into the sun at sunset, lose themselves there, and come out again at the next sunrise. Even so, the states of wakefulness and dream come out from the state of deep sleep and re-enter it and lose themselves there to follow the same course again.

As soon as you wake up, the dream becomes unreal. The waking state does not exist in the dream. Both the dream and the waking states are not present in deep sleep. Deep sleep is not present in the dream and the waking states. Therefore, all the three states are unreal. They are caused by the three qualities, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Brahman or the Absolute is the silent witness of the three states. It transcends the three qualities also. It is pure bliss and pure consciousness. It is Existence Absolute.

The Mind in Dream

The mind is ever rotating like a wheel. It plays with the five senses of perception and gets experiences in the waking state. It receives the different sense impressions through the avenue of the senses. The impressions are lodged in the causal body. Ajnana or the causal body is like a black sheet of cloth. In it are contained the Samskaras of all your previous births.

During dream, the mind creates various kinds of objects out of the impressions produced by the experience of the waking state. Sometimes, the experiences of the previous births which are lodged in the causal body flash out during the dreaming state.

The mind is the perceiver and the mind itself is the perceived in dream. The dream objects are not independent of the mind. They have no separate existence apart from the mind. So long as the dream lasts, the dream creatures will remain, just as the milkman remains so long as the milking goes on. Whereas, in the Jagrat state, the object exists independent of the mind. The objects of the waking experiences are common to us all, while those of dreams are the property of the dreamer.

The mind creates the bee, flower, mountain, horses, rivers, etc., in the dream, without the help of any external means. It creates various curious, fantastic mixtures. You may witness in the dream that your living father is dead, that you are flying in the air. You may see in the dream a lion with the head of an elephant, a cow with the head of a dog. The desires that are not satisfied during the waking state are gratified in dream. Dream is a mysterious phenomenon. It is more interesting than the waking state.

Desires are the rulers of all experiences in waking and also in dream. Waking is physical functioning of desires; dream is mental functioning of desires. The senses are moved by desires in waking; the mind is moved by desires in dreaming. In waking, the mind experiences through the senses; in dream, the mind alone experiences.

The dreamer creates the world of his own in the dreaming state. Mind alone works independently in this state. The senses are withdrawn into the mind. The senses are at rest. The mind is then like a furious elephant let loose.

Just as a man withdraws himself from the outside world, closes the door and windows of his room, and works within the room, so also, the mind withdraws itself from the outside world and plays in the dream world with the Vasanas and Samskaras and enjoys objects made up of fine or subtle ideas which are the products of desire. Dream is a mere play of the mind only.

Just as pictures are painted on the canvas, so also, the impressions of the waking state are painted on the canvas mind. The pictures on the canvas seem to possess various dimensions though it is all on a plane surface only. Even so, though the dream-experiences are really states of the mind only, the experiencer experiences internality and externality in the dream world. He feels, while dreaming, that the dream world is quite real.

The dreamer only appears to be doing things in dream, but actually there is no activity. The scripture, in describing our doings in dreams, qualifies them by an ‘as it were’: “As it were rejoicing together with women, or laughing as it were’…”. Ordinary people also describe dreams in the same manner: “I ascended, as it were, the summit of a mountain …. I saw a tree, as it were”. Therefore, the dreaming self has no activity in dreams.

Dreams and Karma

The dreamer is not affected by any result whatever of the good and the evil he sees in the dream state. Because in dream the dreamer does not actually do what is holy or evil, he is not chained by either; for, good or evil actions and their consequences are not imputed to the mere spectator of them.

No one regards himself a sinner on account of the sins committed in dreams. Nor do people who have heard of them condemn or shun the person on that account. Hence he is not touched by them.

Dreams Are Created by the Lord

The dream objects are created by the Lord as fruition of the minor works of the Jiva. In order to reward the soul for very minor Karmas, the Lord creates the dreams.

The Universal Soul is the creator of dreams and not the individual soul; for, had it been possible for the latter to shape his dreams, he would never have dreamt a bad dream, but would always have dreamt only propitious ones.

Prophetic Dreams

Many riddles of life are solved through hints from dreams. Through dreams one may receive proper advice for self-correction. Through dreams one may know how to act in a particular situation. Saints and sages appear in dreams during times of difficulty and point out the way.

Works of genius like poems, etc., are found in dreams. Remedies for diseases are prescribed in dreams. Some times the exact object seen in dreams is seen afterwards in the waking state.

Dreams, an Index of One’s Moral Condition

Dreams, though of a strange and illusory nature, are a good index of the high or the low spiritual and moral condition of the dreamer. He who has a pure heart and an untainted character will never get impure dreams. An aspirant who is ever meditating will dream of his Sadhana and his object of meditation. He will do worship of the Lord and recite His Name and Mantra even in dream through the force of Samskara. Brahma-jnanins or sages have no dreams.

Dreams reveal to us that aspect of our nature which transcends rational knowledge. That in the most rational and moral man there is an aspect of his being which is absurd and immoral, one knows only through the study of one’s dreams. All our pride of rationality and morality melts into nothingness as soon as we reflect upon our dreams.

Subjective Reality, Objective Reality and Absolute Reality

Waking experience is a perception. Dream experience is a memory. As perception precedes memory, waking precedes dream. Whereas waking experience is independent of dream experience and its effects, dream experience is the result of the impressions of waking experience.

There is a kind of order or system in the waking experiences, at least more than in dream. Every day, the same persons and things become the objects of waking experience. There is a definite remembrance of previous day’s experiences and of survival and continuity of personality in waking experience. The consciousness of this continuity, regularity and unity is absent in dream. Dream is not well ordered, while waking is comparatively systematic.

Dream is less real than waking, in as much as the direct contact with the external world of waking experience is absent in dream. Though there is an external world in dream also, its value is less than that of the world in waking. Though the form of the dream world agrees with that of the waking world, in quality, the dream world is lower than the waking world.

Space, time, motion and objects, with the distinction of subject and object, are common to both waking and dreaming. Even the reality they present at the time of their being experienced is of a similar nature. But, the difference lies in the degree of reality manifested by them. The Jiva feels that it is in a higher order of truth in waking than in dreaming.

That the waking world has relative reality does not prove that it is real in the absolute sense. From the standpoint of the highest reality, waking experience also is unreal. As dream is transcended in the state of waking, the world of waking too, is transcended in the state of Self-realisation.

Dream is apparent reality. Waking is relative reality. Turiya or Brahman is absolute reality.

Waking is the reality behind dream. Turiya is the reality behind waking.

From the point of view of Turiya, both waking and dreaming are unreal. But, waking, taken by itself in relation to dream experience, has greater reality than dream. To a certain extent, as Turiya is to waking, so waking is to dream.

Dream is no dream to the dreamer. Only by one who is awake, dream is known to be a dream. Similarly, waking appears to be real to one who is still in the waking state. Only to one who is in Turiya, waking is devoid of reality. Waking is Deerghasvapna, a long dream, as contrasted with the ordinary dream which is short.

There are degrees of reality in the experiences of the individual. The three main degrees are subjective, objective and absolute. Dream experience is subjective. Waking experience is objective. The realisation of Atman or Brahman is experience of the absolute reality. The individual is the subjective being in comparison with the objective world. The subject and the object have equal reality, though both these are negated in the Absolute.

Waking–A Long Dream

In both states, waking and dreaming, objects are perceived, are associated with the subject-object relationship. This is the similarity between the two. The only difference between the two states is that the objects in dream are perceived in the space within the body, whereas in the waking condition, they are seen in the space outside the body. The fact of their ‘being seen’ and their consequent illusoriness, are common to both states.

The perception of an object is unreal, because objects are creations of the mind. An object has got a particular form, because the mind believes it to be so. In fact, objects of both the dreaming and the waking states are unreal.

Anything that has got a form is unreal. Forms are special modes of cognition and perception. They are not ultimate. In waking, there are physical forms; in dreaming, there are mental forms. Anyhow, all are forms only, limited in space and time. A form lasts only so long as that particular mental condition lasts. When there is a different mental condition, the forms of experience also change. This is why the form of the world vanishes when Self-realisation is attained.

Dream relations are contradicted by waking relations. Waking relations are contradicted by superconsciousness, which is uncontradicted. Non-contradiction is the test of reality.

The unreal world appears as real, whereas it is in reality a long dream arisen in our mind. As in dream, so in the waking state, the objects seen are unsubstantial, though the two conditions differ by the one being internal and subtle, and the other external, gross and long. This world is nothing but a long dream.

When, at sixty years age, you take a retrospective view of your life in college, it is all a dream to you. Is it not so? The future also will turn out to be so.

The past is a dream. The future is a dream. The solid present is also a dream. The fact that in Self-realisation there is absolute cessation of phenomenal experience shows that all phenomena are unreal.

Objections Refuted

It may be said that objects in the waking state serve some definite purpose and those of dream do not serve a purpose. This argument is incorrect, because the objects used as means to some end or purpose in the waking state are contradicted in the dream state. A man in the waking state eats and drinks and appeases his hunger and is free from thirst. But, when he goes to sleep, he finds himself in dream again afflicted with hunger and thirst as if he has not taken food and drink for days together. And the contrary also happens and is found to be true. The utility and objective worth of things, etc., in waking are cancelled in the dream state, even as the conditions and experiences in dream are invalidated in waking. Objects act as means to ends only in a particular condition, and not in all conditions. Things are real only in their realms, and not always. That which is not always real is an appearance, is unreal; for, reality is everlasting. As the objects of the waking state do not work in dream, they are unreal. As the objects of the dream do not work in the waking state, they are unreal. Hence, everything is unreal.

It may be contended that objects of dream are queer, fantastic and unnatural. And hence, waking cannot be like dream. But the experiences in dream, however grotesque or abnormal, are not abnormal to the dreamer. They appear fantastic only in a different state, viz., in waking. One cannot say what is really fantastic, and what is normal and real. The mind gives values to objects, and its conception of normality and abnormality changes according to the state in which it is. The dreamer has his own conception of space, time and causation, even as the waking one has his own notions. One state is absurd when compared to the other. This shows that both states are illogical, and therefore, absurd from the highest standpoint.

It may be said that objects seen in waking are not mere mental imaginations, because the objects of waking experience are seen by other people also, whether or not one’s mind cognises them. But, it is seen in the dream state also, objects of experience are open to the perception of other people, though the people as well as the objects are all subjective imaginations.

It may be said that in waking we perceive through the sense-organs and not merely through ideas. But it is seen, that in dream also, we perceive through the sense-organs belonging to the dream state, which are not less real than those of the waking state. As dream is unreal, waking also must be unreal.

The Dreamless Atman

There is one pure Consciousness or Atman in all beings which is infinite, eternal, all-pervading, self-existent, self-luminous and self-contained; which is partless, timeless, spaceless, birthless and deathless. This is the real ‘I’. This ‘I’ never wakes, dreams or sleeps. It is always the seer or the silent witness of the three states of waking, dreaming and sleeping. It is the Turiya or the fourth state. It is the state that transcends the three states.

It is the false or relative ‘I’ called Ahankara or ego or Jiva that wakes up, dreams and sleeps. The waker, the dreamer and the sleeper are all changing personalities and unreal.

The real Self, the real ‘I’, never wakes up, dreams and sleeps. From the viewpoint of the absolute truth or Paramarthika Satta, no one wakes up, dreams and sleeps.

Wake Up and Realise

Learn to be the witness of your thoughts in the waking state. You can be conscious in the dream state that you are dreaming. You can alter, stop or create your own thoughts in the dream state independently. You will be able to keep awake in the dream state. If the thoughts of the waking state are controlled, you can control the dream thoughts also.

Do not allow the mind to run into the sensual grooves. Fortify yourself by developing the intellect through enquiry of Brahman, reflection and contemplation. The intellect will serve the purpose of a strong fortress. It will not allow the sense-impressions to be lodged in the causal body. It will not allow the impressions of the causal body to come out. It will serve a double purpose.

Brahman alone is really existent. Jiva, world are false. Kill this illusory egoism. The world is unreal when compared to Brahman. It is a solid reality for a passionate worldly man, even as dreams are real to the childish. The world does not exist for a Jnani or a Mukta.

You dream that you are a king. You enjoy various kinds of royal pleasures. As soon as you wake up, everything vanishes. But you do not feel for the loss, because you know that the dream creatures are all false. When you know the real Tattva, Brahman, the waking consciousness also will become quite false like a dream. Even in the waking consciousness if you are well established in the idea that the world is a false illusion, you will not get any pain.

Wake up and realise, my child!

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