DREAMS and CONSCIOUSNESS
Sep 26, 2004 11:54 AM
by W.Dallas TenBroeck
Sept 25 2004
The following is a view from Indian psychology:
THE STATES OF WAKING, DREAMING, AND SLEEPING
By Prof. M. A. Venkata Rao
The study of sleep and dreams for purposes of metaphysical interpretation is
a special feature of Indian philosophy. Distinct points of view emerge as
early as the time of the Upanishads. I propose to indicate briefly the two
rival systems of interpretation that hold the stage and to suggest their
The Mandukya Upanishad sets forth the nature of Brahman as fourfold. There
are the three aspects of Brahman -- Vaiswanara, Taijasa, and Prajna --
revealed respectively in the states of wakefulness, dream, and sleep; and
the fourth (Chaturth or Turiya) is Brahman Itself, in Its indivisible
integrity. The mystic word AUM sums up the significance of this fourfold
truth; its component letters, A-U-M, designate the three conditions and the
word as a whole symbolizes their underlying unity.
Vaiswanara [Universal Man] is the waking life of living beings and the
theatre of their joys and sorrows.
Taijasa is dreaming consciousness, directed inwards, ruminating over
impressions left by past experience. [see Key]
Prajna is sleeping consciousness free from the activity of perception and
the unrest of desire, both of waking life and of dreams. Consciousness here
re-gathers itself into its pristine oneness -- an amorphous mass shot
through and through with bliss.
[Turiya] These states are not the final form, which is Brahman. The fourth
is the real Brahman whose nature is described in a few pregnant phrases
embodying the quintessence of the noblest mysticism in history. That
consciousness is neither inward looking nor outward looking; it is not a
mass of consciousness nor is it unconsciousness; it is imperceptible and
indefinable. An integral homogeneous self-consciousness is its essence; it
connotes the stilling of the world, the peace that passeth all
understanding, and blessed joy.
Buddhism apart, the history of Indian philosophy displays two main streams
of interpretation of this ancient and venerable teaching, represented by the
Adwaita School of Gaudapada and Shankara on the one hand and the
Visishtadvaita and Dvaita Schools of Ramanuja and Madhva on the other.
Prima facie, the Upanishad seems to be a nest of contradictions.
If the fourth state is the real, what does that say of the status of the
external world and the whole course of human experience and history? The
answer of Gaudapada and Shankara is decisive. They are unreal. The world of
perception is classed with that of dreams and both are dismissed as false
Adwaita draws the conclusion that entities that can become objects are
unreal, for they vary, and variation is the sign manual of lack of
self-dependence and so of unreality. The subject is the sole real. This
conclusion is suggested by the variation of wakefulness and dreaming in
contrast with the changelessness of deep sleep.
Mind is present in waking and dreaming and so is the appearance of
The mind is absent in deep sleep and the vision of plurality is likewise
"Mind" in Indian thought is not the Self but the inner coordinating agency
of the same rank as the senses. Whatever is present when something else is
present and absent when it is absent is causally connected with it. Mind is
the cause of the appearance of the multiverse. J. S. Mill claimed to
formulate this method of agreement and difference as the scientific method.
It has been known for over a thousand years in Indian logic as anvaya
By a further application of the method, we draw the conclusion that the Self
is the sole reality. It is present in all the three states of waking,
dreaming, and sleep, while mind and multiplicity are absent in the last. The
Self and the world-appearance are not inherently connected and the latter
being sublatable cannot be real. Hence, the ultimate consciousness is
integral and one without a second.
The world is mithya, false. It is not false in the sense of impossible
objects like the barren woman's son, rabbit's horns and the lotus growing in
the sky; for it appears to consciousness and has a method in its madness,
but it is not true, for it disappears totally on the attainment of
sakshatkara or direct vision of the ultimate reality. The basis is Brahman.
When we know it, we see that the world we had imagined in it did not exist
in the past, does not exist at the moment, and will not exist in the future.
Ramanuja [Visishtadvaita] holds that the world is unreal if regarded as
self-existent, but real as an expression of Brahman. The school of Madhva
[Dvaita] holds that corresponding to the three states of the jiva or
individual soul the Deity reveals Itself in three levels of apprehension.
In the waking state, we apprehend the physical universe through which
Brahman gives a real glimpse of Its nature. The cosmos is not a part of Its
nature but a condition of Its manifestation.
In the dream state, strange fantasies are created out of the stuff of the
impressions and traces of past experience in accordance with the universal
mechanism of which the Deity is the inspirer. The affective side of dreams
is regarded as having a moral incidence and as being a part of the
teleological scheme. In the sleeping state, the mind is not destroyed; it
only becomes implicit.
Further, Madhva questions the Adwaita application of the method of agreement
and difference. The concomitance of mind and multiplicity does not prove
that the mind is the creator of multiplicity. It only proves that it is a
necessary condition of manifestation. It is a mechanism for the revelation
of what is already there.
[Turiya] The full value of the mystic experience of the Turiya is sought to
be preserved in a more inclusive way. It is suggested that Brahman's nature
as ekatmapratyayasara, unity of self-consciousness, is Its deeper aspect in
which It is akhanda, impartible, but that It also includes and sustains a
real universe of infinite multiplicity as a condition of Its manifestation.
The mystic experience is an experience of the circumambient consciousness
that is over all. The Deity limits Itself as a condition of creativity and
of the reign of law.
In a word, an experience of the supremacy of the One in the many is the
fourth state, which does not annul the individual being of the self but
carries it into perfection of self-realization as in the union of perfect
love. Then occurs prapanchopasamam indeed -- not the destruction of the
world but the quiescence of the fret and fever of the world; the world that
is usually too much with us is not annihilated but seen in the light of
It may seem a strange proceeding to draw conclusions of such moment from the
common experiences of dreams and sleep. It sounds wrong-headed to infer
objective value of the external world through an inspection of inner
experience. The subjective aspect is inescapable, for we cannot think of the
external world except through the mechanism of our minds.
Indian philosophy makes use of the experience of dreams to point to this
inescapable role of the Self in Reality. Dreams reveal the self-luminous
creative activity of its character. For Adwaita, the self-luminous self is
the sole reality. For Dvaita, it is the supreme reality illumining a
subordinate universe steeped in it.
Further, philosophy requires some kind of verification for its ultimate
theories. If the mystic vision (it is also the essence of religion) is to be
rendered in a system of symbols, it can only be achieved based on typical
experiences of a simpler variety. Absolute Idealists in the West, from Plato
and Plotinus to F. H. Bradley, have thought of various symbols for
suggesting the mystery of the One and the many. Indian philosophers have
unanimously pointed to the experience of sleep for the purpose. Here is a
condition of consciousness in which the One and the many are dissolved into
a single undifferentiated mass, the same in all dimensions (ekarasa). [A
Bradley neglects such an obvious example and tries in vain to rehabilitate
some vague state of immediacy that he calls "feeling." He assumes an
un-analysed whole of awareness at the back of all activity of knowing. He
wants a unitary state in ordinary life so that the final inclusive unity of
the Absolute Experience may be thinkable. Sleep would have served his
purpose better. Sleep is the lower immediacy, the oneness before analysis.
In mere feeling, or immediate presentation, we have the experience of
a whole. This whole contains diversity, and on the other hand, is not
parted by relations . . . But it serves to suggest to us the general
idea of a total experience, where will and thought and feeling may all
once more be one.
-- APPEARANCE AND REALITY, pages 159-60.
Bradley is led to postulate a Higher Immediacy including and transmuting the
whole wealth of reality in all its myriad dimensions.
It would be experience entire, containing all elements in harmony.
Thought would be present as a higher intuition . . . Every flame of
passion, chaste or carnal, would still burn in the Absolute unquenched
and unabridged, a note absorbed in the harmony of its higher bliss.
-- APPEARANCE AND REALITY, page 172.
He wavers in affirming that it also is a matter of immediate experience for
us. He plays with the idea of esthetic emotion but slips back to the
conclusion that for us finite individuals a foretaste of that higher
integral experience is impossible.
Indian philosophers of both the dominant types of Vedanta are agreed that
the Turiya is such a higher immediacy, sakshatkara, or aparoksha jnana, and
that it is attainable.
This interpretation of avasthatraya occupies a central place in Indian
philosophy and spiritual culture.
[From THE ARYAN PATH, March 1935, pages 155-58.] [also see S D I 157]
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