One of the themes on which Sri Aurobindo and the Mother differ from early Vedantins is “conscious dream exploration”. While Sri Aurobindo claimed that the occult worlds that we enter in our dreams are as “real” as the physical world, the earliest Advaita Vedantins, Gaudapada and Adi Shankaracharya (8th century C.E.) saw all the worlds as illusory. For Gaudapada and Shankara, the highest state was sushupti (deep sleep) because the Atman became united with the Brahman in that state.
Shankara believed that dreams are mental creations largely, but not completely, derived from waking activity and that dreams are less real than waking. He believed that some dreams are indicators (sucaka) of good and evil (dharm-adharma) in the future. In this “otherworldly” state (para- lokasthana), one can see future things (like sorrow or bliss) unexperienceable in this life. According to Shankara, direct activity (saksatkriya) is impossible in dream, for there are no external means like hands or feet. Dreams are evanescent (atyantacala) because they occur in a different time (cittakala) while waking activity is durable (sthira) because it occurs in dvayakala (time according to the world of external objects). Dream objects are confined within the intellect, which is actor, action, and thing acted on in dream .
Shankara’s views on dreams may resemble ideas popular in modern Western psychology but they differ greatly from that of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. While Shankara believed dreams are evanescent, Sri Aurobindo once told to a disciple “The place where you were (in your dreams) is as much a world of fact and reality as is the material world and its happenings have sometimes a great effect on this world. What an ignorant lot of disciples you all are! Too much modernisation and Europeanisation by half”. While Shankara believed that direct activity was impossible in a dream because we don’t have hands and feet, Sri Aurobindo averred that one could become conscious of the subtle body in a dream, and use it to walk about and engage in diverse activities. The discrepancy between Shankara and Sri Aurobindo’s views may arise because dreams in the mental worlds are dissimilar from dreams in the vital and subtle-physical worlds. While dreams in the mental world are confined to visions which float before the eye, dreams which take place in the vital worlds are much more active. In the vital world, you may find yourself in a subtle body flying or walking about while interacting with other people. It is possible that Shankara only had dreams of the mental world and never gained full awareness of the vital worlds, causing him to conclude that the other occult worlds are illusory and only the highest Sachchidananda state is worth attaining.
(For more on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s observations on occult worlds, see the passages under Cosmology)
We shall now turn to an interesting coincidence between Sri Aurobindo and the Mother where they both found themselves reading and writing books in their dreams.
The “Record of Yoga” which is published as volume 10-11 of the “Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo“ by SABDA is a diary of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga between 1909 and 1927. On June 25, 1914, Sri Aurobindo recorded in this diary a dream wherein he was turning the pages of a book:
The consecutive event in rupa (handling & turning the pages of a book) became much more stable & persistent in continuity than before, but was divided between jagrat & swapna & broken by one or two intervals of non-sight. The book was opened & the general nature of the contents perceived; one or two separate words even were read & retained (stores . . provided) .
On Feb 10, 1917, he noted another instance where he was reading a book in his dream:
Samadhi reaffirmed most of its gains against massed and violent obstruction; but with an inferior force of vividness and largeness. Obstruction successful against lipi and tejomaya drisya. Dream-reading of printed book began. Afterward lipi reaffirmed in jagrat antardarshi .
A few days later, on Feb 17, 1917, he found himself writing with his hands in a dream:
Power of physical action even in the deep sushupti. The particular action was writing with the hand what occurs in the thought. At first the consciousness dwelt on the thought and the action was mechanical; afterwards it dwelt on both the thought and the action united, continuous, unbroken .
About fifty years later, we find the Mother discussing a similar dream experience during a conversation with a disciple, Satprem:
The last few nights, I have spent almost the whole night, several hours of it, in a place which must certainly belong to the subtle physical and where material life is being reorganized. It’s immense – immense – and the crowd innumerable; but they are individualities, not a crowd, which means that I deal with each of them. And there are also kinds of documents and writing tables, but there are no walls! It’s a strange place. A very strange place.
Take writing, for instance: I haven’t noticed in detail, but when you write there(in your dreams), you seem to write much more easily…. I don’t know how to explain it … it takes much less time. And things are noted down on paper, but is it paper? It looks like paper, but things are noted down much more directly…. It’s perhaps only a similarity, like when, for example, you use a fountain pen or a pencil: it’s not exactly a fountain pen or a pencil, it’s something that looks like it and is … (what should I say?) the prototype or principle of that object. But what I mean is that if we were still at the time of the goose quill or the twig that you dip into ink, I would probably see it like that! … It’s the ESSENCE or principle of the thing, which, in the memory, is translated as a similarity.
It is based on such personal experiences that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother spoke of the possibility of becoming conscious in one’s dreams. In their works, we find detailed explanations of the possibilities and pitfalls of conscious dream exploration, out-of-body experiences and other abnormal states of consciousness. There are instances where they interacted with and guided their own disciples through the medium of dreams.
This article is another example of the unusual cases where both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother seemed to have independently experienced the same occult phenomena. Similar cases were covered in a couple of previous posts:
- “Hands can become independently conscious” (where they both discovered that their hands were becoming more conscious) and
- “Does Nature revolt against machinery?” (where they both observed that occult spirits could cause disruptions in machinery).
- Fort, Andrew. “Dreaming in Advaita vedanta”. Philosophy East and West, Vol. 35, No. 4 (Oct., 1985), pp. 377-386
- Sri Aurobindo. Letters on Yoga, SABCL vol. 23, p 1031.
- Sri Aurobindo. Record of Yoga, CWSA vol. 10-11, p. 515.
- Ibid., p. 946.
- Ibid., p 963.
- Mother’s Agenda. August 30, 1967 (online)
- Towards more conscious sleep and dreams
- Physical marks appearing after injuries sustained in dreams
- How can we “see” in our dreams when our eyes are closed?
- Explaining out-of-body and near-death experiences
- Mental awareness in comatose patients and sleeping newborn infants
- Sleep and Dreams
- Perception of Time changes with the concentration of consciousness
- Why do we forget our vivid dreams?
- A contemplation exercise before going to sleep
- Sleep disorders : somnambulism and somniloquy
- Spacetime in occult worlds
- Twelve occult dimensions
- Somnambulists who do creative work in their sleep
- Predictions of Sri Aurobindo
- Epistemology of perception
- On Multitasking, Avadhana-Kala and Multiple Samyama
- Gita, Chapter 2, Verse 69 – Inversion of day and night
- Karma can be changed