A- A+

The Mandukya Upanishad
by Swami Krishnananda

Section 4: The Mystery of Dream and Sleep


The first phase of the Atman, as the waking consciousness, has been explained. Internal to the waking consciousness, and pervading the waking consciousness, there is a subtler function of this very same consciousness, which is subjectively known as the dream-consciousness, or Taijasa, and universally known as Hiranyagarbha, or the Cosmic Subtle Consciousness. This is the theme of the description in the next Mantra of the Mandukya Upanishad, beginning with 'Svapnasthanah', etc.

That which has dream as its abode is Svapnasthana. That which is aware only of the internal and not of the external is Antah-prajna. That which has seven limbs is Saptanga. That which has nineteen mouths is Ekonavimsatimukha. That which absorbs only the subtle into its being is Praviviktabhuk. This is Taijasa, the second phase, the second foot of the Atman.

Now we are in the dream consciousness, the world of subtle perception. We regard, usually, dreams to be consequences of waking perception, and it is held that the objects seen in dream are psychological rather than physical. We come in contact with real objects in the waking state, but we contact only imagined things in the dream state. While there is actual satisfaction, actual pleasure and actual pain in the waking world, there is an imagined pleasure, imagined satisfaction and imagined pain in the dream world. While the objects of the waking world are not our creation, the objects of the dream world are our own mental creation. This is the usual opinion that we have about the dream world in relation to the waking world.

The Mandukya Upanishad goes into an analysis of dream and holds a conclusion which is a little different from the usual opinion that we have about the relation between the two states. We regard dream as unreal and waking as real. However, it should be obvious that this is not the whole truth. While we say that the dream world is imaginary in contradistinction with the waking world, we are not stating all sides of the matter. The dream world appears to be unreal in comparison with the waking world. The waking objects appear to be of more practical value than the dream objects, again, by a comparison of the two states. No such statement about the reality of the waking world in relation to the dream world is possible without this comparison. Now, who can make this comparison? Neither the one who is always wakeful can make such a comparison, nor the one who is always dreaming. That judge or witness of the two states cannot be confined to either of the states. Just as a judge in a court does not belong to either party contending, the one that makes a comparison between the waking and dreaming states cannot be said to belong to either of the states, wholly. If the judge of the two states wholly belongs to the waking state, he would be a partisan; and so, also, would be his condition if he wholly belongs to the dreaming state. What makes you pass a judgment on the relation between the two conditions of waking and dream? It is done because you seem to have an awareness of both the states, and you are not confined wholly to either of the states; and no comparison of any kind is possible, anywhere, unless one has a simultaneous consciousness of the two parties, two sides, or two phases of the case on hand. Now, we come to the interesting question: who makes this comparison? You can make a comparison between the two states through which you pass. Who is it that passes through the states of waking and dream? When you jump from waking to dream, you are not in waking; you are only in dream. And when you come from dream to waking, you are in waking, and not in dream. How can you be, simultaneously, in both the states? And, unless you have a simultaneous consciousness of two states, you cannot make a comparison. If you are entirely immersed in one state alone, then, no comparison is possible. But we do make a comparison, and pass judgments of value on the relation between the two states. This is indicative enough of a truth which surpasses common empirical perception. We are not that which is apparently related wholly to the waking state, nor are we that which is apparently connected only with the dreaming state. We are something different from the specific experiences of both the states. Neither can the waking experiences exhaust us, nor can the dream experiences completely comprehend our being. We seem to be something that is capable of being a witness of both the states. This witness is not a party either to the waking state or to the dreaming state. We are essentially, a third element altogether, something independent of waking and dream. What is that third element? This subject is the very purpose of the Upanishad, the core of investigation into the reality of the matter. Just as they appoint a commission when there is a complicated case for investigation, a commission wherein very competent persons are appointed, we seem to be under the necessity of putting ourselves in the position of a dispassionate commission of enquiry into the cases presented by the two states, waking and dreaming. We do not belong to the waking state, wholly; we do not, also, belong to the dreaming state, wholly. By a dispassionate dissociation of the judging consciousness from the experiences of waking and dream, we place ourselves in a situation where analysis is practicable.

When we judge the two states without any prejudice in our minds, the prejudice that waking is, perhaps, better than dream – without this prejudice, if we approach this matter – we arrive at wholly startling conclusions. Why do we say that the objects of waking are real? Because they have a utilitarian value. The food of the waking state, not the dream food, can appease our hunger of the waking state. That is why we say that the dream food is not real and that the waking food is real. But we forget that the dream food can satisfy our dream hunger. Why do we make a comparison of the two stales wrongly? We confine the dream food to the dream world and make a comparison of the dream hunger with waking hunger, not equally, also, making a comparison of the other aspect of the matter, namely the food aspect. If we say: we see people in the waking world in relation to whom we can speak and have dealings, in dream, too, we can have the same dealings with the dream people. We can shake hands with a dream friend, fight with a dream enemy, and experience even a dream death in a battle of dream. We can have a dream court case. We can have a dream property acquired after winning a case. We can have a dream office in which we may be big officers. We may become dream kings in a dream world. What is the difference, whether we are in dream or in waking, when the relations between us and the world outside us are the same in both the states? What makes you say that the dream world is unreal and the waking world is real? The comparison that you make is unjust. You are not a good judge of the parties, and so you pass partial judgments. Sometimes you pass ex-parte judgments, without considering the cases of the two sides. Now, here, the Mandukya Upanishad is not willing to accept the proposal of any ex-parte judgment. You have to dispassionately go into the root of the matter, and cannot take sides, either on the part of waking or on the part of dreaming. A philosopher said: If a king in the waking state is to dream for twelve hours every day that he is a beggar, and if a beggar in the waking state is to dream everyday for twelve hours that he is a king, what is the difference between the two persons? Who is the king and who is the beggar? You may say that the waking king is the real king. Here, again, you are making a wrong comparison. Such comparisons will not hold water, because they are prejudiced by partisanship. It is the waking mind that passes judgment on the waking world and says that it is real. It is like one party in a case saying, 'I am right', not considering the rights of the other 'party. The dreaming subject may make an equally valid assertion in relation to the dream world. You regard the dream world as unreal because you have woken up. When you are in dream, you never pass such a judgment. You are happy in dream; you laughed in dream; and you wept in dream. Why do you weep in dream if the dream pains are unreal? You may say 'it is a dream; why should I worry?' If you see a dream snake in dream, you jump over it, then. Why do you jump over the dream snake? It is unreal! You have tremor of the body. If a tiger in dream attacks you, you wake up with perspiration in the body. You may even cry, actually. This is possible. You may fall from a dream tree and have dream-breaking of the legs, and you feel real pain. Sometimes, the legs start trembling even when you wake up. You start touching them and seeing as to what has happened to them. You take some time to realise that nothing happened, and then say, 'I was imagining'.

A comparison justly made, dispassionately conducted, philosophically approached, between the waking and the dream states, will place you in a very awkward condition, so embarrassing that you will not know where you are. Are you waking, or, are you dreaming; are you possessed of a thing or are you dispossessed of a thing – this you will not know. And that, perhaps, the dream experiences are due to impressions of waking life does not make matters better. It is only a way of arguing. When you practically enter into the field of experience, you will find that this analysis, theoretically made, has not made a difference to your practical life. It may be that, if the waking impressions have created the dream world, the waking experiences might have been created by some other impressions. If, on account of the satisfaction that the dream world is only a creation of impressions of waking experiences, you regard dream as unreal, then you may regard the waking world, also, as unreal, because it is the outcome of some other impressions of some other experience undergone in some other state. If the dream world is the effect of a cause, the waking world, too, may be an effect of another cause. If the causal relation is responsible for your judging the dream world as unreal, the very same reason can apply to the conclusion that the waking world, also, is unreal. And, why do you hug the waking objects, rather than the dream objects? You do cling to dream objects, but you do not think of them when you wake up. If a comparison of the two states is responsible for your regarding the dream world as unreal, why do you not make a comparison of the waking world with another higher state? Why do you confine your analysis merely to the two states, waking and dream? What makes you think that there are only two states, and not more? Just as in dream you cannot make a comparison between dream and waking, you cannot make a comparison between waking and a higher life, unless you wake up from this life. While you are in dream, you think only of the dream world and you do not know that there is such a thing as waking. You forget all your empire of the waking world while you are dreaming. You are so much engrossed in the dream world that you are totally oblivious of there being a thing called waking life, and you eagerly go for the waking world when you wake up, but not before. If this is the case with dream, this is also the case with waking. If, in dream, dream appears to be real, in waking, waking appears to be real. Waking is real because you are awake, and dream is real when dream is functioning. While you are in a particular state, that state appears to be real. In the famous analogy of the rope appearing as a snake, the snake is not there at all, and yet you jumped in terror. The snake, to you, was not non-existent in the rope; it was there. You did not see the rope; you saw only the snake; and you say that the snake is not there only after seeing the rope. When you did not see the rope, you saw only the snake, and then you jumped. You should not say that the snake is unreal. If it was unreal, why did you jump? Why was there a real jump over an unreal snake? The snake was not unreal at that time. It was real at that time of its being perceived, and it became unreal when you saw something else, namely the rope. When it is seen, it is real, and it appears to be otherwise only when it is compared to something else that you see subsequently. If this is the way we judge things, then, why do we not judge the entire waking world in a similar manner? What makes us say that the waking world is real? It is the same thing that makes us feel that the snake in the rope is real. And just as we jump over an apparent snake, we are affected by the apparent objects of the world. Just as we get possessed of a feverish sentiment on account of the perception of the snake which was not there, we are in the agony of Samsara due to the perception of something which is not there. We should not say, it is there. If it is there really, then the snake also is there really.

The snake in the rope is a mysterious substance. We cannot say it is there, or it is not there. From one point of view it is there, because we really jump over it, and, from another point of view, it is not there, because it is only a rope. So is this whole world of waking. It is there as long as we see it, and we cling to it, weep over it and have various kinds of dealings with it, even as we have dealings with the snake that we see in the rope. But when we see another reality altogether, when light is brought and the rope is seen, the tremor ceases, and we sigh, 'there was no snake'. Likewise, we shall make a statement when light is brought before the world, not this light of the sun, electricity, etc., but the light of wisdom, insight or realisation. When this light is flashed before us, the snake of the world will vanish, and we will see the rope of Brahman. Then will we exclaim, 'Oh, this is all! Why did I, unnecessarily, run about, here and there?' As we speak now, after waking, in regard to the dream world, so will we say, then, in regard to this world, when we wake up into the consciousness of the Absolute. This, therefore, is the world in which we are living. We may call it real or unreal, as we would like. Both statements seem to be correct: It is true that the world is there, because we see it; and it is not really there, because it is sublimated in a higher experience.

This analytical understanding of the relation between waking and dream will be able to throw a light on the relation of man to God. What the dream subject is in relation to the waking subject, that man is in relation to God; and as the dream world is to the waking subject, so is the waking world to God. As the waking subject is the creator of the dream world, God is the Creator of this waking world. And what happens to you when you wake up from dream into the waking life, that happens to you when you rise from this world to God. Do you lose anything by waking? Then you lose something by realising God, also. But, if you feel that by waking up from dream you lose nothing, rather you become better, then the same rule applies to the state of God-realisation. You do not lose anything by God-realisation. On the other hand, you become better and get enhanced in being. While in dream you saw only phantoms, and in waking you feel that you see real things. In God you see things as they really are, rather than the phantasms that you see in this so-called waking life. This is the metaphysical analysis of dream experience in relation to the world of waking. The world of dream is not outside the mind; the world of waking is not outside the Absolute.

Dream is not merely a metaphysical problem; it is also a psychological occurrence. It is a reversion of the mind into its own abode, from the world of sensory operations. That is why it is called Antah-prajnah, and Praviviktabhuk. It is Antah-prajnah, or internally conscious, because the mind can project a world in dream, independent of the operation of the waking senses. The eyes may be closed, but yet you will 'see' in dream. You may plug your ears and go to bed, and yet you will 'hear' in dream. Though the tongue does not actually work, you can 'taste' in dream. You can have all the sensory functions in dream, though the waking senses are not active then. The mind projects itself as the senses of dream and becomes capable of contacting dream objects which, also, are a partial manifestation of the same mind. The mind divides itself into the subject and the object, the seer as well as the seen. You are the beholder of the dream, and you are also, simultaneously, the world which you behold. The world of dream, together with the beholder in dream, vanishes, when there is waking, in which the dream subject and the dream objects coalesce, come together to form a more integrated consciousness. A similar union takes place in Isvara-sakshatkara, or God-realisation. The world that you see outside, and you yourself as the beholder of this world, come together in a Universal Consciousness. It is called omniscience or all-knowingness in almost the same sense that the waking mind can be said to be aware of everything that is in dream. The world of dream was not outside you really, and so also is the world of waking not outside God. And, just as you withdraw the dream-world into the waking mind, the waking world may be said to be withdrawn into the Cosmic Mind of Isvara. And, individually, microcosmically, from the viewpoint of Jivatma, the dream experiences may be regarded as the consequences of the impressions of waking perception, that is, dream may be considered an effect of waking. But, it is a different matter altogether when you judge this condition from the point of view of the macrocosm. Even as you have the states of individual waking and dream animated by a consciousness called, respectively, Visva and Taijasa, there are, from the cosmic point of view, Virat and Hiranyagarbha, pertaining to the cosmic waking and cosmic dreaming states. While the dream world of Taijasa may be regarded, tentatively speaking, as an effect of the waking world of Visva, we cannot say that Hiranyagarbha is an effect of Virat. This is the difference between individualistic perception and Cosmic Knowledge. While Visva may be said to precede Taijasa, Virat does not precede Hiranyagarbha. On the other hand, the reverse is the case in the cosmic state. The dream consciousness which is Taijasa has certain characteristics of Visva, also. The subtle body has the same contour as the physical body. If the physical body is a form, the subtle body is the mould in which this form is cast. The subtle body has, thus, a reference to the physical body, and, almost in every respect, it corresponds in form, shape and structure to the physical body. This is why the words, Saptanga and Ekonavimsatimukha, are repeated, both in the waking and the dream descriptions.

The Visva, or the Jagaritasthana, is Saptanga and Ekonavimsatimukha; and so is Taijasa, or the Svapnasthana. Hiranyagarbha and Virat seem to have the same structural formation, though Hiranyagarbha is subtler than Virat. Hiranyagarbha and Virat are both cosmic, and their difference is one of a degree of subtlety, but not of structural formation. Hiranyagarbha also would be beheld by us in the state of realisation as the Virat, only with the distinction that Hiranyagarbha is subtler than the Virat. The seven heads described of Visva or Vaisvanara can also be described as of Hiranyagarbha or Taijasa. Taijasa individually and Hiranyagarbha cosmically are Antahprajna, internally conscious because of their objects being not physical but subtle, constituted of Tanmatras – Sabda, Sparsa, Rupa, Rasa and Gandha. Though waking and dream have their similarity of character in respect of Saptangatva and Ekonavimsatimukhatva, the dream consciousness is Praviviktabhuk, both individually and cosmically, it absorbs subtle things into itself in both cases. And that distinction we draw between Visva and Vaisvanara, we can also draw between Taijasa and Hiranyagarbha. The relation between the Virat and Visva, and the relation between Hiranyagarbha and Taijasa are the same. The dream world is very complex when it is judged from the point of view of the Jiva, the individual; but it is simple from the point of view of Cosmic Experience.

Great analyses of the dream world have been made by psychologists and psychoanalysts, these days. Such scientific analysts as Freud, Adler and Jung in the West have come to the conclusion that dreams are due to certain complexes of personality, Freud attributing them to sex, Adler to inferiority feeling and Jung to a general urge for growth and harmony between the extrovert and introvert natures in us. The opinions of these psychologists are partially true, and we have much to learn from their discoveries. But they are not wholly right. The psychoanalysts have gone from the conscious level to the subconscious and to some extent to the unconscious level also, but they have not reached up to the spiritual level. To the psychoanalysts, there is no such thing as the Atman Universal. Everything is mind – unconscious, subconscious or conscious. You may give some credit to the psychoanalysts in that they have gone deeper than the ordinary general psychologists who are restricted in their operations only to the waking world. The psychoanalysts discovered that there is something deeper than the conscious level in man, viz. the subconscious and unconscious, which are filled with complexes of various kinds. Our personality is more than what appears on the conscious level. Psychoanalysis has gone to the extent of holding the view that there is no such thing as freewill; because freewill is only as much real as the freedom of choice seen in a hypnotised individual. If the physician is to hypnotise a patient, the patient would act according to the will of the physician, not knowing that he has been hypnotised, and all the while feeling that he is acting according to his own choice or freedom of will. The psychoanalysts hold that we seem to have freedom in the same way, not knowing that we have been hypnotised by the impulses from within, the complexes of which we are made. There is no use saying that we are free. The patient also says that he is free. When he becomes healthy and recovers his normal consciousness, he may act differently. When he is freed from the clutches of the influence of the physician's will, he will act otherwise, altogether. And so also we will not act in the way we do now if we are freed of the psychological complexes in which we are enmeshed these days, in the situations we are placed in throughout our lives.

Every human being has a complex; not merely one complex but several ones. Frustrated feelings become complexes, later on. In the beginning, you have a desire, and all desires cannot be fulfilled because of there being what the psychoanalysts call the 'reality' principle. There is the reality of society, the reality of the world outside, which opposes your desires. The society has a law of its own, which will not allow the expression of all individual desires. So, the individuals suppress the desires within by repressive activity. Repression and suppression are the mechanisms used by the mind to appear harmonious with the reality of society outside by putting on an appearance that is not real. When you suppress a desire, you become an artificial person. You are not what you are. And when you go on doing this for a long time, the suppressed impressions become complexes. These psychological complexes can, at times, become physical diseases. One may have such physical difficulties as stammering, deafness, blindness, loss of appetite, liver trouble, even lameness and similar physiological disorders because of the action of buried impulses, the complexes which have been created within by the storing in of repression for a long period of time. This, they say, we have been doing for years, and years, together, especially if we are to consider the incarnations that we have passed through, since many lives. We are a group of tensions, complexes, artificial situations. This is Jivabhava, all artificiality, all difficulty, tension and suffering. This situation produces dreams for purpose of relief through fulfilment. The subtle desires repressed within manifest themselves in dream, when the will does not operate. The desires cannot all operate in the waking world, because the 'reality' is there, opposing them from outside. You cannot go on tom-toming your desires to people. They will oppose you, censure you and make your life hard in the world. And the desires, too, are very intelligent. They know where to express themselves, and where not. But in the dream world there is no such censure from the reality outside. There is, then, no will and intellect or ratiocination working, and there is only the instinct operating. You live in an instinctive world. Your real personality, at least partially, comes out in the dream world.

Dreams, therefore, are due to repressed desires. This is one of the causes behind dreams. This is the only factor that the psychoanalysts of the West emphasise. But Indian psychologists and psychoanalysts, like the Raja Yogins and the philosophers of the Vedanta, have touched another aspect of dream. The dreams may be, to some extent, of course, the results of complexes created by frustrated desires. But, this is not wholly true. Dreams may be due to other reasons also; one such reason being the working of past Karma. The effects of past Karmas, meritorious or unmeritorious, may project themselves into dream when chances are not given to them for expression in waking life. Also, a thought of some other person may affect you. A friend of yours may be deeply thinking of you; and you may have a dream of him, or you may have a dream with experiences corresponding to his thoughts. Your mother may be far away, crying for you, and her thought can affect you; you may have a dream. All this is equal to saying that a telepathic effect can produce dream. In the case of spiritual seekers, Guru's grace can cause a dream; and catastrophic experiences that one may have to pass through in the waking world may pass lightly as a dream experience by his grace. Due to the power of the Guru, one may have a dream suffering, instead of a waking one. If the disciple has to fall down and break his leg due to a Prarabdha, the Guru will make him experience it in dream, and save him the trouble in waking. One may have a dream temperature, or fever, instead of a waking fever. One may have a calamity in dream instead of its coming in waking. This is due to the grace of the Guru. So, Saktipata can also be a cause of dream. All this the psychoanalysts of the West do not know. And, Isvara's grace, also, can bring about dreams. God may bless you and give you certain peculiar experiences in dream. You may ask, "Why should they not come in waking? Why should the Guru work only in dream, and Isvara's grace come only in dream?" The reason is that you oppose their function in waking life, due to the assertions of the ego. You counteract Isvara's working and Guru's blessing by the action of your own egoism. But, in dream, the ego subsides, to some extent. You become more normal, one may say, and you approximate yourself more to reality, rather than to artificiality, in dream. Thus, it is easier for these powers to operate in dream than in waking. The opposing will of the ego, which functions in waking, subsides, to a large extent, in dream, and so there is a greater chance provided for the diviner forces to function in the dreaming condition. The physician puts the patient to sleep first, before the healing process can take place, because the ego opposes interference in the waking life, while there is no such opposition in dream and sleep. In hypnosis, the patient is put to sleep. The nerves must be soothed; the agitation of the mind should come down; the ego should not oppose the healing forces. Dream is helpful, in this way, for the operation of the higher powers coming from the Guru, or from Isvara.

Dream, therefore, can have umpteen causes. Whatever the causes be, dream in the individual is regarded as an effect of waking, and is often judged as a consequence of impressions of waking perception and cognition. The world of dream being subtle, projected only by the mind, is regarded as Pravivikta, Sukshma, non-physical; – this is so both in the case of Taijasa and Hiranyagarbha. While Hiranyagarbha has Cosmic Knowledge, the Jiva has no such knowledge, for the reason already explained. Hiranyagarbha is Isvara's form, and Taijasa is Jiva's form. Thus is the twofold mystery which dream bolsters up before us.