Sleep and Dreams

Woman sleeping and dreaming

The following article first appeared in Theosophy Magazine for March 1931, the main monthly publication of the United Lodge of Theosophists.

Another interesting article which directly links in with this, although written over seventy years later, is The Sleep Cycle (from The Theosophical Movement magazine) and that can be read by clicking on the title link.

Both articles make special mention of Jagrat, Svapna, and Sushupti. In Hinduism these are called the Avastha-Traya, the “three states” of consciousness. These are the waking state of consciousness, the dreaming state of consciousness, and the dreamless sleep (sometimes called deep sleep) state of consciousness. Although generally called Jagrat, Svapna, and Sushupti in Sanskrit, the Mandukya Upanishad refers to them as Vaishvanara, Taijasa, and Prajna.

The Mandukya Upanishad is a short but profound treatise from the sages of ancient India and revolves entirely around the Avastha-Traya, also placing emphasis on the fourth state, which is called Turiya. It is said that Turiya is not a state of consciousness but that it IS Consciousness itself. It is pure Consciousness…Superconsciousness…Samadhi…the transcendent state…the perpetual state of the Atman…the perpetual and true state of the Self.

The law of correspondence and analogy prevails throughout all true esotericism. The three states of consciousness correspond in certain ways with the three letters or syllables of the sacred word AUM, the three aspects of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, the three Gunas or qualities of Nature, the three bodies in the Vedanta philosophy known as Sthula Sharira (gross body), Sukshma Sharira (subtle body), and Karana Sharira (causal body), the “Three Halls” (Hall of Ignorance, Hall of Learning, and Hall of Wisdom) mentioned in “The Voice of the Silence,” and also the three states of Earth, Kama Loka, and Devachan known to Theosophists.

Sleeping and dreaming is something everyone on this planet has in common, so it is hoped that these two articles will be of interest and benefit to many.

~ * ~

In Theosophy sleep assumes an importance which is neither known nor recognized by science in any of its departments of learning. It is true that sleep and dreams have received consideration, but the scientific treatment is confined wholly to external factors. Dreams are explained as due to the automatic and reflex action of the brain with the nervous system, their origin being the ordinary brain consciousness. The beneficial and refreshing effects derived from sleep are conceded, but beyond such effects the sleep period might just as well be a complete blank, as far as our scientists are concerned. This blindness is due to the failure to recognize an Immortal Ego in man. Once we posit the independent existence of this Higher Ego, the sleep state acquires a value and significance, in comparison with which our waking consciousness is an illusion and a dream.

It is evident to all that every twenty-four hours we pass through two states – the waking and the sleeping; but Theosophy goes further and teaches that the sleeping period is itself divided into two states, designated by the Sanscrit terms, Swapna and Sushupti, or the dream state and the state of dreamless sleep. The latter English equivalent for sushupti has been considered inadequate by Mr. Judge, who in an article, entitled The Three Planes of Human Life, reprinted in THEOSOPHY Vol. I, p. 331, has the following to say regarding sushupti:

“The translation (dreamless sleep) is inadequate, for, while it is dreamless, it is also a state in which even criminals commune through the higher nature with spiritual beings and enter into the spiritual plane. It is the great spiritual reservoir by means of which the tremendous momentum toward evil living is held in check. And because it is involuntary with them, it is constantly salutary in its effect.”

Our aim should be to carry through the salutary effects of Sushupti, into Jagrata – our ordinary waking condition. Thus all men pass through and live upon three planes of life and consciousness every time the earth marks one revolution upon its axis. It is taught that when a confirmed materialist dies, his disbelief in his immortality acts as a self-created barrier, depriving him of a devachanic existence and causing him to spend his time between incarnations in unconsciousness. A similar mental attitude with reference to the existence of the plane of Sushupti, will shut off all the beneficial effects from this plane.

The connecting link between these three planes or states of consciousness is the Immortal Soul itself. Because of this ever present link the three planes of human life do not and cannot stand isolated from one another. Herein lies the importance of sleep and dreams. The waking state is influenced by the sleeping states and the sleeping states are profoundly affected by the waking condition, so that an understanding of all three states and their inter-relationship becomes of prime importance for all earnest students. One of the chief objects of the Science of Devotion, as it is called in the Bhagavad-Gita, is to obtain complete control over the lower nature. The first step in the attainment of such control is dependent upon an understanding of the nature of life during sleep and waking and their effects upon one another for good and for evil. There is an analogy between man’s after death states and the two planes of life entered upon by the Higher Ego during the sleep of the body. At death man first enters an astral region known as Kamaloka, his stay in this region depending upon the strength of his kamic or animalistic nature. But no matter what the length of the stay on this lower plane, the time comes when the lower passional nature is sloughed off and abandoned by the Immortal Man, who proceeds to the “Land of the Gods” or Devachan. The first region entered upon going to sleep is also this lower astral plane, having affinity to the passions and desires and all that is purely selfish and personal. The stay in this region also depends on the force of these lower desires. The pure and unselfish pass quickly into sushupti, while others are more or less impeded in reaching the higher plane, the seriousness of the impediment depending on the circumstances surrounding each case and especially the mental state in which the individual went to sleep.

We can now see the importance of a mental and psychic adjustment before entering the land of dreams. While the whole of the waking state will determine the nature of the dreaming and dreamless sleep states, just as the whole manner of the life led will determine the nature of the after death states – yet, as it is taught that the last moments before death are of especial significance – so the last moments before sleep are of like significance. But while there is this analogy between the states after death and the states during sleep, still there is a great difference. This difference is admirably put by Madame Blavatsky in the section on Dreams in The Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge:

“In sleep there is a connection, weak though it may be, between lower and higher mind of man, and the latter is more or less reflected into the former, however much its rays may be distorted. But once the body is dead, the body of illusion, Mayavi Rupa, becomes Kama Rupa, or the animal soul, and is left to its own devices. Therefore, there is as much difference between the spook and man as there is between a gross material, animal but sober mortal, and a man incapably drunk and unable to distinguish the most prominent surroundings; between a person shut up in a perfectly dark room and one in a room lighted, however imperfectly, by some light or other.”

“The lower principles are like wild beasts, and the higher Manas is the rational man who tames or subdues them more or less successfully. But once the animal gets free from the master who held it in subjection; no sooner has it ceased to hear his voice and see him than it starts off again to the jungle and its ancient den. It takes, however, some time for an animal to return to its original and natural state, but these lower principles or “spook” return instantly, and no sooner has the higher Triad entered the Devachanic state than the lower Duad re-becomes that which it was from the beginning, a principle endued with purely animal instincts, made happier still by the great change.”

The diurnal cycle furnishes repeated opportunities for the growth and regeneration of the living man since the connection with the Higher Ego remains unbroken; night and day, power and life from higher planes are capable of pouring in. But at death a balance is struck and further opportunities for correction cease for that incarnation, as no new causes can be set into operation. Sleep, therefore, is a means for soul growth, which every student of occultism should cultivate to the utmost.

Because we divide man into a Higher Ego and a lower personality, the student must not make the error of dividing man into two or more egos. There is only ONE EGO and what we call the personality is nothing more than an ephemeral ray or aspect of the three in one – the Real Immortal Being. In order to reap experience on a particular plane in Nature, the Ego clothes itself in a body or vehicle composed of the same grade of matter as the plane in question. The four lower principles in which the Immortal Triad clothes itself during every incarnation, while enabling the Ego to deepen and intensify its powers because of the resistance offered, at the same time limit the Ego and deflect its pure expression. When the Source is forgotten, an idea or feeling of separateness arises and the imperfect and impeded expression is mistaken for a separate entity and the real man. And so persistent and ingrained is the idea that the lower self is real, that upon learning of the existence of the Higher and Immortal Ego, many Theosophists will insist that man is composed of at least two selves. Yet every Theosophist ought to know that at death nothing remains of the lower quaternary but the spiritual aroma with which the Higher was able to penetrate it. Concerning the question of whether there is one or more egos in man, H.P.B. in a footnote to her article entitled “Occultism Versus The Occult Arts” states:

“Those who would feel inclined to see three Egos in one man will show themselves unable to perceive the metaphysical meaning. Man is a trinity composed of Body, Soul and Spirit; but man is nevertheless one and is surely not his body. It is the latter which is the property, the transitory clothing of the man. The three “Egos” are MAN in his three aspects on the astral, intellectual or psychic, and the Spiritual planes, or states.”

It is in dreamless sleep that the highest aspect, which is an inseparable part of Man’s very Self, lives and functions, free from the trammels of its lower vehicles.

The importance of realizing that there is only ONE Ego in man, and that this Ego is not any of its emanations and aspects but is ever distinct (though not separated) from them all, lies in the fact that our failure to understand this causes us to identify ourselves with the particular plane or state of consciousness in which we happen to find ourselves. Regarding the exhaustlessness and changelessness of the SELF, Krishna declares in the tenth chapter of the Gita: “I established this whole Universe with a single portion of myself, and remain separate.” Regarding the tendency to self-identification with an aspect of life, the Secret Doctrine states on page 40 of Volume I:

“Whatever plane our Consciousness may be acting in, both we and the things belonging to that plane are, for the time being, our only realities. As we rise in the scale of development we perceive that during the stages through which we have passed we mistook shadows for realities, and the upward progress of the Ego is a series of progressive awakenings, each advance bringing with it the idea that now, at last, we have reached “reality;” but only when we shall have reached the absolute Consciousness, and blended our own with it, shall we be free from the delusions produced by Maya.”

If it could be intimated to the most hard-headed materialist, while in a state of dreaming that the state he is in is one of illusion, he would resent it just as vigorously as when awake he would resent the imputation that the ordinary waking consciousness is not real. In each case he has completely identified himself with his environment and completely forgotten other states in which he lived. When the student learns not to identify himself as indicated, the gulf between his waking and sleeping states will grow narrower and narrower until his Immortal Ego will bridge over and completely unite all of these three planes into One harmonious whole. Our aim is to live and function in and through Higher Manas at all times, whether sleeping or waking, and this aim can only be fulfilled by efforts made during Jagrata or the waking state, because the waking state of the diurnal cycle – like the bodily existence of the incarnation cycle – is the time when we can consciously set up new causes and thus affect our future evolution.

During sleep we are subject to a double set of impressions – the impressions from above or within – and the impressions from below or without. The brain’s capacity to retain and remember these impressions produces Swapna or dreaming sleep. We must remember that the living acts and deeds of the Higher Ego when reflected on the brain of the sleeper undergo a transformation and are more or less distorted, the degree depending on the obtuseness of the brain and lower mind. A certain amount of distortion is inevitable when life descends from a higher to a lower plane, due to the ever increasing differentiation as life falls from plane to plane. Were this the only interference that the thoughts and acts of the Ego were subjected to, no great harm would be done, the experiences in sushupti merely taking allegorical form in swapna, our brains catching and retaining glimpses of the real life of the Soul. Dreams such as these would have a refreshing effect on the body and an uplifting effect on the mind. But we are also subjected during sleep to impacts having their origin in the Kamic or purely personal nature and it is these impressions which are responsible for the chaotic and confused dreams which are neither elevating to the mind nor refreshing to the body. It is these lower dreams and impressions which either prevent altogether the higher impressions from registering in the brain or else mixing with the higher impressions, they make “confusion worse confounded” and as H.P.B. says “even a Devachanic vision would appear a nightmare or grotesque caricature.” During sleep the protection and balancing effect of even the ordinary waking consciousness is in abeyance, and the purely animalistic instincts, which have their seat in that portion of the brain known as the cerebellum, are in uncontrolled sway, unless steps are taken during the waking hours and before falling asleep to control them. The uncontrolled Kamic nature by the law of affinities will attract to it all similar impressions and emanations resident upon the lower astral plane. Says H.P.B.:

“It (the astral light) becomes in, and for, man – if at all psychic – and who is not? – a tempting Demon, his “evil angel,” and the inspirer of all our worst deeds. It acts on the will of even the sleeping man, through visions impressed on his slumbering brain (which visions must not be confused with the “dreams”), and these germs bear their fruit when he awakes.”

Thus we see that our Kamic nature may not only deprive us of the benefits from sushupti; it may also side-track and enmesh us in the muddy torrents of the Astral Light and subject us to all its evil influences. But man by proper preparations during waking can both avoid the debilitating effects of the Astral Light and make himself porous to the benign influences pouring in from the akasic plane, where the Real Being – the Higher Ego – is living its life.

It is taught that just before death the real man is busy in the brain, where a series of pictures of the whole life just ended passes in review before the Ego; that the Ego calmly and dispassionately evaluates the deeds and thoughts of the life, taking with it to Devachan only that which is in harmony with its own divine nature. It is also taught that a similar vision takes place at the end of the Devachanic state and just before rebirth. The Ego has a vision of the general character of the new life about to begin, seeing the causes at work and that they are just. May we not, by analogy, employ a similar method with reference to the two moments in the smaller diurnal cycle: namely, the moments just before sleep and the moments just after waking? Before sleep we might review the thoughts and doing of the day just closed, evaluating them as they pass in review before the mind, retaining only such as are in harmony with the nature of the Soul, and consciously throwing out those thoughts and desires which, if harbored on going to sleep, are sure to act as disturbing factors. A proper and peaceful frame of mind can be further brought about by meditating upon some subject of a spiritual and lofty nature or else reading a portion of some devotional book, such as The Bhagavad Gita, The Voice of the Silence, or Light on the Path. If this is done we will pass rapidly into sushupti; and neither will we be much affected by the astral plane on our way back to waking consciousness. We will then carry the strength and the inspiration of the state of dreamless sleep into our waking consciousness. The first moments on awakening can also be devoted to so planning the day which is about to begin that it will be lived on a somewhat higher spiral than the day before. If we continue this, day in and day out, the time will come when we shall find that living the life of the Soul is easy, natural, and productive of the only happiness which has no sting connected with it.

~ * ~

SOME RELATED ARTICLES: The Sleep Cycle, Prana, Tiredness, and SleepAtman – The Higher Self, The Sevenfold Nature of Man, Death and The Afterlife, 12 Things Theosophy Teaches and A Right Understanding of Reincarnation.

~ ~

“It was said that the day-time of the body is the night-time of the soul, and the night-time of the body is the day-time of the soul. When the body sleeps, the real man is most active, with the greatest degree of intelligence, but thinking and acting on another plane altogether, in a different state altogether, from any known to us in ordinary waking human existence.” – Robert Crosbie, The Friendly Philosopher