Dreams & Sleep
Aug 22, 1993 07:48 PM
by Gerald Schueler
Don was telling Leonard about sleep and dreams, so I am sending out my
own thoughts on the subject. The following was on PeaceNet. I believe
that some of it was also published awhile back in SUNRISE. I invite
Most people think that dreams are a waste of time. We all know that
our body periodically needs rest, and sometimes we are told that dreams
are simply the meaningless resultant activity of a resting brain. Some
people wish they did not have to sleep, because it cost time away from
their work, time which is totally wasted except to reinvigorate the
physical body and to have nonsensical dreams. There are also those who
say that they never dream at all, and that having to sleeping is
nothing but a useless squandering of time. The theosophical view of
dreams is almost diametrically opposite to this general opinion.
According to theosophy, all but the highest Adepts dream and the dream
state is more real, not less, than the waking state.
Theosophy teaches that behind the normal ego or personality of every
human being, is an Ego, an inner man. According to H.P. Blavatsky,
man. This Ego it is which is the actor, the real man, the true human
self." (1) She goes on to explain that "dreams are in reality the
actions of the Ego during physical sleep." (2) Concerning the
environment of the dreamer, she states, "Occultism teaches that
physical man is one, but the thinking man septenary, thinking, acting,
feeling, and living on seven different states of being or planes of
consciousness, and that for all these states and planes the permanent
Ego (not the false personality) has a distinct set of senses." (3) From
this we may conclude that a dream is an experience of the inner man
functioning on an inner plane, an astral plane of consciousness. It
occurs whenever our consciousness shifts its focus from the physical
plane to the astral plane, or from our physical body to our astral
body. In New Age terms, a dream is identical to an altered state of
consciousness, or an out-of-the-body experience (OBE) which is
sometimes called `astral traveling.' Some people think of astral
traveling as an exotic occult technique, never realizing that we
unconsciously 'astral travel' every night when we go to sleep.(4)
The seven different planes alluded to by H.P.B. range from the divine,
the highest and most spiritual, downward into matter until the physical
plane is reached as the lowest and most dense plane of the seven. The
plane next up from the physical is usually called the astral, the plane
where most of our dreams occur. H.P.B. warns us many times that the
astral plane is a realm of illusion and deception. This is because the
`astral matter' that comprises it is plastic, and takes on forms and
colors according to our individual thoughts and desires. We seldom see
what is really there, but rather we almost always see only what we
inwardly want or expect to see. It is a world of intense creative
energy, but with little conscious direction.
In the relativistic sense that the astral plane is closer to the
spiritual than the physical plane, it can be said to be more `real' and
thus we are usually more honest and true to ourselves in our dreams
than we are in the waking state. The inhibitions and prohibitions of
society are cast aside in our dreams, and this allows our real nature
to better express itself. Because of this, we can use our dreams as
barometers or unbiased indicators of our spiritual development. In
dreams we are more able to see ourselves as we are, not as how we want
to be, or how we think we are. Students of theosophy and western
occultism often want to know how they are progressing, where they stand
on the `evolutionary ladder.' To discover at least a fairly accurate
measure of our spiritual progress in theosophy or any of the occult
arts, we need only take an honest look at our dreams.
The theosophical call for universal brotherhood, which equates to a
genuine love for our fellow man, will be reflected by all theosophists
in their dreams. Because fear is the chief cause of nightmares, and
"perfect love casteth out fear," possibly one of the first things that
a student of theosophy will notice is the disappearance of nightmares.
A peaceful mind will be reflected in peaceful dreams. Often our
general mental state before going to sleep will determine the emotional
atmosphere of our dreams. If we drift asleep while restless or
worried, this will bring about distraught dreams of some kind. If we
can fill our mind with love before falling asleep, and can honestly
forgive everyone who seemed to wrong us during the day, we will have
pleasant dreams and a restful night's sleep.
The theosophical view of dreams shares in some degree with the esoteric
teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. According to the remarkable French
initiate of Tibetan Buddhism, Madame Alexandra David-Neel, successful
yogic meditation and exercises result in three degrees of dreams: "In
the higher, one no longer dreams. In the middle degree, when one
dreams, one is aware that events and actions are taking place in the
dream state. In the lower degree, the only dreams are pleasant ones."
(5) The highest degree, that of a full Adept, results in no dreaming at
all. This was echoed by H.P.B. when she stated, "No advanced Adept
dreams ... In his sleep he simply lives on another and more real
plane." (6) The middle degree, that of a Chela or advanced student, is
one where the dream content can be consciously controlled. The yogic
method of dream control was taught as one of the Six Yogas of Naropa
(7) and was a popular yoga in Tibet. The lowest degree, that which
should certainly be obtainable by most of us, will lead to avoiding
nightmares and having only peaceful and pleasant dreams. Summarizing
the importance of dreams, Alexandra David-Neel stated that "It is
therefore the real individual who acts in dreams, and his acts, though
imaginary from the point of view of the man who is awake, are very real
qua volition, and involve all the consequences attaching thereto.
Relying on these ideas, the Masters of mysticism recommend the
attentive observation of the conduct displayed in the dream state if
one would arrive at self- knowledge." (8)
Two additional benefits that can come from a better understanding of
our dreams are worth noting. The first was stated by Alexandra
David-Neel: "The student who has succeeded in understanding that his
life is a dream which he himself supplies with agreeable or terrifying
scenes, can ensure that the dream does not become a nightmare. He can
strive to furnish this relative world, his own creation, with things
likely to lead to his own wellbeing, his happiness." (9) In other
words, conscious control of our dreams is an important step in
directing our waking lives. This is a central teaching, though often
highly guarded, in most forms of western occultism. The second was
stated by H.P.B.: "If we could remember our dreams in deep sleep, then
we should be able to remember all our past incarnations." (10) Most
people believe that deep sleep is dreamless, but according to Esoteric
Tradition, we do dream in deep sleep, but after a different fashion.
It is the higher Ego that dreams while the lower ego or personality is
in deep sleep. After waking, the ego remembers nothing because it took
no part in the relatively formless experiences of the Ego.
Students of western occultism, theosophists, or anyone interested in
seeing a more honest picture of themselves, would do well to study
their dreams. We should begin with an honest resolve to remember our
dreams as we drift off to sleep. The Dream Yoga of Naropa calls this
"resolving to maintain unbroken continuity of consciousness throughout
both the waking-state and the dream-state." (11) The esoteric teaching
of maintaining an unbroken continuity of consciousness can be found in
all main branches of western occultism from ancient Egypt to modern
magick such as that practiced by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
at the end of the last century. According to this tradition, it is
only one step from remembering our dreams to remembering our past
Although sleeping can be a waste of time, it can also be a time for
growth and self-development. Unconscious tendencies, desires, fears,
and so on will often express themselves openly in dreams. By
reflecting on dreams after waking, we can usually touch base with
portions of our inner self which would otherwise remain unknown. In
dreams we see ourselves more as we really are, as if in a mirror. Some
students have found it helpful to place a pen and paper by their bed in
order to jot down the main points of a dream immediately after waking.
In time, patterns in dream content and tone can often be found that
would allow us to understand what otherwise would perhaps forever
One important aspect of this practice, from a theosophist's point of
view, is to avoid forcing growth in any way. Results obtained are
typically in proportion to the initial resolve. As we practice
remembering our dreams, we must let our inner self gradually control
them in its own time and manner. Results that are forced will not be
lasting and can be dangerous. Results that are a natural outgrowth of
our inner resolve and determination will last and will be the most
1. TRANSACTIONS OF THE BLAVATSKY LODGE OF THE THEOSOPHICAL
SOCIETY, page 50.
2. Ibid, page 52.
3. Ibid, page 60.
4. H.P.B. wrote that, "One phase of magical skill is the voluntary
and conscious withdrawal of the inner man (astral form) from the outer
man (physical body)." (ISIS UNVEILED, Vol 2, page 588). The difference
between sleep and astral travel is largely that the former is done
unconsciously and automatically, while the latter is conscious and
deliberate. The former is safe and natural, the latter is unnatural
5. INITIATIONS AND INITIATES IN TIBET, page 102.
6. TRANSACTIONS OF THE BLAVATSKY LODGE OF THE THEOSOPHICAL
SOCIETY, page 57.
7. A complete translation of this important yoga can be found in
TIBETAN YOGA AND SECRET DOCTRINES edited by W.Y.Evans-Wentz.
8. INITIATIONS AND INITIATES IN TIBET, page 107.
9. SECRET ORAL TEACHINGS IN TIBETAN BUDDHIST SECTS, page 118.
10. THE INNER GROUP TEACHINGS OF H.P.BLAVATSKY, page 104.
11. TIBETAN YOGA AND SECRET DOCTRINES, page 216.
My experience of learning to be aware of my dreams is nothing new.
Modern psychology calls this lucid dreaming. Studies have been
conducted that verify this phenomenon. In one study, subjects were
told to give a signal during their lucid dreams that would notify the
researchers that they knew they were dreaming, without having to wake
up. Researchers found that many subjects could do this. Lets look at
a modern psychology college-level text book - PSYCHOLOGY AND LIFE 12th
Edition, by Philip Zimbardo (Glenview IL: Scott, Foresman and Co.,
1988) which I will designate by the abbreviation PAL. After discussing
a study of lucid dreaming, Zimbardo concludes, "It appears that lucid
dreaming is a learning skill" (PAL, p 242).
Lucid dreaming can be learned. It is something like daydreaming where,
"Daydreaming is a mild form of consciousness alteration that involves a
shift of attention away from responding to external stimulation toward
responding to some internal stimulus." (PAL, p 238) Furthermore,
"Daydreaming is natural for people of all ages. It provides a means of
transcending time and space." (PAL, p 239) Modern psychologists are
just beginning to understand the processes of sleep and dreaming. From
the above quotes, we can conclude that our normal process of
daydreaming has correspondences with what happens during advanced yogic
There are two well-documented stages of sleep: delta sleep and REM
sleep. In delta sleep, an EEG will record a slow and steady output
indicating a peaceful dreamless sleep. The rapid eye movement (REM)
stage is characterized by eye movement and an erratic EEG measurement
indicating dreaming. Most people when wakened during delta sleep
report no dreams. Most people when wakened during REM sleep report
that they were dreaming. Modern psychology has finally established
that we have three mental states: waking, dreaming, and deep sleep.
These have been known for centuries in the East as Jagrat, Swapna, and
Sushupti. A fourth state, higher than the other three, described in
Eastern mystical literature as Turiya, has not yet been documented by
Psychology has found that sleep and personality are related in some
mysterious way. For example, people who sleep for long periods tend to
be introverts; and they are creative and artistic. People who sleep
for short periods tend to be extroverts; and they are very energetic.
Now lets take a closer look at the sleep cycle:
"An adult falling asleep passes through stages 1,2,3, and 4 in a cycle
lasting approximately 90 minutes and then "emerges" into a period of
REM sleep lasting about 10 minutes. A night of sleep usually consists
of four to six such cycles. With each subsequent cycle, delta sleep
gets shorter and the REM period lengthens. During the last cycle, REM
sleep can last for 20 to 60 minutes." (PAL, p 240).
As the normal sleep cycle progresses, REM becomes longer while delta
becomes shorter. This curious fact has several interesting
correspondences. For example, psychologists have determined that
infants sleep with about equal time periods of delta and REM stages.
However, as we grow older, the REM stage lengthens while the delta
stage decreases. At about age 30 this change is very noticeable. At
ages 60 to 70, the delta sleep stage will have dropped off to almost
zero. This implies that our nightly sleep cycle corresponds, on a much
smaller time scale, with our normal life cycle.
Theosophy offers another interesting correspondence. It teaches us
that the reincarnation cycle also corresponds to this, but on a much
larger time scale. We can let REM sleep correspond to the time we are
incarnated, and delta sleep correspond to the period between
incarnations. To understand the significance of this correspondence,
we need to be familiar with the Gupta Vidya Model (this is discussed in
another topic so I won't go into it here). According to this model, we
are all monads going through self-expression along a chain of twelve
(or seven) globes. G. de Purucker wrote that, on the average, we
spend 100 years in the disembodied state between lives (the bardo state
of Tibetan Buddhism) for every year that we live. This implies that at
our current evolutionary state along the chain (i.e., just beginning
the Arc of Ascent from the lowest globe after three and a half Rounds
around the chain) we experience more delta than REM. The age of
humanity on this planet therefore correspond to a human being who is
well under 30 years of age. As we progress upward along the Arc of
Ascent, we can expect to live longer lives, until an average lifetime
is longer than the intermediate period.
Zimbardo notes that sleep is somehow connected with the pineal gland:
"Sleep is promoted when large amounts of the hormone melatonin are
released from the pineal gland." (PAL, p 239) H.P. Blavatsky also
connects sleep with the pineal gland. She writes,
"The Pineal Gland corresponds with Manas until it is touched by the
vibrating light of Kundalini, which proceeds from Buddhi, and then
becomes Buddhi-Manas ... The fires are always playing around the
Pineal Gland; but when Kundalini illuminates them for a brief instant,
the whole universe is seen. This is what occurs occasionally in deep
sleep when the third eye opens." (ES Instructions No.V, as found in
Collected Writings, Vol 12, page 698)
H.P.B. says that the pineal gland and sleep are connected through the
agency of Kundalini (Kundalini is the feminine form of the masculine
Fohat; the former is an Indian term while the latter is Tibetan). In
deep sleep, or delta sleep, if the Kundalini energy can be made to
arouse the pineal gland, consciousness will shift upward into the
fourth state which is currently unrecognized by modern psychology.
[Back to Top]
Dedicated to the Theosophical Philosophy and its Practical Application