Dreams have kept researchers awake for the entire history of mankind. Where do dreams come from? Of what substance are they made? What significance do they have? The ancient Greek culture had oracles who interpreted dreams. The Old Testament of the Bible recounts the rise of Joseph in the land of Egypt through his ability to interpret the dreams of the Pharoah, and help the land prepare during seven years of plenty for a following seven years of drought. Shakespeare in his play Julius Caesar has Caesar’s wife Portia begging him not to attend the Senate on the Ides of March due to a premonitory dream that she had, which of course came true when he was assassinated that day after disregarding her entreaty.

The rise of psychology as a discipline in the West included serious attempts to interpret and understand dreams by Freud and Jung. With considerable numbers of examples, they each brought forward interpretations of dream symbols that clearly indicated that dreams were both real and significant and could be understood with the right key. Modern day psychology relies on technology to study the brain’s activity throughout the sleep state and look at various stages, such as REM sleep, when dreaming was apparently taking place. They measure electrical activity and interpret this to extrapolate what is taking place in the consciousness of the sleeper.

The ancient Rishis, with considerable attention to the inner experience and long personal study of the matter, defined four states of awareness, waking, dream, sleep and the superconscious state of awareness. They treated each status as significant and indicated that the consciousness moved through these various states for experience.

Many people have had the experience that a problem they were unable to solve with their conscious mind was suddenly resolved when they woke the next morning. Where did the solution come from? Similarly, many have had dreams that turn out to be premonitions of future events. We only normally consciously experience a small sampling of the dreams, that is, those that are active at the time of waking, and which thus leave a distinct residue on the waking mind. In many cases, these may seem disjointed or confusing as they are symbolic or even just the compilation of stored up events, emotions and thoughts of the waking awareness.

Practitioners of yoga have different methods of gaining access to conscious awareness during sleep and dream. Through their conscious work to become aware of and interact with the inner planes of consciousness, they become better able to observe, participate in, transcribe and relate dreams. Some dreams are actual teachings by a Master and can be experienced as systematic, comprehensive and powerful new understanding and insights. Others may foretell future meetings, events or experiences. Others may bring forward things that occur on other planes, such as the subtle physical, vital or mental plane. In some cases, those that come from the vital world actually are forces at work in the being, to support or to target the seeker in a hostile manner and in these cases, the intensity and reality of the dream experience goes beyond the kind of confused jumble that are the stuff of many ordinary dreams.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Ordinary dreams are for the most part or seem to be incoherent, because they are either woven by the subconscient out of deep-lying impressions left in it by our past inner and outer life, woven in a fantastic way which does not easily yield any clue of meaning to the waking mind’s remembrance, or are fragmentary records, mostly distorted, of experiences which are going on behind the veil of sleep — very largely indeed these two elements get mixed up together. For, in fact, a large part of our consciousness in sleep does not get sunk into this subconscious state; it passes beyond the veil into other planes of being which are connected with our own inner planes, planes of supraphysical existence, worlds of a larger life, mind or psyche which are there behind and whose influences come to us without our knowledge. Occasionally we get a dream from these planes, something more than a dream, — a dream experience which is a record direct or symbolic of what happens to us or around us there. As the inner consciousness grows by sadhana, these dream experiences increase in number, clearness, coherence, accuracy and after some growth of experience and consciousness, we can, if we observe, come to understand them and their significance to our inner life. Even we can by training become so conscious as to follow our own passage, usually veiled to our awareness and memory, through many realms and the process of the return to the waking state. At a certain pitch of this inner wakefulness this kind of sleep, a sleep of experiences, can replace the ordinary subconscious slumber….” Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 7, Experiences and Realisations, Experiences in Dream, pp. 196-199

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky He is author of 16 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.