Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Buddhist Approach to Dreams

Rev. Heng Sure (Paramita) "Jung and Junti: Dreams West and East"; (pineapple.koolaid/

An Indian Approach to Dreams

When Buddhists in India dreamed, they dealt with their dreams in a variety of ways. Certain types of dreams occurred frequently enough for the ancients to merit listing as separate categories for analysis. These categories show the following different kinds of dreams. The most distinctive use, for Buddhists, was:
  1. seeing dreams as a simile for emptiness, shunyata, the ultimate nature of all things.
  2. seeing dreams as portents of things to come, which overlapped with another type of dream:
  3. as messages or teaching by the devas [ETs], spirits, or bodhisattvas.
  4. Buddhists in India and China, like Freud and Jung, thought it was possible to diagnose aspects of the dreamer’s mental and physical health from the symbols in dreams.
  5. The theoretical psychology school of Buddhism, the Vijnanavada (“consciousness-only”) school called dreams “monkey-sleep,” a function of the “isolated mind-consciousness.”
  6. Buddhist psychologists saw dreams as the return at night of things thought on during the day.
  7. Finally, Ven. Nagarjuna explained dreams as a standard for testing the quality of a bodhisattva’s vows.
Dreams appear in the earliest Buddhist writings. They played no less a role in Buddhism than in our lives today. Being human, Buddhists have always slept and, when asleep, dreamt.

While dreaming they perceived the same disembodied shadows and disconnected images as we do now. Similarly, after waking they sought the meaning of these dreams. Diviners and prognosticators in India and China, bound by their respective cultures, interpreted dreams according to the modes and methods available to them.

A NEW "AMERICAN DREAM" from the upcoming feature documentary Occupy Love, a community-funded film.

These were in some respects suggestive of methods in use today; in other respects they were quite different. Dreams are very democratic; rich and poor alike dream. But when trying to analyze what dreams mean, it is important to know who the dreamer is:

Educated, literate, elite dreamers certainly had more options in their systems of dream analysis. Dreams could be messages from ancestors and sages more often for a warrior-caste prince or a brahmin scholar because they had a concept of history.

Uneducated individuals seemed to turn to formulas of ready made dream interpretations to explain symbols. Do-it-yourself recipes, such as a Generic Dream Book and Horoscope Love Advisor found at supermarket checkout stands had their counterparts in most cultures.

Dream interpretation formulas answer some superficial questions, such as those that tend to center on love, money, and luck.

Nagarjuna’s Ta Chih Tu Lun gives the following important patterns that occur regularly in dreams:

1. Dreams as a simile for emptiness.
The most common use of dreams in the literature of the Mahayana, or “Northern School” of Buddhism in China, Tibet, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam is to see dreams as a simile for shunyata, (emptiness) the hollow core at the heart of all component dharmas (things). For example, in the well-known Diamond Sutra, the Buddha taught that:

“All conditioned dharmas are like a dream, like an illusion, like a bubble, like a shadow, like a dewdrop, like a lightening flash; one should contemplate them thus.”

Dreams symbolize the changing and impermanent nature of all things known to the senses. Sights, sounds, smells, savors, sensations of touch, and thoughts are all dream-like, fleeting, and... More

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