- 10 Amazing Facts About Dreams (ListVerse)
When Buddhists in India dreamed they dealt with their dreams in a variety of ways. Certain types of dreams occurred frequently enough to the ancients to merit listing as separate categories for dream-analysis. The categories show the following different kinds of dreams. The most distinctive use, for Buddhists, was
- seeing dreams as a simile for emptiness, sunyata, the ultimate nature of all things.
- seeing dreams as portents of things to come, which overlapped with another type of dream:
- as messages or teaching by the gods, spirits, or bodhisattva.
- Buddhists in India and in China thought, like Freud and Jung, that it was possible to diagnose aspects of the dreamer’s mental and physical health from the symbols of dreams.
- The theoretical psychology school of Buddhism, the Vijnanavada (“Consciousness-only”) School, called dreams “monkey-sleep,” a function of the “isolated mind-consciousness”.
- Buddhist psychologists saw dreams as the return at night of things thought on during the day.
- Finally, Nagarjuna explained dreams as a standard for testing the quality of a bodhisattva’s vows.
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 sunyata, (emptiness) the hollow core at the heart of all component dharmas (things). For example, in the well-known Vajra Sutra (Diamond Discourse), 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; you should contemplate them thus.”
Dreams symbolize the changing and impermanent nature of all things known to the senses. Sights, sounds, smells, flavors, sensations of touch and thoughts are all dream-like, fleeting, and ultimately unobtainable. By pursuing and grasping material things or ephemeral states, we create the causes for misery and suffering. Those desire-objects are not real and permanent.
Bubbles burst, shadows run from light, dewdrops vanish by noon without a trace, lightning roars and vanishes, and dreams leave us at dawn. To continually perceive such things as real locks us into the endless cycle of birth and death. The Buddha was not simply giving us an evocative metaphor, a literary device or a philosophical point. He felt related to all beings, and in his compassion he was pointing out to his family a way to escape the prolonged misery of affliction and death. The dream simile occurs over and over in the sutras to teach about emptiness.
In the Ta Chih Tu Lun, dreams occur as a didactic teaching device. Sariputra, the foremost Arhat [enlightened disciple] in wisdom, learns the true application of the emptiness theory through the simile of dreams. Dreams are like ordinary waking reality in that both are empty and false. There is nothing gained by seeking out or clinging to any thought or mark that distinguishes the two states.
With the exception of message-dreams and portent dreams, two categories that we will look at below, for the Buddha’s monastic disciples who were intent on cultivating the mind full-time, dreams were considered as illusory and false, no different from the illusions of waking-time reality.
2. Message-dreams or teaching by the gods, spirits, or bodhisattvas
Dreams can be a message from a bodhisattva, an ancestor, a god, or a spirit [brahma or deva]. The intent of the dream may be to test the dreamer’s resolve: Is one non-retreating (avaivartika) from Bodhi (enlightenment) even when sleeping? The purpose of the dream visit may be to communicate information vital to the dreamer’s well-being.
3. Prescient or Portent Dreams
Prescient or portent dreams that predict the future are the only category of dreams that the ancients considered real or valuable in itself. Based on the records we have, it seems that dreamers in the past wanted to know more or less what dreamers want to know now: whether their dream augured good luck or misfortune. The office of dream diviner was esteemed, and nobility and commoner alike, waking after a dreamy sleep, sought to know the meaning of their dreams. More>>