On Dreams

From the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati

Dreams are nothing but a reflection of one’s waking experience in a new form. The medical view is that dreams are due to organic disturbances somewhere in the body, more particularly in the stomach. Indigestion may cause dreams. Sometimes coming diseases appear in dreams. However, physical stimulus alone is not responsible for the production of dreams. The dream mechanism is intricate.

The making of dreams

According to Sigmund Freud dreams without exception are wish-fulfilment. Psychoanalysts maintain that the cause of dream creation lies in the suppressed desires of the dreamer. But can dreamers create dreams the way they like just by suppressing desires? No, they cannot. Psychoanalysts say that desires stimulate the creation of dreams, but they do not know what supplies the material for dreams and what turns the desires into actual expression, enabling the dreamer to see his suppressed desires materialized and appearing to him as real.

Desires only supply the impulse. The mind creates the dream out of the material supplied by the experiences of the waking state. The dream creatures spring up from the bed of samskaras or impressions in the subconscious mind.

The waking personality creates the dream personality. The dream personality exists as the object of the waking personality and is real only as such. The waking and dreaming states do not exist independently as real units.

Desires are of an immoral nature and appear in disguised forms to evade the moral censor. Very few dreams present the wishes as they really are. Dreams are partial gratification of one’s wishes and thereby relieve mental tensions. They enable us to enjoy rest and act as safety valves to strong impulsions.

No real distinction

The objects which manifest during the dreaming state are often not different from those which one perceives during the waking state. During the dreaming state one talks with the members of one’s family and friends, eats the same food, beholds rivers, mountains, cars, temples, works in the office, and quarrels with some people. This shows that one does not abandon the results of one’s past relation with objects when one is asleep.

The person who experiences the three states; jagrat or waking-state, swapna or dreaming state, and sushupti or state of deep sleep, is called visva in the waking state, taijasa in the dreaming state and prajna in the state of deep sleep. When one wakes up from sleep, it is visva who remembers the deep sleep experience of prajna and says, “I slept soundly. I do not know anything.” Otherwise, remembrance of the enjoyment in deep sleep is not possible.

The reactions to dreams differ according to the mental disposition, temperament and diet of the person. All dreams are affairs of mere seconds. Within ten seconds one experiences dreams where the events of several years happen. Some people dream occasionally, while others experience dreams daily. They never sleep without dreams.

Whatever appears in the dream world is the reproduction of the waking world. It is not only the reproduction of the objects seen, experienced or dealt with in the present life, but it can be from any former life. Therefore, the dream world cannot be said to be independent of the waking world.

The objects that are seen in the state of wakefulness are always external and seen outside the body, while the dream world is always internal to the dreamer. This is the only difference between them. During the dream state the whole wakeful world loses itself in the dream state. Therefore, it is not possible to find the distinctive features that would help the dreamer to distinguish the waking world from the dream world.


Vedantins use the experiences of the three states; waking, dream and deep sleep and then draw their conclusions about dreams.

Certain kinds of external sounds such as the ringing of a bell, the noise of an alarm clock, knocks on a door or wall, the blowing of wind, the drizzling of rain, the rustling of leaves, the blowing of the horn of a motor car, the cracking of a window and so on, may produce in the mind of the dreamer a variety of images. They generate certain sensations, which increase according to the power of imagination of the sleeper and the sensitiveness of his mind. These sounds cause elaborate dreams. If the chest of the dreamer is touched with the point of a pin, he may dream that someone has given him a severe blow or stabbed him with a dagger.

Conscious dreaming

The individual soul does not know that it is dreaming during the dream state. It is not conscious of itself because it is bound by the gunas of prakriti. It passively beholds the creations of the dream-mind passing as an effect of the samskaras of the waking state.

It is possible for a dreamer during the dream state to remain aware of the fact that he is dreaming. If one learns to be a witness of one’s thoughts in the waking state, one can be conscious in the dream state that one is dreaming. One can alter, stop or create one’s thoughts in the dream state independently, and thus keep awake in the dream state. If the thoughts of the waking state are controlled, one can also control the dream thoughts.


Sometimes dreams are interesting and turn out to be true. They predict events. A person from Haridwar dreamt on the first of January 1947 that he would be in Benares on the night of the third of January. It turned out to be true. An officer dreamt that he was to be transferred to Allahabad, and in the morning he received the transfer order. Another person dreamt that he would meet with a car accident on the coming Saturday, and it so happened.

Profound wisdom comes through reflection on dreams. No one has known himself truly who has not studied his dreams. The study of dreams shows how mysterious the soul is. Dreams reveal that aspect of one’s nature which transcends rational knowledge. Every dream has a meaning.

A dream is like a letter written in an unknown language. Many riddles of life are solved through hints from dreams. Dreams indicate in which direction the spiritual life of a person is flowing. One may receive proper advice for self-correction or know how to act in a particular situation through dreams. The dreams point out a path unknown to the waking consciousness. Saints and sages appear in dreams during times of difficulty and point out the way.

The real truth

Vedantins study carefully the states of dreams and deep sleep and logically prove that the waking state is as unreal as the dream state. They declare that the only difference between the two states is that the waking state is a long dream, deergha swapna. So long as the dreamer dreams, dream-objects are real. When he wakes up the dream world becomes false. When one attains illumination or knowledge of Brahman, this wakeful world becomes as unreal as the dream world. The real truth is that nobody sleeps, dreams or wakes up, because there is no reality in these states.

Therefore, transcend the three states and rest in the fourth state of turiya, the eternal bliss of Brahman. Rest in satchidananda swaroopa, your own form of truth, consciousness and bliss.