The Theosophical Forum – September 1939


The Esoteric Philosophy on Dreams (1)

Q What are the "principles" which are active during dreams?

A The "principles" active during ordinary dreams — which ought to be distinguished from real dreams, and called idle visions — are Kama, the seat of the personal Ego and of desire awakened into chaotic activity by the slumbering reminiscences of the lower Manas.

Q What is the "lower Manas"?

A. It is usually called the animal soul (the Nephesh of the Hebrew Kabalists). It is the ray which emanates from the Higher Manas or permanent Ego, and is that "principle" which forms the human mind — in animals instinct, for animals also dream (2). The combined action of Kama and the "animal soul," however, are purely mechanical. It is instinct, not reason, which is active in them. During the sleep of the body they receive and send out mechanically electric shocks to and from various nerve-centres. The brain is hardly impressed by them, and memory stores them, of course, without order or sequence. On waking these impressions gradually fade out, as does every fleeting shadow that has no basic or substantial reality underlying it. The retentive faculty of the brain, however, may register and preserve them if they are only impressed strongly enough. But, as a rule, our memory registers only the fugitive and distorted impressions which the brain receives at the moment of awakening. This aspect of "dreams" however, has been sufficiently observed and is described correctly enough in modern physiological and biological works, as such human dreams do not differ much from those of the animals. That which is entirely terra incognita for Science is the real dreams and experiences of the higher Ego, which are also called dreams, but ought not to be so termed, or else the term for the other sleeping "visions" changed.

Q How do these differ?

A The nature and functions of real dreams cannot be understood unless we admit the existence of an immortal Ego in mortal man, independent of the physical body, for the subject becomes quite unintelligible unless we believe — that which is a fact — that during sleep there remains only an animated form of clay, whose powers of independent thinking are utterly paralyzed.

But if we admit the existence of a higher or permanent Ego in us — which Ego must not be confused with what we call the "Higher Self," we can comprehend that what we often regard as dreams, generally accepted as idle fancies, are, in truth, stray pages torn out from the life and experiences of the inner man, and the dim recollection of which at the moment of awakening becomes more or less distorted by our physical memory. The latter catches mechanically a few impressions of the thoughts, facts witnessed, and deeds performed by the inner man during its hours of complete freedom. For our Ego lives its own separate life within its prison of clay whenever it becomes free from the trammels of matter, i e, during the sleep of the physical man. This Ego it is which is the actor, the real man, the true human self. But the physical man cannot feel or be conscious during dreams; for the personality, the outer man, with its brain and thinking apparatus, are paralyzed more or less completely.

We might well compare the real Ego to a prisoner, and the physical personality to the gaoler of his prison. If the gaoler falls asleep, the prisoner escapes, or, at least, passes outside the walls of his prison. The gaoler is half asleep, and looks nodding all the time out of a window, through which he can catch only occasional glimpses of his prisoner, as he would a kind of shadow moving in front of it. But what can he perceive, and what can he know of the real actions, and especially the thoughts, of his charge?

Q. Do not the thoughts of the one impress themselves upon the other?

A. Not during sleep, at all events; for the real Ego does not think as his evanescent and temporary personality does. During the waking hours the thoughts and Voice of the Higher Ego do or do not reach his gaoler — the physical man, for they are the Voice of his Conscience, but during his sleep they are absolutely the "Voice in the desert." In the thoughts of the real man, or the immortal "Individuality," the pictures and visions of the Past and Future are as the Present; nor are his thoughts like ours, subjective pictures in our cerebration, but living acts and deeds, present actualities. They are realities, even as they were when speech expressed in sounds did not exist; when thoughts were things, and men did not need to express them in speeches; for they instantly realised themselves in action by the power of Kriya-Sakti, that mysterious power which transforms instantaneously ideas into visible forms, and these were as objective to the "man" of the early third Race as objects of sight are now to us.

Q. How, then, does Esoteric Philosophy account for the transmission of even a few fragments of those thoughts of the Ego to our physical memory which it sometimes retains?

A. All such are reflected on the brain of the sleeper, like outside shadows on the canvas walls of a tent, which the occupier sees as he wakes. Then the man thinks that he has dreamed all that, and feels as though he had lived through something, while in reality it is the thought-actions of the true Ego which he has dimly perceived. As he becomes fully awake, his recollections become with every minute more distorted, and mingle with the images projected from the physical brain, under the action of the stimulus which causes the sleeper to awaken. These recollections, by the power of association, set in motion various trains of ideas.

Q. It is difficult to see how the Ego can be acting during the night things which have taken place long ago. Was it not stated that dreams are not subjective?

A. How can they be subjective when the dream state is itself for us, and on our plane, at any rate, a subjective one? To the dreamer (the Ego), on his own plane, the things on that plane are as objective to him as our acts are to us.

Q. What are the senses which act in dreams?

A. The senses of the sleeper receive occasional shocks, and are awakened into mechanical action; what he hears and sees are, as has been said, a distorted reflection of the thoughts of the Ego. The latter is highly spiritual, and is linked very closely with the higher principles, Buddhi and Atma. These higher principles are entirely inactive on our plane, and the higher Ego {Manas) itself is more or less dormant during the waking of the physical man. This is especially the case with persons of very materialistic mind. So dormant are the Spiritual faculties, because the Ego is so trammelled by matter, that It can hardly give all its attention to the man's actions, even should the latter commit sins for which that Ego — when reunited with its lower Manas — will have to suffer conjointly in the future. It is, as I said, the impressions projected into the physical man by this Ego which constitute what we call "conscience"; and in proportion as the Personality, the lower Soul (or Manas), unites itself to its higher consciousness, or Ego, does the action of the latter upon the life of mortal man become more marked.

Q. This Ego, then, is the "Higher Ego"?

A. Yes; it is the higher Manas illuminated by Buddhi; the principle of self-consciousness, the "I-am-I," in short. It is the Karana-Sarira, the immortal man, which passes from one incarnation to another.

Q. Is the "register" or "tablet of memory" for the true dream-state different from that of waking life?

A. Since dreams are in reality the actions of the Ego during physical sleep, they are, of course, recorded on their own plane and produce their appropriate effects on this one. But it must be always remembered that dreams in general, and as we know them, are simply our waking and hazy recollections of these facts.

It often happens, indeed, that we have no recollection of having dreamt at all, but later in the day the remembrance of the dream will suddenly flash upon us. Of this there are many causes. It is analogous to what sometimes happens to every one of us. Often a sensation, a smell, even a casual noise, or a sound, brings instantaneously to our mind long-forgotten events, scenes and persons. Something of what was seen, done, or thought by the "night-performer," the Ego, impressed itself at that time on the physical brain, but was not brought into the conscious, waking memory, owing to some physical condition or obstacle. This impression is registered on the brain in its appropriate cell or nerve centre, but owing to some accidental circumstance it "hangs fire," so to say, till something gives it the needed impulse. Then the brain slips it off immediately into the conscious memory of the waking man; for as soon as the conditions required are supplied, that particular centre starts forthwith into activity, and does the work which it had to do, but was hindered at the time from completing.

Q. How does this process take place?

A. There is a sort of conscious telegraphic communication going on incessantly, day and night, between the physical brain and the inner man. The brain is such a complex thing, both physically and metaphysically, that it is like a tree whose bark you can remove layer by layer, each layer being different from all the others, and each having its own special work, function, and properties.

Q. What distinguishes the "dreaming" memory and imagination from those of waking consciousness?

A. During sleep the physical memory and imagination are of course passive, because the dreamer is asleep: his brain is asleep, his memory is asleep, all his functions are dormant and at rest. It is only when they are stimulated, as I told you, that they are aroused. Thus the consciousness of the sleeper is not active, but passive. The inner man, however, the real Ego, acts independently during the sleep of the body; but it is doubtful if any of us — unless thoroughly acquainted with the physiology of occultism — could understand the nature of its action.

Q. What relation have the Astral Light and Akasa to memory?

A. The former is the "tablet of the memory" of the animal man, the latter of the spiritual Ego. The "dreams" of the Ego, as much as the acts of the physical man, are all recorded, since both are actions based on causes and producing results. Our "dreams," being simply the waking state and actions of the true Self, must be, of course, recorded somewhere. Read "Karmic Visions" in Lucifer, and note the description of the real Ego, sitting as a spectator of the life of the hero, and perhaps something will strike you.

Q. What, in reality, is the Astral Light?

A. As the Esoteric Philosophy teaches us, the Astral Light is simply the dregs of Akasa or the Universal Ideation in its metaphysical sense. Though invisible, it is yet, so to speak, the phosphorescent radiation of the latter, and is the medium between it and man's thought-faculties. It is these which pollute the Astral Light, and make it what it is — the storehouse of all human and especially psychic iniquities. In its primordial genesis, the astral light as a radiation is quite pure, though the lower it descends approaching our terrestrial sphere, the more it differentiates, and becomes as a result impure in its very constitution. But man helps considerably to this pollution, and gives it back its essence far worse than when he received it.

Q. Can you explain to us how it is related to man, and its action in dream-life?

A. Differentiation in the physical world is infinite. Universal ideation — or Mahat, if you like it — sends its homogeneous radiation into the heterogeneous world, and this reaches the human or personal minds through the Astral Light.

Q. But do not our minds receive their illuminations direct from the Higher Manas through the Lower? And is not the former the pure emanation of divine Ideationthe "Manasa-Putras," which incarnated in men?

A. They are. Individual Manasa-Putras or the Kumaras are the direct radiations of the divine Ideation — "individual" in the sense of later differentiation, owing to numberless incarnations. In sum they are the collective aggregation of that Ideation, become on our plane, or from our point of view, Mahat, as the Dhyan Chohans are in their aggregate the Word or "Logos" in the formation of the World. Were the Personalities (Lower Manas or the physical minds) to be inspired and illumined solely by their higher alter Egos there would be little sin in this world. But they are not; and getting entangled in the meshes of the Astral Light, they separate themselves more and more from their parent Egos. Read and study what Eliphas Levi says of the Astral Light, which he calls Satan and the Great Serpent. The Astral Light has been taken too literally to mean some sort of a second blue sky. This imaginary space, however, on which are impressed the countless images of all that ever was, is, and will be, is but a too sad reality. It becomes in, and for, man — if at all psychic — and who is not? — a tempting Demon, his "evil angel," and the in-spirer of all our worst deeds. It acts on the will of even the sleeping man, through visions impressed upon his slumbering brain (which visions must not be confused with the "dreams"), and these germs bear their fruit when he awakes.

Q. What is the part played by Will in dreams?

A. The will of the outer man, our volition, is of course dormant and inactive during dreams; but a certain bent can be given to the slumbering will during its inactivity, and certain after-results developed by the mutual inter-action — produced almost mechanically — through union between two or more "principles" into one, so that they will act in perfect harmony, without any friction or a single false note, when awake. But this is one of the dodges of "black magic," and when used for good purposes belongs to the training of an Occultist. One must be far advanced on the "path" to have a will which can act consciously during his physical sleep, or act on the will of another person during the sleep of the latter, e. g., to control his dreams, and thus control his actions when awake.

Q. We are taught that a man can unite all his "principles" into onewhat does this mean?

A. When an adept succeeds in doing this he is a Jivanmukta: he is no more of this earth virtually, and becomes a Nirvanee, who can go into Samadhi at will. Adepts are generally classed by the number of "principles" they have under their perfect control, for that which we call will has its seat in the higher Ego, and the latter, when it is rid of its sin-laden personality, is divine and pure.

Q. What part does Karma play in dreams? In India they say that every man receives the reward or punishment of all his acts, both in the waking and the dream state.

A. If they say so, it is because they have preserved in all their purity and remembered the traditions of their forefathers. They know that the Self is the real Ego, and that it lives and acts, though on a different plane. The external life is a "dream" to this Ego, while the inner life, or the life on what we call the dream plane, is the real life for it. And so the Hindus (the profane, of course) say that Karma is generous, and rewards the real man in dreams as well as it does the false personality in physical life.

Q. What is the difference, "karmically," between the two?

A. The physical animal man is as little responsible as a dog or a mouse. For the bodily form all is over with the death of the body. But the real Self, that which emanated its own shadow, or the lower thinking personality, that enacted and pulled the wires during the life of the physical automaton, will have to suffer conjointly with its factotum and alter ego in its next incarnation.

Q. But the two, the higher and the lower, Manas are one, are they not?

A. They are, and yet they are not — and that is the great mystery. The Higher Manas or Ego is essentially divine, and therefore pure; no stain can pollute it, as no punishment can reach it, per se, the more so since it is innocent of, and takes no part in, the deliberate transactions of its Lower Ego. Yet by the very fact that, though dual and during life the Higher is distinct from the Lower, "the Father and Son" are one, and because that in reuniting with the parent Ego, the Lower Soul fastens upon and impresses upon it all its bad as well as good actions — both have to suffer, the Higher Ego, though innocent and without blemish, has to bear the punishment of the misdeeds committed by the lower Self together with it in their future incarnation. The whole doctrine of atonement is built upon this old esoteric tenet; for the Higher Ego is the antitype of that which is on this earth the type, namely, the personality. It is, for those who understand it, the old Vedic story of Visvakarman over again, practically demonstrated. Visvakarman, the all-seeing Father-God, who is beyond the comprehension of mortals, ends, as son of Bhuvana, the holy Spirit, by sacrificing himself to himself, to save the worlds. The mystic name of the "Higher Ego" is, in the Indian philosophy, Kshetrajna, or "embodied Spirit," that which knows or informs kshetra, "the body." Etymologize the name, and you will find in it the term aja, "first-born," and also the "lamb." All this is very suggestive, and volumes might be written upon the pregenetic and postgenetic development of type and antitype — of Christ-Kshetrajna, the "God-Man," the First-born, symbolized as the "lamb." The Secret Doctrine shows that the Manasa-Putras or incarnating Egos have taken upon themselves, voluntarily and knowingly, the burden of all the future sins of their future personalities. Thence it is easy to see that it is neither Mr. A. nor Mr. B., nor any of the personalities that periodically clothe the Self-Sacrificing Ego, which are the real Sufferers, but verily the innocent Christos within us. Hence the mystic Hindus say that the Eternal Self, or the Ego (the one in three and three in one), is the "Charioteer" or driver; the personalities are the temporary and evanescent passengers; while the horses are the animal passions of man. It is, then, true to say that when we remain deaf to the Voice of our Conscience, we crucify the Christos within us. But let us return to dreams.

Q. Are so-called prophetic dreams a sign that the dreamer has strong clairvoyant faculties?

A. It may be said, in the case of persons who have truly prophetic dreams, that it is because their physical brains and memory are in closer relation and sympathy with their "Higher Ego" than in the generality of men. The Ego-Self has more facilities for impressing upon the physical shell and memory that which is of importance to such persons than it has in the case of other less gifted persons. Remember that the only God man comes in contact with is his own God, called Spirit, Soul and Mind, or Consciousness, and these three are one.

But there are weeds that must be destroyed in order that a plant may grow. We must die, said St. Paul, that we may live again. It is through destruction that we may improve, and the three powers, the preserving, the creating and the destroying, are only so many aspects of the divine spark within man.

(To be continued)


1. As this material on the subject of Dreams is not easily available to students of H P B "s writings and as the subject is not dealt with anywhere else in Theosophical literature in such fulness, the Editors feel that it is appropriate to include it in this series It is reprinted from The Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge, originally issued as a booklet in 1889, and students will be interested to note that these Transactions were compiled from shorthand notes taken of H P B "s own words and are therefore those of Esoteric Philosophy as given by H P B herself. This series of Questions and Answers on Dreams will appear in this and the following issue of The Forum, and will then be available as a pamphlet from Theosophical University Press, Point Loma, California Price 10c. — Eds. (return to text)

2. The word dream means really "to slumber" — the latter function being called in Russian "dreamat " — Ed [H P B ] (return to text)

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