Many people think that dreams are a waste of time. Some even wish they did not have to sleep, because it takes time away from their work, time which is totally wasted except to reinvigorate the physical body and to have nonsensical dreams! There are also those who say that they never dream at all. A theosophical view is different again, for it holds that behind the normal personality of every human being is an Ego, an inner man, making the dream state more real, not less, than the waking state. According to H. P. Blavatsky:
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 (Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge of the Theosophical Society, p. 50).
She goes on to explain that "dreams are in reality the actions of the Ego during physical sleep" (p. 52). Concerning the environment of the dreamer, she states:
Occultism teaches that physical man is one, but the thinking man septenary, thinking, acting, feeling, and living on seven different states of being or planes of consciousness, and that for all these states and planes the permanent Ego (not the false personality) has a distinct set of senses. — Ibid., pp. 59-60.
From this we may conclude that a dream is an experience of the inner man functioning on an inner plane. It occurs whenever our consciousness shifts its focus from the physical plane to the astral plane, or from our physical body to our astral body. In New Age terms, a dream is identical to an altered state of consciousness, or an out-of-body experience (OBE) which is sometimes called "astral traveling." Some people think of astral traveling as an exotic occult technique, never realizing that we unconsciously astral-travel every night when we go to sleep.
In Isis Unveiled HPB explained that, "One phase of magical skill is the voluntary and conscious withdrawal of the inner man (astral form) from the outer man (physical body)" (II:588). The difference between sleep and induced astral travel is largely that the former is done unconsciously and automatically, while the latter is conscious and deliberate. The former is safe and natural, the latter is hazardous and unnatural.
The seven planes alluded to by HPB range from the divine, the most spiritual, downward into matter until the physical or lowest plane of the seven is reached. The plane next to the physical is usually called the astral, where most of our dreams occur. HPB warns many times that it is a realm of illusion and deception. This is because the astral matter that comprises it is plastic, that is, takes on forms and colors according to our individual thoughts and desires. We seldom see what is really there, but rather what we inwardly want or expect to see. It is a world of intense creative energy, but with little conscious direction.
In our dreams we are often more honest and true to ourselves than we are in the waking state because we are more able to see ourselves as we are, not as we think we are. The inhibitions and prohibitions of society are cast aside, and this allows us to use our dreams as barometers or unbiased indicators of our development.
An ideal firmly held, such as that of universal brotherhood, which we equate with a genuine love for all life, will be reflected in dreams. Because fear is the chief cause of nightmares, and "perfect love casteth out all fear," a peaceful mind is reflected in peaceful dreams. As our mental state during the day determines the emotional atmosphere of our dreams, if we drift asleep while restless or worried, this will tend to bring about distraught dreams. If, on the other hand, we fill our mind with love before falling asleep, and honestly forgive all who seemed to wrong us during the day, we should have a restful sleep.
According to Alexandra David-Neel, the remarkable French scholar initiate of Tibetan Buddhism, successful yogic meditation exercises result in three degrees of dreams: In the higher, one no longer dreams. In the middle degree, when one dreams, one is aware that events and actions are taking place in the dream state. In the lower degree, the only dreams are pleasant ones (Initiations and Initiates in Tibet, p. 102). The highest degree, that of a full Adept, results in no dreaming at all. Some forty years earlier HPB had explained: "No advanced Adept dreams. . . . In his sleep he simply lives on another and more real plane (Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge of the Theosophical Society, p. 57)."
Summarizing the importance of dreams, Alexandra David-Neel stated that as it is the "real individual" who acts in dreams, "the Masters of mysticism recommend the attentive observation of the conduct displayed in the dream state if one would arrive at self-knowledge (Initiations and Initiates in Tibet, p. 107)." Just as control of our thoughts and emotions has a significant effect on our dream state so, conversely, conscious control of our dreams is an important step in directing our waking lives. Another central teaching, often highly guarded, was stated by HPB: "If we could remember our dreams in deep sleep, then we should be able to remember all our past incarnations (The Inner Group Teachings of H. P. Blavatsky, p. 104). Most people believe that deep sleep is dreamless, but in deep sleep, the higher Ego is awake, living "on another and more real plane," while the lower ego or personality is deep in sleep. On waking, the personal ego remembers nothing because it took no part in the relatively formless experiences of the higher Ego.
By reflecting on our dreams after waking, we can usually touch base with portions of our inner self which would otherwise remain unknown. In time, patterns in dream content and tone can often be found that would allow us to understand ourselves as we really are. One important aspect of this practice is to avoid forcing growth in any way. Results that are forced will not be lasting and can be dangerous. Results that are a natural outgrowth of our inner resolve will last and will be the most beneficial.
(From Sunrise magazine, February/March 1989. Copyright © 1989 by Theosophical University Press)