Dream-life and Waking-life
Sri Aurobindo proceeds by comparing dream-life and waking-life:
1. Firstly, he finds that dream is felt to be unreal because it has no validity when "we pass from one status of consciousness to another which is our normal status". (Ibid, pg.420) But there are many statuses of consciousness and we can pass from one status to another which would not prove "the reality of the state in which we now are and the unreality of the other which we have left behind us". (Ibid) It has been claimed that seers who have passed into the Great Void or Nirvana may find the world-existence unreal but that does not necessarily prove that the world was always an illusion.
2. Secondly, unlike our normal waking experience which is continuous despite sleep intervening; a dream-experience is without any coherence to normal waking state, rather it is "something evanescent without antecedents and without a sequel". (Ibid) Things would have been otherwise if each dream was connected with the dreams of the previous night and following night. Our life is considered by some to be evanescent too and without any coherence but this attitude may arise from our misunderstanding the real essence of life!
3. While the waking consciousness exercises some control over life-circumstances, the dream-consciousness is devoid of that control. In fact it has "Nature-automatism of a subconscient construction and nothing of the conscious will and organising force of the evolved mind of the human being". (Ibid, pg.421)
4. "Again the evanescence of a dream is radical and one dream has no connection with another; but the evanescence of the waking life is of details, --there is no evidence of evanescence in the connected totality of world-experience." (Ibid) Our individual lives may not survive though the soul survives, stars and planets may disappear but the universe may well be permanent and there is "nothing to prove that the Infinite Energy which creates it has an end or a beginning". (Ibid)
There is thus no analogy between a dream and a waking life.
Nature of dream-phenomena ...the subconscious
But are dreams totally unreal? The question is raised whether "they are not a figure, an image-record or a symbolic transcript of representation of things that are real." (Ibid) When we sleep the surface mind is at rest but the inner consciousness is active and can enter into new activities, only a part of which that is near to the surface is remembered. There is near to the surface mind an obscure subconscious which is a dream-builder and behind it is the subliminal which represents "the totality of our concealed inner being and consciousness". (Ibid, pg.422) But first let us have a look at the subconscious which in psychoanalytic terminology is known as the unconscious.
Normally it is the subconscious that projects its formations as dreams, "constructions marked by an apparent inconsequence and incoherence". (Ibid) They may be fugitive structures selected from circumstances at random or seem to be pure phantasy but psychoanalysis has revealed in them "a system of meanings, a key to things in us which need to be known and handled by the waking consciousness". (Ibid)
Below the subconscious is the Inconscience. The subconscious is "the extreme border of our secret inner existence where it meets the Inconscient". (Ibid) From another viewpoint, it is "the antechamber of the Inconscient" (Ibid, pg.423) through which its formations arise in our being. "When we sleep and the surface physical part of us, which is in its first origin here an output of the Inconscient, relapses towards the originating Inconscience, it enters into this subconscious element....and there it finds the impressions of his past or persistent habits....In its effect on our waking self this recurrence often takes the form of a reassertion of old habits....In the dream-consciousness the phenomenon is an apparently fanciful construction, a composite of figures and movements built upon or around the buried impressions with a sense in them that escapes the waking intelligence because it has no clue to the subconscient's system of significances." (Ibid) After some time the subconscious sinks back into complete Inconscience which we interpret as deep dreamless sleep. Or, we may have gone to a too deep layer of the subconscious, too deep to bring into the surface its embedded material as dream-structures!
The subliminal-a greater dream builder
A dreamless sleep may also mean that a part of the mind which is active in sleep has entered the subliminal. This is a new realm of the being described by Sri Aurobindo and is different from the subconscious. The subliminal or inner being rests between the soul-space and the surface personality. It opens into the cosmic consciousness, rises into the Superconscious and descends to the Inconscience. It has a subliminal or inner mind, subliminal or inner vital and a subtle-physical. The subliminal does not display the dreams of the subconscious but the activity of the inner dream consciousness continues there. This inner dream activity becomes obvious to us "when we become more inwardly conscious". (Ibid, pg.424) Actually, it is possible to become conscious deeply within our subliminal being and "we are then aware of experiences on other planes of our being....A transcript of such experiences reach us; but the transcriber here is not the subconscious, it is the subliminal, a greater dream-builder."(Ibid)
The subliminal dreams carry the following characteristics (Ibid):
1. They are veridical in nature.
2. They can bring a series of thoughts.
3. They can solve problems which we could not solve when awake.
4. They often carry warnings, premonitions, indications of the future.
5. They can bring "structure of symbol-images, some of a mental character, some of a vital nature: the former are precise in their figures, clear in their significance; the latter are often complex and baffling to our waking consciousness, but, if we can seize the clue, they reveal their own sense and peculiar system of coherence". (Ibid)
6. They can register records of happenings or experiences on other planes of our being or universal being. These may or may not have bearing to our own inner or outer life or life of others.
We usually remember our subconscious dreams but sometimes the subliminal dream-builder can be powerful to stamp its activities on our waking memory. "If we develop our inner being, live more inwardly than most men do then the balance is changed and a larger dream-consciousness opens before us; our dreams can take on a subliminal and no longer a subconscious character and can assume a reality and significance....A coherent knowledge of sleep-life, though difficult to achieve or to keep established, is possible". (Ibid, pg.425)
The subliminal being or inner being has not evolved from the Inconscience like our surface physical being; "it is a meeting place of the consciousness that emerges from below by evolution and the consciousness that has descended from above for involution." (Ibid) It has an inner mind, an inner vital and a subtle physical and is independent of the construction by the Inconscient World-Energy and is not ", -- a natural developed functioning of our surface consciousness or a reaction to of it to impacts from the outside universal Nature " (Ibid) though it takes part and influences that construction and functionings.
The subliminal self or being is directly connected with the universal consciousness. It does not depend on external senses but has inner senses, a subliminal sight, touch, hearing which are channels of the subliminal's direct consciousness of things rather than its informants and "only give a form to its direct experience of objects; they do not, so much as in waking mind, convey forms of objects for the mind's documentation or as the starting-point or basis for an indirect constructive experience". (Ibid, pg.426) The subliminal has an entry both into the evolutionary worlds of the physical, vital and mental and into the non-evolutionary worlds formed during involution of consciousness. "It is into this large realm of interior existence that our mind and vital being retire when they withdraw from the surface activities whether by sleep or inward-drawn concentration or by the inner plunge of trance". (Ibid) The subliminal with the subconscious as its annex is part of the "behind-the-veil entity" ...it "is the seer of inner things and of supraphysical experiences; the surface subconscious is only a transcriber". (Ibid, p.427)
How does the subliminal contact with the superficial self? Ordinarily there is no direct communication but the superficial self receives unknowingly the "inspirations, intuitions, will-suggestions, sense-suggestions, urges to action" (Ibid, pg.426) from it. A conscious contact is possible under two conditions:
(a) trance state which signifies an inner waking, (b) the inner subliminal cognition getting access to the luminous supernormal clarities of vision when it gets into habitual contact with the waking self. (Ibid)
The only other way of communication is in sleep through dreams where one can get "visions, absorbed states of inner experience". (Ibid, pg.427)
This is why the Upanishad describes the subliminal being as the Dream Self and the Superconscient as the Sleep Self because there all mental and sensory experiences cease. There two selves in addition to the Waking Self can be considered as illusory since the only reality is "the incommunicable Self or One-Existence (Atman, Adwaita) which is the fourth state of Self described by Vedanta". (Ibid) Yet, these three Selves can also be considered as three different states of one Reality or as three states of consciousness "in which is embodied our contact with three different grades of self-experience and world-experience". (Ibid)
The truth of subliminal dreams shows that dreams are not " a mere unreal figure of unreal things" (Ibid) and the analogy of the world as illusory as a dream fails. It may be said that dreams are not realities but transcript of realities and similarly our waking experience of reality is a transcript of reality. After all, our waking experience is based on images based on our senses which can be considered as symbols of truth that we only partially express in life. If that were so, our life-experience can be equated with a dream. But there is "an automatic intuition" (Ibid, pg.428) that relates the image with the object imaged to get a tangible experience of it. "Therefore we may conclude that we experience a real universe through our imaged sense-transcript by the aid of the intuition and the reason, -- an intuition which gives us the touch of things and a reason which investigates their truth by its conceptive knowledge". (Ibid)
The theory of Illusion on the other hand posits a pure Indeterminable featureless pure Existence, Brahman who cannot be rendered by transcripts or symbol-images for it is a pure Identity of which there is nothing to transcribe or symbolize. Therefore the dream-analogy of the world as illusory as a dream fails us for while "it can always be used as a vivid metaphor of a certain attitude our mind can take towards its experiences, but it has no value for a metaphysical inquiry into the reality and fundamental significances or the origin of existence". (Ibid, pg.429)
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu