"He who is happy within, who rejoices within, and who is illumined within, that Yogi attains absolute freedom or Moksha, himself becoming Brahman." (Gita: V-24.) The highest spiritual knowledge is Knowledge of the Self. He who has known himself, rather his self, for him nothing remains to be known. The wisest of the Western philosophers Socrates, gave the highest and the best of his teachings to his disciples in the injunction "Know Thyself". The Indian saints likewise gave their highest teaching in the form known as Adhyatma-Vidya or Self-Knowledge.
Knowledge of the Self, which has been called the supreme knowledge by the wise men of all ages, has seldom been recognised as a mystery by the ordinary man. He seems to know himself so well that he does not think it even necessary to reflect upon himself. Not only does the uneducated illiterate person think it useless to reflect upon himself, but the highly cultured modern man also thinks in the same way. The greater the advancement of science and learning, the less we find in the modern man a desire to know himself.
There are two opposite reasons that lead a man not to reflect upon himself: first, he thinks that he knows the self too well, secondly he thinks it useless to think about himself, because the true nature of the self can never be known. Some think that thinking about oneself is a morbid mentality. This is a form of introversion from which one has to free oneself as soon as possible. The study of dreams is corrective to such an erroneous view.
There was a time when psychologists thought, the less we thought about our dreams, the better. The psychologists who take consciousness to be an epi-phenomenon still hold the same view. Seashore, for instance, thinks that it is only abnormal people who think too much of their dreams, and that thinking too much about dreams leads to abnormalities. There is much in the waking life to be attended to and he who spends his time in thinking about his dreams is missing so much of his waking life and this contributes to his own failure in life.
Now Psychology, however, has changed this point of view. It shows that deepest wisdom comes through reflection on dreams. No one has known himself truly, who has not studied his dreams. The study of dreams at once shows what a great mystery our soul is, and that this mystery is not altogether insoluble, as some metaphysicians supposed. Dreams reveal to us that aspect of our nature which transcends rational knowledge. That in the most rational and moral man there is an aspect of his being which is absurd and immoral, one knows only through the study of one's dreams. All our pride of nationality and morality melts into nothingness as soon as we reflect upon our dreams.
There is logic in our dreams or rather the logic of our waking consciousness is just like the dream logic. The great philosopher Hegel constructed his logic without taking into account what the dream logic has to reveal. Now logic, which at the same time claims to be a system of Metaphysics, cannot be complete without taking into account the absurd constructions of dream experience. Logic is only a tool of intellect, which enables it to deal with the waking experience alone. This fact is revealed to us through the study of our dreams. The real must transcend all logical categories; or the categories by which it can be comprehended have to be such as will not only suffice to catch the waking experience but the dream experience too. This simply means that it should be broad enough to comprehend both the conscious and the unconscious life of a man. To conceive of such a category cannot be the work of waking consciousness. Such a category must necessarily transcend both the waking and the dream consciousness. Thus we are lead to the necessity of intuition or a logical thought to comprehend Reality, when we begin reflecting upon our dreams.
The modern study of dreams shows that they are not meaningless presentations. Every dream presentation has a meaning. A dream is like a letter written in an unknown language. To a man who does not know the Chinese, a letter written in that language is a meaningless scroll. But to one who knows that language it is full of most valuable information. It may be the letter calls for immediate action; or it may contain words of consultation to one suffering from dejection. It may be a letter of threat or it may speak of love. These meanings are there only to one who would care to attend to the letter and would try to decipher it. But alas! How few of us try to understand these messages from the deep unseen ocean of our own Consciousness!
Why do we dream? Various answers have been given to this question. According to the most popular scientific view, dreams are nothing but a repetition of our waking experiences in a new form. A more thoughtful view regards them as productions of an organic disturbance somewhere in the body, but more particularly in the stomach. To this view medical men stick more tenaciously than any other people. Sometimes coming diseases appear in dreams. During an illness dreams are generally more horrible than they are in the healthy condition of the body. These are all scientific theories of dreams. We have here out of account the unscientific theories, e.g. that dreams are premonitions or that gods or demons or spirits produce dreams, or that the soul goes out to a sojourn in dreams etc.
The scientific theories have been very thoroughly exposed by Dr. Sigmund Freud in his Interpretation of Dreams. No physical stimulus, whether it is inside or outside the body, no experience of the waking or sleeping state can explain the presentation of the actual dream content. The same stimulus, namely the chime of an alarm timepiece produced three different kinds of dreams to Hidetrant at different times. Why should it be so if the physical stimulus alone is responsible for the production of dreams?
According to Freud all dreams, without any exception, are wish fulfilment. The wishes are actually of an immoral nature. They are revolting to the moral self, which exercises a control on their appearance. Hence to evade this moral censor the wishes appear in disguised forms. The dream mechanism is very intricate. Very few dreams present the wishes as they really are. Dreams are partial gratification of the wishes. They relieve the mental tension, and thus enable us to enjoy repose. They are safety valves to strong impulsions. Dreams do not disturb sleep but rather protect it. The irrationality and the immorality of dreams make the morality and rationality of our waking life possible.
The above statement of Freud shows that we know our animal self in dream. But he does not say anything about the spiritual life being expressed in dream. This, it seems, has been done by Jung. According to Jung, a dream is not causally determined as was supposed by Freud, but it is teleologically determined. The repressed wishes alone do not explain all our dreams. A dream presents a demand to our waking consciousness. If rightly interpreted, it shows the way to be at peace with ourselves. The dreams of the neurotics not only reveal the repressed contents but they also suggest remedies for the cure. A series of dreams sometimes occur to a patient, which reveal the way to cure.
The dream consciousness is superior to the waking consciousness in many respects. Many puzzles of life are solved through hints from dreams. All dreams, according to Adler, are anticipatory in character. They show which way the spiritual life of a man is flowing. To know the actual flow is necessary to correct possible errors. Dreams help us to discover the lifeline of the individual and help us to give him proper advice for self-correction.
Thus, through dreams one may know how one ought to act in a particular situation. The dreams point out a path unknown to the waking consciousness. Saints and sages appear in dreams at times of difficulty and show the way. The more one follows the dream intuitions, the clear they become.
Excerpted from Philosophy of Dreams by Sri Swami Sivananda, A Divine Life Society publication; First Edition: 1958.