Yoga Sutra 1.38

Translation and Commentary

May 2, 2013    BY Pandit Rajmani Tigunait


By meditating on the experience of dream and sleep, one gains stability of mind.
Listen to Sutra 1.38 Recitation
Audio Recitation by D.C. Rao, PhD

svapna dream
nidrā sleep
jñāna knowledge, cognition, experience
ālambana ground for resting; object of focus

Meditating on a Spiritual Dream

When we dream, the mind—turned inward—is no longer distracted by the activity of the conscious mind.

The dreaming and sleeping states are more subtle than the waking state. During the waking state the conscious mind, only the part of the mind that works in collaboration with the brain, nervous system, and senses, is active. In modern psychology, this conscious mind is equivalent to the concept of manas (lower mind) in yoga. In the waking state, manas is able to perceive the objects of the world with the help of the five cognitive senses—hearing, tasting, touching, smelling, and seeing—but the range of its function is limited. The mind can perceive, judge, and decide, although quite often its perceptions, judgments, and decisions are accompanied by doubt. Only the intuitive knowledge flowing from deep within the center of consciousness helps the mind to transcend its doubt.

Because many of us do not have complete access to the field of intuition, meditation on an object belonging to the realm of our senses is always accompanied by some degree of doubt. This damages the strength of our meditation and causes the mind to continually search for more reliable objects on which to focus and rest.

Experiences gained while we are dreaming and sleeping are closer to the inner reality than those gained from the external world, for they are coming from within without the interference of the senses and are not contaminated by doubt.

During dreaming and deep sleep, however, the mind is turned inward. The activities of our senses are shut down, and the function of the brain and nervous system is at its lowest. Manas, the conscious mind, is almost completely at rest during dreaming and deep sleep, and the unconscious mind (which works without the aid of the brain, nervous system, and sense organs) becomes active. This is when we begin to experience a vast universe comprised of bottomless memories. Because the part of the mind that is active during the waking state does not have access to this vast universe, it remains outside the pale of our waking state of consciousness. So we call this world “unconscious.” We also call the mind that has access to this universe “unconscious,” for while we are awake we do not know how that part of the mind works. Experiences gained while we are dreaming and sleeping are closer to the inner reality than those gained from the external world, for they are coming from within without the interference of the senses and are not contaminated by doubt. They require no validation and no logical support. They are self-evident. For this reason, the contents of our dreams can be potent and effective objects of meditation, provided we remember them after waking, and provided we have the wisdom to discriminate between the dreams that are useful for meditation and those that are useless.

Now the question is, how do we remember the content of our dreams clearly upon waking? And even more important, how do we know which dreams are useful for meditation and which are not? The clearest and most systematic answer can be found in tantric literature: Learn the art of keeping your mind as uncluttered as possible while you are awake. The simpler the life you live, the lighter the meals you eat, the more regular the routine you maintain, the clearer the mind. A balanced lifestyle helps you balance your doshas (basic principles, or humors). The more balanced the doshas, the easier it is for the mind to send its impulses to the nervous system through the nadis. This creates an internal environment conducive to linear, less choppy dreams that make a strong impression on the entire mindfield. This includes the consious mind. Thus we remember our dreams more clearly when we wake up.

The question of how we know which dreams are useful for meditation and which are not requires us to gain a basic understanding of the spiritual dimension of dreams. In tantra, this science, called dhuti vijnana, makes a clear distinction between spiritual dreams and dreams that are simply expressions of our unfulfilled emotions, desires, thoughts, feelings, and disorganized memories. A spiritual dream is clear. When you awaken you remember it with a great sense of joy. Deep within, you know that it was real and you do not feel the slightest need to verify it. In fact, the power of this kind of dream can purify the conduit—the entire mindfield—as it flows through it, and you wake up with a greater degree of clarity of mind and purity of heart. The simple memory of that dream makes your mind one-pointed and turns it inward. Even if you do not make an active effort to meditate on such a dream object, still a state of spontaneous meditation emerges.

Quite often, however, these spiritual dreams are not strong enough to course through your mindfield without some degree of dissipation. That is why, when you have such dreams, you often wonder what it was and whether or not it was exactly as you remember it. To overcome this problem, tantric scriptures describe unique practices for receiving pure and undistorted dreams. One of the most notable is svapna varahi, which is described in great detail in such scriptures as Prapancha Sara and Sri Vidyarnava.

Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
Spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute, Pandit Tigunait is the successor of Swami Rama of the Himalayas. Lecturing and teaching worldwide for more than a quarter of a century, he is the author of fourteen books, including his recently-released The Secret of the Yoga Sutra, and his autobiography Touched by Fire: The Ongoing Journey of a Spiritual Seeker. Pandit Tigunait holds two doctorates: one in Sanskrit from the University of Allahabad in India, and another in Oriental Studies from the... Read more>>