Investigating Dreams

1.38 svapna nidra jnana alambanam va

By investigating (jnana) the nature of the dream (svapna) world in sleep (nidra), and comparing it to the wakeful state, provides you with further evidence (alambanam) to the unreal nature of the conscious, or wakeful state.

In the Pursuit of Consciousness

To know Consciousness or Self, it has to have become the top priority of your life. All material pursuits,seen and unseen, have to be at a distance so far behind, that it can never derail your quest to know The Self.

This does not mean you stop helping others. Not at all. Selfless service is a top priority on the path of spirituality. It is a form of Tapas crucial for purifying the heart. More on this later.

In the early stages, there can be a period of confusion because you may associate the bliss of consciousness to be coming from something material. As a result, you could find yourself seeking the joy felt in material things. It takes time to understand that you your Self, are the source of joy you are experiencing by just being.

There will be times when you may fall under the spell of Maya (Matrix), but as your level of awareness gradually develops, you will detect the game being played by Maya and realign yourself with your true purpose. Once you have experienced even the early brief encounters of time spent in Consciousness, there will be nothing else you will want.

Difference Between Objects and Consciousness

The teachings of Vedanta states that everything around us, seen and unseen, are objects in Consciousness. All things you can imagine, are objects in Consciousness. If you sit quietly and observe, you will see that everything you experience are objects, while you, are the subject. Try it!

The seen - body, feet, food, water, people, car - and the unseen - air, feelings, mind, and attributes of the mind such as intellect and the Ego itself, which is the subtlest element of them all; are objects. It is the light of consciousness that makes it possible for us to conceptualize all objects as appearences.

The Three States in which Objects are Experienced in Consciousness

Objects are experienced in three states, wakefulness, dream, and deep sleep.

When I wake up from a good sleep, I can tell I had a good sleep. The experience of my good sleep happened in consciousness, devoid of the ego. But upon awakening, it is the Ego that claims ownership, "I had a great sleep."

The experince of the deep sleep is recorded in the ananda maya kosha. The witness that recognized the deep sleep experience knows it upon waking, but the sly Ego takes ownership of it to trick you because it does not have the capacity to create anything of real beauty itself.


I feel that a word of caution is in order when we speak of trying to know what Consciousness is because of how the Ego reacts to your inquiry.

When you try to investigate consciousness, the Ego senses a serious threat of abandonment. As a result, it will try to derail your efforts by any means possible. It does not want you to come anywhere close to finding your way out of the Matrix created by Maya (Prakriti). To ensure that, it will do anything, even create situations which could be fatal to the physical self; if it senses mortal threat. This resistence to change is what we refer to as the devil, satan, Mara.

Do not be alarmed though, because as you begin to advance, the various degrees of evolution bring with it certain powers that protect you from the forces of Maya. There will be times when you will get caught in the snares created by the spirits through which Maya works to trap you. Always know that you are on the right side and victory will eventually be yours. In this endevour, time is not a factor because you are moving towards the Absolute.

If you have the inherent tenacious nature to persist in your investigative pursuit to know Consciousness regardless of whatever traps Maya develops to keep you enslaved to the world of materialism - a quality developed over many lifetimes - then you will break free from the Matrix. We will talk about this in greater depth in a later sutra.


Just as you become aware of your physical body upon awakening from your dream, in the same way you become aware of your etheral body when you die and wake up from this dream you have created using your mind called life. When even the seeds or latent tendencies that give rise to desires remain no more, you become liberated. Yoga is the art and science of burning up all latent tendencies that makes one identify the self with the body.

In our dream, the body seems quite real and so does all that which the body experiences but upon awakening the dream-body evaporates as does the morning mist when bathed in sunlight. Our physical body is the by-product of thought, memory, and latent tendencies projected on the screen of Consciousness.

A story from the Ramayana puts across the meaning of this sutra across well.

King Janaka and Ashtavakra

During a time of peace and prosperity, in the city of Mithila, lived the wise king Janaka. One night the king had a most vivid dream. He was fighting a war and his army was being decimated; he ran from the battle without his weapons, shield or uniform, trying to get away from his enemies. At last, after enduring what seemed like hours of attempted escape through the jungle, he came across a clearing in which stood a little cottage. Exhausted, hungry and thirsty, the king knocked on the door and asked for help. An old woman peered out. She did not recognize the king and was afraid to open her door to a stranger.

“I can’t let you in, but I can offer you food and water. Here are some lentils and spices, a cooking pot and some water. You may build a fire in the garden and cook yourself some dhal,” she said. Now King Janaka had to make a fire to cook his dhal. The smoke hurt his eyes and it took a long time for the pot to boil and the lentils to cook, but eventually he could turn his dinner out onto a banana leaf to cool. Then, as he was about to eat, two wild boar came screaming and fighting through the clearing, right over the king’s food, mashing it into the mud!

Poor Janaka could take no more. He cried out in his pain, and tears ran down his cheeks…and with that, the king woke up! There he was, in his royal bed in his royal palace. But for the king, everything had changed. “Was that a dream, or is this a dream?" he wondered. “Perhaps I am defeated in battle, starving on the mud of a far-off jungle clearing and dreaming that everything is normal! Who am I? What is going on really?”

Janaka turned to his trusted advisors for help, his teachers and philosophers. But as he listened, he soon tired of their explanations and, to teach them a lesson, ordered them to be thrown into the castle dungeons. Now in that city of Mithila lived a wise man named Uddalaka and his wife Sujata with their young son, Ashtavakra, so named because he was born with eight bends or deformities. One day, Astavakra’s father did not return home from his teaching duties, and the boy could see that his mother was worried.

“Where is my father, and why are you sad, my mother?” he asked. “He has gone to help answer the kings great question, and I am afraid that he too has failed and been put in the dungeons like so many others who have tried” sobbed Sujata. “Then I will go to the palace and answer the king’s question to free my father!” proclaimed Ashtavakra, and, despite his mother’s pleading him to stay home, he set off for the royal palace at once.

Upon entering the king’s throne room, Ashtavakra was greeted with jeers and laughter. Looking up to the king, the child demanded in a surprisingly strong voice: “King Janaka, why have you filled your court with shoemakers?” A shocked silence descended on the court as the royal courtiers waited to hear the king’s response to this rude outburst. But the king remained calm, asking “Why do you belittle my most trusted ministers like this? Don’t you know that these are my most respected advisors?” Ashtavakra replied “They must be shoemakers, because they look at me and see only my hide; only my deformities and my young age. Do they not know that the soul is not limited to age or to this physical body?”

The king understood, and all the court felt the embarrassment we all feel when we make a mistake. Ashtavakra sat on the chair reserved for those who would try to answer the king’s great question. “So what is your question your majesty?” As the king explained his dream and his feelings since that night, the young sage listened patiently. He then spoke to King Janaka in a strong, kind tone. He reminded Janaka that neither the dream, nor the world we see around us are real if we lose the feeling of peace and contentment within us.

“All things change,” he said, “and that which remains true is within us. Feeling that reality within dispels all doubts, but thinking and talking only leads to more doubts and discontentment. If you truly wish to know your self, I have that mirror and I can help.” The wise king Janaka’s heart began to open to this message from the little boy. He accepted his offer and they became the best of friends: the great king was a student to the young boy and Astavakra’s father, along with the other prisoners, was released. 3

The Joy Inherent in Consciousness

Once we recognize the futility inherent within our strife that results from desire, we see with clarity the nature of this dream we call life.

Once the Ego is given up, what remains is Consciousness, a state of pure bliss. You can get glimses of this bliss in meditation. As your practice matures, you can feel the joy of Consciousness even while engaged in your daily activities; especially driving.

The bliss that we feel in the time of the Samadhi is connected with the Consciousness. It is here that we want to go and we know that it is very difficult but we can do it if we keep trying. The time it takes to give up the ego depenbds on the practice you have done in the past and the quality of practice that you are doing now. Aim for three hours of meditation to get an experience or sense of the joy associated with Consciousness.

One of the greatest obstacles in practice is pain, which we talked about in an earlier sutra. If you have difficulty sitting in a lotus position, sit on a chair, if you cannot sit, lay down, but try to get at least three hours of meditation in daily. You can start with thirty minutes and build it over the period of one year.

  • 1.38 svapna nidra jnana alambanam va
  • svapna - dream (focusing on the nature of the state of dreaming itself, not the content of dreams)

  • pratisedha - prevention, negation, neutralizing, prohibition, opposing, voiding, removal

  • nidra - sleep (focusing on the state itself, as an object)

  • jnana - knowledge, study, investigation, awareness, observation

  • alambanam - having as support for attention, object of concentration