February 21, 2006

Role of Dreams in the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo

D. Raja Ganesan Ph.D., Professor and Head, Department of Education University of Madras, Madras 600005, India; & Founder (1988)- President, Dream Study Circle, Madras. For Notification: 20th Annual International Conference of the Association for the Study of Dreamso June 27 - July 1, 2003oBerkeley, California
Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) was a savant of the Indian Renaissance who undertook a grand synthesis of the ideas and ideals of the East and the West. His vision of spiritual evolution encompasses seminal ideas of Western thinkers like Bergson and Nietzsche (Maitra, 1986) His Integral Yoga, the unique means that he developed, by a long and arduous process of trial and error, for deliberately accelerating the evolutionary process with focus on human consciousness, synthesizes the four yogas-- normative styles of living evolved in the ancient Indian tradition, and deemed till then to be discrete and mutually exclusive. These were all designed to achieve in several ways the singular goal of moksa or liberation in the sense of radical termination of existence through endless cycles of birth and death and thereby the merging of the individual into the cosmos, doctrines to which all the major schools of Indian thought including Buddhism subscribe.
The aim of Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga is not disappearance into the Absolute, but acceleration of the evolutionary process towards the emergence of Supermanhood. In making Integral Yoga the means of pursuing spiritual evolution, Sri Aurobindo offers a unique synthesis of a vision derived mainly from Western thinkers on the one hand and a way of living developed from repertoires of normative experience accumulated in the East, on the other. The "Mother" (Mirra Richard, a woman of European origin) joined Sri Aurobindo in India in 1920 collaborated with him in the pursuit of this vision and took a major responsibility in translating the vision at the concrete level.
  1. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother anticipate many of the findings of contemporary Western dream science, on the basis of their subjective but rigorous and penetrating explorations of the inner world.
  2. They are unique among Indian thinkers in their conception of the nature and the use of dreams, in that they have sought to ground the same at the philosophical level: There are extensive discussions on dreams in ancient Indian philosophical, popular and medical (Ayurveda) literature (Layek, 1990).
  3. The context in the first one is discussions on mayavada, an argument about the illusory nature of ultimate reality, with dreams providing analogy for the same. The popular literature deals with dreams as omens.
  4. The Ayurvedic literature indicates diagnostic uses of dreams, but not therapeutic.

None of them suggest normative processing of individual dreams towards cultivating a particular form consciousness. The role of dreams in Integral Yoga, gleaned in the relevant observations of Sri Aurobindo and "the Mother", is articulated in terms of:

  • the Ontological Status of Dreams;
  • the Dream State;
  • Nature and Features of Dreams;
  • Classification of Dreams;
  • Psychodynamics of Dreams – Genesis, Manifestation, Consequences; and,
  • Significance and Utilization of Dreams.

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have encompassing views about the status of dreams and states of mind: They deem most dreams are mere epiphenomena of the mechanical functioning of the brain during the sleep state without any psychological significance, some dreams have significance for waking life, and some signify deeper realities. In the last one they are closer to Carlos Castaneda (1994). Dreaming, non-REM sleep mentation and dreamless sleep are the stages they have identified within the sleep cycle. Indian thought does not refer to non-REM sleep mentation and western dream science denies the possibility of a state of complete rest.

Their classification of the origins and the nature of dreams follows their conception of personality as consisting of five levels: physical, vital, mental, psychic and the higher one (Vrinte, 1995). However, references to dreams pertaining to the higher level are scarce in the corpus of their literature. Another unique feature is the Mother’s sustained attempt to trace the strands of a dream from its sources in the wake state, through its manifestation, to its impact on the wake state. Yet another distinct feature is instructions for retaining and recollecting dreams. There are descriptions of the dynamics of dream formation and manifestation, as well as guidelines for subjectively exploring non-REM sleep mentation. (653)

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