The Universe in a Nut-Shell
Theosophist, January, 1882
The article on dreams alluded to in the following letter is reprinted with the desired explanatory notes for the information of our readers:—
TO THE EDITOR.
The accompanying extract is from an article in a recent issue of Chamber’s Journal. I hope you will reprint the same and kindly give full explanations upon the following subjects:—
(l) Are dreams always real? If so, what produces them; if not real, yet may they not have in themselves some deep significance?
(2) Tell us something about our antenatal state of existence and the transmigration of soul?
(3) Give us anything that is worth knowing about Psychology as suggested by this article?
Your most fraternally and obediently,
JEHANGIR CURSETJI TARACHAND, F.T.S.
Bombay, November l0, l881
To put our correspondent’s request more exactly, he desires the Theosophist to call into the limits of a column or two the facts embraced within the whole range of all the sublunar mysteries with “full explanations.” These would embrace—
(1) The complete philosophy of dreams, as deduced from their physiological, biological, psychological and occult aspects.
(2) The Buddhist Jatakas (re-births and migrations of our Lord Sakya-Muni) with a philosophical essay upon the transmigrations of the 387,000 Buddhas who “turned the wheel of faith,” during the successive revelations to the world of the 125,000 other Buddhas, the Saints, who can “overlook and unravel the thousand fold knotted threads of the moral chain of causation,” throwing in a treatise upon the Nidhanas, the chain of twelve causes with a complete list of their two millions of results, and copious appendices by some Arahats, “who have attained the stream which floats into Nirvana.”
(3) The compounded reveries of the world-famous psychologists; from the Egyptian Hermes, and his Book of the Dead; Plato’s definition of the Soul, in Timæus; and so on, down to the Drawing Room Nocturnal Chats with a Disembodied Soul, by Rev. Adramelech Romeo Tiberius Toughskin from Cincinnati.
Such is the modest task proposed. Suppose we first give the article which has provoked so great a thirst for philosophical information, and then try to do what we can. It is a curious case—if not altogether a literary fiction:—
Dream-Land and Somnambulism.
“The writer of this article has a brother-in-law who has felt some of his dreams to be of a remarkable and significant character; and his experience shows that there is a strange and inexplicable connection between such dreams and the state of somnambulism. Before giving in detail some instances of somnambulism as exhibited by him and also by his daughter, I will give an account of one of his dreams, which has been four times repeated in its striking and salient points at uncertain periods, during the past thirty years. He was in his active youth a practical agriculturist, but now lives retired. All his life he has been spare of flesh, active, cheerful, very companionable, and not in any sense what is called a bookworm. His dream was as follows: He found himself alone, standing in front of a monument of very solid masonry, looking vacantly at the north side of it, when to his astonishment, the middle stones on the level of his sight gradually opened and slid down one on another, until an opening was made large enough to uphold a man. All of a sudden, a little man, dressed in black, with a large bald head, appeared inside the opening, seemingly fixed there by reason of his feet and legs being buried in the masonry. The expression of his face was mild and intelligent. They looked at each other for what seemed a long time without either of them attempting to speak, and all the while my brother’s astonishment increased. At length, as the dreamer expressed himself, ‘The little man in black with the bald head and serene countenance’ said: ‘Don’t you know me? I am the man whom you murdered in an ante-natal state of existence; and I am waiting until you come, and shall wait without sleeping. There is no evidence of the foul deed in your state of human existence, so you need not trouble yourself in your mortal life—shut me again in darkness.’
“The dreamer began, as he thought, to put the stones in their original position, remarking as he expressed himself—to the little man:—’This is all a dream of yours, for there is no ante-natal state of existence.’ The little man who seemed to grow less and less, said: ‘Cover me over and begone.’ At this the dreamer awoke.
“Years passed away, and the dream was forgotten in the common acceptation of the term, when behold! without any previous thought of the matter, he dreamed that he was standing in the sunshine, facing an ancient garden-wall that belonged to a large unoccupied mansion, when the stones in front of it began to fall out with a gently sliding motion, and soon revealed the self-same mysterious person, and everything pertaining to him, including his verbal utterances as on the first occasion, though an uncertain number of years had passed. The same identical dream has since occurred twice at irregular periods; but there was no change in the facial appearance of the little man in black.”
Editor’s Note.—We do not feel competent to pronounce upon the merits or demerits of this particular dream. The interpretation of it may be safely left with the Daniels of physiology who, like W. A. Hammond, M. D., of New York, explain dreams and somnambulism as due to an exalted condition of the spinal cord. It may have been a meaningless, chance-dream, brought about by a concatenation of thoughts which occupy mechanically the mind during sleep—
twilight of the mind,
When Reason’s beam, half hid behind
The clouds of sense, obscurely gilds
Each shadowy shape that fancy builds.
—when our mental operations go on independently of our conscious volition.
Our physical senses are the agents by means of which the astral spirit or “conscious something” within, is brought by contact with the external world to a knowledge of actual existence; while the spiritual senses of the astral man are the media, the telegraphic wires by means of which he communicates with his higher principles, and obtains therefrom the faculties of clear perception of, and vision into, the realms of the invisible world.1 The Buddhist philosopher holds that by the practice of the dhyanas one may reach “the enlightened condition of mind which exhibits itself by immediate recognition of sacred truth, so that on opening the Scriptures (or any books whatsoever?) their true meaning at once flashes into the heart.” [Beal’s Catena, &c., p. 255.] If the first time, however, the above dream was meaningless, the three following times it may have recurred by the suddenly awakening of that portion of the brain to which it was due—as in dreaming, or in somnambulism, the brain is asleep only in parts, and called into action through the agency of the external senses, owing to some peculiar cause: a word pronounced, a thought, or picture lingering dormant in one of the cells of memory, and awakened by a sudden noise, the fall of a stone, suggesting instantaneously to this half-dreamy fancy of the sleeper walls of masonry, and so on. When one is suddenly startled in his sleep without becoming fully awake, he does not begin and terminate his dream with the simple noise which partially awoke him, but often experiences in his dream, a long train of events concentrated within the brief space of time the sound occupies, and to be attributed solely to that sound. Generally dreams are induced by the waking associations which precede them. Some of them produce such an impression that the slightest idea in the direction of any subject associated with a particular dream may bring its recurrence years after. Tartinia, the famous Italian violinist, composed his “Devil’s Sonata” under the inspiration of a dream. During his sleep he thought the Devil appeared to him and challenged him to a trial of skill upon his own private violin, brought by him from the infernal regions, which challenge Tartinia accepted. When he awoke, the melody of the “Devil’s Sonata” was so vividly impressed upon his mind that he there and then noted it down; but when arriving towards the finale all further recollection of it was suddenly obliterated, and he lay aside the incomplete piece of music. Two years later, he dreamt the very same thing and tried in his dream to make himself recollect the finale upon awakening. The dream was repeated owing to a blind street-musician fiddling on his instrument under the artist’s window. Coleridge composed in a like manner his poem “Kublai Khan,” in a dream, which, on awakening, he found so vividly impressed upon his mind that he wrote down the famous lines which are still preserved. The dream was due to the poet falling asleep in his chair while reading in Purcha’s “Pilgrimage” the following words: “Here, the Khan Kublai commanded a palace to be built . . . enclosed within a wall.”
The popular belief that among the vast number of meaningless dreams there are some in which presages are frequently given of coming events is shared by many well-informed persons, but not at all by science. Yet there are numberless instances of well-attested dreams which were verified by subsequent events, and which, therefore, may be termed prophetic. The Greek and Latin classics teem with records of remarkable dreams, some of which have become historical. Faith in the spiritual nature of dreaming was as widely disseminated among the pagan philosophers as among the Christian fathers of the church, nor is belief in soothsaying and interpretations of dreams (oneiromancy) limited to the heathen nations of Asia, since the Bible is full of them. This is what Eliphas Lévi, the great modern Kabalist, says of such divinations, visions and prophetic dreams.2
“Somnambulism, premonitions and second sights are but a disposition, whether accidental or habitual, to dream, awake, or during a voluntary, self-induced, or yet natural sleep, i.e., to perceive (and guess by intuition) the analogical reflections of the Astral Light. . . . The paraphernalia and instruments of divinations are simply means for (magnetic) communications between the divinator and him who consults him: they serve to fix and concentrate two wills (bent in the same direction) upon the same sign or object; the queer, complicated, moving figures helping to collect the reflections of the Astral fluid. Thus one is enabled, at times to see in the grounds of a coffee cup, or in the clouds, in the white of an egg, etc., etc., fantastic forms having their existence, but in the translucid (or the seer’s imagination). Vision-seeing in the water is produced by the fatigue of the dazzled optic nerve, which ends by ceding its functions to the translucid, and calling forth a cerebral illusion, which makes to seem as real images the simple reflections of the astral light. Thus the fittest persons for this kind of divination are those of a nervous temperament whose sight is meek [weak?] and imagination vivid, children being the best of all adapted for it. But let no one misinterpret the nature of the function attributed by us to imagination in the art of divination. We see through our imagination doubtless, and that is the natural aspect of the miracle; but we see actual and true things, and it is in this that lies the marvel of the natural phenomenon. We appeal for corroboration of what we say to the testimony of all the adepts. . . .”
And now we give room to a second letter which relates to us a dream verified by undeniable events.