The Dream of Ravan
Oriental Department, January & March, 1897
Many conjectures have been offered as to the source and authorship of this curious and wonderful book, which appeared in the first instance, some fifty years ago. It will probably be of the greatest interest to examine it somewhat closely, and to state, at length, the conclusion we are led to. To this end we hope to exhibit comparisons between the rendering of this work, and the Sanskrit text of Valuniki’s poem, in order to show how far, and in what manner, the author has followed the Indian originals, and in this way to disengage the subjective from the literary element. We shall incidentally see whether the internal evidence may be induced to give us certain clues as to the personality of the author, and at the same time, we shall make enquiries, at the place of original publication, as to whether the name of the author has been preserved, and can be recorded. Whatever we learn, will be set forth here, in due course. Our present conjecture is, that this mystery is the work of a native in Ireland, long a resident in Western India, and a diligent student of Sanskrit there.
THE INTERPRETATION OF THE DREAM.
In fulfilling the promise to devote a series of studies to this wonderful book,1 we shall begin at the end, at the interpretation of the dream, before turning to the dream itself. Our justification for beginning at the end is this: So long as we are dealing with symbols, it is impossible for us to tell exactly how much they mean to the user of them, especially if he has found them ready to hand in the ancient books. One may repeat the parable of the hidden treasure, with perfect fidelity and truth; one may even add to it a wealth of imaginative detail, in perfect harmony with the original thought, and yet have no true idea of the parable’s meaning; it is only when the interpretation of the parable is approached that we see the measure of insight revealed.
Therefore, before speaking of the parable of Ravan, we shall consider the interpretation of the dream. The interpretation is not wholly furnished by the author himself; indeed it would be nearer the truth to say that, for its form, and even for much of its expression, he is indebted to a work we are all familiar with, and which was translated for the first time in these pages—Tattva Bodha, or the Awakening to Reality. This debt is here fully acknowledged; but we may say, for the author, what he could hardly say for himself: that his understanding of Shankara’s thought, and of Tattva Bodha in particular, exhibits a robust individuality and masculine vigor which one is quite unused to look for, in the works of western scholars. The anonymous author of the Dream of Ravan has, as he admits, drawn upon the Tattva Bodha for the outline of his interpretation; but, in so doing, he makes it abundantly manifest that he has not only thoroughly mastered its thought intellectually, but has further realized it in experience and intuition. In following Shankara’s analysis, he by no means surrenders his individuality, but rather enriches the work he is studying by his own original force and imaginative power. Take, for instance, this definition of the three vestures “Man is represented as a prismatic trinity, veiling, and looked through by, a primordial unity of light. Gross outward body; subtle—internal body, or soul; a being, neither body nor soul, but absolute self-forgetfulness, called the cause-body, because it is the original sin of ignorance of his true nature which precipitates him from the spirit into the life condition. These three bodies, existing in the waking, dreaming, sleeping states, are all known, witnessed, and watched, by the spirit which standeth behind and apart from them, in the unwinking vigilance of ecstacy, or spirit waking.”
This is almost a word for word translation of Shankara, but at the same time a rendering of the utmost vigor and force, such as no mere student of the teacher’s words could compass, without being at the same time master of the teacher’s thoughts. The last phrase, the unwinking vigilance of ecstasy, is clearly a translation of the words of another treatise of Shankara’s, which I have translated “unwavering soul-vision.”
We may note, further, that what is said of the cause-body, or causal body, as we more generally render it, seizes the very heart of one of the most difficult passages in Shankara’ s work, because it is a passage which embodies a most difficult thought. It is this: the causal body, the vesture of the highest self finite thought can conceive, a vesture above time and space, and therefore eternal and all-present, and thus fulfilling our ideal of immortal divinity, yet owes its very being to delusion, to ignorance, to unreality. For the causal body is the root and cause of individuality, of separation from the supreme Self and from all other individual selves. Therefore, when we have reached the causal body, and identified ourselves fully with the causal self, thus gaining immortality above time and space, our work is far from ended; rather, it is only just begun. For, though we have rid ourselves of two illusions, a third illusion, root of the other two, still remains, ready to give quick birth to them again, and to plunge us once more in the ocean of birth and death. For the causal self, for all its immortality and divinity, yet believes itself to be a separate individuality, apart from others, apart from the Eternal. It is the facet of the diamond, not the diamond itself.
It has yet to overcome the heresy of separateness, to learn that nothing is, but the Eternal. Our ideal is, therefore, not an isolated being, however potent and magnificent, radiant as the gods, but also limited like the gods; our ideal is that ancient and immemorial Spirit, which wells up in beneficence within the heart, which made all things and gave them them joy; or, more truly, which is all things and the bliss of all things. So, on that last and highest threshold, the same dread presence of the selfless spirit must well up within the heart of the causal self, calling it back from the last vesture of limitation, into the deeps of the limitless divine.
Then only comes the end of the way, where the soul goes forth on paths that mortals never tread, entering into the secret places of the Eternal, whose heart is never-ending joy.
No wisdom, and no knowledge can supply the place of that present spirit in the heart, the selfless Self for which we must give up ourselves and all the world, to gain them thereby for the first time truly, for that selfless Self is ourselves and all the world, and nothing is, but That.
Or, in the words of the Interpretation of the Dream:
“Being culminating to Consciousness; conscious Thought returning and entering into Being with an eternal Joy. Being worketh eternally in the depths, but knoweth not itself. Thought, generated in the eternal centre, giveth forth the Great Utterance, and calleth out, I am the Eternal. Being becometh then revealed unto itself in Thought, and between Thought and Being an eternal Joy ariseth.”
1. It appears that no further studies in this series were completed or published. [ED.]