Oct 30, 2016

Sutra 1.38. Yoga and Interpretation of Dreams

In his developing the subject of chitta stabilization techniques Patanjali offers another group of methods, namely – the mechanisms of dreams interpretation. The corresponding sutra is very short and almost completely ignored by modern commentators, whereas classical scholiasts did not pay much attention to it as well. However puzzling it out is possible. 

Now, the sutra 1.38 reads as follows:

स्वप्ननिद्राज्ञानालम्बनं वा ॥ ३८॥
1.38 svapna-nidrā-jñāna-ālambanaṃ vā

svapna (m.) – dream; from the root svap (to sleep);
nidrā (f.) – dream; ni (in(to), down) + the root dra (to sleep); 
jñāna (n.) – knowledge; 
ālambanaṃ (n. nom. sg.) – support, reliance. The word is made up of the prefix ā + root lamb (to hang); 
vā (ind.) – or. 

Thus the line shall have the following meaning:

1.38. Or [stability of manas is attained] by reliance upon knowledge [obtained] in sleep. 

Let us try to understand what the author of Yoga Sutras speaks about. For this purpose let us first consult classical commentaries. Unfortunately Vyasa confines himself to pure grammatical analysis of the line and reminds the same to deal with the problem of chitta calming by means of yoga. The Sankara I so much like launches into philosophizing about the nature of dream yet also leaves the concept of “reliance upon knowledge gained in sleep” without explanations. However there is another, a less well-known commentary (though a very good one) – the Yoga Sudhakara – whose author, Sadasivendra Saraswati, gives the prompt so looked after. He writes the peace of chitta, moreover, its ultimate ‘one-pointedness” (ekagrata) to result from dhyana, i.e. correct deliberation or meditation on the knowledge that has come in one’s dream. The knowledge received while sleep is the contest of a dream that, as we know from psychoanalysis, is a symbolic expression of emotional problems (samskaras in terms of classical language, or the ones we refer to as energetic ties) a person suppresses. Consequently, by deciphering these symbols one can understand the core point of the problem, and thus solve the problem proper. This is why Patanjali mentions “reliance on knowledge”. Even the most clever interpretation of a dream is not yet a way out and it alone does not make one’s mind tranquil. The knowledge gained needs to be applied by using other types of psycho-techniques. Patanjali here is very accurate in using the terms.

Amazing as it may seem, yet this sutra represents the ultimate essence of psychoanalysis. But how could it be possible? Could Hindu sages have been so much ahead of the European science discoveries? In terms of theory – why not. The findings of Jung and Freud required no sophisticated equipment or scientific background. The essential components needed were just keen observation and delicate reflection the Hindu practitioners had more than enough. In fact, the one and only hindrance to psychoanalysis ideas evolvement was their dealing with post-Christian paradigm that was still flying through European minds of that time. 

But let us proceed to scrutinize the subject of dreams interpretation in Ancient India.

Going back even further we might see that Hindu culture has always been paying utmost attention to dreaming. If we take Rigveda only, we might find that the word svapna there occurs at least 40 times in nominative singular and just as much in other cases. Almost every school of thought had its own concept of dreams and their origin. But notwithstanding minor differences in details all of the said theories were resting upon Vedic culture that due to its reflective nature had noted the nature of dreams basic features. To be substantive I shall quote here some excerpts from a stunningly insightive hymn of Atharva Veda that in a very delicate way singles out the key elements of the origin of dream. The hymn is dedicated to Sleep and addresses the same.


Thou art come hither from the world of Yama: 
thou, resolute, affectest men with rapture.
At first the all-containing, depth beheld thee
Thence hast thou come, thence, Sleep, hast thou come hither,
concealing, deep within, all form and figure
Thou whose severity hath reached ill-doers, 
and whose reward the good have gained in slumber,
Delightest heaven with thy most lofty kinship, born from his
spirit who was stung with remorse[1]

[English version is quoted after The Hymns of the Atharvaveda transl. by Ralf T. H. Griffith – transl.note] 

This hymn obviously displays archaic yet thoroughly reflexive attitude to sleep. The Vedic rishis noticed what we would refer to as its association with unconsciousness (coming from the depth, formlessness), the relation between the dream and a person’s deeds and states. Unafraid of criticism, I would even suggest their feeling of the unconsciousness’ collective nature (in the sense implied by Jung) in the line “thou, resolute, affectest men”.

It was already in ancient Upanishads – the Brihadaranyaka, Chandogya, Maitri, Prashna etc. – that they were developing the ideas about the nature of dreams. Moreover, they were the Upanishads that advanced the theory of sleep phases (or depth degrees) – svapna, nidra, susupti. Apparently Patanjali’s introduction of two terms in the line under consideration was done on the basis of the said concept. The text of Aitraeya Aranyaka mentions inauspicious dreams and the means of preventing adverse events they predict. A number of dreams interpretations can be found in Ayurvedic Sushruta Samhita. A little bit later designated dream-dictionaries appeared. One can find references to Acharamayukha’s Svapna Adhyaya and so on. The best known extant dream-book, the Svapnacintamani of Jagaddeva dates back to the 12-13 cent. The text, particularly, states the following:

1.4. There are nine sources of dreams: something heard, something experienced, the seen, something that corresponds to its own nature, anxiety, violation of natural course, gods, merits, sins.

In all fairness it has to be added that the author’s proposed interpretations are a far cry from the level of Jungian therapy. But I believe dreams-dictionaries – both of now and then – to be a kind of literature meant rather for the “general public”. The genuine analysis of a dream in nothing but individual, or even more: is done on one’s own by applying the method of dhyana and basing on personal experience and specific features of individual symbolism.

In finishing the article – both for the purpose of reader’s entertainment as well as illustrating the symbolism of dreams – I shall draw an excerpt from Eugene Onegin, namely, the description of Tatyana’s dream that most of us have probably failed to study at school. But we’d better had! Taking into account the fact of Pushkin’s writing it 100 years prior to Freud, the profoundness of the poet’s feeling the dreams symbolism is really striking. And it is another confirmation of Pushkin to have been a true expert in the field of woman’s souls and bodies))).

A reader of today – and the more so a well-prepared one – shall easily see the way sub-consciousness of the dreamer represents the basic sexual desires suppressed by the leading female character, and even her sexual scenarios that are though far from implementation yet already crystallized... For the rest of the readers whose background in the field of psychology has been not that professional I shall highlight in italics the most significant symbols, while scenarios hints shall be underlined. 

But wonders come to her in dreams:
She wanders through a snowy vale
Wrapped in mist and gloom, it seems
Hidden from the world: while pale,
Among the snowdrifts, roars
A seething torrent, foaming, pours
Into the shadows, still the same,
A thing the winter cannot tame;
Two slender boughs glued by ice,
Stretched across to form a bridge,
A delicate and trembling ridge,
To make a passer-by think twice:
And in deep perplexity,
There she stands, helplessly.

As if before some mournful parting,
She sorrows at the dark divide;
No one is there, beyond its seething,
To lead her to the other side;
A snowdrift shifts, a shaggy bear,
Rises from his hidden lair,
Tatyana screams! ...She hears a roar,
He offers her a long curved claw,
To help her cross, she gathers strength
And putting out a trembling hand
Lets him draw her to dry land,
Along the fragile bridge’s length.
She stumbles on – and yet, beware,
She’s followed closely by the bear!

She dare not stop, or look behind,
She quickens her despairing pace,
There’s no escape, in her sad mind,
From that dark forbidding face;
She plunges on, he grunts and follows,
Far into the silent hollows;
Here’s a wood: in beauty, pines
Meet the sky in sombre lines,
Their branches, as she stumbles on,
Heaped with snow; glittering there
Birch, and lime, and aspen bare,
With starlit crowns; the track is gone;
All the world seems lost in sleep,
Drowned in snow, and buried deep.

Through the wood she flees the bear;
The soft snow reaches to her knee;
A branch leans down to snag her hair,
And scratch her neck, and stubbornly
Pluck the gold earrings from her ears;
And then one wet shoe disappears
Covered by the powdery snow;
Her handkerchief is next to go;
No time to retrieve it, in her fright,
The creature once again is near;
She dare not, in her shame and fear,
Lift her trailing hem, in flight;
She runs, he follows, on and on,
Until her strength is all but gone.

She falls to the snow, the bear alert
Rushes to lift her, swiftly sheathing
His sharp claws, she lies inert,
In his grasp, and barely breathing;
Now along the track he crashes,
Here’s a hut, to which he dashes,
Trees crowd round; it’s drowned in snow,
One window yields a rosy glow,
From inside there’s noise and clatter;
The bear speaks: ‘Friends live here,
Come in, warm yourself, my dear,
Ignore the tumult and the chatter’;
He pushes through the open door,
And sets her down upon the floor.

She recovers, gazes round,
The bear has gone; she’s in a hall;
Behind a door cheers resound,
Cries, the clash of glasses, all
The clamour of a wake; unsure,
She finds a spy-hole in the door,
And, there? .....Around a table sit
A monstrous crew, imagine it!
One has a horned and doglike face;
One a cockerel’s head; and see
A frightful witch with a goatee;
A skeleton haughtily in place;
A dwarf who sports a tail; and that,
Seems half a heron, half a cat!

And stranger still, behold a spider
Sits a crayfish; wonderful,
In red night-cap, a second rider
Mounts a goose’s neck, a skull!
A windmill dances a wild jig,
Its sails a creaking whirligig;
Bark, laugh, whistle, sing and screech,
Horses’ hooves and human speech!
Then in the crowd inside that hovel,
Our poor Tatyana recognises,
The one she fears and idolises –
Who but the hero of our novel?
Onegin drinks amidst the roar,
Glancing stealthily at the door.

He nods – and there’s a mighty shout;
He drinks – the creatures howl and swill,
He laughs – and they all fall about,
He frowns – and everyone is still;
It’s plain that he’s the master here,
Tanya recovers from her fear,
And curious as young girls are,
Pushes the door till it’s ajar…
But suddenly a draught of air
Agitates the candle-flames;
Among them all, confusion reigns,
With glittering eyes Onegin there
Clatters his chair against the floor;
All rise; he rushes to the door.

Filled with terror, see her try
To flee the place; She cannot move,
The greater her attempts to fly
The less of use her efforts prove.
Eugene flings wide the door, reveals
Her to that hellish crew – and peals
Of raucous laughter swell; all eyes,
Turn to her; and every guise,
Of horn and hoof and crooked snout,
Fang and tusk and blood-stained jaw,
Beard, tufted tail, sharp gleaming claw,
And bony finger, point her out;
And all their voices now combine
To cry aloud: ‘She’s mine, she’s mine!’


‘Mine’, Yevgeny’s voice rings out,
The wild host vanishes from sight,
And leaves them in the gloomy light
Alone together, at his shout.
Onegin quietly carries her
To a frail bed in a corner, there,
On her shoulder leans his head;
When suddenly they’re visited,
By Olga and her lover Lensky.
Light flashes; Eugene lifts his arm,
As if to raise a magic charm
Against intruders; furiously,
Contests their entry in a breath;
Tanya lies there, cold as death.

[transl.into English by A. S. Kline - transl.note]

[1] The translation of the last line is my own version and it slightly differs from the traditional “born from his spirit who was worn and weary”. The thing is that the root ‘tap’ it contains means not only ‘tapas’ as a spiritual practice but also person’s inner torments that we refer to as “pangs of remorse”. It is in the said context that this root was used, for instance, in the first lines of Hatha Yoga Pradipika. This translation variant is more in line with the general meaning of the verse.

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