Do dreams matter?

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  • paige
    • Apr 2007
    • 234

    Do dreams matter?

    I've noticed lately that quite a few people and organisations are advocating the benefits of combining psychotherapy and Buddhist meditation practices. I've also heard from a couple of people (not that I've conducted an unbiased statistical analysis), that once they started sitting zazen regularly, their dreams became much more vivid (or they just remembered them more often).

    I realise that psychotherapy has changed quite a bit from its Interpretation of Dreams stage, but people still seem pretty interested in analysing dreams and other products of the unconscious mind.

    So I was wondering if anyone knows what position, if any, Dogen Zenji or the other patriarchs had on the importance of dreams, and analysing the symbols and artifacts of the dreaming mind.

    This is just a casual question by the way, I haven't had any particularly interesting dreams lately.
  • Blind Ox
    • Aug 2007
    • 11

    Also, I've noticed that I 've had a couple of 'lucid dreams' after periods of meditiation where I have become aware that I am dreaming while I'm dreaming.

    I woke up in my dreams a few times. One dream I was in a house with many rooms but no door to the outside. After going from room to room around the "endless" house I decided to play and started walking through the walls. Check out the above link if your interested in lucid dreaming. They have a good forum for such things. I became concerned a few years back about this. Cause I knew it wasn't something you hear about.
    Fallen red blossoms
    from plum trees burst into flame
    among the horse turds ~ Master Buson


    • wills
      • Jun 2007
      • 69

      Originally posted by Blind Ox
      I woke up in my dreams a few times.
      Wow, I'd just like to wake up in my everyday life. To become awake in my dream life seems like an advanced practice, something best left to professionals and not tried at home. :wink:

      I've heard that dreaming and waking reality, on the absolute realm, are the same. Not different. Of course everything is included, including dreams. I'm not skilled enough to process dreams. I tend to sleep too soundly and have a very poor memory. Dreams, when I do remember, them seem to be too much like the processing of egocentric karmic conditioning and therefore only relevant for recognizing and discarding and not making a big deal of.

      To give dreams a special meaning is a mistake.
      -- Will S.


      • Jundo
        Treeleaf Founder and Priest
        • Apr 2006
        • 39454

        Hi Guys,

        The best book that I know on the subject of dreams in the Soto tradition is this one about dreams and Master Keizan (Dogen's heir in the third generation) by Bernard Faure, reviewed here:

        However, a couple of cautions about the book: First. Professor Faure, in a tradition of certain schools of French intellectualism, admits that he himself "imagined" a good part of his book about "imagining" ... in other words, he reads a lot into a scanty record to write a book that is really about French postmodernist philosophy. Second, everyone should be aware that, traditionally, there is said to be a bit of tension between the teachings of Master Dogen and those of Keizan, in that Keizan is said to have introduced into the Soto sect a host of mystical practices, esoteric Buddhist theory, arcane ceremony and hocus-pocus ... and one of those things about Keizan included his belief that various Bodhisattvas and such would appear to him in his dreams to give him signs and messages and potents.

        Some people discount the supposed conflict, as in this article:

        Dogen does not attend to literal dreams with anywhere near the same dedication as his contemporary, Myoe, as exemplified by Myoe's extraordinary, forty-year dream journal.[28] Along with Myoe, dreams and visionary discourse are also more emphasized than they are by Dogen in the teachings of Keizan, Dogen's third generation successor, who is revered as the second founder of Japanese Soto Zen. The central role of dream and vision for Keizan has been discussed and elaborated by Bernard Faure in Visions of Power.[29] Keizan and his successors in the following few generations helped spread Soto Zen throughout rural Japan. One stereotype in Soto studies is the distinction between Keizan's use of the visionary, inspired by Esoteric teachings, and the supposedly more "pure" Zen of Dogen. According to this stereotype, Dogen emphasized zazen and a rational presentation of buddha dharma, untainted by the more colorful and melodramatic Mahayana and Esoteric teachings indulged in by Keizan.[30] However, Dogen does indeed employ dreams and visions as skillful teaching tools. While we may certainly note differences in emphasis and style between Dogen and Keizan, Dogen is in fundamental accord with the world-view of medieval Japan, including the esoteric teachings of Shingon and Tendai that were the background for all Kamakura Buddhism. Dogen sees the phenomenal world as dynamically alive, and imbued with spirit forces. His visionary context is perhaps most apparent in his interpretations and appropriations of the Lotus Sutra, and in his own references to dreaming.

        In Muchu Setsumu "Within a Dream Expressing the Dream," Dogen explicitly refers to the Lotus Sutra as a source for the role of dreams in his discourse style. He quotes a long passage that concludes the final verse in chapter fourteen of the sutra, beginning from, "All buddhas, with bodies of golden hue, splendidly adorned with a hundred auspicious marks, hear the dharma and expound it for others. Such is the fine dream that ever occurs. . . ." ... ource.html

        I would also put a couple of cautions about this point too: First, in the middle ages in both Asia and the West, before magicians and alchemists became physicists and chemists, people did believe a lot more in spirits and magic than we do now. Before they had neurologists to explain dreaming, it is not surprising that folks would read meanings into them more than we do now, and think that "visitations from the spirits" had really happened in their dreams. Now, we might tend to call such things "hallucinations", but it was a very different world back then. Dogen, I am sure, was a man of his times, and probably thought (like everybody else) that the spirits were real in some form. (Heck, they might still be "real", and I personally don't believe that science has all the answers).

        That being said, it was more that Dogen didn't seem to care whether they were real or not. His teachings did not need spirits and were not based on magic, whether it existed or not.

        It is surprisingly how little magic and spirits and hocus-pocus actually appears in the writings of Dogen. In fact, he often comes across as quite the sceptic of the literal meaning of such things. For example, the above passage on "Buddhas of Golden Hue with the hundred marks" is a case and point. Dogen came out of the esoteric Tendai school of Buddhism, but as a harsh critic and rebel from those esoteric teachings. He was writing, however, for an audience that understood Buddhist philosophy in such terms. So, what is clear on page after page after page of Dogen's writings is that he was saying, "If you want Golden Buddhas, don't look for actual "Golden Buddhas." They are just fantasies or, at best, toys. If you want some "Golden Buddha", I will give you something better: Just sit Zazen. Then, you will know the real meaning of "Golden Buddha" and you will experience yourself what it means to be a "Golden Buddha"". There is very little, if anything, in Dogen's writings to indicate that he actually believed in such things (or, at least, that he worshiped "Golden Buddhas" as really existing entities), and almost every reference is that form of "you want to see angels? I will show you something more fantastic than silly angels: Just sit Zazen".

        So it was, I think, with his dream references. His only meaning there is that this world we live in is both real and a dream itself (created by the sense of separate self and the like of the mind). There is very little, if anything, in Dogen's writings where he mentions, for example, that he found potents and signs and visitations in his dreams. There are a few, as would be found for anyone in that day and age, but he just does not place importance on them in the manner of other folks.

        For the record, I rarely remember my dreams, and I do not think it means anything for our Zen practice, one way or the other, whether we remember our dreams or not. It is another interesting experience of life if someone does have a lucid dream (like any kind of strange mental phenomenon), but has no particular connection to our Zazen and Zen practice. I think.

        Gassho, Jundo (now off to bed, perchance to dream)

        *I am going to do a talk on this in a couple of days. We just had the Shinto priest over to the Treeleaf to "appease the spirits (Kami)" before the big construction work being done. My Japanese wife insisted. I went along with it in a "well, it couldn't hurt" attitude. In fact, if the spirits are there (who knows?), why not make them happy? (I call this "winking at the gods, despite my scepticism"). In any event, it makes not one bit of difference to my Zen practice, one way or the other.


        • paige
          • Apr 2007
          • 234

          Thanks Jundo!

          I'd never heard of any of that before.

          I think I'd read somewhere Korean master Seongcheol describing how a suitably advanced practitioner could hold his gong'an in mind even during deep sleep. Not sure how that compares to "dream Yoga."

          There've been a couple of times when I've recited mantras in my sleep, or woken up sitting half-lotus in bed. My Dharma Master thought that it indicated a step forward in my cultivation. But, I was a sleepwalker as a child, so I have my doubts as to the significance of my acting out any dreams. :wink: