Is there any significance to the dreams of us souls caught up in the dream of material life?

WITH THE SUN going down, the subtropical heat of the day had abated somewhat. The gentlemen I was coming to meet were seated secluded at a table in a private corner of the patio of the most expensive hotel in the capital. A fountain hissed and gurgled. The fragrance of frangipani flowers filled the air. When I approached, the three debonair party officials stood up to greet me. When I say party, I do not mean the parties you see on the election ballots I mean the party, the one behind all the others, whether they know it or not. We were all wearing light-colored, crisply pressed tropical suits, with silk shirts and understated ties. None of us was older than forty-five, and I was in my thirties. I shook hands all around, noticing the expensive rings and aristocratic wrists with diamond-inlaid gold watches like my own. This was my introduction to the party's inner circle.

The Transcendental Dream Machine

My patron was there smiling, his eyes crinkling at the corners, his white teeth flashing under his neatly trimmed moustache. He was smoothly making the introductions.

We all sat down at a table topped with tinted glass as drinks arrived on a silver platter, brought by a waiter who quickly disappeared. The gentlemen exchanged remarks about cars and tennis, and then the talk shaded into business.

Quite nonchalantly, the most highly placed party member mentioned I would be elected head of one of the minor public parties and then to a key parliamentary seat. My party would be taken into the government coalition, and I would become a minister, a popular one. All three were looking at me. Then the high party official smiled, leaned toward me, and said quietly, "And then … then you will be assassinated."

I looked toward my patron, and he looked back toward me. There was an uncomfortable silence. They were all three looking at me. "Fine," I said, smiling coolly. "Fine." And I sipped my drink. Everyone relaxed and smiled. It felt good to be in the inner circle.

Then I woke up. Talk about a weird dream! Where did that one come from?

Perhaps from a past life. In ancient times, the great sage Narada once told King Pracinabarhisat: "Sometimes we suddenly experience in dreams something never yet seen or heard of in the present body. My dear king, a living being develops all kinds of thoughts and images because of his previous body. Take this from me as certain. One cannot concoct anything mentally without having perceived it before."

So was I an ambitious, conniving young politician in some past life, involved in some great triple-layered intrigue that ended in my death? I don't know for certain, but, considering my dream, the thought has sometimes crossed my mind. After all, in the younger years of my present life I entered the George Washington University school of foreign affairs, determined to join one of the nation's intelligence services. Perhaps that was the last sputtering remnant of some cabalistic karma fizzling itself out.

Of course, I also wanted to be a novelist, philosopher, and poet. And let's not forget tragic lover and mystic devotee of the Hidden God.

Dreams Of A Golden Mountain

Dreams and past lives. I like the way my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, explains it: "Sometimes in dreams we think that we are flying in the sky, although we have no experience of flying. This means that once in a previous life, either as a demigod or astronaut, we flew in the sky. The impression is there in the stockpile of the mind, and it suddenly expresses itself. It is like fermentation taking place in the depths of water, which sometimes manifests itself in bubbles on the water's surface."

The impressions stored within my mind may come not only from my previous human bodies but also from previous nonhuman bodies.

But my dream, the one described above, was obviously from a human lifetime, though perhaps not a previous one. Dream images can also come from the present life. In this life, I definitely haven't gone through the situation played out in my dream. But perhaps my mind used a variety of images, like from some long-forgotten spy films or conspiracy novels, to put together that scene. Narada Muni explains that images within the mind "appear together in different combinations; therefore these images sometimes appear as things never seen or heard before."

Srila Prabhupada gives a nice example: "Sometimes we may see a golden mountain, and this is due to our having experienced gold and mountains separately. In the dream, under illusion, we combine these separate factors. In this way we are able to see golden mountains." So perhaps my dream was just such a concocted illusion, a golden mountain.

But there is yet another possibility. The dream could be the hint of a future body. The mind not only stockpiles images from past material bodies but also serves as the reservoir of desires that generate future bodies. Ending the soul's entanglement in the cycle of birth and death requires dissolving or depleting one's stock of material desires. One way this can take place is through dreams. So perhaps I was destined in some future life to become a conniving young politician who would be killed in an intrigue. And because I have taken to Krsna consciousness, I experienced that karmic tangle in a dream instead of in real life.

Dreams Within Dreams

The connection between dreams and physical reality is curious. Dreams occur in the mind, and yet they are linked with the body. If the body has not reached a certain stage of development, certain kinds of dreams won't occur, even though the images for them may be stored within the mind, either from this life or from past lives. For example, Srila Prabhupada says, "Because of undeveloped senses, a child or boy will not see a young woman in his dreams." But when the senses are more fully developed, the situation changes. "In a dream a young man may experience the presence of a young woman." And this mental dream experience may trigger a reaction in the physical body: "The senses may act, and there may be a seminal discharge."

A more esoteric dream-related phenomenon is travel in the astral, or subtle material, body. Sometimes when I am dreaming and am suddenly awakened, I have the sense of being pulled from some distant place back into my physical body. Was I really out there? I don't know, but Srila Prabhupada once said, "When we dream, our body lies on the bed, but we go somewhere else."

The potential for astral travel exists because the conscious soul is different from the material body. During a dream we may be aware of an astral body. And our waking experience of our material bodies somewhat resembles our experience of the bodies taken on in dreams. Think about it carefully, and you'll see what I mean.

Srila Prabhupada talked about this with Dr. Karlfried Graf von Durckheim, a spiritually oriented German analytic psychologist: "When we dream, we forget the body lying on the bed. We act in different bodies and in different locations. Similarly, during the day we forget our dream bodies in which we traveled to so many places. Perhaps in our dream bodies we flew in the sky. At night we forget our waking body, and in the daytime we forget our dream body. But our conscious self, the soul, still exists, and we remain aware of our existence in both bodies. Therefore we must conclude that we are not any of these bodies. For some time we exist in a certain body, then we forget it. So the body is really only a mental structure, somewhat like a dream, but the self is different from all these mental structures."

So the body and circumstances of my waking state of material consciousness are also like parts of a dream. And my night dreams are then like dreams within dreams.

And to go one step further, this whole universe is said to be a transcendental dream machine. "This material creation," Srila Prabhupada says, "is the spirit soul's dream. When the soul wants to imitate the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he is put into this dreamland of material creation."

Sometimes Krsna enters within the dreamland of maya, illusion, just to encourage us to wake up. In a well-known Bengali song by Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Lord Krsna in His incarnation as Lord Caitanya says, "Wake up, sleeping souls! Wake up, sleeping souls! You have slept so long on the lap of the witch Maya."

Spiritual Dreams

When awakened from material dreams, one may have spiritual dreams, such as dreams of Krsna, dreams of Krsna's incarnations, dreams of Krsna's devotees.

About six hundred years ago, the great devotee Madhavendra Puri traveled alone to the sacred place called Vrndavana, where Krsna had appeared on earth thousands of years before. One night, Krsna appeared to Madhavendra Puri in a dream and revealed that in His form as a Deity He lay buried in a nearby jungle. Upon awakening, Madhavendra Puri and some villagers went to the spot revealed in the dream and uncovered the Deity. Madhavendra Puri installed the Deity on the top of Govardhana Hill and worshiped Him with great opulence and devotion. This is an example of a devotee's receiving instruction from Krsna in a dream.

Another kind of dream about Krsna involves a devotee named Pundarika Vidyanidhi, who lived in the town of Puri at the time of Lord Caitanya. In Puri there is a temple of Jagannatha, the Lord of the Universe. When Pundarika Vidyanidhi noticed some deficiency in the temple worship, he became somewhat angry and critical. In a dream, Lord Jagannatha later expressed His displeasure with Pundarika's attitude by slapping him on the cheek. When Pundarika Vidyanidhi awoke, he found his cheeks actually swollen from the slaps delivered in the dream by Lord Jagannatha.

Dreams may also offer premonitions. Jagannatha Misra and his wife, Saci, were to be the father and mother of Lord Caitanya. Before the Lord's appearance, Jagannatha Misra told Saci, "In a dream I saw the effulgent abode of the Lord enter my heart. From my heart it entered your heart. I therefore understand that a great personality will soon take birth."

Five thousand years ago, when Lord Krsna was present on earth, the city of Mathura was ruled by the impious king Kamsa. Kamsa was destined to be killed by Krsna. In Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Srila Prabhupada wrote about Kamsa: "In dream he saw various kinds of ghosts being carried in a carriage drawn by donkeys. He also dreamed that someone gave him poison and he was drinking it. He dreamed also that he was going naked with a garland of flowers and was smearing oil all over his body." Kamsa understood these images to be signs of his impending violent death.

Another kind of transcendental dream involves seeing at a distance. Usa, the beautiful daughter of the demon Banasura, lived in a well-guarded palace, in which she was kept by her father, away from the eyes of men. One night she dreamed she was enjoying the company of a handsome young man she had never seen before. Suddenly she awoke from her dream and exclaimed in the presence of her girlfriends, who were sleeping nearby, "My dear beloved, where are you?"

To her friend Citralekha, Usa explained, "My dear friend, in my dream I saw a nice young man who is very, very beautiful. His bodily features are so pleasing that any young girl would be attracted. I feel much pride in saying that this beautiful young man was kissing me and I was very much enjoying the nectar of his kissing. But I am sorry to inform you that after this he disappeared, and I have been thrown into the whirlpool of disappointment. My dear friend, I am very anxious to find this wonderful young man, the desired lord of my heart."

Citralekha assisted her by drawing pictures of various persons humans, demigods, and members of the Vrsni dynasty, to which Lord Krsna belonged. One of the pictures made Usa very bashful. Srila Prabhupada writes, "Citralekha was a great mystic yogini, and as soon as Usa identified the picture, although neither of them had ever seen him or known his name, Citralekha could immediately understand that the picture was of Aniruddha, a grandson of Krsna."

Dreaming Of The Spiritual Master

Sometimes pure devotees receive instructions from their spiritual master in dreams. This happened with Srila Prabhupada. For most of his adult life, Srila Prabhupada, born Abhay Charan De, lived with his wife and children. In Vedic culture it is customary for a man to give up his family attachments in later years and enter sannyasa, the renounced order of spiritual life. Srila Prabhupada was reluctant to do this. But in 1944, when Prabhupada was forty-eight years old, his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, appeared to him in a dream, calling him to give up life at home and take sannyasa.

In the biography of Srila Prabhupada, Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami writes, "Abhay awoke in an intensely emotional state. 'How horrible!' he thought. He knew it was not an ordinary dream, yet the request seemed so difficult and unlikely. Take sannyasa! At least it was not something he could do immediately…. He went on with his duties, but remained shaken by the dream."

In 1948, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati again appeared to Srila Prabhupada in a dream and indicated he should take sannyasa. But once more, the time was not yet right.

In 1958, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta appeared to Srila Prabhupada yet again, beckoning him to take sannyasa. Sat-svarupa Dasa Goswami writes, "Abhay awoke in a state of wonder. He thought of this instruction as another feature of the original instruction Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati had given him at their first meeting in Calcutta, the same instruction that his spiritual master had later solidified in a letter: become an English preacher and spread Krsna consciousness throughout the Western world…. Abhay reasoned that his spiritual master was saying, 'Now take sannyasa and you will actually be able to accomplish this mission. Formerly the time was not right.' "

In 1959, Srila Prabhupada did take sannyasa, and in 1965 he set out for America, sailing on the Indian freighter Jaladuta. During the voyage, he went through seasickness and severe chest pains that might have been heart attacks. On the second night of these attacks, Srila Prabhupada had a dream, which Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami describes: "Lord Krsna, in His many forms, was rowing a boat, and He told Srila Prabhupada that he should not fear, but should come along. Prabhupada felt assured of Lord Krsna's protection, and the violent attacks did not recur."

Many times Srila Prabhupada's disciples would, and still do, dream of him. In 1970 Srila Prabhupada wrote this interesting line in a letter to his disciple Sudama, who was trying to start a temple in Tokyo: "Actually, I was thinking of you from London, and by the grace of Krsna my anxiety was televisioned to you in your dream."

I too have had rare dreams of Srila Prabhupada, as well as dreams of temple Deities and of ISKCON devotees. I have not received any instructions I can recognize in these dreams. But I do regard them as auspicious transcendental signs.

Where does all this leave me? I consider myself still somewhat caught up in the dream of material life. But I am waking up. I have not completely awakened to my original spiritual identity, but I think I someday will. Srila Prabhupada often said that we wake up from the dream of material life by the power of transcendental sound the Hare Krsna mantra and the words of the Vedic literature which may be compared to a transcendental alarm clock. Well, I can hear the alarm clock. I can sense that I should be waking up, and I have some idea of what it is I should be waking to, but my mind is still clinging steadfastly to the remnants of my dream of material life. My real dream, though, is to someday place my mind completely at the lotus feet of Krsna.

In his waking life, Drutakarma Dasa is an associate editor of Back to Godhead and is co-author of the book Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race, recently published by the Bhaktivedanta Institute.