Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 940,961 words

This page describes “a dream (svapna)” as written by Nagarjuna in his Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (lit. “the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) in the 2nd century. This book, written in five volumes, represents an encyclopedia on Buddhism as well as a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita.

Seventh comparison or upamāna: A dream (svapna)

[103c] There is no reality in a dream but nevertheless we believe in the reality of the things seen in a dream. After waking up, we recognize the falsity of the dream and we smile at ourselves. In the same way, the person deep in the sleep of the fetters (saṃyojananidra) clings (abhiniviśate) to the things that do not exist; but when he has found the Path, at the moment of enlightenment, he understands that there is no reality and laughs at himself. This is why it is said: like in a dream.

Moreover, by the power of sleep (nidrābala), the dreamer sees something there where there is nothing. In the same way, by the power of the sleep of ignorance (avidyānidrā), a person believes in the existence of all kinds of things that do not exist, e.g., ‘me’ and ‘mine’ (ātmātmīya), male and female, etc.

Moreover, in a dream, we enjoy ourselves although there is nothing enjoyable there; we are irritated although there is nothing irritating there; we are frightened although there is nothing to be afraid of there. In the same way, beings of the threefold world (traidhātukasattva), in the sleep of ignorance, are irritated although there is nothing irritating, enjoy themselves although there is nothing enjoyable, and frightened although there is nothing to be afraid of.

Finally, there are five types of dreams: i) In the case of physical unbalance (kāyavaiṣamya), when the hot vapors predominate, one dreams a lot, one sees fire (tejas), yellow (pīta) and red (lohita) ; ii) when the cold vapors predominate, one sees especially water (ap-) and white (avadāta); iii) when the windy vapors predominate, one sees particularly flights [of birds] and black (kṛṣṇa); iv) when one has thought a lot [during the day] and reflected well on what one has seen and heard (dṛṣṭaśruta), one sees all of that again in dream; v) finally, the gods send dreams to teach about future events. These five types of dreams are all without reality; they are false visions. – It is the same for people [who are awake]: beings who are in the five destinies (gati) see the ātman in four ways because of their material visions:

i) the form aggregate (rūpaskandha) is the ātman; ii) form (rūpa) belongs to the self, to the ‘me’ (ātmīya); iii) in the ātman, there is rūpa. iv) in rūpa, there is ātman.

What they say here about rūpa they also apply to feeling (vedanā), perception (saṃjñā), the formations (saṃskāra) and consciousness (vijñāna): this makes 4 x 5 = 20 ways [of considering ātman]. But when they have found the Path and true wisdom has awakened them, they know that [this so-called ātman] has no reality.

Question. – You should not say that the dream has no reality. Why? Because every mind depends on causes and conditions (hetupratyaya) in order to be produced and, in the dream, consciousness (vijñāna) has all sorts of conditions (pratyaya). Without these conditions, how could consciousness arise?

Answer. – It’s nothing of the sort: in dream, we see something although we should not see it. We see, for example, a human head (manuṣyaśiras) with horns (viṣāṇa) or dead bodies flying through space (ākāśa). Actually, people do not have horns and dead bodies do not fly. Thus the dream has no reality.

Question. – But human heads really exist and in addition, horns also exist; it is by a mental confusion (cittamoha) that we see a human head with horns. There really is space (ākāśa) and there really are beings that fly; it is by mental confusion that we see dead bodies that fly. It is not on account of that that the dream has no reality.

Answer. – Even though there are truly human heads and even though there are truly horns, a human head with horns is nothing but a false vision.

Question. – The universe (lokadhātu) is vast and, in the course of previous lifetimes (pūrvajanma), the causes and conditions [that determine these consciousnesses] have been varied. There may be strange lands (deśāntara) where the heads of people grow horns, where the people have but one hand or one foot, or where they are but one foot tall, or where they have nine heads. What is strange about humans having horns?

Answer. – It is possible that in other lands people may have horns; but in a dream, one sees only what one knows in this very land where ‘people with horns’ do not occur.

Moreover, some see in dreams the limits of space (ākāśa) or the limits of the directions (diś) [104a] and of time (kāla). How are such things true? In what place could space, directions and time be absent? This is why in a dream we see as existent things that do not exist.

You were asking how consciousness could be produced in the absence of conditions (pratyaya). Even though the conditions [consisting of] the five sense objects were lacking, the conditions [necessary for the production] of dharmas (dharmapratyaya) arise by the efficacy (balapravṛtti) of thinking (manasikāra) and of the mind. If somebody tells you about a man with two heads, this statement would produce [in you] a concept (saṃjñā) and, in a dream, you will see as existent that which does not exist. It is the same for the dharmas: they are non-existent and nevertheless they are seen (dṛṣṭa), heard (śruta) and cognized (vijñāta). A stanza says:

All dharmas
Are like
A dream, a magic show
A city of the gandharvas.

This is why the bodhisattvas believe that dharmas are like a dream.