The Shepherd's Dream, from 'Paradise Lost'; Henry Fuseli © Tate
The Shepherd's Dream, from 'Paradise Lost'; Henry Fuseli © Tate

Dreams Old and New II

< Articles by Urgyen Sangharakshita
Adhisthana Writings

Dreams Old and New II

Dreams Old and New II

I’ve always loved second-hand bookshops, and some of the happiest hours of my life have been spent in them, whether looking for a particular book or simply browsing. It is not surprising, therefore, that there should be bookshops in the world of my dreams or that I should visit them. As in actual life, they were usually situated down obscure side streets and more often than not consisted of no more than a single room crammed with books. There would also be an elderly, overalled proprietor, whom in the course of my visits I would get to know. During the last few years I have dreamed of huge leather-bound volumes as well as of daintily produced volumes of more recent date. On waking up in the morning, I have sometimes even remembered the titles of books bought in my dreams. There was one dream in which I bought so many books that I had to ask friends to help carry them home. Besides bookshops, there were also teashops in my dreams, where I sometimes had a cup of tea and a piece of cake. These dreams were more frequent during the years I was having acupuncture, first twice a week and eventually once a month. I had dreams of children and small animals, especially white kittens, which my acupuncturist took to mean that I was getting better. There was also a big, angry, black bull and I had to run fast to shut the gate and prevent him from getting out.

The American Indians are said to distinguish between ‘big dreams’ and ‘little dreams’, and perhaps my bookshop and teashop dreams were of the latter kind. There were also dreams, especially after I moved from Madhyamaloka to Adhisthana, which could be considered as being more like ‘big dreams’. These began with a series in which I lived in dark, gloomy, caves, sometimes on my own and sometimes with others, the others being either Tibetan monks, or yogis, or even yellow-clad bhikkhus. Once or twice I was myself a bhikkhu, living with other bhikkhus in India or Thailand. In these dreams I had friends among the bhikkhus, though they were all dream friends, some of whom I had known for a long time, and not any of the bhikkhu friends I had known in actual life. Alternating with these dreams there were dreams of an initiatory nature. What I was being initiated into I do not know but the atmosphere of the place was solemn, mysterious. And in one dream the initiation was also an ordination. I very much wanted this ordination and I received it thanks to the intervention of someone I knew, who approached the giver of the initiation on my behalf. At one point the latter was standing beside me and squeezed my arm as a sign that he would be giving me the initiation, whereupon I burst into tears. In actual life I am unable to shed tears whether of joy or sorrow, as my current medication makes me feel ‘detached’, as my GP warned me it could do. It was a relief to know that the medication did not operate in the world of my dreams.

Not all my dreams at this period were of a religious or spiritual nature. Some were very mundane, not to say worldly, and in at least two of them I was myself being quite worldly. In such dreams I was in my late teens or early twenties, and in one of them I had come to know an extremely rich man, probably an American. This man, who was about the same age as my father, gave me a million pounds, (or was it a million dollars?), at the same time telling me that if within three years I could double the amount by my own efforts he would take me into partnership in his business. I did not succeed in doubling the amount, so was not taken into partnership; but I did not mind this, as I was having other interesting dream experiences. In one dream I was exploring the extent of a vast American university, in another I was buying a new suit, while in another I was travelling about in space on some business of my own. The craft in which I travelled was white, and I was surrounded by the same blue sky as in other dreams. Sometimes I experienced a sense of expansion, of unknown possibilities, and even of freedom from cares.

The London of the seventeenth century was not the London I knew. In several dreams I looked at it from above. It was busy and bustling and more like an anthill than a truly human habitation. At times I looked down, not at the city itself but at a great map in which every single building and every single person was distinctly depicted. In later dreams this London was overwhelmed by tribes coming from the north, and there seemed to be a pattern. People of various kinds moved not only from north to south but also from south to north, the latter being more widespread and more diverse. I saw little bands from Nepal moving up into Tibet as well as individuals making their solitary way from south to north in a variety of geographical contexts. Sometimes there would be fighting between individuals as well as between groups, and this would sometimes take place on the upper slopes of the great mountain that was often the focus of my dreams. In dreams of this kind there was darkness rather than light and the sense of everything human being at an early stage of development.

In some dreams I visited places of which I had dreamed before so that it seemed that the place possessed a kind of existence in the dream world. Such was the hill with which I became very familiar. It was covered with trees and bushes and there was a deserted stone cottage from which I had a view down the hillside, as well as having a glimpse of white houses below. With the stone cottage as my base, I wandered about on my own. The ground was very uneven, and I had to be careful where I trod. Only rarely did I meet anybody. Once it was an old woman gathering sticks, while on another occasion it was a young French couple, tourists, who had lost their way and whom I directed to the nearest road.

Though there were places which I have visited more than once in my dreams there was at least one place which I visited only once and which had, moreover, a unique conclusion. This place was a tract of English woodland far from any habitation. It was not only quiet and peaceful but had an atmosphere that could only be described as spiritual. As I wandered about I became aware that I was not alone for there were arahants living in the woodland, and though I could not see them I could feel their presence. I do not know how long I wandered there whether for hours or days and whether as reckoned by earth time or dream time, but suddenly there was a great change. The dream woodland vanished and was replaced by a memory that had been submerged for decades.

When I was seven my father took me to see a work friend called Arthur Govey. He lived in Morden at the southernmost end of the Northern Line and on leaving the Tube I noticed that the houses were all newly built. Arthur lived in one of these with his wife Elise and son Roy, a boy of my own age, but all I remember of the visit was that the house had a billiard table and that Arthur and my father spent the evening playing billiards. It was not long before our two families were meeting on Wimbledon Common on Sundays. We had a favourite spot and while our elders talked, Roy and I would wander off into a stretch of woodland, where the trees made a pleasant shade and where the green ferns grew breast high. Roy and I made a clearing in the ferns which we regarded as our headquarters, and we investigated the rotted underside of a great log where there was to be seen tiny snails of various colours. When my dream of a tract of English woodland ended, it was the memory of the time I had spent with Roy that succeeded it. I had not thought of Arthur Govey for years nor of Roy nor of the part of Wimbledon Common in which Roy and I wandered more than eighty years ago. Now I remembered them clearly, the memory having been nudged into existence by my dream of that tract of English countryside where arahants dwelt.

I’ve always loved second-hand bookshops, and some of the happiest hours of my life have been spent in them, whether looking for a particular book or simply browsing. It is not surprising, therefore, that there should be bookshops in the world of my dreams or that I should visit them. As in actual life, they were usually situated down obscure side streets and more often than not consisted of no more than a single room crammed with books. There would also be an elderly, overalled proprietor, whom in the course of my visits I would get to know. During the last few years I have dreamed of huge leather-bound volumes as well as of daintily produced volumes of more recent date. On waking up in the morning, I have sometimes even remembered the titles of books bought in my dreams. There was one dream in which I bought so many books that I had to ask friends to help carry them home. Besides bookshops, there were also teashops in my dreams, where I sometimes had a cup of tea and a piece of cake. These dreams were more frequent during the years I was having acupuncture, first twice a week and eventually once a month. I had dreams of children and small animals, especially white kittens, which my acupuncturist took to mean that I was getting better. There was also a big, angry, black bull and I had to run fast to shut the gate and prevent him from getting out.

The American Indians are said to distinguish between ‘big dreams’ and ‘little dreams’, and perhaps my bookshop and teashop dreams were of the latter kind. There were also dreams, especially after I moved from Madhyamaloka to Adhisthana, which could be considered as being more like ‘big dreams’. These began with a series in which I lived in dark, gloomy, caves, sometimes on my own and sometimes with others, the others being either Tibetan monks, or yogis, or even yellow-clad bhikkhus. Once or twice I was myself a bhikkhu, living with other bhikkhus in India or Thailand. In these dreams I had friends among the bhikkhus, though they were all dream friends, some of whom I had known for a long time, and not any of the bhikkhu friends I had known in actual life. Alternating with these dreams there were dreams of an initiatory nature. What I was being initiated into I do not know but the atmosphere of the place was solemn, mysterious. And in one dream the initiation was also an ordination. I very much wanted this ordination and I received it thanks to the intervention of someone I knew, who approached the giver of the initiation on my behalf. At one point the latter was standing beside me and squeezed my arm as a sign that he would be giving me the initiation, whereupon I burst into tears. In actual life I am unable to shed tears whether of joy or sorrow, as my current medication makes me feel ‘detached’, as my GP warned me it could do. It was a relief to know that the medication did not operate in the world of my dreams.

Not all my dreams at this period were of a religious or spiritual nature. Some were very mundane, not to say worldly, and in at least two of them I was myself being quite worldly. In such dreams I was in my late teens or early twenties, and in one of them I had come to know an extremely rich man, probably an American. This man, who was about the same age as my father, gave me a million pounds, (or was it a million dollars?), at the same time telling me that if within three years I could double the amount by my own efforts he would take me into partnership in his business. I did not succeed in doubling the amount, so was not taken into partnership; but I did not mind this, as I was having other interesting dream experiences. In one dream I was exploring the extent of a vast American university, in another I was buying a new suit, while in another I was travelling about in space on some business of my own. The craft in which I travelled was white, and I was surrounded by the same blue sky as in other dreams. Sometimes I experienced a sense of expansion, of unknown possibilities, and even of freedom from cares.

The London of the seventeenth century was not the London I knew. In several dreams I looked at it from above. It was busy and bustling and more like an anthill than a truly human habitation. At times I looked down, not at the city itself but at a great map in which every single building and every single person was distinctly depicted. In later dreams this London was overwhelmed by tribes coming from the north, and there seemed to be a pattern. People of various kinds moved not only from north to south but also from south to north, the latter being more widespread and more diverse. I saw little bands from Nepal moving up into Tibet as well as individuals making their solitary way from south to north in a variety of geographical contexts. Sometimes there would be fighting between individuals as well as between groups, and this would sometimes take place on the upper slopes of the great mountain that was often the focus of my dreams. In dreams of this kind there was darkness rather than light and the sense of everything human being at an early stage of development.

In some dreams I visited places of which I had dreamed before so that it seemed that the place possessed a kind of existence in the dream world. Such was the hill with which I became very familiar. It was covered with trees and bushes and there was a deserted stone cottage from which I had a view down the hillside, as well as having a glimpse of white houses below. With the stone cottage as my base, I wandered about on my own. The ground was very uneven, and I had to be careful where I trod. Only rarely did I meet anybody. Once it was an old woman gathering sticks, while on another occasion it was a young French couple, tourists, who had lost their way and whom I directed to the nearest road.

Though there were places which I have visited more than once in my dreams there was at least one place which I visited only once and which had, moreover, a unique conclusion. This place was a tract of English woodland far from any habitation. It was not only quiet and peaceful but had an atmosphere that could only be described as spiritual. As I wandered about I became aware that I was not alone for there were arahants living in the woodland, and though I could not see them I could feel their presence. I do not know how long I wandered there whether for hours or days and whether as reckoned by earth time or dream time, but suddenly there was a great change. The dream woodland vanished and was replaced by a memory that had been submerged for decades.

When I was seven my father took me to see a work friend called Arthur Govey. He lived in Morden at the southernmost end of the Northern Line and on leaving the Tube I noticed that the houses were all newly built. Arthur lived in one of these with his wife Elise and son Roy, a boy of my own age, but all I remember of the visit was that the house had a billiard table and that Arthur and my father spent the evening playing billiards. It was not long before our two families were meeting on Wimbledon Common on Sundays. We had a favourite spot and while our elders talked, Roy and I would wander off into a stretch of woodland, where the trees made a pleasant shade and where the green ferns grew breast high. Roy and I made a clearing in the ferns which we regarded as our headquarters, and we investigated the rotted underside of a great log where there was to be seen tiny snails of various colours. When my dream of a tract of English woodland ended, it was the memory of the time I had spent with Roy that succeeded it. I had not thought of Arthur Govey for years nor of Roy nor of the part of Wimbledon Common in which Roy and I wandered more than eighty years ago. Now I remembered them clearly, the memory having been nudged into existence by my dream of that tract of English countryside where arahants dwelt.