Dreams: What They Are and How They Are Caused

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Dreams: What They Are and How They Are Caused (1898) by C.W. Leadbeater is a treatise on dreams, from a theosophical perspective.

As I am writing in the main for students of theosophy, I shall feel myself at liberty to use, without detailed explanation, the ordinary theosophical terms... Should it...fall into the hands of any to whom the occasional use of such terms constitutes a difficulty, I can only apologize to them, and refer them for these preliminary explanations to any elementary theosophical work, such as Mrs Besant's "The Ancient Wisdom"


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  • The most convenient method in which we can arrange the various branches of our subject will perhaps be the following: first, to consider rather carefully the mechanism — physical, etheric and astral — by means of which impressions are conveyed to our consciousness; secondly, to see how the consciousness in its turn affects and uses this mechanism; thirdly, to note the condition both of the consciousness and its mechanism during sleep; and fourthly, to enquire how the various kinds of dreams which men experience are thereby produced. Chapter 1: Introductory
  • As I am writing in the main for students of theosophy, I shall feel myself at liberty to use, without detailed explanation, the ordinary theosophical terms, with which I may safely assume them to be familiar, since otherwise my little book would far exceed its allotted limits. Should it, however, fall into the hands of any to whom the occasional use of such terms constitutes a difficulty, I can only apologize to them, and refer them for these preliminary explanations to any elementary theosophical work, such as Mrs Besant's "The Ancient Wisdom", or "Man and his Bodies". Ch 1: Intro
  • Physical. First, then, as to the physical part of the mechanism. We have in our bodies a great central axis of nervous matter, ending in the brain, and from this a network of nerve-threads radiates in every direction through the body. It is these nerve-threads, according to modern scientific theory, which by their vibrations convey all impressions from without to the brain, and the latter, upon receipts of these impressions, translates them into sensations or perceptions; so that if I put my hand upon some object and find it to be hot, it is really not my hand that feels, but my brain, which is acting upon information transmitted to it by the vibrations running along its telegraph wires, the nerve-threads. Chapter 2: The Mechanism
  • Etheric. It is not alone through the brain to which we have hitherto been referring, however, that impressions may be received by the man. Almost exactly co-extensive with and interpenetrating its visible form is his etheric double (formerly called in theosophical literature the linga sharira), and that also has a brain which is really no less physical than the other, though composed of matter in a condition finer than the gaseous. Ch 2
  • Astral. Still another mechanism that we have to take into account is the astral body, often called the desire-body. As its name implies, this vehicle is composed exclusively of astral matter, and is, in fact, the expression of the man on the astral plane, just as his physical body is the expression of him on the lower levels of the physical plane. Ch 2
  • All these different portions of the mechanism are in reality merely instruments of the ego [higher self/soul], though his control of them is as yet often very imperfect; for it must always be remembered that the ego is himself a developing entity, and that in the case of most of us he is scarcely more than a germ of what he is to be one day. Chapter 3: The Ego
  • A stanza in the Book of Dzyan tells us: 'Those who received but a spark remained destitute of knowledge: the spark burned low'; and Madame Blavatsky explains that 'those who receive but a spark constitute the average humanity which have to acquire their intellectuality during the present manvantaric evolution'. ( The Secret Doctrine, ii, 167, 1979 ed.). In the case of most of them that spark is still smouldering, and it will be many an age before its slow increase brings it to the stage of steady and brilliant flame. Ch 3: The Ego
  • Clairvoyant observation bears abundant testimony to the fact that when a man falls into a deep slumber the higher principles in their astral vehicle almost invariably withdraw from the body and hover in its immediate neighbourhood. Indeed, it is the process of this withdrawal which we commonly call 'going to sleep'. Chapter 4: The Condition of Sleep
  • I do not wish here to discuss the question, intensely interesting though it be, as to whether time can be said really to exist, or whether it is but a limitation of this lower consciousness, and all that we call time — past, present and future alike — is 'but one eternal Now'; I wish only to show that when the ego is freed from physical trammels, either during sleep, trance or death, he appears to employ some transcendental measure of time which has nothing in common with our ordinary physiological one. A hundred stories might be told to prove this fact... Ch 4
  • It seems that in the Koran there is a wonderful narrative concerning a visit paid one morning by the prophet Mohammed to heaven, during which he saw many different regions there, had them all very fully explained to him, and also had numerous lengthy conferences with various angels; yet when he returned to his body, the bed from which he had risen was still warm, and he found that but a few seconds had passed — in fact, I believe the water had not yet all run out from a jug which he had accidentally overturned as he started on the expedition! Ch 4
  • The teacher... and credited with miraculous powers, undertook to prove... to the doubting monarch that the story was, at any rate, not impossible. He had... the sultan just to dip his head into the water and... and to his intense surprise found himself at once in a place entirely unknown to him — on a lonely shore, near the foot of a great mountain... time passed on; he began to get hungry... After wandering about for some time, he found some men at work felling trees in a wood, and applied to them for assistance. They... eventually took him with them to the town where they lived. Here he resided and worked for some years, gradually amassing money, and at length contrived to marry a rich wife... he spent many happy years... bringing up a family of no less than fourteen children... One day, walking by the sea-side, he... plunged into the sea for a bath; and as he raised his head and shook the water from his eyes, he was astounded to find himself standing among his old courtiers, with his teacher of long ago at his side, and a basin of water before him. It was long... before he could be brought to believe that all those years of incident and adventure had been nothing but one moment's dream, caused by the hypnotic suggestion of his teacher, and that really he had done nothing but dip his head quickly into the basin of water... Chapter 4
  • The Prophetic Dream... Often the prophecy is evidently intended as a warning, and instances are not wanting in which that warning has been taken, and so the dreamer has been saved from injury or death. In most cases the hint is neglected, or its true signification not understood until the fulfillment comes. In others an attempt is made to act upon the suggestion, but nevertheless circumstances over which the dreamer has no control bring him in spite of himself into the position foretold. Stories of such prophetic dreams are so common that the reader may easily find some in almost any of the books on such subjects. Chapter 5: Dreams
  • The Confused Dream... by far the commonest of all, may be caused... in various ways. It may be simply a more or less perfect recollection of a series of the disconnected pictures and impossible transformations produced by the senseless automatic action of the lower physical brain; it may be a reproduction of the stream of casual thought which has been pouring through the etheric part of the brain; if sensual images of any kind enter into it, it is due to the ever-restless tide of earthly desire, probably stimulated by some unholy influence of the astral world; it may be due to an imperfect attempt at dramatization on the part of an undeveloped ego; or it may be (and most often is) due to an inextricable mingling of several or all of these influences. Ch 5
Another point very strongly brought out in our further investigations is the immense importance of the last thought in a man's mind as he sinks to sleep... it affects them physically, mentally, and morally
  • The first experiment tried was with an average man of small education and rough exterior — a man of the Australian shepherd type — whose astral form, as seen floating above his body, was externally little more than a shapeless wreath of mist. It was found that the consciousness of the body on the bed was dull and heavy, both as regards the grosser and the etheric parts of the frame. The former responded to some extent to external stimuli — for example, the sprinkling of two or three drops of water on the face called up in the brain (though somewhat tardily) a picture of a heavy shower of rain; while the etheric part of the brain was as usual a passive channel for an endless stream of disconnected thoughts, it rarely responded to any of the vibrations they produced, and even when it did it seemed somewhat sluggish in its action. Chapter 6 - Experiments on the Dream-State
  • Surely these experiments show very clearly how the remembrance of our dreams becomes so chaotic and inconsequent as it frequently is. Incidentally they also explain why some people — in whom the ego is undeveloped and earthly desires of various kinds are strong — never dream at all, and why many others are only now and then, under a collocation of favourable circumstances, able to bring back a confused memory of nocturnal adventure; and we see, further, from them that if a man wishes to reap in his waking consciousness the benefit of what his ego [higher self/soul] may learn during sleep, it is absolutely necessary for him to acquire control over his thoughts, to subdue all lower passions, and to attune his mind to higher things. Chapter 7 Conclusion
  • Another point very strongly brought out in our further investigations is the immense importance of the last thought in a man's mind as he sinks to sleep. This is a consideration which never occurs to the vast majority of people at all, yet it affects them physically, mentally, and morally. Ch 7 Conclusion
  • All earnest Theosophists should therefore make a special point of raising their thoughts to the loftiest level of which they are capable before allowing themselves to sink into slumber. For remember, through what seem at first but the portals of dream, entrance may perchance presently be gained into those grander realms where alone true vision is possible. Ch 7 Conclusion
  • If one guides his soul persistently upward, its inner senses will at last begin to unfold; the light within the shrine will burn brighter and brighter, until at last the full continuous consciousness comes, and then he will dream no more. To lie down to sleep will no longer mean for him to sink into oblivion, but simply to step forth radiant, rejoicing, strong, into that fuller, nobler life where fatigue can never come — where the soul is always learning, even though all his time be spent in service; for the service is that of the great Masters of Wisdom, and the glorious task They set before him is to help ever to the fullest limit of his power in Their never-ceasing work for the aiding and the guidance of the evolution of humanity. Ch 7 Conclusion

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