Dream and Waking Experience

by Sadhu Arunachala

“We are such stuff
As dreams are made on
And our little life
Is rounded by a sleep.”

Sadhu ArunachalaShakespeare really did know what he was talking about and it was not just poetic effervescence. Maharshi used to say exactly the same. Though I questioned Bhagavan more often on this subject than any other, some doubts always remained for me. He had always warned that as soon as one doubt is cleared another will spring up in its place, and there is no end to doubts.

“But Bhagavan,” I would repeat, “dreams are disconnected, while the waking experience goes on from where it left off and is admitted by all to be more or less continuous.”

“Do you say this in your dreams?” Bhagavan would ask. “They seemed perfectly consistent and real to you then. It is only now, in your waking state that you question the reality of the experience. This is not logical.”

Bhagavan refused to see the least difference between the two states, and in this he agreed with all the great Advaitic Seers. Some have questioned if Shankara did not draw a line of difference between these two states, but Bhagavan has persistently denied it. Shankara did it apparently only for the purpose of clearer exposition, he would explain.

However I tried to twist my questions, the answer I received was always the same: “Put your doubts when in the dream state itself. You do not question the waking state when you are awake, you accept it in the same way you accept your dreams. Go beyond both all three states, including deep sleep, and study them from that point of view. You now study one limitation from the point of view of another limitation. Could anything be more absurd? Go beyond all limitation, then come here with the problem.”

But in spite of this, doubt still remained. I somehow felt at the time of dreaming there was something unreal in it, not always of course, but just glimpses now and then.

“Doesn’t that ever happen to you in your waking state too?” Bhagavan queried. “Don’t you sometimes feel that the world you live in and the thing that is happening is unreal?”

Still in spite of all this, doubt persisted.

But one morning I went to Bhagavan and, much to his amusement, handed him a paper on which the following was written:

Bhagavan remembers that I expressed some doubts about the resemblance between dreams and waking experience. Early in the morning most of these doubts were cleared by the following dream, which seemed particularly objective and real:

I was arguing philosophy with someone and pointed out that all experience was only subjective, that there was nothing outside the mind. The other person demurred, pointing out how solid everything was and how real experience seemed, and it could not be just personal imagination.

I replied, “No, it is nothing but a dream. Dream and waking experience are exactly the same.”

‘’You say that now,” he replied, “but you would never say a thing like that in your dream.”

And then I woke up.

– – – – – – –

Major A.W. Chadwick O.B.E. (1890-1962) served in the British and was stationed in South America. After getting captivated by Brunton’s book A Search in Secret India, he resigned his post, came to Sri Ramanasramam in November 1935, and remained there for the rest of his life. He became “Sadhu Arunachala” and is buried on the Ashram grounds. Chadwick rendered into English all the original works of Sri Ramana, which were perused by the Maharshi himself. He also authored A Sadhu’s Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi (1961).