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The Dream of the SleeperDream Interpretation and Meaning in SufismRefik Alganintroduction by Kabir Helminski
When Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said, "Humanbeings are asleep, and when they die they will awaken," it was not just apoetic reminder but objective fact. His further advice, "Die before youdie," suggests the possibility of awakening from the subjective dreamsof this life and entering the state we will know as death while we are stillalive.In one sense, the process of spiritual realization is the progress fromsubjectivity to objectivity. This progress is reflected in the quality of our
dreams when they are consciously observed: gradually they changefrom confused, personal, subjective imagery to objective and meaningfulsymbology, to states revealing the structure of the nervous system, andsometimes to clear communication with sources of knowledge.Refik says that the nature of our dreams changes when we have comeinto contact with an authentic source of spiritual transformation. Itdeserves to be clearly understood that the initiatic lines of Sufism carrythe energy of an enlightened state of mind from their source inMuhammad. This state of mind is the natural (not supernatural) humanstate in which our intelligence (which is the intelligence lent us by Allah)is not veiled from us by desires, obsessions, or other forms of negative
conditioning. One who has previously experience this "opening" canguide others toward this state and verify their attainment of it. WhatRefik means by a "licensed" teacher is not merely one who has the titleof teacher or shaikh (because this title can also be given to one whomerely serves a managerial capacity), but an enlightened authoritywithin this chain of transmission.It is said that when the seeker is ready, a teacher will be available. Afriend of mine in central Turkey had a mother who was the leader of awomen's Sufi circle. I asked him how his mother had come to thissituation. He related the following story:"One day a man we did not know knocked at our door and asked for mymother. He told her that his shaikh, who lived several hundredkilometers away, wanted her to take responsibility for a group of womenin our city. My mother had never heard of this shaikh, nor did she haveany experience of Sufism, having been up to that point only an ordinaryfollower of the faith. She wanted to know who this shaikh was and howshe would be able to assume this great responsibility, especially sinceshe knew so little about the Sufi way. She was told to trust, and
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the shaikh would educate her heart, and furthermore any questions shehad would be answered in her dreams."This was when I first began to suspect that certain Sufis had masteredthe dream realm in remarkable ways.It is contact with such an opened or transformed "mature one" that
allows the purification process to proceed on the subconscious level.While the seeker has a conscious part to play in this process -- in doingcertain practices, in striving toward sincerity and the purification of self-- it is the energy of the teacher and the lineage that does the majorityof the work, and this occurs even beyond the seeker's awareness.
The Dream of the Sleeper
Joseph said to his father: "Father, I dreamt that eleven stars and the sunand the moon were prostrating themselves before us.""My son," he replied, "say nothing of this dream to your brothers, lestthey should plot evil against you; Satan is the sworn enemy of man. You
shall be chosen by your Lord. He will teach you the interpretation ofevents and will perfect His favor to you and to the house of Jacob, as Heperfected it to your forefathers Abraham and Isaac before you. Your Lordis All-Knowing and Wise."Surely in the tale of Joseph and his brothers there are signs for inquiringmen.Holy Qur'an 12:4-7
Although dreams and their interpretations are not the primary focus ofSufism, they are still of vital importance. It is generally accepted that theprophets of the Old and New Testaments and the Holy Qur'an all
completed the path with the help of dreams. The Prophet Muhammad,peace and blessings be upon him, taught a method by which certaininformation can be received through dreams. He always recommendedthis method as an aid to making important decisions in life.Before we start talking about dreams, we have to remind ourselves thateach traditional teaching has its own policies, etiquette, principles,puzzles and style of sharing knowledge. Muhammad also advised thatone speak to others according to their capacity. Therefore what and howmuch can be spoken of, the quantity and the quality of informationconveyed through words, is limited. And these words can only be smallhints of direct experiences of one's own in the future.
Everyone dreams, either frequently or rarely, and we are all familiar withthe concept of a dream. But serious seekers have learned that what Sufiteachers mean by "dreams" is broader and more flexible than what weunderstand as dreams in the everyday sense. Under the category ofdreams are included a complex network of experiences and variouslevels of dreamlike states. For this reason, according to Sufism, the helpof someone who has passed through all these states and levels isabsolutely necessary for the teaching and purification process.
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One could say that coming to understand dreams and theirinterpretation is a dynamic process that parallels the seeker's progressin general. So a certain kind of development is required of the seeker ashe or she proceeds, and this involves a positive feedback mechanismwith a mature guide until a certain stage is reached. At every stage, the
dreams of the seeker change their symbols, color, brightness andintensity. At every stage the seeker understands something different bythe word "dream." This transformation has to be experienced andunderstood directly by the seeker, and his or her understanding has tobe verified by the guide. The seeker has to discover his own way andverify its validity with the help of the teacher.In Sufism, a mature teacher provides a stimulus that may come in manyforms, conscious and unconscious, intellectual, emotional, psychic, andspiritual. From these stimuli something is expected to grow in theseeker, pass through certain stages, and bear its fruits. Greatmisunderstandings and loss of one's way are almost inevitable if one
tries to interpret the dream alone or from a book, or with someone whois not licensed within the teaching.Classical Sufi teachers have classified dreams according to their origins:they may come from the ego, worldly influences, angels, dark forces,and so on. Other classifications proceed according to the developmentallevels of the self (the seven stages between the compulsive self and theenlightened self), or according to symbols, dominating colors, andbrightness. But such classifications refer to the stage of the seeker aftermeeting the teacher. It is generally accepted that until one reaches atrue teacher, a person's dreams are mostly related to the samedimension of the psyche that conventional psychology deals with. But
after meeting the teacher and receiving the first exercises, thecharacteristics of one's dreams start changing. This is due to the energyradiated by the teacher and the exercise he has given. Besides theseexercises, certain precautions are also necessary for remembering thedreams after one wake up, or even for being aware of dreams duringsleep.So one may say that dreams that show up in the beginning are mostlyindicators of the receptivity of the unconscious of the seeker, and theyreveal the stage of the purification process. These signs are specific toeach teaching method. This is very important to know because the samesymbols and signs may have totally different meanings in an Eastern
religion, in a different order, or even among different teachers of thesame order.This brings us face to face with a different question: Are all dreamsystems relativistic, or can there be a sing, absolute dream system inwhich no symbolism is presumed? One of the main characteristics of anoperating dream system, even if it be mostly relativistic, is itsaccordance with the function and structure of the brain itself. Therefore,even a relativistic dream system (such as that of a particular Sufi order)
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sooner or later has to pass from relativistic imagery to certain points ofcontact with the objective world, and finally one has to end at anabsolute destination which is the brain's naked structure itself, i.e., the"hardware." At a certain stage dreams will begin to reflect certainobjective features of the nervous system. As the Turkish poet Yunus
Emre said, "We found it all in the body."These points of contact with the objective world are closely related tothe problems of objectivity, free will, and predestination, all of whichdeserve a deeper investigation at another time. On the other hand,although there may be an absolute dream system beyond relativisticapproaches, the seeker's own previous psychological structuretranslates this into his or her own relativistic system, and this goes onuntil the absolute and objective features begin to dominate.Although dreams are not the only criteria, the frequency of theappearance of absolute themes (i.e., those relating to the divine) withinthe seeker's dreams indicates his or her closeness to the objective
world. Here is where the interval between the subjective and objectivebegins to diminish. At last, being freed from relativistic and personaldreams, the brain can see the outside world as it is. Then the inside andoutside have become one and there is no veil of ignorance betweenthem. From then on, as it has been traditionally expressed, "the mirrorhas been polished" or cleaned of dreams. In modern terms, one hasreached objective consciousness. This is the state where the outside isreflected onto the inside without distortion.
Do dreams come to an end here? Is there also a symbolism, perhapseven an absolute one, for the objective world? Mevlna Jalluddn Rumi,
the great Sufi teacher, says:When it is said, "the vision He granted to His messenger," now thisvision is the dreams of lovers and true men of God, and theinterpretation of that vision is revealed in the other world. When you seein a dream that you are riding a horse, you will gain your goal; yet whatconnection has the horse with the goal? If you dream you have beengiven coins of good currency, the meaning is that you will hear true andwise words spoken by a learned man; in what respect does a coinresemble a word? If you dream that you have been hanged on thegallows, you will become the leader of a people; how do the gallowsresemble a position of leadership? So it is that the affairs of the world
are a dream. "This world is the dream of a sleeper;" their interpretationin the other world will be quite different, not resembling this. That will beinterpreted by a Divine Interpreter, for to Him all things are revealed.On the one hand, the outward world and its events may be grosslydistorted by our subjectivity. As we undergo the process of clearing themirror of the heart, we move from subjectivity to objectivity. We freeourselves from the gross distortions of our egoism. Eventually we maybegin to approach the seeing of that Divine Interpreter to whom the real
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meaning of all things is clear. Rumi continues:Similarly a gardener entering the orchard looks at the trees. Withoutseeing the fruit on the branches, he judges this tree to be a date, that afig, that a pomegranate, that a pear, that an apple. Since the true manof God knows the science of trees, there is no need to wait for the
Resurrection for him to see the interpretations, what has happened andwhat was the outcome of the dream. Such a man has seen the result inadvance just as a gardener knows in advance what fruit the branch willsurely yield.In our egoism and subjectivity we look to this world for our satisfaction.As Muhammad said, "The world is like a dream that a sleeping mansees." But everything we desire in this dream and every satisfaction wehave is, from the vantage point of the Divine Interpreter, like a sleepingman enjoying aperitifs and delicacies: when he wakes up, he will findthat neither his hunger nor this thirst were satisfied. What we ask for inthe dream may be given in the dream. but is it possible to awaken and
to know we have been dreaming and to break the vicious cycle?Again Rumi says:All things in this world, wealth, wife, and clothing, are sought after forthe sake of something else, they are not sought for themselves. Do younot see that even if you had a hundred thousand dirhams and werehungry and could not find any bread, you would not be able to eat andfeed yourself on those dirhams? A wife may be for the sake of children,and to satisfy passion. Clothes are to ward off the cold. In the same way,all things are concatenated with God, the most Glorious: He is soughtand desired for His own sake, not for anything else. In so far as He isbeyond all and better, subtler than all, how should He be desired for
something less than Himself? "Unto Him is the final end." When theyhave reached Him they have reached their final goal, beyond whichnothing can go...Grace and favor are given according to the demand.Passages from Rumi are taken from Discourses of Rumi (Fihi ma Fihi), A.J. Arberry,
trans. (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1972
This article first appeared in Gnosis #22 (Winter 1992).
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