Dreams are Real! – A Visishtadvaitic Explanation


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According to Visishtadvaita philosophy, dreams are real. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad defines the state as intermediate between this world and the next. Staying at that junction, the soul surveys both the worlds’ (sandhyam triteeyam svapnasthaanam. tasmin sandy sthanne tishthan tee ubbe sthanne pasyati dam cha paralokasthaanam cha). Of the objects seen and feelings experienced in the dream , its says that ‘no chariots , no horses, no pathways, no pleasures, blessings or delights exist in the dream state, but the supreme Lord creates them’ (refer ibid 4.3.10). what it means is that these objects and experiences do not exist for others except the dreamer; and even for the dreamer, they do not exist in the waking state.

Sri Sankara says that dreams are all unreal and illusory . But Ramanuja says that as far as the dreamer is concerned, they are all real. when a person is awake, the soul maintains contact with the external world through the mind and the senses. During sleep, it shuts off the senses, but the mind is awake and keeps working. It projects  many images, but without coherence. During the three stages it passes through, consciousness, a function of the mind, is continuous. In the waking state, the consciousness is distinct and clear, but in the dream state, it is indistinct and confused. One cannot, therefore, say that the waking state is real whereas the dream state is unreal.  What really happens is that the dreamer does not see any difference between the sleeping body and the newly created body with which he has the dream experiences. In the dream state, there is real knowledge, together with some non-apprehension. Hence the dream experience is real, not illusory.

Who creates dreams?

Mention has already been made that the supreme Being creates the dreams as vouched in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The Brahmasutra (3.2)- Sandhya -adhikarana (sutras 1to 6 ) clarifies the matter further. After stating the views of some that the individual self is the creator and the objects created are his ‘issues’. it is clearly declared in sutra 3 that  ‘the Creator is the supreme Self. It is due to His maya. The objects seen in the dream are the wonderful creations of the Lord’.
It does not lie within the power of the individual self to effect such creation; when the consciousness of the dreamer is clouded even during the waking state due to connection with the world of matter, what to speak of the dream state?  He who creates should have divine intelligence. He must have full consciousness and be fully awake in those who sleep and dream. Such a person is the supreme being alone and can be none else. In the kathopanishad (5.8), it is clearly declared thus:
‘This (supreme) Purusha stays awake while all others (individual souls ) are asleep and creates repeatedly through His will. He is the effulgent One, the Brahman Immortal ( ya eshu supteshu jaagarti  kaamam kaamam purusho nirmimaanah, tadeva sukram tad brahma tadeva amritam uchyate). The Manusmriti (12.122)avers that the supreme Purusha is the Ruler of every object from the smallest particle to the brightest gold perceived in sleep i.e. during dreams (prasaasitaaram sarveshaam aneeyaamsam anorapi, rukmaabham svapnadheegamyam vidyaattam purusham param). Thus the dreams which are seen by an individual have been created by the Lord who wills dreamer to experience them through his own psychic apparatus which is also controlled by the Lord. Sri Ramanuja reiterates in several places (e.g. Vedantadeepa, Vedantasara) that dreams are beyond the capacity of the individual self in his awakened state.

Good and bad dreams

When the self does not have the power to create dreams, it is obvious that he cannot choose what type of dreams he should get. Left to himself, he would like to have only pleasant dreams. But it never happens. He experiences unpleasant dreams also. According to Visishtadvaita, the type of dreams a person gets depends on his Karma. Good Karmas lead to pleasant dreams and evil actions beget unpleasant dreams. They leave behind pleasant or unpleasant thoughts which are either rewards for good conduct or punishment for transgressions. Good dreams often lead to bodily health and are psychologically boosting while bad dreams leave the dreamer physically tired and mentally depressed.

But some dreams are prophetic in nature; they indicate they shape of things to come. The Chandogya Upanishad (5.2.8) mentions that when a person, in the midst of a ritual spread over several days for the fulfillment of a desire, takes rest and sees a woman in his dreams, it indicates fulfillment of his wishes (sa radii stream pasyet, samriddham karmeti vidyaat). Similarly, there is a statement in the Aitareya Aranyaka (3.2.4), which predicts death ‘when a person dreams of a black man with black teeth’.

Further, it is acknowledged by scholars that, as a person becomes more and more sattvik, he is likely to get more dreams of a prophetic nature, because of his growing proximity to the divine. It is also a fact that the type of dreams a person has is associated with his state of health. The famous physician of ancient times, Charaka, had a theory linking up certain kinds of dreams with certain diseases and ailments.

Some famous dreams

The most famous dream recorded in the epics is that of Trijata, the daughter of Vibhishana. She was one among those who were guarding Sitadevi in Lanka. She dreamt that Sri Rama and Lakshmana had arrived at Lanka, both clad in white and in a golden palanquin and going back with Sitadevi in a golden chariot. She saw Ravana in dire straits, clad in red, drinking deep draughts of oil, behaving like a mad man, riding on asses and being dragged towards the south. Kumbhakarna was in the same predicament.

Vibhishana alone was decked in white clothiers, garlanded and welcomed by bards and dancers. She also saw a huge monkey setting fire to Lanka. After the dream, she pleaded with the demonizes to make peace with Sitadevi and seek Her refuge to be saved from the calamity which was awaiting their clan. Trijata’s dream was thus prophetic. The next dream recorded in the Ramayana is that of Bharata. He dreamt of his father, King Dasaratha, jumping off a cliff into a ravine filled with oil and dirt, eating food prepared with sesame seeds, laughing uproariously and heading south in a chariot drawn by asses. The next day, Bharata was totally depressed and feared for the life of the king or Sri Rama or himself. He found out the nature of the calamity which befell Ayodhya only after he reached there. There is another happier dream mentioned in the Raghuvamsa of Kalidasa, but which is not found in Srimad Ramayana. It is recorded in canto 10, verses 60 to 64 that the three queens of Dasaratha had identical dreams that three small divine figures armed with the five weapons of the Lord were protecting them, that they were flown to the heaven on the wings of Garuda, welcomed by the seven brahmarishis and also smilingly entertained by Goddess Lakshmi. Of course, this dream can be treated as a poetic fancy.

Srimad Bhagavata (10.62.12) records of a dream by princess Usha, the daughter of Banasura, that she had seen and fallen in love with Aniruddha, the grandson of Lord krishna. The event was so real for her that when she woke up and did not find him, she called out for him. This led to the spiriting away of Aniruddha to her chambers by a confidante of Usha, who had yogic powers. Later on, Aniruddha was imprisoned by Banasura and was rescued by Lord Krishna who waged a war and defeated Banasura. It was however, a happy ending for Aniruddha and Usha.

Then there is the famous dream -sequence experienced by Sri Andal (Nacchiyar Thirumozhi, sixth decad). Sri Andal dreamt that the Lord came towards her, surrounded by caparisoned elephants, he was accompanied by the celestials chanting the wedding mantras, the Lord and she were bathed in holy waters, young maidens circumambulated the Lord with lighted lamps and sacred urns in their hands, the Lord held Sri Andal’s hand amidst the sounds of conches and the drum – beats, the Lord and she went round the fire -altar, He lifted her foot and placed it on a grindstone, heaps of puffed rice were offered to the fire, and finally both the Lord and Sri Andal were taken around the city on an elephant. Such detailed recording of a dream has not been found in any devotional literature anywhere. This dream was prophetic as, according to tradition, Sri andal’s father was instructed by the Lord to bring her to Srirangam in a palanquin, fully clad in bridal attire. Thereafter, Sri Andal entered the sanctum of the Lord and got merged in His Image.

Recently recorded dreams

Why go all the way to Itihasas, Puranas and other sacred lore for instances of prophetic dreams? Sri Ahobila Math is itself the result of a dream. A young scholar, Sri Kidambi Srinivasacharya of Tirunarayanapuram , had a dream in which the Lord asked him to come to Ahobilam urgently. There he was initiated into the fourth order by an ascetic, who was none other than the Lord Himself. The Lord then directed him to travel throughout the country with an image of Lord Lakshminarashimha. Thus Sri Ahobila Math was born and Sri Srinivasacharya, designated as Sri Adivan sathakopa Yatindra Mahadesika, became the first pontiff. Another dream which is also well -known is that which occurred to His Holiness the 44th Jiyar, Sri Mukkur Azhagiyasingar . Lord Ranganatha  appeared in his dream when he was on a yatra and commanded him to return to Srirangam and complete the southern gopuram of the Srirangam temple, which had remained incomplete for several centuries. His Holiness complied with the divine orders despite his advanced age. Thus there are dreams which, besides being real, also lead to realities.


Hence dreams have a real significance in a man’s life. With situations created by the Lord suited to each individual and his then state of mental development, dreams bring gentle retribution and minor rewards, besides acting as a guide to the future in the case of spiritually evolved souls. But care should be taken to distinguish between dreams and hallucinations. There is a very important difference between the two. Hallucination is merely an illusion and can occur in a waking state also. It is a perception of something that does not exist. On the other hand , dream is a vision which occurs only during sleep and constitutes a series of images, positive or negative. There are several authorities on the interpretation of dreams, both according to Eastern and Western psychology, but the purpose of this article is just to present the Visishtadvaitic view of dreams in general.

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  1. Seeing Bal Krishna in a dream is a good sign. It means there is prosperity in the house. Seeing a statue of Lord Krishna also means he is pleased with your devotion. Seeing Lord Krishna playing the flute or just the flute of Krishna means you could soon meet your beloved partner very soon.


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