Lucid Dreams

By You-Sheng Li, 23/4/10

When I was a child, my father was a family physician. Occasionally he talked abo ut dreams with his patients or neighbouring peasants. Having overheard their cha t, I joined in one day, saying, “I dreamed of walking on the street but I was awar e that I was dreaming. So I was looking for some kind of bed to go back to sleep ing. It was a frustrating experience trying to find a bed in the streets of a vi llage. I finally came to a large dark stone with a smoothly polished flat surfac e. I fell asleep or out of the dream even before my body touched the stone.” They were all surprised by my dream, since lucid dreams are much less common for adul ts than children.

In a lucid dream, the dreamer is aware of the dreaming status. He or she therefo re participates in or even manipulates the outcome of the dream. In my case, I w anted to end the dream, and eventually I did. A false awakening, in which the dr eamer dreamed of getting up to work or to go to the washroom, is likely a lucid dream. A daydream may also be a lucid dream, if the dreamer goes far away from h is waking state of mind and is unaware of his physical and social environments.

Since a lucid dreamer can often manipulate the imaginary experiences in the drea m environment, lucid dreams can seem extremely real and vivid, depending on a pe rson's level of self-awareness during the lucid dream. Recently, various techniq ues have been developed to induce lucid dreams. Such techniques apparently reduc e the frequency and severity of nightmares.

Both Buddhism and Taoism have long been known to introduce lucid dream experienc es in order to calm down the believer’s mind. One sect of Buddhism goes further to classify the human mind or consciousness into seven levels of awareness. There are degrees of wakefulness or awareness, and both lucid dreaming and normal waki ng experiences lie somewhere towards the middle of this continuum (or hierarchy) of awareness. In this context as the Buddhist believes, there are therefore st ates of wakefulness that are superior to normal waking awareness, such as Nirvan a, which Buddhists pursue in their religious practice. In such superior awarenes s, the reality of our ordinary world becomes illusory. Buddhism holds the view t hat life on earth is bitter in nature.

Closing his famous essay All Things Being Equal, Chuang Tzu says, “Chuang Tzu once dreamed that he was a butterfly fluttering here and there, going wherever he pl eased. He was totally unaware of Chuang Tzu. A sudden awakening left nothing els e but Chuang Tzu himself, who did not know anything about his being a bufferfly. It is therefore unknown whether it is Chuang Tzu who dreamed of being a bufferf ly or if it is a butterfly who dreamed of being Chuang Tzu. The butterfly and Ch uang Tzu are completely different entities, and it is called transformation when an entity becomes another.”

The same essay starts with a master who leaned on his armrest while sitting lost himself in meditation. Like Buddhists, Chuang Tzu and his followers apparently mastered the techniques of lucid dreams. In the esay Joyful Free Wandering, Chua

ng Tzu starts with a legendary bird, Peng, which has a body and wings that cover hundreds of miles. It can fly three thousand miles high. Even this gigantic bir d has to rely on air or wind to fly. It is far away from Chuang Tzu’s joyful free wandering, in which one goes to a vivid lucid dream at will, and relying on noth ing else but himself. The dreamer can go anywhere he pleases. His dreaming exper ience is so vivid and real that lucid dreams are not different at all from reali ty as far as personal experiences are concerned. Buddhism pursues a superior ide al realm, Nirvana, which lies far beyond reality. Taosm holds the view that life on earth is so wonderful that it has to be prolonged to eternity. Taoists use l ucid dreams to extend their enjoyment of life beyond the limits of reality.

Chidren slip into lucid dreams more easily than adults. Similarly prehistoric or primititve people have more lucid dreams. Further, Erika Bourguignon, from her study of almost 500 societies has shown that the frequency, accessibility and qu ality of religious experiences, correlate inversely with the complexity of socia l structure. In the simplest and most egalitarian societies, ritual trance state s tend to be voluntary, conscious and accessible to most people who desire them. Scientifically “trance” is often termed as a transformed state of mind. It describe s lucid dreams and different levels of awareness in Buddhist terms.

Levy-Bruhl s book "Primitive Mentality" was influential for Julian Jaynes, an Am erican psychologist, who believes that all humans lived in a hallucinatory state more than three thousand years ago. Levy-Bruhl writes: “In comparison to modern s ociety, a greater number of individuals in primitive societies experiences hallu cinations, experiences them more frequently, and the hallucinations play an impo rtant role in their day-to-day lives.” Levy-Bruhl states: "To them the things whic h are unseen cannot be distinguished from the things which are seen. The beings of the unseen world are no less directly present than those of the other; they a re more active and more formidable. Consequently that world occupies their minds more entirely than this one, and it diverts their minds from reflecting, even t o a slight extent, upon the data which we call objective."

Both Levy-Bruhl and Erika Bourguignon indicated that hallucination was more comm on in ancient primitive people. But it only employed part of the idle mind in th e primary society while it became the divine voice, in Julian Jaynes’ bicameralism , to dictate that the people should obey their rulers in a secondary society. Wh en rational thinking reflecting on objective data establishes itself in modern s ociety, hallucination or bicameralism remains only in psychotic patients.

Buddhism represents a religious tradition based on secondary societies, and so i t teaches people how to retreat from the traumatizing reality by lucid dreams. T aoism is a religious tradition based on the primary society, and so it teaches p eople how to enjoy life more without any efforts by lucid dreams.