Dreams Death and Dying – Eastern cultures describe death and dying.

In most of the great faiths and traditions of the world, there are similar teachings about the relationship with the dead. The Egyptian Book of The Dead, one of the oldest books in the world, explains how the soul of the dead person is brought before the gods and has to answer their queries. The Tibetan Book of The Dead gives detailed instructions for a living person to read to the dead. The text explains how the soul of the person will face his or her own deeds, thoughts and fears in a new way, and will come face to face with the gods. It explains how each of these can be best dealt with. Even the recent investigation into near-death-experiences echoes this theme of the person facing their deeds when they have died.

Although The Tibetan Book of the Dead arises from a very different cultural standpoint than that of the West, it is more than simply a strange or superstitious document. It encompasses a profound attempt to look at the subtle side of the human mind and speculate on what we face in death. See Levels of Awareness

In ancient China, the tradition of ancestor worship was of tremendous importance. Here again we see the personal value of relating to the dead. Most aboriginal races have a similar strong feeling of connection with, and remembrance for, their dead. In Catholic Christianity, there are a whole series of sacraments linking one with death or the dead. From the very first, baptism aims at bringing one into a new relationship with God, and making one ready for direct and conscious entrance into Heaven at death. The sacrament of the Mass applies not only to the living but also to the dead: Mass by the living being given for the dead.

This question of what fate human consciousness faces at death is in fact explored by most past races. Looking at these ideas from the standpoint of what we now know about sleeping and dreaming, perhaps some light can be thrown on these ancient ideas.

Two possibilities may exist in sleep, and therefore perhaps in death also. One is that we may penetrate sleep with self-awareness, as happens occasionally in lucid dreams. The other is that we may be carried along by images and emotions, influences and drives, whether we like it or not, as occurs in nightmares. Some of the images and experiences may be beautiful, and some may be terrible. In using this approach to understand ancient texts about death, it is helpful to clarify exactly what it is we experience in a dream. Whether what we experience is beautiful or terrible, are they anything more than tremendous experiences of virtual reality? If they are not, then any horror or beauty we meet are self-created. If this can be accepted, that the apparently real people we meet in dreams are not more real than the experience of colour we have when we look at a rose – considering that we are not seeing the colour, but nerve impulses sent by the eyes to an area of the brain where it is translated into what we apparently see – then we are dealing with our own unconscious creations. But this still leaves us with the question of what is the difference between that and our so called waking experience. Possibly the only big difference is that our waking experience is less prone to change than the dream state. See You Are a Dual Being; Dreams are a reflection of your inner world; Inner World

The Eastern texts mentioned state that if we lack the ability to stand back from involvement in these swirling impressions and fail to see them for what they are, we will be carried wherever the seeds of thought, emotion and fear move us. This much is not speculation. We need very little examination of our own experience to see how time and again our ability to coolly respond to situations is swept away by unbidden emotional or physical responses. If we can see these powerful feeling reactions, or subtle influences for what they are – our own swirling thoughts, emotions and sense impressions – we enter another level of experience entirely. In this sense our identity is like a small boat swept along in a rushing river. The river in this case is our sense impressions, our emotional responses triggered by glandular secretions such as the adrenals, and our imagination or anxieties. See Avoid Being Victims

If you can accept for a moment that when you are totally involved in a dream, you are immersed in experiencing your own largely unconscious attitudes, fears, longings and ideas are external realities, then it gives a starting point to explore these ideas about death. We can begin to understand from our own observable experience rather than from subtle oriental philosophy.

The example of a nightmare you have experienced at some time will be helpful in this. During the nightmare you were almost certainly convinced that it was real. All your actions and feelings also arose directly out of feeling that the nightmare was an external reality, and not a play of internal emotions and fears. Most likely only waking was able to begin dispersing the fear you felt. But supposing you had become aware in your nightmare that what you were facing was not an illusion, but a projection of internal memories, past experience and attitudes. What would that be like?

It is not necessary to speculate too much on this, as many people have been able to become lucid in this way. (See: Buddhism and Dreams for some examples.) What people meet who have done this is a breaking through the apparently real images and events of the dream into direct personal insight. In other words the images of the nightmare give way to direct memoirs of past events that lay the foundation of feelings out of which the nightmare arose. For instance Robert Van de Castle writes that when he has helped people explore nightmares about a ghost, it has always led back to the childhood memory of a parent coming to the bedroom and lifting them or moving them to prevent bed wetting. See Our Dreaming Mind by Robert Van de Castle.

Such direct experiences also help us understand what happens when we fail to face the images of a nightmare, or in fact any other troubling fears and anxieties. We know from personal experience that they remain to haunt us. They continue to influence the way we deal with life, with opportunity, with relationships. It is this influence in the present arising out of the past that Eastern peoples call karma.


interaction of past and present

If we create a scheme of the levels of the mind in meeting a nightmare, first of all we meet the dreams images. In most cases this is as far as we go. Our experience of the dream people or creatures is that they are as real as any object or person we meet while awake. Because of this we react to them as if they are real, and can harm us.

So at this first level of interaction we are victims of the virtual reality of the nightmare. Our actions and reactions arise out of acceptance of the reality of the dream characters and situation.

Moving to the next level, from the experience of people who become lucid in their dream, the characters, drama and objects of the dream are experienced as a projection from our own past, from our own fears or imaginations. So the nightmare can be equated with life events. Using the Eastern term of karma, we can say that in the nightmare we are experiencing our karma – outflow of past experience and events.

The doctrine of Karma in Eastern cultures states that our experience of life and its events depends upon the actions, thoughts, desires, longings, that have become built into ourselves from the past – this life and others. When we break through the images or surface life events, we come to the realm of Karmic influences. That is, we discover the pattern of past habits, attitudes, fears, pains, plans and aspirations that have projected into our conscious life and its events.

Therefore this second level of experience is one of penetrating what is at first an apparently external virtual reality, and in penetrating it discovering the influences, the processes or energies that create it. I have summed this up by using the word karma. So we begin to see the karmic influences out of which our life is woven.

Imagine what it would be like to penetrate deeply into your own mind in this way. Again, many people have done it, so it is not a ‘What if’? When it happens the events and directions we have taken in life are seen to be the outworking of deeply etched patterns of behaviour; of passionately made decisions, perhaps from the experience of betrayal; out of lessons learned sometimes over generations of our family. Our conscious biases, opinions, abilities, fears, failings and illnesses, are seen to emerge from this matrix of past experience.

If we think of our past deeds as a colour transparency in a projector, and our conscious self as the screen, we gain an idea of this. Hatred, love, fear, built into us in the past, act as images on the transparency, influencing, colouring, the life-giving energies of our being. If we experienced something that has hurt us sexually or emotionally, and we thus deadened parts of ourselves rather than face our pain, then our present sexuality and emotions will be lacking the full outflow to that degree. These blockages are dense areas on the transparency of our Karmic nature, blocking the light. The light itself is all the range of our experience, sensual, sexual, emotion, mental and spiritual. This is not altogether a good analogy, because our Karmic matrix may contain frozen lumps of our life energy.

If we could consciously meet our fears or pains, our passionately felt decisions of the past, we might arrive back to awareness of the ‘transparency’ or matrix. In the Catholic sense, we would have now ‘admitted’ to consciousness – to ourselves – our past ‘sin’ or error. Becoming conscious of such patterns often wipes them away. In modern psychological terms, awareness transforms. If we see some of the ancient teachings in this light they are less esoteric, and more easily understood as amazing expressions of past psychological insight.


healing force

Coming back to the experience of a nightmare, or in fact any dream, while we are alive we can wake up. But what ancient cultures say is that when we die we cannot wake from this world of dreaming, or perhaps of nightmare. This is precisely why masses are said, or why teachings of the East expound ways of helping the dead find their way out of the apparent reality of a strange and perhaps disturbing environment.

In the ‘Bardo Thodol’ (Tibetan Book of The Dead) the dying or dead person is told to hold himself or herself in the Clear Light, without letting anything such as thoughts or karmic influences claim them. What this means in today’s terms is that a living person reads to the dead, telling them not to get lost in their own thoughts and feelings. They are told that underlying the apparent reality of the ‘dream’ or mental landscapes and environment they find themselves in, is the clear consciousness without form. All the mental images and emotions, terrors and wonders experienced, are things the mind creates. But it is all a moving torrent of experience that is not ultimately satisfying. Only the clear consciousness gives the person an experience of their fundamental nature.

In Christianity this clear light is called Christ the Redeemer.

If we gain some concept or feeling of the power that has grown us from conception onwards; that has unified the millions of body cells; that organises all the functions and organs of our body and mind, we have an understanding of this unifying power. Modern psychology has also shown us how hate, fear, shock, jealousy, interfere with this activity as it attempts to keep us whole and healthy.

If we think of the totality of our past experience as the karmic matrix mentioned, we might see even more clearly how hate, fear, shock, jealousy interferes with the principle behind our own growth and stable existence. The Catholic sacraments look upon the negative influence of this karmic matrix as our ‘state of sin’ and tell us Christ can redeem us.

When we experience the power of this internal life principle in the way healing or ‘redemption’ takes place in us during and after illness, our awareness of its power and reality becomes very great. It is the energy that upholds our existence, and which we can either, co-operate with or work against.

The ‘Bardo Thodol’ calls this the Secondary Clear Light. In experiencing it we are aware of the effect of the Clear Light and its power on and in us. But we are not conscious of the Light itself. The ‘Bardo’ says that very few people can actually remain fixed in the Clear Light itself. The reason being that it is formless, impersonal, and transcendental.

Again, in the ‘Bardo’ it says, ‘The common people call this the state wherein the consciousness principle (object knowing principle) hath fainted away.’ These teachings declare that if we cannot hold onto this condition, we drop into the next level, which is experiencing the effect of the Clear Light. If this is not possible to maintain, we drop into our karmic matrix. If this is not maintained, we become lost in images and ‘dreams’ arising from the karma we have gathered, i.e. our loves, hates, fears, and aspirations. This means we are back in the nightmare situation. 

four levels

Looking at the previous statements, we can see that four levels of experience are defined. These four levels are not difficult to understand if we look at our own experience of waking and sleeping. If we once more look at sleep, we will perhaps understand what the ‘Bardo Thodol’ is saying. For instance, experiments in sleep laboratories have shown that when we sleep, at first we drop into a deep dreamless state. Then we gradually move to a condition nearing waking consciousness in which we dream.

In dreamless sleep our ‘object knowing’ self disappears. There is only ‘being’, pure consciousness, without images, emotions or sense of self. We experience it every night when we sleep. So it is not anything strange or unknown. But because we usually lose any sense of our ego in this ‘dreamless sleep’ state, we usually say we were unconscious or asleep. Nevertheless, we went into the void of dreamless sleep, and we emerged from it again. Some people even mange to maintain a level of awareness, as in lucid dreaming, and so carry back a memory of the void.

Those people, who have melted into the void and carried back awareness of it, describe it as the basic level of existence, universal, imageless consciousness. Another way of attempting a description is to say it is unchanging and self-existent, as opposed to the ever-changing experience of our senses, emotions and thoughts, all of which are linked with other phenomena, and so not self-existent.

Because few of us can even begin to grasp that this daily experience of dreamless sleep, this seeming absence of being, as a reality – The Reality – we cannot, do not wish to, are frightened of, maintaining it. As the Bardo explains, most of us cannot maintain the Clear Light, so we enter again into the acceptance of the world of sensory experience, of dreams.

Working from outside in, if we break through the experience of our senses and dream images to the karmic matrix, and dare to meet the passions and pains out of which our life is woven, we have now woken up at the dream level. At this point we are no longer completely dominated by, and at the mercy of, the passions and pains that previously moved us unconsciously. See Steiner Life after death

From here we can begin to see why the sacred teachings of many races have said the living can help the dead. In their book ‘Dream Telepathy’, Krippner and UlIman tell of their years of scientific research into the sensitivity of sleeping persons to the thoughts of others. Their research at the Dream Laboratory of Maimonides Medical Centre in New York has now become world famous.

Many people who were not a part of Krippner and Ullman’s research have also noted how the thoughts or prayers of others frequently alter the pattern of their dreams.


We can understand this further if we think of it in the terms used generally in these articles. The state of hell can be thought of as being personally submerged in the images and experiences of one’s own violence, hate, terrors and incohesiveness.

Purgatory is the same as this, but with one main-difference, the personality before death had, through baptism and confirmation (i.e. opening consciousness to and fixing it in a transforming influence) contacted the unifying principle. The expressed power of the Clear Light, God, has the effect of integrating and redeeming the images and energies we would otherwise become lost in or possessed by, in the sleep or death state.

Free will, for nearly all of us, is missing at that level, as is the ability to stand apart from the images. Nevertheless, those who have contacted and opened consciousness to the unifying power causing their existence, find the nature of their dreams changing. The integrating power is actually opened to even in dreams, and relates us differently to the images and events being faced. This psychological fact seems to explain a great deal about he theological catholic statements in regard to the power of baptism and the laying on of hands to give a different ‘quality’ to the soul, and making the difference between being lost in hell, or being capable of direct or indirect entrance into heaven. If we equate baptism and confirmation with the opening of consciousness to the unifying principle, these statements can be understood.

consciously work on a dream

The question of helping the dead is one of the clear will of the living, being used to pierce through the confusing images of the dream state, to aid the central ego of the person to open to the influence of God. We can achieve a very clear impression of what this means when we ourselves consciously work on a dream, or directly face images we ran from during sleep. Consciousness can decide to do things that are not possible during sleep.

It has been said above that if the unifying power has been a conscious experience, the quality of dreams is changed. It is also true that when our conscious understanding of dreams is clarified, another type of change occurs.

A different approach results, which leads to seeing beyond dreams to their causes. This relationship between our own conscious understanding and our sleep experiences also appears to exist between the living and the dead. They complement each other in a very real sense. For waking consciousness limits, defines and decides. In this way it can direct energies through understanding them.

This rational defined and separate consciousness is generally better developed in occidental peoples, and has been the basis of our technological culture. The interior sleep awareness is unlimited, ranging through space and time, possible and impossible, fact and fancy. It is not defined.

Almost any dream one attempts to analyse has a great power of avoiding final analysis. One can only arrive at general understanding. This is more the tone in which the oriental peoples are masters. Then one cannot easily go beyond the visible or obvious; the other tends not to be tied down to defining in external abilities or creations their interior life.

help of prayer

If we therefore pray for the dead, in the sense of opening ourselves and them to the unifying principle, this releases a power into the condition they may find themselves in. Such prayer will aid in releasing them from images and psychological difficulties being experienced. Also, if we have a clear View of the after death state, and talk to our dead as the Tibetans and others do, this brings to them the clarity of our consciousness to aid them. We, in return, through this subtle contact, receive impressions of wider awareness and understanding. If the experiments of non-physical communication between the living were practised and remembered, some idea of how this communion is experienced will be yours.

In Spiritualist ‘rescue circles’, someone with this type of sensitivity acts as the connecting link between the living and dead. The group then throws the light of their waking consciousness, argument and explanation, into the experience of the dead person being helped. Thus, those trapped by suicidal urges, ignorance of their situation, uncontrollable desires or fears, are aided to find release.

Subud members also practise what they call a ‘latihan’ (spiritual surrender to the unifying power) for the dead. They say that the dead have very intimate contacts with their living family. If one of their family opens to the unifying principle, or life force, and thus becomes themselves more integrated, this influences the condition of the dead. If this surrender to God is done in the name of the dead person, family or not, it has, they say, a tremendous power to help, and ‘wake them up’ in death.

Although all these methods are very different in outer form, we can see a thread of similar aims and ideas passing through each. Something to be dealt with later on, but not out of place here, is to say that the dead have a similar relationship to us as our own sleep consciousness. This is only an extension of what has already been said, but may easily be overlooked. To put it into a few words: the dead are now parts of our own interior, and often unconscious, being. They are aspects of our own total psyche. The insight, love, prayer, release of healing power, or attempt at understanding we bring to them, influences them in precisely the same way it influences ourselves.

The ‘cult of the dead,’ as it is sometimes called, if persisted in long enough in an attempt to aid a soul through the miasma of unconscious truth and error to the Clear Light, is also a legal spiritual path. The soul we help to the clear light is a part of our greater being, and its attainment is for us also a consciousness of the highest. If there is a criticism, it is only that most such attempts give up at the level of communicating chit chat and proof of survival.

‘When through illusion,’ says the Bardo, ‘I and others are wandering in the false images, Along the bright light-path of undistracted listening, reflection and meditation, May the Gurus of the Inspired Line lead us:

May the etherical elements not rise up as enemies; May the watery elements not rise up as enemies; May the earthy elements not rise up as enemies; May the fiery elements not rise up as enemies; May the airy elements not rise up as enemies; May the elements of the rainbow colours not rise up as enemies;

May it come that all the sounds in the death state be known as one’s own sounds;

May it come that all the Radiances will be known as one’s own radiances;

May it come that the Clear Light will be realised in the state of death.’

See: Near Death Experiences Journal; Near Death Experience; Levels of AwarenessJourneying Beyond Dreams and Death


-jason 2014-06-17 14:30:26

I had a dream that woke me up shaken. In the dream a man told me that my mother had beaten herself against the walls of her home to kill her self.He then said when near death she reached in and pulled her eye out to finalize her death. He motioned with his right arm to describe this. It was at the end of the dream and I’m not certain if I was awake I was thinking someone had beaten her and she did not do this to herself. I did not know the man that was telling me this, but I was inclined to believe some sort of officer. Yet at the same time he seemed evil… this dream has shaken me.

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