In the caves of Eastern Sibyl,1 what curious leaves lie hidden, or go whirling in the wind! written over with strange, hieroglyphic characters, not without deep meaning—akin to prophetic,—
Teste David cum Sibylla.2
Fragmentary—incomplete—hard to put together, yet furnishing here and there, when the attempt is made, a piece of chance mosaic that engages our attention like the forms in the moss-stone. Such a bundle of Sibylline leaves is the “Dream of Ravan”, of which we propose to put together and interpret some torn and ragged fragments.
Thus opens the Dream of Ravan.
We will here attempt an introductory summary of this most wonderful work. But first we must introduce the history of the work in brief.
The Dream of Ravan was first published anonymously in 1853-54 in the Dublin University Magazine,3 and to this date the authorship remains anonymous. The work was drawn to the attention of theosophists in 1880 when H.P. Blavatsky reprinted a selection from it in The Theosophist, under the title “Yoga Philosophy”.
The chosen fragment was a selection the author had drawn from the 6th chapter of the Dnyaneshwari,4 translated for the first time into English. Both HPB and the author of the Dream of Ravan refer to the Dnyaneshwari as a deeply mystic work,5 and the selection made here certainly supports their view. Nine years later, in 1889, HPB would use a few of these same verses in her masterful work, The Voice of the Silence.6 We will return to the Dnyaneshwari a little later in our introduction.
The Dream of Ravan became a beloved work of several theosophists, including, among others: G.R.S. Mead, who helped make the work popular through a series of lectures based on it,7 and Charles Johnston, who had begun but never completed a detailed review of the work in the Oriental Department Papers in 1897.8 In 1895 G.R.S. Mead brought the work to print 9 in book form for the first time, and in this format it was circulated among theosophists for many years. In 1974 a second edition was published by the Theosophy Company India, with a forward by Sophia Wadia.10 These two editions remain the most widely distributed and available today.
And now to the work itself.
The Dream of Ravan begins with an introduction to the main characters who will compose the story to be told. These are the characters of the great Indian epic, the Ramayana—and indeed the Dream of Ravan may be seen to compose a side-story within the great movement of that epic tale, which could be inserted between Book VI: Cantos 93 and 110, i.e. between the death of Ravan’s son Indrajit and the death of Ravan himself—these central characters are: Ravan, the great King of the Rakshasas; his sister Shurpa-nakha (who provides the initial impetus that leads to the war between Ravan and Rama); Ravan’s wife, the Titaness Mandodari; Rama, seventh Avatar of Vishnu and King of Ayodhya; and Rama’s wife, fair and beautiful Sita.
The author begins by providing the reader with a brief context into which the story may be better understood. He recites selections from Book III of the Ramayana,11 in which we find Shurpa-nakha falling in love with Rama, but finding Rama already married to the fair Sita. Rama convinces Shurpa-nakha to marry his brother Lakshman instead, but upon being wooed in jest by Lakshman she turns in anger towards Rama and Sita, bent on killing Sita and thus removing the barrier to her desired bond with Rama. As Shurpa-nakha lunges at Sita, Lakshman leaps forward and removes her nose and ears with the swift stroke of his sword.
Injured and disgraced, Shurpa-nakha flees to her brother Khara, who, upon hearing her story, raises an army of fourteen thousand Rakshasas to attack Rama. A battle ensues in which the King of Ayodha quickly and easily slaughters the entire army of Rakshasas with his divine arrows.
News of the battle soon reaches Ravan, King of the Rakshasas, and thus is set in motion the great war which forms the heart of the epic Ramayana. Ravan eventually kidnaps Sita; Rama, with the aid of Hanuman and his army, lay siege to Ravan’s capital Lanka; and during the battle, following the death of his son Indrajit, Ravan is found to return to his quarters, to retire and sleep—and to dream.
“The poem opens abruptly—upon the return of Ravan from a hard-fought day with Rama and Laxuman. He retires to sleep, attended by his Titanic queen Mandodari; has a fearful dream; and awaking in alarm, summons, like Belshazzar, all his wise men and counsellors, and especially the whole tribe of Yogis, Munis, and Rishis—ascetics, saints, and holy sages, who, singular to say, are found in invariable attendance on, and apparently held in reverence in the Titanic Court—to interpret its meaning.”
And thus begins the tale of the Dream of Ravan.
Parts 1 and 2 of the present work are almost entirely devoted to the telling of the story, to Ravan’s narrative of his dream. Part 3 is devoted to the Kamatur Rakshas, and provides digressions and further details of the dream. Part 4 is that which will interest theosophists chiefly, as it is there we find the Interpretation of the Dream, and with it a profound explanation of the theosophy of Vedanta.
Part 1 continues from the initial context to the first portions of Ravan’s dream, where Ravan finds himself in a desolate land amid strange and illusive scenes. The dream is haunting, and though vivid in some manners, is also vague and unclear to Ravan himself. He is troubled, but by exactly what even he seems unsure.
The author weaves the tale through Ravan’s narrative, but interjects gems of theosophical interest, and one of these gems appears midway through Ravan’s opening narrative. Here the author digresses into a most profound explanation of the three gunas of Vedantic philosophy. These gunas are described in many eastern works and treated of in several major theosophical books, but what we find here is of particular interest due to the esoteric nature of the ideas presented. It is not merely a surface treatment, but one of depth and penetration. We provide a summary here, but encourage the student to read and study the full text.
“Any one who has ever dabbled in Hindu philosophy must have been somewhat puzzled by the three radical, shall we say prismatic, qualities, into which the primordial and eternal unity divides itself, when reflected in time, through the prism of Maya, into the multitudinous universe; and of which every soul, while in this estranged state, partakes in greater or less degree. These qualities, Tamas, Rajas, and Satva, have been translated generally, the first, Darkness; the second, Passion or foulness (turbidness?); the third, Truth or Goodness. Schlegel renders them caligo, impetus, essentia, the word Sat meaning primarily Being, and secondarily, Truth or Goodness, because that which beeth is alone true, and alone good.”
Then follows a translation of a portion of Book 14 of the Bhagavad Gita,12 in which Krishna describes the gunas to Arjuna. The translation demonstrates a penetrating insight into the inner meaning of the text.
Following the selection from the Gita, the author provides a brief quote from the Viveka Sindhu of Mukunda Raja (whom the author will again drawn on significantly in Part 4):
“Know the three-fold egoity or self-consciousness [Ahankara] to be the Satvika, or self-consciousness of Truth or Goodness; the Rajasa, or self-consciousness of Passion; and the Tamasa or self-consciousness of Darkness; in each of which respectively, a power or energy peculiar to it, appears radiantly developed.
“In the self-consciousness of Truth or Goodness, is the power or energy of knowledge or wisdom; in the self-consciousness of Passion, resideth the power or energy of action; in the self-consciousness of Darkness, existeth incessantly the power or energy of substance or matter (dravya).”
The author continues his treatment:
“The Tamas quality, therefore, we may consider as the great characteristic of brute matter, insensibility, opacity, cold obstruction, immovability;—in optics, the dark purple or violet ray;—in morals, the sluggish, material, brutish tendency. Its highest form of organic development goes not beyond the mere animal life and the region of sense.
“The Rajas is the characteristic of moral life, or soul; the dark opacity is penetrated with a fiery and turbid glare but not yet rendered purely transparent; the cold obstruction and insensibility are wakened into pangs of painful movement; the dark purple or violet has kindled into the red ray. The sensational has struggled into the emotional; sentiment has supplanted sense and blind impulse.
“The Satva is the characteristic of spirit; spirit indeed still in antithesis to body and soul, to matter and life; and, therefore, though bright, luminous, and glorious, still partaking of distinction, and bound in the chains of individuality and limitation; the orange ray in optics, ready to escape and lose itself in the pure light. The feeling soul compelled by suffering into a profounder self-consciousness and reflection, passion has risen into reason and knowledge. Self-knowledge, reasoning outward, progresses into universal sympathy. The life of emotion reaches its consummation, and all other passions expire in giving birth to an eternal sentiment of justice and love, which are ultimately one.”
The explanation of the gunas and their relation to the story of Ravan is continued for several thought-provoking paragraphs, the value of which must be gleaned by each student through study and contemplation.
With the gunas described Part 1 comes to a close.
Part 2 then opens and continues the flow of the story, relating more of Ravan’s dream. From here the reader is drawn deeper and deeper into the dream itself, into the story with its thousand images, each no doubt containing some mystic symbolic meaning if the student can but penetrate it. There would be little benefit in an attempt to summarize the dream here, as the full text is required in order to draw the reader into the imagery of it—and not just the imagery, if the reader is intent the very feel of the dream becomes palpable.
As the story continues into Part 3 we find another of the author’s intriguing digressions, this time into the nature of the weapons used in the old Indian epics: the Astras. The author explains:
“The Astras are, as we may inform our readers, a kind of weapons that one constantly meets in the ancient Hindu legends, and which at first are very puzzling. They sometimes have a palpable shape, and from their effects in burning the enemy, etc., we are led to imagine, that they are nothing but rockets or shells, and that the ancient Hindus were well acquainted with the use of gunpowder. But a further acquaintance corrects this idea. We find the operator folding his arms on the field of battle, and, by mere inward meditation, despatching the Astra, which is to arrest or consume the hostile army. We find such elemental Astras as “Wet Thunderbolt”, “Dry Thunderbolt”, “Rain Astra”, “Drought Astra”, “Frost Astra”, such spiritual Astras as “Fascination”, “Allurement”, “Maddening”, or “Intoxication”, “Trembling”, or “Panic”; such physiological Astras as “Overpowering with Sleep”, “Quieting”. and “Paralysing”; and we are forced ultimately to conclude, that the whole armoury is spiritual . . .”
After providing a brief list of these Astras, the author continues on to compare the weapons to mesmerism and hypnotism: powers wholly accessible to Man and demonstrated, even if in their infant state, in our western society. In concluding his digression, the author poses the following:
“Are these Astras, after all, we may ask parenthetically—real, real spiritual powers, which higher orders of intelligences than man may and do exercise? The word Astra is derived from the root As, to throw or send forward—it is a spiritual arrow thrown or dispatched. Is there not in this some analogy to the messengers or ANGELS of death, plague, judgment, etc., which we read of in Scripture?
“When we read of the spirit who said, “ I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of his prophets”, are we not reminded of the “Lying” Astra? When the angels smite the persecutors of Lot, etc., with blindness and delirium, have we not a power put forth like the Astras of “senselessness”, and “madness”, and “illusion”? In that most sublime image of the angel of the Lord looking out of the pillar, and TROUBLING THE HOST OF THE EGYPTIANS, have we not a supernatural influence darted against them resembling the Astra of “trembling” or “panic”?
“Finally, in the angel of judgment, before whom the host perished—the wrath that WENT FORTH to destroy, do we not painfully realise the “Astra of judgment, which causes the extermination of the people”? These things merit grave consideration.”
From here we are naturally led to a consideration of the Siddhis, a term familiar to theosophists and to all students of Eastern traditions. The explanation of the Siddhis here given is worth exploration, but we will pass it over in this introductory summary, leaving it to the student to investigate further.
We now come to that part of the Dream of Ravan that will most interest modern students of Theosophy: the Interpretation of the Dream.
Part 4 opens on the morning following Ravan’s narration of his dream to his council of sages, rishis, astrologers and dream-interpretors. As the sun rises we are once again brought face to face with the overarching story of which this episode is but a side-road, as the two mounting armies of Rama and Ravan emerge to continue the war. The story lingers for a moment upon the troops as they align themselves for the battle and issue their cries of continued war—a scene reminiscent of the opening verses of the Bhagavad Gita,—and then we are whisked away to a nearby hermitage, where we are introduced to the Rishi Ananta, the Vedantin Sage who will shortly provide us with the Interpretation of Ravan’s dream.
In being introduced to Ananta we are given a description of the ideal theosophical sage, and this is done through a contrasting comparison to his fellow Rishi Maricha, himself a hard and strict literalist ascetic.
“Maricha . . . was a skeleton: his features intersected with millions of needle-like wrinkles; his shrivelled skin smeared with ashes; his beard reached down to his girdle; his head was covered with a pyramid of coiled up, grizzled, sun-scorched hair; and his garments consisted of shreds of dingy, tattered bark. Ananta, on the contrary, though advanced in years, had a fresh and almost roseate look. His features, naturally handsome, wore the impress of a loving as well as a reverential nature, and the holy calm of a spirit at peace crowned their blended expression of dignity and sweetness.”
Again we find the following, of chief importance to theosophical students:
“Ananta differed considerably from his friend Maricha in his spiritual exercises. Like him, he was a follower of the ascetic and contemplative life; but the pursuit of the Siddhis, or miraculous faculties, though he did not absolutely condemn it in others, he utterly avoided himself, pronouncing it a road beset with dangers, and often leading to the profoundest darkness. But even in the details of the ascetic and contemplative paths, he was distinguished from his fellow Rishi. As far as the discipline of Vairagya, or utter conquest over and freedom from passion, desire, and self-interest of every kind, he went fully along with him; and had come to be absolutely devoid of self. In the doctrine of Tyaga, or renunciation of all things, he also coincided in the principle, but he applied it less to the letter, and more to the spirit and intention. Thus while Maricha scrupled on account of his vow of renunciation to wear any clothing but woven bark, and even renounced all action itself, Ananta wore fine and clean cotton garments, without being attached to or taking any pride in them; and took his part in useful action without looking to a reward; holding with the Gita, sect, xviii., that “He is properly a Tyagi who is a forsaker of the fruit of action”.”
Ananta is shown to be a high Sage by his holding to the spirit, not the letter, of spiritual training.
Again we find that Ananta was loyal to the great teachings of Krishna, the very same teachings that would give rise to the “middle way” of Gautama Buddha’s doctrine:
“The practice of Tapa, or severe penitential austerities, was carried to excess by Maricha, who had stood on his head for a series of years; for a similar period upon one leg; hung suspended by one toe from a tree, with his head down, for one decade; for another, stood gazing on the sun, so motionless that, in the rainy season, the creeping plants grew up around him [and so on and so on] . . . [But] Ananta Rishi, though interiorly a man of mortified spirit, avoided all such excesses; for he considered them often to spring from spiritual pride, or fanatic zeal; and he followed the maxims of the Gita, which says, sect. vi.:—
“The Yogi, or he who energises himself to recollect and reunite his scattered self by internal contemplation, is more exalted than the Tapasvis, those zealots who harass themselves in performing penances.”.
We are told that Ananta himself “followed the path laid down by the more ancient and profounder school of Alandi, and sought to attain, and sometimes deemed that he had attained, the condition of the illumined Yogi, as described by Krishna to his friend Arjuna, in the 6th Adhyaya of that most mystic of all mystic books, the Dnyaneshvari,” and from here the author presents us with a series of slokas drawn from the Dnyaneshvari, of which several will be recognized by theosophists who have studied the Voice of the Silence. These slokas are given as follows:
When this path is beheld, then thirst and hunger are forgotten: night and day are undistinguished in this road.
* * * * * * * *
Whether one would set out to the bloom of the East or come to the chambers of the West, without moving, oh! holder of the bow! is the travelling in this road?
In this path, to whatever place one would go, that town (or locality) one’s own self becomes! how shall I easily describe this? Thou thyself shall experience it.
* * * * * * * *
The ways of the tubular vessel (nerves) are broken; the nine-fold property of wind (nervous tether) departs: on which account the functions of the body no longer exist.
* * * * * * * *
Then the moon and the sun, or that supposition which is so imagined, appear; but like the wind upon a lamp, in such manner as not to be laid hold of.
The bud of understanding is dissolved; the sense of smell no longer remains in the nostrils; but, together with the POWER, retires into the middle chamber.
Then with a discharge from above, the reservoir of moon-fluid of immortality (contained in the brain), leaning over on one side, communicates into the mouth of the POWER.
Thereby the tubes (nerves) are filled with the fluid: it penetrates into all the members; and in every direction the vital breath dissolves there into.
As from the heated crucible all the wax flows out, and then it remains thoroughly filled with the molten metal poured in;
Even so, that lustre (of the immortal moon-fluid) has become actually moulded into the shape of the body: on the outside it is wrapped up in the folds of the skin.
As, wrapping himself up in a mantle of clouds, the sun for a while remains; and afterwards, casting it off, comes forth arrayed in light;
Even so, above is this dry shell of the skin, which, like the husk of grain, of itself falls off.
Afterwards, such is the splendour of the limbs, that one is perplexed whether it is a self-existing shaft of Cashmere porphyry, or shoots that have sprouted up from jewel seed:
Or a body moulded of tints caught from the glow of evening, or a pillar formed of the interior light:
A vase filled with liquid saffron; or a statue cast of divine thaumaturgic perfection molten down. To me beholding, it appears QUIETISM itself, personified with limbs:
As a painting of divine bliss; a sculptured form of the sovereign happiness; a grove of trees of joy, erectly standing:
A bud of golden champa; or a statue of ambrosia: or a many-sprinkled herbary of fresh and tender green.
Or is it the disk of the moon, that, fed by the damps of autumn, has put forth luminous beams? or is it the embodied presence of Light, that is sitting on yonder seat?
Such becomes the body, what time the serpentine [or annular] POWER drinks the moon [fluid of immortality descending from the brain], then, oh! friend, Death dreads the shape of the body.
Then disappears old age, the knots of youth are cut to pieces, and THE LOST STATE OF CHILDHOOD REAPPEARS!
His age remains the same as before; but in other respects he exhibits the strength of childhood; the greatness of his fortitude is beyond comparison.
As the golden tree at the freshly-sprouting extremities of its branches puts forth jewel-buds daily new; even so, new and beautiful nails sprout forth (from his fingers and toes).
He gets other teeth also; but these shine beyond all measure beautiful, as rows of diamonds set on either side.
Like grains of tiny rubies, minute perhaps as atoms, so come forth over the whole body tips of downy hair.
The palms of the hands and soles of the feet become like red lotus flowers; the eyes grow inexpressibly clear.
As when, owing to the crammed state of its interior, the pearls can no longer be held in by the double shell, then the seam of the pearl oyster rim bursts open;
So, uncontainable within the clasp of the eyelids, the sight, expanding, seeks to go outward; it is the same, indeed, as before, but is now capable of embracing the heavens.
The body becomes of gold in lustre, but it has the lightness of the wind: for of water and of earth no portion is left.
Then he beholds the things beyond the sea, he hears the language of paradise, he perceives what is passing in the mind of the ant!
He taketh a turn with the wind; if he walk, his footsteps touch not the water; for such and such like conjunctures he attains many supernatural faculties.
When the light of the POWER disappears, then the form of the body is lost—then he becomes hidden to the eyes of the world.
In other respects, indeed, just as before, he appears with the members of his body; but he is as one formed of the wind!
Or like the (delicate) core of the plantain tree, standing up divested of its mantle of outward leaves, or as a cloud from which limbs have sprouted out.
Such becomes his body; then he is called KHECHARA, or SKY-GOER; this step being attained is a wonder among people in the body
Behold the Sadhaka (the thaumaturgic saint) departeth; but the talk of his footsteps remains behind; there in various places invisibility and the other supernatural faculties become acquired.
This is the selection first presented by H.P. Blavatsky in the Theosophist, in 1880, which first drew the attention of the theosophists to this wonderful work.
Thus the character and wisdom of Ananta is demonstrated, and with his resumé in hand the student is ready to hear his grand Interpretation of Ravan’s dream.
“The imperious injunction of the Titan [Ravan] to interpret the dream had thrown them all [Ravan’s council of Rishis] into consternation, for all agreed that it foreshadowed great disaster, which it might be perilous to communicate” . . . “The majority considered that it foreboded no less than the death of Ravan, and the fall of Lanka”13 . . . “In this dilemma they sought counsel of Ananta.”
We find Ananta, upon his summons, approaching the matter with calm humility.
“Sages”, replied Ananta, with modesty, after listening patiently to their appeal, “since the recital of the dream by the King, I have meditated profoundly upon its signification; and seeking, according to my wont, not for the occasional individual application of its symbols, but for their universal and eternal meaning, I have found revealed in this singular dream a series of the profoundest spiritual truths, with an admirable application to Ravan’s present position, which, if they but penetrate his heart, may lead him at once to send back Sita, and thus terminate this unhappy war, and preserve his life and kingdom. I will, if ye command me, encounter, and perhaps turn aside, the first rough edge of his violent temper, by this allegorical interpretation. If he yield to the lessons to be drawn from it, it is well; if not, it will at least gain time, and allow you adequate leisure to decide, after further consultation with the venerable Maricha upon the precise shaping and limits of the prophetic interpretation, and to prepare for its prudential utterance through his lips”.
The proposal of Ananta is received (with delight, and perhaps with a great deal of relief on the part of the council) and he is brought to Ravan in order to provide his Interpretation.
The Symbolic Interpretation of the Dream
“Through all the scenes and incidents, oh Titan! pictured in the succession of visions—for it is vision upon vision which compose thy mysterious dream—there is a foreshadowing and representation of real events, that lie embosomed in the far future, far beyond the precincts of thy present life, but a representation that is dim and indistinct, wrought out in the capricious lines and hues that constitute the hieroglyphic language of fantasy, into which the events of this outer, solid world must generally be translated, before they can be either foreshadowed or reproduced in the phantasmal sphere of dreams.
“For know, oh Titan! the true nature of man, and the various conditions of being under which he exists, and of consciousness under which he perceives.”
Ananta then proceeds with a brilliant and profound explanation of the four states of Man, or the “four spheres of existence”, which we quote in full:
“There are four spheres of existence, one enfolding the other—the inmost sphere of Turya, in which the individualised spirit lives the ecstatic life; the sphere of transition, or Lethe, in which the spirit, plunged in the ocean of Adnyana, or total unconsciousness, and utterly forgetting its real self, undergoes a change of gnostic tendency [polarity?]; and from not knowing at all, or absolute unconsciousness, emerges on the hither side of that Lethean boundary to a false or reversed knowledge of things (viparita dnyana), under the influence of an illusive Pradnya, or belief in, and tendency to, knowledge outward from itself, in which delusion it thoroughly believes, and now endeavours to realise:—whereas the true knowledge which it had in the state of Turya, or the ecstatic life, was all within itself, in which it intuitively knew and experienced all things. And from the sphere of Pradnya, or out-knowing,—this struggle to reach and recover outside itself all that it once possessed within itself, and lost,—to regain for the lost intuition an objective perception through the senses and understanding,—in which the spirit became an intelligence,—it merges into the third sphere, which is the sphere of dreams, where it believes in a universe of light and shade, and where all existence is in the way of Abhasa, or phantasm. There it imagines itself into the Linga-deha (Psyche), or subtle, semi-material, ethereal soul, composed of a vibrating or knowing pentad, and a breathing or undulating pentad. The vibrating or knowing pentad consists of simple consciousness, radiating into four different forms of knowledge—the egoity or consciousness of self; the ever-changing, devising, wishing mind, imagination, or fancy; the thinking, reflecting, remembering faculty; and the apprehending and determining understanding or judgment. The breathing or undulating pentad contains the five vital aurae—namely, the breath of life, and the four nervous aethers that produce sensation, motion, and the other vital phenomena.
“From this subtle personification and phantasmal sphere, in due time, it progresses into the fourth or outermost sphere, where matter and sense are triumphant; where the universe is believed a solid reality; where all things exist in the mode of Akara, or substantial form; and where that, which successively forgot itself from spirit into absolute unconsciousness, and awoke on this side of that boundary of oblivion into an intelligence struggling outward, and from this outward struggling intelligence imagined itself into a conscious, feeling, breathing nervous soul, prepared for further clothing, now out-realises itself from soul into a body, with five senses or organs of perception, and five organs of action, to suit it for knowing and acting in the external world, which it once held within, but now has wrought out of itself. The first or spiritual state was ecstasy; from ecstasy it forgot itself into deep sleep; from profound sleep it awoke out of unconsciousness, but still within itself, into the internal world of dreams; from dreaming it passed finally into the thoroughly waking state, and the outer world of sense. Each state has an embodiment of ideas or language of its own. The universal, eternal, ever-present intuitions that be eternally with the spirit in the first, are in the second utterly forgotten for a time, and then emerge reversed, limited and translated into divided successive intellections, or gropings, rather, of a struggling and as yet unorganised intelligence, having reference to place and time, and an external historical world, which it seeks, but cannot all at once realise outside itself. In the third they become pictured by a creative fantasy into phantasms of persons, things, and events, in a world of light and shade within us, which is visible even when the eyes are sealed in dreaming slumber, and is a prophecy and forecast shadow of the solid world that is coming. In the fourth the outforming or objectivity is complete. They are embodied by the senses into hard, external realities in a world without us. That ancient seer [Kavi Purana] which the Gita and the Mahabharata mention as abiding in the breast of each, is first a prophet and poet; then he falls asleep, and awakes as a blindfold logican and historian, without materials for reasoning, or a world for events, but groping towards them; next a painter, with an ear for inward phantasmal music too; at last a sculptor carving out hard, palpable solidities.”
While these very same teachings are found in numerous works, as outlined, for example, in the Mandukya Upanishad, or as touched upon in the Voice of the Silence, or as expounded by Sankaracharya in his Crest-Jewel of Wisdom, Tattva Bodha and other works, nowhere do we find a more graphic, more illuminated description of these states. These two simple paragraphs contain the foundational outline of the whole of both Macrocosm and Microcosm, in their fourfold unity, and provide the basis upon which theosophical cosmogenesis may be more fully comprehended.
The above explanation concludes with the following statement of immense importance:
“Hence the events destined to occur in this outer world can never be either foreshown or represented with complete exactitude in the sphere of dreams, but must be translated into its pictorial and fantastical language.”
This says more, in one single sentence, on the story of the Dream of Ravan, as well as on the whole of human mythology, than might at first be noticed. It explains why the epics of all nations were written in the form of myth, allegory, fairy-tale and fantasy, and why we must not try to understand them with our waking mind and its hard realities, but must try to reach up and understand their essential symbolic nature, to “interpret the dream”. Ananta begins his interpretation with the four states of Man for the purpose of making it clear that the realities of this outer world of matter and form are not the same as the realities of the world of dream; that the latter cannot be understood with the same logic and reason as one might use to understand the mundane things and events of outer life. The higher spheres differ not only in the subtlety of their substance, but in the very mode of consciousness therein. One must try to understand the dream, as well as all higher spiritual realities, with a consciousness familiar with and rooted in and above that dream state, and not with the restrained consciousness of normal waking life.
We return to Ananta Rishi’s dialogue:
“But besides this dim, prophetic character, referring to isolated events in time, thy dream, like all other dreams, has a more universal and enduring significance, setting forth, as it does, in a series of vivid symbols, a crowd of spiritual truths and allegories that are eternally true to the human soul. The prophetic hieroglyphics it is not given me to read. That may lie within the compass of Maricha’s powers, for he treads the difficult and dangerous paths of thaumaturgy, and ventures on the perilous gaze into the dread future. Mine be it simply to unfold before thine eyes, oh king! the symbolic and moral interpretations of the vision, which, if thou be wise, will have for thee a profounder, because a more eternal interest, than the mere foretelling of transitory events.”
While the other Rishis could not see past the “dim, prophetic character” of the dream, Ananta saw through to the universals. This, we know, is the tall task set before theosophists: to see through to the fundamental principles, to glimpse the universal truths, and from there to draw inner and higher understanding.
With his initial preface complete, Ananta proceeds to interpret the symbolism of the dream on that level of universals.
First the desolate land, the setting of Ravan’s dream, is shown to be the Earth, the realm of life and death, presided over always by Yama (Death), and being always in a state of continual petrification.
Then the three chief mirages that confronted Ravan are interpreted, and herein we find three fundamental principles upon which much of the esoteric philosophy is founded.
First, the “white mirage”, symbolic of the delusion that “sets the soul”: that urge—we might say: primeval desire—that causes the soul to seek outwards, to move from its eternal home within itself and to seek itself (in vain) in outward things. It indicates the soul’s entrapment in a delusion of “multitudinous divided Matter”, “which ever dissolve as soon as built, and leave the soul in disappointment to begin afresh.” It is an “awakening” into form, which is a sleep of the Spirit.
Second, the “black mirage” of Time, the illusion that past, present and future are abiding realities; the delusion that causes the soul to be blind to the One Eternal Present and to be caught in the bonds of never-ceasing succession.
Third, the “blue mirage” of Space—of Extension, Distance, Dimension. In Ananta’s explanation of this mirage we have a most significant and profound statement:
“Space has no real existence to Spirit. It is merely an order in which Spirit, when bound in the fetters of the intellect, shut up in the cell of the soul, and barred and bolted in securely within the prison of the body, is compelled to look out piecemeal on True Being, which is essentially one, in a broken, multitudinous, and successive way. Space is a mere How. It is not a WHAT. It is a method of analysis, an intervalling or ruling off, to enable the multitudinous figures by which the intellect is compelled to express diffusively the totality which is one, but which, from its own now fractional nature, it cannot contemplate in unity, to be severally set down.”
Ananta continues, bringing together these three principles, and giving us essential clues as to the true nature of Reality:
“Time, too, is a How, and not a WHAT, a method of analysis, intervalling, or ruling off, which intellect employs to enable it to contemplate in successive parts the one eternal, divine Thought, when broken into fractional, successive intellections; and the one eternal, divine Sentiment, when revealed to limited natures in history, or a succession of broken events. And this is what is indicated by the black mirage that to Spirit, Time has no real existence: it is only a necessary method and instrument of finite intellect.
“What the blue image indicates as to Space, what the black as to Time, the white mirage, with its Gandharva fairy cities in the clouds, ever changing their form, and dissolving into nothing, typifies as to the multitudinous diversified forms of Matter in the universe. They have no real existence. They are the multitudinous, transient phenomena thrown off in space and time, by that which is ever one, constant, unchanging, and hath its being outside, and beyond both Space and Time—enfolding both . . . And the same doctrine is applicable to individual personalities, which all arise and re-subside, like waves, into the infinite impersonal ocean of Being, but for the contemplation of this mystery thou art not yet fully prepared, oh Titan! nor has it any type in the three images, which typify only Space, Time, and multitudinous divided Matter. To sum up. To Spirit, or True Being, there is no Space, no Time, no diversified Matter, no multitudinous Personality, no successive Thought, no historical Event.
“True Being is universal, uniform, constant, unchanging, and eternal: and is termed Sach-Chid-Ananda-Ghana, a compacted BEING, THOUGHT, JOY. BEING culminating to consciousness; conscious THOUGHT returning and entering into BEING with an eternal JOY. BEING worketh eternally in the depths, but knoweth not itself. THOUGHT, generated in the eternal centre, giveth forth the GREAT UTTERANCE, and calleth out, I AM BRIMH [Brahm]. Being becometh thus revealed unto itself in Thought, and between the Thought and the Being, an eternal Joy ariseth: and these three are one Ghana, or solidarity of eternal life, filling all things, and yet minuter than an atom.”
Here is the heart and soul of Vedanta!
The author then leads us through select verses from the Marathi Vedantin Mukunda Raja [Makundraj], a great follower of Sankaracharya and perhaps the oldest Maratha poet. These verses, combined with the earlier verses drawn from the Dnyaneshwari, show the author of the Dream of Ravan to have been a devoted student of Marathi literature and the mystic Vedanta taught by its two chief votaries: Mukundraj and Dnyaneshwar. In the following two selections we have a very rare translation into English of the heart of Makundraj’s profound poetry:
“That which, distinct from the Power-wheels [or Power-spheres], is all sense, without parts—that immaculate Own-bliss, understand to be Para-Brimh, or most high Brimh.
That wherein this trinity or three-fold relation—the seer, the object of sight, and the [medium or process of] vision, disappears, that know to be supreme Brimh, devoid of opposition.
That wherein this trio—the knower, the [medium or process of] knowledge, and the thing to be known, does not exist—that, my son, know to be supreme Brimh, undual.
If we would denominate it knowledge, there is there no knowing; if we would call it ignorance, there is there no not knowing; if we would term it nonentity, behold, it is a wonderful hidden treasure, without beginning being, even from all eternity.
Nonenity is nought. The opinion of those who contend for [Brimh being] nought, is vile. Happy they who in the world understand this, knowers of Brimh.
If we say it is, how are we to present it? If we say it is not, how are we to get rid of it?—In a word, this Brimh, let those know to whom it belongs.
It is what stirreth him who is asleep, what awakeneth him who is stirred, what causeth him who is awake to feel [pleasure and pain], but it is itself without act.
As the heart of the crystal rock has a solidarity without interval, so supreme Brimh is one compact mass of consciousness.
Or again, it is all hollow, like the ethereal space; pervasible, yet apart from the pervasion; beautifully shining with its own light; itself alone!
Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshvara, when they become exhausted carrying on their respective operations [of creation, preservation, and destruction], then use the house of rest— namely, OWN BRIMH. [These active energies no longer working, subside into Brimh—the sabbatical form of Divine Being, in which there is no action].
That wherein is neither science nor nescience; which cannot he compared to any other thing; which is to be known to itself alone; that know to be the divine science, the supreme Brimh, Own-Form.
Which even Sarv-Eshvara, or the All Lord himself, if he assume the egoity of knowing, even he knoweth not the furthest limits of that OWN-FORM.
Wherefore egoity vanishes there, imagination also disappears, that BRIMH itself only comprehendeth its own SELF–REALIZATION.
After comprehending and pervading a thousand universes, within and without, the SUPREME BRIMH OWN-FORM is over entire, without residue [or deficiency], and without interval [or separation of parts].
As the clouds melt into the ethereal space and cease to be, so in Own-Form the film of Maya: when that is dissolved, wholly Brimh [or the absolute] alone is.”
And a second selection:
“Without the word THAT, the Lord the word THOU (individual soul) hath no subsistence; hear then again regarding the word THAT.
He who is Param Atma, or Supreme Spirit; Mahan Vishnu, or the Great Pervader; Adi Purusha, the Primordial Soul; Bhagavana, the Glorious One; Sach-chid-ananda-ghana, the solidarity of Being, Thought, and Joy in one, He has been before declared unto thee.
He who is the All-Spirit, the All-Witness, the All-Lord, who is present within the bosom of every creature, who is never indifferent to his own servants;
That God without beginning and subtile [inapprehensible or unsearchable], who exhibits this universe, which is not; who again hideth it as a thing departed, though still in the same place.
Who, without ears, heareth; without eyes, seeth; without tongue, tasteth every flavour;
Who, without feet, walketh everywhere; without hands, taketh and giveth; who by a wish alone emancipates the soul;
Who, being close, is yet afar off; standing afar off, is yet within the soul; through whose power the organs are quickened to perform their own offices;
As the one sun shineth in every country, so the same Supreme Spirit illumineth every creature—life, or soul.
This delicate word THAT is a body of pure intelligence—without form, pervading all things; yet, for the sake of his own worshippers, assuming an external shape.”
Following these exceedingly profound selections, the author brings us at last to the conclusion of the Dream of Ravan and of Ananta Rishi’s dialogue, where he provides one of the finest examples of pure theosophy we have yet seen to date:
“There the When is an eternal Now.
The Where an eternal Here.
The What and the Who are one.—A universal “That—I”—[So-Ham]—impersonal merging into personal, personal returning into impersonal, and feeling its identity with it.
But True Being is broken by the prism of Maya into a multitudinous phenomenal development, and it is then only it can be contemplated by Spirit become fractional itself, and fallen into finite intellect. As it is sung by the virgin poetess of Alandi—
A change, a mirage ariseth in True Being;
From the ONE, the many are evolving.
In this evolution, which is phenomenal only, the seed germinates into a thousand roots and shoots; the monad of light breaks into ten thousand rays. The sphere is spun out into an infinite thread; the lump of gold becomes broken into ten millions of jewels of infinite variety of make and pattern.
The SAT, Being, or substance of the Primordial Triad, is spread out into the phenomena of infinite material universes.
The one central CHIT, or Consciousness, into infinite personalities and lives.
The unity THAT-I [So-Ham] which is the experience of the original consciousness, becomes dissevered first into THAT and THOU, and then into infinite I’s, and THOUS, and THATS.
The eternal Thought united with this Consciousness, into infinite successive cognitions, and systems of science, philosophy, and literature.
The ANANDA, its harmonious Joy, into infinite tones of sentiment and passion, which produce the result of tragic history.
The infinite Here is rolled into space.
The eternal punctual Now, into successive time.
And the divine, eternal, and round life of True Being becomes evolved and extended, and rolled out, as it were, into successive history.
And that prismatic Maya itself—But I fear, said the Rishi, seeing the bewildered faces of his audience—and feeling he was getting beyond their comprehension,—I fear I begin to grow unintelligible.”
At this point the audience of Ananta Rishi confess that they do not comprehend the sage’s teachings. Ravan is completely mystified, his wife Mandodari confesses that she does not understand at all; the women of the court satisfy themselves that such knowledge is simply beyond them. Their incomprehension leads to what we all too often experience in the world today, when the young student of Ananta signals the turn away from the underlying philosophy and back to the surface fantasy of the story:
“Oh! yes, dear Guru”, said little Ghanta Patali, clapping her tiny hands with a look of delight, “tell us all about that poor, dear Zingarel, and the terrible alligator, and that darling little cow of the sea”.
The stories are easier for our little minds and hearts when they remain but stories. Plunging into their depths, mining the hidden meaning within: this is hard work; this is a great challenge. And it is the challenge theosophy poses for us all. And yet we find that the Dream of Ravan closes with a very significant statement, worthy of our consideration. The attitude of the great Sage Ananta, upon recognizing the inability of his hearers to understand his teachings, may provide us with an abiding example to follow.
“The Rishi [Ananta] was not sorry for this diversion. Perhaps he may have felt, if the truth could be seen, that he was getting out of his own depth, and becoming unintelligible even to himself. The ground of allegory, at all events, he thought, would be firmer and safer, than the transcendental metaphysics of the Vedanta philosophy. The moral, at least, would be clearer to the women [of the court]; and he knew all their influence on history, even when refusing, like the good Mandodari, to be personally rolled out into it.”
(See the full text here: The Dream of Ravan.)
^1. A “Sibyl” is a prophetess.
^2. This comes from the opening verses of the Latin hymn “Dies Irae” (Day of Wrath):
Dies iræ! Dies illa
Solvet sæclum in favilla:
Teste David cum Sibylla!
^3. See Dublin University Magazine, Vol. XLII (1853) pp. 475-490, 578-589, 673-682 & Vol. XLIII (1854) pp. 456-475. Complete PDF available here: Dream of Ravan: Original 1853-54 Version (Dublin University Magazine).
^5. The author of the Dream of Ravan refers to the Dnyaneshwari as the “most mystic of all mystic books” (see Part 4), while H.P. Blavatsky calls it a “superb mystic treatise” (Voice of the Silence, Preface) and the “king of mystic works” (ibid. Glossary to Fragment I, 25).
^6. According to H.P. Blavatsky these verses, along with the others used in the Voice of the Silence belong originally to a work called “Book of the Golden Precepts”. She explains:
“The work from which I here translate forms part of the same series as that from which the “Stanzas” of the Book of Dzyan were taken, on which the Secret Doctrine is based. Together with the great mystic work called Paramârtha, which, the legend of Nâgârjuna tells us, was delivered to the great Arhat by the Nagas or “Serpents” (in truth a name given to the ancient Initiates), the “Book of the Golden Precepts” claims the same origin. Yet its maxims and ideas, however noble and original, are often found under different forms in Sanskrit works, such as the Dnyaneshwari, that superb mystic treatise in which Krishna describes to Arjuna in glowing colours the condition of a fully illumined Yogi; and again in certain Upanishads.”—The Voice of the Silence, Preface.
^11. The selection begins with Book III, Canto XVII, and gathers portions of the following dozen or more Cantos, outlining the events that lead to the great war between Rama and Ravan.
^12. Bhagavad Gita, 14:5-18
^13. In the story of which the Dream of Ravan is but a side-road, the great Ramayana, Lankha indeed falls and Ravan is indeed slain. With the placement of the current story, between the death of Indrajit and the death of Ravan, we can safely interpret that Ravan’s death succeeded this dream very swiftly. It thus seems that the prophetic interpretation of the Rishis and their subsequent concerns were well founded. It is important to note the words of Ananta in this regard:
“I have found revealed in this singular dream a series of the profoundest spiritual truths, with an admirable application to Ravan’s present position, which, if they but penetrate his heart, may lead him at once to send back Sita, and thus terminate this unhappy war, and preserve his life and kingdom . . . If he yield to the lessons to be drawn from it, it is well; if not, it will at least gain time, and allow you [Ravan’s council] adequate leisure to decide, after further consultation with the venerable Maricha upon the precise shaping and limits of the prophetic interpretation.”
Ananta, while interpreting the dream in its deep spiritual significance, recognized that these deep truths had immediate bearing upon Ravan’s current situation. At the very close of the Dream of Ravan, we find that instead of these spiritual truths penetrating Ravan’s heart, he is instead left mystified and confounded. In the larger story he fails to take heed of the spiritual lessons or the prophetic warnings and leads himself and his army to ruin.