Inception has Nolan & DiCaprio Dreaming of an Oscar…
Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions.
Written and directed by Christopher Nolan (the Dark Knight), Inception made for a good time at the movies. Inception is a film about a world where science makes it possible to enter in to another person’s mind through dreams. This allows unscrupulous types, like the Leo DiCaprio character to go into a person’s mind and steal valuable information, in a process called ‘extraction’. The story in the film however, focuses on the supposedly much more difficult concept of going into someone’s mind and implanting an idea. This is called, ‘inception’.
So Leo gathers together a top notch team for this ‘inception’ endeavor, making the film an ensemble piece that was pulled off on the strength of decent writing and a talented cast. Ellen Page (from Juno) was the bright spot in the group.
Think of Inception as having the excitement of a heist film but in a psychologically unstable and surreal environment, a sort of Bourne meets M. C. Escher. It was original, intelligent, visually interesting, and had an excellent score. Most importantly, it was fun.
So what is the Vedic take on this?
Dreaming is sometimes described by yogis as being more real than the waking stage of life, but it is still part of the material world.
The general Vedic view of dreaming is that it is one of the four states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, sleeping, and turiya. We are all familiar with the first three as they make up the sum total of our experience of life. The fourth state, however, is almost completely unknown to us. In fact, it does not even have a direct translation into English. Turiya simply means the fourth state of consciousness which is accessible to accomplished yogis and mystics.
Turiya is also the playground of Bhakti yogis as they are constantly meditating upon the Divine, who by definition is always in turiya. Hence the goal of the modern yogi is to meditate on the divine as much as possible so that he/she can begin to play in that magical realm of the fourth state.
In general Gurus do not stress the importance of dreams as they are primarily just symptoms of your unconscious combined with your overall karma. The great sage Narada once told King Prachinabarhisat: “Sometimes we suddenly experience in dreams something never yet seen or heard of in the present body. My dear king, a living being develops all kinds of thoughts and images because of his previous body. Take this from me as certain. One cannot concoct anything mentally without having perceived it before.” (4th canto, Bhagavat Purana) Here we also see a connection to the theme of the movie that an idea once planted at the deepest levels will persist for a very long time.
It is interesting to note that some Gurus have said that in the lives of a spiritually determined person, karma can be worked out and dealt with in the dream state. This is said to be a natural byproduct of those who are pursuing spiritual awareness in the waking state. And almost all Gurus state that they have the ability to work on their students while the student sleeps. In my own life I can distinctly recall dreams with visitations from at least three different Gurus that I consider examples of direct aid and supervision.
In the Tibetan system of yoga you have the concept of lucid dreaming or ‘dream yoga”. This is an appealing concept to many people. They think, “wouldn’t it be great to control the dream state and do what I want!” This sad thought misses the main point of yogic philosophy: this entire material experience and all three of its states is a dream. We are already lucid dreaming in the so-called waking state.
If we do things without awareness of the absolute (divine nature) that underpins the reality we experience in the waking, dreaming, sleep states we are lucid dreaming (i.e. most of us.) If we are present to the transcendent even while performing the mundane we are stepping in to the fourth state of consciousness.
The point of yoga is to wake up from the dream that is material life, as the Bengali philosopher Bhaktivinode Takur once wrote, “Wake up, sleeping souls! Wake up, sleeping souls! You have slept so long on the lap of the sorceress Maya.”
The movie hints at an important question, how do you wake up from a dream that even death can’t end?
I liked that they used sound as one of the triggers to pull the operatives out of the dream state, as sound is clearly one of the keys to waking up the sleep soul. In fact in its etymology the word Guru means to cause to sound or to raise an alarm. The real trick in the yogic tradition is to die consciously with the mind focused on something spiritual. The movie doesn’t go that far but it raises the specter of how an idea at its core is a very resilient thing, and it can shape one’s destiny. This why in yoga philosophy so much effort is put into planting a spiritual idea at the deepest part of our being; so that we might wake up from this dream state upon death.
Recommendation: an engaging and thought provoking distraction, worthy of a bag of buttered popcorn