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Dreams and Rebirth

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by Sangharakshita

... when they visited Kalimpong and went to see the temple built by Dudjom Rimpoche
they saw, amongst the murals, the paintings on the walls, again a figure of the same red
Buddha holding up the red lotus flower. It seems as though my vision wasn’t as untraditional
as I had originally thought.

As I have said, I took this vision to mean that it was time I got myself properly ordained
and joined the monastic sangha. I was ordained as a sramanera at Kusinara and subsequently
as a bhikkhu at Sarnath. I was very fully on track so to speak. Then I spent some time with
bhikkhu Kasyap studying Pali. He took me up to Kalimpong and left me there, exhorting me
to stay there and work for the good of Buddhism which I proceeded to do by starting, among
other things the Young Men’s Buddhist Association which could be regarded as a sort of trial
run for the FWBO. In the years that followed I continued to study, continued to meditate,
continued to practise the Dharma and was so fortunate as to receive instruction and initiation
from some very distinguished Tibetan lamas as well as from a Chinese hermit yogi. So
fourteen productive years passed in Kalimpong. I did quite a lot of writing, including the
‘Survey of Buddhism’ and also got involved with the Movement of mass conversion
in the plains of India – which had been started by Dr. Ambedkar. So, in fact, my life found a
very definite force.

In 1964 I came back to this country after an absence of twenty years and three years later I
started the FWBO and WBO. The rest of course is, as they say, history and a history of which
all of you are now part. So, as I look back now as an old man nearly eighty three I can’t help
thinking that there must have been some reason why I followed that particular course without
any real deviation. Even the army couldn’t stop me studying Buddhism and I wasn’t captured
by one of those famous Hindu teachers. I stuck to the Dharma. The Dharma was my path. It
was the Dharma that I wanted to immerse myself in. It was the Dharma that I wanted to
experience. It was the Dharma that I wanted to communicate. This was always clear to me.

So sometimes I wonder ‘ Where did this tremendous urge come from? ’ This urge which
has played such a dominant part in my life for sixty years. I look back and think what sort of
surroundings I was born into. Very ordinary working class surroundings in Tooting of all
places. So what was there to account for my interest? I can only presume that in all likelihood
it was some powerful samskara carried over from a previous existence which had impelled
me to follow a path which I had followed before and to reconnect with teachings and

Bhante: Recollections of early life - and some reflections on rebirth | page 3/8
practices and experiences with which I had been connected in previous lives. So this has
always been to me one of the considerations which has led me to accept the idea of rebirth.
Now I deliberately used the word consideration because it isn’t a proof. Many people might
say that I am quite mistaken and that my interest in Buddhism and devotion to the Dharma
could be explained by some sort of gene in my makeup but to me it doesn’t seem like that at
all. To me it really does seem as though I was following a path in this life which I had
trodden in previous lives so it is one of the considerations on account of which I do believe in
the fact of rebirth. Of course there are other considerations too. This is not the only one and,
as I said, and I emphasise that my impression or my conviction that I must have followed this
path before does not in any way constitute a proof, much less a scientific proof which might
convince those who did not believe in the fact or idea of rebirth.

I am going to talk now a bit about dreams. I wasn’t really expecting to talk much about
dreams but I think I will. People are often interested in dreams anyway. According to some
buddhist texts it seems that Siddartha had quite a number of significant dreams before his
enlightenment. In fact I wrote a poem on one of those dreams which some of you may have
come across. Dreams obviously make up quite an important part of our lives. In India there is
a traditional division of the human psyche into four parts. There is the waking state, the state
of deep, dreamless sleep, the dream state and the state which covers all the higher meditative
experiences. Dreams do make up a part of our experience, part of our personality almost.

Many dreams of course are just reflections, shadows of things that have happened to us in
the course of the day. I personally believe that there are dreams of a quite different kind also
and I’ve had many experiences of these dreams of another kind and perhaps some of you
have too. I call these dreams archetypal dreams : dreams which are not just reflections of the
day’s events but which are of a higher or deeper significance. I’ve had these sort of
archetypal dreams from time to time in the course of my life.

I remember in particular one such archetypal dream which repeated itself in various forms
again and again in the course of a number of years. I remember the first time I dreamt this
dream. It took this particular form. There was a mountain in the dream and it was in south
India. ( I had this dream, by the way, in India itself before I came back to Britain.) At the foot
of this mountain there was an ashram and this ashram was open to the public and there were
people coming and going. But behind the ashram there was a stair cut out of the rock, a sort
of secret stair and this led up to another ashram much higher up and much smaller which
people usually didn’t know anything about and the stairs opened onto a wide platform. In the
dream I climbed up these stairs and found myself on that platform looking out over a

It was a very broad landscape and there were several factories dotted here and there. At the
top of the stairs there was a man, an elderly man in a white robe and behind him there was a
sort of showcase like we see in Tibetan temples with lots of Buddha images behind the glass.
So this was the image, this was the dream, the archetypal dream. The public ashram was at
the foot of the mountain and the secret ashram which very few people knew about was at the
top of the stairs above the ashram which was public and well known. The small ashram was
distant or hidden or unknown or sometimes even in ruins and in some of the dreams people
had forgotten about its existence.

I used to reflect on this dream quite a lot and ask myself what it could designate. I won’t
tell you the results of my reflections. They vary from time to time. Perhaps you would like to

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reflect on that dream yourself and ask yourself whether you have had anything like it in the
course of your own experience. That is what I mean by a sort of archetypal dream which has
a deep significance perhaps.

I want to fast forward now to five or six years ago. Some of you know that five or six years
ago I had a whole year of chronic insomnia for which we have never discovered the cause. It
was quite extreme, quite severe, amounting in fact to what is known as sleep deprivation. It
was a very painful period, a very painful experience. Since I wasn’t able to sleep, or was able
to sleep very little my energy drained away and I thought I might even die. I seemed to have
so little energy and felt so utterly exhausted and friends were very concerned. I was quite
well looked after during that period and also I was very much helped by acupuncture.
Anyway, it was a quite painful period and all I could do was just to remain aware, practise
patience and try not to get frustrated.

However there were compensations. In fact I might say there was a silver lining to that very
dark cloud. Indeed I might say there was a golden lining because during that whole period I
had some wonderful archetypal dreams which seemed to me of very great significance. It felt
like a real gift, a real reward, a very positive even, I might say, a genuinely spiritual
experience. These archetypal dreams took many forms, One form was that of all sorts of
beautiful, brilliant jewels. I have always been fond of precious stones or semi precious stones
for their beauty and very different colours. In my dreams I saw the most wonderful precious
stones and semi precious stones of all colours all very magnificent and beautiful arranged in
wonderful patterns and shapes. These were immensely inspiring. Again, I used to have
archetypal dreams of wonderful scenery, very often mountain scenery such as perhaps
doesn’t exist on earth. Very often at the edge of the sea. Sometimes I would be high up in the
air looking down on the sea, looking down on these mountains. Sometimes I would be in
subterranean chasms which contained all sorts of fissures. I had many, many such dreams, all
of which I found very inspiring and which helped to sustain me during that year of chronic
insomnia, of sleep deprivation. You may wonder why I am going on about these dreams but
I will come to something that you may find more interesting.

I also used to have ...

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