How Do You Know You Are Not Dreaming?

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The Role of Dreaming in Philosophy

In a recent article, I discussed the four tiers of reality, called waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and transcendent. Each successive stage of reality is given greater importance, which means that dreaming is more important than waking. This surprises people—We dream when we sleep; how can sleeping be more important than waking? In this article, I will discuss why dreaming is more important than waking, and by that inversion, the waking world is modeled in Vedic texts after the dreaming instead of modeling the dreaming after the waking world.

For example, if dreaming is a reality in the mind, then even wakeful reality that is often indistinguishable from dreams must be like the mind. That is, even the waking reality should comprise sensations and ideas rather than “material stuff”; the space in which we see the world must be like a mind, and the events succeeding each other must be just like the evolution of a dream from one percept and concept to another. It doesn’t mean that the external world doesn’t exist. It just means that it is modeled in the same way as a dream.

After making these distinctions, we will then discuss how we distinguish dreams from waking. The simple idea is that my identity is immanent in my dreams, and similarly, the object’s identity is immanent in the waking perception. By checking that immanent identity, we can know if my perception is a dream or a waking experience. Without that immanent identity, we cannot distinguish between waking and dreaming. Since most people are able to distinguish waking from dreaming, the problem is the physicalist conception of reality that rejects immanent truths and makes it impossible to understand how such distinctions are made. To understand how we distinguish dreams from waking, we have to model the external world like our senses and mind—the sense and mind are the “space” and percepts and concepts are “objects” in them. The objects appear out of space and disappear into space.

The Mechanism That Generates Dreams

Logic is broken now because the mind is the thought but thought is not the mind. If we insist on preserving logic, then we get the quantum problem in which the six questions of why, when, where, how, and who has which dream is unanswerable, leaving us with probabilities. The mind is now like a dice—every moment we toss it to get a different percept and we have hit a dead end.

To solve that problem, the probabilities must pertain to the unconscious from which conscious experience springs. The unconscious is the space and the conscious is the object springing out of space and collapsing into space. The unconscious is many hidden thoughts, but the conscious is one thought at a time. They are distinct as conscious and unconscious and they are identical as the mind. Thereby, the mind is the thought (dreaming) and thought is not the mind (unconscious). We cannot use classical logic because one thing is two things—but if we use it, then we get incompleteness in which we can only talk about the probabilistic unconscious and not about the factual dream.

The paradox is that the conscious can be unconscious—its opposite. When the same thing is two opposite things, then the Principle of Identity collapses and leads us to a logical contradiction. The resolution of that contradiction is that the conscious becomes unconscious and the unconscious becomes conscious. One thing transforms into its opposite, so it is both, neither, and each.

We explain these things by hiding and revelation. The unconscious is hidden when the conscious is revealed, and vice versa. Thereby, the opposites hide each other, reveal each other, exist inside each other, exist outside each other, and are sustained by each other. Everything is like that, including opposites like hot and cold, bitter and sweet, big and small, heavy and light. Thereby, logic fails for everything. As I have discussed earlier, binary logic is a false approximation of an inseparable reality into binary separable things.

Extroverted and Introverted Approaches

There is a deep-seated assumption in the modern view of perception, which is called the bahirmukhī or “extroverted” idea of experience—the cause of my experience is something other than me. For instance, a physicist might say that a photon emitted from an object hits my eyes and becomes my experience during waking. However, with this model of photon emission and absorption, we cannot explain dreams because the eyes are closed during dreams.

We can explain dreams only if the experience springs inside out—from the unconscious to the conscious. In fact, even while waking, images still arise automatically, which are no different than the images you perceive with your eyes closed. The antarmukhī or “introverted” person examines these experiences and concludes: If these images are arising inside-out with eyes closed, or even with them open, then all experience must arise inside-out.

The introverted person then progresses from the dreaming stage into the deep sleep stage, also known as the unconscious. In Sāñkhya, the unconscious or the deep sleep is described as one’s guna, karma, and chitta. That unconscious becomes a dream and to be consistent, the same approach must be followed for a waking experience. The difference between dreaming and waking is that there is no external correlate of our experience during dreaming, but such a correlate exists during the waking experience. Correlation, however, is not causation.

Correlation and Causation

For instance, if I am slapped, then the true cause is internal—guna, karma, and chitta—and this cause creates an opportunity to be filled by someone outside me. That opportunity is a “hole”, that sucks someone with the ability and desire to slap me. If that “hole” was not created, then the opportunity will not exist, and I will not be slapped. Hence, slapping is the combination of opportunity, desire, and ability. The person who slaps me has the ability and desire, but my guna, karma, and chitta create the opportunity. The inner cause pushes me to a place, time, and role where I become the opportunity for someone to use their ability and fulfill their desire for slapping. If one person isn’t attracted to the hole of opportunity, then another will, until the hole of opportunity is filled by sucking someone into it. My slapping ends only when the hole is destroyed.

Thus, from my perspective, the chitta, guna, and karma are necessary and sufficient to determine my getting slapped—necessary because I will not get slapped without it and sufficient because even if one person doesn’t slap, someone else will. When a cause is necessary and sufficient then it is complete. The person who slaps me is incidental to my being slapped. While such a person exists during waking, he doesn’t while dreaming; a self-created image can also slap me. The extroverted person sees a correlate and attributes slapping to him. The introverted person sees the cause to be within himself.

The Emphasis on Introversion

The extroverted person says: If I lock myself into a room, then I will not be slapped. The introverted person says: I can be slapped in a dream, and there is no experiential difference between getting slapped during waking or dreaming. The extroverted person’s outside-in model of causation will attribute causation to something other than himself. But if the same person becomes introverted, then he will analyze their dreaming experiences and say—waking and dreaming are two ways of explaining the same experience. Hence, they should be explained in the same way. Even when I’m awake the cause of my experience—e.g., perceptions, thoughts, judgments, and emotions—must lie within me.

This attitude toward self-analysis becomes prominent through meditation too, when we try to control our minds and prevent the automatic emergence of perceptions, thoughts, judgments, and emotions. We realize that our minds are not in our control. So, what causes the emergence of my experiences? That question takes a person to the understanding of the unconscious, namely, chitta, guna, and karma. We cannot perceive these but we can perceive their effects. Hence, the theory of the unconscious has to be accepted on faith although it is not blind faith. Faith is required because we cannot see chitta, guna, and karma. But blind faith is not required because we can perceive their effects. A similar kind of faith is involved even in physics—e.g., you cannot see the gravitational field but you can see its effects. A cause accepted on faith is justified when it can explain all possible effects—i.e. when it is complete.

The Rejection of Extroversion

Dreams are good examples of testing such faiths. For example, if you lift a heavy object in your dream, you experience a downward pull. You cannot explain this downward pull based on gravity because gravity necessitates a force exerted by something other than you, and its effects are observable to others. But a dream is confined to you and the results of you lifting weights in a dream will not be observable to others. The introverted person asks: If I must explain the downward pull during a dream without gravity, then why should I rely on gravity to explain the downward pull during waking? The extroverted person instead disregards the dream of lifting weights as being irrelevant to science.

The introverted person rejects gravity and says: The experience of downward pull is a property of the object-concept in my mind, rather than of the external object. When that object-concept appears in my mind, it acts on the sense of touch to produce the effect of a downward pull, even if there is no external correlate. Therefore, we must attach the property of “weight” to the object-concept, and explain it through a hierarchy of ideas—the object-concept, the property of weight, and a value of that property as lightness or heaviness. Similarly, we must say that the object-concept is in the mind, but its appearance in the mind has an effect on my sense of touch to create the percept of heaviness. Since the object-concept can appear and disappear, therefore, mass and energy are not conserved. An entire world can appear and disappear in the dream, and it is not conserved. But there has to be an explanation for this appearance and disappearance without invoking conservation.

Explaining Both Truth and Falsity

That’s when we talk about unmanifest and manifest. The unconscious reality is that which is unmanifest, and dreaming or waking experiences are their manifestations. The unmanifest can be converted into the manifest by self-action during dreaming. It must also be manifest in a similar same way during waking, which means that my chitta, guna, and karma produce an image of the world, even when there is an external correlate. Thereby, the external correlate can be a snake but my image of it is a rope. That misperception is caused by my chitta, guna, and karma, and it doesn’t exactly correspond to reality.

Similarly, when I correctly picture the external rope as a rope, the internal picture is still caused by my chitta, guna, and karma. Therefore, true and false perceptions are my product, not reality. That doesn’t mean the external reality doesn’t exist. It means that I am causally necessary and sufficient for my experience since I can see a rope as a snake or as a rope, or I can see a snake or a rope in a dream. Three out of four—(a) rope as a snake, (b) rope in a dream, (c) snake in a dream—are false, while one out of the four—rope as a rope—is true. The falsity is much bigger than the truth, even if we just use two concepts—i.e., rope and snake. As the number of concepts grows, the total number of falsities grows exponentially and overwhelms the truth, because the truth is now very small. The theory of experience must explain both falsity and truth.

Modern science relies on extroversion and Sāñkhya on introversion. Both are empirical and rational. But the empiricism of Sāñkhya gives greater importance to dreams while the empiricism of modern science disregards dreams and tries to marginalize the scope of waking experiences to instrument measurements. Even if you speak about sense perceptions to ordinary people, they will always attribute their causation to others rather than themselves. Then they will come up with theories involving mass and gravity, conservation of energy and mass, and so on. All these scientific theories are easily invalidated for the introverted person because he asks a simple question—When I lift an object in my dream, I feel heaviness, although there is no external world. When a world is not necessary for my dreaming experience, then instead of making theories about the world, I should be making theories of experience. Those theories include the experience of the world, so they are more complete than the theories that explain the world but preclude my dreams. More complete is also truer.

Truth-Falsity Rational Distinction

Now we can ask: What is the difference between lifting weights while dreaming vs. while waking? I will consider two possible answers to this question—one that is more extroverted and the other that is more introverted one by one.

The extroverted answer is that nobody else experiences my dream, and hence, when I lift weights in my dream, there is no change to anyone else’s experience. This extroverted answer is better than talking about changes to the world, because of the age-old question: “If nobody saw a peacock dance in the forest, then did the peacock really dance?” The answer to that question is: The peacock could have danced in his dream, and in that case, we could say that he danced but nobody knew about it. But if the peacock danced in the forest while waking, then the trees in the forest would have an experience. The peacock’s dancing would be a correlate of the tree’s experiences, while their cause is internal to the tree. The problem is that the tree has no way of knowing that its experience is correlated to a real peacock’s dance. The tree’s experience could also be a dream, instead of a waking experience. This extroverted answer fails because we don’t know when someone else has an experience, even if we see them, because that process of seeing someone seeing me, could just be my dream.

The introverted answer is that additional karma is not created during dreaming, but it is created during waking. For example, immoral actions during dreaming don’t deserve punishment, and moral actions during dreaming don’t deserve rewards. Guna and chitta are still modified during dreaming—e.g., thought experiments are often used to determine possible courses of action and how we might prepare to avoid or bring about such situations. By such contemplation, we develop desires (change to guna) and abilities (how to handle the situation or bring about the desired outcome). But you can contemplate a nuclear war, and such contemplation will not invite rewards or punishments.

The introverted answer is that a part of the unconscious—i.e., karma—is not created during dreaming but is created while waking. If I explode a nuclear bomb in my dream, I’m not a criminal to be punished. If I do charity in my dream, I’m not a saint to be applauded. However, by dreaming about such things I may develop a proclivity (guna) and ability (chitta) toward violence or charity. That increased proclivity and ability may then lead to violent or charitable action which is why contemplating such things may be good or bad. But as long as they are still dreams, they are not to be rewarded or punished.

Hence, if we rely on an extroverted approach to determine if we are dreaming or waking, we can never find the answer because every dream can be reality and every reality can be a dream. The difference can only be known if we try to construct a causal explanation of our experience, and the difference is that good actions during dreams do not lead to rewards while waking, and bad actions during dreams do not lead to punishments while waking. This incongruity between the succession of experiences cannot be explained without designating some experiences as dreams and waking. Since that incongruity can exist, hence, we can say that dreams and waking can be distinguished theoretically.

Incorrect Truth-Falsity Empirical Distinction

This may not satisfy many people, because the theoretical claim is complex. They might ask: Can we not rely on the experience itself to decide if we are waking or dreaming? There are a couple of incorrect answers to this question.

First, we call something waking experience if it matches our memory from the past. For example, if I walk from one room to another, I have the memory of seeing furniture arranged in a certain way. My memory creates the expectation of seeing precisely those things. To the extent that the expectation is fulfilled, my present experience matches my memory from the past, and I might conclude that I’m awake. If the expectation doesn’t fully match the present experience—e.g., if the furniture has been rearranged—I still consider myself awake although to reconcile the memory with the present, I say: The furniture was moved by someone. I don’t have the memory of moving the furniture myself, so I attribute the movement to someone else. Of course, those suffering from memory loss also think that someone else is doing things when they may have done them themselves although they don’t remember doing them.

Likewise, if you go to a new place that is not part of your conscious memory, but there are unconscious impressions of such a place from the past, you may think that I have been here before, although you cannot tell the precise time when you have been there. The problem is that we can match our present experience to our memory even during dreaming. For example, people having traumatic dreams match their present experience with past memory and think that it is real. Therefore, we cannot rely on memory to decide if I am awake or dreaming because (a) memory is unreliable, and (b) we also rely on memory during dreaming and believe that it is waking rather than dreaming.

Second, we can call something waking experience if it follows some standard rules of behavior. For example, water boils upon heating, the room becomes cool upon turning on an air conditioner, etc. Many dreams are so outrageous that we don’t expect such things to happen while waking. For example, I can have the dream of flying in the air by flapping my hands, but such a thing won’t happen while waking. Therefore, I could claim that we distinguish dreams from waking because dreams do not follow the same laws consistently. But even this distinction depends on my memory of the laws of nature.

If I don’t have a memory of how the world behaves, or I suffer from amnesia of the laws, then I will not be able to distinguish waking from dreaming. Similarly, if have unconscious memories of a different type of lawful behavior, then the match between memory and experience would make me think that these bizarre experiences are actually my waking experience. Again, we cannot rely on memory to decide if I am awake or dreaming because (a) memory is unreliable, and (b) we also rely on memory during dreaming and believe that it is waking rather than dreaming if we have bizarre memories.

Correct Truth-Falsity Empirical Distinction

The correct answer to this problem involves the use of Satkāryavāda from Sāñkhya and Arthavāda from Mīmāṃsā. Satkāryavāda says that the effect is present within the cause. Arthavāda says that the cause is present within the effect. We can also call these two doctrines the transcendence and immanence of cause and effect. Under Satkāryavāda, the effect is immanent in the cause but the cause is transcendent to the effect. Under Arthavāda, the cause is immanent in the effect, and the effect is transcendent to the cause. Hence, we can know the cause from the effect, and the effect from the cause. By knowing the effect immanent in the cause, we can say that the cause is sufficient to produce the effect. By knowing the cause immanent in the effect, we can say that a cause necessarily produced this effect. If either of these two conditions is dropped, then we lose the necessity and sufficiency of causation to get indeterminism.

The effect is just like an email that carries the sender’s and receiver’s addresses on it. The receiver is obviously the person having the experience, but the sender can be the observer or some other. During a self-created dream, the dream is like an email in which the sender’s address is the self. During a waking experience, the experience is similar to an email in which the sender’s address is something other than the self. Dreaming is therefore like a person sending an email to themselves while waking is like a person sending an email to someone else. You can look at the two emails, and check the sender’s address on them. If the sender’s address equals you, then it is a dream. Otherwise, it is waking.

Immanence and Unmanifest

The senses and the mind have the capacity to generate percepts and concepts and process percepts and concepts. That processing includes reading the sender’s address, which is immanent in the percept and concept. By reading this sender’s address, the senses and the mind can know if the percept or concept is self-generated or received from someone else. The sender’s address in the email, however, exists as an immanent truth that cannot be separated from the letter or email body. We can separate the email body from its headers (which include the sender’s and receiver’s addresses) but we cannot do so with the immanent reality. It is as if every word in the email has the sender’s address imprinted on it. The immanent presence of the sender is also sometimes described as the “speaker in the speech”. An author is immanent in the book, a musician in their music, a poet in their poetry, and an artist in their art. By seeing that immanent reality, we can know the author, musician, poet, or artist from their creations, and by knowing the creator we understand the creation.

Materialism disregards this immanent presence because you cannot see the immanent truth by cutting it up. Factually, if you tear a book into pieces, you will not find the author, because the author is still immanent in all the words. Even after tearing a book, you can read one of the pages, and say: These are the words of a specific author. This immanent presence is described in Bhagavad-Gita as avyakta-mūrtinā or an “unmanifest form” that becomes manifest to the perceptive mind or the senses but remains hidden or avyakta to others.

There is hence a mechanism by which the mind and the sense know that “this is not my creation” or that “this is coming from somewhere else” because they don’t see themselves reflected in the concept or percept. But if the mind and the senses have been dulled such that we can only see the “surface” reality and not the “deep” reality, then we will only see percepts and concepts and not their source in them. Then we cannot distinguish dreams from waking.

Similarly, if we don’t understand that the source is immanent in the percept and concept, then we can keep arguing endlessly about the inability to distinguish between dreams and reality because we are only looking at the “surface” and are incapable of seeing the “deep”. When the senses and the mind are dulled, then the philosophical problem of distinguishing between dreams and reality arises because the person with the dulled senses and the mind also remains ignorant about the immanence of the cause in the effect, and cannot distinguish between the self-created dreams and the externally-triggered reality.

Applications of Immanent Truth

A similar problem arises in distinguishing the self-created mental noise from the thoughts inspired by the Paramātma in the heart. If we can read the sender’s address in the thought, then we can know which thoughts are self-created and which ones are inspired by Paramātma. Even to be guided by the Paramātma, we need to distinguish between the self-created mental noise and Paramātma’s inspiration. Without it, we would always be controlled by the mind rather than letting Paramātma control it, and divine inspiration loses meaning.

Another example of this issue is the “brain in a vat”—a thought experiment in which a brain is kept in a vat, connected through wires to a computer, into which an evil programmer has installed malicious software to control the brain by injecting electrical impulses into it. The argument mimics the Cartesian “evil demon” controlling the mind. Descartes escaped this problem by claiming that God’s benevolence precludes the existence of such a demon. The materialist, however, removes God from the argument, postulates an evil demon controlling our minds, and asks: Can we know whether we are controlled by an evil demon who is simulating all our experiences? Their answer is: We don’t. It just proves that by removing God from the Cartesian argument, we lose realism.

The real answer is that the source of experience is immanent in the experience and a perceptive sense and mind can know the source from the experience and thereby determine that this experience is caused by the evil demon. However, this requires us to perceive the deep reality beyond the surface symptoms. The developed mind and senses can perceive this, and the dulled mind and senses cannot. This is just like knowing the speaker from the speech. The developed mind can see the author in the book and by understanding the author’s personality and intentions, he understands what the book is really saying. The underdeveloped mind, however, cannot see the author in the book. He will rely on structures of grammar and dictionary meanings creating a huge potential for misunderstanding because (a) the same sentence can be interpreted as having many structures, and (b) each word can have multiple meanings.

The Problem of Deciding Meaning

A classic example of many structures of a sentence is the AI problem in which a computer is tasked to interpret the sentence “I saw a man on a hill with a telescope” which has many possible meanings—e.g., (a) the man was on the hill looking into a telescope and I saw him in that state from the ground, and (b) the man was standing on the hill and I saw him in that state while looking through my telescope. Structural variations arise because words like “on” and “with” can be bound to the seer and the seen. Similarly, classic examples of multiple meanings of words abound all over logic, set theory, and mathematics, and they lead to contradictions. To avoid these contradictions, linguistic discourse is limited to sentences in which each word has only one meaning, such that sentences with alternative meanings can never be discussed. They may, of course, be true or false. But there is no way to know that truth or falsity.

The problems of grammatical structure and multiple meanings of words preclude the ability to read and understand the correct meaning of a sentence—i.e., as originally intended by the author. Either all the possible meanings must be permitted leading us to numerous contradictions with other statements where the words mean differently. Or some of those possible meanings must be eliminated universally to create a misunderstanding of the text because alternative meanings are necessary for it. The problem of interpretation entails that the true meaning of the text cannot be known because (a) we will restrict ourselves to the surface reality, (b) we cannot identify the grammatical structure and one of the many possible meanings of words contextually, and (c) we cannot see the author in the speech so we cannot know what structure and meanings he intended while uttering those words. We interpret the speaker’s words just as what we would mean if we had uttered the same sentences.

The solution to this problem requires us to see multiple levels of “deeper” realities including (a) the author, his mood while saying this, his intentions in making those claims, what he is referring to, the person to whom he was speaking at that point, and the effect intended by him, (b) the specific context of the time, place, and roles involved in the conversation, (c) the grammatical structures, (d) the nuances of culture, norms, and assumptions hidden in a language both for the speaker and the listener, (e) the nuances of the audience to whom the speaker is talking to, and (f) the specific sounds, letters, and words uttered in that speech. Each of these six underdetermines the meaning without the others. If we rely only on the “surface” reality of sounds, then their meaning is hugely underdetermined. We can know the true meaning only if we can perceive all six layers beginning with the sounds and ending with the author.

Western Neglect of Immanence

This problem of immanence is so important, and yet so neglected in modern thinking, that its true significance is hugely underestimated. The same problem appears in all experiences. There are so many deeper realities hidden in every sense perception that unless we develop our perceptual capabilities, we cannot know the reality truthfully. The simplest illustration of that problem is our inability to distinguish dreaming from waking, hallucination from the perception of reality, and the vision of truth from the vision of delusion.

These problems cannot be solved without understanding how the same thing is transcendent and immanent. For instance, if I’m seeing an apple, the apple is transcendent to me, but that apple is also immanent in the perception due to which we can know that this perception corresponds to the apple and is not a self-created hallucination. We can know that only if we can see that the sender’s address immanent in the percepts of red, round, and sweet is not mine.

Immanent realities have been disregarded in Western philosophy from the outset. For example, in the Socratic allegory of shadows on the cave wall, our perceptions are like shadows cast on a cave wall but we cannot know whether those shadows are cast by dancing men or a shadowgraphist. Socrates does not consider the possibility that there is something in the shadows that could tell us about their cause. He assumes that the causes cannot be known from the effects, many causes can produce the same effect, and hence, there is no way to know which cause is responsible for producing which effect in which case.

In Humean skepticism, there is no necessity for causality because the same effect can be produced by many causes. Hume ignores the possibility that the cause could be immanent in the effect and hence even as many causes can produce an effect, in a specific case, only one cause is producing the effect.

In Kantian philosophy, there is an unknowable noumenon that creates a perceptual phenomenon and we interpret that phenomenon according to our innate mental categories—because we cannot know the noumena causing the phenomena. It is like saying that when I read the book, I cannot know the author because all I have in front of me are the words printed on paper.

In Cartesian skepticism, our minds could be controlled by an evil demon and God’s benevolence rescues us from delusion. Descartes doesn’t consider the possibility that there may be something within the delusion—e.g., double standards or inconsistencies—that could help us distinguish it from the truth.

In Einsteinian relativity, each person measures the same reality—e.g., distance and duration—differently due to their state of motion. However, there is no way to know which of these is the truth because Einstein insists that the observer can never know his own state of movement, and hence, there is no way to know if the observed value corresponds to a moving or stationary observer. If he had considered the possibility of immanent truth, then a moving observer’s observation will include two contributor identities—of the observer and the observed—and could be rejected as the true observation. A true observation would be that which excludes the observer’s identity in the percept.

In logic, set theory, and mathematics, each word can have only one meaning to avoid contradictions thereby eliminating all sentences from a rational discourse that could have relied on alternative meanings of words. Logic, set theory, and mathematics eliminate the possibility that different people may use the same words in different ways at different times, places, and roles, and by embedding all that contextual information in the sentence we could interpret the same sentence in a different way without producing a contradiction.

Rejection of Purificatory Processes

The net result of all these problems is a total collapse of epistemology because (a) either the truth can never be known, or (b) there is no objective truth, and whatever we call “truth” is simply the result of our personal beliefs, or (c) some universal truth must be forced either by God, a fixed set of rules and meanings defined by a group of individuals to preclude any alternative interpretation, or a worldly autocrat dictating rules for us. Truth is at best a mutually agreed-upon convention and at worst a coerced edict. Infinite real possibilities must be eliminated from this coerced or mutually agreed-on truth, making it not just incomplete, but also incompatible with other mutual agreements or coercions.

Due to the philosophical disregard for immanence, Western philosophy has never focused on how to enhance sensual and mental capacities. It is assumed that nobody can see more than anyone else. What they say can be accepted as truth if it matches our personal opinions. Otherwise, what they say must be disregarded as their personal opinion, unless it is dictated by institutional or dictatorial edicts. These false standards of deciding truth—that completely disregard the perceptual development to see the immanent reality—lead to arbitrary acceptance and rejection of any and all truth claims.

Some people arbitrarily accept different religious claims because it matches their personal opinions. They also arbitrarily reject different religious claims because they don’t match their personal opinions. They interpret the sentences in books according to their chosen preferences disregarding the intended meanings of the author because the author cannot be seen in the book. They cannot distinguish between hallucination and reality because they cannot distinguish between what is self-caused and what is other-caused because they cannot read the sender’s address hidden in the received message.

Truth is Not For Everyone

There is no answer to these problems other than developing one’s perception. That perceptual capacity exists in everyone but is covered and hidden by chitta, guna, and karma. The chitta hides our ability to perceive everything. The guna creates proclivities to prioritize one reality over another. And karma restricts our opportunities to encounter some realities. For instance, if we talk about seeing deeper realities, those whose chitta is contaminated cannot see its existence and they claim that it doesn’t exist. Those who are accustomed to prioritizing the vision of surface realities over deeper realities want sense-perceivable evidence for the deeper reality. And those who are inhibited by karma will never come into contact with anyone who can see deeper realities and tell them about them. Chitta, guna, and karma inhibit the truth.

Therefore, truth is not for everyone. Only those who deserve to know the truth will get to know it theoretically. Then, only those who desire to see that truth directly will practice sincerely. And only those who practice sincerely will develop the capacity to perceive the truth empirically. Everyone else will suffer before they reject their false ideas. For instance, when we apply binary logic to reality, we get probability, uncertainty, indeterminism, and incompleteness. But most people don’t care about these problems as long as they are happy. When their life becomes miserable, they iterate through many solutions to eliminate the suffering. But it doesn’t work due to the same reasons they ignored earlier. Misery makes a person realize the gravity of the neglected problems.

Epistemology thus works primarily by falsification, and rarely by verification. Falsification is driven by suffering. You go on suffering to eliminate the lies before you come to the truth and then you verify it. It doesn’t mean that we could not directly verify it at the outset. But most people will not reject falsities as long as they are happy. A falsity becomes a problem only when it is painful. You will not mind dreaming forever if that dream is happy. You wake up quickly when the dream is miserable. Thereby, epistemology must rely on suffering, rather than merely on reason and observation. Vedic texts accept that most people come to the truth only because they are suffering. Others live with the lies until they face their painful implications. Hence, rational proofs are useful only to those whose minds have been cleansed of false ideas by suffering and they need rational evidence for the truth before they pursue its realization.

Philosophers in the West have overemphasized the importance of reason and observation while underestimating the power of emotion. You don’t magically get data to be explained by a theory; you often select that data that will validate your theory. You don’t magically find a rational explanation for the data; you often select a model that you like and reject other models because you don’t like them. When data and theories are selected based on what we tend to like, then the only way to falsify them is to produce empirical and rational conclusions that we will dislike. A dislikable rational conclusion is the incompleteness of all mathematical models and a dislikable empirical conclusion is suffering. When these are combined, then we lose the ability to resolve the suffering using mathematical models. This is real falsification. At this juncture, people will not accept the inevitability of suffering and the incapacity to resolve it.

The Role of Science and Philosophy

Science and philosophy have an important role in convincing us about the existence of the unseen. The distinction between dreaming and waking also relies on such an unseen. That unseen is the noumena hidden within the phenomena. Western philosophy has mistakenly put the noumena behind the phenomena, making it impossible for us to see it. That conclusion destroys the need for perceptual development, and religion is reduced to blind faith in the noumenon, while science is reduced to blind faith in the phenomena. When these phenomena are analyzed using binary logic in science, then the result is indeterminism, incompleteness, uncertainty, and probability. If instead, we change the logic, then we can get to the logically necessary (although unseen) noumenon by correctly analyzing the phenomena. Then if we are interested in seeing the unseen, we can pursue the path of cleansing the chitta.

If the noumena are hidden in the phenomena, then we can try to see deeper realities in the superficial realities. Seeing the meaning in the percepts is one such depth perception. That meaning is not our creation. It is objectively present in everything. But we may not perceive it because we don’t have a developed perception. We may instead superimpose our own interpretation of the text and consider that to be the true meaning. That interpretation works for some sentences in the text but not for others. But we ignore what we don’t understand, or that which we find contradictory to our previous interpretations because we are more interested in self-preservation than the truth.

A true seeker tries to find that meaning by which all statements in the text will be true. As more sentences are incorporated into the understanding of each sentence, deeper and deeper meanings are revealed, although that deeper truth is present in every single statement. The attempt to see the deeper truth hidden in the superficial facts culminate in God, as the deepest noumenon hidden in all phenomena. He is the prolific speaker in all speeches, the expressive artist in all art, the emotive musician in all music, the nimble dancer in all dances, the dramatic actor in all dramas, the wise author in all books, the magnificent architect in all structures, and the creator in all creations. Everything reveals some aspect of His power, beauty, and erudition. If we know Him, then we know everything. Knowing Him is the perfection of science and philosophy.

Arthavāda—The Doctrine of Meaning

The doctrine of these hidden meanings is called Arthavāda. That meaning exists in everything, including chairs, tables, houses, and atoms. However, some of these things can reveal the hidden quicker than others. Those things are the various practices prescribed for the cleansing of consciousness. They can be bundled together into the term “ritual”. The mark of a ritual is that the superficial reality has considerable resemblance to the deeper reality in one of many ways. E.g., reading a truthful book is a ritual in which the deep and surface realities are cognitively similar. Similarly, while dancing or singing in a ritual, the deep and surface realities are emotively similar. By performing these rituals, an impression of the surface goes deep into our chitta, and becomes the deeper reality. The rate at which the surface becomes the deep reality depends on us—how strongly, unpretentiously, and exclusively we desire it.

Thus, Arthavāda says that God is hidden in the ritual of chanting mantras. By performing that ritual, the chitta is cleansed, the perceptual capacity is enhanced, and we can see the previously unseen in the seen. Philosophy can logically convince us that the unseen must be hidden in the seen. Otherwise, there is no answer to questions such as knowing whether we are awake or dreaming. What is logically necessary and yet remains hidden from our vision is a flaw we must attribute to ourselves. The chitta is therefore described as the goggles through which see, and sometimes as the veil that covers our vision to hide the complete truth from us. The removal of the veil reveals the complete truth and constitutes the ultimate confirmation, but it is obtained only if we are rationally convinced that there is an unseen in all the seen, we have a strong desire for seeing the unseen in the seen, and we sincerely practice the cleansing of the chitta to remove the veil hiding the truth to help us see the unseen.

Cite this article as:

Ashish Dalela, "How Do You Know You Are Not Dreaming?," in Shabda Journal, October 31, 2022,