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Hindu Reference to Learning from Dreams

The Moksha dharma Parva from the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata from the Mahabharata

The Shanti Parva (book 12 of the Mahabharata) is set after the ending of a great war. In this time of peace, the new king Yudishtira receives counsel from sages on proper governance, justice, and a wise way of life. Public domain image found here.

The following passage comes from the third part of the 12th book of the Hindu epic The Mahabharata called the Moksha Dharma Parva. In this section, spiritual advice is given to King Yudhishthira by various wise sages and elders, after his forces were victorious in the great Kurukṣetra War.

Moksha means spiritual liberation, dharma refers to the divine law, while parva means book. Thus the book the Moksha Dharma Parva covers themes on how to live alignment with spiritual principles and attain spiritual liberation.

The following extract explains that there are different states of mind someone can have while they are awake – which are those connected with Goodness, Passion, or Darkness. It says people also have these same three states of mind while dreaming, and that their state of mind in dreams is determined by whatever their state of mind was while they were awake. So for example, if someone were to be angry while awake, they would be angry in their dreams. It says that one can see their states of mind transition – from thoughts had while awake into their dreams – when they are falling asleep and waking up from sleep, by being in a state of consciousness called “dreamless slumber.” This is a state in which a person sleeps without dreaming, which is to remain lucid and conscious while the body falls asleep and sleeps.

During wakefulness there are three states of the mind, viz., that connected with Goodness, that with Passion, and that with Darkness. In dream also the mind becomes concerned with the same three states… Happiness, success, knowledge, and absence of attachment are the indications of (the wakeful man in whom is present) the attribute of Goodness. Whatever states (of Goodness, Passion, or Darkness) are experienced by living creatures, as exhibited in acts, during their hours of Wakefulness, reappear in memory during their hours of sleep when they dream. The passage of our notions as they exist during wakefulness into those of dreams, and that of notions as they exist in dreams into those of wakefulness, become directly apprehensible in that state of consciousness which is called dreamless slumber. That is eternal, and that is desirable.

~ The Mahabharata, Book 12: Santi Parva: Mokshadharma Parva: Section CCLXXV (Translation by K.M. Ganguli) 1


Please note, more practice excerpts will be added as and when we find them. Featuring a passage from a text does not mean we can vouch for the entire contents of a text. Jenny Resnick, Jordan Resnick, Justin Norris, and Vida Norris contributed writing or research to this article.


  1. Kisari Mohan Ganguli (translator), The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa, Book 12: Santi Parva: Mokshadharma Parva, (published between 1883 and 1896), http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/maha/ 

About the author

Matthew Butler

Matthew Butler is Chief Editor of SpiritualSun.com, a website exploring the history and practice of the ancient Religion of the Sun. A keen writer since his youth, he holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and has a natural interest in probing hidden truths and higher knowledge. He felt called to study spirituality in 2004 and has pursued it ever since. On The Spiritual Sun, he directs his skills and inquisitive nature towards shedding light on the ancient Religion of the Sun, which he investigates both as a writer/researcher and practitioner.

18 Comments

  • I’ve come across these terms in Ayurveda and Vedic astrology, Ayurveda uses these distinctions for different foods and the energy they produce in the body, and astrology classes the planets according to these three energies. Perhaps there are two (yin and yang) or three (sattvic, rajastic, tamasic) energies permeating everything, from our food to the heavenly bodies, including our actions.

    • Hey Ella, I am also familiar with these 3 gunas used for food, and it especially struck me how a “food left overnight” is considered “tamas”, which means that anything that you heat up the next day is not good for you…
      To not take it too fanatically though, my mom and I are sometimes joking that “good tamas comes handy sometimes” when there are some tasty left-overs from the previous day… 😉

  • Another wonderful and timeless excerpt. It’s quite astonishing just what an impact so few words can have.

    It’s always a reminder to reflect on how we are in the world. Simple, but far from easy to achieve.

  • I’ve also found that there’s a strong correlation between how we decide to live our day psychologically and how this often almost directly reflects on our time in the dream world at night. Although there are higher influences as well, so sometimes our day might not have been very good but we receive good experiences at night (or vica versa.) However in a way it’s very empowering that we have such a say on how our nights will be according to what we do during the day.

    The last few lines are also intriguing; ‘dreamless slumber’, is that referring to time in the astral dimension at night without being in the subconcious perhaps? But rather clear and aware. That would certainly be desirable and lovely.

    A type of experience I treasure a lot nowadays is where I feel a certain virtue expressed within me, in a situation towards others for example, which can feel very amplified over there in the astral.

  • There, the significance of so many dream scenarios is made so clear… in words that are thousands of years old! I love how the wisdom and knowledge of ancient civilizations is so timeless and equally relevant in this modern time. Thanks for the passage, Matthew.

    I found the three states of mind rather interesting: goodness, passion, and darkness. The separation between passion and darkness is quite interesting, almost separating conscious evil (darkness) from evil done through ignorance (passion), perhaps?

    • These three states of mind came to my attention as well Mike. I understood passion as the state where someone has no will of their own but is ruled by the whims of their ego states, something which drags us into the mundane (“Ignorance”).

      It reminded me a bit of the “Churning of the Milky Ocean”. Demons pull one way, Devas the other and around the battle the ignorant and lukewarm get “churned” without knowledge of what is going on. Maybe that is the state of Passion this text refers to although I may be wrong.

    • I believe the three states mentioned here, are a translation of the three Gunas of Hindu theology. The Gunas are also translated as qualities, attributes, natures etc. Here is a short summary of the three different Gunas/states from Wikipedia:

      Sattva (goodness) is the quality of balance, harmony, goodness, purity, universalizing, holistic, constructive, creative, building, positive, peaceful, virtuous.

      Rajas is the quality of passion, activity, neither good nor bad and sometimes either, self-centeredness, egoistic, individualizing, driven, moving, dynamic.

      Tamas is the quality of imbalance, disorder, chaos, anxiety, impure, destructive, delusion, negative, dull or inactive, apathy, inertia or lethargy, violent, vicious, ignorant.

      From what I have read in Hindu literature, a Sattvic person acts consciously and constructively, not out of pride or selfish ambition or to fulfill desires, but out of virtue, to fulfill dharma/spiritual laws.

      Whereas Rajas drives someone to act, in the same way that animals are driven to act to make their way in the world, but it is out of desire, from a self-centered ego-based standpoint. The actions born from it can be either constructive (in a purely material sense) or destructive.

      Whereas Tamas/darkness is never productive or constructive in either a spiritual or physical/material sense.

      I think you are probably right Christos that Rajas/passion inevitably leads to Tamas/darkness. In fact in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that desire, born of the Rajas/passion Guna, is the greatest enemy, and that it works to drag someone into delusion.

      • Thanks for that extra clarification, Matthew! The three states make more sense to me now.

        This brings a lot to reflect on then, too, in terms of what actions of daily life are truly done through a state of goodness; many (material) things can still be accomplished through rajas, too, but there is a lack of spiritual value. And sadly there can be a lot of the states of darkness present as well.

        Dreams serve almost as a magnifying class, I suppose, as the distinctions between these three states can become much more pronounced.

      • This is very informative. I have not yet studied the Hindu scripts very much, and clearly, there is a wealth of wonderful information there!

        Thanks for sharing!

      • That’s really interesting Matthew. So, from what I understand, there is a big responsibility we have in anything we say or do since according to these ancient texts our actions and words define us and put us in one of these categories.

        • Yes I think so Christos, although it seems our inner states define us as well as our actions and words.

          So for example, as Mike said, material things can be accomplished through rajas. As I understand it, two people might perform the same action externally, which could be outwardly productive and beneficial, but one could be doing it out of pride or personal ambition, with a desire for material success (rajas), while another out of a sense of care or duty (sattva).

          I think that is why, in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna emphasizes doing one’s work, actions and duty with detachment, because it is simply the right thing to do, not to chase rewards or recognition as the goal in life, or external gratification, or to do one’s work with attachment to the “fruits” or outcome.

          It seems these three states are part of creation, and effect everyone, but a person is not so much categorized in one or the other, but is defined by their level of being.

          Sattva seems to embody the higher attributes of consciousness, while rajas seems to be the ordinary subconscious program of nature, that drives people and animals to survive in the world and attain physical things in an ordinary sense, whereas tamas/darkness is the condition of degeneracy, corruption, wickedness etc

          • Interesting. I guess doing something out of pride or ambition may skew the results in unseen ways. That may explain why rajas may eventually lead to tamas.

      • Thanks for expanding on that Matthew. It’s very interesting to explore these three Gunas/states. Although I am more familiar with Belsebuub’s work on understanding the inner behavioural processes, this passage really brings a new perspective to light. These past few days, it seemed possible to notice whether I was in goodness, passion or darkness. Or perhaps somewhere in between.

        One particular event came to mind where I was caught up and upset over something and considering this passage, I felt an acceptance that I was in darkness, and could sense how rooted the feelings were in something dark and ugly. Another occasion, looking back over a few subtle yet repetitive behaviours, I noticed that passion was prevalent, with an interest to quench my desires.

        It was just an interesting observation that didn’t make me feel bad for my behaviour but rather enabled me to highlight certain ways of being as something part of a greater psychological pattern that merits study. Would be great to keep exploring and peeling things away, as well as see the correlation in dreams.

      • Thanks Matthew that might be handy to add to the main article. It clarify things, as I am not familiar with this description of three ways of being. From my experience everything comes down to being aware or not aware with a moving point of status between one or the other depending on efforts, situations and the level of a persons Being and ability. It is interesting to investigate anew in the light of the different mystical schools that are roots of the same tree of Solar practice.

      • Thanks for expanding on the Gunas, Matthew. It added an extra dimension to the passage for me, and gave me some new things to reflect on.

  • What a great excerpt, Matthew.
    It is always so compelling to read excerpts from the Sacred texts that you all share with us. They have been showing humanity, and those that will listen, exactly what to do to awaken consciousness for such a long time. And to think that this text has existed for thousands of years, yet how many people on the planet realise the wealth of teachings and wisdom in such a text?
    Such a beautiful teaching here on how to approach sleep and our daily life as well.

    I really like the last sentence…”That is eternal and, that is desirable”. There is really just a gentle nudging here to live in this way, letting you that this is a better way of living and being.

  • Thanks Matthew for your continuous efforts to pass on invaluable ancient spiritual wisdom such as this passage.
    Over the years I’ve had many examples of my daily behaviour whether good or bad and it’s reflection in dreams. I found this passage to be a great reminder to make big efforts to be good in daily life.

    • Yes John,

      I agree that this simple passage is a great reminder to be good, clearly showing how we always have 3 options to live life.

      Sadly most of us confuse the passion and the darkness with goodness — which is crazy. But this passage also shows how it is our dreams that can show us how we’re actually doing, and guide us toward goodness.

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