What they Are and How they are Caused, London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1903, Kessinger Publishing Reprint Facsimile Edition (Quoted Edition)
Dreams: What they Are and How they are Caused is a highly useful booklet by Charles W. Leadbeater that explains why we dream and what the spiritual reasons are for dreaming.
Now, at a time when science was far from admitting anything beyond the five senses and when it was firmly believed that all sensations and emotions were processed in the brain, and when the luminous body was strictly denied in science, Leadbeater provided clairvoyant scientific explanations that today we know are true, but that at his time were considered as pure esoterism.
Leadbeater first introduces in the aura, or the etheric body, explaining of what it consists and what its function is:
Now this etheric double has often been called the vehicle of the human life-ether or vital force (called in Sanskrit prâna), and anyone who has developed the psychic faculties can see exactly how this is so. He will see the solar life-principle almost colorless, though intensely luminous and active, which is constantly poured into earth’s atmosphere by the sun: he will see how the etheric part of his spleen in the exercise of its wonderful function absorbs this universal life, and specializes it into prana, so that it may be more readily assimilable by his body; how it then courses all over that body, running along every nerve-thread in tiny globules of lovely rosy light, causing the glow of life and health and activity to penetrate every atom of the etheric double; and how, when the rose-colored particles have been absorbed, the superfluous life-ether finally radiates from the body in every direction as bluish-white light./11
Leadbeater’s assumption that it’s the spleen that collects and refines the human energy field is in accordance with the teaching of numerous tribal peoples, and it’s also in alignment with ancient Hermetic Tradition. The author has a funny way to explain how the transmission of energy for healing works. Here, we have to bear in mind that at his time what we today call the quantum field was still called magnetism or life-ether:
When a finger becomes entirely numbed with cold, it is incapable of feeling; and the same phenomenon of insensibility may readily be produced at will by a mesmerizer, who by a few passes over the arm of his subject will bring it into a condition in which it may be pricked with a needle or burnt by a flame of a candle without the slightest sensation of pain being experienced. Now why does the subject feel nothing in either of these two cases? The nerve-threads are still there, and though in the first case it might be contended that their action was paralyzed by cold and by the absence of blood from the vessels, this certainly cannot be the reason in the second case, where the arm retains its normal temperature and the blood circulates as usual./12
Explaining the mechanisms, without having even tackled the subject of dreams, the author explains the astral body, or desire-body, which is well different from the etheric body that he discussed above. The astral body serves us as a vehicle for the astral plane, the plane we are going in between lives. But usually we do not stay very long in the astral plane, and move on to higher planes. For the astral plane, we need the astral body, because it’s the vibrational shell for this density of energies:
The astral vehicle is even more sensitive to external impressions than the gross and etheric bodies, for it is itself the seat of all desires and emotions—the connecting link through which alone the ego can collect experiences from physical life. It is peculiarly susceptible to the influence of passing thought-currents, and when the mind is not actively controlling it, it is perpetually receiving these stimuli from without, and eagerly responding to them./16
It becomes obvious why Leadbeater explained all of this, while it was really the subject of his book The Inner Life, to be reviewed below. For those who are not adepts of theosophy and who have not read that other book, he did well to introduce these concepts, because otherwise his explanations about dreams could not really be understood. The first important fact about dreams that Leadbeater reports is that they are not just ‘imagination’ as psychology continues to believe, but another level of consciousness, another realm of existence, with a different, more subtle vibration, that we enter, using our astral vehicle, more or less automatically, when we sleep, and only when we sleep deep enough:
Clairvoyant observation bears abundant testimony to the fact that when a man falls into deep slumber the higher principles in their astral vehicle almost invariably withdraw from the body, and hover in its immediate neighborhood./24
Now, how does this work? How do we move in dreams, what propels us to certain places, and how is the dream plot developed? Leadbeater explains:
If during our waking hours we think of China or Japan, our thought is at once, as it were, in those countries; but nevertheless we are perfectly aware that our physical bodies are exactly where they were a moment before. In the condition of consciousness which we are considering, however, there is no discriminating ego to balance the cruder impressions, and consequently any passing / thought suggesting China and Japan could image itself only as an actual, instantaneous transportation to those countries, and the dreamer would suddenly find himself there, surrounded by as much of the appropriate circumstance as he happened to be able to remember. It has often been noted that while startling transitions of this sort are extremely frequent in dreams, the sleeper never seems at the time to feel any surprise at their suddenness. This phenomenon is easily explicable when examined by the light of such observations as we are considering, for in the mere consciousness of the physical brain there is nothing capable of such a feeling as surprise—it simply perceives the pictures as they appear before it; it has no power to judge either of their sequence or their lack of that quality./26-27
It is until today anathema for mechanistic science to consider thought being anything but ‘pictures in your mind’; and that is why it understands little of the mechanism of mind. The first thing to learn in holistic science is that thought is a movement of subtle energy that triggers immediate effects, both for self and others. The fact is only that most people have a low energy level in their thought process; this results in little or no effects. But take a master, a yogi, a saint, and you will see their thought triggers phenomenal effects, either for good or for bad! This is what magic is all about, after all. A real master only needs to focus their thought and can trigger any desired effect. With saints and yogis, it has been reported that their thoughts can do miracles, such as producing matter instantly, shapeshift their bodies, levitate the person in the air, or heal others virtually as quickly as they think of it. Leadbeater explains:
Students of occultism are well aware that it is indeed true that thoughts are things, for every thought impresses itself upon the plastic elemental essence, and generates a temporary living entity, the duration of whose life depends on the energy of the thought-impulse given to it. We are therefore living in the midst of an ocean of other men’s thoughts, and whether we are awake or asleep, these are constantly presenting themselves to the etheric part of our brain./30
Another daring hypothesis that Leadbeater presents in this book is that we do not own our thoughts and that actually many thoughts we have are really not our own because they are picked up from other people, without our being conscious of this fact:
The vast majority of people, if they will watch what they are in the habit of calling their thoughts closely, will find that they are very largely made up of a casual stream of this sort —that in truth they are not their thoughts at all, but simply the cast-off fragments of other people’s./31
Another interesting theme that Leadbeater expands about in this uncanny booklet is the notion of time in dreams. In fact, time in dreams is totally different from time in wake consciousness. In a dream minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years and even decades can have passed, while the subject was dreaming just one second.
Unfortunately Leadbeater does not attempt to explain why this is so. The reason may be that we are basically beyond relativity theory when we are in the astral, as relativity theory only is valid for matter, not for energy-waves, and thought is wave-like energy and moves with a speed that is approximately the speed of the light – which is why events are dilated in time, just as it would be the case when astronauts fly in space with a spaceship that can fly close to, or identical with, the speed of the light. Another subject that Leadbeater treats is the faculty of prevision in dreams. Precognition has always given rise to questions of cosmic determinism versus free will, and Leadbeater voices a clear credo for human free will, but he adds an important precaution:
Man, however, undoubtedly does possess free-will; and therefore … prevision is possible only to a certain extent. In the affairs of the average man it is probably possible to a very large extent, since he has developed no will of his own worth speaking of, and is consequently very largely the creature of circumstances; his karma places him amid certain surroundings, and their action upon him is so much the most important factor in his history that his future course may be foreseen with almost mathematical certainty./43
Now, let’s compare this with what Leadbeater says about precognition in the life of a highly developed individual:
But when we come to deal with a developed individual—a man with knowledge and will—then prophecy fails us, for he is no longer the creature of circumstances, but to a great extent their master. True, the main events of his life are arranged before-hand by his past karma; but the way in which he will allow them to affect him, the method of which he will deal with them, and perhaps triumph over them—these are his own, and they cannot be foreseen except as probabilities. Such actions of his in their turn become causes, and thus chains of effects are produced in his life which were not provided for by the original arrangement, and therefore, could not have been foretold with any exactitude./44
The booklet ends already with page 69, and there are 34 esoteric illustrations annexed, one on each page.