Dreams (supina) are mental images that occur during sleep. There is widespread belief that dreams have some significance. Some people believe they can foretell the future, others that the dead can communicate with the living through them. Modern psychoanalysts say that when interpreted correctly, dreams can offer an insight into suppressed desires and drives and thus can lead to a deeper self-understanding. Buddhist psychology recognizes several types of dreams. According to the Milindapañha these are
- (1) dreams caused by physical stress
- (2) by psychological irritability
- (3) by spirits
- (4) because of mental clarity
- (5) prophetic dreams
It also says that dreams mainly occur in the interval either between falling asleep or waking up (okkante middhe) and deep sleep (asampatte bhavaṅge, Mil.II,299),a fact confirmed by science. Before the Buddha was enlightened, he had seven dreams full of strange symbolism which did in fact foretell his enlightenment (A.III,240). However, he was sceptical of those who claimed that they could interpret other people’s dreams and he forbade monks and nuns from doing this (D.I,8). He said that a person who does loving-kindness meditation will not be disturbed by nightmares (A.V,342) and also that a monk who falls to sleep mindfully will not have a wet dream (A.III,251). The Buddha also said that dreaming of doing something, i.e. killing someone or stealing something, is not ethically significant and, therefore, has no kammic effect (Vin.III,111). Thus he understood that dreams are beyond the power of the will.