For the week ending 2 June 2007 / 16 Sivan 5767

Lucid Dreaming

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Ben in Austin

Dear Rabbi,

I’ve recently embarked on a campaign to produce and enjoy lucid dreams. These are dreams in which you are aware that you are dreaming (you are lucid) and therefore you can, if you choose, control the dream. I would like to know if a person is held responsible for actions he takes in the dream world. Is performing a forbidden act in the dream world punishable? Assume that the person is of sound mind and body, and that any action he performs in the dream world would not unduly influence him to do the same in the real world.

Dear Ben,

Stephen LaBerge, a popular author and experimenter on lucid dreaming, has defined it as “dreaming while knowing that you are dreaming.” LaBerge and his associates have called people who purposely explore the possibilities of lucid dreaming “oneironauts” (literally from the Greek ονειροναύτες, meaning “dream sailors”). Accordingly, your question is basically: “To be, oneironaut to be”?

First, let me say that ancient Jewish sources speak at length about inducing a type of lucid dream experience, both during sleep and even from an initially normal wake state. I say “a type” of lucid experience because what is referred to in the modern use of this term is only a very limited, relatively insignificant form of what is described in those texts.

The main difference is that the modern phenomenon consists of entirely self-induced and self-directed products of the imagination. The Jewish mystical techniques and experiences, however, employ invoking Divine Names and the names of angels to transport the holy and righteous seeker upon a journey into the supernal realms that he himself directs. This results in a real spiritual experience that can reveal hidden mystical truths, as well as information regarding the past, present and future.

It’s worth mentioning that our sources also describe similar experiences that are induced through impure techniques involving magic, witchcraft, demons and other elements of “the dark side”. Of course, even just the use of these methods is forbidden and punishable, regardless of the content of the experiences they engender, because of their association with the “other side”.

Regarding lucid dreams, since the type of dream and what happens in it are a product of one’s own thoughts and imagination, the extent to which one is responsible for what he “does” in the dream will depend on to what extent one is punishable for thinking about doing something without actually doing it.

Accordingly, there would be nothing wrong with controlling a dream to think, feel or do pleasant things that are permissible, even if this includes imaginary thoughts such as flying through the air or whatever else.

Directing the dream such that you do things that would be forbidden in reality, while certainly not as severe as actually doing them, is nevertheless forbidden. The reason for this is that the mere thought of doing prohibited things taints and damages the soul, even if you explicitly think that you would never do it. In addition, even if in the current state you might feel assured that you won’t come to do the act, since the thoughts alone are damaging, your fortitude to resist over time might become eroded, in which case you certainly could come to do those acts at a later time, even if only in a lesser degree initially.

The distinction between the severity of only thinking about doing as opposed to actually doing, applies in most cases but not all. For example, regarding transgressions related to immorality or heresy, there is an explicit prohibition against mere thinking about these matters without even doing anything. In these cases, lucid dreaming —to the extent that one is fully conscious of, aware of, and in control of his thoughts — would be just as severe as entertaining these thoughts while awake. Similarly, just as a man is responsible for a release during sleep because of thoughts he entertained during the day, so too he would be liable for lucid-dreaming such a release, even though he didn’t actually “do” anything to cause it.

Bon voyage, and may you experience only spiritually lucid oneironauting!

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