Before his great awakening, the Buddha had five dreams. Those dreams are our dreams.

In last week’s Zen Luminaries visit with psychiatrist and author Mark Epstein, we covered a number of fascinating subjects: What might bring people to Buddhist practice, the therapist-patient work in the room as a field of awareness, the good enough mother and good enough Buddhist, and learning from “the lords of the underworld, the uncrowned and exiled kings of the unconscious.”

What we did not have time to cover was the importance of dreams in our growth process.

In his book, The Trauma of Everyday Life, Mark investigates a segment of the Buddha Story that is not often told: five dreams of the Buddha had before his enlightenment. Mark writes of these five dreams as being “catalytic for the Buddha’s growth and development … simply speaking, they showed him that he could be kind … with the help of his dreams, he had awakened to his true nature, and his true nature, to his surprise, was a relational one.”

The dreams are as follows:

(1) While still an unenlightened bodhisattva, he dreamed the great earth was his couch; Himalaya, king of mountains, was his pillow; his left hand lay in the Eastern Ocean, his right hand lay in the Western Ocean, his feet lay in the Southern Ocean.

(2) A creeper grew up out of his navel and stood touching the clouds.

(3) White grubs with black heads crawled from his feet to his knees and covered them.

(4) Four birds of different colors came from the four quarters, and, as they alighted at his feet, they all became white.

(5) He walked upon a huge mountain of dirt without being fouled by the dirt.

Mark quotes psychologist Michael Eigen: “The Talmud says every dream is an unopened letter from God. We don’t open, or are unable to open, too many of these letters. But sometimes a letter haunts us.”

—Jon Joseph