Dreaming of imprisonment and freedom

A Dream:

“I was taken to a prison. The time period seemed to be long ago, the location somewhere in ‘the orient’. The prison was in the countryside- with dirt floors and structures made of wood. There was a small place to sleep on the floor, a window which looked out over the countryside, and mat to sit upon.

After I was locked up, I thought: “Now what shall I do to the pass the time.” I had an answer. I sat down on the mat and began to chant an ancient Vajra mantra. Eventually, a woman came to my prison. She gave me an earthworm to eat. I put it in my mouth and it began to wriggle around in my mouth, like a water dragon in the sea. It felt pleasureful and even nourishing. Then I looked around and realized that the prison had transformed into a comfortable environment, a humble space in which I could meditate. There was a window from which I could watch the sun rising. As I looked out that window, I saw an old lady weighing a fat pink pig.

Some amplifications and interpretations of the dream content:

The dream took place in the”orient”. This could be a metaphor for the dreamer’s orientation.

In dreams, a prison may represent the dreamers state of mind. In discussing dream interpretation of imprisonment themes, Tony Crisp says: “We are often imprisoned by a state of mind, a fear, or by ignorance.”

In Buddhist Philosophy imprisonment and bondage are metaphors for suffering. Imprisonment is often used as a metaphor for “bondage to life and death.” (Edelglass, 2009) In the Nirvana Sutras of Buddha, it is said:

“All beings see two things, which are: suffering and non-suffering. The suffering and non-suffering are: hunger and thirst, cold and heat, anger and joy, illness and peace, old age and the prime of life, birth and death, bondage and emancipation… Material form is bondage. ” (Chapter 41 and 45, emphasis added)

A Buddhist philosopher named Fushan Fayuan (991-1067) said:

“Only with the last word one reaches the outer gates of the prison.”

Beyond the gates of the prison lies the Self. In the Mahayana Sutra the Buddha speaks of the Self:

“In truth there is Self … indestructible like a diamond.”

This dream may be pointing the dreamer in the direction of the Self. Through the focus on the truth of the Self (symbolized by the chanting in the dream) one is released from the bondage of suffering. The dreamer chanted a “vajra” mantra. Vajra is a Sanskrit word meaning thunderbolt or diamond. The vajra symbolizes that which is indestructible. It can signify enlightenment, emptiness, and the eternal strength of the Self. In Nyingma iconography there is a poem for the vajra:

“The mystery of the mind, the omniscience,

the pure awareness of all the Buddhas,

Indicated by a symbol of eternal strength and constancy,

The vajra heart of knowledge and emptiness is like the sky –

How wonderful to see the intrinsic face of reality!”

As the dreamer focused on the Vajra, a symbol of the indestructible nature of the Self, the dream environment shifted. The prison scene changed to a humble and protective environment, where the dreamer experienced nourishment in the most simple of pleasures. The eating of the earthworm became an experience of delight.The humble room became a place from which to watch the sunset. The prison guards became protectors, anima figures there to watch over the dreamer. Notice also that the earth worm in the mouth is reminiscent of a “water dragon.”

Through our knowledge of the Self we may release “the bondage of materiality.” This does not mean that we transcend materiality, but instead that we shift our relationship to materiality.


  1. The Vajra, The Nyingma Icons was first published in Kailash, Kathmandu, 1974, from Keith Dowman: An online Resource for Vajrayana Buddhists.
  2. Buddhist Philosophy : Essential Readings: Essential Readings, edited by William and Jay Garfield (2009)

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