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I am looking for early mentions of the accumulation of karma while dreaming.

Here is what I've been able to find so far:

  1. In The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom a discussion of accumulating karma in dreams:

    Sāriputra: Ven. Subhuti, the Bodhisattva, the great being, who in his dreams enters into the three concentrations—emptiness, the signless, the wishless—does he, then, grow in perfect wisdom?

    Subhuti: If, Ven. Śāriputra, he grows through the development by day, then he also grows in a dream. And why? Because dream and waking are indiscriminate. If the Bodhisattva who courses by day in the perfection of wisdom has a development of the perfection of wisdom, then also the Bodhisattva, the great being, who dreams will have a development of the perfection of wisdom.

    Śāriputra: If again, Ven. Subhuti, the Bodhisattva, the great being, does a deed in his dream, will there by of that deed a heaping up or accumulation? If all dharmas are said to be like a dream, there will be no heaping up or accumulation of it. And why? Because in a dream no heaping up or accumulation of a dharma can be apprehended. But when one wakes up and thinks it over, then there is a heaping up or accumu- lation of it.

    Subhuti: One who had committed a murder in his dream, and, on waking, would think it over like this, 'he has been well killed by me, (A: it is right that he was killed, it is just that he was killed, it was I who killed him!' Such thoughts are equivalent to the conscious notion that he wants to kill someone).

    Śāriputra: Not without an objective support does a deed arise or an act of will.

    Subhuti: So it is, Śāriputra, not without an objective support does a deed arise or an act of will. Only with an objective support is a deed produced, or an act of will, and not without. In seen, heard, and known dharmas does intelligence proceed, and not in unseen, unheard, unknown dharmas. Therein some intellectual acts take hold of defilement, and some of purification. Therefore, then, Śāriputra, it is with an objective support that a deed or act of will arises and not without objective support.

  2. In Tsongkhapa's Praise for Dependent Relativity it is mentioned that the karma of killing in a dream was a question answered by the Buddha, but no sources are provided.

  3. Shantideva addressed this (or a closely related) question in Chapter 9 of his Guide to the Bodhisattvas Way of Life verse 11 and on:

    If consciousness does not exist, there is no sin in killing an illusory person. On the contrary, when one is endowed with the illusion of consciousness, vice and merit do arise.

  4. In the Perfection of Wisdom in 8000 lines:

    Sariputra: If someone in his dreams does a deed, wholesome or unwholesome, will that be added on to the heap or collection of his karma?

    Subhuti: In so far as the Lord has taught that ultimately all dharmas are like a dream, in so far that deed will not be added to his head or collection of karma. But on the other hand [from the standpoint of empirical reality], that deed will be added to the heap and collection of his karma if, after the man has woken up, he thinks the dream over, and consciously forms the notion that he wants to kill someone. How does he do that? During his dream he may have taken life, and after he has woken up, he thinks it over like this: “it is good that he was killed! It is right that he was killed! It was just that he was killed! It was I who killed him.” Such thoughts are equivalent to the conscious notion that he wants to kill someone.

Does anyone know of sutras or other ancient sources where the Buddha or Nagarjuna, Shantideva, Chandrakirti, Aryadeva, Buddhapalita, Tsongkhapa or others might have addressed the question of whether karma can be accumulated in dreams and if so, how?

I'm especially interested to know if this question was ever answered or addressed by the Buddha in the pali canon

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According to Lama Je Tsongkhapa, actions done in a dream are actions done but not accumulated. On the other hand, setting the intention to kill someone and not doing it is accumulated but not done.

A karma that is done and not accumulated, or accumulated but not done, is a "karma whose result you not definitely but only possibly experience" according to Tsongkhapa. In addition, purifying an action that is done and accumulated, by way of the four opponent powers, transforms it into an action that is done and not accumulated.

In the Lam Rim Chen Mo, volume 1, Je Tsongkhapa says:

[Asanga's] Compendium of Determinations presents four permutations between tween karma done and karma accumulated. Killing that is karma which you have done but not accumulated is seen in the following cases: that done unknowingly, that done in a dream, that not done intentionally, [etc]

In the same text, he cites the Levels of Yogic Deeds:

Karma that you have accumulated is that not included among the following ten types of actions: actions done in dreams...

  • This is helpful. I will look at Levels of Yogic Deeds and/or Compendium of Determinations, but I would really like to trace this back to sutra or the reasoning used to arrive at these assertions. Thanks! – Yeshe Tenley Apr 16 '18 at 16:20
  • But doesn't the dream show our deep emotions and real intentions.I too believe that karma in dreams is not accumulated – user13064 Apr 17 '18 at 7:41
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I think it's listed as a point of controversy in the Abhidhamma -- Kv 22.6:

Controverted Point: That all dream-consciousness is ethically neutral.

22.6.1 Theravādin: You admit, do you not, that a dreamer may (in dreams) commit murder, theft, etc.? How then can you call such consciousness ethically neutral?

22.6.2 Uttarapāthakas: If I am wrong, was it not said by the Exalted One that dream-consciousness was negligible? If so, my proposition holds good.

I think the (Theravādin) argument is that intention (e.g. intention to murder) may be present, therefore it's not ethically neutral.

I think the counter-argument is that there's no material result, so if it's not neutral it's negligible.

See also the Vinaya -- that defines offences (e.g. killing) in some detail or legalistically (i.e. in more detail than the suttas do) -- and there, there are various (several) conditions which must be met for the offence of e.g. "killing" to have occurred, one of which is that somebody has to die -- and in a dream, nobody is really killed, so that wouldn't be counted (and punished) as the offence of killing.

The Abhidhamma is considered part of the Pali canon, even if it isn't all quotes from the Buddha.

In Tsongkhapa's Praise for Dependent Relativity it is mentioned that the karma of killing in a dream was a question answered by the Buddha, but no sources are provided.

So far as I known, the commentary to the Vinaya pronounces the non-punishment of sexual actions performed while dreaming (while also saying it's better not to).

It's not exacty right to equate the working of kamma with the rules of the Vinaya, however that may be the best we have -- because the Vinaya is defined in detail whereas the suttas don't describe kamma in every detail -- even say that the precise workings of kamma is known to the Buddha but is unconjecturable -- and, the Vinaya was defined by the Buddha.

  • Thanks Chris! Do you know where the Buddha pronounced it negligible? What this in the vinaya and if so is there a translation? – Yeshe Tenley May 18 '18 at 23:06
  • I've read this, this, and this about the Vinaya -- this mentions "An almost complete (though archaic) English translation of the Vinaya Pitaka" (in six volumes from the PTS, not online), which I haven't -- I think there's some commentary too, e.g. this (also translated, but maybe not free nor online). – ChrisW May 18 '18 at 23:19
  • I don't know where the Buddha pronounced it negligible. I'm guessing that's a reference to the (Buddha's) Vinaya, as I explained. Perhaps there is (you might look for) some commentary on that Abhidhamma/Kathāvatthu topic (I don't know much about the Abhidhamma, nor its commentaries if any). – ChrisW May 18 '18 at 23:24
  • So for example search for the word "dream" in this explanation of the Monastic code ... the word occurs in 15 places, almost all in reference to sexual misconduct while dreaming; but see also the explanation of killing, there, which specify that the offence of killing has not occurred if nobody died. – ChrisW May 21 '18 at 11:44
  • Thank you @ChrisW for your help finding these references! – Yeshe Tenley May 21 '18 at 13:13

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