Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
~Edgar Allan Poe
This universe of phenomena is a grain of sand on an infinite beach, and this beach is but a grain of sand in the totality of manifestation, which is itself of the same nature as last night’s dream. In this 3-D realm of apparent phenomena in which we find ourselves, there is nothing but delusion, which itself is utterly empty of any inherent self-nature. In other words, nothing is what it seems. Nothing has any independent existence. Regardless of how solid any particular phenomena may appear, the appearance itself is deceiving, since it is actually compounded from other dream-like phenomena, which are themselves compounds, and so on ad infinitum.
Nor can we ever “see the bigger picture” while we are fitted into the human body-mind-organism, because the bigger picture is bigger than anything the human eye can perceive or intellect grasp. All efforts undertaken by seekers to have it be otherwise are ultimately exercises in futility. No matter how heroic, glamorous, or brilliant our dream characters may appear, and no matter how seemingly earnest in their pursuit of truth and certainty, they all vanish upon awakening, along with their dreamy attainments.
Moreover, as one sage noted, it cannot be proven that, having removed delusion, there is no longer delusion. The poet Ghalib expressed a profound insight in that regard when he wrote: “All that can be seen is nothing but a dream; and even when we think ourselves awake, we have only wakened in a dream.” Because delusion is pure by nature, it is self-illuminating. Because that is so, all manifest and unmanifest phenomena — even the most subtle sense of beingness itself — are essentially props in the dreamy projection of mind called self and world. Because that is so, phenomena appearing in various ways simply represent the synchronous opera and engaging delight of That which is dreaming all of this, and of which we ourselves in our various costumes are innocent dream projections.
Because that is so, we can give up the struggle to figure it all out with the limited human intellect, and relax into the natural happiness of not knowing, without worry or regret, or any anxiety to name and confirm it. We can forgive the dream, and in fact, that is the key to its eventual undoing, because as long as we are holding on to any passion about it — pro or con — we are still trapped by it. However, when even That, the universal witness, is recognized as inherently empty, we are left with nothing to name or claim, and so are set loose into the vastness of what we are — unspeakable, unknowable.
In that regard, Sri Nisargadatta made a potent observation:
“Both sleep and waking are misnomers. We are only dreaming. We dream that we are awake, we dream that we are asleep. The three states are only varieties of the dream state. Treating everything as a dream liberates. As long as you give reality to dreams, you are their slave. By imagining that you were born as so-and-so, you become a slave to the so-and-so. The essence of slavery is to imagine yourself to be a process, to have past and future, to have history. In fact, we have no history, we are not a process, we do not develop, nor decay; see all as a dream and stay out of it.”
Indeed, this entire psycho-physical realm itself is nothing but a virtual reality — a non-binding, transient, and dependently arising modification of consciousness. Why not make the most of it by inspecting it to the point of recognition, recognition that the entire dream (including our dream persona) is nothing but a momentary creation, a holographic projection of mind? Indeed, its very impermanence is proof of its unreality.
As the Buddha himself proclaimed (in “The Supreme Jewel Mound”): “My form appeared like a dream to sentient beings who are like a dream. I taught them dreamlike teaching to attain dreamlike enlightenment.” The Zen patriarch Dogen echoed that sentiment when he noted that “the truth of the Buddha’s and ancestors’ realization consists invariably of what a dream makes within a dream.”
Just as the causes and results of a dream appear individually, under the power of complete imputation, determined by one’s particular angle of vision, filters, memory associations, preferences, and so forth, the individual appearances of phenomena are like flowers planted in the air, consisting of nothing enduring or substantial. Still, what a captivating fragrance! In fact, so alluring is the aroma of the dream creations that we are led around by the nose from flower to flower, entranced by the sensations arising in the body-mind, and perpetually craving for more.
Only when the spell of enchantment with the possibilities of experience has worn off do we become available to the morning sun, shining through the curtains and rousing us from the dream. As long as we are identified with the character in the dream, the one we currently believe ourselves to be, we cannot awaken. However, when that intoxication dissipates to some extent, we might be moved to investigate the nature of our own appearance, suspecting that things aren’t really what they seem. This inquiry can in turn start a chain reaction, letting in even more light.
When our attention eventually shifts from the objects in the dream to the Dreamer itself, a breakthrough in consciousness is possible, and our eyes begin to open. What then do we see? For one thing, we see that our belief in the enduring substantiality of the one who would awaken is the very delusion that has precluded any real awakening all along.
Nevertheless, and even though every moment of our lives is really a miraculous gift, ego mind by nature tries to cling to what it interprets as “good”, based on memory associations, and avoid what it is conditioned to regard as “bad”. However, all such preferences are just provisional thought forms. Recognizing that, we can let go of those thoughts, once we realize that none of these conditional interpretations on perception and experience affect our real being.
Whether we believe that there is an objective truth, or that truth is only subjective, doesn’t matter. Whether we believe there is a God, or some final Nirvana, or reincarnation — none of that really matters here and now. Right now, those are just more thoughts. Birth, death, and everything that transpires in between are just thoughts. Can we grasp or hold on to any of it? That is one reason for the comparison to dreams.
However, instead of wringing our hands and fretting about all of that, we have the innate freedom to let go of it all and just relax into the spacious feeling and pure awareness of simple being-ness. This is the great gift which we have been given, the awareness of this naked present moment. Why add stress and doubt to this innocence? That is just ego mind doing its thing, superimposing its willfulness in efforts to confirm its existence. It has been playing the same hand all along, and we keep falling for it, believing that it amounts to the totality of who and what we are.
Certainly, ego has a place, in that it keeps us from walking out into the middle of traffic, but we need not imagine it represents who we really are. That is simply a case of mistaken identity. When we begin to awaken to who and what we truly are, we realize down to our very cells the great sufficiency of being– that we are OK forever, and that there is not the slightest thing that can actually harm us. In that light, we discover that these bodies are like ingenious space suits we have donned to explore the physical dimension, but what we really are and always have been is nothing less than immortal Spirit.
Fear is just a down-loaded program in which we tend to invest far too much attention. We can see it as just an “app”, and refuse to let it monopolize our life. Our life is far too precious to waste dwelling on any arbitrary neural-electrical brain impulses. Everything truly is OK, and someday we will each realize that and allow it in.
At that moment, some might laugh, and some might cry, but all would likely agree with Rumi (in Moses and the Shepherd): “When you eventually see through the veils to how things really are, you will keep saying again and again, “This is certainly not like we thought it was!”
“From moment to moment you are renewing the dream. Once you have seen that you are dreaming, you shall wake up. But you do not see, because you want the dream to continue. A day will come when you will long for the ending of the dream, with all your heart and mind, and be willing to pay any price; the price will be dispassion, the loss of interest in the dream itself.”