A third of our lives is used for sleep, and a little of that time for dreaming. Some philosophers think that we live our lives in state of endless illusion, Maya or dualistic illusion, a dream, unreality, estranged from our “true” selves, veiled off from Reality. Some consider it a spiritual breakthrough to shatter these illusions, step out of the dream, live authentically as “Not Two,” open up to the One True Reality, and brush aside the veil of Maya.
When I read Plato’s Republic decades ago, I remember his story about the ignorant and unwise bound in a shadowy cave, unaware of their illusions, without a concept of the Light of the True World of the Eternal Forms. They were stuck in a dream state, sunk in reflections, wandering in the dim world of mundane experience and fleeting illusions.
Considering the harshness and tragedy that many people have faced in living and dying, it is no surprise to me that they seek the solace of dreams, illusions, and fantasies to cope and find a little happiness. Maybe they are living in a dream, with completely false ideas about “Reality,” slogging in illusions, and living with a smile on their faces and joy in their hearts.
Montaigne wrote that “those who compared our lives to a dream have more reason that they thought.” As a comparison or metaphor, “life is a dream,” is worthy of intellectual chewing and swallowing. However, for me, it just doesn’t digest well. Life ain’t a dream; but let’s be thankful for the sweet dreams in our lives.
For most of us, sleeping does have some of the benefits of opiates: reduced pain, relaxation, dreaming and euphoric states, and slipping into unconsciousness. Karl Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the people,” and atheists are fond of noticing the stupor of the superstitious. Unfortunately, some of his crueler disciples, like Stalin and Pol Pot, offered the alienated workers and peasants a new communist opiate, a bullet in the head. Some communist dreams are just nightmares.
“Life is a dream from which only death awakens us,” says the Spanish playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca in his play “La Vida es Sueño.” For those of us that believe that death is more like a dreamless sleep, Calderon’s idea is a bit perplexing and scary, but a great line.
"Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt I was
a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to
all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of following my
fancies as a
butterfly, and was unconscious of my individuality as a man. Suddenly, I
there I lay, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man
dreaming I was a
butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a
man and a
butterfly there is necessarily a barrier. The transition is called
- Zhuangzi, Chapter 2, Translated by Herbert A. Giles
I was dreaming last night about making love to a beautiful young woman, and I am very pleased that I did not wake up. If suddenly, I would have awakened, I would have quickly known that no beautiful young woman would be dreaming of making love to a homely old man like me. The transition is called "Reality Check."
Zhuangzi meditating outdoors.