Sunday, July 20, 2008

Like a dream

The most common use of dreams in the literature of the Mahayana, or “Northern School” of Buddhism in China, Tibet, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam is to see dreams as a simile for sunyata, (emptiness) the hollow core at the heart of all component dharmas (things). For example, in the well-known Vajra (Diamond) Sutra, the Buddha taught that:

“All conditioned dharmas, are like a dream, like an illusion, like a bubble, like a shadow, like a dewdrop, like a lightening flash; you should contemplate them thus.”

Dreams symbolize the changing and impermanent nature of all things known to the senses. Sights, sounds, smells, flavors, sensations of touch and thoughts are all dream-like, fleeting, and ultimately unobtainable. By pursuing and grasping material things or ephemeral states, we create the causes for misery and suffering. Those desire-objects are not real and permanent. When they break up and move on, we will experience grief, if we can’t let go. The hallmark of living beings is that we are “sleeping, “ unawakened to the truth of the emptiness and impermanence at the nature of conditioned things. This covering of sleep and lack of awareness is called “ignorance,” and it makes us in our waking state, from the Buddha’s viewpoint, look as if we are dreaming.

Bubbles burst, shadows run from light, dewdrops vanish by noon without a trace, lightning roars and vanishes, and dreams leave us at dawn. To continually perceive such things as real locks us into the endless cycle of birth and death. The Buddha was not simply giving us an evocative metaphor, a literary device or a philosophical point. He felt related to all beings, and in his compassion he was pointing out to his family a way to escape the prolonged misery of affliction and death. The dream simile occurs over and over in the sutras to teach about emptiness.

In the Ta Chih Tu Lun dreams occur as a didactic teaching device. Sariputra, the foremost Arhat in wisdom, learns the true application of the emptiness theory through the simile of dreams. Dreams are like ordinary waking reality in that both are empty and false. There is nothing gained by seeking out or clinging to any thought or mark that distinguishes the two states.

With the exception of message-dreams and portent dreams, two categories that we will look at below, for the Buddha’s monastic disciples who were intent on cultivating the mind full-time, dreams were considered as illusory and false, no different from the illusions of waking-time reality.

A Buddhist Approach to Dreams by Rev Heng Sure

Picture: All Rights Reserved ® aml.2008


Krishna. N. C. said...

My Dear Solitaire,
My Heartfelt greetings of Love and Peace :))
Very Informative post, it goes to show that everything in life is in Truth : transitory and impermanent.
The Buddha teaches us the essence of life by stating the actual causes of misery and suffering in life is attachment to all the material things or ephemeral states which indeed gift us sorrow and pain.
A very beautiful post:)
Thanks for sharing it dear one! May we all try and be AWAKE and dispell the clouds of attachment within :)(Easier said than done though!)
I always get a new perspective to life everytime i visit your blog:)
(Talk about the perfect timing ;)
Sending you lots of love, goodwishes and prayers for you and your loved ones.Hope all is well at your end.Take good care.
God bless you my Shining Star ;)

solitaire said...

Thank you, Krishna. Yes- we think we are free and in control. But really, we are imprisoned by our endless desires and attachments... We can renounce and relinquish all material forms, but the "I-ego" is the most difficult of all.

Many blessings and love to you and your family too!