Wednesday, October 19

Is Enjoying Life Only A Delusion?


Here's a little something attributed to Zhuangzi of the 4th Century BC. He's the guy who dreamt he was a butterfly but when he awoke he didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or was a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Life is full of quandaries!

"How do I know that enjoying life is not a delusion?

"How do I know that in hating death we are not like people who got lost in early childhood and do not know the way home?

"Lady Li was the child of a border guard in Ai. When first captured by the state of Jin, she wept so much her clothes were soaked. But after she entered the palace, shared the king's bed, and dined on the finest meats, she regretted her tears.

"How do I know that the dead do not regret their previous longing for life?

"One who dreams of drinking wine may in the morning weep; one who dreams weeping may in the morning go out to hunt. During our dreams we do not know we are dreaming. We may even dream of interpreting a dream. Only on waking do we know it was a dream.

"Only after the great awakening will we realise that this is the great dream. And yet fools think they are awake, presuming to know that they are rulers or herdsmen. How dense!

"You and Confucius are both dreaming, and I who say you are a dream am also a dream.

"Such is my tale. It will probably be called preposterous, but after ten thousand generations there may be a great sage who will be able to explain it, a trivial interval equivalent to the passage from morning to night."

One thing I would query with Zhuangzi is when he writes: "During our dreams we do not know we are dreaming." I have had dreams where I have thought that there was no need to worry as I was only dreaming whatever appeared to be happening. These are usually called Lucid dreams. Aristotle wrote: "...often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream."

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  1. A dream can be a fascinating thing and I know that many people report having dreams within a dream and I'm one of them, and I have also experienced the "worry-free" dream you describe. I do like the phrase "a trivial interval..." in describing time across generations.

  2. Lucid dreams are wonderful. I don't experience them that often, but when I do, I'm astonished at the diversity of human consciousness.

  3. A lifelong dreamer, I have many that are dreams within dreams. I once read that dreams are our mind's way of protecting itself when we are worried or under stress. The subconscious releases a dream version of our worries, so as to alleviate the stress...I always found that interesting and somewhat comforting.