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Lucid Waking

“Once Chuang Tzu dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Tzu. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Tzu. But he didn’t know if he was Chung Tzu who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Tzu.”[1]

We are not generally confused in this way on awaking from a dream. What might be Chuang Tzu’s point in this well-known passage?

The philosophy of Vedanta expresses it this way:

“Let us take the dreaming state. In this state, where consciousness is not fully connected to the senses, many things seem to happen and to be real. Some awful situations arise; a lion may appear and the dreamer be frightened and petrified, all for nothing; and this is what happens in our world of the so-called waking state.

“Whatever we see in a dream is seen to be an illusion when one wakes up. This big dream of 50 or 60 years of life is itself an illusion compared to higher consciousness. Again all this creation which has come out of the Absolute consciousness is also a dream of the Absolute. All our search for knowledge is only to get a direction in order to see that all this is illusion; and the way is not to get attached to it.

” The system of knowledge is given to us so that we may discriminate and see that all our attachment and involvement … with the material world is just unreal. The Vedantika system is only to show us that all this is nothing but a drama, where you act as you are needed, without getting involved or attached. Just play, enjoy and pass on without clinging anywhere.”[2]

Lucid dreaming occurs when persons having a dream are aware that they are dreaming, often with the ability to exert some degree of control over the characters, setting, and action in the dream.

Perhaps both Chuang Tzu and the Vedanta philosophy are suggesting that the key to living well is to rest in the awareness of yourself and simply enjoy the play. Let us call it lucid waking!

[1] Chuang Tzu Basic Writings Translated by Burton Watson, New York: Columbia University Press, 1964 [2] Shāntānanda Sarasvati, Shankarācārya of the North, 1965 Conversations


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