It means the world is not what it seems to be.
Consider a dream. More specifically, consider what a dream is “made of.” In a dream, you can take hold of an object, pick it up, feel it in your hand. You can grab a hammer, bang a table. Consider what would happen if, in your dream, you were to dissect that hammer. Say you were to break that hammer in half. Then break that half in half. Then half again. You break it down further and further, like a scientist, to see what it’s made of. You’re looking for the smallest bits of hammer, that together make that hammer. What would you find, ultimately? Is it made of something? Does it have substance? Is it real?
Isn’t it interesting that scientists find something similar in the waking world? When a hammer is dissected in the waking world, what is found? Breaking it down, what do we find it’s made of? Molecules. Cells. Break it down further. Protons, nuetrons. Further on, quarks. And ultimately, what do we find? That nothing is really there. It seems to be, but isn’t. It’s here, but it’s not. What seems to have substance seems to have no substance.
Seems the reality of a dream is similar to the reality of reality. Seems that reality is not what it seems to be.
Consider what would happen if, in your dream, you were to go exploring. Wanting to find where the dream ends, its outer limit, you travel. And travel. And travel some more. You intend to find the boundary that is out there, somewhere. Do you think you will find it?
Isn’t it interesting that what we know about the universe seems to indicate that it’s infinite, yet getting larger? How can that be? To have no end, yet be ever expanding? What if we were to go exploring? Would we find a border? A place where the universe comes to an end?
The deeper we look, the farther we fly, the more it seems that what we take to be real is really like a dream.
The universe began with a bang. A big one. Before Big Bang, nothing. After Big Bang, something. But, considering what we’ve considered, is there really a something out of nothing? Or is it more like a nothing out of nothing, that only appears to be something? Out of what did this universe without substance arise?
Out of what does a dream arise? What does that substance with no substance, which we can touch and feel, come from? Isn’t deep sleep, with no dream, a nothingness? There is no space in deep sleep. No time, even. The moment of falling asleep and the moment of waking are one. In between, nothingness. Until a dream begins. Out of nothing, something. Or so it seems.
And upon waking from deep sleep, what do we experience? From nothing, something. A little big bang, to start the day.
Where does a dream take place? You could say it takes place in your mind, and your mind is on the pillow. But in your dream you interact with people and objects that exist and move in space. Where are those people, those objects, located? Where is the space that the space in your dream opens into?
In the waking world, where is the space that space itself opens into? In what space is space itself expanding?
These are some reasons why some say the world is an illusion, not real. Certainly it feels real. But so does a dream. While we are dreaming, we are quite convinced our dream is real. Until we wake, and say it wasn’t. But to say it wasn’t is not quite true. It was. It happened. We experienced it, and it felt real. It was real while it lasted. But it’s not what we thought it was. In that sense, it was illusion, not real.
One difference between the dream dream and the waking dream is consistency. The dream dream is usually (not always, but usually) inconsistent. Not likely to pick up where it left off, as does the waking dream.
It’s a convincing illusion. A very convincing one. It has most of us completely fooled. It feels so wonderfully, terribly real. And from a certain point of view, it is. Just as the dream dream, from a certain point of view, is. Until it isn’t.
Every night, the waking world becomes an isn’t. Before you were born in a little big bang of your own, the waking world wasn’t. There was nothing.
Exploring these ideas raises more questions than answers. But one thing is certain: None of this means our actions have no meaning, or that pain and suffering, happiness and joy are not real (they are, at least until they aren’t). None of this gives us license to do as we please, without regard to consequence, either to ourselves or others. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Because understanding the waking dream in the light of the dream dream grants us new vision. We come to see what “oneness” means. We see the truth in the phrase Wheresoever you turn, indeed you will see the face of God (Qur’an, 2:115). We see what it means to be of one substance with the Father, and made in the image of God.
But exploring that is too much for this post. We’ll need another. Read it here.
For now, know this: When we wake up to the divinity of creation, we see that everything matters. Absolutely everything.