Ramana Maharshi: “All That We See is a Dream…”
India’s beloved Sage, Ramana Maharshi, the Buddha of Southerm India, would discuss the nature of dream- and waking-reality with his followers.
Ramana is one of my most valued teachers, and in January of 2012, I travelled to live at the foot of the sacred mountain where meditated and shared teachings for over 50 years: Arunachala. It remains one of the most transformative experiences of my life.
Here are two excerpts from his teachings on how dream consciousness can help reveal to us the nature of ultimate reality.
BHAGAVAN* ON DREAM AND WAKING-REALITY
*(The name ‘Bhagavan’ was used in reverence by Ramana’s devotees, meaning Supreme Being or Realized Being in Sanskrit.)
Another visitor told Bhagavan that some of his dream experiences stood very firmly rooted in his mind, while others were not remembered at all. Bhagavan remarked, “All that we see is a dream, whether we see it in the dream state or in the waking state. On account of some arbitrary standards about the duration of experience and so on, we call one experience dream experience and another waking experience. With reference to Reality, both the experiences are unreal. A man might have such an experience as getting anugraha (grace) in his dream and the effect and influence of it on his entire subsequent life may be so profound and so abiding that one cannot call it unreal, while calling real some trifling incident in the waking life, that just flits by, is casual, of no moment whatever and is soon forgotten. Once I had an experience, a vision or dream, whatever you may call it. I and some others including Chadwick had a walk on the hill. Returning, we were walking along a huge street with great buildings on either side. Showing the street and the buildings, I asked Chadwick and the others whether anybody could say that what we were seeing was a dream and they all replied, ‘Which fool will say so?’ and we walked along and entered the hall and the vision or dream ceased or I woke up. What are we to call this?” ~ Day by Day with Bhagavan, by Devaraja Mudaliar
A collection of teachings compiled by Ramana’s Devotees.
“We are such stuff as dreams are made of and our short life is rounded by a sleep.”
Shakespeare really did know what he was talking about, it was not just poetic effervescence. Maharshi used to say exactly the same. Though I questioned Bhagavan more often on this subject than any other, some doubts always remained for me.
He had always warned that as soon as one doubt is cleared another will spring up in its place – there is no end of doubts.
“But Bhagavan,” I would repeat, “dreams are disconnected, while the waking experience goes on from where it lets off and is admitted by all to be more or less continuous.”
“Do you say that in your dreams?” Bhagavan would ask.
“They seemed perfectly consistent and real to you then. It is only now, in your waking state that you question the reality of the experience. This is not logical.”
Bhagavan refused to see the least difference between the two states, and in this he agreed with all the great Advaitic Seers…
Some have questioned if Sankara did not draw a line of difference between these two states, but Bhagavan has persistently denied it. Sankara did it apparently only for the purpose of clearer exposition, he would explain.
The answer I received was always the same, however I tried to twist my questions. “Put your doubts when in the dream state itself. You do not question the waking state when you are awake. You accept it in the same way you accept your dreams. Go beyond both states, all three states including deep sleep, and study them from that point of view. You now study one limitation from the point of view of another limitation. Could anything be more absurd? Go beyond all limitation, then come here with the problem.”
But in spite of this, doubt still remained.
I somehow felt at the time of dreaming there was something unreal in it, not always of course. But just glimpses now and then.
“Doesn’t that ever happen to you in your waking state too?” Bhagavan queried. “Don’t you sometimes feel that the world you live in and the thing that is happening is unreal?”
Still in spite of all this, doubt persisted.
But one morning I went to Bhagavan and much to his amusement handed him a paper on which the following was written:
“Bhagavan remembers that I expressed some doubts about the resemblance between dreams and waking experience. Early in the morning most of these doubts were cleared by the following dream, which seemed particularly objective and real:
“I was arguing philosophy with someone. I pointed out that all experience was only subjective, that there was nothing outside the mind.
“The other person demurred, pointing out how solid everything was and how real experience seemed. It could not be just personal imagination.
“ I replied, ‘No, it is nothing but a dream. Dream and waking experience are exactly the same.’
“‘You say that now’, he replied, ‘but you would never say a thing like that in your dream.’”
And then I woke up.
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