Rhubarb Radish Paprika Pie
Sitting at a café by the side of the road, I noticed that the sky was a bizarre shade of green. A waiter approached on ice skates and offered a portion of rhubarb radish paprika pie. I savoured it.
It was truly a weird dream, but haven’t we all had one of those? When we can remember them, we are perplexed by their lack of logic, and we laugh at their strangeness. Yet, when we are inside such a dream, we believe it is reality.
We take an active part in it, responding and reacting as though it is our reality.
The mystics tell us life is like a dream. Do they mean that life is strange? Are they telling us that life is illogical? Yes, and yes. But also much more. They are telling us that our perception of reality is distorted; that we cannot tell the difference between reality and illusion.
Now that you have received this human form,
Strive to accomplish your own real work.
Do not get embroiled in the affairs of this world,
Think of it as no more than a night’s dream.
This body is false, as are its relationships,
So why exhaust yourself over an illusion?
Sar Bachan Poetry
There are many metaphors to illustrate what the mystics have discovered; for example, that this world is a bridge over which we must cross but on which we cannot build a home. That it is an inn where travellers meet and pass the night together but where everyone leaves the following morning, each one travelling to his destination. That it is a stage where we are all just actors playing a part. There is even a nursery rhyme that says, ‘Life is but a dream’.
Despite that, we find it difficult to accept that our situation is just a dream, an illusion, a mirage or a play. This is because we are extremely infatuated with this world. Our senses tell us that our experiences are tangible, substantial and real. We are able to touch that wound. We are able to taste bitterness. We can smell the fumes from that fire. We can hear the cries of our loved ones. We are even able to perceive the steamroller of death approaching. Truth be told, our dreams feel just as real to us when we are asleep as our daily lives feel when we are awake. Both awake and asleep, our consciousness participates completely.
A question was put forward to Maharaj Charan Singh: “We are told that all things in our life are an illusion or a dream. Is that right?” He replied:
What it means is that what we see has no reality – reality in the sense that nothing will exist, nothing will remain, everything is perishable, it’s not everlasting. Where is Christ now? Where is Nanak now? Where is Moses now? They were all reality when they were in the flesh, but where are they now? Flesh is no more, so flesh is not reality. That spirit in them was real, not the flesh that is made of five elements, that merges back into the five elements and then you cease to exist. Where are those old civilizations now? New civilizations are coming up; old ones are vanishing. What is real here? Everything is perishable, nothing is everlasting. In that sense, it is illusion.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I
If a character in one of our dreams were to confront us within the dream and tell us that we are dreaming, we would probably not believe him. We would instead try to assert the tangibility of the dream – perhaps by pinching our dream-hand or stomping our dream-foot on the dream-ground. Then we would feel satisfied that we had proved the reality of our dream world. Yet, when the alarm clock rings, or rays of sunlight pour in through our bedroom window and wake us from our sleep, our entire dream world and our dream-body-mind completely vanish. Similarly we can only prove what the mystics say – that this life is just a dream, an illusion – by waking up from it. This only happens when we reach a higher state of consciousness. How? Yes, through meditation. By dying while living.
Through meditation, when we raise our consciousness to the eye centre, we will slowly and steadily bring our attention out of this world. Only then will we realize that this world is a dream and treat it the way we treat our sleeping dreams: unreal and not something we should be attached to.
Sooner or later, we will wake up from this dream. So take a deep breath and relax. Now that I am awake I know that the sky cannot be green, waiters do not glide around on ice skates, and rhubarb radish paprika pie is definitely not something I would savour!
This world, which is only a dream,
Seems to the sleeper as a thing enduring for ever.
But when the morn of the last day shall dawn,
The sleeper will escape from the cloud of illusion.
Maulana Rum, Masnavi Ma’navi, as translated by E. H. Whinfield