What is the difference between dreams and reality?
One obvious answer is that we wake up from dreams but we don’t wake up from reality. But does the dreamed person in our dreams ever wake up from the dream? Or does their ‘reality’ just end for them? One minute they are living inside their reality and the next it just stops. We wake up from that dream. As far as we’re concerned the dream is over. But what does the dream person experience?
Inside the dream there is a complete universe. It has the appearance of depth and solidity that we also experience when we are awake. The laws of physics are sometimes different and we meet with people who are deceased. However inside the dream, these things appear to be totally normal. They are all created by our mind. We can walk through forests and cities, lie on the beach or make love. We eat, drink and experience the full gamut of life. How can we tell that the waking experience is not a dream? How do we know for sure that when we sleep, that isn’t a waking up experience for another dreamer, the dreamer who is dreaming us?
Of course, we know that the waking experience is similar to dreams in many ways. We know that the world our senses perceive isn’t really as it seems. We know that the objects around us aren’t really solid – they are made of atoms which are themselves 99.9999999999999999% empty space (http://lunarscience.nasa.gov/articles/beware-of-images/). The apparent depth and solidity that we perceive are all creations of the mind. This is, of course, also true of your own body and those of the people around you. Had you been born with different senses, able to perceive atomic reality, you would perceive a very different world around you.
Enlightenment is, in a way, realising that the waking world is just a creation of our minds. It is realising that as real and solid as it might seem, the waking world is really just a series of concept and ideas created by our minds. And, off course, the existence of the mind is itself just a dream. Seen at an atomic level, there is no brain, no body and no mind. These are also just ideas.
Inside our sleeping dreams, we also perceive bodies who seem to think and act and experience the world around them. Those bodies, brains and minds have no objective reality outside of the mind that is dreaming them. Why, then, is it so hard for people to accept that this world, too, is merely another dream?
Accepting that the waking world is another dream, devoid of objective reality outside of our minds, is the secret to permanent peace. It is lucid dreaming in the waking state. We participate in the world, totally accepting that is a dream and acknowledging that the dream has no objective reality. Once we accept that our own concept of self, of the ego, the “I”, is a complete fabrication, it is impossible to take it seriously like we once did. If you were asleep and having a lucid dream (i.e. aware that you are in a dream), would you worry about anything happening inside the dream? Or would you just go along with it and enjoy the ride?