Life is but a dream

My dream life these days has become just as real as my waking life. I find myself doing real things with real people, conscious of who I am and aware of what I am doing. It is as if I have been given a few extra hours every night to practice being a better human. :wink:

But here’s the thing…If my dream state feels as real as my waking state, and I know it to be illusory…then the reciprocity principle tells me that my waking state is also an illusion.


I wonder if they are the same illusion or are there different kinds/levels/instances of illusion as there are different sensory portals/states of consciousness?


Wow, Barry!!! :sunglasses:

I think that perhaps the illusions of the waking state are a bit like a smoke screen created by compressed perceptions that are formed from our prior experiences…simplified associative imagery, if you will, that is hiding a true reality that is so vastly deep that we just would not be able to comprehend it.

And…perhaps the illusions of the dream state are like harmonic reverberations of those waking state images that, not being constrained by the aforementioned reality, can sometimes take us on a much deeper dive.

I also think that all bets are off in those brief but powerful moments that we spend in the liminal state in between. I think that’s when glimpses of true reality can really surprise us.

Anybody else want to take a shot at Barry’s most excellent question? :slightly_smiling_face:


I am always day and night simultaneously many beings in alternate universes acting across varying states of consciousness - all of which intersect in curving tajectories of spacetime. A part of me would so very much like to say I spent a few extra hours last night being a better human. However, the truth is … “Last night” I was the incandescent skeletal spirit of destruction for two days and a night in which I wreaked utter collapse and ruin upon institutions, buildings and communities that had grown too monstrously logical along their paths of specious self-determination. I was lucid. It was real. I had not gained a vew extra hours in which to be a better human. Rather, I had a couple of days in which to destroy several centuries worth of civilization. I was utterly wrathful and complete in that destruction. At several points during this explosive obliteration I started sinking from the dreamtime into the black abiding void of deep sleep, but each time roared back up into dreamtime so as to blast into chaos a few more square miles of a certain part of the world until the job was done. That smoking slice of cosmos now lies tilled and ready for new growth. I have to admit that by the prevailing rules in Nellysford, Virginia, at 0616 hrs on Wed Jul 14 my night’s work might be considered reprehensible. But at the same time, I know the skeletal goddess of utter destruction is somewhere continuing her work in a realm in which the laws of Nellysford do not apply.

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Another thought on the nature of illusions. I remember someone in a class at the University of Arizona writing a poem called 'Wasn’t the Snake the Real Hero" about a cowboy movie they were filming in Old Tucson, nearby. The poem described the actors as not being real characters, just those in the story—while the snake that crawled across the screen was doing what it does, hence the “real hero” of the film. In a Buddhist perspective, one might say those characters were “real” on some level because their motivation was to portray those people in the film and we know how critical motivation/intent is. However, for the viewer, the story is “real” even with the intellectual understanding that it probably isn’t. Yet, aren’t dreams similarly “real” but not real at the same time? It all passes into memory, either conscious or unconscious, in the mind or in the body—or both. So the violence we see online or in a film or TV show can be as “real” as if it happens in front of us, unless of course, we can’t change the channel and then the violence or trauma we are involved in gets us lucid, or in many cases repressing our lucidity.

This allso reminds me of a show I saw at the Illinois State Fair in '68, on the midway, where a lady was transformed into a gorilla. As we entered the tent a beautiful woman was strapped down on a 45-degree inclined slab, helplessly bound but apparently awake. The magician did his thing and proclaimed the lady would be transformed and sure enough, smoke filled the room and we saw the lady change into a gorilla. I was scared but laughing as I realized I was witnessing the epitome of “smoke and mirrors.” The transformation complete, the gorilla broke its chains and growled and menaced the startled audience while the magician fired blanks to subdue the angry beast, chasing the audience to the nearest tent entrance.

Note: I’m auditing an online study this week with Charlie Morley covering Lucid Dreaming for PTSD, primarily for veterans. Working with trauma in lucid dreams is the crux of the study, so this topic is my current focus of interest.

This meshes well with some very strong theories of a multiplicity of “universes”, each very probably being based on very different fundamental physical characteristics. I would propose that these “universes” can, at times, impinge upon each other, bubbling up briefly one within another. I have seen evidence of this. :sunglasses:

I would say, however, that spacetime as we know it is a specific property of this universe in which I am now typing and those other alternate universes that you operate in may well (and quite likely do) operate under a completely different set of rules.

And…I wonder if the dream gives us some sort of access to these alternate realities.

Who’s to say that you were not doing the work of a responsible sentient being in that realm? :wink:

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Form is emptiness
Emptiness is form

The dream is real in that is has appearance. We experience that “form”. Yet we know that the dream is an empty illusion.

In a similar way, images that we see in the waking state have obvious form but we know them to be empty of true inherent nature due to the principle of dependent co-arising.


To me how this lands is…if my dream state feels as real as my waking state, then my waking and dream states feel equally real and/or illusory to me – it does not reveal to me the True Nature of Reality (whatever that is).

I’ve been trying the “life is a dream” thing off and on for a while now, and if I put it that way, another part of my consciousness responds quite emphatically: no, “life IS NOT a dream.” There are differences between the dreams I have when I’m physically asleep and my experience in the waking state.

What works for me is saying “Life is dreamlike” – that leads me to observe and reflect on the many ways in which waking life is very significantly like a dream.

I also reflect on the fact that dreams are experientially real. They may be illusions in some sense, but they are also experientially real…maaaaybe even more real than waking life experiences in some sense(s).




For me, B.Alan Wallace consolidated both views:
From a lucid dreaming point of view or from a non-rigpa vantage point, it is accurate to say „This is dreamlike“.

From a rigpa point of view, it is accurate to say „This is a dream“.


My wife, a Tibetan Buddhist says it’s all no big deal. Works for me too.


@_Barry I think it’s in the NC interview between Andrew and Alan that Alan riffs exactly on this question and interprets the Dona Sutta from the Pali Canon in a very interesting way:

When Dona asked the Buddha if he was a deva, a gandhabbam, a yakkha or a human being, the Buddha answered each time with “no”.

Finally, after Dona asked the Buddha “Then if you are not any of these, what are you then?” the Buddha answered… “I am awake.”*

So, it is known that the Buddha’s parents were human, so was he not telling the truth?
Or did the Buddha point to something else.

Alan offers the interpretation that from the view of an awakened being - from vantage point of rigpa - the statement “I am awake” is actually pretty accurate for describing what one truely is.

  • “Buddha” translated as “the awakened one”.

I agree with that. I do like to contemplate the inherent emptiness of both, though, which I guess leads to @KhyungMar 's observation that…

Love that perspective. :sunglasses:

The followers of Tantra, the Prajnaparamita ,
The Vinaya, the Sutras, and other religions-
All these, by their texts and philosophical dogmas,
Will not see the luminous mahamudra.

Tilopa (to Naropa)


Here are two passages from "Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines by W. Y. Evans-Wentz. These are from one of the sections that discuss the Yoga of the Dream State:

“As a result of these methods, the yogin enjoys as vivid consciousness in the dream-state as in the waking-state; and in passing from one state to another experiences no break in the continuity of memory. Thereby the content of the dream-state is found to be quite the same as that of the waking-state in that it is wholly phenomenal and, therefore, illusory.”

I find this passage interesting as well:

“The yogin’s aim is to attain to the causal or noumenal state wherein alone there can be realization of Reality. Then, indeed, he ecstatically understands the illusory character of all component things; like a child that has outgrown its playthings, no longer is he enamoured of the worldly life; thenceforth he seeks only the True State of the Uncreated, Unborn, Unmade.”

This definition of “noumenon” is helpful in fully grasping these observations:

Noumenon , plural noumena , in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, the thing-in-itself ( das Ding an sich ) as opposed to what Kant called the phenomenon—the thing as it appears to an observer.


Cool, but I’m definitely going with the former perspective when deciding whether or not to step in front of a moving train or jump off a building – if what I’m experiencing IS a dream, no problem; if it’s dreamlike, well…maybe not a good idea


I had to spend some time with this to come to an understanding it. Here is another perspective:

In a non-lucid dream you would not decide to step in front of a train because you have reified that dream and, even in the dream, you would not want to “die”.

If you jump off a building or a cliff in a non-lucid dream it’s a good bet that that dream will end. In a lucid dream you will make a “lucid move” to transform the dream because you will have recognized its illusory nature.

In the non-lucid waking state if you step in front of a train or jump off a building…that “dream” will end as well.

According to many of the texts, the only difference between the sleeping dream and the waking dream is that we have so strongly reified the waking dream that we simple cannot recognize its illusory nature. In other words, lucidity is extremely difficult to achieve. That said, there are many accounts in those same texts of ancient Mahasiddhas who seemed to have achieved very strong lucidity in the waking state…strong enough to make definite “lucid moves”.

Tilopa, for instance, is said to have flown from place to place and Jesus walked on water. There are others. Even in modern times there are many accounts of people who seem to have “become lucid” in the waking dream…folks who have lifted cars off loved ones and others who have managed to walk across burning coals barefoot.


These are, indeed, claims which have been made! I believe one term to describe such accounts is “hearsay.”

In any case the important thing for me is that (in my case) contemplating waking life as “dreamlike” is useful, but saying “waking life IS a dream” is not – in fact, it is counterproductive. Perhaps that will change at some point. Your mileage may vary. :slight_smile:


I drive a hybrid…so my mileage… :sunglasses:

Seriously, though…I presented that above view as a perspective as seen from some of the older texts that I am reading. I do think that envisioning the waking state as a dream can be very helpfuI in the process of judiciously stepping back from the total reification of the world that we perceive around us.

I think counterproductive is a bit strong. :slightly_smiling_face:


@ArthurG @Steve_Gleason Guys, allow me to throw in a third perspective:

Great discussion! I agree that whichever perspective one takes, one obviously has to resonate with it. Nobody is asking anybody to take a leap of faith.
But at the same time, it sometimes can be extremely rewarding to challenge one’s own current perspective for fun and prospect of better understanding of reality.

During one retreat with Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche he said once something close to: “We are always focusing on the what, but never on the who!” while he was talking of the way we experience the world.

So, here’s a third perspective on “This is a dream” vs. “This is dreamlike”:
When one is reminding oneself that “this is a dream” during the daytime, what can we really mean by that?

A) We could be talking about the “what”, so, about our daytime interactions with objects and - as Arthur noted - realize that during the day, we still “could get hit by a truck” nevertheless, although we try to view it as a dream.

For one minute, let’s leave the question aside if a realized being resting in rigpa will still be hit by the truck or not.

or B) We could be talking about the “who”.

You guys already exchanged views about A) the “what”.

Regarding B), the “who”, the subject-side:
During daytime experience, the experience of “who” is a dream. We can observe it when we wake up slowly in the morning, either slowly transition from a taken-on dream identity to our daytime identity or are in a transitional state (bardo) without having taken-on an identity yet, just being aware of being.
We then slowly start to interact with our surroundings and our daytime identity reifies more and more. We become the father, mother, partner, son, clerk, golf player, etc. as we start to interact during the day.
Our own feeling of identity is a dream that we have reified over years and continue to reify each day by our habits and conventions.

So, the who is not just dreamlike, it really is a dream!

As an example, imagine, you get a knock on the head and you lose all your longterm memory but are not impaired otherwise. You could think, talk, drive a car, etc. but you would not be the father, mother, son, clerk, golf player, etc. because this reification in your mind is gone.

So, who are you then? You obviously still exist, but you don’t identity with all those labels you have come to accept as your identity over the past years.

Identity is a dream, not just dreamlike.
It might make sense to act and interact conventionally when living in a society but we could do so lucidly - knowing that we are essentially free.

Coming back to practicing to view the world from the subject-side as a dream (not dreamlike).
What happens to the world when you - the subject, which is experiencing - is realized to be a dream-identity?
How solid is the anger-identity when one is having a angry argument with someone, when one actually knows that the anger-identity is a dream?
How many “solid” mental things are really inherently solid, that is outside of convention?
The value one denotes to a piece of paper (e.g. a dollar bill)?
The concept of land ownership (where is the physical law out of which ownership is derived? Or, would this ownership exist if there would be no land registry?)
… continue at your own risk :wink:

So, is our daytime experience from the subject-vantage point not indeed a dream?
An ariticial sense of dream-identity, which is being adopted by a clear and luminuous mind?
An ongoing dream story of our ego?

Disclaimer: The close enemy to this dzogchen-type path is spiritual bypassing, where one is denying the subjective pain relativities and is not rooted in awareness.


Seriously good post @KhyungMar !

I’ll just say that the word “dream” seems to carry a lot of baggage. I often think this all boils down to carrying our unbroken conscious awareness from one state to another. That can happen on many levels.

When those two states start to become one…perhaps we begin to see who we really are.