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The Bodhisattva-s Dream

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 124: The Bodhisattva's Dream - Page 1 __________________________________________________________________________________________________ Lecture 124: The Bodhisattva's Dream

One of the things that we have to admit, perhaps rather sadly, is that we don't, that is to say most of us don't, spend very much time in reflection, in quiet reflection, whether at home sitting perhaps quietly in our own sitting room or outside, maybe sitting under a tree in the park. But most of us just don't have time for reflection. Perhaps there are too many other things of various kinds for us to do. But if we do happen to reflect, if we do happen to have time for reflection, time to turn things over in our mind just a little more seriously, a little more deeply, than usual, then we'll come to see, we'll come to understand, certain things, certain things about ourselves. And we may even come to acknowledge certain things about ourselves. And in some cases it may happen that we may come to acknowledge in our moments of reflection, of truth and sincerity with ourselves, things which are not altogether pleasant to acknowledge, not altogether pleasant or creditable to accept.

And one of these things that on reflection we may be forced to acknowledge is the fact that we, as human beings, only too often take quite a lot of things for granted. By this I mean that there are certain things that we know we possess, that we know we have, certain things that we know we experience, that in a way we are quite sure that we experience, but of the value and the significance of which we are more often than not totally unaware. So much so indeed, so unaware are we, that it's almost as though we did not experience them, did not possess them. So far as we are concerned we might just as well not possess them.

So far as we are concerned we might just well not possess those things or have those things at all. And in this respect only too often we are like a child. We are like a child that, in its infancy, when it's very very young indeed, is given a pebble, or what seems to be a pebble, an ordinary pebble. So the child grows up playing with the pebble, plays with it perhaps every day, plays with it perhaps every hour - but it is so used to the pebble that it does not take any particular care of it, does not attach any particular value to it, and does not realise in fact that it is not a pebble at all, does not realise that what he or she has been given is in fact a priceless precious stone.

Now one of the things that we take for granted, only too often take for granted, is life itself. We fail to understand the value and the significance of the fact that we are alive. After all, we might just as easily be dead, or rather we might just as easily have never existed at all. But we do exist. We may say that there was some unique, some unrepeatable combination of circumstances and here we are, we are here. We may say it was a billion, billion, billion to one chance, but the chance has come off and we are alive. We are sitting here and surely we feel how wonderful and how exciting this is that we're sitting here, this incredible miraculous chance has come off.

And this is surely the sort of realisation, the sort of experience, that the old Zen monk had. You remember there's that little poem which he uttered on this occasion when he had this realisation. He said or he sang or he chanted: `How wonderful! How miraculous! I draw water and I carry fuel.' So he realised apparently that hitherto he'd taken life for granted, he'd taken his ordinary, everyday life for granted. He failed to realise its value and its significance. Of course he was drawing water and he was carrying fuel, and these are very simple, very basic human activities - one might even say they are quite primitive activities. And one might further say that it's very doubtful that even a Zen master would have been able to say `How wonderful! How miraculous! I catch the train to the office in the morning, I watch the telly at night.' It's very doubtful if even a Zen monk, even a Zen master, would be able to say that.

And another thing that we take for granted is just our ordinary human consciousness, that is to say the normal waking state, in which - I believe - we all are now. We take for granted the fact that we can actually see things. We take for granted the fact that can actually hear things. We take for granted the fact that we can think - those of us who do think! We take for granted that fact that we can actually be aware. We fail to realise, more often than not, the extraordinariness of it all. And in the same way we take sleep for granted, such a wonderful thing, such a refreshing thing as sleep. We take it for granted, unless, of course, we are one of these unfortunate people who have to swallow sleeping tablets every evening before going to bed.

And many people, of course, take their dreams for granted. Many people think, as we know, that dreams are simply the result of indigestion. You eat too much cheese at night - this is what our grandmother used to tell us - you get dreams, especially bad dreams. Or people think that dreams are just a confused or just a jumbled reminiscence of the previous day or of the previous days, so they don't think any more about them than just that.

Lecture 124: The Bodhisattva's Dream - Page 2 __________________________________________________________________________________________________ But if we reflect, if we reflect even a little, we come to see that dreams are quite strange things, that the dream state is quite a strange thing. After all, in the dream state the physical sense organs are not functioning, the eye is not functioning, the ear is not functioning - the eyes are closed, the ears are, as it were, closed - but nonetheless in the dream state we see sights, we hear sounds, we even smell, we even taste. In the dream state we're not conscious of the physical body, we are quite oblivious of the physical body, but nonetheless in the dream state we do seem to have a sort of body. We are free to move about, free to go places, in fact we seem to be even more free than when we were awake. We're free to go apparently anywhere, in any sort of way. In dreams sometimes, we can even fly.

And then in dreams we experience a different kind of time. In dreams we experience a different kind of space. We even experience a different kind of world. Usually, of course, the dream world is a recognisable extension of the world of everyday waking consciousness - but sometimes it is not. Sometimes the dream world is a completely different world. Sometimes it's a world of which we have had no previous experience in any form. And in such cases, it's as though we were not really in the dream state at all. It's more as though we passed through the dream state into quite another state, quite a different kind of state of consciousness, quite another mode of being, even passed into a higher state of consciousness, a higher mode of being. Usually, of course, we think that higher states of consciousness are accessible only from the waking state, but this is pure assumption on our part, not to say even pure prejudice, just one of the things that we take for granted, about which we don't think, on which we don't reflect. The fact is that we can have access to these states, these states of higher consciousness, from or through the dream state.

So in Buddhism we find that the value and the significance of the dream state is fully recognised, especially in the Mahayana and the Vajrayana. And we may say that the value and significance of the dream state is twofold. In the first place, the dream state shows that it is possible for us to experience a state of consciousness other than the waking state. This is quite a simple fact, but its significance is quite profound. The dream state shows us that it is possible for us to experience a state of consciousness other than the waking state. Consciousness is not confined to the waking state as we usually think it is. And in the second place, in the case of certain dreams we are shown that we can experience states of consciousness or modes of being which are not only different from the waking state but even higher. And it's for this reason that we find that dreams sometimes play an important part, an important role, in the spiritual development of the individual, in the process of his spiritual transformation. And sometimes this higher experience in a dream state plays even a quite crucial role, and this is the kind of situation that we find in the Sutra of Golden Light. And this is why we're concerned tonight with the Bodhisattva's dream.

The series as a whole, of course, as you've heard, is concerned with the transformation of life and world in the Sutra of Golden Light. And as I mentioned last week, transformation of life, of individual life, of self, is represented by chapter three of the sutra, that is to say the chapter of confession, and transformation of world is represented by the chapters in which various gods and goddesses come forward and promise to protect the sutra. In tonight's lecture, as well as in next week's lecture, we're concerned with the first of these. We are concerned with the transformation of life, transformation of self, and concerned therefore mainly with chapter three of the sutra. And at the beginning of this chapter we find the Bodhisattva Ruchiraketu falling asleep. And while he is asleep he has a wonderful dream. It's not an ordinary dream, it's what the American Indians call a big dream, a dream of vast archetypal significance. In fact the dream is a spiritual experience, even a transcendental experience. But why should this Bodhisattva, why should this Bodhisattva Ruchiraketu have this dream? Why should he have this experience? Now in order to understand this we have to go back to the previous chapter of the ...

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