Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chuang Tzu. Soon I awoke, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.
- Chuang Tzu (369 - 286 BC)
In the lucid dreaming scene, there is the term false awakening. This is when you’re dreaming about whatever, but then it ends and you find yourself in your bed. So you get up and start your day just like any other morning. Maybe you get dressed, brush your teeth, go downstairs for breakfast, or even go to work, only for you to find yourself back in bed realising that whole morning routine was actually a dream too. You may then get up and start your day 'all over again', only to find yourself back in bed, again realising that you had another false awakening. This cycle of false awakenings can repeat itself a number of times. It may even repeat itself so many times that it actually becomes a terrifying loop in which a person is frightened that they may never be able to ever properly wake up.
There are many parallels that are drawn between enlightenment, dreaming and waking up. It's common for people to make direct comparisons between attaining spiritual realisations and waking up from a dream. And it's not even meant as a metaphor, but rather an exact analogy. The claim is that the mental move that occurs when one comes out of a dream, while emerging from sleep, is the same mental move that occurs when one spiritually awakens; except it is not a dream induced by sleep that they wake up from, but a dream that persists even during the typical waking state.
The idea is that most people are dreaming and they don't even know it, but some special enlightened beings have 'awoken' out of this waking dream and come to see the real world. They have left the cave, to reference Plato's allegory, or as it has become more popular to say, they have "exited the Matrix". You'll hear statements such as: 'to wake up from the dream of the false self to discover the true Self'. 'To discover the real ground of being, our true nature' or some such thing.
However, most of the time what people think of as a spiritual awakening is really a false spiritual awakening. They believe they have literally 'woken up' out of delusion, but in actuality, they have just replaced the story of one dream for another, and are still fully bought in. The main issue with the phrasing of 'awakening’ is that people take it to mean they have woken up out of a dream and are now in direct perception of a mind-independent objective world, which is not subject to the empty, perspectival nature of everything.
And how, monks, does a monk abide contemplating mind as mind? Here, a monk knows a lustful mind as lustful a mind free from lust as free from lust; a hating mind as hating, a mind free from hate as free from hate; a deluded mind as deluded, an undeluded mind as undeluded; a contracted mind as contracted, a distracted mind as distracted; a developed mind as developed, an undeveloped mind as undeveloped; a surpassed mind as surpassed, an unsurpassed mind as unsurpassed; a concentrated mind as concentrated, an unconcentrated mind as unconcentrated, a liberated mind as liberated, an unliberated mind as unliberated.
- Mahasatipatthana Sutta
Rather than waking up, a better analogy is of becoming lucid. Being lucid means being clearheaded, having a non-confused, sober understanding of one’s condition. The realisations in question are not actually about waking up out of a dream, rather it's more apt to say that we can become lucid of the nature of the reality we perceive. That is to say, just as we can become lucid within a dream, meaning we realise the nature of the state happening as being a dream while it is happening, we can have similar clear understandings of our state while awake during the day. Eventually, we become lucid of the nature of this knowable reality (that is it is neither something nor nothing). We do not however, wake up from the dream. The dream continues. And in fact, to think that you have woken up is to actually have lost lucidity and fallen for another dream without realising it.
The irony is that the people who say they have "exited the Matrix" (spiritually speaking) are still lost to it. After all, regular 'non-awakened' folks also don't believe they are in the Matrix. The theme of the mistake is to think you are out of the dream when you’re very much still in it. Whereas, ‘the lucid' understand that this (the world of form and perception) is a dream/matrix/simulation of sorts (but at the same time it isn’t - I will get to that later).
As my friend Ed put it so well: "Welcome to the holodeck. P.S. You're a hologram."
(Except in this holodeck, even the walls are illusory and there is no one inside the holodeck and even the sense of being in a holodeck is illusory.)
Or another way I like to put it is: The degree to which you perceive yourself as being in touch with some objective mind-independent part of reality is the degree to which you are not enlightened. Including the presencing of everything being of the mind, as well (it gets meta).
The enlightenment process is actually really simple and it goes like this: Someone will realise that some part of experience they previously thought was part of mind-independent reality is discovered to be actually not an objective feature of mind-independent reality, but an emergent construction of consciousness. Or as I would prefer to write: ‘an act of consciousnessing’. And this includes your sense of consciousness itself (if you can follow me that far).
I'll give a trite example. Most people believe when they look at a tree they are seeing the tree in and of itself, something which is of the mind-independent world, something which is not subjective to perspective. And when they stop looking at that tree it continues to exist in much the same way as it did whether they are looking at it or not. They also believe that everyone pretty much sees the same tree as them, because they are looking at an objective part of reality which is knowable to anyone who comes into contact with it. However, after enough investigation, it's easy enough for people to recognise that actually what they see is a (re)presentation of a tree, not the tree in and of itself. This tree is constructed 'within' their mind. To understand this is not to awaken from a dream of seeing trees (we continue to see trees), but to become lucid to the fact that trees as we know them are 'mind-made'.
Now extend that understanding to everything else you could possibly reference via experience; meaning one's sense of self and eventually the perception of the mind itself and even this whole dream/awake, real/not real distinction.
Finally, the snake eats its own tail and your whole world is turned inside out and back again.
We come to neither identify as being on the side of the dreaming, nor awake. Neither in the dream nor not in the dream. Neither in the mind, nor not in the mind. As this being neither fake nor real. The belief in the story that 'this is all a dream' and that that story is an objective perspective that somehow holds truth 'outside' of the dream is itself also to be confused about the reality of reality. There is no waking up to do, as you are already awake so to speak, but now you are lucid.
Just as the difference between Dr. Manhattan and everyone else is he's the only puppet that can see the strings, the difference between an enlightened person (or a more spiritually lucid person) and everyone else is he can see the mind-made, empty, fabricated nature of things where others can't.
Where people blunder though, is after they gain some lucidity of this reality, they now simply move (rather than see through) the barrier between what is considered a mental fabrication and what is perceived as being not a mental fabrication. This often comes in the form of people’s metaphysical beliefs, as they think they’ve now dropped a previously confused understanding of their situation, but gained access to a new objective viewpoint, some stable vantage point to place oneself and judge.
I’ll give some more examples of this. Say you come to see that the sense of a thinker of thoughts is actually a non-fundamental apparition. And so now you understand that what was previously conceived as being of objective mind-independent reality is actually part of the mind. However, now you start perceiving and believing that there is an awareness which is not part of the ephemeral play of the mind, but stands objectively outside of the play somehow, or forms the real bedrock of existence.
Another one: the realisation that you are God is the same deal. There may be the experience that everything is God, but that is more mind-content. It is not direct contact with an objective mind-independent stance. The same goes for 'everything is love', as well as 'everything is consciousness'. This even goes for the sense that 'everything is mind' or 'a dream', or even 'real'.
So long as you are relying on some felt sense of something within experience to give a clear reading of how reality is ontologically, then you are just appealing to more dream content. The goal of enlightenment isn't to have experiences (be they temporary or mostly persisting) in which special qualia cues give you the feeling of some objective truth about reality. The goal is to develop the meta-cognition and recognise all experiential goings-on as processes, not things, and not to be confused by the content of those processes as being indicative of the world in and of itself, independent of perception.
And to be clear, I am neither saying there is or there isn’t a mind-independent reality. I am saying though, that if your ontological views are solely derived from a conviction arising due to a sensory impression seeming so convincing at the moment, then your ontology is incomplete.
If it feels like something to perceive everything as ‘One’ or ‘God’ and you base your belief in reality off of this feeling quality, then you have lost lucidity. You may add rationalisations to your view after the fact, but if in essence the view originates and depends upon a special experience, then this is not getting at enlightenment.
And again this also applies to the direct feeling quality of 'dreaminess' being the sole reason you believe life is a dream. And even if there is a feeling quality of 'realness' in experience and so you believe reality is not a dream and you are awake. If this is what your view comes down to, then you are not lucid.
The world is neither a dream nor it isn't and there is no waking up to do. Truth be told, there is simply phenomenological (re)presentation and its absence on a scale from none to more. And all phenomena exhibit certain properties, one of those being informational content. So qualia come with inherent meaning - a message, or self-evident signal. Now, those qualia could come with the signal ‘dreaminess’, or the signal could be ‘realness’. Regardless, the informational content is like the story of the dream and tells you nothing about what lies outside the dream, if there is an outside or what creates the dream - we can only postulate. Whether there is phenomenological (re)presentation or not, it is arbitrary to call its presence the dream or not.
Reality is not a dream if we are talking via direct reference to immediate phenomenological signals - this is it, it’s really happening! And reality is a dream if we are conjecturing beyond those direct phenomenological signals - everything is like a hallucination. However, the making of the distinction between these two perspectives comes from buying into the supposed truth about our conjecturing beyond direct phenomenological impressions. This may sound convoluted, but I promise there is a way to understand this without it boggling the mind.
With enough meta-cognition, we come to neither identify as being on the side of the dreaming nor awake. Neither in the dream nor not in the dream. Neither in the mind, nor not in the mind. As this being neither fake nor real. Experience comes with transitory signals which sometimes suggest 'realness' and sometimes 'illusoriness', and if you are really perceptive, both at the same time. Until eventually you transcend the belief in either category, whilst continuing to include and make sense of both sides of the duality, and reaching what I call the super-position perception of enlightenment (to be described in future articles).
In all, forget 'waking up'. Be lucid. Have clear understanding of what qualia processes are in effect while they are happening. And may we all have sweet dreams!