When people come into this world, they put down the real and pick up the unreal. That is why in life after life we turn against enlightenment, unite with the dust, and muddle our way through life as if drunk or in a dream. When we are born, we seem to be drunk and unaware of how we got born; when we die, we seem to be in a dream, unaware of how we die. People are all dreaming, and there’s no knowing when they will wake up. It’s said that life is like a dream. We take the false for the real, and become insatiably greedy for fame and profit.
In your dream, you are promoted and become wealthy; you have high social status, a good reputation, a beautiful wife, lovely mistresses, and a house full of children and grandchildren; you enjoy boundless affluence, wealth and honor. If at some time during the dream someone were to tell you, “These things are all unreal,” you would never believe that person. However, after you woke up from your sweet dream, even if no one told you it was a dream, you would know that you’d been dreaming.
Last night in a dream, you came out first in the imperial examinations, got appointed prime minister, later became emperor, and finally became an immortal enjoying boundless happiness. This morning you wake up “Oh! It was a spring dream!” That is when you are awake. If you don’t wake up and you continue to think it’s real, then you become enamored of it and can’t let go. Unable to let go, you become deeply attached and deluded. Right now we are daydreaming, not awake. So we come into this world muddled and leave muddled. Where do we come from when we arrive? Where do we go when we leave? We don’t know. During our whole life long, we are never once awake. Think about it: Is that meaningful? What do we want to stay around for? What is so precious that we cannot bear to put it down?
In our lives, we are tightly bound by the ropes of the three poisons and the five desires. We don’t even have the freedom to turn around, let alone be liberated. Hence, we must resolve to enter the monastic life and cultivate the Way, meditating and bowing to the Buddha with vigor. Those are the ways to untie the ropes of the three poisons and the five desires. The day will come when the ropes are completely untied. At that time, you will be awake. Looking back on what you have done, you will find that it was completely like a dream, and nothing you did was in accord with the Dharma. Since you now are fully awake, you can leave the Three Realms and not be bound by birth and death. You will have control over your own birth and death: you can be born if you like to and die when you want to. This state, where everything is just as you wish, where you can come and go freely, is true liberation. It is like waking up from a big dream.
But now we hold on to what’s false and forget about what’s true. What is false? The objects of the five desires: wealth, sex, fame, food and sleep. What is true? The happiness of the four virtues of Nirvana-permanence, bliss, true self, and purity. And yet we human beings are so strange: We’re not afraid of losing what’s true, but we’re terrified when what’s false is lost. Why is that? Because we take a thief for our son, we reject the roots in favor of the twigs, take the false for the true, and are continually dreaming, hooked by dream states.
Because of delusion, we create karma and then receive the retribution. We are like a dust mote floating up and down in the air, led by the power of our karma, revolving in the six paths, with no control of our own. It is said, “If you can’t clear the hurdles of fame and profit, you won’t be able to leap out of the cycle of rebirth.” When fame and benefit cease to attract you, you’ll escape the trap of rebirth in the six paths.
A talk given on August 21, 1983,
at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas