We all have dreams. Or at least, we all want to have dreams. The globalization of American pop psychology culture infects us all. Even nations have dreams—the American Dream; the Australian Dream; the Singapore Dream; the China Dream etcetera. But when critically analyzed, these Dreams come across as vague and ill-defined, rhetorical and emotive, but generally lacking in substance and this-worldly. Backtracking to the source, national Dreams are social constructs built upon the quicksand of personal dreams rooted in the limited ego. To explore this nexus of self and dreams, let us unpack the structure and dynamics of self-making personally, collectively, even cosmically, so that we can pierce the illusory bubble of dreams as we conceive it. As preamble, let me assure you that there is light at the end of the tunnel—initial deconstruction of dreams climaxes in a new hope. Do persist and read on to the end.
The self of the person is not self-evident or unproblematically true. Counterintuitive as this may sound, careful honest scrutiny with introspective and phenomenological precision will show the illusory nature of such a permanent, autonomous, partless, concretized, isolated self. This assumed reified entity residing inside us—this body-mind aggregate we label as ‘us’—feels real and unchanging but is paradoxically unfindable when you truly search for it within or anywhere else. This ‘self’ is nowhere to be found, not an entity in its own right and existing by its own strength that can be unilaterally identified. If we are honest about it, that is. Our petty and petulant ego concocts myriad ways to hide this truth of its own emptiness and marshals multiple ways to project a false solid reality of itself. Hence, ruthless self-honesty is necessary. This is understandable hard given our social conditioning and instinctive self-grasping, making the realization of our absence of inherent self somewhat counterintuitive. But it can be done. I have written about this process of insight in other essays so will desist from doing that here.
Be that as it may, with this so-called self being stripped naked to its empty core, what remain of personal dreams? For most, if not all, we believe we create our dreams as autonomous self-existent agents possessing some if not complete control over our lives. Yet, if this autonomous self-existent self is a delusion, what can self-concocted dreams be? Dreams as such are none other than props of our illusory identities, in most part. Dreams as such are part of the building blocks of a reified self that is strutted around as the VMIP—Very and Most Important Person—in our egocentric universe. Dreams as such are nothing more than a collection of thoughts, images, and voices emerging from consciousness and constructing into an edifice of a self-existent self’s dream, a dream that is wrongly grasped as self-existent too. Thus, in the final analysis, our personal dreams are collectively nothing more than a puff of smoke, an illusion, a fleeting star, a bubble in a stream, a flash of lightning, an echo, a flickering lamp, and a phantasm.
If this is the case for personal dreams, what about collective dreams? What about racial, cultural, national, planetary, even universal Dreams? Are they just as empty of essential reality and mere echoes and bubbles as well? In a word, yes. If individual dreams are empty illusions, the aggregate of a multitude of individual dreams would be necessarily so as well. Granted that most national Dreams are effectively concocted by a few elites at the top of the food chain and imposed upon the masses, the coreless and unsubstantiality of such national Dreams remain as such: empty and illusory. Perhaps even more so due to the exponentially multiplied effect of mass hypnotic suggestion in the way of suave propaganda. There is another danger: the risk of national Dreams degenerating into nativism and jingoism that proliferates into arrogance and aggression. The destructive effects of self-making and dream-making entrapped within the cocoon of delusion and unawareness are anything but trivial.
Inquiring into Reality
For some sensitive intelligent folks, seeing the futility and danger of petty self-making and presumptuous national self-making together with all their pipe-dreams, they embark on a process of discovery and inquiry into the nature of experience. They begin a journey of transcending the self in a spiritual adventure that takes them into uncharted waters of truth. They might even hear the call of a different Drummer who beckons them into a Life they knew not possible. Such souls may contemplatively dive deep into their consciousness, recognize innate truths about the nature experience and awareness, and come to rest in an unbounded pure awareness of being that defies words and conceptual categories. Actually, this is not such a mysterious or rare thing. Anyone, with a little guidance, can wake up within their experience to see and recognize the natural knowing that is always there in every moment of experience.
Due to habitual grasping and conditioning, we experience this knowing through the filter of thought and emotion, including memory and trauma, as a self or subject that experiences—in other words, the experiencer. Whenever we meditate, we naively and instinctively grasp at this familiar intuitive sense of the ‘meditator’ who is meditating on something. Paradoxically, it is only when this meditator is absent can there be real meditation. Only when the one who witnesses is not apprehended as such is there pure witnessing without the agent or self that is part of the problem of suffering. But is that it? Is there no self at all that is left behind in this spacious flow of awareness?
No. There is a remnantal self: the pure existential self, the pure “I am” feeling that is very subtle, not immediately apparent. The agentic self that is no more is none other than the “I do” or “doer-I” feeling: the “meditator,” “observer,” “thinker,” “feeler,” “decider,”, “chooser” etcetera. The “doer-I” may be gone through a certain degree of insight, but the “existential-I” or “pure-I” is very much alive and well. More refinement and deepening of insight is required to break through this barrier in understanding, an understanding that I would relate to the perfection of wisdom (prajna-paramita) paradigm and practice. Only when the “pure I” that is concealed within awareness is seen through in the light of penetrative wisdom is there a genuine relaxing into sheer awareness beyond reification. For reification is the subtlest dimension of self-making that is not easily recognized and dissolved.
Now, we arrive at unreifiable, empty, transparent, lucid awareness that is unbounded and luminously knowing beyond compare. It is actually quite ordinary, non-intrusively present in every moment of experience—waking, sleeping, dreaming, and deep sleep. Some traditions like Advaita Vedanta call it the Self (atman) with static overtones while others like Mahamudra and Dzogchen call it pristine awareness (rigpa) with processual overtones. More often than not, meditators and teachers prematurely ascribe the term “Self” to some element of objectified experience than to the real unbounded and singular flow of cognizance (akhanda-cidaikarasa). For this flow of pure cognizance is the supreme subjectivity that can never be objectified. At the same time, it is easy and common for meditators to rest in a hotbed of reification that they call “pure awareness” when in fact they have yet to penetrate beyond the “pure-I” feeling, which remains submerged and concealed from view. This is the common error of the intellectually inclined, highly educated and knowledgeable folks but nevertheless mistaken in their self-appraisal of meditative experience.
Now, in relation to this pristine awareness beyond all reification, it is common that traditions and meditators alike ascribe divinity or unsurpassibility to this exquisitely ordinary realization. It is possible to attribute qualities of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence to this unbounded awareness beyond words. Often though, meditators and teachers have ascribed divinity and unsurpassibility to lesser realizations, such as immaterial meditative absorptions (aruppa) or various forms of yogic meditative unification (samadhi), all of which involve varying degrees of reification and thus consequent self-making. Be that as it may, conflating pristine awareness with some cosmic buddha-mind or cosmic consciousness that is also God is a common error. Here, while reification is seemingly absent, the deepest and most fundamental problem of the human condition remains untouched and unaddressed. Sin.
Problem of Sin
Sin, in its quintessential meaning, is rebellion against and resistance towards the one true God of the cosmos who infinitely transcends this creation in a way that is eternally unbridgeable. Ontologically, there is an irreducible chasm between Creator and creation. Nothing can ever change that, not even the highest and most sublime meditative attainment like full abidance in pristine awareness. For, this pristine awareness is none other than our spirit, breathed by transcendent God into our elemental make-up to enliven us into conscious existence. Regardless of the absence of reification and self-making in pristine awareness, the power of primordial sin taints our knowledge and affection to cast a net of primordial delusion over our presumed ultimacy as buddha-mind or cosmic consciousness. Experientially, the sense of unbounded empty transparency, luminosity, and knowingness suffused with blissfulness is not an illusion. But the ontological assumption of that super-unitive experience as being God or Godhead (with whom I as the pure Self am equated) is nothing but a delusion. It can be seen as a spiritualized form of megalomania, if there is even such a thing. Hence, even this cosmic awareness that is deemed divine and beyond common levels of self-making and reification ends up in the rubbish dump as a bubble, an echo, a flickering wick, a lightning flash, a phantasm, and a pipe-dream.
What then? Is there no dream that is real and worthwhile? Yes, there is actually. Contrary to the thrust of my argument thus far, there is indeed a Dream that is substantive, true, and worthwhile to pursue. This is none other than the Dream of God for us as a whole and for us as unique persons. We are at our core empty of inherent self but full of distinctive personhood. How so? Our personhood is not the self. Our personhood is the conglomeration of unique gifts, talents, abilities, interests, quirks, features, traits, qualities, and attributes working integrally as a rich whole that is designed and given by God our absolute and transcendent Creator. When we realize God as the source, ground, goal and glory of our existence that is made certain for us in and through the incarnate Logos and eternal Son became flesh, Jesus Christ, we are welcomed home to God in a way we could never achieve on our own. The problem of primordial sin is fully dealt with in the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected Christ.
While the ontological chasm will forever remain, for the Creator and created are and can never be identical, we as God’s children can access the triune God who is thrice holy in beatific communion and union beyond anything we can ask or imagine. Supernaturally regenerated in spirit by God in His sovereign grace, we are able to believe in (en) and into (eis) Christ, fully convicted of our sin and our need for Him. Our spirit or pristine awareness, for the first time in a long time, realizes the hidden problem of primordial sin, not just theoretically but experientially and immediately in a breakthrough that is not our own. All illusions of cosmic consciousness and buddha mind, however tantalizing, come crashing down. We know from our very depths the weight of sin, the power of the cross, the fullness of the incarnation, the weight of resurrection glory, and the eventual unparalleled brilliance of our consummation in Christ—our Beloved, Saviour, Lord, and King.
In living out this new life in the Life of Christ, who is the radiance of the invisible God and the exact imprint of His nature, we allow ourselves to be shaped and trained by His grace into the fullness of Christ, that Christ may be fully formed in us and bearing the ninefold fruit of the Holy Spirit in a journey of infinite growth and transformation. Eventually, the time comes for our bodily resurrection and beholding the Lord face-to-face in the sweet glory of beatific vision, even as our spirit participate in the perichoresis dance of communion and union in the triune God—Father-Son-Spirit—in the wonderment of peerless love.
This coming home to profound communion and union with God Himself to the praise of His glorious grace is His Dream for us, individually and communally. Within this Dream, each of us receives His specific calling, His unique dream for us as we navigate our way through this troubled fallen world. This old creation will be made new when He comes again. God’s kingdom has been inaugurated by Christ’s first coming and will be consummated when Christ comes again at the end of the tribulation. At the climactic end of history, after Christ’s millennial rule, He will make all things new. The new heavens and new earth awaits all true witnesses and disciples of Christ. Meanwhile, in this old creation, each Christ witness and disciple will have our unique God-given mission or holy ambition—our sanctified dream. It is not a dream we concoct for ourselves but a dream that is graciously infused into us by our Lord and our God, Jesus the Christ.
In this sanctified dream and holy ambition, we live and work and die as we work to the fullest of our God-bestowed potential: contributing positively to a sinfully lost and dying world, savouring sanctified joy in our hearts, and most of all, pouring out unceasingly in His love to the supreme glory of God in Christ. Our temporal work on this old earth will bear eternal consequences in the new creation to come, for what we do and create here will serve as sanctified raw materials for the Lord to build His soon and coming kingdom. Hence, we matter, our dreams matter, and our work matters in the light of Christ. Soli Deo Gloria, aeternitatis!