A One-Night Dream
Scientists tell us that the creation as we know it started some twelve to fifteen billion years ago with the Big Bang. This was an explosion of an extremely dense sort of primeval atom, which sent particles of matter flying out into space. And some of these eventually coalesced to form stars and planets and constellations and galaxies. This is of course just a popular theory, and a debatable one, but it’s a theory that’s widely accepted.
What we do know is that everything that has come into being since that theoretical Big Bang consists of atoms – minute particles, each consisting of a nucleus made up of protons and neutrons with lots of little electrons flying round it. This is true for every single thing, whether it’s the stars and the planets or the trees and the birds or our own bodies.
What we may or may not know, though, is that while everything is made of atoms and that an atom consists of a nucleus and electrons, these make up less than one percent of the volume of an atom. The rest consists of … nothing. Empty space. Everything that seems so solid and real to us is mostly nothing – just empty space. That’s what scientists have proved: that our world is not what we think. It’s mostly just an illusion.
And that’s something that the mystics have also been telling us for as long as they’ve been walking this earth with us. It’s an illusion. But it’s an illusion that’ll keep us trapped in this material creation until we learn to see it for what it is.
In Sar Bachan Soami Ji warns us to make the best possible use of this human birth and free ourselves from this world of illusion:
You have received this rare human form
and this opportunity may not come again.
The pleasures of wife, children, wealth, property
and social repute will ultimately end in pain.
Save yourself from these,
sit in the company of the Master
and seek refuge in him.
This whole play is but a one-night dream
and I have now woken you up.
Just about all the Masters describe this world as illusion – a play, a ‘one-night dream’ as Soami Ji puts it. It’s a play or a dream in which souls only occasionally get the opportunity to play a human role. The vast majority of people don’t even realize what a privilege this is because they’re fast asleep. That is, unless they’re extremely lucky and a Master wakes them up; unless he grants them initiation and teaches them a method to gradually free them from this trap.
But even if we come into contact with a Master, still we seem to spend most of our lives caught up in the illusion. It’s what we’ve been used to for so long. We just can’t break free of it, because we think of the world as our home. And we’ve become comfortable in this trap.
The Masters describe this world as a dream, a play, in which each one of us is playing an allotted part. And they emphasize that, as in a play, our attachments here are unreal and only for the purpose of working off our karmas. We have debts to pay to some people and debts to collect from others. We have rewards to reap from good actions in the past and penalties to pay for actions that were not so good. Or rather, we have lessons to learn, to teach us the consequences of our actions.
But do we learn? Sadly, we usually do not. Maharaj Charan Singh used to tell us that if we did learn from our mistakes, we wouldn’t keep making them. Most of our thoughts, words and deeds are the result of old conditioning. We find it difficult to unlearn old patterns of behaviour. And we find it difficult to loosen our hold on anything we see as necessary for our comfort. It never occurs to us that we’d be far more comfortable if we could let go of all those things that we think of as ours: my home, my children, my books, or car or whatever. And therefore we stay attached to the world.
There does come a time, though, when some souls start to feel restless in this world, when they start to feel they don’t belong here. This restlessness is of prime importance in the journey of the soul. It’s the mark of the soul that’s been singled out of many to return to its home. And once a soul has been drawn to the living Master of its time, that restlessness is transformed into longing for its Master – a powerful force that starts to burn away karma, attachments and lower desires, and focuses on uncovering one’s spiritual identity. Once this inner yearning takes hold of a disciple, nothing in this world can really satisfy him any more. He wants only his Beloved.
And this is all part of the Master’s plan. He attracts us like a magnet. He plants his love in us. And then he makes us long for him. And the fire of love and longing that starts to burn in us is what destroys our attachments for anyone or anything else. He also teaches us a way of life and a method of meditation which will slowly release us from the chains of the karma and turn our attention and desires away from the world.
But there’s more. We’re told that whoever wishes to tread the path of devotion needs to cultivate a level of detachment from worldly circumstances and people. A true disciple has to reach a stage of equanimity where he’s neither elated when other people praise him nor depressed by disgrace or dishonor. He has to learn that nothing can happen to him unless it’s the will of the Lord. And knowing this, he should never worry about anything, because worry will stand in the way of his spiritual progress.
All these qualities are the mark of a disciple who has learned real detachment. And if we look at ourselves we might think that this is a very far-off goal. Of course, if only we could see this world as nothing but illusion, detachment could come easily to us. But, as we know all too well, we struggle with this concept that everything around us is not real. Our logical minds find it really hard to accept that everything – everything and everyone that have shaped our very lives – is nothing but illusion. At this level, these things are our reality.
But what we can understand is that nothing lasts, nothing is permanent – not our health, our wealth, our happiness or our friends and family. In a moment they can be taken from us. And if we want to be spared the pain of their loss, we do need to learn detachment. We need to free ourselves from the strong chains that bind them to us. What a blessing absolute detachment must be!
For a moment, let’s try to imagine what it would be like if we could see the world as a dream with no reality. Let’s imagine what it would be like if we could see our lives as nothing but a play in which we’re only playing a part. For one, we would become free of all worries, anxieties and fears because we would know that nothing is real. No one would be able to hurt us. No one would dislike us, and we would dislike nobody; we wouldn’t resent anybody or be jealous of anybody. In fact, we would never think badly of anybody, no matter what they did.
Can you imagine how free we would be? And how free of pain or distress? And because we would know that as we are only acting out a part, others too are only acting their own parts. No one could do us any harm, because their words and actions would be nothing but the words and actions prescribed for them in the play.
And while we could certainly feel love for everyone in our lives, there would be no restrictive attachments. We would not be plunged into sorrow every time somebody we loved went away from us. We would see that parting for what it is: somebody simply exiting the stage for a while, or even forever.
Even if we were to be seriously injured or ill, we would have a different perspective on our suffering, because we would know that this physical body is also part of the dream, and that it is having to go through certain experiences that may have to do with karma, but which cannot touch our real being, our soul. Even if we were to become destitute we would be able to endure it with equanimity because here too we would know that loss of wealth does not affect our real self, and we would probably know that the One whose child we really are would take care of us.
This is not to say that there wouldn’t be illness in our lives, or loss of wealth, or the loss of people who are dear to us. No, the play would go on. And others could continue to behave towards us in ways that might be considered hurtful. But we wouldn’t feel it so much. We would be free from the effects of just about everything, because we would see it for what it is: just part of the dream.
And this is how the Masters say we should try to see our lives in this world of illusion. Wouldn’t it be glorious if we could! But we are working towards that. With every round of simran, with every bit of meditation, we are becoming a tiny bit more detached from the world. Slowly it’s losing its power to hurt us or stain us with its dirt. It’s losing its power to tie us down. One day we will become totally free. One day we will become more like our Master.