Thursday, January 17, 2013

Butterflies, dreams, and lapsed practices

[Image taken from here]

"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 following my fancies as a butterfly, and was unconscious of my individuality as a man. Suddenly, I waked, and there I lay, 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, trans. by Herbert A. Giles

Last night, I dreamt that I had missed my daily Ashtanga practice, and for a rather mundane reason, at that: In the dream, I was staying at my parents' place, and I had to get up super-early in the morning to run some errands, and couldn't squeeze in any time to practice during the rest of the day. In fact, I got the sense in the dream that I had missed practice for more than one day, because I remember feeling very angry with myself for missing practice yet again.

But then I woke up from the dream, and although I was feeling quite tired, I still was able to get myself to the mat and do my usual practice. So am I a regular Ashtanga practitioner dreaming that I was a "lapsed" (I don't mean this word in a negative way, I just can't think of a more apt description right now) Ashtanga practitioner? Or am I in fact a lapsed Ashtanga practitioner dreaming that I am a regular, "unlapsed" Ashtanga practitioner? Heck, am I actually writing this, or am I dreaming that I am writing this? And are you actually reading this, or merely dreaming that you are doing so?

Here's another thought: Whichever world turns out to be the dream world and whichever the "real" world, what is the relation between the dream world and the so-called real world? Is the dream world a world whose existence depends on, and is in some sense parasitic upon the "real" world, so that if there were no "real" world, there would be no dream world? Or is the dream world a sort of parallel universe which is just as real as the "real" world? Is there another me out there, a "lapsed" Ashtangi existing in a parallel universe whose existence is just as real as the me that is now writing this? If so, is this other universe a universe that goes on just like ours, whether or not we are aware of it? If so, are we still justified in believing that our "waking" world is somehow a "better" or "more coherent" world than the dream world?

Ah, so many questions, and no answers, as usual...     


  1. Hi Nobel, I just read your post. Today I also wrote about reality. Please check out my post.

    I think there is no parallel universe. I think even this universe has no existence (only appearance). All is dream. We dream dreams and we dream that we are awake...

    1. Hello Zee, I read your post. Hmm... unlike you, I am not so convinced about the nature of reality/dreamstate, so I am also not so sure about whether or not there is a parallel universe. But I'll ponder this some more...

  2. If we are ashtanga practitioners (even lapsed ones) in the sense that Patanjali intends, we affirm that waking and dream states are just different varieties of vritti, and our job is to still those vrittis in order to directly experience the Self.

    1. Indeed. I had forgotten at the time of writing this post that from the point of view of the philosophical worldview upon which Ashtanga yoga is based, both wakefulness and dream states are different varieties of prakrti.