Most people are used to forgetting about the existence of “change.” They can never discover that the whole world is like a dream, full of change. We always think that this scene that changes so often is permanent, and so when we get things, we are delighted, and when we lose things, we are full of sorrow, and when we face the unknown, we are fraught with anxieties. When we understand clearly that everything is like a dream or an illusion, will we still have all these cares?
Life is like a train with no beginning and no end. You can’t remember when you go on the train, and all you know is that you are wearing some kind of clothes, and that some people are chatting with you, and some people are rubbing shoulders with you as they pass by. You know that you have gone through some kind of story on the way, but is it hard to keep from forgetting it. Suddenly, at a certain time you are tired out, and then death appears. In just an instant, everything seems to start all over again from the beginning. But you do not recall that this is a new beginning. You completely forget the other road you passed along before, the other clothes you wore before, the other people you met, you remembered, you forgot, the other events you had encountered and forgotten. You just take this as the one and only beginning.
This is the cycle of birth and death from the Buddhist point of view. It lives in the beauty in art, but real cycling just has pain. But does cycling really exist? Perhaps it is only an image, perhaps it really exists. What we can say for sure is that every one of us is continuously experiencing the cycle every day. In moments of relaxation and happiness, we are heavenly beings. In moments of hatred and anger, we are asuras, jealous spirits. In moments of stupidity and ignorance, we are animals. In moments of unbearable pain, we are in hell. In moments when we are full of desires and hopes, we are hungry ghosts. When we are tangled up in the travail of desire and conscience, we are human beings.
Is the basic cause that gives rise to this emotional cycling “causes and conditions”? We can talk this way, but it is more tied to our bad memory. Most people are accustomed to forgetting about the existence of “change.” They can never discover that the whole world is like a dream, full of change. We always think that this scene that changes so often is permanent, and so when we get things, we are delighted, and when we lose things, we are full of sorrow, and when we face the unknown, we are fraught with anxieties. When we understand clearly that everything is like a dream or an illusion, will we still have all these cares?
You close your eyes and recall many dreams from the past and imagine you are still in the dreams: those beautiful or frightening or sadly moving or absurd dreams. Isn’t this like a movie that lets you savor it again and again? But why don’t you crave the beauty of dreams, why are you saddened by the moving sadness of dreams, why aren’t you frightened by the fearfulness of dreams? Because you clearly understand that what is gained and lost in dreams does not really exist. If you can take a step further and clearly understand that apparent reality is also a dream that mistakes the false for the real, then you will be able to live life very independently.
I have cultivated “the method of achieving enlightenment by observing everything as a dream.” This method is very interesting and effective. After cultivating it, you will slowly take hold of the power to control dreams. The feeling of controlling your dreams is very beautiful because you are both the protagonist and the actor; since you are both a participant and a spectator, you will thereby experience the happiness of controlling the mind and spirit. When you have experienced this kind of happiness, then you will discover that all the happy feelings brought to you by the external world cannot compare with the independence and freedom of the mind and spirit.
Let’s take an example. In a dream, you might encounter a person you are moved by, and who unreservedly honors your love and sincerity. Because you clearly know that this is a dream, no matter whether you lose or you gain, it all exists as an empty illusion, no different from a movie. All you can do is wholeheartedly play the role, and you do not have to worry about the results of your love. This way you can wholeheartedly enjoy the process of love, and the smiles and tears all become the same kind of poetic feeling and romance. In the dream, you may meet a terrifying wild beast whose fangs bite off your hand. You might be timid, but ultimately you are not afraid of the beast, because you know that in a dream, life and death are just false appearances. You may run away, or you may look for a weapon and an opportunity to counterattack. You pick up a sharp spear, and then the instant the beast goes to snap at you, you accurately and quickly pierce his skull with the spear, and your heart beats with a sense of success….
Not calculating the results – this is the advantage of dreams. Maybe in this dream that most people consider real, we will not meet wild beasts, and we will not fly into the sky, but we definitely can act as if we are in a dream, and look upon gain and loss as unimportant. How can we look upon them as unimportant? By following along with causal conditions, and not getting hung up on things that are not important – this is letting go of everything.
When some men and women are in love, as soon as they hear their partner speak of “letting go of everything,” they feel very frightened. This is because they are assessing things by the standard of whether or not their partner values them, and they often look at whether their partner is generating strong emotions toward them. Isn’t this right? Actually, it is not right. Whether they are generating strong emotions toward you just shows that you can arouse their desires, like emotional desire, like possessive desire, like the desire to control, and so on. Genuine love is something grander. If a person genuinely loves you, that person will honor you and value you as he or she would honor and value his or her own life. The person will ignore his or her own feelings, and even sacrifice himself or herself, for the sake of making you blessed and happy. Genuine love is a kind of selflessness: it is very similar to the religious spirit.
Unfortunately, some people always cling to a good feeling between a man and a woman and are constantly scheming to hold onto it. Some people, when they cannot possess and adore their partners, do not hesitate to destroy them, and are unwilling to let someone else possess them. For example, a student once told me that someone in her class liked a girl in the same class, but after revealing his feelings to her and being rejected, one day he assaulted that girl, and killed her, and buried her corpse on the top floor of a high-rise building. The student who told me the story asked, was this love? I told her, this is absolutely not love! There is absolutely no kind of love in the world that would let people harm the people whom they love. This kind of so-called “love” is just a kind of desire that at first glance resembles the emotion of love. Many people take emotional desire like love, and that is why so many murderers appear in the world acting in the name of “love.” This is because many people when they can love, do not understand love, and when they are finally able to understand love, they have often lost the opportunity for love. This is why it is that, only after seeing through the red dust of the sensory world, can some people take the love which they have built on a certain person and transform it into a great love that takes all living beings as its object, a kind of religious spirit that is very similar to love.
There are many misunderstandings like this in human life. This is why Buddhists think that the reason why humans suffer if we trace it back to its root, is because of ignorance. Because they are ignorant, they mistake the false for the true and cling to illusion as reality. We take things that are clearly empty and illusory and impermanent and view them as very real, and then when they dissolve away and perish, we feel pain and suffering. This is like clearly knowing in your mind that you cannot hold onto water, but being unwilling to face this, and instead always being tangled up spending time thinking of ways for holding onto it. What real meaning is there in that? When you clearly understand, then even life is all a great illusion, and you will change over to not caring so much about everything.
We think that birth is the beginning of life, and death is the end of life, but this is not the true characteristic of life. Causal conditions are constantly flowing along and transforming, and life to is constantly flowing along and transforming. You have surely seen children at the beach building sandcastles – do they have a solid immutable inherent nature? They are sand, they are castles – are they both that, or are they both not that? In reality, a sandcastle is an apparent form made by its elements coming together, and when the causal conditions dissolve, and new causal conditions are added – like the ocean wind and the encroachment of waves – it then changes into something else, it does not have an unchanging inherent nature. Humans are like this too; all apparent phenomena in the world are all like this, including birth and death. Birth and death imply switching states, they imply that the distinction is even clearer, that the change is even easier for the physical eye and the consciousness to grasp. The change does not only take place at the instant of birth or death. It is like an apartment building depreciating: people are constantly in the process of aging. There are many even more subtle changes going on all the time, like cellular replacement and the constant change of thinking patterns, and so on.
When you have understood this point, then you will understand that in fact, life is just a giant dream.