‘In the midst of a dream, we can’t know it’s a dream. When we’re awake, we know it was a dream – but only after a great awakening can we understand that all of this is a great dream.’ – Zhuangzi
Last week we spent time with a line from the Diamond Sutra that states: ‘All things are like a dream, like a fantasy, like a drop of dew, like a flash of lightning.’ The exact date of the composition of the Diamond Sutra in Sanskrit is uncertain—arguments for the 2nd and 5th Centuries have been made.
The first Chinese translation dates to the early 5th Century and the first printing of the Diamond Sutra is dated as 868. As such, it is the world’s oldest known printed book. The quote from Zhuangzi about all things being a dream dates back to the 3rd Century B.C., preceding the composition of the Diamond Sutra by six to seven centuries. The Diamond Sutra is most closely associated with the Chan/Zen tradition of Buddhism. Recently we have been spending time with Taoism, going back to our last long retreat in January, which focused on the Tao te Ching, extending to our summer retreat, this month, focusing on the Zhuangzi. With that soaking in the Taoist tradition, the way Taoism and Chan/Zen are intertwined with each other has become increasingly evident.
It appears to me that there is much more Taoism in Chan/Zen, than Buddhism. At its best, there is not a trace of Buddhism. Of course, at its best, there’s not a trace of anything, not Taoism, not Chan/Zen, not even ‘nothing’. Dreams are a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, like koans, like us. Inquiring into the dream that we are, provides the opportunity to appreciate that even when we awaken from our dream of the world, the dream of ourselves, we are still in a dream and that it is a feature of our existence, not a bug to be fixed.