If You Can Dream It

Though I’m discovering why The Book of Lieh-tzu is generally not regarded as highly as the Taoteching or the Book of Chuang Tzu, it’s hard not appreciate he richness of the Taoist tradition.

When Graham points out that:

Unlike the Indian philosophies, neither of the great Chinese philosophies, Confucianism and Taoism, can be called pessimistic; both assume, not that life is misery, but that joy and misery alternate like day and night, each having its proper place in the world order. If ‘Life is a dream’ implies that no achievement is lasting, it also implies that life can be charged with the wonder of dreams, that we drift spontaneously through events which follow a logic different from that of everyday intelligence, that fears and regrets are as unreal as hopes and desires.

I realize why I’m more drawn to Taoism than to most of the other Eastern traditions I’ve studied.

In a chapter devoted to “dreams,” I found this dream particularly appealing:

Mr Yin of Chou ran a huge estate. The underlings who hurried to serve him never rested from dawn to dusk. There was an old servant with no more strength in his muscles, whom he drove all the harder. By day the servant went to work groaning, at night he slept soundly dulled by fatigue. Losing consciousness, every evening he dreamed that he was lord of the state, enthroned above the people, with all affairs of state under his control. He gave himself up to whatever pleased him, excursions and banquets, palaces and spectacles; his joy was incomparable. Waking, he was a servant again.

When someone condoled with him for having to work so hard, the servant said:

“Man’s term of life is a hundred years, divided between day and night. By day I am a bondman, and my life is bitter indeed; but at night I become a prince, and my joy is incomparable. Why should I complain?”

Mr Yin’s mind was vexed by worldly affairs, his thoughts occupied with the family inheritance, which exhausted him body and mind; and at night he too fell fast asleep dulled by fatigue. And every evening lit’ dreamed that he was harried by every conceivable task, scolded and beaten for every imaginable fault. He muttered and groaned in his sleep, and, there was no relief until dawn. Distressed by this, Mr Yin consulted a friend, who told him:

“With rank high enough to distinguish you, and more property than you need, you are too far above other men. Dreaming at night that you are a slave, reverting from ease to toil, is fortune righting itself. Can you reasonably expect to have it both ways, dreaming as well as awake?”

After hearing his friend’s advice, Mr Yin eased his demands on the servants and reduced the responsibilities which worried him. His ailment took a turn for the better.

Of course, it may be that I’m just suffering from an overload of Scrooge-derived movies that flood the Christmas Season and have molded my perception of the world, but I’d like to believe that a man’s conscience does affect his dreams, allowing him the chance to discover a better way.

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