Saturday, May 15, 2010

Is Life a Dream?

I replied to a post at the Philosopher's Magazine:

Here's my reply:

The phrase “Life is a dream” can have a deeper meaning if there is another state beyond the two states of existence: waking life and dreaming. In Buddhism and other mysticisms it is claimed that there is another way of living and relating to reality that makes what we call waking life seem like a dream in comparison to it. In Buddhism the story goes that when a man passing the Buddha on the road and noticing something special about him asked if he were a god or magician or demon, he replied, “I’m awake.” A strange reply (since obviously he was awake) unless there is a state of being that makes our normal waking life seem like a dream in comparison to its superior wakefulness. This is what Buddhism asserts but not only as an intellectual assertion; it recommends a practice that must be done so that one sees or experiences that this is the case. You write as if it is a purely intellectual claim to be considered philosophically or in thought. But Buddhism and most mysticisms are about the person’s decision to pursue a daily practice which involves some sort of method of inquiry that either does or does not wake them up by showing them how what we call waking life is actually like a dream in comparison to a superior wakefulness. The Buddhist practice is mindfulness meditation. The moment to moment practice of witnessing the contents of consciousness – thoughts, feelings and sensations - as they arise and pass away. The claim is that you will see that everything is impermanent, changing. You don’t just think it is impermanent, you experience it immediately and that experiencing alters one’s being.

In psychoanalysis of a Freudian or Lacanian kind you do the practice of therapy in such a way (and with the assumptions and practice) that regard the dream as conveying more reality – the really real – in comparison to our illusory waking life.

I think the crucial question is: what method of inquiry do you choose? If you choose a mystical path and do the practice and see what they say you see then do you then believe that that is the way things are? If you choose to use philosophical reflection and see things in a certain way is that the way things are? So, which mystical practice or philosophical tradition should one choose? Phenomenologists “see,” or talk in terms of different things, than do analytic philosophers. If we ask philosophical questions about the way things are we think that we are just neutrally inquiring, but we’ve really unconsciously adopted a method and approach to investigating that comes with certain presuppositions about how we will know what’s real.

Which method of inquiry is the right one to choose to investigate whether “life is a dream”?

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