Sunday, October 16, 2011


by Scott Bradley

"While you are dreaming you don't know its a dream. You might even interpret a dream in your dream — and then you wake up and realize it was all a dream." (Zhuangzi, Chap. 2; Ziporyn)

This is a revisit to what I think is a defining element in the Zhuangzian philosophy. His point is essentially this: This entire experience of being-in-a-world may be a dream and, if this is the case, even believing that we have awoken from the dream would itself be part of that dream. If this is so, then the best one can do is to realize that he may be dreaming. We may be able to awaken to the dreaming, but not from the dreaming. And this is why Zhuangzi embraces the dreaming and declares, "The Radiance of Drift and Doubt is the sage's only map." Our greatest limitation, knowing nothing, is the very gate into "far and unfettered wandering."

Zhuangzi continues: "Perhaps a great awakening would reveal all this to be a dream. And yet, fools imagine they are already awake—how clearly and certainly they understand it all!" Most teachers would have us believe that these 'fools' are the unawakened. Zhuangzi would agree, only he would add that the 'awakened', if they believe they have escaped the dreaming, are the biggest fools of all. This is a most heretical view. And it is why Chan Buddhism, even while cherry-picking from the Zhuangzi, considered it a heretical document.

"This one is a lord, they decide, that one is a shepherd — what prejudice!" he continues. "Confucius and you are both dreaming!" This person is enlightened, that one is not. She is a sage, he is not. What foolishness! declares Zhuangzi.

The way of Zhuangzi is to release his grip on every 'answer'; it is to wander in the wonderfully tenuous world of no-answers. And he will not allow that no-answer is the answer. "And when I say you are dreaming, I am dreaming too."

Always Zhuangzi makes his disclaimers. Whatever he says, he also dismisses. Were it not for the absurdity of infinite regress, he would do nothing else. And so he concludes with an admonition that we not "agree" with him and thereby make no-answer the answer. "So if you were to 'agree' with these words as right, I would name this as nothing more than a way of offering condolences for the demise of their strangeness." This kind of agreement would be merely a eulogy for the death of radiant doubt.

Perhaps the most important word in the entire passage is "perhaps".'s all a dream. Who knows?

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.


  1. Doesn't adviata then enter with the best next step from here? That if this is all a dream then who is the dreamer and who differentiates dreamer from dreamed. Until we have the unknowing of Chuang but no one to be left to un know it. And no it.

    From this the spark of knower and known is again ignited and you are back into the dream analogy you began with. This can be painted many ways from dreamer to Brahman.

    We would be wise to see it all as a dream and wise too to see no dreamer exists. Where that leaves us is void. We can move through various philosophical metaphors but never rest fully at one without moving towards another. So a cycle.

    I'd rather a non certain cyclic view than any linear one. I'd rather an unknowable infinity than an explainable duality. If it's a dream, who's dreaming?

  2. Yes the individual self is a dream. Who's dreaming it? There can't be a dreamer. Dreamer and dreamed are the old mutually arising interdependent.


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