What is your happy dream?
I asked this question of a man I once met in California. Several years earlier he had quit an excellent job at a high-tech company in Silicon Valley. He had been reading books about emptiness and had come to the conclusion that his job was empty — empty of meaning, of value — and that the workplace, the status, the money, these things too were essentially empty. He decided that his life had no meaning, and he quit to do something that he had always wanted to do: become a painter.
He spoke in an earnest manner, often bringing his hand to his mouth, as if checking on the accuracy of his words. His hair and beard were turning from black to gray, and he was dressed casually, but carefully. For several years he had worked in his studio making art and had led a rewarding life. Then he had attended teachings that I was giving on emptiness. After one session, he asked to speak with me. I like these emptiness teachings, he told me, but there is one problem. Before, I read hooks about emptiness, and I saw that my job was emptiness, so I let go of it. I really like making art, but after listening to you today, I see that even my art is emptiness. Now maybe I need to let go of my artwork, but if I do that, I will have no money.
I told him, Emptiness doesn’t mean nothing.
He was quite shocked. I told him, Everything comes from emptiness. It is full of alive potential, full of possibility.
Then I asked him, What is your happy dream?
He said, To have a house on the beach.
Okay, let us say that one day you, have a nice dream in which you have the house on the beach. And you are so happy, right?
Yes, of course.
Then suddenly, a fire burns your house down, without dream insurance. How do you feel?
It will break my heart.
I asked, Is that house real or not?
He said, Of course, it’s not real. It’s a dream!
I said, If you have a big problem like your beach house burning down, what would be the best solution?
He thought very carefully, and then said, Maybe wake up in the dream.
Yes. If you know you are dreaming, then the tiger cannot catch you, and fire cannot burn you. If your house burns down, you can build another one. In our daytime life, we do not deny wanting the house or the career. But if we recognize the essential emptiness of phenomena, then we can enjoy our desires without getting attached to the misperceptions that cause suffering.
You and I right now, we are the same as the dream beach house. Not real. But we are not nothing. Many people think that emptiness is nothing. But everything comes from emptiness. If you recognize the dream house in the dream, and look at your dream house, you know that it is not real. But the dream house is still there. Real and not real together.
When people hear about emptiness, they often think it means something negative, like the tech executive who did not find meaning in his job anymore. This is a common misunderstanding. Emptiness is not an idea or a story. It is an embodied experience that occurs when we explore experience itself and discover that the seeming solidity and permanence of phenomena do not really exist.
Dreams are a perfect example. The dream house appears in the dream. We see it and feel it. Yet it doesn’t exist. We easily accept that dreams arise from our minds. The executive acknowledged that dream house is empty of substance and does not really exist. But that does not mean that he does not experience it. If it burns down in the dream, it will still break the man’s heart.
This is how life works. Our minds are creating our experiences moment by moment, and we experience these creations as real—so real that we mistakenly assume that we are seeing reality out there, independent of our own mind. But the object of perception cannot be separated from the mind that perceives it. We cannot feel our dreams. We cannot feel, taste, or touch emptiness. We cannot know its origin. We cannot actually say emptiness exists. But saying this doesn’t negate it. It’s as real as a dream. Everything arises from this unknowable ground of emptiness. Things appear, but they do not exist in the ways that we assume that they do. What we are pointing to is beyond words and language and cannot be known by the conceptual mind. We have learned to think in dualities: real versus not real; daydreams versus night dreams; good–bad, living–dying. When we encounter experiences that do not fit into these dualities, we tend to dismiss them. They make us nervous. We cannot accommodate them into our dualistic logic. When the conventional world agrees that what the mind knows with its ordinary perception sums up all that can be known, then it becomes more difficult to pursue the truth.
As we gain more insight into daytime and nighttime qualities of mind, we gain more confidence in accepting the limits of consensus-reality. With investigation, we can see that the social fabric is pasted together by consensus. The more people who share the consensus, the more real it becomes, and the harder it is to change or dismantle it.
Source: In Love With the World, A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying. ~Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche