The Dream Nature of the World
by Paramahansa Yogananda
(Excerpts from Man's Eternal Quest)
This World is but a Dream
It is only when we wake from dreams that we know we have been dreaming. Similarly, this life may be realized as a dream only when we awake in Cosmic Consciousness. …
Dreams are actually lessons in the working of Cosmic Consciousness. They come to man for a reason; their purpose is to awaken in him a realization of the dream nature of the universe and of the method of its operation.
The sages of India since ancient times have spoken of the universe as a materialization of the thought of God. It is easy to say, of course, that this universe is a dream. But the verisimilitude of "life" in our everyday experiences makes it nearly impossible for us to believe that the world is nothing more than a cosmic dream. It is necessary that we first develop mind power in order to be able to realize that the universe is actually made out of the thought of God and that, like a dream, it is structurally evanescent.
We know that thoughts are invisible. But in dreamland they may be made visible by the force of energy. So originally this whole universe—in the form of God's thoughts—was invisible, hidden within the cosmic stream of consciousness. Only when those thoughts were crystallized by God's cosmic intelligent vibration, or energy, did they become visible to us as the material universe.
So, although it is difficult to realize that this cosmic dream universe is merely a dream, we should endeavor to think along this line. Many practical benefits will come to us from such a true understanding of the physical world.
To illustrate, let us say that a sleeping man dreams he is a great and powerful warrior; that he goes to war, is shot, and lies dying. Just as he is feeling very sad, he suddenly wakes up. He laughs at his dream fears as he realizes he is not really a warrior, nor is he dying.
In "real" life one may have the same kind of experience. A soldier who goes to war and is mortally wounded suddenly wakes up in the astral world and realizes that the war experience was all a bad dream—that he has neither broken bones nor a physical body. Nevertheless, he is still conscious of life and of his individuality.
In order to realize that all the happenings of this world are dream experiences, we should learn how to visualize our thoughts—how to recharge them with the energy of concentration until they become visible manifestations. Proper visualization by the exercise of concentration and will power enables us to materialize thoughts, not only as dreams or visions in the mental realm, but also as experiences in the material realm.
Matter Originates in Thought
Starting with the power of his creative imagination, man has built wonderful scientific devices and a marvelous material civilization. Inventions are the result of the materialization of human thought. Many people try to achieve something in the realm of thought, but they give up when difficulties arise. Only those persons who have visualized their thoughts very strongly have been able to manifest them in outward form. Everything on earth had its birth in the factory of the mind—either in God's mind or in man's mind. Actually, man cannot think an "original" thought. He can only borrow God's thoughts and become an instrument to materialize them. …
The relationship between thought and matter is very subtle. Suppose you see a wooden pillar, and try, by the power of thought, to remove the pillar. You cannot do that. In spite of what you think, the pillar is still there. It is a materialization of someone's previous thought. It will not go away merely by your thinking it is not there. Only when you realize it as a materialization of thought may you dematerialize it to your consciousness. As you learn by experimenting with overcoming habits, pain, and so on, you will begin to understand that the entire design of the body and all its processes are controlled by thought.
One may gather great wisdom by cultivating the consciousness that this world and everything in it is only a dream. First of all, do not take your earth experiences too seriously. The root-cause of sorrow is in viewing the passing show with emotional involvement. If you continually think to yourself, "I haven't lived as I ought to have lived," you only make yourself miserable. Rather,
do your best to be better;
and no matter what difficulties come, ever affirm,
"It is all a dream. It will soon pass."
Then no trouble can be a great trial to you. No happenings of this earth can in any way torture you. …
So one should not take his troubles too seriously, lest they darken the subconscious mind. Difficulties come to us in order to awaken us to the realization that this life is a dream.
This lesson we all have to learn. Then we can understand why there is so much difference in everything in the world: some people are poor, some are rich; some are healthy and some are sick. Although it may seem to be a terrible and cruel game, the justification of the complications of life is that all of it is only a dream. Take it as such. …
If you can go to a movie and see a picture of war and suffering, and afterward say, "What a wonderful picture!" so may you take this life as a cosmic picture-show. Be prepared for every kind of experience that may come to you, realizing that all are but dreams.
Each human life constitutes a drama; and the events of each day represent a drama. You are living a fresh one each of the year's 365 days. The thought that you are merely a player in these dramas is very comforting. Realize that the acting out of whatever part you are called upon to play does not affect your real being. At the end of every earthly incarnation you are the same—the immortal soul—untouched by sickness, sorrow, or death.
"The man who is calm and even-minded during pain and pleasure, the one whom these cannot ruffle, he alone is fit to attain everlastingness."
- Bhagavad-Gita XI:15.
Pride Is the Greatest Barrier to Wisdom
The experiences of my life have intensified my conviction that human pride is the greatest barrier to wisdom. Egotistical pride must go. It is a blind that prevents our seeing God as the sole Doer, the Director of the Cosmic Drama. You are playing different parts in this cosmic movie-house, and you may not foresee what part will be assigned to you tomorrow. You should be prepared for anything. Such is the law of life. Why sorrow, then, over life's experiences? If you take every happening as you would if you were seeing someone else playing it in a motion picture, you will not grieve. Play your 365 roles each year with an inward smile and with the remembrance that you are only dreaming. Then you will never again be hurt by life.
You have played many roles through many incarnations. But they were all given to entertain you—not to frighten you. Your immortal soul cannot be touched. In the motion picture of life you may cry, you may laugh, you may play many parts; but inwardly you should ever say, "I am Spirit." Great consolation comes from realization of that wisdom.
You cannot expect to wake up from the delusion that earth life is real merely by running away into the forest. You have to play out to the end the part that is given you. Each human being is contributing to the enactment of the motion picture of the cosmos. If you want to be happy you should play out your part with dignity, assurance, and happiness. When you are awake in God He will show you that you are unchanged, even though you have played countless parts in His earth drama. …
Dissociate Yourself from Your Experiences
This show has a purpose: that you learn how to play the various parts of the life movie without identifying your Self with your role. It is important to avoid identification with pain or anger or any kind of mental or physical suffering that comes. The best way to dissociate yourself from your difficulty is to be mentally detached, as if you were merely a spectator, while at the same time seeking a remedy.
Don't expect to attain unalloyed peace and happiness from earthly life. This should be your new attitude: no matter what your experiences are, enjoy them in an objective way, as you would a movie. You have to find true peace and happiness within yourself. Your outer experiences should be only fun. You can convert all of them into miserable ones if you allow your mind to do so. You may have good health and not appreciate it at all. But if you become unwell, then you will appreciate what it is to have health. Show gratitude to God for what He bestows on you, without waiting for reverses to make you grateful.
You are a child immortal. You have come on earth to entertain and to be entertained. This is why life should be a combination of both meditation and activity. If you lose your inner balance, that is just the time when you are vulnerable to worldly suffering. …
Learn to laugh at difficulties by remembering that you are immortal: "Killed many times, I yet live; born many times, I am yet changeless." Whether you are suffering in this life, or smiling with opulence and power, your consciousness should remain unchanged. If you can accomplish even-mindedness, nothing can ever hurt you. The lives of all great masters show that they have achieved this blessed state.
In order to be able to say with realization that all things are in the mind, you must first develop an inner consciousness of divine peace that remains unruffled by the experiences of this earth. Accept them as you would dreams; and the time will come when you will find that, just by the power of your strong thought, whatever you think will materialize. This is very difficult to do, but it can be done. …
Concentrate First on God
One's first concentration should be on union with God. Every day as you go through various earthly situations, men-tally practice your oneness with God. If a pain comes along to disturb that consciousness you should reason, "Well, if I were asleep I wouldn't feel this pain; why should I be aware of it now? All experiences are fleeting dreams." Practice overcoming all trials in this manner.
The first state of concentration is to be able to see in your mind's eye anything that you wish. For example, I can keep looking at this room and concentrating upon it until, when I close my eyes, I can still see the room exactly as it is. This is the first step in deep concentration, but most people haven't the patience to practice it. I had the patience.
As you continue to practice visualization you will find that your thoughts become materialized. The cosmic law will so arrange it that whatsoever you are thinking of will be produced in actuality, if you command it to be so. …
Don't be sensitive about the body and material concerns, nor let anyone hurt you. Keep your consciousness aloof. Give goodwill to all, but develop a state of consciousness wherein nobody can ruffle you. Try to make others happy every day. Share your wisdom with others. Do not permit yourself to lose interest in life.
Learn everything about one thing,
some-thing about everything.
Realize that the more you seek, the more you will find; the realms of thought are infinite. The moment you think you have attained everything, you have circumscribed yourself. Search on and on, continuously, and in the valley of your humbleness will gather the ocean of God's wisdom.
The greatest thing you can do to cultivate true wisdom is to practice the consciousness of the world as a dream. If failure comes, say,
"It is a dream."
Then shut off the thought of failure from your mind. In the midst of negative conditions, practice "opposition" by thinking and acting in a positive, constructive way. Practice titiksha, which means not to give in to unpleasant experiences, but to resist them without becoming upset mentally. When sickness comes, follow hygienic laws of living, without permitting your mind to be disturbed. Be unruffled in everything you do. If you try hard to cultivate the dream-opposite of whatever trials you may be going through, you will be able to change a nightmarish situation into a beautiful experience. This freedom of mind will come when you realize that solids, liquids, and all other forms of matter are expressions of God's thought.
The best way to find true freedom is to meditate deeply. You can learn how to meditate by studying the truths in the Self-Realization Fellowship Lessons. No one else can convey to you the taste of sugar; you have to taste it yourself.
Yesterday I was sitting in my room, looking back over my life, and I realized that everything in the outer world that had promised great happiness had deceived me; but one thing has never deceived me—my inner peace. Indescribable billows of happiness surge over my soul. As I passed through various experiences over the years, that unchanging inner peace has been proof to me of the existence of God.
I was just thinking this when suddenly I saw a great Light. Everything else vanished. There was feeling—that was all. My hand was not a hand, but a feeling. When I touched my hands together there was no flesh there, only feeling. Then I understood that I had become thoughts; everything around me, the light and the room and the weight of the body—all were nothing but thoughts.
It was a delightful experience. Gone were the sorrow and sadness I had felt for things past, and in their place a great sense of freedom.
That consciousness of God-peace is never-ending. It is the only real state of happiness. Everything else will fail you. Nothing else can make you happy because only the joy of His presence is real.
It is not necessary to go through every kind of human experience in order to attain this ultimate wisdom. You should be able to learn by studying the lives of others. Why become helplessly involved in an endless panorama of events in order to discover that nothing in this world can ever make you happy?
One may learn the truth in two ways: by undergoing many good and bad experiences, or by cultivating wisdom. Choose which you prefer. Krishna said: "The attainment of wisdom immediately bestows supreme peace."* [Bhagavad-Gita IV:39]
‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God’.
If you are seeking something else first, you will surely be disillusioned. Each man rationalises, ‘Well, others have been deceived, but I won’t be.’ Nevertheless, he will be deceived.
The only experience that is real, the only experience that brings happiness, is awareness of the presence of God.
More Quotes about the Dream Nature of the World
After all, what is life? It is a temporary dream. Death is nothing but a sleep and another dream. When the dream is over, it is gone. Viewing it from that consciousness, I am not sorry for those who die on the battlefields, because for them the dream of torture is over. But I grieve for the wounded, because pain is a dreadful nightmare. Much of the time my mind is not here; I am roaming on the battlefields of Europe. [* This talk was given during World War II.] You might think as I tell you this, or if I were to tell you of other unusual experiences, that I am suffering from an overwrought imagination; but that is not so. Naturally, it is hard to believe that others can have realizations that we ourselves do not. But if you live for years in the mental world, whence God is sending forth these dreams of creation, and if you continuously work with the divine powers of the mind, you can see, as I do, all the mysteries of God's creation unfold before you. (The Divine Romance p.60)
Though God has everything, we can still say that He has some desire: He wants to see who will remain unintimidated by this picture, and who will play his part well and come back to Him. You can't run away from this universe, but if you act in this play with your thought fixed on God, you will be free.
I often say to Him, "Lord, this is a motion picture to You, but it is terrible to us." And the Lord replies, "I make you realize it is a dream every night when you go to sleep. Why don't you remember this in the daytime?" (The Divine Romance p.114)
You are walking on this earth as in a dream. Our world is a dream within a dream; you must realize that to find God is the only goal, the only purpose, for which you are here. For Him alone you exist. Him you must find. And Him you can know by continuously seeking Him; by steadfastness in your mind, harmony in your life, evenness in your temperament; by finding fault not with others but with yourself; by schooling yourself in the path of wisdom; by being humble, ever loyal to your friends and benefactors, appreciating the sincerity of all hearts, cooperating always with good and resisting evil, helping others, giving strength and understanding along the way — this is the royal way of living, the real way that leads to God. The recognition of the world doesn't matter; seek the approval of your own consciousness, and in that you will have the recognition of God. To be self-satisfied and make little or no effort to improve is to become stagnant. But to try unceasingly to progress, until you are sure that you are with God, is the way to live. (The Divine Romance p.279)
Awaken From the Cosmic Dream
You can understand life as God's cosmic dream movie if you analyze the dream movies you create every night in sleep. Sometimes you have nightmares and sometimes you have lovely dreams. How real they seem, not only to you but also to those beings in your dream. But when you wake up you know that they were not real, and you can laugh at that unreality. Of course, everyone prefers beautiful dreams to nightmares. I remind God of this: "If we must participate in Your dreams, Lord, we like beautiful dreams of health and smiles instead of nightmares of disease or mental suffering." But the trouble is, as long as you will love beautiful dreams and fear nightmares, giving reality to any dream happenings, when nightmares come you will suffer. Therefore, the masters say, "Awake from both the beautiful dreams and the nightmares."
If you are attached to human happiness, you are in for a lot of trouble, because nightmares are inevitable along with the beautiful dreams. But if you will think of a dream as a dream, whether it is enjoyable or dreadful, you will have peace. When you realize that life is a dream, then you are free.
That is the philosophy the great masters of India teach— that this world, this creation, is the dream of God. Just as when you are half awake and can see a dream and know you are dreaming, yet apart from it, that is how God feels this universe. On one side He is awake in ever new Bliss, and on another side He is dreaming this universe. That is how you should look upon this world. Then you will know why He created it, and you will not ascribe these dream conditions to your soul. If you pass through a nightmare, you know that it is no more than a bad dream. If you can live in the world in that consciousness, you will not suffer. That is what Kriya Yoga will give to you. (Journey to Self-Realization p.34)
This World is but a Dream
Just as in the movies there is no essential difference between the ocean and the sky, which are simply two different rates of light-vibration, so it is in this world.
Sorrow and joy, pain and pleasure, cold and heat are but dreams of this world.
The Lord is the only Reality.
We should always pray that no test or temptation will ever have the power to make us forget Him. When I pray thus I receive more result than at any other time. Then, even if something very serious comes to divert me, I nevertheless see immediately that I am safe in His arms.
It is difficult to know Him. The path to God is like a razor's edge. But discouragement is never justified, because we don't have to acquire or win anything; we have only to realize that God is already within us. (Man's Eternal Quest p.436)
"Life is a great dream of God's," the Master said.
"If it is only a dream, why is pain so real?" a student inquired.
"A dream head struck against a dream wall causes dream pain," Paramahansaji replied. "A dreamer is not cognizant of the hallucinatory fabric of a dream until he awakens. Similarly, man does not understand the delusory nature of the cosmic dream of creation until he awakens in God."