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Dreams and Formal Thinking

The next excerpt from Chuang-tzu book speaks about dreams and dreaming, seeming to sustain the idea that everything is just a dream or illusion.


    Those who dream of a banquet may wake to lamentation and sorrow. Those who dream of lamentation and sorrow may wake to join a hunt. While they dream, they do not know that they dream. Some will even experience a dream within a dream; and only when they awake do they realize they dreamed of a dream. By and by comes the great awakening, and then we may find out that this life is really an extended dream. (The Chuang Tzu, Chapter 2, On Leveling all Things, translation by Lin Yutang).


This idea that the life is just a dream, meaning an illusion, is very fashionable in the Western world interested in Hindus yoga and oriental philosophies. The question is: did Chuang-tzu also believe in this idea? Can we find traces of the belief in the illusion of life at Taoist authors?

Some commentators would agree. We have a different opinion.

Chuang Tzu says: "By and by comes the great awakening, and then we may find out that this life is really an extended dream."

"Confucius and you are both dreams; and I who say you are dreams - I am but a dream myself" goes on Chuang-tzu in the quoted excerpt.

So nothing seems to be certain. We are all dreams or we all are dreaming of things of this world. Nothing is real!

Therefore the question is: how can one states something for sure as long as all things may be but imagination and dreaming?

This approach is a criticism of the formal thinking. A thinking encouraged by Confucius and his followers and by the psiholosphers disputes that bother with uncertain topics like ethics and social rules (rites). 

Finally to say that nobody is real, that we are all just dreams, that the dreams multiply in other dreams and so forth, this is not Chuang-tzu philosophical position but an elegant manner of make fun of the formal thinking.

Selection and commentary by Jhian

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