Monday, January 23, 2012

Dreaming the impossible dream.


Many years ago my teacher told me that life was full of koans; all we have to do is pay attention to what comes our way. Since then I have found the truth of his advice. Recently what has been coming my way concerns hopes and dreams. A friend has recently been writing a lot about hoping and dreaming and I find myself both agreeing and saying “yes, but”. Another friend is wrestling with hope and losing the battle. Dreaming and hoping can be both a blessing and a curse. Both reflect reaching for something that doesn’t seem to yet exist which can either motivate us onward trying to attain or fill us with unrealistic expectations. At the heart of both dreaming and hoping lays the issue of fulfillment. The presumption of any quest is that we are not fulfilled. The height of lunacy is to go seeking for something we already have.

It’s revealing that the popular song To Dream The Impossible Dream was composed for the 1965 musical Man of La Mancha, which portrays the story of Don Quixote who chases windmills and stands vigil over his armor, in response to Dulcinea’s question about what he means by following the quest. People glean either aspiration or futility from this story.

Dreaming and hope have special significance within a Buddhist framework. In fact it is a central issue. To be a Buddha means to wake up from a dream that is destroying lives. The flip side of that is to live in delusion and not even know it. The question that divides this matter is reality. What is it? And the corollary, what does it mean to be unrealistic? It’s a critical issue that brings into focus the legitimacy of a quest.

From a Buddhist perspective we are already fundamentally full; nothing meaningful—nothing of significance is missing that could contribute any value to our lives. That is a very different matter from contributing to life out of lack. “You can’t pour water out of an empty bucket” is a common bit of wisdom. The issue is not the presence of fullness but awareness of fulfillment. It does nobody any good to have a treasure in hand of which they are not aware and without being aware there is nothing to pour out to the world. Nothing is more unrealistic than to go looking far and wide for what is already in our bank account. That is indeed an impossible dream. The challenge is thus to become aware of the infinite wealth that is already within our possession. Once that occurs then our relationships with others and the world are transformed and we can share a life of fulfillment. Until then seeking from another what only we can realize within is an exercise in futility.

Countless Zen masters have pointed to the inward treasure in our possession and guided the process of moving beyond the delusions that obstruct genuine self-awareness.

In 1913 Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore received the Nobel Prize for literature. One of Tagor’s resonate themes is opening doors. Here is one facet from his poetic jewel “Journey Home”.

“The traveler has to knock at every alien door to come to his own, and one has to wander through all the outer worlds to reach the innermost shrine at the end.”

The message of Tagore is that fulfillment is an already present reality that lies within each of us. This message seems to be one of the most challenging of all to absorb and put into gear. The result is we go on quests trying, and forever failing, to gain what can’t ever be gained. Dreams and hopes are wonderful once we’ve found our own never-lost treasure. Only then can we share the wealth.
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