Which of the two is real?
Once, Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering about, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know that he was Zhuang Zhou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakeably Zhuang Zhou. But he didn’t know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he was Zhuang Zhou. Between Zhuang Zhou and the butterfly there must be some distinction!
Student: “Which of the two is real?”
Master: “You are a father to your children, a child to your parents and a friend to your friends. You are a boss wearing a suit in your company but can be a student wearing a swimming suit to a swimming coach in a swimming pool. Which of them is the real ‘you’?
Which is real, you who were sleeping in your bed a few hours ago, or you who are listening to me now? During your sleep, you lived for a short period of time thinking of yourself as a butterfly, and you live now thinking of yourself as a human being. Which is your real life, and which is your false life? Can you say that the time you spent dreaming of being a butterfly, was not your life?
What matters is to know clearly who or what distinguishes a butterfly from a human being, reality from dream and you of today from you of yesterday. It is neither a butterfly nor Zhuang Zhou. A butterfly and Zhuang Zhou as a human being are all labels attached to him just as a father, a child, a friend and a boss are to you. All the labels, however nice or terrible they may be, are just imaginary and not real. Thinking that the labels are real is said to be dreaming, or being deluded by illusions.
What is left when all the labels are removed? It has no name but controls your body to do whatever it does, such as distinguishing a butterfly from a human being. You should know what it is because it is the essence of your being. It is eternal and never changes although some labels are removed from it, and some new ones are attached to it according to circumstances.”
All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway http://ow.ly/i/A1AKE