We’ve all heard people asking themselves the question. Am I a human being having a spiritual experience, or I am a spiritual being having a human experience. The butterfly dream below begs that same question so beautifully.
When we get further down the road of life. Moving away from our youth where almost everything we think about is based on the physical, we move towards being more spiritual as a natural progression. Early adulthood is a very cerebral stage of life where we have learned how to think and reason for ourselves and our own best interests. It is very much a psychological stage of life where intellect is learned and used through school and university and then in our careers to get us ‘ahead in life’. Our early thirties often bring us emotional trials. Our forties and fifties bring more of the spiritual. By spiritual I mean a time where we reflect on life, on what we truly want out of life, beyond the career and success we have attained so far. A time when we think about things and concepts like the butterfly dream. We look inward to deeper callings and yearnings and thus, delve deeper into the spiritual journey’s we are on; consciously or unconsciously, it makes little difference.
The poem below navigates us through the ideas of who we are. Are we just human, emotional and cerebral beings or are we something more? Being ‘unaware to myself as Zhaungzi describes in the poem is oftentimes a shifting point for many people, who through trials and suffering, come to realize that they are much more than their minds can at first think!
The Butterfly dream
“Once upon a time, I, Zhuangzi, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly.
I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Zhuangzi. Soon I awakened, and there I was, veritably myself again.
Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.
Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.”
The Detail of the butterfly dream.:
This short story points to a number of interesting and much-explored philosophical issues, stemming from the relationship between the waking-state and the dream-state, and/or between illusion and reality: How do we know when we’re dreaming, and when we’re awake? How do we know if what we’re perceiving is “real” or a mere “illusion” or “fantasy”? Is the “me” of various dream-characters the same as or different from the “me” of my waking world?
How do I know, when I experience something I call “waking up” that it is actually a waking up to “reality” as opposed to simply waking up into another level of dream?
Modern Translation Version of the butterfly dream:
“Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.”
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