The world is like a dream
Now, we can subscribe to this and then we can think, “Well, the Gita, yes.” To read the Gita through, just to read it, takes something over two hours and actually to live through it would have taken much longer than that. It couldn’t possibly have happened on a battlefield just before the battle was about to begin. They wouldn’t all have waited for hours and hours before the signal to start. It just couldn’t happen. Then you say, “Well, could it happen in a dream?” “Oh, well, yes, it could happen in a dream because anything can happen in a dream.” Well, this is the dream. Shankara teaches, Chapter 2, verse 69, and he says, “The world is like a dream and people see the world as if they were seeing a dream”. We can subscribe to this but when it comes to the actual point we can’t, in fact, take it in. This is found in every sphere of life, even where people feel that they are most objective and calm, and removed from all prejudice.
There are famous cases. In 1927 the Indian mathematician, Chandrasekhar, predicted what are now called ‘black holes,’ which then was absolutely unthinkable. He presented this to a meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society. Now, the greatest mathematician, or certainly one of the greatest mathematicians, astronomers at the time, was Eddington. Eddington said, and I quote his actual words, he said, “This idea of a star 20 times the mass of the sun and then contracting and contracting, and finally coming to its so-called ‘black hole’ from which not even light could escape gravity, actually, it would be so enormous the iron core would collapse.” He said, “It is unlikely, but I want more protection than that. There ought to be a law of Nature to prevent a star from behaving in such a ridiculous way.” These are his actual words. He wasn’t the Astronomer Royal but he certainly had the same status.
Then, he went on to criticise Chandrasekhar’s mathematics and then he resorted, as people always resort when they have no case, to ridicule. He said, “Oh, of course, he is confusing two different waves, you see? The carrier waves and standard wave.” He said, “Oh, he was confusing the president of the Royal Astronomical Society who, of course, changes every year but there is always a president and he is confusing that with the man who is president for one year and then goes on”. Well, he outfaced Chandrasekhar and humiliated him. Eddington must have known, but he had this prejudice against this idea. You can see from his words there was a revulsion from the idea. He may have been right, he might have been right, but the point is the basis of it was emotional. It was not objective, calm.
In the same way, well, recently, Einstein fought a battle for 30 years against the implications of the quantum theory which he, himself, was one of the main founders. (No, don’t go into that!) But he said, “God does not play dice with the universe,” to which the answer was, “How do you know?” Then he said, “I refuse to believe that an ant can change the universe by looking at it.” But it now turns out that it probably can. He devised an experiment, a thought experiment, was carried out to show the absolutely absurd conclusion quantum theory would lead to. Well, in 1982 it was carried out and it did lead to these absurd conclusions.
As has been said, no orthodox scientists believe this except a few physicists. “Oh, the physics boys are at it again. It doesn’t seem to make any difference.” But it is an example of an inability to take things in. Schrödinger in the same way resisted the conclusion of this theory which he, himself, contributed so much towards.
The discipline of Yoga is to break up what Shankara calls the ‘faith’ which is defined as the impression in past lives, the absolute conviction this is so, this is not so, which are not based on reason. They are based on a feeling. Now, in verse 39 faith is given. There are 3 qualifications now given in verse 39 and Shankara says, “These are the ultimate requirements for the attainment of knowledge. They are faith, intensity and meditation, restraining the senses in meditation”.
But faith, our teacher often spoke of it, has a technical meaning also. The technical meaning is that having decided on a course of action, we often feel, after a few weeks or months, “Well, I don’t know about this.” No new evidence has come to light but there is a wavering. This is technically called ‘lack of faith’. Then our teacher says, “Then faith means the ability to go through with a decision which was taken on the proper basis, which basis still remains and to prevent the mind from wavering away from it.
Tat-para is the second one with that as the supreme, not to undertake the Yoga for any other purpose than this, to know the true nature of that, which is the nature of the universal soul and of the true nature of the individual soul; tat-para.
The Christian missionaries to China used to make their converts burn the ancestral tablets in the street. It seems very cruel because afterwards they would be ostracised by the others. But they did it because when they first arrived a lot of people became Christians because the missionaries brought rice. If you became a Christian you could get an extra ration of rice from the missionary. They called them ‘Rice Christians,’ and so they had to make some real test as to whether people really were Christians or not.
In the same way, in the earliest Buddhist text, there are warnings not to let people come into the monastery because the food is better in the monastery, which it was in times of famine because the monasteries were endowed by the rich people.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are: