“Are you a man or a god? Buddha replied, “I am awake.” Great people always seem to have a way of giving indirect answers. But, their responses leave you to think twice and then realize why they are great. Wisdom doesn’t come from the ego, it flows out of our higher Self. To fully understand Buddha’s response and what it means to be awakened we’ll need to investigate how the mind works, the nature of myth and reality and the psychology of consciousness.

The great mythologist Joseph Campbell made a critical distinction in explaining the power of myth. The difference between a myth that reads like fairy tale and one that reveals wisdom has more to do with how we think than the contents of the story. Campbell pointed out that some people read mythology in a connotative way while others utilize a denotative approach. If, for example, we apply the latter to Buddha’s answer, then we are left with him simply saying that he is physically not sleeping. Taken connotatively, Buddha is telling us much more about the nature of consciousness. In fact, he is not avoiding the question but pointing out that being awake transcends categories of man, mineral, plant or god. In essence, he is declaring his enlightenment.

Before such distinctions were made, people tended to be literal and things were understood in a more concrete way. A rock, for example, could simultaneously be a mineral as well as a container that housed a god. Today, we refer to this way of magical thinking as animistic. Developmentally, both our brain and mind move from a concrete to an abstract psychology while magic predominates the former and religion and spirituality the latter. In early history, magic and science were not distinguished from each other. Magic evolved out of science over the course of many centuries. Hence the saying, “Yesterday’s magic is tomorrow science.”

On the world stage we observe parallel developments between the world below (the concrete, denotative realm) and the world above (the abstract, connotative realm) with links between magic, shamanism and ultimately, modern science. The missing link between the old and the new science is alchemy; it combined in varying balances, the concrete with the abstract, the literal with the connotative, symbolic ways. Historically, alchemy was the first laboratory science, but its experiments included as much psychology, pray and meditation as it did physical manipulation of substances. An alchemist’s workplace typically contained an altar (oratory) and laboratory; the reality of matter and “the stuff of which dreams are made” went into transmuting minds and metals into superior creations.

To an alchemist, Buddha’s reply indicated a very high degree of conscious realization, what they symbolized as the philosopher’s stone. This stone, the lapis, was no ordinary rock, but rather a stone that had extraordinary properties to transmute inferior substances into superior forms. These transformations were both material as well as mental. In other words, success depended on experimental procedures and extraordinary changes in the mind of the adept. To be awake meant that the alchemist and his product had transcended the limiting categories of the materialistic world.

All too often we dismiss these early pioneers as quacks, charlatans or greedy money-mongers. But, in doing so we also discount great scientists, men like Isaac Newton, a prodigious alchemist, and products, like alcohol, sulfuric acid and brandy that were derived from alchemical experimentation. In fact, we would need to reconsider one of the most powerful branches of contemporary science – quantum physics. For it is no less radical in collapsing the major categories of time, space and energy than alchemy. To a quantum physicist, being awake is no more than one of many possibilities open to consciousness, each having its own probability of manifesting in reality. The alchemists, like the ancient Chinese philosophers, believed that subjective variables play a crucial role in invention as well as discovery. Synchronicity is closer to their nature than the cause and effect paradigms of the Western world. Like quantum physics, alchemy has a dream-like quality inasmuch as it strives to imagine what is happening in nature per se instead of models superimposed on it.

Quantum physicists tag potential events with some degree of probability, but psychologically it becomes increasingly more difficult to do this as events stray further and further from the rational realm. Obviously, the probability that I will get some sleep tonight is high, but what is the probability that I will dream of Hermes or my neighbor?

That we dream also carries a high probability because all mammals dream. In fact, humans dream an average of ninety minutes every night. A better question is whether we recall our dreams the next day. Unfortunately, I suspect that this probability is rather low due to our tendency to reduce the value of dreams by using a denotative approach. The mind either takes for granted literal events or dismisses others that don’t make sense. Taken at face value dreams appear confused and useless. But, if we consider dreams from a connotative viewpoint, then a whole new world opens up.

Dreams occur in four REM (rapid eye movement) cycles. EEG tracings show that dreams happen as we move out of deep sleep and toward waking. Most of us avoid waking up out of a dream unless it is a nightmare, in which case we sometimes deny the terror simply by regaining consciousness. Neuroscientists have theorized that dreaming and memory are intricately related and have shown that the neuro-pathways used during sleep are the same used during our waking hours. Dreams are the means by which memories become consolidated into the permanent record.1 Thus, they create and store our personal “version” of the past. Might the same thing be said about the making of a future? The whole notion of time as a linear sequence has been open to question beginning at least with Einstein for modern physics and countless centuries before by mystics. It was Einstein who said, “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”2

Theories of hyperspace suggest that time as we generally know it, is a peculiar characteristic of three-dimensional space. These theorists hold that there may be as many as ten dimensions. This expanded view of nature may have been what C.G. Jung meant in his closing words of his final major book, Mysterium Coniunctionus, “Alchemy, therefore, has performed for me the great and invaluable service of providing material in which my experience could find sufficient room, and has thereby made it possible for me to describe the individuation process at least in its essential aspects.”3 In other words, Jung turned to alchemy in the same way contemporary scientists envision a larger conception of nature in order to transcend the limitations of the mechanistic model of a Newtonian worldview. But, how does the everyday person deal with the demands of life that push out creativity, imagination and in essence, the soul? Where do we find “sufficient room” to explore the world beyond surface appearances?

Dreams may well be the last great reservoir of inspiration; a place (rsw), as the Egyptians referred to dreams, where we go at night that is unbounded by rules of conventional reality; a futile place with more room for individuating consciousness. Might dreams be one of these ten dimensional places that hyperspace theorists are describing in their mathematical models? If so, then dreams are the future of that “persistent illusion” that transcends time and space. As theoretical physicist Fred Alan Wolff points out in his work, we create reality in dreams.4 To transform this sci-fi notion into substantial reality depends on how we regard dreams. We know that matter is physically affected by consciousness. This “observer effect” is real only to the extent that a person truly accepts this well-established finding as fact and uses it. For this to happen, most people must accept that reality is changed every night, whether or not we take our dreams seriously.

In Hindu philosophy, dreams are not limited to the night. Maya is the goddess who spins out a web of illusion that we take for reality. When we knock on a piece of wood, we believe that it is solid. Particle physicists are showing that this is not the case at all. The energy created by the spin of particles is so great that whenever some other mass comes into contact with it, it is repelled. This energetic collision gives us the illusion that objects are solid. This illusion is generally referred to as Maya. But, as Campbell tells us, this trick of perception is only one of Maya’s three powers.5 The second power parallels the findings coming out of physics: creating reality through projection.6 This has immediate practical implications. Instead of passively receiving dreams, we can actively use them to create a world through projection.

There was a time when the world followed simple, sequential rules: past precedes future, response follows stimulus, etc. No longer is the world as simple as we once thought. As in dreams, life doesn’t always accord to this neat sequence of events. In the world of quantum physics, two “entangled” particles can be at any distance from each other and what happens to one directly affects the other in an identical way. In the quantum world, a potential response somehow sends a wave that affects the stimulus.7 If this sounds like “spooky science” it is because we have ingrained habits about how reality ought to behave. Dreams remind us every night that the natural world doesn’t accede to our need for clear-cut categories or linear sequences that make for common sense.

That we can project our mind into the future and in return the object of our projection simultaneously exerts a force that influences whether we will act in particular way sounds like magic. Dreams, which are generally unconscious projections of thoughts and feelings, also have this power to influence life. A friend of mine had a dream in which he found himself craving a cherry coke, his favorite beverage. At one o’clock in the morning, he awakened with this craving that he couldn’t ignore. Despite the hour he got up and drove to the nearest convenience store. They didn’t have cherry coke and he settled for some ice tea. As he was driving home, he inexplicably lost control of his car and was quickly pulled over by the police. They thought he was drunk until it became clear that he was dying. They rushed him to the emergency room where, after being examined, he was diagnosed with kidney failure. Later when he recovered and the doctor took a more extensive history, the cause of his problem was discovered. Two weeks prior to this crisis he had been bitten by an infected tic. If my friend did not have this dream, he may well have stayed in bed and died that night.

In the quantum world, dreams have an effect on the dreamer. Dreams arise from different levels of the unconscious. There are many types of dreams that relate to situations, conditions and circumstances. In one book I counted fifteen types of big dreams. For example, there are lucid, pregnancy, collective, initiation, telepathic, clairvoyant and dreams within dreams.8 Regardless of the type, dreams have an autonomous quality. In the healing dream sited above, the unconscious seemed to be looking after my friend, protecting him from a life-threatening situation. It was this quality of dreams, meditations and prayer that the alchemist relied on in working with the unconscious. Modern physics is providing evidence to substantiate what alchemists intuitively knew centuries ago. Many examples can be given to validate this claim. But, one of my favorites comes from the Cyranides9, a Hermetic compilation that describes ”in exhaustive detail…the sympathies, antipathies and other occult properties of birds, fishes, plants and stones.” Harpocration of Alexandria wrote one of the sources in the Cyranides in the second century. When asked, “Tell me …is the soul immortal or mortal?” Harpocration responds by saying,

Many of the inexperienced have false opinions as to the intellectual aspect of the immortal soul. But the soul is its own master; for when the body is at rest on its bed, the soul is reposing in its own place (in the air, that is to say), whence we received it; and it contemplates what is happening in other regions. And often, feeling affection for the body in which it dwells, it foretells good or ill years before it comes to pass – in what we call a dream. Then it returns to its own habitation and, waking it [the body] up, explains the dream. From this let it be clear to you that the soul is immortal and indestructible. (89)

Maya’s third power is discovering reality as it really is, what is variously called in different traditions the Veda or gnosis. This is the opposite of projection. To see reality without all the desires, demands and distortions of how we twist it to our purpose, this is what Buddha meant when he said, “I am awake.”

The homeopathic maxim that emerged from alchemy, “like cures like,” suggests that if we hope to acquire Maya’s third power we can use dreams to wake us up from the illusion that waking life is the one and only true reality. The famous Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus states, “As above, so below for the making of the One Thing.” This One Thing is a creation of many realities, including psyche and soma, spirit and soul, waking and dreaming states. The “real gold” of enlightenment is awakening to the fact that humans are some part human and some part divine, the balance and the integration of these parts is what we hope to achieve through the psychological and spiritual work of individuation. In my own work, I find that when I awaken after a good night’s sleep, the dream continues to flow into the day and with my awareness of what is taking place, I have the power to create a new world that is richer and more beautiful than ever I could have imagined without the gifts bestowed on me by God.
©Copyright by Thom F. Cavalli, Ph.D. All rights reserved. For permission to quote or reprint this article contact Dr. Cavalli at 714.731-3238.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Cavalli is a licensed psychologist, lecturer, artist and writer practicing in Santa Ana, Ca. In addition to his private practice he consults, teaches and provides seminars and workshops on a variety of clinical, spirital, Jungian and tranformational topices. His website is www.AlchemicalPsychology.com