The ancient Chinese philosopher, Zhuang Zhou, tells of a dream he had in which he was a butterfly. Upon waking, he was no longer sure if he was Zhuang Zhou, who had dreamt of being a butterfly, or if he was a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuang Zhou.
I’ve heard of a similar story about a guy who suddenly found himself treading water in total darkness, with no idea as to how this situation had come about or where he was, or, for that matter, who he was. All he could do was to continue treading water and wonder. Finally, the sky started to lighten off to what had to be the east, and then the sun came up in all its glory.
At first, all he could see was sea and sky. Then, there it was: a dark form–an island off to the north. As he swam closer, he could see that the tiny island was actually some kind of lava formation formed from an underwater volcano. In fact, it looked just like a man’s convoluted brain jutting up out of the sea. As he neared it, he could see that the entire island was fissured in two, with a sizable gap between.
He reached the shore of the eastern side, only to be greeted by a witch. “What is this place?” he asked, “Where am I?”
“Welcome,” she said, cackling with a hideous laugh, “I have been waiting for you. You are the chosen one.” Then she pointed her long, skinny arm toward a path behind her, and said,”Only he can tell you what you wish to know. He sits up on the bridge strung across the precipice, waiting for you. You must follow this path up to the bridge. Now go!” Not knowing what else to do, he started up the path.
Almost out of earshot, the witch called, “When you come to the dark ravine, you must cross it on faith alone. You can do it, for you are the chosen one!”
Soon he neared the top of the rocky isle, and could even see the man sitting cross-legged out about half-way across the bridge, but sure enough, there was a deep, dark ravine right across the path, with no way around.
He believed in the power of faith, but he certainly was no “chosen one”, so he reluctantly turned around, went back down the path, and explained to the witch that he was the wrong guy and all, and she told him of another way.
“You must swim around to the other side of the island, where you will meet a great and learned man. He will show you another path. But let me warn you, that way is harder still.”
By now, he had nothing to lose, so he dove into the water and swam around to the western shore. Sure enough, an old bearded man in a grey suit stood there with arm outstretched. ” I’m professor Eisensteinium,” he offered, ” and I can help you get up to the bridge…that is why you’re here, I assume.” He almost looked comical with thick glasses and a long, white beard. “You must follow this path up the hill,” he began, “but whenever you see a book lying on the path, you must read it. All of it. Or all will be for not, for the man on the bridge will not talk to you unless you do.”
So the man started up the path and came upon the first book. It was a science book on magnetism, electricity, and such. He read it and moved on. Next came a book on philosophy. Then another, and another. Soon, the books were coming in stacks. Books on Religion, quantum mechanics, Transcendentalism, and metamorphosis. He read and read and read, and in time, he could see the bridge–but he could also see that there were so many stacks of books on the path now, that it would take a life-time to read them.
He went back to the witch. She directed him to her path again, and said, “If you believe you are the chosen one, you will be. You must have faith.” After reading so many books on so many subjects, the witch’s words seemed to have the ring of truth to them. He marched up the path, mustered all the faith he could, and stepped out over the ravine. Instead of tumbling head-long into its depths, his foot came down on something solid. When he looked down, he could see a bridge across the ravine–it had been there the whole time, but he hadn’t seen it before! He strutted across it, thinking, I AM the chosen one, and walked out onto the long bridge with the man sitting on it.
Looking out from there, he could see the sea and sky were mirror images of each other.
When he approached the man sitting there, he could see that the man was asleep. He gently shook him by the shoulder, and said,”Excuse me, sir, I don’t mean to bother you, but I’m really quite lost and”–just then the man looked up, and their gaze met–they were one and the same!
“I was having a dream, ” said the man sitting cross-legged. “I was lost, and seeking a man to help me, I found…myself…who was dreaming…”
Truly, I AM the universe, a dream within a dream within a dream…