Life is a dream

The conception of life as a dream is very old. There are references to this idea in so different times and cultures as the Hindu tradition, Persian mystique, Greek philosophy or Judeo-Christian morality.

Parvati is the Hindu goddess of dreams, and also of births and everything related to the creation, suggesting that the Hindu tradition gives to dreams a creative ability and the power to produce something that did not previously exist in the material world.

One of the most important works of Persian and Arabic culture is ‘A thousand and one nights’, in many of whose stories it comes the subject of dreams, shown as a set of mirrors in which reality is reflected and prevents us from seeing what we have around. The clearest example is the tale ‘The sleeper and the waker’, in which a king and a beggar swap roles and the second ends up believing everything has been a dream.

‘The allegory of the cave’ is a narrative in which the Greek philosopher Plato explains his theory of the existence of two worlds —Sense and Ideas— and metaphorically describes the situation in which the human is related by them: life goes into a kind of reverie, ignorant and ruled by the senses, of which you can wake up only through the reason, to attain true knowledge.

‘Allegory of Plato’s Cave’, Jan Saenredam, 1604

The Spanish writer Calderon de la Barca, in his work ‘Life is a dream’, poses a dichotomy between earthly life and the heavenly life in which the first is similar to a dream that will finish only at death. Therefore, the real is death and life is associated with the unreality of the dream, so that the terms of our everyday perception are reversed: life is death and death is life.

Already in the twentieth century, British philosopher Alan Watts reflects on this video about the same relationship between sleep and life and most likely would agree with the wonderful words of Calderon, written three centuries earlier:

‘And the rich man dreams of gold,
gilding cares it scarce conceals;
and the poor man dreams
he feels want and misery and cold;
dreams he too who rank would hold,
dreams who bears toil’s rough-ribbed hands,
dreams who wrong for wrong demands
and in fine, throughout the Earth,
all men dream whatever their birth,
and yet no one understands’.