Thursday, March 24, 2011

Butterfly Dream

While Zhuangzi, an ancient Chinese philosopher, was taking a nap one spring day, he dreamed that he was a butterfly. He enjoyed being a butterfly and flying through the air in this dream. Zhuangzi was not aware that he was dreaming and actually believed that he was a butterfly. Suddenly, he woke up and discovered that he was Zhuangzi. As he thought about his dream, he could not decide if he was dreaming about being a butterfly or if the butterfly was dreaming about being him.

This is the most beautiful story written by Zhuangzi. It is a picturesque description of a nap on a spring afternoon, a dream, and a butterfly. The original Chinese work is a poem rather than an article. This story also contains profound implications. The philosopher describes the inner world of the human mind, which is subconsciously aware that the world is transient like his dream of the butterfly. Whether Zhuangzi is dreaming of a butterfly or a butterfly is dreaming of Zhuangzi, this world is nothing but a hologram that appears in our brain. Therefore, it is not important if he dreams about the butterfly or if the butterfly dreams about him. The butterfly is Zhuangzi, and he is the butterfly. We simply perceive the world in our brain.

This story reminds me of a scene in the movie, The Matrix. Morpheus takes Neo inside the matrix for the first time. In a space that contains nothing but Morpheus, Neo, and two chairs, Neo touches one of the leather chairs and asks Morpheus if it is real.

Morpheus asks Neo what "real" means. He wants to know its definition. He says if what is real can be defined to be anything Neo can feel, smell, taste, see, or sense in any way, what is real is simply determined by electrical signals interpreted in Neo's brain.

We see our world as our own image created inside of our brain. If we saw our world as terrible, horrible, or devastating, we would consider it unbearably awful. In contrast, if we felt our world was a beautiful, wonderful, or pleasant place, our world would become a fantastic place. Some people handle adversity better than others. On the other hand, some suffer more from the same occurrences. Their perceptions of tragedy are different in their minds.

This Zhuangzi story of the butterfly dream provides us with a splendid breathing space. It tells us that if we think the world is a bright place, it will be a nice place. It warns us not to take things too seriously. If you are too pessimistic, the world will become an unbearable place. It does not depend on how it actually is, but on how we see it.

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Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Shaw .. the butterfly dream .. this is so interesting and deep - lots to think about .. and you're right the butterfly gives us hope, must allow us a way to get by ..

Hope, caring, compassion for all peoples at this time .. the butterfly is that gentle dreamy reminder ..

With thoughts - Hilary

Shaw said...

Dear Hilary,

Thank you for your comment. I am glad you like the story. This story is my favorite among many stories in Zhuangzi.

Best regards,
Shaw Funami
Fill the Missing Link