The art of dreaming and awakening

Humming in my universe
Jim Paredes

What would you rather be, a man of riches or a man of wisdom?

I think about this a lot and the immediate temptation is to say I would rather be rich because I can work on the wisdom part when I already have so much money and I can afford the luxury of doing nothing and developing my own wisdom. Besides, with my riches, I can buy the wisdom of others so I can live without that much wisdom for now.

The underlying premise here is that the arena of the temporal is for the present while the more spiritual quest of wisdom can be deferred.

The temporal world is where one invests and expends his energy with all of his power to make a mark. It is where dreams are pursued and fulfilled.

I think of taipans, leaders, and powerful people I have met. All of them have an urgency to do something, to plan, act on and fulfill their dream of greatness and the acquisition of financial, political and personal power. They all seem primed to seize those moments of luck and opportunity that will make their visions a reality. In truth, they are mostly impressive people and you feel a sense of the possible when you are around them.

On the other hand, there are wise persons waiting to be discovered. When you do find them, they are mostly older, without the swagger and arrogance that people on the make have. While age is almost always a trait of the wise, it does not come automatically with aging. If it did, then surely, there would be so many of them around. But alas, there are not. There are many old people who never quite cross the bridge to being wise and remain foolish and trivial all their lives.  They are sad, tragic individuals. The mark of the wise is a calm, at peace demeanor, the propensity to act on the world tempered by the lessons learned in younger days. Surely, the ravages of time on their bodies have something to do with it as well.

I used to think that the older and wiser men and women became that way because they had sated their lust for anything that could be lusted for and so had no other place to go but to retreat and focus on lesser pursuits. But as I find myself moving deeper into the Territory of the Old, I realize two things: One, that the paramount characteristic of desire and lust is its insatiability. In other words, one does not necessarily lose them no matter how old one gets. One simply must decide to temper and control desire and lust, or sublimate them for other goals. And the practice of doing this creates wisdom. Like a blacksmith, one must learn to deliberately shape the metal into something more useful for the later stages of life. And two, I realize that the pursuit of wisdom is not a lesser calling but something  nobler and higher than the pursuit of power.

To explore and conquer the external world is the agenda of those who dream of a better future. Their dreams are what keep them going and they will not rest until they achieve them. In fact, such dreamers are seized and compelled by their dreams. It is easy to see why the world needs them.

On the other hand, there are those who, instead of dreaming and conjuring future scenarios in their own image and likeness, may engage the inner world and, all of a sudden, discover that they have built up a different equity. They awaken to their own true nature and are at peace and awake to their unity with everything as it is. They discover a mind that is vast and endless, not restless or frantic, not seized or compelled by anything, but still ready to react and act on the world.

And when they do act on the world, they do not feel the need to do it for themselves, at least, not in the same way that the dreamers do. They discover a larger self.  They do not give up their freedom when they do what they choose to do. The mark they wish to leave is not some external infrastructure that will last long after they have gone, but a legacy that  inches up the consciousness of everyone they encounter by a few notches.

In place of acquisition and empire building, the activities of the wise are more focused on teaching and mentoring others and sharing nuggets of wisdom picked up along the way of a long life well-lived.

In a paradoxical way, one can say that the dreamers, while concerned with temporal results and issues, actually live their lives directed at some distant future that is still to be made, while the wise who are less concerned with comings and goings, and one might say, the passions induced by the world, live closer to the present.

The dreamers are lords of the temporal plane. The wise go in and out of the temporal and the eternal. The dreamers are building a future heaven on earth for themselves and others, while the awakened are telling everyone that heaven is already here and now.

Are being wise, and being a dreamer mutually exclusive? Does one have to be one or the other?

Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and others like them are known to share a lot of their wealth with programs that uplift others. I once attended a sesshin (zen retreat), and I was surprised to find out that the Roshi who was conducting the retreat was not just someone whose lineage extended to zen masters of centuries past, but was also vice-President of a big bank in Tokyo. And his comportment and demeanor showed not the slightest conflict between the two. He makes a trip every year to the Philippines to conduct sesshins here because he thinks the quality of zen practice here is quite high. I had a long conversation with him and I was quite impressed to have met a master whose spiritual moorings were deep and sincere. The clarity of his mind shimmered. I could palpably sense his compassion, which I have not seen in a lot of  so-called  ‘holy’ people.

So how does one become rich and wise at the same time? Can one live in the material world and be spiritual too? Actually, one has no choice but to do both, if one wants to live a balanced life. As long as you are alive you must feed both body and soul. But to maintain the balance, remember Christ’s admonition about serving two masters. The Bhagavadgita says something similar about ‘being on the battlefield but not a warrior.’

The truly wealthy are those who can detach from wealth when they have to. And it takes a lot of inner work and wisdom to do that. In short, one must learn the art of dreaming and being awake at the same time.