Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Living inside the dream of a creator

In the mythology of some ancient and indigenous cultures, while we think we are awake in this world, we are actually living inside the dream of a creator god.
     In the mind of India, Vishnu is dreaming this world, which will continue until he ends the dream and disperses his dream characters – including ourselves. The god with skin the color of rain-filled clouds sleeps on the great serpent Shesha Naga, who may be depicted with five heads, or seven or a hundred.. The serpent drifts on the great Milky Ocean. For those raised on the Bible, through the exotic garb the threefold, undulating movement of the dreaming god, the serpent and the ocean, may evoke the flow of the second verse of Genesis where “the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” While Vishnu sleeps, his mind generates dreams, and this is the stuff we and our world are made of.
     Another version of a god dreaming up a world comes from the Guajiro (Wayuu), a forest people of South America. For the Guajiro, the universe is born when the creator, Maleiwa, becomes aware that he is dreaming. He does not come to this awareness unassisted. His helper is an intriguing being called Apusanai, whose function is to set up the matrix within which dream experiences take place. Apusanai performs this operation not only for the creator, but for every human. [1] So whenever we go dreaming, it is possible that – on our own scale – we may enter into the manifesting power of the first conscious dreamer, the creator god.
    In the cosmogony of the Makiritare, a shamanic people of Venezuela, the high god Wanadi created his own mother, through dreaming. First he projected a double that entered the physical world. The double “just sat there in silence, thinking, dreaming, dreaming. He dreamed that a woman was born….He made his own mother.” Then he entered her body in the form he had dreamed. [2]
    That story may provoke us into thinking more deeply about what is really going on in divine conception dreams like the famous dream of Queen Maya that heralded the coming of her son Siddhartha, who became the Buddha. In approaching Maya, we don’t want to miss the fact that in Sanskrit her name means “illusion”, not merely in the negative sense but in that of the play of images that brings things – even worlds – into manifestation.
     Maya dreamed of a six-tusked elephant, “white as the snow-capped mountains”, that entered her body by the side. Priests were summoned to interpret the dream, and predicted that she would give birth to a spiritual being that would change the world. On the night of conception, according to some early texts, she slept apart from her husband. Though the queen was not a virgin, up to this point she had been childless, and the birth of Siddhartha was certainly an extraordinary event. He is sometimes described as exiting his mother’s body through the side, without surgery and without harming her. Some versions suggest that the six-tusked elephant not only represents the spiritual power of the Buddha but is also the spiritual begetter of the coming Buddha. [3]

1. Lawrence C. Watson, “Dreaming as World View and Action in Guajiro Culture,” Journal of Latin American Lore 7, no.2 (1981): 239-254,
2. Marc de Civrieux, Watunna: An Orinoco Creation Cycle, trans. David M. Guss (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1980) p.23
3. Serinity Young, Courtesans and Tantric Escorts: Sexualities in Buddhist Narrative, Iconography and Ritual (London: Routledge, 2004),pp. 67-72.

Graphic: Vishnu dreams on Sesha Naga, while Lakshmi rubs his feet (18th century)

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