III. The Great Dream Body
In Buddhist thought, the great dream body is the sambhogakaya, the body of bliss and play. It is one of the three mythical bodies of the cosmic Buddha nature, the other two being the dharmakaya, vast emptiness, and the nirmanakaya, the body of form, of particularity and the everyday world. The sambhogakaya is the realm between the vastness and each manifestation in form. It is a dance of form and emptiness in play.
Form (nirmanakaya) is a way of knowing externality, there really is a world that is external, not a part of the self system. It is also each thing in its vivid particularity. It’s this boy in a hoodie playing with his cat. This cancer diagnosis. This sound of distant traffic.
Emptiness (dharmakaya) is the essential truth of oneness, of no difference, no separation. We come to know the joy of this in deep practice, and find what happens when we allow our awareness of the vastness to permeate more and more deeply into our lives.
We are caught between our particular lives and the infinite, and in this place we find the vast stage of the sambhogakaya, the theater of dreams. Here we at first find our epic dramas of love and hate, loss, terror, and love. Koans and psychoanalysis help us honor the strangeness of the dream world, and to attune to the many teachings to be had in the realm of the sambhogakaya.
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke called awareness of the interplay of form and emptiness, “in-seeing.” He described how, in in-seeing a dog,
“to let oneself precisely into the dog, the place in it where God, as it were, would have sat down for a moment when the dog was finished, in order to watch it under the influence of its first embarrassments and inspirations and to know that it was good that nothing was lacking, that it could not have been better made. . . . Laugh though you may, dear confidant, if I am to tell you where my all-greatest feeling, my world-feeling, my earthly bliss was to be found, I must confess to you: it was to be found time and again, here and there, in such timeless moments of this divine inseeing."
Rilke is showing us what the view is like from the dream body when we can fully participate in the dance between form, the particular dogginess of this dog, and the vastness, the place from which she rises and falls.
Megan Rundel is the resident teacher at the Crimson Gate Meditation Community in Oakland, CA..