Vasubandhu’s mind-only school explains that what one perceives to be true is only a projection of one’s mind. Hence, external objects do not exist independent of the mind, which is what I believe Vasubandhu means by nonduality. If the mind is the fundamental reality, I was curious to what Vasubandhu would have to say about dreams.
Perhaps dreams reinforce Vasubandhu’s mind-only philosophy, for dreams can create a very real experience. However, the logic of why dreams fall in line with Vasubandhu’s philosophy is hard to delineate. I struggle to understand, if “all subject-object duality in the experience is illusory, and is tied up with the imagined” (Garfield, Vasubandhu’s Trisvabhavanirdesa, 41) then what makes our waking experience distinct from our dream state? For example, our dream experience can not bring about real effects. You cannot die in “real life” if you die in your dream. This is the main argument I can think of that can be used against Vasubandhu’s mind-only philosophy.
Garfield writes, “consummating our understanding is also something that is done. When we achieve consummate knowledge, we stop imagining, and experience the dependent nature as it is, empty of the duality, independence and externality we once imagined it to have. The consummate nature of things is the fact that they are not as they are imagined to be” (Garfield, Vasubandhu’s Trisvabhavanirdesa, 37). This may be a bit forced, but perhaps we are able to distinguish the dream experience from a waking experience because we can achieve consummate knowledge after dreaming. By this I mean once one realizes he or she is no longer dreaming, one has stopped imagining, and hence the momentary reality of the dream is nonexistent.
However, I believe it’s also possible to argue that dreams are as much a real experience as waking experiences as long as one is in the dream state. Dream experiences much like in waking experiences are imagined and objects can exist in space and time as mental projections.
The interconnection between dreams and waking experience is fascinating, and I believe there is a lot that can be explained by Buddhist philosophy when it comes to explaining the capabilities of our minds. For instance, I wonder how phenomenon such as lucid dreaming is explained by Buddhist philosophy. I would imagine that lucid dreaming is way of awakening consciousness in the dream state.