Our dreams seem so real because what is outside of the content of the dream we have no access to since the power of the dream is so strong. What is more, all is relative to the dream itself. The dream appears to rest upon itself. We will not be free of the dream’s power until we wake-up. Awakening or satori is something like this.
While we live enclosed in the phenomenal world, being under its power, we have no access to what is beyond the world of phenomena. We only seem to be able to experience appearance—not the really real. In addition, our phenomenal world is relative to itself making it seem absolute.
Waking us up from the phenomenal dream while we are still living in the dream is what Zen is trying to accomplish. This will more than often prove impossible despite a shout or two or being mindful. It is somewhat like trying to polish a brick into a mirror (we cannot transform the conditioned into the unconditioned).
Zen master Daoxin was of the opinion that one could enter the Way in five years which would not be impossible if one had a good teacher and not a “coat hanger” (an unawakened person who wears Buddhist robes). Yet while we pin our hopes on finding a good teacher, still dreaming you could say, it strikes us that breaking through the dream, as if to see what this dream is made of, is going to depend solely upon us. At this point we begin to despair. But it is a good despair because deep down inside we are becoming fed up with the dream. We have put our self into a place where the conditioned dream can suddenly stop.