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King Janaka's Dream
King Janaka had acquired extraordinary proficiency in the knowledge of God. He was called "the king devoid of body". In other words, he had been able to transcend body-consciousness. One particular night after dinner, he was discussing certain administrative problems with his ministers. He got back to his bedroom a little late. A meal had been set out for him but he did not touch it. He relaxed on a sofa while the queen massaged his feet. Soon the king fell asleep. The queen asked the various attendants present to leave the room and made sure that the king, who was extremely tired, would not be disturbed in his sleep. She covered him with a blanket and banked the light low, quietly remaining by his side.
Shortly afterwards, King Janaka quite suddenly opened his eyes, sat up, looked around incredulously at his surroundings, and in a most peculiar way began to ask, "Is this real or is that real? Is this the truth or is that the truth?"
The queen became a little frightened by his bewildered look and strange question. She tried to find out what exactly he was asking, but he would not explain or answer any of her queries. He just went on saying, "Is this the truth or is that the truth?" She called for the ministers, counselors and other important officials. They all assembled and began questioning the king. "Maharaja, what is your doubt? What exactly are you asking?" But the Maharaja would not respond to them. Finally the ministers brought the great Sage Vashishta to the court. Vashishta asked the king, "What are you asking? What is troubling you?" The king was replying to all the questions with the same query, "Is that the truth or is this the truth? Is this reality or is that reality?"
Sage Vashishta being omniscient closed his eyes and meditated for a while to find out the cause of the king's strange behavior. Vashishta realized that the king had suddenly awakened from a vivid dream in which he had forfeited his kingdom and found himself wandering lost, alone and despondent in a forest. He was feeling very hungry and also very tired and forsaken. As he wandered through that forest he kept shouting, "I am hungry, I am hungry." It happened that there were some robbers in that forest. Those robbers were just sitting down in a glade nearby to have their meal, eating from plates made of leaves. Taking pity on him, the robbers made themselves known and invited Janaka to join them, offering him a portion of their meal.
Just at that moment, a tiger came upon them and they all ran for their lives. The tiger helped himself to all the food. Again Janaka found himself staggering through the forest crying out, "O, I am so hungry. I am so very hungry." When he woke up he discovered he was in a palace, on a royal sofa by the side of the queen, with a silver tray filled with luxurious food and dainties sitting on the table nearby, and he began asking whether he was the starving, forsaken wretch begging food from robbers in a fearful forest or whether he was a king living in a sumptuous palace surrounded by all possible luxuries. "Is this true or is that true? Is this real or is that real?"
Maharishi Vashishta immediately recognized the king's confusion and said, "King Janaka, neither beggar nor emperor is real. You alone are real. You, yourself, are the truth. The you who was present as pure consciousness in the dream state playing the role of the beggar and who is present in the waking state playing the role of the king, this you who witnessed both these states, is your true reality. Life during the daytime is a day-dream, during the night it is a night-dream. They are both illusions. They are filled with defects and flaws because they constantly change from one thing to another; so they cannot be real. Only you who remain unchanged in all these states are real, free of all change and illusion."
This was also emphasized in the Gita, where Krishna pointed out the important truth that the world is constantly changing and that the atma alone is real and ever unchanging.