1. Paradise may represent a desire to return to the innocent problem-free simplicity of early childhood.
However, this is wrongheaded, because it is unrealistic. The garden of Eden prior to Adam's ‘fall’ represents the oneness and harmony of all things when all things are still unconscious. With the rise of conscious thinking, distinctions and dilemmas arise, and the agonizing ‘Should I do this or that?’ (=Adam's eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil). A desire to return to childhood in a dream is neurotic: in it reality has been ousted by fantasy - because reality was too painful. What particular reality (i.e. experience) are you trying to blot out?
2. A more realistic option is that paradise represents a desire to achieve in the psyche the balance and wholeness.
3. If your dream contains, not just a paradisal feeling, but an actual physical representation of the garden of Eden (e.g. with four rivers dividing it into four quarters), this may be an instance of 2 above.
Works of art and both waking dreams and those in natural or drug-induced sleep are full of visions inspired by what might be termed ‘ “the nostalgia for Paradise”. I mean by this,’ Mircea Eliade explains, ‘the desire to be always, effortlessly, at the heart of the world, of reality, of the sacred, and, briefly, to transcend, by natural means’. Or, as some latter-day magician might remark, his eye upon the future rather than upon the past, ‘a superhuman state’.
Such indeed was Adam’s condition in the Earthly Paradise, in a state of supernatural grace. One thing alone was missing - the right to touch the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, growing in the midst of the Garden. The breach of this commandment brought with it the Fall of man.
Uttarakura, the earliest Hindu paradise, was a land to the north, the Hyperborean centre. Muslim esoterics also mention Adam’s cavern and its symbolism is linked to that of the mountain. That the Earthly Paradise is inaccessible is due to the breach of communion between Earth and Heaven, caused by the Fall. Yearning after this Paradise Lost is universal and is manifested, as several theologians have observed, by praying towards the east. On the other hand, Amida’s Paradise and that of Mount Kun-Lun lie in the west, as did that of the Ancient Greeks, who also shared a belief that it was in the north. This may lead us to presume that all peoples intuitively believe in one primeval centre, not confined, naturally, to any one particular locality, since this disturbing unanimity is focused upon a condition rather than upon a place.
Paradise is most frequently depicted as a garden luxuriating in plants growing of their own accord and as a direct result of the action of Heaven. The part played by the spring or central well from which life and knowledge derive, has been mentioned already. Animals wander freely, their language understood by human beings, who are accepted as their masters. This is a typical feature of the paradisal state springing from Adam’s task of giving animals their names. Theologians maintain that this displays the triumph of the intellect over the senses and instincts, as well as knowledge of the specific natures of living creatures. In China, the same notion is to be found in the Isles (see island) of the Immortals or the Paradise of Kun-Lun inhabited by tame animals. The circular garden, the P’i Yong round the Forbidden City, was filled with animals, and Buddhist paradises are filled with birds, angelic symbols.
As we have said, the emphasis is less upon place than upon condition, and the return to the paradisal state is, in fact, to attain a condition of centrality from which may be made the spiritual ascent along the axis between Earth and Heaven. Furthermore, the Heavens are themselves often many in number and set in hierarchical order, to symbolize the successive attainment of ever higher states of being. The ‘centre of the world’ corresponds with Brahmaloka, which is in the centre of each being, a state of potential immortality. Similarly Abu Ya’qub states that just as the Garden of Eden is filled with trees, plants and running waters, so the inward garden of clear perception is filled with the knowledge of higher things and with those gifts imparted by Intellect and Soul.
Muslim tradition provides an ever more ample and detailed description. Eight gates open onto Paradise and there are one hundred steps in the stairways leading to each storey, the highest being that of the seventh Heaven. A famous hadfth states that the key to these gates has three pins - proclamation of the Oneness of God (tauhid), obedience to God, and abstinence from all evil-doing.
Paradise is also described as possessing eternal daylight and eternal spring. One day in Paradise is the same as a thousand days on Earth. Four rivers flow from mountains of musk between banks of pearl and ruby. There are four mountains - Uhud, Sinai, Lebanon and Hasid. It would take a galloping horse a hundred years to emerge from the shadow cast by the banana tree growing in Paradise and a single leaf of the JUJUBE-tree growing on its borders would cover the entire body of the Faithful.
Wonderful music, angels, the elect, hills, trees and birds all combine to create the univeral song of paradisal bliss.
The sweetest music of all is the voice of God welcoming the Elect. Every Friday the Almighty invites them to visit him. Men follow the Prophet, women his daughter Fatima, mounting from one Heaven to the next, passing the Heavenly Ka‘ba, surrounded by angels at prayer; and they approach the Guarded Tablet on which the quill inscribes the Decrees of God. The Veil of Light is raised and God appears to his guests like the full Moon.
The Mu'tazilites explain the anthropomorphic attributes of God metaphorically, but take the sensual pleasures of Paradise at their face value.
The early Ash'ari stressed the incomparable and indescribable bliss of Paradise as in no way to be set beside earthly pleasures.
Philosophers, and especially Avicenna, taught that the wise man should regard Resurrection and Paradise as symbols and allegories.
Sufis elaborated a higher spiritual meaning revealed by the kashf (unveiling). Ibn al-‘ArabI regarded Paradise as an abode of life, the raised beds standing for degrees of perfection, brocaded bed-covers for the soul’s lower face, Houris for heavenly souls and so on.
In the High Middle Ages, Irish monks assimilated the traditional Celtic sid into the Christian Heaven. However, because their intimate knowledge of Celtic tradition enabled them to identify certain elements in it with traditional Biblical chronology, they also identified Ireland with a promised land and with an image of the Earthly Paradise - rich soil, pleasant climate and an absence of serpents or other noxious creatures.