Dreamworlds of Shamanism and Tibetan Buddhism (finished 2019-08-31)

Began reading on: August 05, 2019

Incidentally, today I will get paid! This is a most happy day.

Chapter 1 – Shamanism and Dreams

Do dreams and the activity of have any meaning or purpose? Why and under which cultural discourse do we ask this question?
A common theme in Buddhist narratives is to reduce the dream to a mere illusion, unreal and deceptive yet at the same time to acknowledge the importance of dreaming actively and interpreting dreams.

Have you not read Sutras and many Tantras?
Dreams are unreal and deceptive, as was taught
By Buddha Himself, in the Final Truth of Paramita
To collect, supply, and study them
Will bring little profit
And yet, your dreams were marvelous
Wondrous omens foretelling things to come
I, the Yogi, have mastered the art of dreams
And will explain their magic to you

Shamanism generally emphasizes a balance of power and holds to the idea that evil cannot, and indeed should not, be ultimately eradicated.
Introduction to the author’s view of shamanism. Shamanism as a social function. Principles of shamanism – existence of multiple realities, ability of the shaman to communicate with these realities, shamans serving their communities.

Reality responds to the interpretation and beliefs of the person. Man and nature “…elaborate each other in a back-and-forth process“. “Macrocosm and microcosm form a single continuum folding in upon itself…” as within, so without. Places are not magical: they are made magical by the interaction of humans with their environment. Often as a result of magical struggle. Reality is a struggle between the forces of good and evil, with no real victor. “I will put frogs and turtles into victims, you will cure them…throughout the world, I’ll cause illness, you’ll cure it, don’t kill me“. “If a shaman could completely get rid of shurkul [devils], everything would lose balance“.

“…two themes common to many shamanisms: the recognition that the power to protect is inseparable from the power to destroy, and the idea that creative energy is generated by worship—that passionate attention to an object articulated in ritual.”
“Through ritual, the world is consulted, hidden correspondences emerge, and deities are born; reality is created and transformed”

Dreamworlds allow the shaman to leave the physical body and explore the world of the dead and the ancestors. Mountains as high thrones for the spirits or the places where the earth joins the heaven. Many legends tell about kings that came from the mountain tops or went there to ascend to the spirit world. Is there a reality to the power of mountains or is it just humans attributing an elevated nature to things that are high? Why not both?

Everybody dreams, but not everybody can gain control of the dreamworld. The strenght of the shaman is in the use of the ordinary to achieve the extraordinary. Characteristics similar among different shamanisms across the world:

  • Using dreams to leave the physical body
  • Using familiars and helping spirits
  • Making deals with these spirits
  • Traveling to other real locations using the dreamworld
  • Gaining knowledge from these travels

Chapter 2 – Dream in the ancient Indian matrix

Examining the similarities between sleep in a shamanistic environment and buddhist practices from India and other asian countries.

The vedas. Conception of life as a place of struggle. Maya, as illusion or as creative power, transformation. The vedas seem to talk about sleep as an enemy of life. In sleep, we are dead. “Sleep is the bringer of evil, the evil itself, and the protector from evil“. Upanisads. From dreams the self can perceive this world and the other. (Most of us inhabit at least two worlds…). All prana comes from the Atman. ‘The real behind the real’. The breath of the bones? “In comparison to the true nature of the self, waking is no less a state of sleep than the others.” In dreams, a world is created. Even our world, according to later indian myths, is created in Vishnu’s dream. The irreality of the dream world reveals the irreality of the “real” world itself. It dreams are unreal yet feel so real, what can we think about our “real” reality?

Chapter 3 – Indian Buddhist views of dreams

Buddhism is not in conflict with shamanism and it also recognizes the existence of spirits and teaches of many methods to communicate with or exorcise these spirits. Differences lie on other issues such as the existence of the permanent essence of man, the Atman. Are dreams presentative, or representative? Classification of dreams, based on their origin. From pathological disorder, impressions of the subconscious mind, or external agents. Dreams often acquire meaning depending on the character of the person who is dreaming. That is to say, the layperson’s dreams are just illusory images. The yogi’s dreams are significant and hold much more value. In some cases, it is said that enlightened beings don’t dream at all (as they are beyond the control of the god of dream). It is not necessarily the content of the dream but rather the moral condition of the dreamer which gives a dream its condition of being a good or a bad omen. In shamanistic contexts, dreaming represents the accomplishment of the dreamer, which has control over this state. In buddhist context, dreams represent that the goal of realization is still ahead (as dreams are illusory, the dreamer is still trapped in the illusion of Maya). In terms of eltie/popular division, there seems to be no clear separation about the value of dreams. In some cases, elites use dream interpretation to prepare for life, whereas laypeople disregard dreams as purely illusory, and viceversa. There seems to be no clear contradiction between the two classes.

Chapter 4 – Dream in the Tibetan context

In buddhism, dream as a mental state is a subjective experience and lacks the significance given to it in shamanistic or Indian thought. Tantra as a dynamic system adopted by tibetans, a system “to expose oneself to even the most dangerous and powerful […] universal forces and not just survive, but actually control them and absorb them for one’s own fulfillment”.

The first buddhist texts, legend says, fell from the sky and were not understood for 500 years but were preserved because prophecy had been received about their importance. Tibetan Bon priests did not quite like Buddhism (obviously, it was a threat to their own system). Spiritual forces from Tibet were conquered by Padmasambhava and even today they need to be reminded that they are bound by promise to defend the dharma, and are to be treated with utmost caution.
The shaman identifies with a spirit as a realization of the true nature of the spirit world that he has access to. The lama, on the contrary, is capable of identifying with the spirit, having reached an understanding of the illusory nature of this spirit world, and has control over it as he has control over all other mental faculties. One big difference between yogis/lamas and shamans is that the latter do not aim to reach any specific state of enlightenment. Their idea is not to exit the world altogether but rather to work with it and serve their communities.

In the lineage of Naropa and Tilopa, dream became an opportunity for the yogi to establish control over his mental processes, and recognize the insubstantial nature of these mental states (even buddhahood!) after having acquired full control over the unraveling of the situations encountered while dreaming. Look into the mirror of your mind, the place of dreams, the mysterious home of the dakini – Tilopa. To some extent, the ability to perform magic is not dependent upon actual powers but upon the realization that all reality is illusory and created by the yogin. Dream is the best metaphor for life, and through manipulation of this metaphorical reality we come to understand better the nature of life itself.

Traditionally, divination has not been entirely accepted in Buddhism as a morally sound practice. Divinators are usually considered by the sangha to be of a lesser class than the monks or nuns. According to a contemporary Tibetan lama, the difference between the lamam and the shamam is that the former relies on the triple gem as source for its power, while the latter uses earthly deities and powers to affect reality. The lamam has boddhicitta. A shamam and a lamam both have power to kill an animal, but only the lamam with his inconmesurable compassion has the power to bring it back to life.

In shaman traditions, there is no soteriological component to the practices or to the use of dreams. The buddhist concept of “enlightenment” as salvation from the human condition is usually not present. This idea would fall on one side of the spectrum of existence, and shamans seem to be mostly walking on the line between the two extremes (salvation and human life)

Chapter 5 – Tibetan Dream Theory, Imagery and Interpretation

Dreams are illusions, and through the elimination or purification of these states we can come to an understanding of the illusory condition of waking life. Depending on the dream phase in which these dreams appear, they are thought to be caused by karmic traces (first stage, before midnight), external entities or spirits (after midnight) and clarity of the dreamer’s mind (last dreams before waking up). Of these three, usually only the third type is considered to be useful and truthful enough to be interpreted.

According to tantric medicine, physicians should pay attention to omens in places such as the house of the patient or on the road itself. Signs of decay or recovery found in the vicinity can be used to divine the outcome of the healing process. (I skipped reading the list of auspicious/favorable dreams because I felt I didn’t want to have preconceived ideas as to the meaning of any dreams I might have).

In Tibetan buddhism, before engaging in visualization or mantra practices one needs to get the initiation from a guru to obtain permission from the desired deity. Usually this initiation is confirmed to have been successful by means of auspicious dreams or visions. In some cases, dreams are ways to obtain new knowledge or relics left by previous yogis. Padmasambhava is known to have left instructions that after his departing, termas or hidden secrets would be revealed by him through special treasure revealers (terton).

Tendrel, the interconnection of all things. Dependance. The cry of the crow has a meaning. Everything is connected, so everything relates to everything else. Only when you pay attention you start to find these connections.

When we meditate upon the illusion-like nature
Of all the illusion-like phenomena
We attain illusion-like buddhahood


Gampopa’s dreams interpreted

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