Tag: Presentation

Elliot Wolfson, “Imagining Otherwise and the Unreason of Reason: Occupying the Space of a Dream without Dreaming”

Both Freud and Jung were keenly attuned to the nexus between dreams, madness, and hallucinations. For his part, Freud considered the dream on a par with psychosis insofar within the parameters of the dream we concoct an unreal world that we regard as real and the line between truth and untruth is blurred—indeed, the dream image is true to the extent that it is untrue and untrue to the extent that it is true. Jung, too, was mindful of the fact that the sensuous distinctness associated with the oneiric rises to the level of hallucinating clearness. That clarity is linked to hallucination bespeaks the fact that a mindset judged by societal mores as anomalous may actually divulge a greater degree of perceptual acuity and hence what is conventionally considered to be lucidity is, in truth, obfuscation—the opposite, I might add, of what we typically find in political discourse. In my contribution to the seminar, I will explore the far reaching cultural and psychological implications of the psychoanalytic juxtaposition of dreams and delirium, especially as they might contribute to a phenomenology of religious experience. In particular, I will illumine Jung’s assertion that the dream is a form of normal insanity from mystical sources. Dreams, I will argue, provide us with a mechanism to restore the possibility of reason’s dialogue with unreason. Finally, I will use the dream phenomenon to illustrate the nonphenomenolizable horizon of the appearance of the inapparent and the consequent depersonalization of personhood, that is, the idea of self without a self, the self that appears by not appearing, since the identity of the dreamer both constitutes and is constituted by the dream.In that respect, paraphrasing Laruelle, we can speak of the dream without dreaming or what I call the configuring nothing and the disfiguration at the limits of imaginality.


Nancy, Jean-Luc. The Fall of Sleep. New York: Fordham University Press, 2009.

Additional reading:

Sigmund Freud, Interpretations of Dreams.

Carl Jung, The Red Book.

William Waldron, “The Unconscious Construction of our Collective Worlds”

From its earliest time, Buddhism has understood the arising of ‘self’ and ‘world’ to be interdependent constructs which “co-arise.” That is, our experience of the world (loka) is correlative with the structure of our faculties, which include our cultural categories. This became more systematically analyzed in the Yogācāra tradition (ca. 3-5th c.CE), especially in relation to the concept of the unconscious “storehouse consciousness” (ālaya-vijñāna). The storehouse consciousness was said to arise dependent on our “tendencies toward everyday associations about characteristics, names, and preconceptions,” on the one hand, and a subtle, undiscerned  “world,” on the other. In effect, this describes the unconscious construction of our collective worlds (bhājana-loka)—in short, culture. As a form of transformative practice, recognizing how much our worlds are collectively but unconsciously constructed gives us more ability to make conscious, intentional choices about the kinds of world we live in.


Waldron, William S. “The Co-arising of Self and Object, World, and Society: Buddhist and Scientific Approaches.” In Buddhist Thought and Applied Psychological Research: Transcending the Boundaries, edited by D. K. Nauriyal, M. Drummond, and Y. B. Lal. RoutledgeCurzon, 2006: 175-208.

William Waldron, “Buddhism Overview for Non-Specialists”

This presentation, given at the beginning of the institute, will provide an historical and philosophical overview of Buddhist traditions with special attention to concepts and vocabulary relevant to the Institute. Although institute faculty will not assume specialist knowledge, this session should provide a helpful map and fill in conceptual gaps for folks who don’t specialize in Buddhist studies.


Keown, Damien. Buddhism: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press, 2013. (entire)

Kapstein, Matthew. Tibetan Buddhism: A very short introduction, 2014. (selections).

Alyson Prude, “Sharing Journeys Beyond: Reports of the Deceased and the Worlds They Inhabit”

Delog reports of their journeys to the realms of the dead center on the karmic consequences of virtuous and non-virtuous actions. The journeys themselves, however, are remarkably diverse. The paths by which contemporary Tibetan Buddhist women visit the postmortem worlds reveal creative fusions of Buddhist and non-Buddhist cosmologies with various cultural and individual imaginaries. When juxtaposed with each other, accounts of delog journeys open a fruitful space for understanding and theorizing the interplay between “inner vision” and “outer reality.”


Prude, Alyson, “Kunzang Drolkar: A Delog in Eastern Tibet.” In Eminent Buddhist Women, edited by Karma Lekshe Tsomo, 169-184. Albany: SUNY Press, 2014.

Baron, Richard, trans., Delog: Journey to Realms Beyond Death, Delog Dawa Dolma, 1-14. Junction City, CA: Padma Publishing, 1995. (“Copper-Colored Mountain of Glory”).

Prude, Alyson, “A Reexamination of Marginal Religious Specialists: Himalayan Messengers from the Dead” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 88, no. 3 (2020): 779-804. (excerpt)

Laurie Patton, “Achieving Other Worlds in Vedic Religion”

This talk will address the power of mantra and a theory of imagination, particularly associational imagination in the Vedic world. While Vedic texts do not express any clear aesthetic theory, such as we find in later classical Sanskrit thought, we can infer an understanding of the Vedic theory of imagination through viniyoga, or the choice of which mantras to use in which rituals. Through examining the uses of the same poetic image in different ritual contexts, or “ritual metonymy,” we can also show how those associational worlds changed over time. We will dive more deeply into Vedic metonymy through a case study of mantras for achieving other worlds, or lokas, through recitation in the late Vedic period.


Patton, Laurie. Bringing the Gods to Mind: Mantra and Ritual in Early Indian Sacrifice, selections from chapters 2, 3, and 8.

Karin Meyers, “Dreams and Dream Yoga in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism”

This presentation will provide a brief overview of the place of dreams in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, and will focus in particular on the practice of dream yoga. Dream yoga works with the imagination in several different ways, including using the imagination to induce certain kinds of dream, to transform dream experiences, to blend waking and dreaming experience, and ultimately, to awaken from the false imagination of dualistic appearances entirely. While there is a fair amount of popular interest in the topic of Tibetan dream yoga, especially in connection with lucid dreaming, it has received less attention in the American academy compared to other forms of Buddhist meditation and practice, especially given that we all dream and spend close to a third of our lives asleep. This is likely owing to a broader cultural prejudice valuing waking, external sensory experiences and rational thought processes over “altered” states of consciousness for making meaning and acquiring knowledge. The talk will conclude with some cross-cultural reflections on dreaming. 



Young, Serenity. “Dream Practices in Medieval Tibet.” Dreaming 9:1 (1999), 23-42. (14 pages)

Norbu, Namkai. Dream Yoga and the Practice of Clear Light. Edited and introduced by Michael Katz. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, chapters 1-2. (pdf is from1992 edition with intro included; 2002 edition has additional chapters.)

Holocek, Andrew. “What is Dream Yoga and How do you Do It.” Lion’s Roar (July 19, 2017) https://www.lionsroar.com/waking-up-from-the-dream-of-a-lifetime/


Further Reading:

Kyabgon, Traleg Rinpoche. Vajrayana: An Essential Guide to Practice. Victoria, Australia: Shogun Publications, 2020. (especially part three)

Laughlin, Charles. “Communing with the Gods: The Dreaming Brain in Cross-Cultural Perspective.” Time and Mind: The Journal of Archeology, Consciousness, and Culture 4:2 (July 2011), 155-188.

See annotated bibliography for more suggestions. 

Karin Meyers, “Making God Real and Participating in the Divine Mystery: More Theories of the Imagination”

Is what is imagined necessarily imaginary? What if what is imagined is already real, becomes real through the imaging, or is more than real? This presentation will highlight work by the anthropologist, Tanya Luhrmann and Indologist, David Shulman that explains how Christian evangelicals and South Indian tantric devotees, respectively, make the divine real through the cultivation of the imagination and inner senses. It will also draw on the transpersonal theorist, Jorge Ferrer’s participatory theory to suggest a philosophical framework for entertaining the ontological reality (and often, hyper-reality) of the imaginal with some brief comparisons to Jeffrey Kripal’s theory of dual-aspect monism and the paranormal. 

Readings (videos): 

Luhrmann, Tanya. “When God Talks Back” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DloTO-SwFZA

Shulman, David. More Than Real: A History of the Imagination in South India. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012, 117-134. (17 pages)

Ferrer, Jorge.“Spiritual Knowing as Participatory Enaction.” In The Participatory Turn: Spirituality, Mysticism, Religious Studies, edited by Jorge N Ferrer and Jacob H. Sherman. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008, 135-158. (23 pages)

Further reading (or viewing):

Luhrmann, Tanya. “How God Becomes Real” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgepMtUz_eI

Shulman, David. “How to Put Together a Goddess out of Musical Scales” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjbAbMu8mzY

Ferrer, Jorge, “A Participatory Vision of the Mystical Unity of Religions” https://slideslive.com/38903388/a-participatory-vision-of-the-mystical-unity-of-religions

Meyers, Karin. “Memory, Imagination and the Culture of Religious Experience.” In Reasons and Lives in Buddhist Traditions: Studies in Honor of Matthew Kapstein. Edited by Dan Arnold, Cecile Ducher, and Pierre-Julien Harter. Boston: Wisdom, 2019

David McMahan, “Buddhist Visionary Literature and the Logic of Visionary Imagery”

The Mahāyāna Sūtras inaugurate a revolutionary shift in Buddhist literature. They include the stark dialectics of emptiness, which rigorously deconstruct all conceptual structures, whether they are philosophical edifices or taken-for-granted ways of seeing things. At the same time, they introduce a new genre of visionary literature that represents an explosion of the visual imagination, with a proliferation of fantastical scenes and scenarios. This session explores some of the varieties and functions of such imagery, arguing that the underlying logic of emptiness and the abundance of visionary imagery in certain sūtras is the same—that all things are ananta: boundless, infinite, without end. Visionary literature expresses another way of freeing up things from the illusion of fixed, inherent existence, playfully deploying fantastical imagery to suggest the shimmering possibilities just outside of ordinary awareness. It can also be seen as a genre of fantasy novel dramatizing Buddhist themes—emptiness, compassion, skillful means—and the idea that the ordinary world is overflowing with hidden beauty, wonder, and meaning if seen through the eyes of heightened awareness. This literature also leads directly to a systematization of such imagery in complex visualization meditations in Pure Land and Tantric traditions.


McMahan, David. “Realms of the Senses: Buddha Fields and Fields of Vision in the Gaṇḍavyūha Sūtra.” In Empty Vision: Metaphor and Visual Imagery in Mahāyāna Buddhism. Routledge, 2002..

Selection from the Avataṃsaka Sūtra

David McMahan, “Imagining Things as They Are”

This session examines classical Buddhist meditation texts in order to explore the tension in Buddhist thought between coming to understand “things as they are” (yathābhūtam) through, on the one hand, clearing away of imaginal constructions and, on the other, through imagining oneself and the world in a particular way. It examines the rhetorical gap between the discussions of unmediated truth and the imaginal efforts required to achieve that truth. Meditation is often presented as expunging imaginal constructions to reveal an objective interior truth. Yet imagination plays a crucial role in activating, recognizing, and constituting relevant categories, intentions, and analyses of interior states. Meditation always uses available repertoires of attitudes, concepts, ethical orientations, and sensibilities, and introduces possibilities for using imagination for constituting new repertoires and inaugurating novel lifeworlds. These considerations point toward a revaluation and reinterpretation of the role of the imagination in Buddhism and suggest the need to go beyond an “objectivist” understanding of Buddhist epistemology.


McMahan, David. “How Meditation Works: Theorizing the Role of Cultural Context in Buddhist Meditative Practices.” In David McMahan and Erik Braun, eds. Meditation, Buddhism, and Science. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, trans. Nyanasatta Thera (https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanasatta/wheel019.html)

Anapanasati Sutta, trans. Bhikkhu Bodhi (https://suttacentral.net/mn118/en/bodhi)

Jeffrey J. Kripal, “The World is One, and the Human is Two: Tentative Conclusions of a Working Historian of Religions”

This presentation will reflect back on a three-decade career in the history of religions in order to speculate about the metaphysical substructure of universal magical phenomena and, deeper still, of comparative mystical literature. It articulates and develops a set of basic working or tentative conclusions around the unity of the world, the duality of human knowing, the paradoxical role of belief, and the empirical-symbolic natures of the empowered imagination. It lands on a basic dual aspect monistic structure with some acknowledged tendencies to migrate in an idealist direction.