New Perspectives on Dreaming

University of Glasgow, Centre for the Study of Perceptual Experience
July 3-5, 2023

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Perceptual Plasticity, Performative Simulation, and Kinesthetic Sense in Tibetan Buddhist Dream Yoga Practices

Contemplatives in Tibet understood dreaming to be a powerful expressive domain in which novel and disparate worlds can be experienced, and from which new knowledge can emerge and new skills be cultivated. Buddhist practices of dream yoga (rmi lam rnal ‘byor) – or also, sleeping meditation (nyal bsgom) – consist of practical methods to learn how to lucidly perform specific contemplative practices while asleep. Such practices focus on the plasticity of perceptions, nonduality of awareness, fluidity of self and world boundaries, and are meant to extend insights achieved during dreaming into perceptual shifts during waking life. To better understand the underlying mechanisms operative in Tibetan dreaming practices, we translate and interpret excerpts from historical Tibetan dream yoga practice manuals from the fourteenth through seventeenth centuries in the Nyingma Seminal Heart tradition of Dzogchen and Shangpa tradition of the Six Teachings of Niguma. Specifically, we are concerned with discerning three discrete experiential dimensions prescribed in dream yoga instructions: (i) operations of perceptual plasticity; (ii) performative simulation and intentional applications of visual imagery; and (iii) how kinesthetic sense informs the dream body or what Tibetans call, the “mental body of dream” (rmi lam gyi yid lus). Special attention will be given to how these dimensions operate in dream yoga with reference to clear light (‘od gsal) states of deep sleep meditation. Each dimension will be brought into conversation with discourses and analogs in contemporary philosophy of mind and the cognitive sciences about meta-awareness, imagination, reflexive awareness, and enhanced cognition and embodiment.