Dreaming in the Lotus - Foreword

Buddhist Dream Narrative, Imagery, and Practice


320 pages, 6 x 9 inches


ISBN 9780861711581

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Dreaming in the Lotus is a special gift to scholars and dreamworkers of the
world from an outstanding specialist of Asian culture. This compelling study
explores the genre of sacred biography in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism to arrive at a
startling conclusion: without dreams there would be no Buddha and no Buddhism.
On the way to this conclusion, author Serinity Young unravels some of the
mysteries of dreaming and weaves a pattern of insight into others. With this
foreword, I invite readers to pick up any thread of interest or expertise they
have and follow where she goes. Whether scholar of religion or of literature,
novelist or historian of Asia, psychotherapist or physician, feminist or mystic,
all will find here new information, unexpected connections, intriguing
suggestions, and remarkable dreams. Much of the material, from Sanskrit and
Tibetan-language texts, has been previously unavailable to the general reader in
English translation.

With uncommon good sense and refreshingly clear prose, Young presents a
comparative analysis of biographies of the historical Buddha Gautama (c. 562-482
B.C.E.) and the poet-yogin Milarepa (1040-1123 C.E.). Commentary is included
also on Gampopa, Tsongkhapa, and Buton. The unique distinctiveness of Dreaming
in the Lotus among the current flood of books about dreaming, Eastern and
Western, lies in the author's finely tuned comparative methodology, her depth of
knowledge about cross-currents in Western research on dreaming, the cultural and
chronological range of her sources, and her expertise in Asian languages.

The methodology is anchored in the initial comparison between dream-centered
texts originating in India and those that evolved over centuries in Tibet from
the convergence of Buddhism with pre-Buddhist indigenous dream beliefs and
practices. Young's frequent reach toward more global comparison enhances the
book's contributions to oneiric history and theory. She demonstrates, for
example, that in Tibetan Buddhism sleep is not just a metaphor for death, as it
seems to be in much Graeco-Roman and Western European literature, but rather a
"training ground" for it, since dreaming, wakefulness, and death are seen as
equally illusory states needing to be transcended. Tibetan medical text
observations on dreaming are linked to those of Galen and Hippocrates. The way
the dream of a private individual in sacred biography becomes transformed into a
cultural institution is elucidated by analogies with the founding of the cargo
cults of Melanesia and the Native American Ghost Dance Movement. Just as dream
ideologies cross religious lines between Judaism, Christianity, and paganism,
Young says, so do they from Hinduism to Buddhism.

The heuristic nature of such comparison inspires readers to undertake their
own search for affinities. I found fascinating, for example, the way the
manipulation or rejection of their wives' dreams by the Buddha, Padmasambhava,
and Marpa was partially echoed in Milton's Paradise Lost by Adam's unwise
and fateful dismissal of Eve's premonitory dream of their temptation. I also
found similarities and illuminating dissimilarities between the sacred biography
subject's dreams of disheveled women and Dante's pilgrim's dream of the deformed
female, whose clothes are torn by a dream-Virgil, in canto XIX of Purgatorio.

Since no systematic methodology for the exploration of dreaming or any set
of principles governing dream interpretation emerges in Buddhism, Young serves
as a necessary guide for our initiation into a "culturally complex process
fraught with contradiction." She insistently rejects oversimplification with
frequent caveats about the multiple shades of variation in Buddhist dream
thought even within the single genre of sacred biographies that foreground
dreaming no matter how different the lives of the individuals or the
compositional backgrounds of the texts. She observes calmly that apparently
contending dream beliefs within Buddhism are sometimes only a matter of
emphasis, that the coexistence of attitudes that seem mutually exclusive may
only reflect ongoing differences between concurrent elite and popular
traditions. Apparent inconsistencies in theory and discrepancies between theory
and practice, she notes, sometimes have the desired function in the monastic
world of requiring the presence of a guru on whom initiates must rely for

Young takes a similarly clear-headed stance on the central paradox of
dreaming in Buddhism: it is seen simultaneously as one of the most powerful
forms of human cognition and as the principal example of the illusory nature of
the world.

Buddhism valorized dreaming in the popular tradition of
biography while the elite monastic tradition used the dream experience to
emphasize the illusory nature of reality. Their point is not that a dream
experience is less real than waking life but that both states, dreaming and
waking, are equally illusory.

This paradox shows that radically disparate notions of what constitutes
self, cognition, and the "real" are at the core of Eastern and Western oneiric
thought. Such difference should prohibit the facile assimilation of Asian
practices by Euro-American dreamers, such as equating the mastery over dreaming
in Dream Yoga techniques with North American dream control systems like
Lucidity. As Young points out, Tibetan Buddhist dream work does not translate
wholesale into North American self-help movements, an argument she makes in a
thoughtful appendix on the Lucidity Movement headed by Stephen LaBerge.

In working on her extraordinary materials, Young has not succumbed to the
seductions of what Carl Jung called "going Eastern." Instead she has combined
rigorous academic training with an intuitive grasp of the otherness of her
subject and a deep respect for difference. Thus she escapes the essentialist
fallacy of thinking that we all mean the same thing when we use words like
dream, shaman, and real. She calls attention to the way in most Western
languages one "has a dream," while in many Eastern languages one "sees a dream."
In the former, the dreamer is the creator of the dream; in the latter, "the
passive recipient of an objective vision." In an especially interesting aside,
she explains how some Asian dreamers use eye ointment to protect themselves
against "seeing" bad dreams. As a comparative literature scholar who has taught
and written on the interface between dream theory and translation theory, I am
convinced that one major source of certain kinds of recurrent misunderstanding
are the inadequate and often misleading translations of foreign texts on which
so many North American dreamworkers depend. The translator's world view
inevitably skews the original material, and dream texts are especially
susceptible to conscious and unconscious distortion. Young's linguistic
expertise allows her to work with primary sources and to perform the kind of
detailed textual analysis that can limit misrepresentation. This leads to more
subtle and sensible communication across cultures about the process of dreaming.

In addition, Young does not atomize the dream experience by isolating single
dreams as the crux of analysis. She recognizes the dream experience as a
sequence, a dynamic process that moves along a continuum from dream stimulus and
setting, to the dream itself (mentation during sleep), telling of the dream,
interpretation, and outcome, including ritual attempts to ward off evil effects
or efforts to carry out what are perceived to be dream's directives or explicit
instructions. She does not excerpt or abstract dream samples from one culture or
one historical moment and then generalize, but traces over centuries the
evolution of beliefs and practices. As the structure of her book indicates,
Young has particular interest in when and how oneiric traditions persist and
innovations make their appearance.

Dreaming in the Lotus has its own set of traditional and innovative
materials, both of which have value for post-modern dreamers and professional
dreamworkers. I plan myself to follow up on Young's brief but provocative
remarks about the role that degrees of orality and literacy play in shaping the
oneiric mindset of a society. As I have written elsewhere, in many diverse
cultures during the transition from an oral to a primarily written tradition the
earliest recorded texts always include dreams (like the Old English "Dream of
the Rood") or key dream episodes (like Duzumi's dream in the Sumerian "Inanna").
Dreaming seems to be one of the driving forces that sparks the desire in humans
for the preservation in concrete form of their experience.

Readers will find many familiar themes in instructively unfamiliar contexts:
incubation, dreams as medical diagnosis and prognosis, taxonomies of kinds of
dreaming, shared dreams, sought or induced dreams, debate over divine or demonic
origin. The chapter on gender especially bears reading for the perspective it
adds to the vexing question of male/female difference in the realm of dreaming.
I do not know of any other woman's dream, in any society, that had the endlessly
adumbrating influence of Queen Maya's dream of the conception of the Buddha: "a
magnificent white elephant, striking her right side with its trunk, is able to
enter her womb." Young documents the way this dream, along with its various
versions, interpretations, and iconographic representations, significantly
affected the development of Buddhism. Like Maya's dream in biographies of the
Buddha, the majority of females' dreams appearing in the lives of male Buddhist
saints are those of conception.

On the other hand, the biographies are full of men's dreams about women,
many following what I call the fear/revere pattern, a corollary to the Eve/Mary
pattern of female representation in Christianity. In men's dreams, awesome,
often divine women play a crucial role in ensuring the man's salvational goals,
while the true dreams of real women, usually wives, about such men are
dismissed, as happens also in versions of the Buddha's biography. In these
sacred biographies, as in Indian and Tibetan medical texts, men's dreams also
include figures of threatening women, such as the demonized Lilith of the Talmud.
Young also finds in the Indo-Tibetan world the contradiction, which seems to
recur worldwide and across millennia, whereby women are endowed with tremendous
power in men's dreams and psychic experiences while the concomitant social
reality renders them powerless or at least confines them to considerably weakened

Throughout North America, starting as early as the Winget-Kramer study in
1933, gender in dreaming has been a subject for investigation among researchers
in clinical, experimental, and academic settings. Virtually without exception
these studies have identified differences between males and females in the
attitude, content, interpretation, effect, and use of dreams. In the 1970s
feminist scholars like me began challenging the conclusions about gender
difference in areas of study like content analysis as being the result of social
constructions of femaleness and maleness. As decades pass, however, many
feminist investigators are finding that dramatic changes in the social realities
of North American women and men along the lines of work, education, and income
have not necessarily made their dreaming lives more commensurate.

Dreaming is one of the few truly universal human phenomena yet evidence from
many corners of the world like that presented in Dreaming in the Lotus can
persuade us that dreams of individuals are shaped substantially by specific
cultural, social, religious, and political contexts. Can it be true that in
dreaming gender overrides all these distinctions among people? Do the dream
lives of men in ancient Tibet and post-modern Canada have more in common with
each other than they do with the dream lives of ancient Tibetan and post-modern
Canadian women despite the great contrast between the waking lives of such
people? And if so, what does such commonality demonstrate? Young introduces into
this ongoing debate some unusual new material, which in its complexity argues
strongly for more cross-cultural studies of gender in dreaming.

The ultimate excellence of Dreaming in the Lotus is that it provides a
valuable model for dream study that does not domesticate the esoteric but
enlarges the oneiric world view of those who consult it. It also incorporates
the personal life of the author in subtle but essential ways as she tests her
own conclusions about early Buddhist literature during her field work in India,
Nepal, and Tibet, speaking with Tibetans from different backgrounds about their
own dreams, beliefs, and practices. Her work will remind us as we enter the new
millennium that the dream is both a personal and collective experience, both an
immanent and a transcendent phenomenon. In this way, Serinity Young earns a place in the most recent
wave of dreamworkers who are making this turn of the century as remarkable in
the history of oneirology as the last one was in its time.

Carol Schreier Rupprecht

July 1999