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27 April 2016

Dream Yoga and Mormonism

Today I wanted to talk about some thoughts I've been having lately that are, admittedly, not fully developed. I'm hoping that by putting them out there, your collective thoughts will bring out some resolution. Note: this post will probably be most interesting for someone with a Mormon background that has an interest in dreams and philosophy. 

OK, so let's jump back to the beginning. I've been doing some research for the dissertation I'm hoping to write later this year and stumbled upon some art by the 12th century catholic nun, Hildegard von Bingen. She is pretty well known for her music (she's a staple of basically every humanities class out there), but not many people realise she had massive visions, and commissioned several books of art to illustrate her spiritual accounts.

While we don't know the actual artist that she commissioned, and how their experiences factored into the final product, I think it is safe to assume that Hildegard worked very closely with him/her to get to artistic renderings as close to her visions as possible. The crazy thing about some of these artworks is that they very closely resemble art created by Tibetan monks. Here's are two quick examples (in both cases, Hildegard's are on the left, the Tibetan monk's "Thangkas" are on the right):

Aren't they amazingly similar? Back in the 1100s Germany, there would have been no way for Hildegard to have had contact with her counterparts in Tibet. Yet remarkably, both of these bodies of artwork derive from the creator having had spiritual visions. The Tibet monks often create Thangkas (such as the one seen above) after practicing something called Dream Yoga (also called Milam).

Dream Yoga is practiced in 5 stages (I've made up my own stage names as it helps me remember):
  1. The Cave Stage: Dreamer must become lucid (i.e. realise they are in a dream and not awake)
  2. The Superman Stage: Dreamer must realise that everything in the dream is a construct, and that nothing can hurt him/her.
  3. The Matrix Stage: Dreamer should contemplate the fact that things in waking life are similar to the dream world as both are in a state of constant change and are thus illusory and are not real. This stage is hinged on the Buddhist belief that all things in the waking and dream world are empty and have no substantive value. 
  4. The Inception Stage: Dreamer should realise they have total control in their dream state and can do whatever they want-- flying, making objects bigger or smaller, going anywhere, doing anything.
  5. The Vision Stage: Dreamer should then summon images of dieties (for Buddhists this would be Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, or Dakinis... for Mormons- God, Angels perhaps loved ones that had passed?) In contemplating these individuals, one can have revelatory experiences and realizations. 
As is probably clear, I don't think that this process is incompatible with Mormonism. Christianity as a whole has a pretty rich tradition of spiritual experiences in dreams (Daniel, Joseph of Egypt, Lehi, Nephi [sort of, his seem to come in from a waking state] to name a few). I have a whole stack of spiritual dreams I've collected from journals and accounts of my ancestors as well. Dreams are a big deal to Mormons, so we definitely allow for it to be a place where spiritual communion can occur, specifically of a personalised nature. It seems natural to me that if we could begin to control the third of our lives we spend sleeping, and use it for personal discovery and spiritual enlightenment, God would give us a big thumbs up.

That being said, I am a little concerned about Stage #3 (The Matrix Stage). MOST of our theological construct, I think, allows for our waking life to be a less sinister, Matrix-type world. After all we believe we had existed previously with God and somehow our consciousness occupies bodies on earth when we are born. This consciousness, or spirit, then returns to be with God afterwards. Perhaps this Earthly experience is simply a computer game-like reality. Perhaps God's creation of the world could have literally been achieved in 7 days if Earth was created the way we create worlds in our dreams. I think most of our belief system could allow for that.

However, IF we are occupying a constructed reality, I see one major theological problem. Namely, why is receiving a body so important to our salvation (D&C 138:16-17)? Why do ordinances need to be performed in THIS life, with a physical body (1 Cor 15:29D&C 124:29-36)? And how could our physical bodies possibly be reunited with our spirit (Alma 11:45) in order to attain exaltation with God?

Now, maybe the Buddhists just got this part wrong. It's possible. But, but in my own experience with dream yoga (since I began trying a month ago, I've had three lucid dreams), I'm beginning to realise it's merit. My first lucid dream was a bit of a mess because, before going lucid, I had been having a dream where I caught Jon (my husband) in a massive lie. Everything that happened in my lucid dream, DESPITE the fact that I thought I was in control because I knew I was dreaming, was still in reaction to the notion that Jon had been lying to me. Freeing yourself from reality keeps you from getting caught up and would allow you to focus more clearly, particularly on spiritual things.

Still, I haven't quite resolved this point theologically and it has been gnawing at the back of my mind for the last month. Mormons very much believe in the reality, and importance, of a material world. Buddhism does not. I watched this TED talk the other day, and I feel like, maybe the answer is somewhere in here.

While Dr. Hoffman seems to be suggesting more of a Buddhist perspective, I think that he makes it clear that the physical world is hugely important, hence the evolutionary need for our simplified interface. I think his ideas may be the beginning of the resolution, but I still need to contemplate it further.

Anyway, I am really interested in what you, my lovely reader, thinks. I'd love to hear your thoughts on whether you see a conflict of between dream yoga and Mormon theology, and what you think about Donald Hoffman's talk. I'd also love to hear about your own experiences with lucid dreaming and spiritual experiences you may have had. All thoughts are welcome, even if you disagree, so please let me know what you think in the comments below!

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