B. Alan Wallace, 25 May 2019
Alan gave a lecture on “Lucid Dreaming and Dream Yoga” at Lama Tsong Khapa Institute, Pomaia, Italy.
(01:32) Greeting everyone, it’s really a pleasure and an honor to be back here at this wonderful Institute with such a great history and to address the topic that I think is of enormous interest on a purely scientific level, very, very interesting and from the Buddhist perspective also, and so as this Lama Tsong Khapa Institute has is going to be or is in the process of becoming or including, I should say, an Academy for the study of science and Buddhism together which my dear friend Filippo told me His Holiness has requested four times. So, in anticipation of this or in that flavor, this topic of lucid dreaming and dream yoga is a very powerful interface between these two great knowledge traditions of the [Western] mind sciences and a Buddhist mind science.
So, I will be bringing together three currents here in this presentation this afternoon in terms of lucid dreaming my primary source is a world-famous expert in lucid dreaming, Stephen Laberge, who I’ve known for now 35 years or so since we were both graduate students at Stanford University, we developed a friendship there and then over a number of years he and I led, I think, six ten day workshops in various places in California, in Hawaii, bringing together the tradition of modern lucid dreaming and the very ancient tradition of dream yoga, and then to unite these two or connect these two teachings on Shamatha ways of developing attention which can be very applicable for the practice of lucid dreaming and dream yoga.
So one of the strands, one of the lineages so to speak comes from Stephen Laberge who remains a very good friend of mine and then in terms of the dream yoga I first received teachings on dream yoga in the context of the six yogas of Naropa in 1978 from Kyabje Zong Rinpoche who came to our monastery in Switzerland and gave the whole transmission for all six, of course including dream yoga and then 12 years later, I received the first teachings that I received from my lama, Nyingma lama, Gyatrul Rinpoche, Domang Gyatrul Rinpoche and he taught dream yoga back in 1990 and then again some years later I received another transmission from him. So it’s bringing these three rivers together into one great current from the modern mind sciences and then from the Gelug and the Nyingma traditions of dream yoga.
(4:25) So what I’d like to do is begin with first theory and then practice of lucid dreaming because this modern discipline, which is only maybe 50 years old or so as an experimental science within the field of psychology, this is rooted in, of course, the broader history of Western science tracing back primarily really to Galileo. Galileo and then Descartes of course, so in terms of a theoretical framework, there’s an assumption that was held by virtually all scientists from the time of Galileo right through Einstein, and that is that there is a real physical world out there existing independently of human perceptions, human conceptions; existing by its own inherent nature, absolutely objective, which God created, and in fact God’s creation of the universe was finished, almost completely finished, before he created us. So by the time on the sixth day, God created us everything else was finito, all complete.
And so that assumption rooted in the biblical tradition was virtually unquestioned right through the 19th century, and so this means that there’s something out there - this physical world - that allows for the consensuality of our experience, as all of us look at the surrounding environment we would describe something very similar. And also animals would be engaging with something similar where we encounter a mountain, the animals encounters the mountain and so on. So there’s one reason to believe there must be an objective inherently real physical universe made of atoms, particles, fields, waves and then there’s us subjectively experiencing that one universe from many perspectives.
So in this regard, as we look around right now with our eyes, we listen with our ears, we see visions, we see colors that are not there in the objective world, this was recognized at the time of Descartes. Colors are not out there, sounds are not out there. Sound waves yes, sounds that we hear no, smells are not out there, tastes are not out there, the feeling of warmth, the feeling of cold are not out there. What’s really out there atoms, space, time, matter, energy? And so this was the unquestioned assumption until really the 21st century.
(7:11) So we have the appearances which are subjective but then somehow related to the appearances there must be a real objective physical world. Now we can ask what’s really out there? The general assumption now is atoms, fields, particles, waves, space, energy. That’s what’s really out there and as Einstein stated the purpose of physics is to understand the physical world that exists out there when we’re not looking, independently of our observations, independently of our measurements, in other words, from Galileo through Einstein there really was a very powerful theological motivation, very explicit in Galileo to seek by way of inference what does the world look like from God’s own perspective? The ideal of seeking God’s eye perspective.
Now for the last 150 years or so God has been taken more and more out of the equation as well then one philosopher calls this, the view from nowhere or the view what’s it like when nobody’s looking? And so this has been an aspiration. With this in mind, my old friend Stephen Laberge, commented on one occasion that the only difference between dream experiences and our sensory experiences of the world right now through all of our five senses is that our sensory experiences where these colors and smells, sounds, tastes and so forth are arising not in the physical world, they’re not out there, they’re arising in the space of our awareness. They don’t exist independently of our perceptions, they don’t exist in physical space and so the only difference between waking and dreaming is waking is dream experience with physical constraints. So when I look at Filippo I see a human being, I can’t decide, I want to see a frog and then no frog. I see his maybe black sweater, I say, I don’t like black I like blue but I can’t make it change color.
(9:21) And so even those his appearances of Filippo his sweater and so forth are existing in the space of my awareness nevertheless what I see, I hear, I taste, I touch is constrained by the real physical world out there, his foot, his sweater is emitting photons of a certain frequency, they strike my retina, they trigger a complex sequence of electrochemical events culminating in the visual cortex and then I see what I see. What I see is in the space of my awareness but it’s constrained by the real physical world out there, that’s waking experience, waking experience is dream experience with physical constraints. Now tonight if I dream of Filippo lucky me, if I dream of Filippo and I am, especially if I’m lucid I’m recognizing my dream as a dream and I think: I’m tired of seeing Filippo, I’d like to see a big six-foot frog, I’d much prefer to see a big frog more interesting you change him into a frog no problem and why? Because there are no physical constraints on what we perceive in the dream, if you want if you’re seeing something black and you want blue you get blue. So it’s very malleable because there are no constraints, it’s a pure fiction, a pure creation not constrained by photons, sound waves, molecules in the air and so on. So that’s the big difference, there’s the feel, there’s the how do you say philosophical backdrop or foundation for this modern discipline of lucid dreaming and then let’s get, get practical. There is daytime and there is night time practice of this entirely secular discipline of lucid dreaming so some people are naturally gifted and most people are not but as Stephen LaBerge very emphatically states everybody has the capacity to learn how to dream lucidly, to recognize dreams as dreams but it takes certain prerequisites, your ngöndro, your preliminary practices for achieving lucid dreaming.
(11:39) So what are these essential requirements? Number one having adequate motivation, very good, adequate motivation do, is this something you really want or is it mere, a mild curiosity, did you have only once in a while? So motivation, we’ve heard that before all of us Tibetan Buddhists, motivation first. Secondly correct practice of effective techniques, you need method in Sanskrit upaya you need skillful methods. What techniques will enable you to become lucid, remain lucid, and then be able to explore the actual world of dreaming. And then the third quality or third prerequisite for becoming quite adept at lucid dreaming is developing excellent excellent dream recall. Some people with no training at all can recall many many dreams and some people recall virtually none, now the disadvantage of not being able to dream, remember your dreams when you wake up in the morning is even if you have a lucid dream you wouldn’t remember it, so that would be too bad. So first of all just remembering your non lucid dreams is then a launching pad of preparation for developing the ability to recognize the dreams as dreams.
So those three and so in terms of effective method, the most effective method and there’s a lot of experimentation behind this, this is evidence-based not just some abstract philosophy the most effective method of learning to achieve lucidity is to develop what Stephen Laberge calls a critical reflexive attitude toward your state of consciousness, at any time, by asking yourself whether or not you are dreaming while you’re awake or at least while you think you’re awake, doing a state check, checking for dream signs and then anticipating dreaming lucidly at night.
(13:40) There’s a lot there so let’s take that step by step, step by step. This critical reflexive attitude it’s something we very very rarely adopt at least if you’re like me, but prior to any kind of training, a critical reflexive attitude in this context is asking ourselves seriously: might I be dreaming right now? We virtually never ask that when we’re dreaming and that’s because we’ve virtually never asked that when we’re awake, we just take things, I’m here you’re there, so let’s get on with it but we don’t question whether this might be a dream. Right now is it possible, is it possible that we could be dreaming right now? Maybe, maybe there’s only one person here and it’s you and you’re in bed and the rest of us are all just a play of your imagination, because I’m in California watching television. How could you know? And so the easy response is this can’t be a dream sure this can’t be a dream. Why, because it’s so vivid it’s so vivid this couldn’t possibly be a dream. That’s not true you can have very vivid dreams. Oh this can’t be a dream I can pinch myself you can pinch yourself in the dream too and it will feel just like that, no difference. So how do you perform, how, first of all develop the critical reflexive attitude and then do a state, a state check, a state check there a number of methods, are very practical that you can apply to see whether right now you are or are not dreaming. Now the one that I first learned from Stephen Laberge is take any written text so right here is fine, I have it right in front of me, I’ll read just the first few lines:
(15:35) Three essential requirements for learning lucid dreaming: clear you take it out of your field of vision you put it back in your field of vision and Mary said I don’t have any tomatoes. That could happen in a dream because it’s when out of sight, it’s out of mind, it’s out of existence there’s not, there’s no reason objectively there would be any continuity between three essential requirements and Mary says: I have no tomatoes. So when it comes back in the second time, if you’re dreaming, there’s about an 85% chance that when you read it the second time it will be different. If you’ll get, if it’s, if it’s the same on second reading, take it out of your field, put it back in, porky the pig said something something then it’s a 92% chance. If it’s the same 92% chance. Each time you bring it back, if it’s the same, it’s a higher and higher probability that in fact you are not dreaming. But if even once you take it out of your field bring it back in and it’s and it’s different, now you know with 100% certainty you’re dreaming, you’re dreaming. So this very effective one but you need something to read and take it out of your field of vision. My favorite one is pulling on your nose, you can do it right now if you like, and I think I’m quite confident I’m not dreaming because if you are dreaming and you pull out your nose, your nose in the dream has no cartilage, it’s not physical and so the chances are quite high if you pull on your nose, your nose will get longer, it’s called the Pinocchio effect. The dream is lying to you, it’s telling you you’re you’re awake, you’re awake and then you go [Alan pulls on his nose] I don’t think so. That would be very confident if your nose go like Pinocchio then you know, I must be dreaming.
(17:37) One that’s very easy to do, very easy to do is find some nice safe flat platform like this stage is perfectly good stand up on it, this just jumps straight up, just jump straight up. If you’re dreaming it’s not a hundred percent certain but it’s very likely that when you jump up you will gently float down like an astronaut on the moon, jumping up and then oh, like that. Or it’s also possible you’ll jump up and float, if that happens unless you’ve just broken the laws of physics you can assume you’re dreaming if you come something down the chances are most likely you’re not dreaming. And so those are state checks so then you come to a decisive conclusion: I am or I am not dreaming state check but you have to ask the question, might I be dreaming? The critical reflexive attitude. There are dream signs. So why don’t we jump into that right now. If you have good dream recall then what you look for are called dream signs and so from from one night to the next if you can remember two or three dreams then you try to find common themes, common themes. I spoke with someone just today that said in her dream signs one common theme is she’s done a lot of public speaking, is showing up for a public lecture and finding herself totally unprepared, like I’m showing up here and said what did you want me to talk about? Or and I’ve had this dream because I travel a lot, I’ve had this dream quite a few times being in an airport and finding I’d left my passport at home or I’ve lost my luggage or I can’t find my terminal and time is running out. That’s a dream sign for me that’s a dream sign so whenever I’m in an airport, I start checking pulling my nose and so forth because it’s a common theme, it can be a place, an activity, you might have a person who recurs frequently in your dreams, it could be an activity that arises frequently, it could be a place, anything that recurs you write it down a dream sign from your dreams of course and then during the waking state you keep your eyes open to see whether that dream sign is occurring and if it does, then you conduct a state check, okay.
(20:01) So those are some of the very simple methods and then also during the daytime if you’re really quite keen on learning how to dream lucidly and developing a high, how do you say, high probability of being able to dream lucidly each night then it’s something you’d want to keep in the back of your mind throughout the course of the day okay. I’m not dreaming but tonight I will be dreaming and when I’m dreaming tonight I want to recognize the dream as a dream. So, you it’s called prospective memory, remembering to do something in the future. Now when I was doing these many 10-day workshop with Stephen Laberge there were two aspects of it and that is: one is to look out for indications that you might be dreaming and when you suspect maybe I’m dreaming, then do something. So first is cognitive, keep your eyes open is there any indication you might be dreaming and then secondly do something namely a state check. And then if you’re very keen also then keep a dream journal, wake up in the morning and whatever the dream was it’s interesting, it’s troubling, it’s joyful write it down and then read through that at bedtime just before you go to sleep and as you keep a dream journal you’re likely to identify one after another of your particular dream signs. So, that’s what’s to be done during the daytime.
(21:25) Now then there’s a nighttime practice and so the first thing is when you’re falling asleep do so with a strong resolve to: number one adopt the critical reflexive attitude, really question, might I be dreaming? Because if you don’t question it, you won’t do a state check. That first, then perform a state check, also look for dream signs and then recognize your dream the next time you dream. So, it’s this anticipation and in a night the average person will dream from five to seven dreams each night, starting roughly ninety minutes after you fall asleep. So, you’re anticipating in about two hours I’ll probably be someplace else. And then anticipate and try to recognize. Now in terms of lucid dreams, there are three types and I know my first lucid dreams were the first kind: dream induced, dream induced that is there something in the dream that is so bizarre, so surreal, so dreamlike, you just recognize this has to be a dream. So I give you my first, my earliest dream decades ago for earliest dreams, I was just gazing at a wall, but the colors were psychedelic, they were just I mean just psychedelic shifting patterns and so forth and I looked at that wall and said this can’t be real and then that was it. It was within the dream that catalyzed my awareness with this walls aren’t like that, I must be dreaming, that was the first one.
(23:00) And then not long after that I was driving with, the in the passenger seat in a car, the driver was on my left and I gazed over and I saw the Sun rising over to my left and then we’re driving along and then I what was it? I looked over to the left and I saw the Sun setting on my left and we had not turned around, I said wait a minute the Sun doesn’t arise and set in the same place, I must be dreaming. So I was able to hold that to maintain that awareness, the cognizance of this is a dream, I was quite excited I felt like I was an awakened one and so my companion and I we pulled over to a little diner, a little restaurant to have lunch and I was just so full of like an evangelist, I’m so excited, I’ve seen the light, I’ve seen the light this is a dream and we go into the diner and I want to convert everyone and so I go into the diner and I see all these people hunched over there, an American diner, hunched over hamburgers and french fries and drinking coke and I say do you know this is a dream? And I’m quite excited, you know this is a dream and they go (noise of someone eating), I go another person, do you know this is dream? (noise of someone eating again), no interest? I was so disappointed, I thought, this is the most important thing here, it is this a dream, and all they were interested in there is hamburgers, I was quite disappointed, I woke up (laugh).
(24:30) So that’s dream induced. Waking induced, you can try this, there’s a little exercise. The next time you’re dreaming when you see or when you’re sleeping, when you see that you’re about, you’re in the process of waking up, if you can be very precise and recognize you’re waking up like a whale that was deep under the water and then gradually almost, almost breaking the surface and then breathing up. So when you see you’re just about to emerge from the dream and you’re just about to crest over into the waking state, then just get, just about waking and then go right back(breathing) and pick up the story. What was your last memory, what were you doing, who was there? So you would become just a little bit awake and then instead of becoming fully awake and forgetting the dream, become just awake enough that you’ve become lucid and then go back and then you may be able to pick up chapter 2 of that dream by maintaining continuity, that’s not too difficult to do.
(25:34) And then the third one is mnemonic induced lucid dreaming and this is where you’ll tell yourself in the dream I will remember to do this, I will do a state check and the state check proves, yes you’re dreaming, the script was different and so forth and that clicks you into so it’s mnemonic of course you’re remembering to do something you do it apply it and you become lucid. Now one way to increase the likelihood of having a dream by 2,000 percent, so it’s good odds, is it says you’re on the weekends that is when you when you can sleep in and you don’t really have any big obligations during the daytime like you don’t have to go off to work. So wake up two hours before usual so if you normally wake up at six then set the alarm for four o’clock when you know you need more sleep, then spend about a half an hour reading something on a lucid dreaming thinking about dreaming but engage your mind with dreaming about a half an hour and then go right back to sleep with a strong anticipation that very soon you will be dreaming and then recognize it as a dream so you don’t have to wait for hours, you have to wait from just minutes before that next dream cycle will click in and among the various dream cycles 5 to 7 it’s generally those in the early morning hours. May be the last ones before you wake you wake up that are going to be the longest, the most detailed, and potentially the most meaningful ok. So that would be really prime time to be able to become lucid and then be able to have a nice long lucid dream and so night time practice recall your dreams write them down in a journal and then record your strong and weak dream signs, strong they occur frequently bring up so much.
(27:25) Now in the midst of a dream it happens and you’re lucid, let’s imagine you become lucid by one method or another and then you may very well find that the dream is just kind of starting to fade out, everything’s kind of like just fading out and you say: no no I’m lucid I want to keep the dream, There’s a way to bring it back, one is to spin, keep your eyes open and spin around so you’re getting a lot of sensory input and that’ll recrystallize the dream. You want a lot of sensory input to reestablish the dreamscape which of course is completely mind made. And another one is to rub your body, just rub it, give yourself a lot of tactile sensation and that will reestablish your body in the dream, that’s a very practical technique and then of course once you become lucid and you can stay lucid, you know for five ten fifteen twenty minutes, that’s when the fun really begins. And to my mind in terms of a very meaningful and potentially very exciting interface between the modern psychological study of the mind and the more first-person experiential exploration of the mind when you are dreaming, when you’re dreaming, your entire environment is mind made.
(28:40) Now a physicist has an advantage during the waking state, whether it’s a physicist like Galileo standing on the top of the Tower of Pisa and dropping a big rock and a little rock. Well everything in Pisa that he can touch is all made out of atoms, it’s all physical so wherever he goes whether he’s in Pisa or he goes to Fiorenza or wherever or into his laboratory for the scientist everything is physical so you can even throw rocks on the wall and you can do a scientific study, right, it’s all physical. Well when you were in a dream the dreamscape there’s nothing physical in your dream state, there are no atoms in your dream, they’re no molecules, there are no laws of physics. The great physicist Richard Feynman who is quite naturally gifted in lucid dreaming, when he was taking a course in psychology he had to do a research paper and he wasn’t interested in psychology, he had to take something in humanities and so he said okay I’ll do it and I’m gonna do physics experiments in my dream and he did to explore whether or not the laws of physics hold in the dream state, and he guesses? Not at all. So there there’s nothing physical. So why on earth should Newton’s laws or James Clerk Maxwell’s laws hold in a dream when nothing is physical in the dream. But if you’re in a lucid dream you know that everything here is composed of the mind, it’s configurations of your mind, then you’re in the perfect laboratory for studying the mind because everything there is mind, your body is made of mind everybody else’s mind and so perfect laboratory.
(30:16) So I think this should be part of the curriculum in psychology courses that every student has to develop their own laboratory, learn how to lucid dream. But then you start running experiments and so the easiest thing to do in terms of, how do you say, starting to enjoy an experiment to explore the dream state is to fly. It’s really really easy, pretty much just jumping up and thinking, I can fly, you probably can or you can just go over the cliff and just jump over do make sure that you’re dreaming before you do that. I hate to give bad advice but flying in a dream is easy, you just get up there and then you start to think: what would what would Superman do? Do that and then you can find that just with your thought, you can go up and down, fast or slow, you can land peacefully, you can crash if you think that would be fun. So so flying is very easy and then when Steven Laberge and I were leading these workshops then when people became a little bit adept then we would give them tests or trials to run. So first of all see that you know that you’re dreaming and then come to - now we don’t have any firm walls I mean that would do that wall right there but a good solid brick wall would be best. In your dream come to a wall, concrete, wood, brick, knowing full well that if although it appears to be solid material there’s nothing solid or material in a dream, there’s not one atom. Knowing that, walk right through the wall, there’s nothing there, so why not? Well we’ve taught this, we’ve taught this to many people and what happens on occasion is people say it’s a dream, it’s a dream, it’s a dream it’s not really there and they walk right towards the wall and then they get stuck halfway through like, we’ve lost more people, they’re still there, joking, but then they wake up and you get tired of being stuck inside of a wall halfway through you know. So then they wake up, so then you have to get ingenious if you keep on getting stuck halfway through and so we’ve had some merit very ingenious students and some of them like Harry Potter run up to the wall and close his eyes at the last minute just before he hits the wall he closes the eyes and then they don’t know when they’re supposed to hit something firm they get right through it, clever ah.
(32:41) Another one is walk through the wall backwards, because you don’t have eyes on the back of your head so you won’t know when it’s supposed to be hard, you’ll walk right through but then really start to explore the plasticity, the malleability of yourself we, I remember in one workshop in Hawaii there was one woman who is very adept she could basically have a lucid dream any time she fell asleep she’d had many many many and so in the workshop that we’re leading we encourage people to take an afternoon nap and so then and then we asked her, did you have a lucid dream? She said yes. And what did you, what did you do in your lucid dream? She said I transformed into a phonograph record and just went around and around and around. I think she’d experimented with everything that was more interesting. So phonograph record and then I got bored of that and I transformed myself into a butterfly and flew out the window. So just to experiment of the limits of creativity within the dream and you’ll probably find that the only limitations on the dream are the limitations of your own imagination.
(33:55) Now in the midst of a lucid dream it’s very easy to cause the whole dreamscape and yourself in it to vanish, very easy once you’re lucid and all you need to do is in the midst of the dream just stop, you can close your eyes and don’t do anything at all, don’t engage with the dreamscape and bear in mind if your eyes are closed it’s not they’re waiting for you and within a matter of seconds if you just stop engaging with the dream, it will vanish and if you maintain your lucidity, your awareness that I am sleeping, I am dreaming when the dreamscape vanishes you can go directly from a lucid dream state to lucid dreamless sleep and then you can be just resting in deep dreamless sleep and be lucid and you are now directly experiencing quite a primal flow of consciousness and that can be very interesting if you’re interested in nature of consciousness, you’re getting a glimpse of a rather primal flow of consciousness. You may then as you continue, you may remain in lucid dreamless sleep and then catalyze this kind of symmetry and then see a dream emerge right out of that like a holodeck if you’re a Star Trek fan out of that space you can trigger and then suddenly whoosh, there’s a dreamscape and you can be in it and you can come into the dream lucid.
(35:35) So those are a few of the things that can be done, Stephen Laberge has an excellent book on this called Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming and this was published 30 years ago or so but there a number of very good books in addition to that coming out of a purely scientific perspective and I would really be delighted if this became aroused much more interest in modern psychology because there’s no religion, there’s no metaphysics, there’s no belief system here. It’s radically empirical but a very interesting way to explore the mind directly when you’re in an environment that is entirely mind made, so a lot of a lot of insights can be gleaned here. I could continue for the rest of the talk on lucid dreaming but now I’m going to bring in the other streams from Tibetan Buddhism, dream yoga which traces back at least a thousand years, back to India to the Mahasiddha tradition of India, Indian Buddhism.
(36:30) And so now I’ll go right to the philosophical framework that is the most dominant one in Tibetan Buddhism, it’s called the middle way view of Madhyamaka, and so the fundamental perspective or view here that all you Buddhist students know very very well is all phenomena during the waking state, dream state, at any time, all phenomena are empty of an inherent nature independent of conceptual designation, that is nothing whatsoever exists by its own intrinsic nature independently of perspective, of perception, of conception what Kant called the Ding an sich, the thing in itself. Kant refuted that and Nagarjuna refuted that centuries before Kant, that nothing has that autonomous intrinsic existence where the entity in question intrinsically bears its own characteristics and has its own intrinsic borders that separate itself from everything that is not itself. There are borders but they’re not objective although that is the case when we experience the world whether in dreaming or in the waking state the objects that we encounter certainly do seem to be existing from their own side independently and they certainly do seem to have borders. And that goes for me too, I am over here, I have a body, I have a mind and I’m controlling my body and mind and so this reification, this grasping to the true existence of subject and object pervades our experience in the waking state and the dream state.
(38:09) And in this regard then our waking experience is said to be dreamlike, because in a dream when you’re experiencing the environment and other people and so on, everybody seems to be really there from their own side and you see them causally interact and they influence you and you influence them and you can actually experience physical pains, somebody can punch you. Oh, that hurts, stop that stop that. Somebody can shoot you, somebody in the dream long ago shot me right in the head, killed me I didn’t like it, finished, that was the end of that dream. And so you can suffer physical pain which is bizarre because you have no physical body and of course emotions are the same as in the waking state. But the point is that we are vulnerable to suffering in the dream state, mental suffering in particular only because we are reifying, grasping onto the intrinsic existence of everything we’re experiencing and that is true likewise in the waking state.
(39:09) So then whenever there arises grasping at objective physical objects, the catalyzed craving the craving or attachment, aversion, hostility, then one practice one can do moving right into practice is recall the illusory nature of such objects as in modern science so in Buddhism, all the colors we see and the sounds and the smells do not exist in objective reality. On this point neuroscientists, physicists and Buddhists are all in agreement, they’re called qualia the immediate contents of our sensory experience of ourselves and the world around us do not exist in physical space. To make this really really obvious because I have some background in physics and this is not debatable what I’m about to say, as I gaze at your yellow trousers, your yellow trousers I’m seeing that the color of your trousers is yellow, perfectly obvious, but are there any yellow molecules in your trousers? There’s no such thing as a yellow molecule, molecules don’t have any color, there’s no yellow molecules or atoms or electrons or there’s nothing yellow out there. Molecules yes photons yes yellow no so even though the yellow seems to be objectively over there there’s nothing over there independent of perception that is yellow. Now how do I know the color of his trousers, photons being emitted from the atoms of his trousers striking my retina and again triggering a chain effect. But there, but what’s actually transmitted from his trousers to my retina are photons, there’s no such thing as a yellow photon or if you like the field theory there’s no such thing as a yellow electromagnetic field, no yellow is traveling through space. Then we have this big chunk of the brain called the visual cortex and I think I can guarantee you that no neurons, synapses, or dendrites turn yellow, it’s very dark in there and if something turned yellow that would be extremely psychedelic and not true. So there’s no yellow out there and there’s no yellow in between and there’s no yellow in here, so where’s yellow? Not in physical space it has to be, not to be over there, so it’s not out not in between not inside and that same thing goes for sounds and smells and tastes, tactile sensations as well, they’re not in physical space. And so this is also recognized in the Buddhist tradition so when you become attached to something or angry at something out there recognize that the appearances you’re seeing are actually in the space of your own own awareness so you may as well get angry at yourself because you have no access to someone out there independently of your own appearances.
(42:01) So then moving on this now we move out of the biblical worldview of one God creating one universe that’s absolutely out there on which God imposed laws, mathematical laws of nature which have been explored for the last 400 years, we move out of that worldview, not rejecting it, just saying there’s another worldview and this is the classic Buddhist worldview especially in Tibetan Buddhism, very explicit, so when we speak of dimensions of consciousness or of awareness, we can speak of three dimensions like band widths or spectra. The first is what psychologists study, the psyche or what Buddhists call the course mind and the course mind, and this includes all of our sensory perceptions and our dreams and our thoughts and emotions and memories and desires, all of the activities of the mind, all the subjective processes and activities of the mind, all the states of consciousness of the human mind are rising in dependence upon the brain, the human brain. You don’t have a human mind without a human brain and if you damage your human mind, human brain, with an accident or disease then the human mind that arises in dependence upon it will also be damaged or impaired. Damage it enough and you’ll lose consciousness, damage it more you won’t get consciousness back, this is obviously true. And so this is generally what psychologists study, they may also study the subconscious, so the conscious mind and subconscious both of these are arising in dependence upon the brain, are correlated with the brain and moreover it’s very well-known, cannot really be disputed that our subjective mental states such as in the placebo effect of desiring, hoping, having faith, anticipating believing that a certain little pill will bring about a very specific effect in your body. In many cases it does, called the placebo effect and the effect that it brings about in the brain and elsewhere in the body in many cases corresponds exactly to what you anticipated. I could go on to a long tangent there but what does I think is not contestable is that our subjective mental states influence the body very directly at the brain and of course the states of the brain influence the mind, everybody and I think human beings have known that for thousands and thousands of years at least as long as there’s been alcohol you know when did we first discover if you take too much alcohol that actually shifts the way you think and so it’s quite clear but it’s two-way it’s not just brain influences mind, mind also influences brain so that’s the coarsest level.
(44:45) But then in the Buddhist view and this goes back to the time of the Buddha himself, so this is a hypothesis that has been held and has been tested, put to the test of experience countless times over 2500 years and before then by the Hindus is that beyond the coarse mind there’s a subtle continuum of mental consciousness that is not contingent upon the brain, now this of course from a scientific perspective is regarded as an exceptional claim, it is from a scientific perspective you could say what, what? Come on the mind is what the brain does if you damage the brain then the mind doesn’t go anywhere at all and the Buddhists respond you, respond saying you’re quite right the human mind doesn’t go anywhere at all, the human mind is vanished. Damage the brain with a big hammer and then the mind doesn’t go anywhere it arose in dependence upon the brain and now it doesn’t. But the question erases, your mind individually any one of us here, your mind if you take your age let’s imagine you’re 40 just pretending, imagine you’re 40. Sometime between 50 years ago and now, very safe, 50 years ago your mind didn’t exist, you didn’t exist, your mind didn’t exist because your brain was still in the future so there was a point at which you didn’t exist at all as this human being and you didn’t have it and your human mind didn’t exist because that independence upon which is going to arise doesn’t exist yet.
(46:17) And then there was a point at which your parents egg and sperm got together and the fetus started to develop and from the egg and sperm and a lot of nutrition then a human embryo forms and then voilà, a baby, all very clear, modern science has made this very transparent, clear, illuminated, this greatly. But where did your mind come from? Did you get your mind from your mama’s egg? Was the egg conscious? Is your mother a serial killer every month the egg doesn’t get fertilized, your mother just killed one more sentient being? Or, oh my goodness, men are much worse, I just checked, I think it was a hundred million sperm cells when a man ejaculates, this is mass murder every time you… because it’s only, at the best, only one of those little critters makes it through to keep you, might, you know become a human body. So every time you ejaculate, you’re killing a hundred million, that’s pretty sounds pretty awful to me. So you get it from Mama, you get it from Papa or someplace else. And what is it about these cells because they’re really not mysterious cells, they’re not magical cells so egg and sperm understood thoroughly biologically sperm nailed it we know it bring the two together and then gestation occurs. Where did that first moment of consciousness come from? If it’s physical then it could emerge from the egg and sperm but there’s no evidence it’s physical, consciousness cannot be detected scientifically, that’s just a fact.
(47:47) You cannot detect consciousness, its presence or absence physically, with the tools of modern science. Maybe next year but not this year, and when you observe consciousness and we’re just coming to an end of an eight week retreat where a lot of us were spending a lot of time observing consciousness, observing the mind I think we all came to a consensus without being brainwashed that when you observe the experience, you attend to the experience of being conscious, when you observe thoughts and images and desires emerging, none of them have any physical characteristics, mass, location, spin, momentum, they have no physical characteristics and they can’t be measured physically. So isn’t the most likely conclusion that the mind is not physical? You can’t measure it physically, and it has no physical attributes, then if it’s not physical, and maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but if it’s not physical, then where does it come from? Because I’ve studied physics there is no branch of physics that allows non-physical entities to emerge from a physical entity, let alone a non-physical function to be associated with a physical entity, physical entities have functions, they have emergent properties but they’re all physical.
(49:02) So here’s a hypothesis that actually can be tested, your mind is conditioned by the egg and the sperm and all the nutrition and then the nervous system that is forming and right now from moment to moment our minds are conditioned by external stimuli, brain chemistry, immune system, many many factors. But the mind, the consciousness itself doesn’t emerge from matter, it emerges from a more primal flow of consciousness. So we may think oh and now we’ve gone into religion, I say well, I’ll tell you what’s religion, believing the only things that exist are material. That’s like a religious view where’s the evidence to that? That only things that exist are physical, who said? That’s just a belief, that’s a metaphysical belief, who’s ever tested that one? Whereas as Hindu and Taoist and Buddhist and early Christian and Sufi and Kabbalistic contemplatives for three thousand years or so, many many many of them for three thousand years have claimed to have discovered this dimension of consciousness. Is it true or false, can it be tested? It can be, maybe I’ll get to that later, but that’s a subtle continuum and it’s individual. It’s individual, it’s not a collective unconscious and it’s not even human, it’s not a human to have human conscious you need a human brain, that is not human, it’s more primal.
(50:33) And then the great contemplatives I found this as having earned a PhD in comparative religion, this next theme is something very common among the great contemplative traditions of the world, the deepest dimension of consciousness is non-local, it’s atemporal, it is transcendent, and it is something that can be experienced through deep contemplative inquiry. So three levels awareness but I would present these because I’m really not interested in advocating let it go, let alone oh trying to propagate religious beliefs I just have no interest in that literally I really have none of trying to get converts to Buddhism, the Dalai Lama has no interest, he’s my Lama, he has no interest actually an antipathy oh convert to my view, I have the right view. I have no such wish either believe what you like but let’s follow reason let’s follow a lot, follow the evidence and not simply dogma and that’s what the Buddha encouraged his own followers to do: do not accept my teachings out of faith in me but check them.
(51:31) Dream yoga, let’s jump in. What’s about the practice, well first of all when you become lucid, I speak from some experience here, when you become lucid, ah it’s very very possible especially when you’re having your fluid first lucid dreams, you get so excited, wow I’m lucid and you wake up. (laughter) It lasted three seconds and I go so excited oh. So what you want to do is when you become lucid to remain relaxed? Oh yeah another lucid dream oh yeah relax cool nonchalant then you may be able to continue it but if you get excited you wake yourself up. So first you only want to be relaxed you know it’s coming you become lucid relax you don’t blow it up as soon as you see it but now you would really like to stay in the lab if you’re a mind scientist whether a professional or an amateur you would like to continue the dream and the awareness that it is a dream, these are two independent variables but you like it to continue, for that you need to develop stability of attention so you can stay focused keep the dream going and maintain the cognizance that it is a dream. That’s stability, that’s coherence, that’s what the great American psychologist William James called sustained voluntary attention. And it doesn’t come easily but it can be trained and that’s a scientifically established fact, attention can be trained, it’s hard but it’s worthwhile.
(53:02) And then finally in the midst of a lucid dream and you find it kind of low definition kind of like kind of blurry not very clear and so forth so if you’re gonna have a really interesting lucid dream you would like to have high resolution, high definition, sharp, bright, clear focus so vividness and then you have a very very realistic or lifelike dream a lot more interesting, so relaxation, stability and vividness and so this is why years ago, 30 years ago Stephen Laberge invited me to start doing workshops with him because my doctoral dissertation was on the contemplative ways of training and how to develop relaxation, stability and vividness that you can apply in the waking state to every type of human endeavor but you’re gonna find in lucid dreaming to make your lucid dreams far more effective, efficient and interesting.
(53:55) And so you want to develop shamatha, this is an array of practices to develop attention for relaxations stability, vividness and just as movement, just as movement while meditating disturbs so to develop continuity of attention. You also need to develop the will for dream yoga just like with lucid dreaming, you did develop motivation otherwise you’re not gonna get around to it or you’ll just try it once in a while and fail. And then finally learn to view waking reality as a mental construct to actually view waking reality not as a dream because it’s not, this world we’re experiencing is made of atoms and fields and particles and the laws of physics do apply unlike in the dream so no one here in his right mind is saying waking and dreaming are the same, at the same time all of these appearances right now, for each of us here, is arising in the space of our own individual awareness with a great deal of commonality but the space of awareness is your space of awareness and that’s true in the dream state and it’s true in the waking state.
(55:11) So to recognize the extent to which they are similar then moving quickly on here nighttime stages of dream yoga. First of all recognize the dream as a dream, maintain the stability and vividness of that recognition, that’s where the shamatha, the training and developing concentration mindfulness can be very helpful and then once you are sustaining the dream and the awareness that it is a dream. Then the next major phase is called emanation and transformation now this is classic Buddhist dream yoga instruction stemming from India and then carry through in all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism and so transforming and emanating and so once you become lucid then, this is not a power trip or an ego trip, it is really frankly it’s kind of a scientific exploration to explore right there in the dream how malleable is it? So if I keep on bumping into the wall when I try to walk through it, can I get get around that, after all there’s no wall there, there’s the expectation there’s a wall there and that’s why I bounce it off or get stuck but there’s no wall there, there’s nothing objectively there to make me get stuck. And so can you more deeply comprehend the nature of the dream state so you can come up to a 12 foot thick wall and just walk right through it because it’s not there? Can you shift your own form smaller or larger, change it from a human to non-human, change it from male to female or vice versa. Is there anything objectively or physically that you can’t shift just by the power of your imagination? Oh I’ll give you one example I like, if you like myself, I have a lot of love for physics and a lot of interest in Einstein and he died five years after I was born so I had no chance but I’d really like to meet Einstein. So if I were in a lucid dream here’s how you do it. I’m in a lucid dream and I suddenly think oh I think this is Berne, yes it is Berne yes I oh good I’m in Berne, all right and I’m in the right place and I think Einstein, I remember being to his house, I think he lives right around the corner, I’m quite sure, let’s go check and there’s the door I was waiting and it says Einstein lives here, it’s wonderful such a coincidence and I knock on the door and then this wonderful face shows, he smiles happy. What can I do for you, oh professor Einstein, I’m so glad to see you, me too, very glad to see you as well. You want to talk physics, I talk physics. And the level of his physics will interestingly enough be right at my level of physics (laughter) and I’m not Einstein but it’s my good characterization of him and he’ll talk like Einstein as far as I can tell.
(57:51) And you know I might want to meet some famous French person but if they try to speak French to me they’ll be just making French kind of sounds: (Alan’s French sounds, laughs) I don’t speak French, but they can make kind of French noises but since I don’t speak French nobody in my dream is going to speak French that’s the breaks and Einstein just speaks with a German accent. So you experiment with transforming and emanating you can emanate you can really basically you’ll be a magician, a sorcerer and you see from your own experience that all of this is a dreamscape, nothing objectively is really there and I subjectively as being a persona in the dream, I’m not really here, it’s all a free creation and you can freely recreate it and recreate it and it’s a very interesting insight into the nature of the mind, nature of dream reality, it’s not non reality, it is dream reality.
(58:48) Now Tsongkhapa, the great 14th early 15th century Tibetan master, he writes and I quote this is after you’ve become quite adept at transformation and emanation, you can change things as you wish in the dream, if you do this because I’ve been teaching this for about thirty years by now, if you become very committed to developing dream yoga, advancing in dream yoga the chances are extremely high that sooner or later in the dream something will bubble up, that is your worst nightmare, that which you most dread to encounter, it’s going to come up just waiting for you and suddenly you’ll be cruising along and there it is I like a 20-foot crocodile myself and swimming in a lagoon when swimming very slowly and the crocodile is turbo-powered and coming in with big hungry eyes and I’m going…, that’s a pretty good nightmare. And so when your worst nightmare comes up if you’re already a very adept at emanation of transformation you can transform that crocodile into a cocker spaniel or a butterfly or anything you like, a marshmallow anything you like you can completely, you know disarm it you can or you can fly away or you can turn yourself into a 50-foot crocodile and eat it, do anything you like, it’s your dream but once you know that you can transform it in any way then you know there’s no crocodile there, there’s no crocodile there at all, it appears to have teeth but they’re not teeth, there’s not one molecule in the teeth of the crocodile.
(01:00: 35) So here’s what Tsongkhapa advises: whenever anything of a threatening or traumatic nature occurs in a dream such as drowning in water or being burned by fire, recognize the dream as a dream and make yourself jump or fall into the water or fire in the dream. Release yourself right into it, because it cannot possibly harm you if you know you’re dreaming. Now one of my favorite examples of this is a friend of mine up in Norway, a woman was very adept at lucid dreaming and she told me about a dream she had and in the dream a big thug a big tough thug, gangster, approached her very menacingly with a big knife and really threatening her. So she saw him coming towards her with his big knife and this slender tall woman in her dream she reached out, took the knife that he was holding in his hands and she plunged it into her guts. That’s one way to disarm another person so she stabbed herself, the guy probably didn’t know what to do if that’s what I wanted to, you know and so I asked her, I asked her, when you plunged the knife into your guts did it hurt: she said no it’s a dream knife and dream guts, what’s to hurt? And so she took the most dreaded thing maybe that’s being mugged by a big gangster with a knife and she just accepted it and of course there was no harm. So that is a way beyond emanation and transformation to know that there’s nothing here that can harm you.
(01:02:06) Buddhist context, you can go to buddha fields, receive teachings from buddhas whether the buddha you encounter is an actual buddha or more like my Albert Einstein, that you have to determine. Then also as in lucid dreaming at any time in the context of dream yoga, you can simply stop and the dream will vanish, maintain your lucidity, maintain that flow of cognizance and your dreaming mind will dissolve, melt so to speak, into this underlying primal flow, it’s called by various names in differents traditions, substrate consciousness, subtle continuum of mental consciousness but you can rest there and be very cognizant of this very primal, primal flow. It’s like rather like a stem cell in modern biology a stem cell is not yet differentiated as a bone marrow cell or a blood cell or a neuron, it can become any of those things depending on the environment and if a proto neuron makes its way to the hippocampus then there there’s a little, in the hippocampus up here in the brain, the hippocampus is like a little, little factory for creating new neurons by the hundreds of millions even well into adulthood. When they get there they’re not yet neurons but by the time they pop out of the hippocampus they are neurons and so but the sense though principally in principle could turn into anything, it’s not yet differentiated.
(01:03:30) The buddhist view and I want to present this merely as a hypothesis not as something we should pull to believe in, it can be tested it has been tested we would like to assess it again, is this this substrate consciousness or this subtle continuum is a stem consciousness. It’s not yet been configured as a human consciousness or a reptile consciousness or a bird consciousness because those arise in dependence upon different types of brains or nervous systems. So when I’m speaking about here are empirically testable hypotheses but it would take, and of course this is exactly what we’re planning up the hill, at Castellina Marittima a center for contemplative research to bring very rigorous open-minded critical scientific inquiry together with very rigorous first-person inquiry with by highly-trained contemplatives, who put in years and years of training like earning a PhD in neuroscience.
(01:04:23) Okay so that brings, (inaudible question asked by participant) you’re doing the hard work I have the easy work, she’s doing all the hard work I know because I’ve spent hundreds of hours of translating, five minutes, five minutes everybody relax thank you so much, thank you no no I speak very quickly also I’m afraid yeah, okay good, good time to break a break awesome.
(1:04:56) To raise an experiment, it is a fact that at this point modern science really doesn’t know where the mind comes from and doesn’t know the nature of consciousness or the origins of consciousness or how to measure it. Modern science knows many many things but this is one of the great mysteries, the origins of the mind, how the mind and brain interact, nature of consciousness are great mysteries for modern science. When it comes to the human mind it’s almost universally assumed that memories are stored in the brain, they’re encoded in the brain in complex configurations of neurons synapses and the evidence for that is that if you damage some part of the brain you may lose some corresponding memory and if you damage more and more of the brain you can become an amnesiac so the evidence is quite suggestive but it’s not conclusive. So I have my my laptop here and if I should start damaging the keyboard in various ways with a hammer or with alcohol or something, if I started damaging the keyboard then I would probably find that what appears on the screen is impaired, I’m hitting a key and nothing happens and now nothing happens and the more I damage it then the more I’m not getting anything on the screen. But of course we know that the keyboard is not the same as the harddrive but I can’t get access to the functions or the memories in the harddrive if I severely damage the keyboard, we all know that. So it’s widely assumed by many people that the brain is like the hard drive and the mind is like the software and if you damage the hardware then the software doesn’t go anywhere, it just doesn’t work anymore. It’s an interesting hypothesis but what if it’s false what if the screen is like behavior which you can obviously see, people’s behavior and the keyboard is the brain but the hard drive is consciousness and especially that subtle mode of consciousness. What if it’s just a hypothesis, but what if the mind doesn’t actually emerge from matter, is not simply a function of matter? What if the human mind does in fact originate from a subtler dimension, not mystical, not religious, not spiritual, a natural phenomenon. Consciousness is as natural as space-time matter and energy, it’s not magical, it’s not spiritual, it’s a natural phenomenon. So a way this can be put to the test of experience and it has been done but not recently and not with scientists, is to pose a very simple question: where are memories stored, where are memories stored? Are they actually stored in the brain or do we access our memories by way of the brain as you access the memories in your hard drive by way of the keyboard? It’s a simple analogy, is there any way to test it? And the answer is yes, has been tested but I’d love to see this tested in the modern world with open open minded but very tough-minded rigorous scientists, who recognize we don’t know the nature of the mind or consciousness and very importantly we don’t know the nature of the correlations between mind and brain.
(01:08:41) Neuroscientists have been tremendously successful at showing specific correlations between specific parts of the brain and functions of the brain and the correlated subjective experience, fantastic, nobody else has done that. But how are they related? That remains a mystery, it’s a much mystery as now as 150 years ago. Can this be tested? I’ll give you a thought experiment, so many of you know within a year or two we should have a research facility just up the hill for collaborative research between highly trained contemplatives who spends 4, 6, 7, 8 years 10-12 hours a day training their attention, concentration mindfulness, exploring the mind from first person perspective and then the psychologists, neuroscientists even physicists and philosophers then all working together to learn from each other, something unprecedented.
(01:09:38) Well imagine a person developing very powerful Samadhi, very focused attention like going from a flashlight to a laser, so when you direct your attention it’s really single pointed and not diffused and distracted and wobbling all over the place. And imagine that you go into such a deep state of Samadhi, it’s as if you’re falling deep deep asleep into dreamless sleep but as you descend into this state your awareness is becoming more and more vivid rather than less and less such that when you’re deep asleep and you’re not aware of anything. There’s a training for this and no belief system is required whatsoever, I call this contemplative technology, it’s been done many times. So just consider this as an interesting hypothesis, a person so trains the attention into a laser-like focus, draws it entirely into the mind and so that the five physical senses withdraw into mental awareness as if you’re falling asleep but in so doing with months of training 10-12-14 hours a day your course mind just dissolves into this subtle continuum. That’s what’s left when you’re in deep dreamless sleep but now you’re bringing an enormous radiance, clarity, vividness because you’ve achieved a very deep state of Samadhi. Again no belief system required at all.
(01:11:03) The assert, the Buddhist hypothesis, that’s the way we should treat it, not as a religious belief, that’s boring, then you believe it or not who cares what you believe but as a hypothesis, something must be true, something has to be true: where are memories stored? Are they stored in the brain or are they merely accessed by way of brain activity? That’s a simple question but how do you test it? Well I’m drawing on research that was done at least 1500 years ago and that was based on the thousand years prior to that point and a classic text called The Path of Purification, here’s the experiment it’s a 1500 year old experiment at least:
(01:11:41) Go into that state of Samadhi where for you, your body is vanished, it’s as if you’re deep asleep but incandescently awake, vivid, sharp, clear, but aware of just space as if you are deep asleep and radiantly awake. So you’ve achieved the samadhi, it’s called achieving shamatha which is literally a serenity but it’s very powerful samadhi and then from that stillness and that clarity, then you can direct your attention, like with a laser pointer, and you can direct it to the past, your memories but you’re in, it’s like being in Carnegie Hall, a great music hall with excellent acoustics. You’re in Carnegie Hall of the mind where it’s a vast space but totally silent, pin drops silent, because the mind is so focused and you direct your attention and you give yourself a target, a target that you wouldn’t remember in the daytime but you can ask: what did you have for breakfast two weeks ago? And unless you have the same breakfast you probably don’t remember, right, breakfast two weeks ago, prosaic. And then you go in there, and you turn the laser point of your attention like a time machine and you turn it back, click-click-click-click, two weeks back you target breakfast and you see what’s in front of you, the ancient reports and they’re not all that ancient, some of them are more recent is that if you know how to dial in and find your target morning two weeks ago, you’ll remember what you saw that morning and you’ll see it right in front of you, in your mind’s eye: oh, there was porridge and there was some yogurt and some fresh fruit and then there’s orange juice and that’s what I had that morning. And then you come out, well is that true or false? Maybe you’re imagining it, obviously it could be a total fiction but what you would do if you’re working with scientists who with you would like to know it’s true.
Nobody wants to prove Buddhism here, why bother that, but something is true so the scientists would do their own research in this hypothetical research and they will do a background check, they’re gonna check out Filippo and they’re gonna check with his wife: what did have for breakfast two weeks ago? They’ll find other, they would like a quiz show, they will find out from him, from him, his colleagues and so forth things that occurred six months ago and a year ago and so forth. They’re gonna get all the right answers and then Filippo is gonna be our great yogi, he goes and achieves this and then we give him the questions: Filippo here’s the question, please tell us what you have for breakfast two weeks ago? And we already know the answer and he doesn’t know what the questions are. He goes in and he either comes out with a right answer or wrong answer or no answer, you test that.
(01:14:29) But let’s imagine because this is what’s reported from many many Yogi’s in the past in India and Tibet, he comes out with the right answer, Wow very impressive maybe that’s worth a little article in a scientific journal. Filippo what did you have for breakfast one year ago? Tiles are back we know the right answer whether I’m giving a trivial example, anyone you like, and he comes back and gives the right answer again, that’s impressive that gets a bigger article. Filippo what do you have for breakfast ten years ago on this day? And imagine he comes up with the right answer, if he doesn’t, then we’re already we’ve lost interest, then no big deal, then we stop. Ten years ago what did you have? He comes up with the right answer, you ask questions for which you know the answer and the scientists are making sure there’s no way he can sneak in. So we go back to childhood and we ask: where were you on this occasion when you were a child when you were five years old, what did you get for your birthday when you were five years old? Most people can’t remember but we checked with his mama, so we know the answer, he gets the right answer or the wrong answer, if he gets the right answer this is getting more interesting yeah nothing metaphysical that is it, Wow this is a very interesting way to retrieve memories that are otherwise totally inaccessible, right.
(01:15:45) So now let’s imagine that Filippo is 50 years old, I’m just gonna guess, 50 years he’s 50 and then we ask okay now that we’re getting veridical memories from the time he’s three years old. Hey Filippo where were you fifty-two years ago before his brain existed? Okay one of three things is gonna happen if he’s got this very deep Samadhi, he’s gonna go back and he’s gonna track it, get the target 52 years ago and it’s gonna be like on your cell phone, no signal, I checked nada nothing and he comes out that’s what I saw nothing at all, okay good that’s data, we write that down, that’s one possibility, no signal, he didn’t exist fifty-two years ago. Another possibility is: oh I was Cleopatra, I don’t think so, no that’s not possible okay you just made that up, that’s phony baloney, that’s rubbish, that’s fantasy thank you very much you can go home now you know, just fantasy. Or he goes in at 52 oh yes I was just I was living in Rio de Janeiro and I’m an 82 year old man and my name is Juan, and my wife died three years ago, my daughter’s taking care of me and I keep my wife jewelry right here, I remember every day her photo is right next to my bed and this is my address. It’s true or false, somebody check it, is there a person, give them the last name, give the address, do the research. Is it true or false? If it’s false then okay we’re finished no problem thank you very much, the Buddha’s probably wrong or at least no evidence for that.
(01:17:24) But so let’s imagine that actually everything he said was true this could be a scam, it could be a conspiracy, you know the Budhists are very tricky people and so then the scientists say: we’re not we’re not suckers here this is an exceptional claim we need exceptional evidence that’s a rule of thumb. And they’re gonna check everything they can about Juan Mendez living in Argentina at this address and they’re going to check his friends and his colleagues and his children, they’re gonna get a whole bunch of background information on this man and he has no idea what they’re going to come up with and then they come back to him in the next session to say: hey Filippo where were you in 1926 on this day, who were your companions and what were you doing on that day? He’s gonna either come up with nothing or a false answer or a correct answer and keep on doing it and if he keeps on coming up with veridical reports then this should be interesting but now there’s only one person, maybe he’s the Messiah, maybe he’s an exceptional, maybe you know maybe he’s one of a kind, but we’re planning to build 18 cabins up there so what happens if you have 10 people are doing this, I think the answer is viva la revolucion.
(01:18:42) We have two revolutions in physics Galileo and Einstein, Niels Bohr and so on we’ve got one great revolution in the life sciences, thank you Darwin. The mind sciences have been operating for about 150 years by now with lots and lots of progress, with respect, lots of lots of progress no revolution, not Freud, not Jung nothing there’s no revolution, not like Galileo or Darwin. Where’s the revolution and the revolution of Galileo the revolution of Darwin but by carefully observing the phenomena they were seeking to understand and the way to carefully observe the mind is first-person not just brain and behavior. So there’s an experiment and if we could learn something there, if we could learn what is true that would probably be a more formidable revolution than that of Galileo or Darwin because that will change our whole fundamental sense of what it is to be a sentient being in this universe, so that would be interesting yeah.
(01:19:43) But something is true, something is true of what happens at death, it’s not a matter I don’t believe it’s a matter of belief whatever you believe that turns out to be true, I don’t think so, I think something is true and it kind of like being pregnant, yes or no, there’s either individual continuity of consciousness or there’s not, something has to be true. What is true? I think the time is ripe to draw from the most powerful modes of inquiry from modern science and the great contemplative traditions not just Buddhism, traditions bring these together and we may see something very revolutionary taking place. But now we go back in the final topic for this afternoon I hope you’re not too tired and thank you Tatiana, she’s marvelous for her hard work, mine is so easy I just talk. But this assumption that of course there’s a real world out there who in his right mind can doubt that, there’s space, the universe has been here for 13.8 billion years long before we came along, planet Earth five billion years, life form on this planet 3.5 billion years, human existence 200,000 years, we are a little pimple on the end of the cosmos, it was all done so what could that have to do with us? What’s really taking place out there in space and in time and so forth and so I’m quoting here as you can see on both sides. One of the, this is not an opinion this is a fact, one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists of the modern era, he’s a young, relatively young Iranian-American theoretical physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study, that’s where Einstein spent his final days, he’s recognized by his peers as just an absolute genius and so he’s not just somebody I like and I listened to a series of lectures he gave at Cornell University, several years back, and this is his observation: “Many many separate arguments all very strong individually suggests that the very notion of space-time is not a fundamental one, space-time is doomed, there is no such thing as space-time fundamentally in the actual underlying description of the laws of physics, that’s very startling because physics, what physics is supposed to be about is describing things as they happen in space and time so if there is no space-time, it’s not clear what physics is about”.
(01:22:20) That’s why this is a hard problem and that’s a serious comment. Now if this is some kind of really flaky physicist who just dropped some LSD, we’d say ah ah cool dude. But now this guy is really serious and I saw some of his arguments and I had been trained in physics, he’s right, the notion of space time or space and time being objectively real existing out there is an unsustainable hypothesis in contemporary physics. So now what’s really out there if there’s no space out there and no time out there? Again if this man didn’t have such impeccable credentials we can say it’s just your opinion, it’s not there’s really solid physics behind this. So what then is the difference between dreaming and waking if it’s not dreams occur just in the space of awareness, whereas a physical world is existing objectively real in space-time and we just lost space-time.
(01:23:17) Now physicist Stephen Weinberg is a Nobel laureate, so I’m only choosing creme de la creme physicists here. I’m not interested in any others and Stephen Weinberg commented recently in the physicists recipe for the world the list of ingredients no longer includes particles, matter thus loses its central role in physics all that is left are principles of symmetry but the notion in terms of quantum mechanics, quantum cosmology, string theory, the notion of there being little tiny chunks of matter that we call atoms or elementary particles can no longer be defended not in the light of quantum mechanics because it’s always related to the system of measurement. What you’re measuring prior to the measurement is a field of possibility but not actual particles occupying real location in space-time, it’s gone, it’s a dinosaur, it’s already dead but not many people outside of physics are aware what happened to the world.
(01:24:17) And then Feynman, Richard Feynman another Nobel laureate he writes in terms of okay we just lost space and time, sayonara, then we lost matter boiled down to atoms well at least we got energy right. I did my undergraduate thesis on energy when I was at Amherst College, loved it, here’s what Richard Feynman said it’s important to realize that in physics today we have no knowledge of what energy is the guy was just breathtakingly brilliant, I never met him but I knew a lot about him I know people who studied with him, and so I studied energy a lot. I wrote a 500-page thesis on the energy of empty space and you can measure it and you know that this kind of energy can be transformed into this kind of energy that it’s conserved in all types of interactions. But then I asked my professor when I took a whole course on energy, I asked the professor: all right thermal energy can be transformed into this kind of energy and that can be transformed to gravitational and thermal, but what is energy that is conserved from one situation to another? What is it that is conserved, what is energy? I was a 34 year old Buddhist monk sitting in a physics class at Amherst at the time, definitely an oddball, and she saw this Buddhist monk saying what is energy and the whole course is about energy and I said what is it? I don’t know but I’ll get back to you. That was her answer and she was very honest I saw I’m saying this with respect not sarcasm and she went back with her colleagues at Amherst College, you know brilliant, I mean it’s a brilliant College brilliant, brilliant discipline of the Department of Physics. She consulted with the other physicist’s in the department and she came back with wonderful integrity and honesty the next class, she picked up where she left off and she said: I consulted with the other physicists in the department and the answer is, they don’t know either.
(01:26:15) So what’s really out there? Not spacetime if we take these physicists seriously, little nuggets of atoms nowhere, energy don’t even know what it is. This raises one of the most fascinating branches of cutting-edge physics, it’s called quantum cosmology and it was largely articulated by another of the great of the Great’s of late 20th century theoretical physicists, physicist John Archibald Wheeler at Princeton University, I read him a lot and I know somebody who study with him directly, and he really formulated quantum cosmology and the jist of that: is instead of thinking of a quantum system as something you create in the lab and protect from the surrounding environment that is complex and warm, turn that about 180 degrees and view the entire cosmos as a quantum system, you take the Schrodinger wave equation which is a fundamental equation and you apply it to the entire universe so that we’re all living in a quantum system. It was a brilliant stroke of genius and he was kind of the East Coast counterpart of Richard Feynman, Feynman at Cal Tech, Wheeler at Princeton and here’s his conclusion: we find that nature at the quantum level is not a machine that goes its inexorable way, instead what answer we get depends on the question we put, the experiment we arrange, the registering device we choose, we are inseparably involved in bringing about that which appears to be happening. Does that sound like physical reality or does it sound like a dream? Again if this was a flake we’d all say ah ha ha New Age physics, mysticism and physics ha ha ha, no he wasn’t interested in mysticism, this is straight physics.
(01:28:02) Andrei Linde is a very distinguished professor at my alma mater at Stanford University an astrophysicist done some very seminal work in the expansion space of the early face of the universe and he writes without introducing an observer, we have a dead universe which does not evolve in time and this reemphasizes the role of the participant in the self observing universe of quantum cosmology. The universe becomes alive that is time-dependent only when one divides it into two parts: a subjective observer and the rest of the objective universe. And the wave function of the rest of the objective universe depends on the time measured by the observer, in other words the evolution of the universe and everything in it including life itself is possible only with respect to the observer. Again he’s a very very mainstream, endowed chair, brilliant, he’s a Russian American physicist. So this is now mainstream, the role of the observer, well the role of the observer is primary in a dream if there’s no observer, there’s no dream but what he’s saying here is if you look at the equation, the Schrodinger wave equation applied to the universe what vanishes from the equation is time, there’s no time, the universe is not evolved, the universe without an observer is static, doesn’t change, there’s no time out there, but an observer comes in and very simply put the observer comes in and says: now as soon as you have now then you have tomorrow and yesterday, you have now relative to now you have the future relative to the present you have the past. But if you don’t say now there’s no future and past already out there, there’s no now. It is the observer creating the division between subject and object introducing now, then relative to that observer, the universe evolves. This is Stephen Hawking, this is Andrei Linde, this is not new age physics this is cutting-edge physics.
(01:30:19) Does the role of the observer turns out to be central to the universe and not merely an accidental byproduct of complex configurations of neurons? I mention Stephen Hawking who’s passed away now but years ago this Belgian physicist was his graduate student became his protégé, they wrote a brilliant paper on the relativity of the past, that the past is not objectively real either. His name is Thomas Hertog and he’s an expert in quantum cosmology and string theory which is perhaps the most sophisticated mathematical theory of the universe and he writes: string theory gives you a multiverse not one universe created by one being, a multiple multiverse, an ensemble of universes with different laws of physics which coexist in the theory simultaneously and which have certain relative probabilities determined by the laws of physics. You can think of that quantum reality as a bit like a tree, the branches represent all possible universes and our observations, we are part of the universe so we are part of the tree, select certain branches and hereby give meaning or give reality to our past in the quantum world.
(01:31:45) Quantum theory indicates that we may not be mere chemical scum, life and the cosmos are in quantum theory a synthesis and our observations now give in fact reality to its earliest days. There’s a bit of background on that as I’ve read the paper that he co-authored with his mentor Stephen Hawking, it’s not too difficult to understand but it’s mind blowing, simple statement, everything we know about the past, your past, the past of the universe anything. Everything we know about the past is made on the basis of observations, made in the present. Nobody has a time machine, it’s always based on observations made in the present, but the question is: what question are you asking? How are you asking it? What’s your measurement system and what make what sense do you make of the data? Reality rises in response to and relate relative to the questions we pose very simple example of this: instead of one measuring system to measure light, very straightforward, my mentor at Amherst College this was his area, quantum quantum optics, so I got it from a master:
(01:33:06) Set up a measuring system and measure light, is light, a wave or a particle? Instead of one measuring system the evidence is unequivocal definite, life consists of little particles, photons and they hit the wall they look like little bullet, bullet marks, photons striking striking so light consists of photons, little particles of energy, right, that’s what it is. Oh but now set up another measuring system the evidence is absolutely certain light is a wave, it’s a field, it’s a wave and it has interference patterns like water waves, sound waves, interference patterns, light is a wave, it’s a field and there’s wave interaction which can be studied mathematically perfect definitely light is a wave. One thing cannot be a particle and a wave any more than one thing can be a tomato and a giraffe, they’re completely different, there’s no such thing as a waveicle it’s either a particle or a wave because they have utterly different properties.
(01:34:05) So now what is light really, independent of this measurement system and independent of this measurement system what’s it like independent of all measurement systems? You know what does God see and the answer is don’t ask him, he’s not answering, but the point is there is no answer to that question because it’s a meaningless question, what does light look like from no perspective at all? It doesn’t mean anything. So relative to this system light is particle, relative to this it is wave but independently of both it’s neither, it’s a range of possibilities. So prior to measurement, this is classic quantum mechanics, prior to observing prior to making a measurement, what is there? A field of possibilities. When you’re in deep dreamless sleep and you’re just about to enter into a dream, what’s there before the dream manifests? A field of possibilities. And then because of the specific movements from the subconscious presumably, a specific dream arises relative to your memories, your internal movements of the subconscious and a specific dream arises, right, and then it vanishes right into the space from which it arose. This is what they’re saying, this is Stephen Hawking again he doesn’t have to be right because he’s famous but he’s certainly not trivial and not to be refuted casually, he said: there is no objective history of the universe that everybody’s getting different perspectives on, there are multiple histories rising relative to the questions you’re asking and they do not exist independently of your questions or your systems of measurement, in other words you have the right to choose your own past or as the psychologists would say it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
(01:36:07) So coming towards the end here, the same Russian American physicist makes this comment which I find very provocative: the current scientific model of the material world obeying laws of physics has been so successful that we forget about our starting point as conscious observers, and conclude that matter is the only reality and that perceptions are only helpful for describing it, but in fact we are substituting the reality of our experience of the universe with a conceptually contrived belief in an independently existing material world.
(01:36:43) And then a man I’ve gotten to know personally which I think is doing some of the most brilliant provocative research in theoretical physics, he’s at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, Christopher Fuchs, he writes here of his interpretation and extension of quantum cosmology but in very interesting ways and he calls it QBism, as you can see the spelling, QBism treats the wavefunction, this is the Schrodinger wave of function, as a description of a single observers subjective knowledge, so instead of describing something objectively it’s describing subjective knowledge, it resolves this formulation of quantum mechanics, it resolves all of the quantum paradoxes but at the not insignificant cost of anything we might call reality, reality is what’s really out there and how is a dream different from waking state because after all in the waking state we’re experiencing what’s really out there, right? Except what’s not really out there is space, time, matter, or energy. What’s left? So then again maybe the fact that we just lost reality may begin, maybe then again maybe that’s what quantum mechanics has been trying to tell us all along since Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Schrodinger and the other greats from the 1910s and 1920s that a single objective reality is an illusion.
(01:38:16) So we end on this note but my favorite very short narratives from the Pali Canon from the, from the record earliest recorded teachings of the Buddha’s life and teachings, it’s a nice story. There was this Brahmin priest named Dona and he’s out walking in the forest one day and he saw these remarkable footprints and it said in Buddhist literature that the Buddha had very unusual on the soles of his feet, there had marks of a thousand spoke wheel so when he made footprints, he left very unusual footprints, thousand spoke wheel, one of the major marks of Buddha’s body right. And so this Brahmin saw these really weird footprints with a thousand spoke wheel on it so he thought you gotta track a track this thing this this is pretty weird so he tracked the Buddha like a like a deer tracker tracks a deer and he came upon the Buddha. I think he must have been rather awestruck, just coming into the presence of the Buddha and this Brahmin Dona looks at the Buddha like: Master are you a deva, he asked him, are you a God? And that was a very reasonable question in India 2500 years ago, that was not a silly question, widespread belief among Hindus and later Buddhist that sometimes these Devas, these kind of celestial beings or extraterrestrials would take on human form, it’s not at all. The Greeks had that same belief and many others did as well so it’s not a crazy question. Are you a god who’s taken something, of a rather strange human form with very weird footprints? Are you a deva? Are you a god? And the Buddha replied no Brahmin I’m not a deva. Then are you a Gandharva like something, like an angelic being, a celestial being, are you again a Gandharva? No. Are you a yaksha, like an elemental spirit, kind of an earthly spirit? No. And then are you a human being? Now bear in mind the context, Buddha’s dad was a human being his momma was a human being, he married, his wife as a human being, and he sired a child, who is a human child so he’s pretty well bracketed yeah pretty well bracketed and so he asked him: are you a human being? And the Buddha replied: no Brahmin I am NOT a human being. Then what sort of a being are you? And he replied: I’m awake.
(01:40:55) So let’s unpack this just a little bit and then it’ll be time to call a day. Imagine you’re lucid, imagine you were in a dream and you’re totally you totally get it you’re in this dream and you totally know you are not this person in a dream, this is a little figment of your imagination, walking around in an imaginal world, right. But the people around you as far as you know it seems like they think this is real but you’re totally lucid, but imagine you’ve been very playful, you’ve been flying maybe walk on water maybe you see some loaves and decide to multiply loaves, everybody has a nice meal now you can do whatever you like it’s your dream. So it catch people’s attention, I saw you flying the other day and walking on water and turning breads into a lot of loaves of bread, and so imagine in your lucid dream somebody comes up to you and said: are you God? are you Messiah? No. Be honest and then they asked okay are you a celestial being? no, are you a yaksha? no. But this person in the dream was taking everything very seriously, he says are you a human being? and he’s looking at this little mirage like emanation that appears to be you in the dream and he’s addressing that little figment of your imagination and saying are you a human being? What honest answer can you give as they’re addressing this little figment of your imagination, a human being has parents and so you would have to answer: no I’m not a human being, you can say I am lucid because I recognize that everything you’re taking to be real it’s not like you think, appearances are deceptive and I’m awake, therefore I’m free and you’re still taking that which is a dream to be real and you’re suffering as a cause, as a result.
(01:42:56) So brief introduction to lucid dreaming, dream yoga and the mind-blowing implications of modern physics. So I think we’re right on the cusp I’m going to rap this up very quickly now but we’re right on the cusp of an unprecedented point in human history where people doing the most brilliant cutting-edge research in physics, mainstream physics like the men I cited and every single one of them is five-star and really sophisticated methods from psychology and neuroscience and some really brilliant philosophy, I know some of the best in modern philosophy like phenomenology for example. And then for the first time we have ready access to very deeply experienced contemplatives from Bhutan from Tibet from India from China and so forth but not only drawing on experienced contemplatives from Asia, who’ve been practicing for 20-40 years but the opportunity to create a facility that such people, people like ourselves and I won’t even say Westerners in the center we’re envisioning here having people come from Mongolia and South America and Australia and India and North America and so forth, truly international, truly international scientists drawing and bringing these two great currents together.
The contemplative traditions of the world with no sectarianism, no brainwashing anything like that just radical empiricism bringing these together and asking the questions that are absolutely fundamental to our understanding of who we are and what kind of universe are we living in, where did we come from and what happens at death? These are issues that remain a mystery for most people or they merely have beliefs, which is easy beliefs are cheap, but these questions: where does the mind come from, what’s the nature of the mind, what happens to mind at death and in the universe at large what’s the role of the observer? It looked like we’re not tourists here just dropping in, it looks like we sentient beings are our core to the universe that exists relative to sentient beings and has no existence whatsoever independent of sentient beings. These are exciting times and we may be right on the verge, I think we are of the biggest paradigm shift we’ve seen for a very long time but that’ll be up to us, with open mindedness with vigor, with enthusiasm, with respect for different cultures coming together in addressing these issues. To my mind this is now just an opinion but the dominant paradigm that is really dominating our human civilization at this point, in my view is, there’s many religions but the one that dominates governments and businesses and academia is the triad of materialism, hedonism and consumerism and it’s gobbling up the earth, gobbling up the earth, we’re wiping out species more species been destroyed by human beings in the last hundred fifty years more than since the asteroid hit 65 million years ago. The impact of human civilization on this planet right now is catastrophic and it’s undermining human civilization and wreaking tremendous havoc on the natural environment it’s not sustainable.
(01:46:21) So the solution I believe just my opinion is not one religion, not Buddhism or Christianity or any other religion and it’s not materialism, they’re part of the problem, but a radical shift of a paradigm that embraces our presence in the universe as responsible participants and not as accidental tourists that just dropped in and where we provide the moral axis to our participation in the universe and take care of our natural world so that it’s there for ten generations ahead and further. What we need here I think is not just more legislation and more science but a fundamental shift in our way of viewing reality, so that’s what I anticipate that’s what I’d like to participate in, in an effort that is truly collaborative and unifying, not setting one side against the other, there’s a vision there and so I think that’s where we’re headed let’s see.
(01:47:23) Thank you very much for your attention (applause). We have a beautiful afternoon I’d be happy to field questions but perhaps maybe two hours is enough, what do you think? Are you satisfied? Okay, very good I’ve so much enjoyed being with you thank you for joining us we’re just finishing eight-week retreat it’s been quite a celebration so I’m glad to share some of the icing on the cake with you (applause).
(01:48:28) speaker: It’s not so easy to say something interesting after the teaching of Alan Wallace, so I only to thanks to all of you that you are here, thanks to the students of Santa Barbara Institute, thanks to the University of Pisa that has come here for the Master in Neuroscience with the professor Bruno Neri that is in the line. Thanks to Filipo Shana that the President of Buddhist Union, Italian Buddhist Union. thanks all of us and especially to the staff of Lama Tzong Khapa Institute that make this real. (applause) And I would like also to do a special thanks to Tatiana Loza (applause), she, I think she almost died.
Alan: I torture my translators for sure.
Speaker: So, that’s fine. Thanks a lot. (applause)
Transcribed by Bob Hiller
Revised by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Final edition by KrissKringle Sprinkle