To be 'liberated' meant to be fee from the exigencies of karma and rebirth by cutting away all desires and attachments. Buddhism, however, rejected the Upanishadic idea of Atman, the eternal, undying Soul that in the Upanishads is taught to be the foundation, of individual human existence (physical, mental, and psychological) and the basis for continuity from life to life. Scholars who study the relationship between Buddhism and indigenous cultures have seen in this rejection of soul a major point of tension between normative Buddhism and indigenous traditions that insist on the continuation of the person in spirit form.
For example, in his well-known -study of Burmese Buddhism, Melford Spiro states, [Most Burmese] insist-normative Buddhism, notwithstanding-on the existence of an enduring soul which, persisting from rebirth to rebirth, experiences the consequences of karmic retribution. This soul is conceived to be either the pre-Buddhist leikpya, or in the case of the more sophisticated, an entity (nama) derived from (but inconsistent with) normative Buddhist metaphysics.
Whether or not Spiro reports accurately on the popular Burmese understanding of the concept of anatma (no-soul), it should be noted that the textual tradition of Buddhism did not reject the established Indian world-view of spirits or methods of dealing with obstructing spirits, neither did it reject the idea that there are subtle dimensions to the human being beyond the gross physical dimension.
In the Majjhima-Nikaya, the Buddha says: I have proclaimed to my disciples the way to create from this body another body having form, mind-made, with all its limbs, lacking no faculty. Just as though a man were to pull a reed from its sheath.
From the previous it seems that Buddhism simply rejected the idea that there is an eternal, unchanging aspect to any composite structure, such as the human personality, in either its gross or subtle manifestations.The tensions that exist between Buddhist and shamanic views do not, therefore, lie in the area of belief or disbelief in spirits or in a subtle form of the person that can separate from the gross physical body. Indeed, in Shirokogoroff’s opinion, "Any religion which does not oppose the idea of spirits and the possibility of their independent existence is not in conflict with shamanism."
Throughout its 2500-year history, Buddhism has coexisted with the gods of the people wherever it has spread. The earliest teaching of the Buddha did not refute the existence of gods or their powers; it merely refuted any claim that the gods were outside of the found of birth and death to which all living beings are bound. Within the cosmological worlds of Buddhism, the inhabitants of the heaven worlds, the gods, no less than the inhabitants of any other world of rebirth, are considered to be subject to suffering.
Further, all Buddhists agree that 'dis-ease' of all kinds is conditioned and dependent, primarily on self-oriented desires and fears. The goal of Buddhist practice is to put an end to the distress arising from self-oriented desires and the perception of a permanent and independent 'I' subject to birth and death.
In the Pali literature, six types of supernormal knowledge are available to the accomplished meditator: (1) magical powers, (2) divine ear, (3) penetration of the minds of others, (4) remembrance of former existences, (5) divine eye, and (6) extinction of all impurities.
The 'awakening' or liberation of the Buddha is described in terms of three of those kinds of knowledge. On the legendary night of Enlightenment, in the first watch of the night the Buddha recalls all his past births in complete individual detail. In the second watch of the night with the divine eye he sees the births and deaths of all beings according to their deeds. In the third watch of the night he realizes the extinction of all psychological defilements or impurities that bind one to the cycle of birth and death: I understood as it really is: This is anguish, this is the arising of anguish, this is the stopping of anguish, this is the course leading to the stopping of anguish . . . ignorance was dispelled, light arose even as I abided diligent, ardent, resolute.
The first two types of knowledge belong to the ordinary or mundane powers attained through mental concentration; only the last is the supermundane, salvific knowledge, attained through the perfection of insight, that constitutes nirvana or liberation. Among the mundane powers, the siddhis or magical powers are traditionally listed as the following: the ability to multiply oneself, becoming one or many; to be visible or invisible, passing unobstructed through walls and mountains as if through air; to be able to plunge into the earth and shoot up again as if through water, to walk on water without sinking as if on the ground; to travel cross-legged through the air like a bird on the wing; to stroke the sun and moon with one's hand; and to have mastery over the body even up to the highest heaven, the Brahma-world.
These siddhis can be compared to the powers of flight and self-transformation attributed to shamans. During the first five hundred years of Buddhist thought and philosophy, scholars carefully analysed the components of physical and mental existence in order to establish the fictitious nature and radical impermanence of all that is composite. In the Milindapanha (ca first century C.E.), the monk Nagasena gives the Indo-Greek King Milinda the famous simile of a can by which he can understand the ultimate non-existence of a person: just as when the cart is analysed into its parts aid pieces, no 'can' can be found, so when the human person is analysed into its physical and mental components, no 'person' can be found.
For the early Buddhists, however, the world was not illusory or unreal. While they accepted that no material substratum could be found inhering in any entity, they nevertheless believed that mental and physical processes existed, and not merely as illusory perceptions. The one who attained insight into the impermanent, conditioned nature of things and who extinguished the false perception of self as really existing also extinguished the conditions for any future rebirth, thereby attaining nirvana. Such a person was called a Worthy One, an arhat. Around the first century C.E., Buddhist thought saw the rise of a new approach to the goal of bodhi or Awakening. New texts were written and attributed to the Buddha, texts that formed the basis of the teachings of the Mahayana, the Great Vehicle. The proponents of this branch of Buddhism critiqued the earlier goal of attaining nirvana for oneself alone as selfish. They proposed the bodhisattva ideal, the ideal of the person who strives for Buddhahood for the sake of all others, who does not turn away from samsara but vows to be reborn again and again, putting off his or her own full enlightenment until all beings achieve that very same state. The Mahayana spiritual ideal was open not only to renunciate monastics but to lay persons of either gender who genuinely generated the desire to attain for the sake of benefiting others. The philosophy of Mahayana Buddhism rests on the "Perfection of Wisdom" texts that re-interpreted the earlier Buddhist teaching of 'no-soul' or essencelessness into a doctrine of 'emptiness': if the composite structures of ordinary reality are empty of any real, that is, permanent, irreduceable state of being, then so too are the components of those structures. No ultimate state of existing can be assigned to anything whatsoever. The Astasahasrika Prajnap ramit states, "a Bodhisattva, a great being, leads countless beings to Nirvana, and yet there is not any being that has been lead to Nirvana, nor that has lead others to it."
All things exist only conventionally, provisionally, relatively, dependent on the causes and conditions that bring them into being and support their continuity. The phenomenal world and all the mental and physical processes that constitute it are, in their manner of appearance, utterly illusory. According to this theory, all existents are universally empty of any ultimate status or reality. Underlying all theory and practice in Tibetan Buddhism is the Mahayana concept of the realization of emptiness as wisdom conjoined with the active compassion of the bodhisattva who remains in the wheel of life and death.
Medical Dream Theory
In Tibetan medical theory, the mind/body organism is understood to exist as an interrelated complex of material, mental and psychic dimensions ranging from gross to extremely subtle. The gross pathways of energy m the body such as veins and arteries and their centres of conjunction are thought to have subtle counterparts. In his commentary to the biography of Yeshe Tsogyal, the enlightened consort of the Indian yogin Padmasambhava, Keith Dowman notes:
The system of nerves, energy flows and their focal points has a parallel in the body's physiology and also in the mental sphere, for the subtle, the gross and the mental inter-relate. The word for psychic nerves (risa, nadi) is the same as for veins and arteries, and for tendons and muscles.
The various operations of the physical senses are also correlated with what Dr Tenzin Tsephel (of the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Instiute of The Dalai Lama, Byla Kuppe Branch Clinic) described as the "innermost sense or innermost consciousness" (gnyd rnam shes-pa) situated in the come of energy at the heart. Because of this innermost sense, the subtle sensory experiences of dreams are displayed according to the flow and distribution of energy in the body.
10) The four medical texts that constitute the fundamental work on which Tibetan medicine is based are known collectively as The Gyu-zhi, the Four Tantras-that is, the Root Tantra, the Exegetical Tantra, the Instructional Tantra, and the Subsequent Tantra.
11) In Tibetan Buddhist Medicine and Psychiatry, Terry Clifford discusses the close relationship between Buddhism and the classical Indian system of medicine, Ayurveda. He notes that the golden age of Ayurveda (approximately mid-fourth century B.C.E. to the mid-eighth century C.E.) coincided with the flourishing of Buddhism in India and its dissemination to other countries and at that time it became as much Buddhist medicine as Hindu medicine.
12) Dream classification and imagery, then, in the Tibetan medical tradition closely mirrors classical Indian texts such as the Caraka-Samhita.
The information below on the Tibetan medical view of dreams is drawn from chapter seven of the Exegetical Tantra, which appears in a translation by Dr. Yeshe Dhondhen and Jhampa Kelsang entitled The Ambrosia Heart Tantra.
It identifies seven classes of dream:
1. dreams that arise due to previous visual experiences
2. dreams that arise due to previous auditory experiences
3. dreams that arise due to previous mental/emotional experiences
4. dreams that arise due to aspirations made in prayer
5. dream that arise due to desires and other mental conceptions
6. dreams that arise due to future possibilities (prognosticatory)
7. dreams that arise due to the humours (the natural constitution of the person) or due to some ailment or imbalance of the humours
Of these, as was
the case in earlier Buddhist dream analysis, the only kind that is of significance are prognosticatory
dreams. The Gyu-Zhi says,
Dreams in the early part of the night may arise due to an obstruction of the vital channel by the mixing phlegm as it begins to digest food. In the middle of the night this channel may be blocked by the digestive bile and late at night it may be obstructed by the fire-accompanying wind. Thin dreams at these times do not generally produce effects.
From the Tibetan medical Point of view, then, indigestion is as likely to produce dreams as spirits and ghosts. Recurring dreams that arise towards dawn and are clearly remembered upon awakening are examined to determine the prognosis of recovery or not. Other dreams can assist in the diagnosis of the illness.
In one of the numerous dreams and visions recounted in the biography of the Fifth Dalai Lama, the Dalai Lama follows a rainbow path to a castle built of human skulls where he encounters Karma drag-po and his consort. In another vision, a large scorpion that is an attribute of the deity devours all the internal parts of the Dalai Lama’s body and then emitting flames, it burns away the remaining body parts. In these and other dreams and visions, the Dalai Lama receives the instructions for the liturgy and ritual objects associated with Karma drag-po and other deities. The question, regarding the illustrated figure posed at the beginning of the study was, "What are we to make of this as a Buddhist dream when its themes are so closely related to shamanic imagery and practices?" The answer can now be stated as follows: in the Tibetan context, what makes this a Buddhist dream is that even while it is understood that its ritual effects take place in the relatively real world, the dream itself and the rituals associated with it are understood to be ultimately empty and unreal. The Dalai Lana writes that his words "will disappoint those who are led to believe that the desert-mirage is water." What makes it a significant dream, a true dream that the community takes seriously, like the dreams of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama discussed earlier, is that the dream has arisen based on the great merit and devoted religious practice of the dreamer. That aspect, in Buddhaghosa's words, makes it "extremely true."
In conclusion I would suggest that contradictory statements in Tibetan Buddhist literature towards dreams are in part the inheritance of attitudes already established in Mahayana Indian Buddhist texts and in part a manifestation of the inevitable tensions arising out of the interface between two sets of world-views that rest an very differen. premises. From its Indian Buddhist background, Tibetan culture inherited an approach to dream that can be analysed according to three basic divisions as follows:
1) The psycho-physical approach, based on the Indian understanding-of the mind and how it functions. Under this heading comes the medical view of dream as caused or influenced by mental and physical factors, both internal and external. In the Buddhist analysis of personality, the factor of materiality or form encompasses, as a continuum, the psycho-physical organism as well as the external world with which it interacts. Therefore, dream as caused by the activity of external agents such as gods and spirits also comes under this heading.
2) The philosophical approach, related to philosophical debates over dream as recollection versus dream as direct perception. As has been shown, Buddhist theory accepts the view of dream as direct perception. This approach is also associated with the Upanishadic view of maya as illusion in the sense of appearance versus reality, the illusory world of samsara versus the absolute reality of the liberated state. In Indian Buddhist literature, dream is held to be the most suitable metaphor for the illusoriness of phenomena.
3) The ritual approach, which constitutes the interpretation of dreams as signs and omens. This view can be found in the earliest Vedic texts that deal with dispelling the misfortune arising from duhsvapna, evil-dreaming. Dream as prognostication can be further broken down as follows:
a) prophetic of worldly fortune or misfortune
b) prophetic of disease and healing
c) prophetic of spiritual progress
i) related to real-life situations of initiation and confirmation of meditation success
ii) related to the mythic career of buddhas and boddhisattvas.
These three approaches in combination form an integrated response to dream that has been shown to be present in the Indian Buddhist tradition as well as in Tibetan dream theory and practice. It has been demonstrated that within the Indian Buddhist tradition there was already a degree of tension associated with dream in that early Buddhist teaching tended away from an emphasis on the efficacy of ritual and tended toward a devaluation of worldly activity, equating it with the fleeting insubstantiality and unreality of dream. In the later Mahayana, and especially in the Tibetan Vajrayana, developments of Buddhism, dream and the world of the senses retain their somewhat negative connotation of illusoriness and unreality, but that illusoriness takes on a more positive aspect as the very nature of the mind and phenomena to be realized, not escaped. It cannot be overlooked that the Tibetan developments took place in the context of the interaction between Buddhism and a shamanistic culture that would have valued dream in its religious life.