1992 – IV

Sleeping, Dreaming, & Dying

Dharamsala, India
October 5-9, 1992

Sleeping, Dreaming, and Dying: An Exploration of Consciousness An edited selection of dialogues from this conference has been published as Sleeping, Dreaming and Dying: An Exploration of Consciousness with the Dalai Lama.

The topic of this meeting focuses on the delicate areas of sleeping, dreaming, and dying. We wish to bring to discussion those “marginal states” in which our habitual, reified sense of personal identity is challenged, and in which concomitantly a host of phenomena of great significance for human existence become intensified or are made manifest. Current knowledge about the strictly neuroscientific correlates of sleeping and dreaming is presented. However, the multi-dimensional nature of these states requires other approaches of research which are presented as well.

In particular, we draw on the insights of many years of clinical work in the Western tradition of psychoanalysis concerning dreams and their role in neurosis and health. Further, current studies on lucid dreaming are introduced, together with the relevant practical applications and technological methods that have developed recently in the West. These presentations are complemented with a description of the unique Tibetan tradition of dream yoga and “Bardo” teachings (on the intermediate state following death and prior to one’s next rebirth). Western clinical studies on so-called near-death states are discussed in connection with these Tibetan teachings.

Scientific Coordinator

Francisco J. Varela, Ph.D., Professor of Cognitive Science and Epistemology, Ecole Polytechnique and Institute of Neuroscience, Paris


Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness, the XIVth Dalai Lama of Tibet
Charles Taylor, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, McGill University
Francisco J. Varela, Ph.D., Professor of Cognitive Science and Epistemology, Ecole Polytechnique and Institute of Neuroscience, Paris
Joyce McDougall, D.Ed., Independent Psychoanalyst
Jayne Gackenbach, Ph.D., Independent Clinical Psychologist
Jerome Engel, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Neurology, Anatomy, and Cell Biology, UCLA Medical School
Joan Halifax, Ph.D., President of the Upaya Foundation

Geshe Thupten Jinpa
B. Alan Wallace


October 5, 1992

Philosophical Orientation: Western Views of the Self
Charles Taylor, Ph.D.

Presentation: Neurobiology of Sleep
Francisco Varela, Ph.D.
This presentation is an introduction to the current understanding of sleeping and dreaming from point of view of the underlying human biology and physiology. In fact, the physiology of sleep has been one of the oldest and most active fields of research in modern neuroscience. Phenomena such as the circadian organization of sleeping cycles and major mechanisms at the neurochemical and single neuron level have been elucidated in detail. Such material will constitute the scientific background for the ensuing discussion.

Discussion theme:
Relationship between the neuroscience of sleep and the experience of falling asleep and dreaming. Methodological issues. Further exposition of specific sleep and dream physiological phenomena.

October 6, 1992

Presentation: Psychoanalysis and Dreaming
Joyce McDougall, D. Ed.
This presentation introduces the point of view and extensive experience of a unique Western tradition of understanding the mind, which started with Freudian psychoanalysis and has continued to evolve to this day. At the center of this tradition is the discovery of the unconscious and the fragmentary nature of human experience. In this context, dreams have constituted from the very beginning a royal path to psychoanalytical theory and practice.

Discussion theme:
Comparison of Tibetan Buddhist and psychoanalytic views of the mind and of the pragmatics of their respective practices. Introduction to the place of dreams and their role in the Tibetan tradition.

October 7, 1992

Presentation: Lucid Dreaming
Jayne Gackenbach, Ph.D.
Recently there has been a resurgence of Western interest in the entire range of phenomena associated with lucid dreaming. While some of these studies examine the physiological correlates of lucid dreaming, the majority are concerned with its psychological, therapeutic, and transpersonal dimensions. This presentation introduces the basic ideas of lucid dreaming research.

Discussion theme:
Comparative views of dream yoga and Western views on lucid dreaming. Comparative views on training and methods for lucid dreamers.

October 8, 1992

Presentation: Clinical Studies on Comas and Epilepsies
Jerome Engel, M.D., Ph.D.
In Western medicine, the condition known as epilepsy is often accompanied by exceptional physical and mental states which have been studied in great detail. Similarly, there is a wealth of observations of patients suffering from coma, for example due to insulin deprivation. These observations are a relevant complement to the discussion of near-death and death.

Discussion theme:
Comparison of Tibetan views of dying and the Bardo with Western clinical experience. The place of epilepsy in the Tibetan tradition.

November 9, 1990

Presentation: Near Death Experiences
Joan Halifax, Ph.D.
The experiences of coming close to death due to organic dysfunction and then being revived are characterized by a plethora of universal events which seem to address a deep-seated connection with a sense of transcendence and personal survival. The psychological and social studies on these discoveries are introduced in this presentation.

Discussion theme:
Tibetan views on dying and the tradition of Bardo teachings. Cross-cultural comparisons. Therapeutic values of near-death and dying teachings. Concluding discussions and remarks.