The gorgeous, always imaginative Rubin Museum of Art is well into a series of seven Wednesday evening conversations called Tibetan Book of the Dead Book Club in association with its special exhibitions, Bardo: Tibetan Art of the Afterlife and Remember That You Will Die: Death Across Cultures. Each Wednesday, curator Ramon Prats explores the TBD from different perspectives with an expert representing a particular discipline. They inquire: Does the TBD have relevance, wisdom and practical application for us today?
This week, I attended Prats's talk with Jungian psychoanalyst Morgan Stebbins on "The Analysis of Dreams," a topic of perennial relevance. According to Tibetan Buddhist beliefs, dreams will always be relevant as long as humans exist, as long as humans remain unenlightened. Enlightened beings do not dream. They no longer have to, for to dream is to open onto an altered level of awareness in which we come face to face with avoided, unknown or normally inaccessible issues.
Stebbins discussed how Tibetan ideas and traditions around this heightened state of awareness parallels the theories and practices of Carl Gustav Jung. Jung's psychoanalytic approach, he said, represents a journey into the "totality of one's being--the Buddha nature" where one can gain information on unconscious patterns of behavior, insight into so-called symptoms that are actually "symbolic attempts to get to somewhere new." Dreams herald a shift towards liberation.
And the TBD considers this liberation through hearing, as Prats mentioned, in his intriguing introductory remarks. Why hearing, I wondered? One sentence from a TBD passage read later suggested the reason: "So, recognize what I show you without distraction." We are simply too distracted by illusion to get with reality. Like children in school, we have to be brought to attention and made to hear. The Bardo afterlife process, Tibetan Buddhists believe, first brings the soul to that required place of attention and learning before it can move on in its journey. But dreams offer powerful opportunities for growth within our lifetime.
And what of the images of deities of wrath, featured in so much Tibetan art? And what of our own terrifying nightmares?
"Psychologically speaking, nightmares are great news," says Stebbins. "Wake up! Look at this! It has a lot of energy. You have a lot of energy you're not using. Change is scary."
Upcoming TBD Book Club sessions will feature Rabbi Neil Gillman on "The Death of Death" (July 28), Brooklyn Museum curator Edward Bleiberg on "The Egyptian Book of the Dead" (August 11), medium Jesse Bravo on "Channeling the Dead" (August 18) and Roshi Enkyo O'Hara on "How to Die" (August 25)--all at 7pm. Click here for full information and tickets, and promptness--in both ticket purchasing and showing up to get a good seat--is strongly advised.
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