Thinking About Dreams and Spirits

sketch of resisting the demons by Kuniyoshi, Japan, early 19th c.

Our family member Lu recommended I read “The Spirits’ Book” by Allan Kardec, written in the 1850s — one of the fundamental texts of Spiritism.

The book is structured as a collection of questions regarding the origin of the spirits, the purpose of the life, the order of the universe, evil and good and the afterlife. Its answers, according to Kardec, were given to him by a group of spirits who identified themselves as “The Spirit of Truth”, whom with he communicated with in several Spiritist sessions during the 1850s. Kardec, who considered himself an “organizer” rather than an author, grouped the questions and their answers by theme, occasionally including lengthier digressions the spirits had dictated to him on specific subjects, some signed by philosophers such as Augustine of Hippo and Thomas of Aquino and writers including Voltaire. [wikipedia]

I started reading the Kindle edition and got intrigued by his explanations of the relationship between body and spirit and the mechanics of what happens upon dying. I went looking for the Audible version… not available. But since I was in the mood, I decided to listen again to Liberation Upon Hearing in the Between: Living with the Tibetan Book of the Dead,” a four-lecture series by Robert Thurman.

One of the 25 most influential people in America according to Time magazine, and “the leading American expert on Tibetan Buddhism” (The New York Times), Robert Thurman illuminates the Tibetan Book of the Dead with up-to-date insights for modern audiences. For centuries, this text has been read aloud to the dying, who Buddhist masters say are capable of hearing up to three days after clinical death, as a guide through the tumultuous and often terrifying process of dissolution. Now, in Liberation Upon Hearing in the Between, Professor Robert Thurman demystifies this esoteric teaching and reveals the Tibetan view of dying: it is not an ending to be feared, but a wondrous and liberating culmination of our life’s journey, potentially opening into glorious new beginnings. Entering the bardo, the in-between state in which one reality dissolves and the next has not yet formed, we need not become prey to our fears and hopes. Instead, we can relax into our natural clarity and stabilize the journey. And this treasured teaching is for much more than just changing our understanding of death. Whether we have lost a dear relationship, awoken from a dream, or face the loss of our bodied life, simply hearing these teachings steadies our minds and hearts so that the journey from one state to the next changes from a tragic voyage into a clear adventure through the brilliant sky of great liberation. [from publisher’s summary]

You definitely have to be in the right frame of mind to be thinking about these deep subjects, but the Tibetan message is a positive one: (assuming you have tried to lead a compassionate life) you have nothing to fear… here is your roadmap for the journey.

At one point Thurman says that dreams are considered preparation for the afterlife. Interesting. He mentions “lucid dreaming” in particular, a kind of dreaming where you become aware you are dreaming. I’d like to explore this more.

Over the years, I’ve been skeptical about spirits and their inclination to communicate with us. But sometimes I find it’s good to follow the path of “what if?” I’m not too worried about rationally provable facts (Are ghosts real??!!). But I do love the realm of possibility and the poetry of life enriched by deep ideas. And I have never doubted that my dad and my grandparents are always somehow nearby.

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