Dreaming in the World's Religions: A Comparative History

Dreaming in the World's Religions: A Comparative History

Dreaming in the World's Religions: A Comparative History

Dreaming in the World's Religions: A Comparative History


From Biblical stories of Joseph interpreting Pharoh's dreams in Egypt to prayers against bad dreams in the Hindu Rg Veda, cultures all over the world have seen their dreams first and foremost as religiously meaningful experiences. In this widely shared view, dreams are a powerful medium of transpersonal guidance offering the opportunity to communicate with sacred beings, gain valuable wisdom and power, heal suffering, and explore new realms of existence. Conversely, the world's religious and spiritual traditions provide the best source of historical information about the broad patterns of human dream life

Dreaming in the World's Religions provides an authoritative and engaging one-volume resource for the study of dreaming and religion. It tells the story of how dreaming has shaped the religious history of humankind, from the Upanishads of Hinduism to the Qur'an of Islam, from the conception dream of Buddhas mother to the sexually tempting nightmares of St. Augustine, from the Ojibwa vision quest to Australian Aboriginal journeys in the Dreamtime. Bringing his background in psychology to bear, Kelly Bulkeley incorporates an accessible consideration of cognitive neuroscience and evolutionary psychology into this fascinating overview.

Dreaming in the World's Religions offers a carefully researched, accessibly written portrait of dreaming as a powerful, unpredictable, often iconoclastic force in human religious life.


Let us start with what I hope is an uncontroversial assumption: you are a human being. If that is true, then the course of your life follows, and has always followed, a cyclical pattern of waking and sleeping. Like other mammals, you are deeply programmed in your brain and body to alternate between two dramatically different states of being. The survival benefits of being awake are obvious—that's when you're alert, focused, and active in the world, able to provide for your basic physical needs. Less apparent are the survival benefits of totally withdrawing from the world and going to sleep, but they are no less vital. You need to sleep. Sleeping is just as essential to your healthy existence as food or water. When you become tired it feels good to sleep, just as it feels good to eat when you're hungry and drink when you're thirsty. Conversely, it feels painful when you don't get enough sleep. Just as you can die from lack of food or water, you would not last long if you were completely prevented from sleeping. When laboratory animals are deprived of all sleep they perish in a matter of days.

As it is, you probably sleep between six and nine hours a night. Plenty of people get by on less and others can't function without more, but your average ratio of time spent awake and asleep is likely to be about 2:1, sixteen or so hours awake vs. eight or so hours asleep. In unusual circumstances (e.g., a natural disaster, a military battle, a family health crisis, a work or school deadline, a really good party) you may be able to stay awake for thirty-six or more hours, but you'll be in sad shape at the end of it. No one can fight the sleeping/waking cycle for long without suffering a big decrease in physical and emotional well-being.

Every time you fall asleep your body passes through a series of complex alterations in breathing, heart beat, and muscular tonality. Your brain remains active during sleep, but not because of any external sensory stimulation or deliberate intention on your part—rather, your brain is being stimulated by internal sources that function independently of your waking . . .

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