The Eight Consciousnesses

This is from a section on the eight consciousnesses, a model of mind that helps explain where dreams — and experience altogether — come from…

When the appropriate causes and conditions appear, the seeds or propensities blossom and either “perfume” or “stink up” our experience accordingly. Sometimes the seeds ripen gradually, and you can get a sense of this maturation in your dreams. The seeds sprout in the unconscious levels of mind first, which is where they are stored, and where dreams abide. They first germinate “below ground.” As a spiritual gardener or spelunker with a sensitive relationship to your dreams, you can either prepare for the physical maturation, circumvent it, or even purify it. In other words, you can purify karma in your dreams, before it manifests in physical reality. If you work with the blueprints you don’t have to deal with the final construction.

I have had many such dreams of premonition, which usually come just before dawn and deliver a special charge. They just feel important. Because of this special delivery I pay attention to these dreams, and act on them. While it’s impossible to know what might have happened had I not acted, with this staged model of mind and reality it makes sense to purify latent tendencies at the level of the unconscious mind. This is a major benefit of dream yoga, which allows a sneak preview of coming karmic attractions, and the ability to change the channel. Buddhist scholar Alan Wallace writes,

To the question, “Can karma come to maturation in the dream state?” The answer is “definitely yes.” . . . the process of purifying the mind from a quite a deep place by way of meditation, for instance, can actually catalyze karma, which will come to fruition in your dreams. And that’s one way of purifying the karma, rather than having it come to full maturation in some waking state. Better to get rid of it in the dream state.[1]

Sometimes the seeds ripen abruptly, like popcorn in a microwave. Anthropologist Gaylon Ferguson writes, “This may lead to a sudden angry outburst, after which we wonder, “What was I thinking!” In fact we were not thinking but reacting based on ingrained habitual patterns of defensiveness and anger. Strongly habitual patterns were “thinking” for us.”[2] To catch and purify this karmic popping is a more difficult affair, because it happens so quickly and subliminally, or non-lucidly. This is when the untrained mind tends to lose it in emotional outbursts. But with meditation we can catch it. We can become lucid to these impulses as they begin to surge up, and replace explosive reactivity with quiescent response-ability. With heightened lucidity we see it coming up from below ground, we feel it, but we don’t act on it. The meditative mind allows us to relate to these sudden surges with equanimity, so that we can continue to “think for ourselves.” We take control of the impulse instead of being controlled by it – just like in a lucid dream.[3]

This ability to “catch and release” also stops karma because it stops reactivity. The popping up is the result of karma, but if you don’t react to that popping it doesn’t create further karma. In other words, it self-liberates, like a campfire spark dissolving harmlessly into the night sky – leaving no trace, or karma.

[1] Dreaming Yourself Awake; Lucid Dreaming and Tibetan Dream Yoga for Insight and Transformation, by B. Alan Wallace, Shambhala Publications, Boston, MA., 2012, p 132-33.

[2] What Mind is Made Of, by Gaylon Ferguson, Lion’s Roar Magazine, Volume 4, Number 1, March 2019, p. 59. This is precisely the type of “thinking” that takes place in the bardo, and that controls the after-life trajectory. If you don’t wake up and take control, your bad habits take control and “think” you into an entire existence. The karmic seeds pop you into a sudden angry state or an entire life. This is why the Dalai Lama says that the bardos are a very dangerous time. But if you’re lucid to them they transform into a very opportune time, because with lucidity you can control how you relate to what pops up. The practice is to watch what pops up into your mind now, see how that hurls you involuntarily into a psychological realm of existence, and then realize that that same process will eventually hurl you into an ontological realm of existence – and your next life. In other words, don’t allow what pops up to grow up.

[3] The philosopher Evan Thompson coined the term “quantum phenomenology,” which is “based on highly refined observation, and . . . describes subtle or microscopic phenomena that aren’t apparent to less refined observation at coarser or macroscopic levels.” Meditation develops this quantum capacity. See Waking, Dreaming, Being; Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy, by Evan Thompson, Columbia University Press, New York, 2015, p 89.