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Given the ubiquity of dreaming, any religious tradition as old, as widespread, and as variegated as Buddhism will be found to have approached it in multiple ways. As is well known, Buddhist texts often use the phenomenon of dreaming in crafting arguments about reality and knowledge, or as a prime example of impermanence. This talk focuses on intersections between dreaming and Buddhist practice in China between 300 and 700 CE. But not all such intersections operated on the same logic or took the same view of what dreams are. My talk will unpack three distinct paradigms. In the spillover paradigm, dreams served as added platforms for waking-life practice. In the diagnostic paradigm, dreams were approached not as real events in the world but as coded indices of one’s cultivational progress or karmic hindrances. In the purification paradigm, some dreams left the dreamer in a state of impurity, necessitating a cleansing ritual in response. I will present examples of each.
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About the Speaker:
Rob Campany is Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in Humanities and Professor of Asian Studies at Vanderbilt University, having previously taught at Indiana University and the University of Southern California. To date, he has authored seven books and more than fifty articles on aspects of the history of religions in China. His most recently published monograph, The Chinese Dreamscape, 300 BCE – 800 CE (Harvard University Asia Center Publications, 2020), was awarded the Joseph Levenson Prize by the Association for Asian Studies as well as the Médaille Stanislas Julien by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. His next book, Dreaming and Self-Cultivation in China, 300 BCE – 800 CE, whose completion was supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship, will be published in spring 2023. Planned future projects include a translation and study of hagiographies of wonder-working Buddhist monks and an investigation of relations between human and nonhuman agents in early medieval China.