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The Generative Contemplation Symposium was hosted by the Contemplative Sciences Center at the University of Virginia in April 2023. The following is the video proceedings along with searchable transcripts of Session IV: Self-Emergent Visions which focused on the deliberate elicitation of effortless self-emergent visionary experiences. We invite you to watch these creative interdisciplinary explorations between Buddhist Studies scholars, scientists, philosophers, and teacher-practitioners.

This symposium united specialists from diverse fields, including religious studies, philosophy, cognitive neuroscience, the arts, and Buddhism, at the Special Collections Library Auditorium at the University of Virginia. The event featured four thematic sessions over two days, fostering open discussions among attendees, which included UVA faculty, students, experts and contemplatives from other institutions as well as locally. These interdisciplinary dialogues formed the symposium’s core, enabling attendees to merge insights from different fields and forge new understandings of contemplation and the impact of these practices on human experience. Attendees, both participants and the audience, departed with fresh insights, connections, unanswered questions, and a shared determination to continue these dialogues and collaborations.

Session IV: Self-Emergent Visions: Tibetan “Great Perfection” (Dzokchen) practices involve the deliberate elicitation of effortless self-emergent visionary experiences through gazing at the sun, a cloudless sky, or complete darkness while applying specific postures, gazes, attentional modalities, focus, breathwork, and at times visualizations to stimulate and influence dynamic and autonomous visions of buddhas. Visions are endogenously generated, meaning that they are amalgamations of past experiences and the architecture of the brain. Thus, self-emergent visions could be interpreted as externalized manifestations of the self, further contributing to the expanding representation of selfhood. The practice has implications for understanding conscious experience as constructed through perceptual predictions interacting with sensory data, suggesting that much of the world we experience is from inside rather than outside.  

Contributors to this session of the Symposium were: 

  1. David Germano (Buddhist Studies), University of Virginia
  2. Per Sederberg (Neuroscience), University of Virginia  
  3. James Gentry (Buddhist Studies), Stanford University  
  4. Anne Klein (Practitioner), Rice University  
  5. Dave Glowacki (Technology), CiTIUS Intelligent Technologies Research Centre, Spain

Part 1

Part 2

Visit the Generative Contemplation Symposium Collection to watch or search the transcripts and related information.