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Gananath Obeyesekere: "Madame Blavatsky's Visionary Travels and the Work of the Dream Ego"

Tuesday May 1st 2012, 7:30PM
Event Sponsor
Humanities Center, Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford, Department of Religious Studies
Levinthal Hall, Stanford Humanities Center
Gananath Obeyesekere: "Madame Blavatsky's Visionary Travels and the Work of the Dream Ego"


The Theosophical Society (TS) was founded in 1875 mainly under the inspiration of Madame Blavatsky, its spiritual head and Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, its organizational genius. The TS produced a large number of devotees and disciples, Evans-Wentz being one of them.  Blavatsky was famed, among other things, for her visits to Tibet where she met several of her Masters, some of whom appeared in spirit form right through her life, especially at critical moments.  

In this lecture Obeyesekere shall demonstrate that Blavatsky’s travels to Tibet were not empirical events but journeys she undertook in her visions and dreams.  He will briefly consider her early life, her first “trance-illness” associated with a stigmata type experience and then her developing spiritual powers that were defined by Theosophists as “phenomena.”  He then moves into her second trance-illness when in spirit form she traveled into Tibet and learned esoteric Buddhism from her Masters.  Further, as with figures like Catherine of Siena and others in the European Middle Ages, she received enormously lengthy texts such as Isis Unveiled through a process of spiritual transmission.  He then develops the notion of “dream-ego,” that is, the hallucinatory ego in contrast to the ego of the waking consciousness, to theorize the manner in which the spirit, so to speak, can travel into realms unknown both in Tibetan Buddhism and in the visionary travels of Blavatsky and many others in both the Buddhist and European religious traditions.  Finally, if time permits, Obeyesekere will deal with the impact of Blavatsky’s spiritual powers, especially her capacity to produce “phenomena,” on contemporary Hindu religiosity.

Speaker's Bio:

Gananath Obeyesekere (Professor Emeritus, Princeton University)

Gananath Obeyesekere is a Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Princeton University. He is particularly interested in psychoanalysis and anthropology and the ways in which personal symbolism is related to religious experience.  He has published over 100 articles and his books include Land Tenure in Village CeylonMedusa's Hair: An Essay on Personal Symbols and Religious ExperienceThe Cult of the Goddess PattiniBuddhism Transformed: Religious Change in Sri Lanka (with Richard Gombrich), The Work of Culture: Symbolic Transformations in Psychoanalysis and Anthropology, The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific, and The Awakened One: A Phenomenology of the Visionary Experience (completed manuscript being under review by Columbia University Press).