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John D. Dunne: “Between Life and Death: Understanding Tukdam”

Wednesday February 15th 2023, 5:00 - 6:30PM
Event Sponsor
The Ho Center for Buddhist Studies
Levinthal Hall, Stanford Humanities Center

For Tibetan Buddhists, the moment of death is not a tragedy. Instead, it is a precious opportunity for spiritual transformation that is paradigmatically represented by tukdam, a meditative state that lies between life and death. In such a state, clinical death has occurred, but an extremely subtle form of consciousness is said to persist. As a result, the post-mortem process of decomposition is greatly reduced, such that the body appears to be in a state of deep sleep. At the behest of the Dalai Lama, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have conducted research on this unusual state, which has so far eluded any clear explanation in scientific terms. This presentation will unpack key details of the Buddhist tantric theories and practices that purport to explain and induce tukdam, with particular attention to points of potential confusion and misinterpretation. The variability of Tibetan accounts will be considered, especially in relation to the results of scientific research conducted thus far on this unusual phenomenon.


John Dunne (PhD 1999, Harvard University) serves on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he holds the Distinguished Chair in Contemplative Humanities at the Center for Healthy Minds.  He is also distinguished professor in the Department of Asian Languages & Cultures, where he currently serves as department Chair.

John Dunne's work focuses on Buddhist philosophy and contemplative practice, especially in dialog with Cognitive Science and Psychology. His publications appear in venues ranging across both the Humanities and the Sciences, and they include works on Buddhist philosophy, contemplative practices and their empirical examination and interpretation within scientific contexts.

John Dunne speaks in both academic and public contexts, and he occasionally teaches for Buddhist communities, including the Gomde centers of Denmark and Austria and Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe. In addition to his appointments in the Center for Healthy Minds and the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, he is a Fellow of the Mind and Life Institute, where he has previously served on the Board of Directors, and he is an academic advisor to the Rangjung Yeshe Institute in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Free and open to the public