How do you know you are not dreaming right now? The seminal Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu dreamed he was a butterfly. When he awoke he wondered whether he was a man who had dreamed he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was a man. The truth is life is very much like the illusion of dreaming.
Tibetan dream yoga includes lucid dreaming, yet goes far beyond lucid dreaming in its goal. It isn’t about techniques in order to wake up just in our dreams but a practice to help us wake up in life.
Traditional ways found to bring about lucidity in dreams contrast with the practice of natural light found within the Buddhist and Bonpo Dzogchen traditions. Rather than focusing on inducing lucidity through various techniques the Tibetan monks consider waking up in the dream a natural by-product of the development of awareness and presence.
If there is presence of mind when entering into the state of dreams, it is easy to recognize when one is dreaming.
What I appreciate about Tibetan dream yoga and the practice of natural light is the spiritual focus. Rather than creating karma Tibetan dream yoga teaches how to purify karma. It teaches that all life is here today and gone tomorrow, like in a dream, life is fleeting.
Also in this tradition they believe dying is similar to falling asleep. If one develops the awareness and presence in daily life one will be able to be conscious in their dreams, and also have the awareness and presence at the moment of death.
Basically, in the practice of natural light it is believed that spiritual life is about awakening from the dream of unreality, which is to awaken from the illusion and confusion in our daily life and see beyond the veil of life and death.
Chogyal Norbu, in the book Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light, writes, “The dream condition is unreal. When we discover this for ourselves within the dream, the immense power of this realization can eliminate obstacles related to conditioned vision. For this reason, dream practice is very important for liberating us from habits. We need this powerful assistance in particular because the emotional attachments, conditioning, and ego enhancement which compose our normal life have been strengthened over many, many years.”
So many of our problems are directly related to our mind and the habits we create in our day-to-day life. When we learn to work with these destructive patterns in our lucid dreams we can understand more clearly how to eliminate these unconscious habits from our daily life. In lucid dreams it is so much easier to see the illusion. We can walk through fire, transform depression into joy, or turn and face the monster that is chasing us while knowing none of it is real. It is also believed that spiritual practices are nine times more effective in lucid dreaming than in the daytime.
In his book Open Mind, Tarthang Tulku says, “Experiences we gain from practices we do during our dreamtime can then be brought into our daytime experience. For example, we can learn to change the frightening images we see in our dreams into peaceful forms. Using the same process, we can transmute the negative emotions we feel during the daytime into increasing awareness. Thus we can use our dream experiences to develop a more flexible life… we see less and less difference between the waking and dreaming state. Our experiences in waking life become more vivid and varied, the result of a lighter and more refined awareness… This kind of awareness, based on dream practice, can help create inner balance.”
Being present in the moment and daily meditation (see meditation blog Jan. 2017archives) are essential in the practice of natural light. There are other helpful practices recommended also, for instance, Chogyal Norbu tells us to concentrate on the image of the white Tibetan Syllable* in the center of our body before falling asleep. For us in the West we can focus on the English letter A instead of the Tibetan Syllable. Then, while visualizing this white syllable, softly breathe out the sound ahh as you drift off to sleep. This is also done again while waking up in the morning. Through this practice one eventually gains clarity becoming more present in life as well as in the dream.
Through working with this practice I began to have a deeper understanding of the illusion of form. Here is an example of a lucid dream that felt so free of attachment.
While I am working on a project at the Awakening Center I remember that I need something at home. I walk over to my house across the street and climb up the back stairs. Before opening the door I see through the window of the back door that it is filled with someone else’s furniture. I realize someone else now owns the house, and I have the thought, “I really don’t need a house.” I feel very free and I realize that I am dreaming. As I go back down the stairs I see toys lining the stairs. They evidently belong to the children of the people who now live there. Most of them are Disney characters. The colors of the toys are so vibrant. I feel exhilarated and so free. I want to enjoy the moment as long as possible before I wake up so I sit on the stairs and am totally aware of the moment.
I remember seeing a Star Trek episode where the captain of a star ship landed on a planet where everything was absolutely perfect. He meets a beautiful woman and falls in love with her. Finally he realizes that there are aliens watching them and that this was all an illusion. He finds out that the girl was originally in a space ship that crashed on the planet and every one died except her. She was burned beyond recognition. They reconstructed her the best they could and then gave her the illusion of beauty and every thing she desired. Even though the captain could have lived his life in this “perfect” world he preferred a life that felt more authentic. In this second dream it seemed somewhat like this Star Trek episode. Once I realized I was dreaming and that it was an illusion I decided to step out of the dream.
I am going up two flights of stairs. One flight was straight up, and the other turns right. The setting is probably in a library of sorts. As I am walking up the first flight of stairs I realize that I am dreaming. I become aware that it is my choice to change the dream any way I would like. However, by the time I get to the top of the first flight of stairs I realize that I have no desires. At this point I step out of the illusion, gather up the dream, as though it is a piece of paper, and throw it away.
I have been thinking about this dream since then, and have a deeper understanding of how much choice we have in life. Whether it is in life or in the dream the scene might be set for us, but we are the ones who are basically writing the story. It is up to us to wake up in the illusion of life by being present and paying attention to what choices are right for us in any given moment.
By gaining greater clarity through this practice we are less likely to get caught up in the drama of life, and feel stuck in our conditioning. Through being more conscious in our dreams, and in life, we gain a greater clarity of who we truly are, and can see more opportunities for spiritual awakening.
For further study on the Tibetan path of dream yoga I would like to recommend for us westerners that we come from both angles in learning how to awaken in life and in our dreams. I have found it helpful to learn the techniques of waking up in the dream, while also practicing meditation and being more fully present in the moment.
There are many writings on the subject to help one become more fully aware of how our mind holds the illusion. One such practice that Andrew Holecek gives is to look in a mirror and insult, blame, and criticize our self and see how it feels. Then doing this same exercise use praise and flattery instead of blame and again see how it feels. Through these experiments he and other writers help us to realize the illusions in life.
Learning the techniques of lucid dreaming can be helpful as is presented in the book, Lucid Dreaming: A Concise Guide to Awakening in Your Dreams and in Your Life by Stephen La Berge, Ph.D, and the CD’s, Dream Yoga: The Tibetan Path of Awakening Through Lucid Dreaming by Andrew Holecek. Both of these teach the techniques of lucid dreaming and also give the basics for the Tibetan practice of natural light.
For a deeper understanding of this practice of natural light I recommend the books Dream Yoga: and the Practice of Natural Light by Chogyal Norbu, Open Mind by Tarthang Tulku , Sleeping, Dreaming, and Dying: An Exploration of Consciousness with the Dalai Lama, edited and narrated by Francisco J Vardla, Ph.D, and The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep, by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche.
Love and Peace,
Mary Mohs LVN, MA, RYT,