Thursday, 15 August 2019

Lucid Dreaming | Tibetan Buddhist Dream Yoga

The Ancient Tibetan Buddhists documented one of the earliest accounts of lucid dreaming practices, thousands of years ago - you can read more about the origins and principles of Tibetan Buddhism by clicking here. These practices were incorporated into Tibetan Buddhism from the Hindu oral tradition of spiritual learning. 

One of the earliest textual accounts of lucid dreaming appears in the Upanishads, a collection of ancient Sanskrit scriptures, which were written circa 800 - 500 BC in India, and contain the central philosophical and spiritual concepts of Hinduism, which were later shared with Buddhism and Jainism. The Hindu text, the Bhairav Tantra set out various practices with the aim of directing the consciousness within the states of sleep and dreaming. These Sanskrit teachings were exported to the mountains of Tibet, where the Shamanic, animistic folk traditions of the native Tibetans (the Bon) had already been using lucid dreaming for meditation for over 12000 years. This cultural fusion was recorded in the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thodol), composed around the 8th century. The phrase 'Bardo' refers to the intermediate or transitional state between the 2 lives on earth. The highly esoteric Books of the Dead were first introduced to a Western audience when they were partially translated by Walter Y. Evans-Wentz, although they were primarily of interest to scholars and occultists, although in the 20th century they became popular amongst dream scholars and in particular, the American Humanistic and Transpersonal schools of psychology. This article will provide a basic introduction to Tibetan Dream Yoga.

Tibetan Dream Yoga, also known as Milam - 'yoga of the dream state' is an advanced set of tantric processes which awaken the consciousness. Tibetan Dream Yoga or Milam is learned through the trance Bardos of Sleep and Dreaming, and as with tantra, is taught by a qualified mentor once the apprentice has passed initiation. Tibetan Lamas refer to this teaching as an experience of conscious enlightenment, rather than textual learning. Tibetan Dream Yoga describes the existence of the bardo body (dream, mind or vision body), in which a person has a yilu (yid lus), which translates to 'consciousness body'. 

Buddha Shakyamuni (Siddhartha Gautama) originated many important principles and traditions of Tibetan Buddhist Dream Yoga, instruction, his students to disregard all phenomena as dreams, using examples of echoes, rainbows and clouds to illustrate the illusory nature of the world. He taught that dreams were just another form of illusion, with the whole universe arising and dissolving like a mirage. Everything around us are dreamlike phenomena; there is nothing which is not encompassed with the dream of illusory being, so the act of going to sleep is the transfer from one dream state to another. In fact, Budh means 'to awaken', thus intrinsically linking the practice of Buddhism to awakening the consciousness from literal and figurative sleep.

Other strands of Buddhism emphasise the teachings of various Dream Yoga gurus, for example the Kagyu lineage and Nyingma lineage - of course there are distinctions and variations in the different Dream Yoga teachings, but they share the key principle of reaching enlightenment through clear vision. 

In Tibetan Dream Yoga, there are 4 stages or processes: the recognition that you are dreaming; transforming the dream; multiplying the dream; and unifying the dream with clear light - so recognition, transformation, multiplication and unification.

In Tibetan Dream Yoga and Secret Doctrines (1935), Evans-Wentz describes 6 stages of Dream Yoga: 
  • The dreamer becomes lucid in the dream
  • The dreamer is to overcome all fear of the contents of the dream, recognising that nothing in the dream can harm him
  • The dreamer should recognise that all phenomena, both in the dream state and waking world are illusory due to constant change and transformation, therefore not possessing any tangible substance
  • The dreamer should realise they have control over the dream world and use dream control to make changes in their dream state
  • The dreamer should realise that their corporeal body is of no more substance than any other objects in the dream - and therefore they have control over this too
  • The dreamer should visualise deities (Buddha, Bodhisattva and Dakini) who are linked to, or resonate with, the 'clear light of the void', therefore serving as symbolic doorways to the mystical states of being . Meditating on these symbols can manifest their revelatory qualities
Thus, in Tibetan Dream Yoga, the dream state is characterised as a very pure state of mind, where the dreamer is able to transcend the constructs of time, place and space. It enables the dreamer to liberate themselves from the chains of emotions, attachments and ego in order to achieve ultimate enlightenment. 

One the dreamer has achieved the first stage of recognising that they are dreaming (i.e. conscious awareness or lucidity within the dream state), the possibilities of the dream state are limitless, but there are a number of tasks which Tibetan Dream Yoga apprentices were instructed to complete as part of their training:
  • Practice the spiritual discipline of Sadhana
  • Receive initiations, transmissions and empowerment (the 'whispered traditions')
  • Visit different locations, planes and worlds (lokas)
  • Communicate with enlightened beings (yidam)
  • Meet with sentient beings
  • Fly and shapeshift into other creatures

The ultimate Dream Yoga goal is to 'apprehend the dream' and then dissolve the dream state. The idea is, to remove all physical and mental/conceptual distractions within the dream state so that the dreamer is able to observe the purest form of consciousness.

The philosophy of Tibetan Dream Yoga is complex and esoteric, and deeply fascinating. However, it is not necessary to be an expert in Tibetan Dream Yoga philosophies in order to practice some Dream Yoga techniques, which can be incorporated into and combined with more modern lucid dreamwork. For example, reality checks work on the basis of increasing self-awareness and consciousness, both in waking reality and the dream state  - and increasing conscious self-awareness is undoubtedly a tenet of Tibetan Dream Yoga. 

Another common aspect of dreamwork which is akin to practices used by Tibetan Dream Yogis is dream recall - reflecting on the dream and observing its message. In Tibetan Dream Yoga, it was believed that the ego travels while the dreamer sleeps, revisiting real life waking places and events, repeating our experiences. This accounts for the reason why our memories appear in our dreams. Tibetan Dream Yoga teaches the importance of meditating and reflecting on recent dreams.

Further, one of the 'holy grail' techniques of lucid dream induction, the Wake-Initiated Lucid Dream (WILD technique) is based on Tibetan Dream Yoga practices. This is a method by which the dreamer achieves the state of mind awake/body asleep, by meditation-style techniques, which enable them to experience the onset of sleep paralysis and hypnagogia while still consciously awake. The dreamer is able to enter a lucid dream with no lapse in their waking consciousness, which makes this an incredibly powerful and intense experience.

Using Dream Yoga, taking inspiration from the Tibetan Dream Yogis can help us analyse how we construct our perceptions of reality, allowing us to have insight into our projections, preconceptions, assumptions, biases and selective-attention. The Tibetan Dream Yogi emphasised the concept that reality is a waking dream, subject to many conditions of the sleeping dream - and so, waking up in the sleeping dream and consciously questioning the nature of our reality is a profound path of true awakening, allowing the dreamer to understand the relativity of waking life, seeing it in a whole new light. The objective is to peel back the layers of illusion to perceive the nature of the infinite consciousness through mindfulness. Tibetan Dream Yoga is a training ground for the ultimate goal of remaining conscious at the point of physical death. 

However, it is important to note that for the Tibetan Dream Yogi, the mere act of lucid dreaming is not sufficient to awaken you in a spiritual sense. Lucid dreaming which focuses on the fulfilment or indulgence of fantasies is not 'Dream Yoga' in itself - this would be super-samsara, this linked to the cycle of birth, mundane life and death; desire and ignorance. Lucid dreams are not 'karma-neutral', and according to Buddhism, karma is created at the lucid dreaming stage, which can be negative. Dream Yoga is able to transform and purify this negative karma, uniting the dreamer with deeper aspects of their being, leading to self-transcendence. 

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