Dream Yoga: Cultivating the Clarity of Awareness
Tibetan Buddhism has a tradition stretching back millennia of work on dreams that is slowly awakening interest in the West.
In the Western world, dreams are seen as by-products of reason – undesirable or innocuous excesses of our wakeful life, with no more importance that a film we watch in a somnambulant state. But in the East, especially in the rich tradition of Tibetan religion, dreams have a very special place in tradition.
An excellent introduction to this vision of the dream as a complementary element – or as a main vehicle – to spiritual practice is the book The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep by Tenzin Wangyal Rínpoche, a Tibetan monk who has popularized the yogis’ principles of sleeping and dreaming in the West, always aware of the historical and cultural gap between our respective mental structures on opposite sides of the planet.
The first thing we learn is the nature of dreams. And to do so it is necessary to have more of a precise idea of “karma,” and which many of use as a synonym of the ‘revenge’ that the universe plays on us as a result of our bad actions. In reality, karma is something much simpler. Everything that we do, ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ has repercussions in ourselves and our world; karma is the consequence of an action, and in that sense, dreams (like everything in the universe, according to the Tibetan world view) participate in the karmic movements and create something called ‘karmic footprints’ that are also projected into our dream dramas.
Our emotions, thoughts, sensations and actions are creators of karmic footprints, and which continue to act even after our death. As a spiritual vehicle, dreams help us to clean our karmic footprints in preparation for the ‘intermediate stage,’ bardo, which is the place that the soul crosses before reincarnating, loaded with all of its karmic footprints – vestiges of ignorance, apprehension, and past anxieties – into the next life.
Dream yoga – which is not the same as, but could be compared, to the lucid dream, and which has become popular in recent years – is simply the development of waking consciousness in each of our actions and interactions, in both wakefulness and in sleep, because for Tibetan Buddhism there is really no difference between the two states, as both participate in the illusory nature of reality (Samsara). To paraphrase the great playwright Calderón de la Barca, life is a dream, and dreams are dreams.
The book will help us to accept and cultivate a relationship between our logical and dichotomous categories in order to begin to work on our dreams, not like in psychoanalysis or magic in the vulgar sense, but as something that is part of our whole life and as such we have a right to take advantage of. We will learn that fear and joy, weakness and strength all form part of our experience in the human world, and that working on our karmic footprints (as either lay practitioners or within a more complex spiritual practice), will clean out the blockages of energy, as well as mental and emotional ones.
Dreams are images of the different types of energy blockages that we suffer from, and to have an impact on them we must promote the consciousness of wakefulness. Numerous exercises and meditations will help us to see our surroundings with new eyes and inhabit the dream world with full awareness, not to see it as the opposite of or a complement to our wakeful experiences, but as a privileged place for self-knowledge and spiritual realization.
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