Working with your fear is one of the more advanced stages of dream yoga. This starts to get more interesting here and a little bit more deeper. In this stage, you create frightful situations in your dream. If you’re already within a nightmare, for instance, this is fantastic, don’t change the nightmare, work with it. What you want to do here is work with your fear. We talked about fear as being the primordial emotion of Samsara, that kind of fundamental fear, which is really the fear of the truth of our own nonexistence. That’s fundamentally what it is, which is why I talk often about existence.
Establishing a Relationship to Fear in Your Dreams
You want to create fearful situations in your dream, really kind of the opposite of what you would normally do certainly in a classic lucid dream, and then you want to actually plunge yourself into these fearful situations. You want to do this because you want to establish a relationship with the fundamental emotion of Samsara that which throws you into Samsara moment-to-moment, day-to-day, or life-to-life. You want to establish a sane, conscious relationship to that which drives virtually every movement of your life and therefore transform it through that relationship.
So how do we do this in the dream? Well, this is kind of fun. The great master Tsongkhapa who is the really the founder of the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, he says this;
“Whenever anything of a threatening or traumatic nature occurs in a dream (my assertion) or you generate it in a dream, such as drowning in water or being burned by fire, recognize the dream as a dream and ask yourself, how can dream water or dream fire possibly harm me? Make yourself jump or fall into the water or fire in the dream, examine the water, stones, or fire and remind yourself of how even though that phenomena appears to the mind, it does not exist in the nature of its appearance.”
“Similarly, all dream phenomena appear to the mind but are illusory, they’re empty of inherently existing self-nature. Meditate on all dream objects in this way.”
So what Tsongkhapa is inviting us here to do is create these situations in dream, let the fearful kind of registration hit you. In other words, don’t be afraid of the fear, and then look through the fear, realize as it says in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, “Illusion cannot harm illusion, emptiness cannot harm emptiness.”
Look through whatever it is that scares you and realize this fundamental illusory nature. This is a very compelling way to start to see through the facade of fear, which up until now has so effectively kept us away from the truth. And it does so by masking the truth with darkness. So these are all code words. Are you starting to see how this all works together? Sleep is a code word for ignorance, darkness is a code word for the unconscious or for fear. So by working with these things as they express themselves in the night, we’re actually working with all these different facets of our experience.
Enter the Body of Another Character in Your Dreams
Another advanced dream yoga technique is to enter into the body of another dream character. In other words, you’re in the middle of the lucid dream and often enough there’ll be, you know, so to speak, other people or even animals in the dream, and if not, crank one out, make one. And when you do that, the invitation here is to try to step into their shoes, in this case, their dream shoes, even more deeply, step into their skin, become them, see through their eyes, feel with their body, etc.
Why do you want to do this? Well, I think this one might be a little bit obvious. This is a very powerful way to develop empathy and compassion. And I have to confess, I find this one really hard, and yeah, I’m aware of it, it’s a truth teller. Maybe it’s showing that I need to work more on my empathy, on my compassion. So I often bump up against this one in my practice, I just find it hard to do. I find it hard to get out of my skin and to get into others. And I actually find it pretty embarrassing, it’s kinda this habitual pattern that shows me where I’m stuck but I see it now so I work with it.
When I’m in the middle of the daily experience and something’s really coming at me from another person instead of my reflex of contraction, defensive contraction, I flash onto this dream practice and I go, you know what? I wonder what it’s like from their side, I wonder how they’re seeing the situation. And the minute I do that, just even trying to do it, even if I can’t, the minute I get out of myself and try to get into others, that already starts to liberate or ventilate to situation and I can back up and communicate with these people more directly because I’m not so invested in my position, in my stance, in my identity, I’ve softened that. Even though I can’t accomplish this part of the dream yoga practice, that in itself can help me. Because that’s another indicator that even if you can’t do some of these things, just knowing about them, just trying to practice them, then in itself will start to transform you.
Creating a Dream Body in Your Dreams
This one is a little bit more advanced. So, in these latter stages, again, if you can’t connect to these, if you can’t do them, don’t worry about it. Really go back and have fun with the earlier steps, play with them, become familiar with them, develop stability in those and the way you’ll tend to find is these other steps just kind of naturally evolve. You know the path, as Khenpo Rinpoche says, remember that earlier quote? “The path unfolds in its own way.”So if you don’t connect to some of these, stick with the ones that you do connect with and realize that these are further opportunities that await you.
But in this particular step, what you do here, and it’s getting a little esoteric, it’s connected a little bit to what are called out of body experiences (OBE) that so many people seem to talk about, is you create what’s called a special dream body. It’s made out of what’s called prana mind. Do you remember when you were talking about prana? That’s actually what it’s “made of.”
What you do is you actually project this, which is actually just projecting your mind, is it not? Into different places, and we’re talking here now, literal places, whatever that really means in the context of the illusory world. This is what the Buddha did when he went to sleep or when his physical body went into sleep mode. It’s like putting your computer into sleep mode, there’s still something operating underneath.
His body went into sleep mode, but he generated a special dream body, you remember what he did? Among many other places, he went to Tushita Heaven and taught his mother what is called the Abhidharma, which are really sophisticated teachings in Buddhism. So the Buddhists are on 24/7, in a certain sense, they’re never off duty. This is part of their vow to serve sentient beings at all times and under all circumstances.
Travel in Your Dreams
So what you can do here quite literally is you can FedEx your consciousness to India, so to speak, and maybe catch some teachings by his holiness the Dalai Lama. This will certainly save a lot on travel expenses and certainly the hassles of trying to get into India with their visa requirements. You can go to India, listen to some teachings of his holiness, the Dalai Lama, bring them back into your so-called physical body, download them into the system and then study them. Or even more interesting, really colorful travel here, is you can FedEx your consciousness to a pure land or any other trans spatial, trans-temporal dimension and receive teachings from what are called the celestial bodies or other deities and enlightened beings from any other tradition, doesn’t matter.
So, his holiness the Dalai Lama says this:
“There is such a thing as a special dream state. In that state, the special dream body is created from the mind and from vital energies, i.e prana, within the body. This special dream body is able to dissociate from the gross physical body and travel elsewhere.”
I mean, really, if you can groove on this, think about it, no jet lag. That alone is worth trying.
So how do we actually practice this? Well, again, it’s a little esoteric but why not? What you want to do during the day is you want to become familiar with…and there’s that term. How many times have we used that term in this program? To become familiar with , “meditation”. Remember that that’s what meditation is translated into Tibetan- “Gom” – to become familiar with.
So you want to become familiar during a day with these locations, these mindscapes or landscapes, to almost quite literally, in this case, stamp your mind before you FedEx it there. You can say something like this, put your hands over your heart to give it a little bit of extra oomph and say, “I not only want to recognize my dreams but I also want to go to the pure lands, or whatever, and receive teachings to benefit others.” So with this practice, and pardon the pun, you can overnight your mind to any physical or mental destination.
Meditate in Your Dreams
Another advanced dream yoga practice is to meditate in your dream. This, again is not so easy, why? Because the stability of your dream as we saw earlier is nothing more, nothing less than the stability of your mind, the stability of your attention. So this is difficult because, again, as a truth teller, when you’re in the dream, what characterizes a dream, in fact, what is one of the principal distinguishing characteristics between dream consciousness, and waking consciousness. Dream consciousness as defined by discontinuity, by flightiness, by disjointedness. Where does that come from? It comes from the disjointed nature of your own mind.
So this one, again, is a little bit more advanced. But what you want to do here is sit your dream butt down on the dream ground, and I start with just trying to be mindful in my dream. Just practice mindfulness in your dream. And this case, it’s just mindfulness of mind in a very literal application because mind has become your reality here. So when you’re practicing mindfulness of mind, which remember we talked a little bit about in the second phase of our shamatha instruction as we dropping down into sleep, if you’re practicing mindfulness of mind, this is where it really comes to fruition.
Once that practice becomes stable, if it becomes stable, and this truly can become a lifetime practice, then you can do other practices. You can return, for instance, to deity yoga and do some of the subtleties associated with that. Virtually any practice that you do in life, you can do on the dream state. Why would you want to do this? Well, in addition to making it a kind of a 24/7 affair, in other words, you can practice all the time now you don’t really have an excuse anymore.
Namkai Norbu says this, he is a great social master, “If a person applies a practice within a dream, it is nine times more effective than when it is applied in life.” I would also add here it’s probably also at least nine times harder. But again, if you can gain the stability in the medium of the dream, you will find that stability transposing back into your waking life. So this, again, is yet another instance of how dreaming consciousness and waking consciousness work with each other.
Discover the Clear Light Nature of Mind in Your Dreams
This is last stage we’re going to discuss. What you do here is you drop below not just the psyche, because most of what’s actually taking place so far in our lucid dreams is a combination of the psyche maybe kind of dropping into the bandwidth of the substrate mind, but what you want to do at this level is you want to cut through both of these. I offered this to you just as a view of what’s possible.
So here in this practice, you want to cut through the ground of Samsara altogether. Remember, that’s what the substrate mind is, it’s the substrate of Samsara. You want to cut through that and land below into the clear light nature of mind from which everything that arises is seen as a dream and then you just rest there. You just relax in that formless awareness.
This is a really big part of sleep yoga which, remember, is more like graduate school. So we’re not gonna spend too much time here but that possibility, that eventuality awaits you, drop below the entire spectrum of manifest mind and rest in the very substrate of all mind altogether, its radiant, clear light mind itself.
So with these nine stages, so to speak, nine levels, nine ways of practicing, you’ve got some idea now of what you can do when you wake up within a dream. And these really can constitute the structure of an entire dream trajectory. In other words, these practices will become the practices of your life.
Once again, don’t worry so much about the advanced stages, I just wanted to show you what’s possible to show you how far these practices go and to give you some indication of why of supreme awakened master, like his holiness the Karmapa, actually attained full-blown enlightenment through the practice of dream yoga. The potential is there.