Dreaming Your Way to Non-dual Awareness

Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 1998.

There are different reasons for practicing dreamwork. By turning their dreams into their own movies, lucid dreamers pursue exciting experiences. Astral travelers are keen on exploring subtle realms. Dream and sleep yoga practitioners, instead, are seekers; their goal is self-realization as prospected in the cosmology of Tantrik Buddhism. The author of this book, Tenzin Wangual Rinpoche, is a monk who has lived extensively in the West; his Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep contains instructions about esoteric practices that were traditionally reserved for the initiates. Therefore, this volume is much more than a how-to manual; instead, it is in the first place an outline of fundamental aspects of Buddhist tantra: a cosmology where dream and sleep yoga are but the culmination of a comprehensive practice meant to defeat ignorance in the pursuit of non-dual awareness.

Ignorance is the illusion of separation in our waking state; however, ignorance also permeates the deep sleep we succumb to every night and the dreams that ensnare our consciousness. Through Rinpoche’s dream and sleep yoga techniques, we can rein in the energies of dream for the sake of attaining spiritual guidance and, most importantly, realizing the clear light that is our true essence. We do so by setting ourselves free of karma.

Karma is the product of the grasping and the aversions that agitate our mind. By taking on the form of karmic traces, these emotional dynamics become embedded in our unconscious, ready to manifest whenever the circumstances provide a trigger. This dynamic unfolds in the waking state, but it also transpires through a dream life that is shaped by both desires and fears. By developing lucidity, we can use dream yoga to become the detached spectators instead of the involuntary protagonists of our karmic dramas.

Dream yoga begins during the waking state through preparations that consist of daily concentration practices; by constantly reminding themselves that every aspect of their life is a dream, practitioners will begin to release all grasping and aversion. They will pay close attention to their dreams, making all efforts to remember them in the morning; every evening they will review the events of the day, recognizing them as dreams.

The main practice takes place during sleep, and consists of chakra visualizations to be carried out throughout the night: for the first two hours, practitioners will contemplate their throat chakra, subsequently shifting their attention to their third eye, their heart, and their sacral chakra. The goal of this visualization is a merging with the light that abides in each chakra; when this happens, practitioners will slowly develop lucidity as well as freedom from their karmic dynamics. They will be able to receive teachings through their dreams even as they begin to realize the clear light of non-dual awareness.

After mastering dream yoga, Tantrik practitioners can graduate to sleep yoga. This requires focusing on one’s heart chakra while transitioning to sleep. This practice is particularly helpful in preparing for the ultimate transition: through the yoga of sleep one will be able to retain awareness through the process of dying, thus attaining liberation from the cycle of reincarnations.

As an approach to dreamwork that is steeped in tradition, The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep is a transformative read for anyone keen on exploring oneiric states; it is also recommended to all those who may have an interest in Tibetan Buddhism; esoteric yoga practices; tantra; and the experiential study of consciousness. While the practices outlined in this book are not easy, reading it may change your outlook on sleep and dream states for good.

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