Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light

The following article is from the Spring, 1992 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

New Book from Snow Lion

Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light, by Namkhai Norbu. Edited by Michael Katz. 160 pp., $12.95, available June.

Few of us remember the many dreams we have each night. Fewer still invent or create in our dreams, or often achieve lucidity. Lucid dreams are those in which one is aware that one is dreaming even as the dream continues, a phenomenon that has been scientifically verified. Not long ago lucid dreaming might have been considered an oxymoron.

Unusual dreams have helped to guide mankind's cultural, scientific and religious progress. In the Western world unusual dreams were linked with the discoveries of the benzene molecule by Kekule, the sewing machine by Howe, and even portions of Einstein's theory of relativity. Many non-Western peoples take for granted that dreams can yield cures for illness, inventions, cultural discoveries and glimpses of the future. Systems for developing dream awareness are to be found among Australian Aborigines, Hawaiians, Native Americans, ancient Greeks and Tibetan Buddhists.

In Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light, Norbu Rinpoche gives instructions for developing the capacity for clarity within the sleep and dream states. Going beyond the practices of lucid dreaming that have been popularized in the West, this book presents methods for manipulating dream states that are part of a system for enhancing self-awareness called Dzogchen. In this tradition, the development of lucidity in the dream state is understood in the context of attaining greater awareness in the after-death states for the ultimate purpose of attaining liberation. Much of the material is presented in a lively question and answer format.

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Also included in this book is a text written by Mipham, the nineteenth-century master of Dzogchen, which offers additional insights into this extraordinary form of meditation and awareness.

Excerpt from Chapter 1The Practice of the Night, by Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche:

The night is very important for people because half our lives pass during it; but often we quietly sleep away all that time without any effort or commitment. There has to be real awareness that practice can occur at all times, even during sleep or eating, for example. If this does not happen, progress on the path is difficult to make. Therefore, the practice of the night is very important, and I will explain its theory and practice.

What is best known, or usually thought of, when someone says practice of the night is the practice of lucid dreaming. There are many explanations of lucid dreaming. But in the Dzogchen teaching, the practice of dream work, and development of lucidity, is not fundamental. It is a secondary practice. In the case of dream practice, secondary means that this practice can arise spontaneously or automatically from doing the principal practice, which is called the practice of natural light.

This practice, the practice of the natural light, actually has to do with the state prior to dream. For example, a person 611s asleep; falls asleep means that all of his senses vanish into him, and thus he is sleeping. From that point on there is a passage, a period of transition, until dreams begin. That period may be long or it may be short.

For some people, the state of dreams begins almost immediately after falling asleep. But what does it mean, that the state of dream begins? It means that the mind begins to function again.

In contrast, that which is called the state of natural light is not a moment or a state in which the mind is functioning. It is the period beginning when you fall asleep and ending when the mind begins to function again.

For example, the mind must begin working in order for reasoning to occur. First we must have an awareness of the senses. The mind begins to receive these perceptions, but there are no reasoning and thinking yet. Slowly, step by step, thinking actually arises.

There is the presence of the state of awareness, and yet mind has not begun to enter into operations such as thinking. This is the passage through which one moves in that state which is called the state of natural light. It has always been considered that it is during this period that the practitioner of Tantra realizes himself. In Tantrism this period is also described as the moment in which one meets the mother light. It is exactly this moment after the faint in which awareness develops again, or reawakens.

In the practice we do, there has to be an awareness of, or mastery of, this state of natural light. When one has an awareness of the presence of this state of natural light, then even if afterwards the state of dreams arises, one spontaneously becomes lucidly aware that one is dreaming while dreaming, and automatically achieves mastery of one's dreams. This means that the dream does not condition the person, but the person governs his or her dream. For this reason, the practice of dreams is secondary, and I cannot overemphasize how extremely important it is to do the practice of the natural light.

When we start to dream we may have one of two general types of dreams. One type is karmic dreams and the other is dreams of clarity. In addition to those dreams reflecting karma from our current life, karmic dreams can also be linked to our past lives. For instance, if someone murdered me in a past life, I may still in this life have dreams of being murdered. It is not true that what we dream is always about our experiences from this life. If an event is very weighty, then you may feel it life after life. When you sleep very deeply, you may create a perfect potential for past karma to manifest within your dreams.

If you merely have heavy tension, it may repeat in your dreams. For example, when you are a child and someone makes a problem for you it could repeat in your dreams. Or, if today I have a problem with someone, it may repeat tonight in my dream. The principle is that if you have heavy tension, and you sleep deeply, the tension tends to repeat. This is one kind of dream, a karmic dream of bhakshas. Bhakshas means traces of something left. For example, if there is an empty bottle which once contained perfume, you can still smell the trace of perfume. That is bhakshas.

The other type of dream is a dream of clarity. Why do we have dreams of clarity? Because everybody since the beginning has infinite potentiality; that is a qualification of the natural mind that we all possess. Sometimes, even if we are not doing a particular practice, a dream of clarity will manifest because we have that nature. If you are doing practice of the night and becoming more familiar with it, then not only occasionally, but on a regular basis, you will become familiar with manifestations of dreams of clarity.

What is a dream of clarity? A dream of clarity manifests when there are secondary causes; through the secondary causes it manifests as clarity. We can even obtain advice and predictions for the future because there are secondary causes for future events. A dream of clarity generally manifests in the early morning. Why? It is because when we first fall asleep, we sleep very deeply. Slowly we consume this heaviness and our sleep becomes lighter. As it becomes lighter, clarity can manifest more easily. If your practice of continuous presence succeeds, then karmic dreams diminish, This is because they are linked with tensions. The state of contemplation or presence represents total relaxation. Consequently there will be no manifestation of tension. In the place of karmic dreams, you can have more dreams of clarity.

You may now understand what the theory is and what is its importance. Now I will explain how you practice it.

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