The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep

The following article is from the Summer, 1998 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche talks about his new book

A Tibetan Bon lama, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche was born in Amritsar, India, after his parents fled the Chinese invasion of Tibet. He received training from both Buddhist and Bon masters, attaining the degree of geshe, the highest academic degree of Tibet. Rinpoche has been in the United States since 1991 and has taught widely here and in Europe and Mexico. He is the director and founder of The Ligmincha Institute in Charlottesville, Virginia, which is dedicated to the_ preservation of the teachings, transmissions and culture of Bon.

Rinpoche is the only Bon master living in the United States; he is also the author of Wonders of the Natural Mind. Rinpoche spoke about his new book, The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep with his student, Cindy Loew, on June 24,1998.


Cindy: Why did you write this book? Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche: Since I was a little boy I have always been interested in dream and when I was growing up I often heard my mother and my teachers talk about their dreams, the way they dreamed and the way in which they related to their dreams. This fascinated me. When I came to the West, I realized that dream was also considered very important here, particularly dream analysis. I knew that the Tibetan way of looking at dream, understanding dream, practicing dream was quite different and I thought it was important that my Western friendspsychologists, therapists and my studentslearn these differences. So that was really my reason for writing this book.

C: Has this material been covered before?

Rinpoche: There are a few books, but I think this is probably the most detailed book regarding Tibetan dream and sleep yoga.

C: From whom did you learn dream yoga and how long have you been practicing?

Rinpoche: I learned from my teachers, Lopon Sangye Tenzin and Lopon Tenzin Namdak. I have been practicing more closely for the past 10 years.

C: Why should someone practice dream yoga? Why is it important?

Rinpoche: Every practitioner is trying to develop his or herselfto grow more spiritually and finally to achieve Buddhahood. One of the main difficulties people face in the West is finding the time to practice. But no one ever says, I am too busy, I have appointments, therefore I am not going to go to sleep tonight! Every human being needs sleep. The time is free and it is a very good time to do practice. Also, we sleep one third of our lifetimethat is twenty years for someone who lives to be 60. It is very important for a practitioner to understand what is going on during those twenty years. Dream is important because it is one of the best ways to understand the deepest aspects of ourselves. It is also one of the most important ways to heal.

C: How is dream important in terms of healing?

Rinpoche: Every dream is somehow healing within itself as long as the practitioner is not being distracted by the appearance of the dream and its images and the story of the dream. If one is having a lucid dream, that is, a dream in which one is aware that one is dreaming, one is naturally healing.

C: Why?

Rinpoche: Because you are releas-

C: What are some of the most important aspects of dream yoga for someone just starting the practice?

Rinpoche: I think one of the most important things to do is not to just start the dream practice when you go to sleep, but to begin the dream yoga when you are awake. Try to be aware of your mind; try to realize how sometimes you can be powerless when the emotion comes. Realizing this, it is important to try to develop some stability while you are awake. And that stability can be supported by the experience of joy, you know, seeing the gifts of life, the positive experiences around oneself. Also, with all the experiences of the daytime, our mind and all our soul experiences get scattered around everywhere. Somehow we become pieces before we go to sleep. If we go to sleep as the pieces, we are not going to have a good sleep experience. So we need to try to have some awareness. Try to bring all those pieces together. Become one.

C: And how does one do that?

Rinpoche: Try to feel those experiences of the day and try to dissolve them and then come together in that very momenttry to feel this before you go to sleep.

C: So you try to dissolve and become peaceful?

Rinpoche: Yes, peaceful and then focus on the peaceful. And in order to focus on the peaceful, one can pray. Use whatever spiritual tradition you practice. You can ask for help from the guardians, protectors and the angels. Whatever you believe in.

C: So people who are not Buddhist can do this and put in their own deities?


...we sleep one third of . our lifetime-that is twenty years for some-one who lives to be 60. It is very important for a practitioner to understand what is going on during those twenty I years.

Rinpoche: Yes, definitely. No matter what belief a person comes from we are all sentient beings. Sentient being means the one who has a mind, and the one who has a mind always has difficulty controlling it when in samsara. So you should use whatever support works to help to bring the mind together and then one should practice. All people can try to work with their minds and try to develop the capacity to not always be driven by their emotion. Try to guide your emotion in daily life. This is important for developing the dream and sleep practices.

C: So doing the dream yoga will help anyone improve their health, and to develop a sense of inner peace and calm and more clarity?

Rinpoche: Yes.

C: What specifically can we do during our waking hours to enhance our dream practice?

Rinpoche: What you do while you are awake is very important. Dream practice is not as much about what you do when you are sleeping and dreaming as it is about how you use the mind when awake. If the day is spent spaced out and caught up in the elaboration of the conceptual mind, we are likely to be the same in dream. If we are more present in our life, we will also find that presence in dream.

There are four main foundational practices in dream yoga, which are done while awake. The first one is related to perception that means that everything that you see, you hear, you feel, you touch, you smell while you are awake, you experience them as a dream. You say to yourself, This is a dream. In this way a new tendency is created in the mind, to look at experience as insubstantial, transient, and ultimately related to the mind's projections. As phenomena are seen to be fleeting and essenceless, grasping decreases. This will help you do this when you are actually dreaming and will lead to the recognition of the dream state and the development of lucidity. There is no stronger method of bringing consistent lucidity to dream than by abiding continuously in lucid presence during the day. This is the first preparationto see all of life as a dream.

The second foundational practice works to further decrease grasping and aversion while we are awake. As the first foundational practice is applied in the moment of encountering phenomena and before a reaction occurs, the second practice is engaged after a reaction has arisen. Ideally the practice should be applied as soon as any grasping or aversion arises in response to any object or situation. The grasping mind may manifest its reaction as desire, anger, jealousy, pride, envy, grief, despair, joy, anxiety, depression, fear, boredom and so on. When a reaction arises, remind yourself that you, the object, and your reaction to the object are all a dream.

The third foundational practice involves reviewing the day before going to sleep and strengthening the intention to practice during the night. As you prepare for sleep allow the memories of the day to arise. Whatever comes to mind recognize as a dream. Then make the strong determination that, just as you are recognizing the dream-like nature of the day, you will also recognize the dreams of the night for what they are. Make the strongest intention possible to know directly and vividly while dreaming that you are dreaming. The intention is like an arrow that awareness can follow during the night, an arrow directed at lucidity in the dream. Before you go to sleep pray that you may have a clear dream.

The fourth foundational practice is to rejoice and'be thankful when you awake if you have been successful and have had a lucid dream. You say, This is wonderful. If you are not successful, you recognize this, but don't get discouraged. Rather, you put stronger intention into your practice. Finally, during the morning period generate a strong intention to remain consistent in the practice throughout the day. Don't forget to pray with your full heart for success. Prayer is like a magical power that we all have and forget to use.


Senior lineage holders of the Tibetan Bon tradition (from left to right): Tenzin Wa.ngyal Rinpoche, Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, aruiLopon Tenpa Yungdrug Rinpoche. The Lopons have come to the United States from Kathmandu, Nepal, to teach at the Sante Fe retreat.


Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, senior lineage holder of the Bon school and head of the Bon monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal, teaches from The Six Lamps, a Bon Dzogchen text which focuses on the nature of mind. The teaching occurred at Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche's annual summer retreat, in Sante Fe, New Mexico this July.

C: Do we need to do anything else to prepare for dream practice before we actually go to sleep?

Rinpoche: Even for someone who doesn't practice the dream or sleep yogas, it is good to prepare for sleep, to take it seriously. Purifying the mind as much as possible before sleep, just as we do before meditating, generates more presence and positive qualities. Rather than carrying negative emotions into the night, use whatever skills you have to free yourself from them. If you know how to self-liberate the emotion do so. Try to connect with the lama, yidam, and dakini, or generate compassion. Do what you can to rid yourself of the tension in your body and the negative attitudes of your mind. Even if you are unable to do the rest of the practice, this is something positive that everyone can incorporate into daily life. In the book I go into more detail about particular meditations one can do right before going to sleep.

C: What are the main dream practices to focus on during sleep?

Rinpoche: The four main practices of the dream yoga include a practice to do while falling asleep and similar practices to be done during three periods of waking during the night. These are outlined in detail in the book. Sleep is broken into roughly two-hour segments. During each working period a particular position is taken, a particular breathing is performed, and the mind focuses on a particular image in a particular chakra.

There are four tasks we need to accomplish in order to fully develop the dream practice: bringing the mind into the central channel, cultivating clear vision and experience, developing power and strength so that we will not become lost, and developing our wrathful aspect in order to overcome fear. These tasks correspond to the four qualities of dreamspeaceful, joyful, powerful, and wrathfuland to the four sections of the practice.

C: What do we do if we are having a lucid dream?

Rinpoche: In lucid dreams we practice transforming whatever is encountered. There is no boundary to experience that can't be broken in the dream; we can do whatever occurs to us to do. As we break habitual limitations of experience, the mind becomes increasingly supple and flexible. The teachings present us with new ideas, new possibilities and the tools to realize those possibilities, and then it is up to us to manifest them in dreams and waking life.

For instance, the teaching talks about multiplying things in dream. Perhaps we are dreaming of three flowers. Because we are aware of being in a dream and the flexibility of dream, suddenly we can make a hundred flowers, a thousand flowers, unlimited flowers. But first we need to recognize the potential. The Mother Tantra lists eleven categories of experience in which the mind is usually bound by experience. All of these are to be challenged and transformed. They include: size, quantity, quality, speed, accomplishment, transformation, emanation, journey, seeing or realizing, encounter and experiences. These are explained more fully in the book.

C: In the book you mention that in order to become truly effective with the dream practice, it is best to get up two or three times during the night and then start the practice again. This is hard for Westerners, many of whom are already sleep-deprived. How important is it to get up several times during the night?

Rinpoche: It depends on how serious the practitioner is. People who have children, they often get up two or three times during the night. And people who need to go to the bathroom frequently get up more than three times. So getting up for dream practice is just another point of view. It doesn't mean that you cannot do the practice if you don't get up, but it is very helpful. The important point is to bring greater awareness to the dream and the rest of life, and this anyone can do, whether or not they are able to do the complete cycle of the yoga.

C: How do you know you are making progress with your dream practice?

Rinpoche: You know because you are having more clear dreams, more complete dreams, you are remembering them, you are having lucid dreams. You can guide your dreams instead of being dreamt!

C: What is sleep yoga? How' does it differ from dream yoga?

Rinpoche,: Dream yoga is when you actually have dream images and sleep yoga is before the images come or after the images dissolve. Do you have any way of understanding yourself, your presence, your awareness when you are asleep, but not dreaming? These are all questions concerning sleep yoga.

C: Should you become proficient in the dream yoga before you attempt the sleep yoga?

Rinpoche: In the tradition it is said that dream yoga is easier to do first and then sleep yoga. The reason is because dream yoga has images and we feel more supported if we can hold onto something. When we have nothing to hold onto, the average person feels supportless.

C': How will people actually know-when they are doing sleep yoga?

Rinpoche: It is the same as being aware of the gap between two thoughts when you are meditating. You are aware there are no thoughts. It is the same with sleep yoga, there are no images, no dreams, but you are aware that this is happening.

C: So people who are doing the sleep yoga successfully are going to know they.are doing it?

Rinpoche: Yes, yes. If people have some sense of awareness before they dream they are doing it. Also one can actually have awareness while one sleeps; they can have clear light experiences, but that is a very difficult realization to have. I describe in the book how to recognize the clear light.

C: Do we need any special initiations or transmissions for the dream and/ or sleep yoga to be fully effective?

Rinpoche: If people want to get some awareness and develop some skills, it is not necessary But if someone wants to go into the teachings and practices in depth as delineated in the book, then I think it is necessary to have transmission from a person who has experience or is holder of the transmission.

C: Does that necessarily need to be a Bon teacher or can it be any Buddhist master?

Rinpoche: Well if it is specifically related to the practices that I am talking about, i.e., Mother Tantra, then it can be any qualified teacher who has the Mother Tantra transmission.

C: What are the most common mistakes practitioners make with regard to dream and sleep yoga?

Rinpoche: Too much expectations! People expect to have immediate results. You can make instant coffee, but not instant success with dream and sleep yoga. People want instant dream and sleep yoga success. Also, anytime when you try to do the dream yoga before you go to sleep, you need to have joy about doing the dream yoga practice. If you think of it as work, that is a very big mistake. Sometimes people think, Oh, I am too exhausted. This is a mistake; we need to view it as a joyful, relaxing practice, like taking a warm shower or lying in a comfortable bed and finding the right position before we go to sleep. We don't consider those things work.

C: Is there a difference in the dream and sleep practices described in your book from other Buddhist dream and sleep yogas?

Rinpoche: The principles and essence will be the same as dream and sleep practices from other Buddhist lineages, but there might be slightly different methods which one should explore to determine which are the best for oneself.

C: If we are having problems with our dream and/or sleep practices or we just want more guidance, to whom can we turn and where?

Rinpoche: People can contact our local practice groups where they will find senior practitioners skilled in the practices. We have Garuda Centers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Mexico City and Warsaw, Poland. Our headquarters is located in Charlottesville. Also we have a website, which includes information on upcoming seminars and workshops. Also we have a six-tape audio program on the dream practice. It was taped live at a six-week course I conducted at Rice University in Houston, Texas last year. This might prove helpful to those seeking more information.

C: Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share?

Rinpoche: It is important to remember that the dharma is really flexible and we need to remain flexible. Do not allow yourself to become trapped by the practice. Experiment. This doesn't mean that you should throw out the tradition and make up your own. These practices are powerful and effective and Skey have been the vehicle for countless people to realize liberation. At death you reach the borderline between samsara and nirvanathe intermediate state, the famous bardo. The single essence is your passport that allows you to enter nirvana. Without the passport you cannot leave samsara. If one has never had the experience of clear light during sleep it is difficult to pass from samsara in the bardo. If one can integrate with the clear light of sleep then one can integrate with the clear light of death. All the beings who achieved enlightenment and became Buddhas crossed the border and entered the clear light. We too, with great determination and joyful work, have the capacity to do the same.

For information on teachings and workshops of Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, please contact: The Ligmincha Institute at 804-977-6161; e-mail:; fax: 804977-7020; website: / Ligmincha; or write to: The Ligmincha Institute at P.O. Box 1892, Charlottesville, VA, 22903. ä_æ

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