This article originally appeared in "The Voice of Clear Light" which is
the Ligmincha Institute newsletter, Volume 111, Issue 1, Spring 1994
Author - Bill Gorvine
   Approximately one-third of our lives are spent while asleep. Consider
that for a person who lives for sixty years, twenty years of that
lifetime are passed unconsciously. Moreover, it is no mistake that
enlightenment and other exalted states of consciousness are described as
one who has overcome the sleep of ignorance.
   Tibetan Buddhism has long acknowledged that the night, like any other
time, is important for practice. The state of sleep and dream is
considered a bardo or intermediate state in some Buddhist systems and is
a very good training ground for those who would approach the bardo at the
end of their life with confidence. Similar to the bardo of the afterlife,
the dream period is a looser, less concrete extrapolation of our waking
reality, with greater possibilities of all kinds. On the one hand, it is
very easy to resemble an animal or a corpse when asleep - this is
essentially our condition when we remain devoid of clear awareness and
passively experience all kinds of karmic dreams. On the other hand, as
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche has explained, the dream state can also serve as
a marvelous opportunity to accomplish the goals of our practice which
would ordinarily seem beyond our capabilities.
   As Rinpoche elucidated during the Dream Yoga workshop (Feb. 19-20,
1994 here in Charlottesville), each of our dreams is said to be connected
with one of the disturbing emotions (hatred, attachment, delusion,
jealously, pride, or, in some cases, a combination) and originates from a
corresponding energy center in our body.  A dream manifests when the mind
travels to one of these cakras during sleep and activates a karmic
latency. (e.g. sexual center corresponds with desire, heart center with
jealousy/emotional relations with others, etc.)
   Rinpoche discussed two general methods for working with karmic dreams,
both of which require the practitioner to become lucid in the dream (to
understand that the dream is a dream). While this is obviously difficult,
there are things to do during the day and surrounding the periods of
sleep that are designed to facilitate lucid dreaming. These involve
practices such as reminding one self many times during the day that this
is a dream, setting a firm intention to become lucid just before
sleeping, and invoking the lama, yidam, and dakini for help. One should
also not become discouraged if one finds in the morning that not much
happened; instead, one should resolve to continue the training. There is
also a visualization of seed syllables, which correspond to the cakras,
that one endeavors to do at certain points during the night; one's
sleeping posture is also important to the practice.
   Once one is lucid within the dream, the two methods involve either
remaining in the presence of awareness, thus leaving things 'as they are'
to 'self-liberate' (a Dzogchen approach), or else one recognizes the
dream and, realizing one's power to control the manifestations, one
begins transforming things (a tantric approach). In the second
method, which is easier for a beginner, one can perform all kinds of
unusual activities, such as multiply objects or one's own form, fly, or
communicate with our teachers or individuals from the past.
   Either of these methods can help us to see our waking life in a less
concretized fashion, thereby overcoming fears while generating insight
into what in Dzogchen is called energy and manifestation. On a more
conventional level, it is also possible to purify karmic potentialities
in the dream state before they fully manifest. One can also develop and
increase 'dreams of clarity' which help us (and others) on the path to
enlightenment. As Rinpoche emphasized, enlightenment is the true purpose
for working with dreams or any other practice in Buddhism.