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  • Writer's pictureGuylaine Richer de Lafleche

The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche: Book Review

His story starts with a dream, and although Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche did not know this at the time, this would be the beginning of his exploration into the mystical teachings and practices of dream yoga.

“I dreamt about a bus circumambulating my teacher’s house, although there is actually no road there. In the dream, the bus conductor was my friend and I stood beside him, handing out tickets to each person that boarded the bus. The tickets were pieces of paper that had the Tibetan syllable A written on them.”

(pg. 12)

Born into a family of spiritual teachers, his father a Buddhist Lama and mother a Bon Lama, it is no surprise that at only thirteen Tenzin Wangyal began his journey into the ancient traditions of Dzogchen (Great Perfection) in the Bon religion. He would go on to learn, practice, and master the ability to attain “self-liberation” and would eventually settle in the west to lead others through these teachings. It is from his own experience, as well as the influence of his mother and teachers, that Tenzin Wangyal has been able to write and guide readers through his admirable book ‘The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep.’

To truly learn dream yoga, one must understand the workings of karma. “Karma means action, [and] karmic traces are the results of actions which remain in the mental consciousness and influence our future,” (pg. 27). It is known as the “wheel of samsara, the ceaseless cycle of action and reaction,” (pg. 28). Our negative reactions produce karmic seeds in which we plant into our chakras, which is then reflected not only in waking life but in our dreams as well. This is important to understand because it teaches us that “every dream offers us an opportunity for healing and spiritual practice,” (pg. 50). In the Tibetan tradition, there is a metaphor that I am quite fond of called ‘Blind Horse, Lame Rider.' “Prana [vital energy] is compared to a blind horse and the mind to a person unable to walk. Separately they are helpless, but together they make a functional unit,” (pg.49). When we fall asleep our blind horse-lame rider duo are travelling from one place to another until they become focused on a particular chakra — the chakra and/or experience from waking life that needs the most attention and healing — harvesting several emotions and material for our dreams to come.

According to the teachings we exist in six realms — God, Demi-God, Human, Animal, Hungry-Ghost, and Hell — which are also manifestations of karmic traces, however, they are collective, not individual. The six realms are defined by negative emotions — pleasurable distraction, envy, jealousy, ignorance, greed, and hatred — and are linked with six of our chakras — crown, throat, heart, navel, sexual organs, and the soles of the feet. Our experiences can be driven by these realms, therefore our goal would be to balance them as a whole through self-liberation. An example of this may be in the celebration of holidays. Typically, during the holiday, we are surrounded by family, friends, good food, and gifts; all is bliss and it can feel like the entire world has shifted in this blissful direction. This is an experience of the God realm (pleasurable distraction). A few days later, when the holidays settle down, we may experience sadness or depression and the entire world seems to have shifted yet again. This could be an experience of the Animal realm (ignorance) or the Hungry-Ghost realm (greed). We feel lost, dull, and continue to look outward for satisfaction rather than inward. This is why we must always remain aware, that “everything that bothers us [positively and negatively] is actually in our mind,” (pg. 26) and not in our environment.

Dream yoga works with three root channels of subtle psychic energies that connect to six major chakras and run upward from the navel to the crown. These three root channels hold wisdom, negative emotion and clarity. In women, the channel that runs up their right side - the red channel - is the channel of wisdom, and can be found on the left side of men. The left side carries the white channel of negative emotion and vice versa for men. In the centre is the blue channel of non-duality. “It is in the central channel that the energy of primordial awareness (rigpa) moves,” (pg. 44). It is one's goal, in dream yoga, to “stabilize the mind and the prana in the central channel rather than allowing the mind to be drawn to a particular chakra,” (pg. 50). It is then that the dreamer, feeling centred and aware, can become lucid and begin to change their habitual karmic tendencies - free of influence - that once dictated their reactions, allowing knowledge and clarity to manifest.

“In order to fully develop dream yoga, there are four tasks that need to be accomplished in sequence,” (pg. 104). The first part of practice is about discovering restful awareness, the second is clarity, the third is power over thoughts and vision - “the power to be free of habitual reactivity when encountering appearances,” (pg. 117) - and the fourth is fearlessness, where “terrifying images no longer produce fearful emotions but are welcomed as opportunities for developing practice,” (pg. 118). The sequence of this process is important as each step helps in developing the next. The process requires one to complete the first practice before sleep, then the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in three periods of waking during a night's sleep. Each time you awaken you will assume a new position where you will place your awareness on a different chakra, colour, energy, and meditation. At first, dream yoga may seem a little daunting and you will find yourself wondering how you will ever get proper rest. Tenzin Wangyal suggests a more simple approach for beginners who cannot commit to the full process, practicing the first step several times throughout the night/week/month. He also includes mediations that can be performed throughout the day or before bed, to help one become more aware in all cycles of consciousness. In his teachings, he explains the importance of learning how to become lucid in waking life — a technique I have been practicing and benefitting from greatly.

Although I have yet to experience a full night of dream yoga, I can sincerely say that by reading this book I have noticed a profound shift in my perspective. Through these simple practices, I have been able to achieve a dream state where I am more aware of my actions and surroundings, and upon waking I truly feel like I have experienced something new. ‘The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep’ has helped me to see that all states of consciousness can be interpreted like a dream. Look around, there are signs and symbols hidden everywhere just waiting to be found — in your teacup, in the clouds, in your fireplace, and in the music you listen to! This book has provided me with answers to questions I had no idea how to ask and I can feel myself taking on a new quality of life. So now, I invite you to read ‘The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep’ and as Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche would say, learn to “dream, rather than be dreamt,” (pg. 123). You too can discover the beauty in this dream we call life... and I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised by what you will find!

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