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A buddhist perspective on lucid dreaming

Copenhagen University, Denmark

Editor’s Note: Tarab Tulku, L.R.G.S, Dr.Phil., is a Tibetan lama, the eleventh in-carnation of the Tarab Tulku. Tarab is an abbreviation of the much longer name of a monastery in Tibet. Tulku means "reborn." He has been educated in Tibet at the University of Drepung Monastery, where he received the highest degree, Lharampa Geshe, in Buddhist philosophy and metaphysics, as well as in meditation disciplines (including Tantra). At present Tarab Tulku is the head of the Tibetan section of the Royal Library and of the Tibetan department of Copenhagen University. On the basis of his own profound experience and accumulated knowledge, Tarab Tulku has modified the original Tibetan Buddhist techniques and developed therapeutic meth-ods adapted to Western approaches, still integrating the essence of the esoteric meditation practices of Tibetan Buddhism.

Within the Buddhist Tantric tradition there is great emphasis on using the dream state of being for developmental ends. There exists a special practice called "dream yoga," which in the West has been presented as one of the "Six Doctrines of Naropa." The dream yoga is a high meditation practice which is performed by the practitioner within the so-called lucid dream state.

However, working directly and consciously in the lucid dream state is not ac-cessible to very many people. As the dream yoga methods are very strong and direct methods for development, I have committed myself to developing ways of dealing with dreams, which on the one hand provide training towards actual dream yoga practice—the practicing within the lucid dream state—and on the other hand can fruitfully be used to confront and dissolve problematic psychological structures more effectively than by dealing with these in the ordinary waking state. Therefore, it is appropriate to talk about two different levels of purposes, a surface level of psychological observance, and a more subtle level of spiritual observance.

Psychologically-oriented practices are concerned mainly with changing our general psychological structures with the purpose of decreasing our everyday prob-lems in relation to self and others. In contrast, the spiritual observance level is a practice level mainly concerned with changing our existential existence, with the purpose of decreasing the distance between, and thus uniting, our rational and non-rational abilities, or our feminine and masculine energies, or our body and mind or substance and consciousness. By healing the gaps and finally uniting subject and object we break the dualistic determination and entrapment of our existence, thus entering into the nature of existence, the essential nature of the universe.

It should be noted that distinguishing these two practice levels is provisional. The two levels follow each other sequentially. One must solve one’s major problems on a psychological level before being able to successfully enter the more subtle spir-itual level where changing one’s existential structures in relation to reality occurs.

One of the main concerns on a psychological level is to obtain a balance be-tween our ordinary coarse-rational contact with and/or interpretation of reality and a nonrational relation with reality. This balance can be obtained, and has traditionally within Buddhism been obtained, from two alternately used angles:

1. One can use methods to awaken and train the nonrational contact, whereby the coarse-rational contact naturally will be softened, and become less rigid and projec-tive and thus more open and clear; or

2. One can use methods to directly reduce the coarse, rationally created reality, to touch upon and be able to perceive and appreciate a more direct and nonmanipulated relationship with reality, a step which in itself will further a nonrational contact with reality.

During the process of establishing a balance between our ordinary, coarse-rational and the nonrational contact with reality our psychological problems change as they are part and parcel of the coarse-rational creations.

In dealing with dreams, in the dream state in particular, we initially train the nonrational way of contacting reality, using our dream body/mind abilities. With this basis we deal with the dream object—and later again with the dream subject—in different ways, slowly breaking the coarse-rational beliefs as well as many other layers of our dualistic way of existence.

Before I talk about the way I work with dreams, I will briefly be concerned with the creation and dynamism of our ordinary way of being, i.e. the ordinary coarse-rational way in which we contact reality. For this purpose, the foundation of the Buddhist psychology of perception/cognition, characterized by "the five skandhas" is useful. This system describes our psychophysical dynamic being from the per-spective of the meeting of subject and object. In other words it is a detailed breaking down of the moments of perception. We also need to concern ourselves with the question of why the dream state is particularly useful for our purposes. Finally, I will present how I find it useful to deal with dreams within the dream state and within the imaginary dream state—methods based on the traditional dream yoga practice.

Tarab Tulku XI