A Brief Reflection on Buddhist Dream Yoga
In my most recent article about the ideas of Carl Jung in relation to Sufism, I made the following statement: “It would seem that, of all the major spiritual traditions, Sufism places the greatest emphasis on the significance of dreams and their interpretation. I am happy to be corrected, but am not aware of any similar emphasis in Buddhism, Hinduism, or Taoism”.
Wes Hansen has responded, saying: “To correct you on the dream aspect, in Vajrayana Buddhism of all flavors Dream Yoga plays a huge role”. He then provides two links. Both of these, however, refer not to the interpretation of dreams in the Jungian sense, rather to the practice of lucid dreaming, the attempt to remain conscious during a dream with the intention of controlling it.
The first refers to a book Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light. The accompanying text says: “Chögyal Namkhai Norbu gives instructions for developing clarity within the sleep and dream states. He goes beyond the practices of lucid dreaming that have been popularized in the West by presenting methods for guiding dream states that are part of a broader system for enhancing self-awareness called Dzogchen… (This is an) extraordinary form of meditation and awareness”.
In similar vein the second link refers to lucid dreaming as “the launching pad for exploring the deep inner space of the nighttime mind. In lucid dreaming, you’re fully conscious within the dream and therefore can do almost anything you want within it. Lucid dreaming is the ultimate in home entertainment. Your mind becomes the theater, and you are the producer, director, writer, and main actor”. When you read the whole article, you discover that lucid dreaming, or dream yoga, is one more practice to aid the search for enlightenment. Its ultimate goal is the same as that of waking meditation.
Nothing I say here is meant to suggest that there is anything wrong with such a practice, and that it is not useful in the way that is described. However, this has nothing to do with the Jungian approach to the interpretation of dreams and the Sufi connection that I was writing about in my article.
The second link begins by saying that “Buddhist practitioners have understood for centuries that the illusions we encounter in dreams are the same ones we encounter in waking life”. No meaningful distinction is being made therefore between waking life and sleep; they are both states of illusion from which we need to awaken.
For Jung, however, dreams are products of the unconscious which offer insight into the psychological situation, guidance, and directions about one’s life journey and purpose (if one can only understand the symbolism). They therefore appear to be created by a source of deeper wisdom within us, which Jung calls the self. The last thing one would want to do would be to interfere with a dream, to try to change or direct it. Why would you want to put the ego consciousness, which according to Buddhism is so subject to illusion, in charge? Let the deeper, wiser aspects of our hidden nature speak to us without interference. That was the approach of both Jung and Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, the Sufi whose book I discussed in the previous article.
I can see nothing in these two links about Buddhist dream yoga which would make me want to change my original statement.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All of those articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here). My most recent articles, however, are only on Medium; for those please check out my lists.