Timeless Wisdom

Dreaming within the Dream

How Dream Yoga Can Help Us Wake Up From Delusion

By Alan Wallace

Leading up to his retreat “Lucid Dreaming and Dream Yoga” at the Garrison Institute on September 18-25, 2018, Alan Wallace discusses how dream yoga can help one wake up from delusion.

In the first moment when our consciousness shifts from dreamless sleep to an ordinary, nonlucid dream, we are unaware that we are dreaming and fail to recognize the nature of the appearances that arise to our consciousness. This is the moment of unawareness or ignorance (avidyā in Sanskrit). From the darkness of ignorance of this first moment, in the second moment of the dream we grasp to our own identity within the dream as being who we really are, and we grasp to appearances as being external to ourselves. In this way, we draw a distinction between ourselves as the subject and appearances as being objective. As we conceptually make sense of these appearances within the dream, we reify, or grasp to the inherent existence of ourselves as a person and to other people and objects within the dream. In this way, from the ground of ignorance we become immersed in the delusion (moha) of reifying the subject-object duality, clinging to our own side with attachment and responding with hostility to anything that appears to obstruct the well-being of our side. It is a characteristic of a nonlucid dream to take everything in the dream as being the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Such experience is obsessive (in that dreams arise involuntarily), compulsive (in that we become immersed in them), and delusional (in that we view that which issues forth from our minds as being external to ourselves). As we act upon the basis of such delusion, attachment, and hostility, we sow the seeds for our own pain and distress within the dream.

During the daytime, in the first moment when our consciousness shifts from a state of simple, nonconceptual awareness to mind-wandering, or rumination (vikalpa), we are unaware that we are thinking and fail to recognize the nature of the appearances that arise to our conceptual mind. This is the moment of unawareness or ignorance. From the darkness of ignorance of this first moment, in the second moment of mind-wandering, we grasp to our own identity within the chain of thoughts as being who we really are, and we grasp to the objects of thoughts as being external to ourselves. In this way, we draw a distinction between ourselves as the subject and appearances as being objective. As we conceptually make sense of these appearances within this semi-conscious thought process, we reify, or grasp to the inherent existence of ourselves as a person and to other conceived people and objects. In this way, from the ground of ignorance we become immersed in the delusion of reifying the subject-object duality, clinging to our own side with attachment and responding with hostility to anything that appears to obstruct the well-being of our side. It is a characteristic of such obsessive, compulsive, delusional thinking to regard the entire conceptual narrative as being the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Such experience is obsessive (in that mind-wandering arises involuntarily), compulsive (in that we become immersed in this semi-conscious conceptualization), and delusional (in that we view that which issues forth from our minds as being external to ourselves). As we act upon the basis of such delusion, attachment, and hostility, we sow the seeds for our own pain and distress within the dream.

At the moment of conception, in the first moment of consciousness within this lifetime, we are unaware that we are of the nature of consciousness and all appearances to it. This is the moment of unawareness or ignorance. From the darkness of ignorance of this first moment, in the second moment of the formation of our minds in this lifetime, we grasp to our own identity as being “over here,” and we grasp to the space of awareness and the appearances that eventually arise within it as being “over there.” In this way, we draw a distinction between ourselves as the subject and appearances as being objective. Upon emerging from our mother’s womb, as we conceptually make sense of the appearances, we reify, or grasp to the inherent existence of ourselves as a person and to other people and objects. In this way, from the ground of ignorance we become immersed in the delusion of reifying the subject-object duality, clinging to our own side with attachment and responding with hostility to anything that appears to obstruct the well-being of our side. It is a characteristic of such reification to regard our experience of the world narrative as being the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Such experience is obsessive (in that such experiences arise involuntarily), compulsive (in that we become immersed in them), and delusional (in that we view that which issues forth from our minds as being external to ourselves). As we act upon the basis of such delusion, attachment, and hostility, we sow the seeds for our own pain and distress within the dream. A comparable process takes place each time we wake up, as we shift from the nonconceptual state of dreamless sleep to our normal daytime consciousness.

To destroy the seeds of pain and distress during the waking state, while dreaming, and while caught up in mind-wandering, we must recognize the first moment of these experiences for what they are: creations of our own minds. By dispelling the darkness of such ignorance, the delusion of misapprehending appearances of ourselves and everything else is averted. In the absence of such delusion, attachment, and hostility—together with their resultant pain and distress—do not arise. This is the essence of the path of dream yoga during the daytime and nighttime, and, more broadly, it is the path of complete awakening.

Dr. B. Alan Wallace is one of the most prolific writers and translators of Tibetan Buddhism in the West. Having devoted fourteen years to training as a Tibetan Buddhist monk, ordained by H. H. the Dalai Lama, he went on to earn an undergraduate degree in physics and the philosophy of science at Amherst College and a doctorate in religious studies at Stanford.

Join us September 28-25, 2018, for a retreat with Wallace, “Lucid Dreaming and Dream Yoga.”

Photo courtesy of Tim Foster on Unsplash

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