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Dreaming in Tibetan Buddhism

Updated: Feb 24, 2021

Why do we have particular dreams? Tibetan Buddhism has its own explanation.

The mind is not driven randomly to one chakra or another, but rather is drawn to the places in the body and the situations in life that need attention and healing. It is as if the heart chakra is crying out for help.

If we make a loud sound where there are conditions for echos, a loud sound returns to us; a quiet sound returns a quiet sound; and a strange cry comes back to us as a strange cry. The sound we hear returning is the sound we made, just as the content of a dream appears to be independent of us but is only the projected content of our mind returning to us.

The disturbing trace will be healed by manifesting in the dream and thereby being exhausted. However, unless the manifestation takes place while the dreamer is centered and aware, the reactions to it will be dictated by habitual karmic tendencies and will create more karmic seeds.

It is important to understand that every dream offers us an opportunity for healing and spiritual practice.

The goal of dream practice is liberation; our intent should be to realize what is beyond dreams altogether. But there are also relative uses of dream that can be beneficial in our everyday life.

These include both using information that we glean from dreams and directly benefiting from experiences that we have in the dream.

There are three types of dream that form a progression in dream practice, although not an exact one: 1) ordinary samsaric dreams, 2) dreams of clarity and 3) clear light dreams.

Samsaric Dreams

The dreams that most of us have most of the time are the samsaric dreams that arise from karmic traces.

The meaning is imputed by the dreamer rather than being inherent in the dream. This is also the case with meaning in our waking life.

Dreams of Clarity

As progress is made in dream practice, dreams become clearer and more detailed, and a larger part of each dream is remembered. This is a result of bringing greater awareness into the dream state.

Dreams of clarity arise when the mind and the prana are balanced and the dreamer has developed the capacity to remain in non-personal presence.

Dreams of clarity may occasionally arise for anyone, but they are not common until the practice is developed and stable. For most of us, all dreams are samsaric dreams based on our daily lives and emotions. Even though we may have a dream about the teachings, or our teachers, or our practice, or buddhas, or dakinis*, the dream is still likely to be a samsaric dream. If we are involved in practice with a teacher, then of course we will dream about these things. It is a positive sign to have these dreams because it means that we are engaged in the teachings, but the engagement itself is dualistic and therefore in the realm of samsara.

If we make the mistake of believing that samsaric dreams are offering us true guidance, then changing our lives daily, trying to follow the dictates of dreams, can become a full-time job. “It is also a way to become stuck in personal drama, believing that all our dreams are messages from a higher, more spiritual source. It is not like that.

Clear light Dreams

Clear light dreams arise from the primordial prana in the central channel and can be achieved through prolonged meditation with an experienced teacher.

Recommended reading list:

  • The Essence of Tibetan Buddhism by Traleg Kyabgon

  • Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu

  • The Bliss of Inner Fire. Heart Practice of the Six Yogas of Naropa by Lama Yeshe

  • Awakening the Sacred Body by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche

  • The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche


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