Tibetan Dream Yoga and Integral Deep Listening


Rather than focusing on lucid dreaming, IDL dream yoga explores multiple paths of awakening from our dreamlike groupthink. It compares one type of dream yoga, Integral Deep Listening, with several traditional approaches, including shamanism, Chinese traditions, Hinduism, Buddhism, and several other contemporary paths to awakening, including lucid dreaming, Ken Wilber’s Integral AQAL, and various psychotherapeutic approaches.

What is Tibetan Dream Yoga?

Tibetan Buddhism is also known as Vajrayana and tantra and these terms can be used interchangeably. It can be thought of as a mixture of Buddhism and shamanism, with the latter inherited partially from the shamanistic roots of Hinduism that were passed on into Buddhism, as explained above, and the native shamanism of Tibet, best represented by the Bon tradition. This rather remarkable combination created many of the unique features of Vajrayana and its dream yoga. As we have seen in our discussion of Theravada, Buddhism is different from all other major religious traditions in a number of noteworthy aspects. It is based on the concept of interdependent co-origination rather than a rescuing force, deity, or avatar. In addition to not believing in an eternal soul or self, Buddhism is atheistic. It also does an unusually good job of balancing ontological affirmations of what is real with a deep recognition of our inability to rationally make such affirmations. Buddhism is historically non-violent. It supplements faith with reason, asking followers to question and test its assumptions and practices. It emphasizes prescriptive injunctions, thereby offering empirically verifiable experiments subject to evaluation by those trained in similar methods. In this regard, the various schools of Buddhism together undoubtedly provide the most sophisticated and thorough exploration of meditation available in any religious tradition. Buddhism is also the only major world religion that has meditation as its central practice.

Like both Theravadin and Mahayana Buddhism, the purpose of Tibetan Buddhism is to awaken out of the delusion of the dream of life to end suffering and become enlightened. In this very broad sense, all of Buddhism can be considered a dream yoga. Vajrayana generally portrays itself as the integration and transcendence of all yogas. Unlike Theravadin Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, emphasizes a dream yoga which includes lucid dreaming, something that it shares with svapna, or Hindu dream yoga. Some schools of Buddhist thought, such as Zen, view dreams and dreaming as illusory, distractions, makyo, to be ignored. However, if dreams are seen as sources of spiritual direction, they are to be interpreted and followed, as Milarepa does within the Tibetan tradition; if they are seen as a tool for enlightenment, then one undertakes a particular practice while dreaming. Tibetan Buddhism has developed sophisticated strategies for awakening while asleep so that one can experience the expansive freedom that accompanies waking up out of self-created delusion.

The ultimate goal in Tibetan dream yoga is to attain conscious awareness while dreaming, called “apprehending the dream,” and then dissolve the dream state. When deprived of physical stimulus (from the sleeping body) and conceptual stimulus (from the dreaming mind), one can observe the purest form of conscious awareness. As in waking, dreaming is to be replaced by nirvana. Two classics edited by W.Y. Evans-Wentz, Tibet’s Great Yogi, Milarepa, and Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines, demonstrate a long tradition of interest in dreams and dreaming by Tibetan spiritual adepts.

Because all traditions reinterpret their traditions in terms of their present contexts, there are significant differences between how Tibetan Dream Yoga is now being taught and how it was understood in say, the time of Milarepa. Because the context of today’s Tibetan Dream Yoga has the advantages of models from physics, other religious traditions, holism, and over two thousand years of Western philosophy as well as psychology and integral psychology, they are broader and wider than traditional, classical teachings of Tibetan sutras. Consequently, when sutras are cited below, it is important to remember that different students in different historical periods interpret them in different ways and that what is said about traditional Vajrayana may not apply to how it is understood and practiced today.

If Tibetan Buddhism is your path of choice, Integral Deep Listening wants to help you make it more alive, meaningful, and useful in your life. In the following sections we will explore some ways to do so.

The Shamanistic Origins of Tibetan Dream Yoga

Due to their mastery of trance states, Tibetan Bonpo shamans were healers and guides for the soul at death. The term “Shenpo” may have originally been used to designate shamans, in distinction from magicians and priests. “Bonpo” originally meant someone who invoked the gods and summoned the spirits. Exploring trance states was done to discover treasures that would benefit the community. These native shamans performed exorcisms, and worked to free humans from demonic influences, such as diseases, which were viewed as being caused by demons and other hostile spirits. Many of the colorful aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, such as magic, mantras, various devotional offerings, and the worship of gods are traced to indigenous shamanism, since they are not shared by Indian Buddhism.

In Tibet the roles of the Pawo, or shaman, the Ngakpa, or magician, and Lama, or priest overlap and are not exclusive. Ngakpas, are usually married men and not monks, yet are nevertheless called Lamas because they also perform pujas or offering ceremonies, as well as shamanic exorcisms and other magical rituals. They may be either Bonpo or Buddhist. The Pawo is distinguished by trance spirit possession initiated by drumming and chanting. The consciousness of the shaman, Namshe, is projected out of his or her physical body through the aperture at the top of the skull into one of the three mirrors arranged on the shamanic altar. These three mirrors represent the gateways to the worlds of the celestial spirits, Lha, the earth and mountain spirits, Tsen, and the subterranean water spirits, Lu. These correspond to the three realms of the shamanistic cosmology preserved in Hinduism, Theravadin and Mahayana Buddhism, and Chinese traditions, in addition to Tibetan Buddhism. When the Namshe of the shaman leaves the physical body, his guardian spirit or spirit-guide, also called a Pawo, enters his now vacated, inert body and speaks through the shaman as a medium. This spirit-guide responds to questions and can diagnose the cause of the illness in question, usually that being some offended spirit. He then recommends a treatment, which usually includes the performance of a healing ritual, gto, in order to restore harmony and a balance of energies between the patient and his natural environment.  Beginning with the establishment of Buddhism and its monastic system in Tibet in the eleventh century, pawo shamans were employed by the larger monasteries and the Tibetan government as oracles, called Lhapa or Sungma. The most famous among these oracles is the State Oracle attached to Nechung monastery, and he is usually possessed by the spirit Pehar. The State Oracle continues to function in exile at Dharamsala in India, the seat the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile. From this we can see to what extent shamanism was internalized by Buddhism in Tibet and remains a strong, ongoing presence within it. The conclusion to be drawn is that Tibetan Buddhism cannot be properly understood without a thorough understanding of the worldview and practices of shamanism. For this we recommend a review of the first chapter of this book.

The Ngakpa, or magician, is an exorcist and is rarely possessed by spirits. Instead, he enters into a trance in which his Namshe leaves his body in a subtle mind-made body yid-lus, and enters into the heavenly, earthly, or underworlds to search for fragments of the soul of the patient, which has been stolen by deceitful spirits or imprisoned there by a black magician. A patient suffering from soul-sickness or loss of soul is characterized by inertia, weakness, depression, and loss of interest in one’s surroundings and everyday affairs. The soul, La, is a subtle energy field that serves as the vehicle for the individual’s emotional life. If it is not recovered and restored to wholeness in the patient within a sufficient period of months, they may die. The Ngagpa may also perform a ritual, known as La-guk, “recalling the soul,” to recover its pieces. Because he possesses the power to enter the three realms and return with treasures of knowledge and power, the Ngakpa is able to diagnose the causes of diseases and prescribe a variety of methods for effecting cures.

What are we to make of these beliefs and practices? Shamanism is the natural worldview of hunter-gatherers, or mankind in its infancy. These are people who are just like you and me, but with a much simpler lifestyle, language, and way of comprehending themselves, others, and the world. This simplicity applies not only to fewer and less complicated possessions, but simpler, more concrete and sensory-based knowledge, objectivity, self-awareness, linguistic distinctions, and choices. Emotions are less mediated by thought, just as in a five-year old. Hunter-gatherer consciousness is enmeshed in and controlled by natural environments. It uses tribal unity to stay alive. Life is short, brutish, and full of dangers and vulnerabilities that can occur at any moment for reasons rarely understood. Shamanistic practices are attempts to gain control over a wild and uncontrolled world, and the nature of these practices reveals the consciousness of the practitioners.

They disclose a worldview that is concrete, meaning that what you see and feel is real. The sun really does rise and set. A stick bent under water really is bent, but straightens by some magic as it is pulled out. This worldview is also called “naïve realism,” which means that your senses provide you with direct knowledge of the external world. We see objects as they “really” are. They are substances composed of matter, occupy space, and have properties, such as size, shape, texture, smell, taste, and color. In fact it was not until the late 1600’s that man began to question these assumptions, when a British physician, John Locke, showed that the properties of objects are dependent on the perceiver and are not inherent in them.

A good way to tell if a belief is natural to the shamanic world view or not is to ask yourself, “Would this idea be acceptable to your average five year old or not?” Is it an idea that requires reason, or is it rather an immediately perceived, pre-rational reality? Dream experience falls into this category, as do demons, spirits, gods, possession, begging for protection from spirits, bargaining with and placating them, the three world cosmology of heaven, earth, and hell, and the literalness of near death, mystical, and trance experiences. This is a world of dualisms of good and bad, right and wrong, clean and dirty, powerful and weak, obedience and disfavor, reward and punishment. It is a literal world in which those things that happen to you really happen, whether you are awake or dreaming. It is a world of limited self-awareness because the ability to stand back and observe oneself has not yet been developed. Consequently, there is almost no regard to motives, intentions, ideals, or purposes. These are abstractions that do not yet exist. Instead, there are dualisms and powerful realities that must be respected.

We have a natural tendency to romanticize and glorify the noble, simple lives of those close to nature. We have a difficult time imagining a reality that is devoid of the assumptions that our worldview takes for granted. Psychologically, we rebel against doing so. However, if we do not get over our tendency to project competencies of later developmental stages onto earlier, simpler times we will never understand shamanism, Tibetan Buddhism, or many of the formative impulses at work within dream yogas.

Shamanism in Tibetan Buddhism

In many ways, the Lama and the Ngagpa have usurped in Tibetan society the archaic functions of the shaman. After the introduction of Buddhism into Tibet, many cultural figures such as Guru Padmasambhava and the famous yogi Milarepa have been associated with the motif of the First Shaman. Many Lamas have been specifically trained in the practice of Tibetan medicine, a practice of shamanic heritage, at monastic colleges. The most common ritual performed by Tibetan Lamas at the popular level is the tse-wang, “long life empowerment,” a kind of psychic healing that invokes and channels healing energy into the participants in the ceremony, whether they are ill or not. This is a shamanically-derived procedure, not a reflection of traditional Buddhist practice. In the Tibetan Book of the Dead the Lama or the Ngakpa functions as a psychopomp or guide for the perilous journey of the individual soul through the Bardo experience leading to a new rebirth. There is nothing like this in Indian Buddhism, but both its practice and psychological rationale make sense within the tradition of shamanic trance channeling, intercession for dying and deceased souls, and visitations to heavens and hells. In the practice of the Chod rite, which uses visualization, chanting, and dancing to the accompaniment of the shaman’s drum, the practitioner gains mastery over the spirits through offering to them the flesh of one’s own body. In many ways this Chod ritual recapitulates the initiatory experience of shamanic initiation, with its motifs of dismemberment and resurrection. The practice of the Chod is believed to be particularly effective in preventing the spread of plagues and infectious diseases. Both of these traditional Tibetan practices, the Bardo rituals and the Chod rite, represent a journey from fragmentation to integration. These are some of the ways in which the archaic, paleolithic, hunter-gatherer shamanic mind-set and techniques have now been absorbed into the high spiritual and intellectual culture of Tibetan Buddhism. We will see that this is a major explanation for an interest in lucid dreaming in Tibetan Buddhism that did not exist in Theravadin Buddhism, and apparently was much greater than that found in records of classical Hinduism.[1]

Central Concepts of Tibetan Buddhism

Waking as Dreamlike

The first thing to notice about Tibetan Buddhist dream yoga is that it supplements the traditional focus of both Hinduism and Buddhism, that is, to wake up out ot samsara, or earthly existence, and into freedom, moksha or nirvana, with an emphasis that is similar to shamanism. Just as shamans enter trance states to explore other worlds in order to bring back knowledge or health to the community, so Tibetan dream yogis enter the dream state, which is itself a trance, to explore other worlds in order to do the same. The simplest and most parsimonious way to explain the strong tradition of a yoga of sleep and dreaming in Tibet is to see it as a continuation of the strong shamanistic traditions that co-existed there, rather than as an expression of historical Buddhism, which lacks such an emphasis.

Therefore, the overall purpose of Tibetan dream yoga is inherited from Buddhism and Hinduism, and that is to learn to “wake up” out of samsaric consciousness, primarily through waking yoga: following the Noble Eightfold Path. The secondary purpose of Tibetan dream yoga is inherited from the shamanic roots of the Bon tradition, and involves learning to “wake up” in your dreams as a way to learn to “wake up” while awake, from the dream of life in all states – waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. Tibetan Dream Yoga uses waking up in dreams to teach the dreamlike nature of existence. This is different from the traditional Hindu explanations of the illusoriness of life by comparing it to a dream. The purpose of Tibetan dream yoga is to help students wake up out of dukkha, or a state of suffering that generates karma through identification with the five skandhas of body, sensations, feelings, perception, and consciousness itself, by experiencing states of radical freedom and knowledge in the trance state of dreaming. As such, it represents a broadening of Buddhist practice into two entirely different states: dreaming and deep sleep.

Waking Up Out of Ignorance and Self-Delusion

In Tibetan Buddhism, as in all Buddhism, ignorance and self-delusion are due to attachment to transient, perishable things. This attachment is desire, craving, or clinging. The path to the cessation of suffering is called the Eightfold Path or the Middle Way between the two extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. The Eightfold Path involves laying a foundation of wisdom through cultivating healthy perspectives and intentions, ethical conduct through cultivating healthy speech, action, and livelihood, and developing your mind through right effort, mindfulness, and concentration. Buddhism says: do these things and wake up out of ignorance and self-delusion.

In the Tibetan tradition, dreaming is viewed in ways similar to shamanism: as a state in which one can gain access to spiritual masters from the Tibetan or Buddhist past or in heavenly realms. One of the reasons you would want to learn lucid dreaming as a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism is to access such teachings to discern the illusory nature of all states, and to thereby wake up, or become enlightened. Shamanic journeying in dreams to learn from past Buddhas and Lamas make sense within the context of this world view.

Dreams, dream yoga, and lucid dreaming have relevance and purpose if they help you wake up out of ignorance and self-delusion. Integral Deep Listening shares this emphasis on waking up out of ignorance and self-delusion. It encourages you to listen to the advice of respected others. including your spiritual teachers, and in the case of Tibetan Buddhism, the guidance of Rinpoches. Listen to and follow those teachings that improve your life, whether from Buddhism or other sources. Interview emerging potentials, especially high-scoring ones, regarding your life issues. Listen to interviewed emerging potentials that are more awake than you are. Because your inner compass is more likely than anyone else to know what you need to do or not do to wake up, your own practice of dream yoga should move more smoothly and more rapidly when you know you are following the priorities of your inner compass. Other people’s solutions, or the remedies of religions and movements, are non-specific to your unique condition and circumstances. They are cultural solutions that have been found to work, yet tend to not be specifically tailored to you and your needs. In addition to listening to emerging potentials that are more awake than you are, it is also important to listen to those that are stuck or even more asleep than you are. That is because they will pinpoint both blocks and their solutions quickly and effectively. When you combine feedback from respected teachers of Tibetan Buddhism, interviewed emerging potentials, and your own common sense, you increase the likelihood that you will wake up more quickly. Apply those emerging potential recommendations in your life that make sense and support your practice.

Non-Dual Reality

Transpersonal, or mystical, states are typically differentiated into four types: energy (nature mysticism), bliss (saintly or devotional mysticism), emptiness (the Path of the Sages or formless mysticism), and non-dual. Energy states focus on purity, power, reality, truth, and control. Blissful states focus on unity and universal love. Emptiness emphasizes radical detachment from thinking, feeling, sensations, and, most importantly, from a sense of a separate self. Transcending and including all three is the non-dual, which integrates transcendent non-being, called nirvana by Buddhists, with the mundane and delusional world of samsara. All four of these are emphasized in Tibetan Dream Yoga.

Accessing and identifying with interviewed emerging potentials supports and strengthens movement into the non-dual through the practice of Tibetan Buddhism. In addition, application of the recommendations that they make in your day-to-day life ground your deep listening in action. We shall also see how this practice is highly compatible with Tibetan tantric deity yoga.

In the Mahayana tradition, the principle of interdependent co-existence, pratītyasamutpāda, complements the concept of emptiness, sunyata. Because all things arise in dependence upon causes and conditions, they are empty of inherent existence. A classic expression of this relationship was provided by the renowned Indian scholar Nagarjuna in the twenty-fourth chapter of his Treatise on the Middle Way:

Whatever arises dependently
is explained as empty. Thus dependent attribution
is the middle way.

Since there is nothing whatever
that is not dependently existent, for that reason there is nothing
whatsoever that is not empty.

Geshe Sonam Rinchen explains the above quote as follows: “Here Nagarjuna states the Madhyamika or middle way position. Everything that exists does so dependently and everything that is dependently existent necessarily lacks independent objective existence.”[2] We can see this easily with dream characters; they interdependently arise and interact over the course of a dream, both in response to the presence of each other and to their interactions with our waking identity as it appears in dreams, called “dream self.” However, it is less easy to place ourselves, after we wake up out of a dream, or if we are in a lucid dream, on the same ontological footing as the rocks, houses, animals, people, and spirits that occupy our dreams. They are delusions; we are real. This is an epistemological, as well as an ontological error. On the other hand, while we are in our normal dream trance we attribute to dream elements a waking degree of objective reality instead of attributing to ourselves the same interdependent insubstantiality that they possess. This is also an epistemological, as well as an ontological error. Even when people learn to lucid dream they continue to assume that they are real; it is only the dream environment that is an illusion. Although you can do things while dreaming that you cannot do when awake, such as fly, die and resurrect, or be hurt and not experience pain, you will still assume that you are real, within your illusory dream body, not only while dreaming, but also when awake and reviewing your dreams. You may look at the other characters as self-created delusions, but you yourself in the dream – you are real. To repeat, because it is important: this is an epistemological, as well as an ontological error. We will explain what we mean in some detail in the subsequent chapters on ontology and epistemology.

Tibetan Buddhism routinely encourages disidentification when it instructs chelas to become this or that Bodhisattva during meditation or an empowerment. Integral Deep Listening does so whenever a student becomes a dream character or the personification of a life issue. In Integral Deep Listening, disidentification with waking identity is thanatomimetic, imitative of death. Disidentification with your normal waking sense of self to take on the role of this or that dream character is a practice in dying, in that you are surrendering your sense of self so that you can deeply listen to the perspective of the emerging potential that you have chosen. Regardless of how broad and inclusive your waking identity becomes, it can always be surrendered to access another perspective that contributes to and thereby broadens it. Identification with other emerging potentials awakens your waking identity by broadening your sense of who you are. The result is a greater, more profound death of self and rebirth into the non-dual. The result is more clarity, more wakefulness, more enlightenment. This is one of the easiest and quickest ways to both dissolve and expand identity, yet without inflating it through identification with a false identity.

The emphasis of both Hinduism and Buddhism on detachment from rebirth and therefore from physical existence and the termination of dreaming does not make sense to many Western minds. They wish to psychologize this belief, out of a recoiling from the nihilism they assume is generated by the idea that life is something to avoid. They want to celebrate life, to view the involutional turn of spirit as one of the two hands of life, and to therefore reinterpret the Buddhist tradition as “really” not life-denying. However, an objective reading of Buddhism makes this conclusion very difficult to maintain. There are many data points that support the opposite conclusion. First, the doctrine of skandhas makes clear that sensory experience is one of the five components that support and maintain not just identity, but another one of the skandhas, consciousness itself. You cannot have physical life without sensory experience. You cannot have non-physical life without consciousness. Detachment from sensory experience is intrinsically part of the waking up process within Buddhism. This is termination of sensory experience itself in addition to detachment from identification with sensory experience. Another clear indication that Buddhism intends the cessation of incarnation is the bedrock assumption that life is samsara, delusion, and dreamlike. The goal is clearly stated that you need to not only stop dreaming, because dreams are productions of samsara, but living. You can’t be physically incarnate and be fully alive, because the state of being identified with the skandhas is intrinsically a state of delusion.

How can this view not be nihilistic? The problem is not in the Buddhist view, because it is not nihilistic; the problem is in the level of development of the audience, interpreters, and commentators. This can be easily understood if one looks at the nature of mystical and near death experience. It is not uncommon for people who have these experiences to be so overwhelmed by them that earthly life is pale by comparison; they become burnt out on life; they yearn for a return to the glory, awe, majesty, love, sacredness, oneness, and light of their rapturous experience. Life is simply no longer attractive. Most of these people not only do not fear death; some of them welcome it with open arms.

This perspective can only be viewed as “crazy” and nihilistic to those who have not had such experiences, but it makes perfect sense to those, such as Gautama, who have had clear, unfiltered glimpses of a reality that are not conditioned by the senses or the normal filters of the mind. That is not to agree, however, that life is not worth living because its nature is samsara, or with those who have become jaded on life because of mystical experiences. The way that Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhism typically finds the middle way on this issue is through the doctrine of upaya – incarnation after nirvana as a bodhisattva for the purpose of service, as a manifestation of compassion or wisdom. Enmeshment in samsara is justified as an act of personal sacrifice, with a psychological reasoning not so different from God incarnating as Jesus to save humanity from its sins. The state of reincarnation is perilous even for Buddhas, because their actions have consequences; they are creating karma which can keep them coming back. While upaya is an ideal for every man and a way to make the best of life in prison, its purpose is to help everyone else escape prison, because from a Mahayana Buddhist point of view, you are not free until I am, since we are all interdependently co-originated. For Gautama, the world free of sensory experience is immeasurably superior to life in the world.

This fundamental problem regarding the purpose of existence does not exist from the perspective of Integral Deep Listening. That is because at any point you can take the perspective of emerging potentials that are already free, now, at this moment. We know they are existing in a relatively non-dual reality by their own testimony and by their high scores in most or all six core qualities of fearless confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing. When you identify with such a perspective you move out of the duality of future freedom and present enslavement as well as the duality of enlightened “other” and delusional self. When you do so, there no longer is a distinction between life and death, purpose and nihilism, reality and delusion, nirvana and samsara. As long as you stay in such a perspective, it does not matter whether you are incarnate or not. This is what is called a “non-dual” perspective, and it is generally considered to be the highest or “end” of the spectrum of developmental stages. However, it is also understood to be an always already existing state that can be accessed by anyone, here, today, now. Integral Deep Listening interviewing is one way to do so, certainly not with the intensity and life-changing drama of a mystical experience, but in bite-sized, absorbable, self-chosen, repeatable doses that can gradually build toward an ongoing non-dual perspective onto life.


The concept of “no self” in Buddhism arises out of the teaching that all things are impermanent. If this is the case, there are no lasting substantial realities, including selves. These are understood to be processes rather than “things.” A self becomes a verb rather than a noun, a happening rather than a static state of beingness. The direct and personal experience of no self is an experience of radical freedom of which the experience of freedom in lucid dreaming is a pale shadow. The reason for this is that lucid dreaming generally is experienced by a self. Selves cannot experience the radical freedom of non-self, because the former is unconditioned while the latter is conditioned freedom.

While that awareness can arise as the result of decades of meditation, it is available to anyone who cares to question the nature of a dream rock, cloud, animal, or human, either while dreaming or in an Integral Deep Listening interview. This is not a normal recognition from an Integral Deep Listening interview, but it is there within almost any interview for those who choose to look for it. Personality is then seen as useful artifice, as a tool like language or one’s fingers, whose purpose and function is to create a context for a fuller expression of the life that animates it.

In Integral Deep Listening the concept of “no self” arises out of the death of one’s self- sense that comes when identity is surrendered for another during identification with this or that emerging potential. It also arises out of the thinning and broadening of the self as one identifies with more and more emerging potentials. This is extenuated when those emerging potentials themselves are directly experienced as having no self. Consequently, the experience of “no self” is accessible to beginning students of Integral Deep Listening and deepens over time. Therefore, Integral Deep Listening interviewing can help practitioners of dream yogas to experience and amplify an awareness of anatma. In addition, merging in meditation with emerging potentials that experience life from a non-dual perspective moves you into that space, depending on the depth of your allowance of that identification.

For those interested in lucid dreaming, IDL recommends a waking assumption that all dream characters, no matter how exhalted, are devoid of Self. Refuse to assume they are either literal or self-aspects. Suspend both assumptions, instead preferring to listen to how they describe themselves. If you take this open perceptual stance into your dreams you will most likely discover that your interactions with dream characters change. Instead of them reacting to your assumptions, when you consciously choose to suspend your assumptions by taking a phenomenological approach, you free them to not fit into your mental, emotional, and cultural categories.

Discipline and Power Sharing                  

For Tibetan dream yoga discipline involves in following the eightfold noble path and secondarily, the practice of dream yoga. The concentration is on meditation, both while awake and while dreaming. Awareness involves remembering that one is dreaming, evoking Bodhisattvas and great teachers, and focusing on accessing and maintaining the clear light. Integral Deep Listening awakens waking identity through power sharing with other legitimate perspectives. It thins and expands identity, thereby reducing its fear of death, loss, and its perception of threat. The discipline of following recommendations speeds the process. This reduction of sensory, emotional, and mental filters allows life to provide its own perspective and be the commanding experience, rather than our interpretations of life.

Authority and Interviewing

Interviewing dream characters has not made sense to most people throughout most of history, including for Tibetan Buddhists. It is not part of traditional Buddhism and only tangentially part of the shamanic tradition. The exceptions have been characters that were thought to be literal beings who were questioned in the dream itself, as Joseph exacting a blessing from an angel he defeated while dream wrestling or Milarepa or another Tibetan dream yogi questioning a Lama or deity in a dream or lucid dream. Greek temples of dream incubation offer examples of strong pre-sleep intention followed by “literal” dream visitations, visitations, inspirational awarenesses, or spontaneous healings. While all such events are substantial and worthy of investigation in their own right, none of them involve interviewing in the Integral Deep Listening sense of the term.

It is not that interviewing of dream characters cannot be done or that it is particularly difficult, so much as it has not arisen in the context of prevailing world views or models of development. Because the assumption is made in Buddhism, as in many traditions, that the teacher knows best, there is no incentive to interview dream characters within traditional Tibetan dream yoga; one might hear advice that contradicts the instructions of the teacher or the teachings of Buddhism. In contrast, the approach of Integral Deep Listening is much more questioning of authority than is permissible in the traditional student-teacher relationship within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. More importantly, Integral Deep Listening emphasizes listening to emerging potentials rather than bending them to the will of any waking identity, regardless of how respected it may be.

In Tibetan dream yoga, while there may be questioning of spiritual masters while dreaming, these are not questioned outside of dreams, nor are objects, such as clouds, mountains, and houses questioned in dreams. The idea of taking the memory of a dream character in the waking state, imagining that you are that character, and then asking it questions, is historically very rare. Why? It is even more rare to find this done with inanimate and mundane objects like dream trees, clouds, rocks, or houses. Why? It is yet even more rare to have such interviewing of dream objects occur within the dream itself. Why? This would mean that the dreamer becomes this or that dream character and responds to questions asked of it within the dream itself.

Doing these things is a direct contradiction to the world view of shamanism, a world view that we all took for granted as children and that continues to exist within us as adults as individuals and collectively, as societies. To identify with a character outside of a dream was done within shamanism when taking on the persona of certain characters, such as a totem wolf in warfare, when there was an obvious characteristic associated with the character that was required in a social context. Imagining that one is a dream character and then becoming it was done in specific instances within shamanism. However, to take the next step and interview it would normally require going into trance, surrendering personality entirely, and completely becoming a dream character. This is very different from the non-trance or light trance identifications that are typical for IDL. To the extent that this would be done it would be in an oracular context, and only of certain characters who were viewed as powerful or wise, not ordinary objects such as sticks or clouds, because there would be no adaptive advantage in doing so.

However, Tibetan Buddhism offers the closest approximation to this among the broad historical cultural traditions, in its practice of becoming teachers and deities before and during sleep. This may result in looking at the dream from the imagined or internalized perspective of the teacher or deity, or it may result in questioning the teacher or deity in the dream. However, are there accounts in Tibetan Buddhism of questioning the teacher or deity and then becoming the teacher or deity to answer, while dreaming? If no, why not? We know of no waking interviewing protocol that was ever developed in Tibetan Buddhism to practice and then to take into the dream state. A high level of lucidity is required to remember to interview and then to remember to become the character being interviewed, while dreaming. More basically, what relevance would any of this have to the Tibetan Buddhist goal of enlightenment? Essentially, it is an extension of the common practice of mergence with idealized spiritual icons, sharing those same intentions.


Tibetan Buddhism is outstanding in the history of world religions for its development of yogas surrounding the cultivation of non-dual clarity, called ösel. Near the beginning of the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā (The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines), we read, “Mind is not mind. The nature of Mind is clear light. Ösel,” Ösel is clarity, luminosity, or radiant light and indicates the intrinsic purity of the “substratum of the mindstream.”[3] It is also a dharma or doctrine of Naropa in Vajrayana and Bon centered on the state of luminous clarity. Luminosity is often translated as “clear light.” This “light” is much closer to “luminosity,” with the implication of translucence, than the conception of visual light, implying that what the typical near death experiencer reports as light is not the same as Ösel. It has also been called “the original state of mind, fresh, vast, luminous, and beyond thought.”[4] This yoga can involve elements of lucid dreaming and lucid deep sleep, without dreams. When it does, it functions as a complement of Milam, or Tibetan dream yoga, and Gyulu, Naropa’s doctrine of the illusory body. The aim of the practitioner is to not lose consciousness on the onset of sleep or death, but to immediately awaken into the Clear Light. This state is considered reachable and sustainable only for advanced meditators.

In the Dzogchen literature[5] there is a discrimination between two types of Ösel, the “inner radiance of the ground,” or the “mother” luminosity, and the “inner radiance of the path,” or the “child” luminosity. “The luminosity experienced in meditation is called the path luminosity, simile luminosity, or child luminosity. The true luminosity of our awakened nature is called the basic luminosity or mother luminosity; it dawns at the moment of death, and if it is recognized, the mother and the child meet and become one in liberation.”[6] The Mother luminosity has also been described as the “…nature of the mind of all beings, pure from the beginning and spontaneously luminous; fundamental continuum (of awareness), potential of Buddhahood…It can be “introduced” by a realized master to a disciple, who then stabilizes and develops that experience through the profound practices of the Great Perfection. Ordinary beings perceive it only for a flash at the moment of death.”[7]

Characteristics of Tibetan Dream Yoga

Based on a Specific Religious Tradition

The intentions and injunctions of Tibetan dream yoga are difficult to understand, much less apply in one’s life, without a familiarity with the system of belief, practices, stories, symbols, and ethical guidelines of both Buddhism and its indigenous and unique manifestations in Tibet. These provide both context and meaning for tantric intentions and injunctions. Those who take up a practice of Tibetan dream yoga encounter the totality of the Buddhist tradition as well as the complexities of Tibetan culture and language, including the very sophisticated mythology of Tibetan Bodhisattvas. Obviously it is not impossible, as the experience of many non-Tibetan adherants demonstrates. There are a growing number of Westerners who have managed to assimilate the assumptions, mythology, iconography, and practices of Tibetan Buddhism into their lives. It is hardly the secular approach to the mechanics of learning to lucid dream that experts such as Stephen LaBerge teach. In that both focus on overall awakening rather than the specific art of lucid dreaming, Tibetan dream yoga and Integral Deep Listening teachings are primarily for the waking mind and only secondarily for dreaming and sleeping consciousness.

Listens to Religiously Valued Figures

While practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism may respect and honor other paths, they give priority to Tibetan Buddhism over other paths to enlightenment. They maintain a primary allegiance to Tibetan Buddhism, not to some eclectic universalism, which is what makes them practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism rather than something else. Therefore, they will express preferences for respected figures in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, as Bob does toward Vajrayogini in his Integral Deep Listening interview toward the end of this chapter. While Tibetan Buddhism can be approached and experienced as an integral life practice, it is normally directed by a Lama or other official representative of the tradition, and by traditional practices and scriptures.

Integral Deep Listening can be used within any teaching tradition, including Tibetan Buddhism, because it honors external sources of objectivity, such as Lamas and scriptures. It encourages students to add to those resources internal sources of objectivity. If bodhisattvas show up to be interviewed, fine! They are accepted along with snow shovels and dog slobber.

Emphasizes Guru-Student Relationship

In Tibetan Buddhism, as in most traditional learning structures, students are considered children in need of parental supervision. These parents are Lamas, dream teachers, Bodhisattvas, and the Buddha himself. All four may be able to appear in any form, in any state of consciousness, so theoretically any dream character is an incarnation of the Buddha. Practically speaking, the teacher-Lama is the one who decides what supports a student’s spiritual development and what does not. The advantage to this model is that personal emotions, confusions, or reason-based resistances are circumvented. Most people are lost in the internalized cultural dream of their family, group, nation, and religion. They lack sources of wisdom and objectivity to see beyond the perceptual cognitive distortions that these contexts create. This is the fundamental function of teachers of all sorts. Many people want to be dependent on strong outside authority they can trust, whether it is a parent, teacher, spouse, boss, spiritual leader, or government. They don’t trust themselves; they don’t have, nor do they know how to access, a reliable connection with their inner compass in a way that can make a real difference in their life.

The disadvantage of the parental model is that at some point in your journey to enlightenment you must learn to trust yourself. The only way to do this is to learn introspection, reach decisions, act on them, and draw conclusions from the results. Western psychology, rational humanism, and individualism have been evolving in these directions. However, without prior allowance on the wisdom of awake teachers, history shows that individualism merely creates collectives of grandiose egotists. If individuality is not transcended through interdependency, one is likely to remain stuck at pre-empathetic levels of development. The essential next step is to learn to listen to yourself in a deep and integral way by suspending both your individual preferences and those of respected teachers in favor of finding and following your inner compass. You then subject what you learn to both external authority and your individuality. The advice of teachers and that of your inner compass become integrated as you learn to access, respect, and follow both.

What happens when there is a difference in the direction advised by your guru and the recommendations of your interviewed emerging potentials? Do more interviews to make sure that your interview recommendations represent a consensual view by high scoring emerging potentials and are not simply reflecting the preferences of one voice, which could be marginal, or not representative of overall priorities of your inner compass. If the difference in direction still exists and you are not sure, take the difference to your spiritual teacher and see if their reasoning is convincing.

I had a very powerful lesson in this regard when I was twenty one. After college, I drove to southern California to study Agni Yoga, or “the light work,” in the belief that it would create spiritual openings for me, which at that time I framed in terms of awakening the Christ Consciousness. While there I had a very powerful nightmare of the hanging death of my parents that I took to be a warning that these practices were giving me “psychic indigestion” of a very serious sort. At that time my idea of dream interpretation was traditional, growing out of the dreamwork methodologies of Edgar Cayce and Jung. I submitted my interpretation of my nightmare to two mentors, Hugh Lynn Cayce, son of Edgar Cayce, and the head of Agni Yoga, Russell Paul Schofeld. Cayce agreed with me; Schofeld explained that delusions were pulling me away from my true path. I didn’t know what to do; I was enmeshed in the culture of Agni Yoga and lacked objectivity. I had made a major life commitment and I didn’t want to give it up; too much of who I was had become invested in my new path. Then one morning I woke up with a “dream” in which Schofeld told me that if I only waited until lesson number twenty-three that everything would be made clear to me. This did not feel like a dream. It felt like a clairvoyant visitation by Schofeld. He knew that I respected dreams; it felt to me as if he had chosen a dream appearance as a way to influence my choice. If I had known then what I do now I would have interviewed the “Schofeld” that was a character in my dream. There would be no guarantee that I would be closer to the truth as a result, but I would have had more data points to consider. I finally disengaged from the group and limped home, feeling like a prodigal son. I did not know my path, but I knew that Agni Yoga wasn’t part of it. To this day, it amazes me that Agni Yoga remained important for two of my closest friends, yet was quite the disaster for me. It taught me not to judge the paths of others, but to provide them with the tools to validate for themselves whether or not they are headed in a direction that is supported by their inner compass.

Because the world of form is polycentric, that is, every point is its center, Integral Deep Listening believes that at some stages of development you will grow faster when you have a multiplicity of teachers, both outside and within yourself, while at other times you will grow faster when you commit to one teacher or path, such as Tibetan Buddhism. The disadvantage of this model is that it provides less certainty and security and allows your mind to be overrun by a multitude of competing emotions, confusions, and thoughts. The advantage is that this model is egalitarian, pluralistic, democratic, and consensual. It considers multiple worldviews simultaneously, thereby encouraging the tolerance of ambiguity.

Spiritual Teacher, Guru, Lama

Do you need a spiritual teacher to become enlightened? For Tibetan deity yoga, which focuses on the visualization of complex figures of Buddhist Bodhisattvas and other revered figures in meditation, teachers are important for safety. Otherwise, the practice of becoming an imagined person or thing is dangerous. Here is what a talented Western Tibetan, scholar, and interpreter for the Dalai Lama, Alexander Berzin says: “[Without an appropriate teacher], instead of being a crazy person imagining that they are Mickey Mouse, we are a crazy person imagining that we are Chenrezig or Tara. And rather than Deity Yoga being a path to enlightenment, it’s a path to insanity. When it is stated in all the texts that Tantra practice is dangerous, there’s a reason for that. The point is that it has to be practiced within the context of all these variables that we’ve been discussing. Otherwise, you can really go astray. And for this, we need the guidance of the spiritual master to help us to avoid going astray and stay on the correct path and inspire us.”

One way to test this theory is to become Chenrezig or Tara without a teacher and see if we go insane. Another is to become Mickey Mouse and see if we are crazy. If we do not go insane, then Berzin’s argument boils down to preferences based on a path that he has confidence in. IDL encourages Berzin to stay on and make the most of the path that he has confidence in. It is not suggesing that he give up Tibetan deity yoga or that a shaman give up believing that dream monsters are demons from another world. Instead, IDL says, “Here is an approach that can supplement your practice if you so desire. Don’t believe it; simply do the yoga and draw your own conclusions. Keep what works and discard the rest.”

Integral Deep Listening says we need many teachers, both external and internal ones, plus our common sense to determine who to trust in what task. Giving control of your development over to someone else borders on what Berzin would probably call “Mickey Mouse crazy,” although he would clearly not count Buddhist teachers in that category. For Integral Deep Listening, it is a mistake to give someone else priority over your inner compass. That’s crazy. It’s crazy because no one can possibly know you as well as your own inner compass knows you, although many religious and spiritual traditions will attempt to convince you that this is not true. Such people and traditions mean well, but they are not your friends. They are leading you away from your truth to theirs. Three powerful and common examples are parents who teach their children to be like them “because they only want what’s best for them,” businesses that reward workers for conformity and punish them for creativity and opposition, and the armed forces of the world, which teach people to hate and kill in the name of team and national loyalty.

Integral Deep Listening encourages you to listen to those you respect, including your teachers. When there is a contradiction between your inner compass and another source of guidance, Integral Deep Listening recommends that you give your inner compass priority. All external sources of support and all teachers are welcome as long as they understand and respect that central truth, that one’s inner compass gets priority, one which they hopefully would reserve for themselves as well.

Vows and Commitments

Tantra succeeds in getting people to commit to following a path to enlightenment. Rituals surrounding vows and commitment are complicated and taken very seriously out of the understanding that they function to deepen practice, commitment, loyalty, and dedication to a shared path. Integral Deep Listening encourages people to commit to listening to and following their inner compass, but beyond that, people are free to do as they wish. It encourages students to create a strong internal culture built around the priorities of their inner compass, in the belief that in time they will create and surround themselves with an external culture that reflects those priorities. This is not enough structure for most people, because they have been heavily influenced from birth by their external cultures. They have internalized the groupthink of their parents, teachers, country, and friends, and are subject to the mental and emotional delusions that arise because of those internalizations. Because Integral Deep Listening does not focus on creating an external culture it does not compete with waking systems of belief or cultural value systems. It can co-exist with Buddhism, Christianity, Integral, Islam, Judaism, Capitalism, shamanism, socialism, secular humanism, or nature worship in a way not so different from how your individual dream culture, which you retreat into every night, co-exists with your external reality, regardless of when and where you live. Consequently, Integral Deep Listening is compatible with just about any traditional practice that has vows and commitments.


Like many spiritual traditions, Vajrayana values secrecy. The basic idea is that the sacred is precious and not to be taken lightly or shared casually. To do so reduces the meaning with which you hold it and therefore its transformative power for you. In this formulation, the sacred is associated with a meaningfulness that is transformational while the secular is associated with a meaninglessness or carelessness that keeps you stuck in the mundane. Buddhism itself knows that this dualism breaks down when you look at life from the perspective of life itself, but it sees this teaching as important upaya, or “skill in means,” that creates and enhances the degree of sacred meaning that is necessary to motivate personal transformation.

IDL views this emphasis as another manifestation of the dualisms incorporated from a prepersonal, hunter-gatherer, shamanistic worldview. Secrecy is not an issue with life itself or with Integral Deep Listening. Interviews are regularly shared with others for the benefit of all. Public interviews are routinely held with no assumptions about privacy because the approach is not assumed to be fundamentally psychotherapeutic or “spiritual.” Instead, there is a casual, playful approach, representing a flow of everyday awareness, in which comfort and enjoyment are assumed rather than seriousness or exclusivity. No one is encouraged to not disclose their work. Unlike psychotherapy, IDL does not start with the assumption of confidentiality, which is a form of secrecy that tends to emphasize the “specialness” of our psychopathologies. If it is true that we are only as sick as our secrets, then an antidote is openness, light, and fresh air. IDL assumes trust and connectivity; it does not begin with assumptions of distrust, separateness, special relationship, defensiveness, and fear. This is because life doesn’t do secrets, and because secrets are fear based.

The assumption within religious traditions is that the sacred is so powerful that it is harmful if misused and therefore must be kept secret. However, just about every aspect of Tibetan Buddhism that was once secret and only conveyed from master to student, such a Naropa’s Doctrines, are now simply part of the world trove of information. People are not dying in the streets because of it. Tibetan Buddhism is growing, not shrinking, because of it.

Louis Brandeis said, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” If who you are cannot die, what is there to protect? What is there to fear losing? Humans who have to protect something out of fear of loss, or who are afraid others will misunderstand them, need secrets and generate elaborate justifications for having and protecting them. This says more about them than it does about how threatening the information is. Why are masses of information routinely classified by governments? Is it to protect the people or is it to protect the government, which fears what the people might do if they knew what the government was doing? Religious traditions and psychotherapeutic modalities that encourage secrecy inadvertently fuel the drama and paranoia that generates totalitarian power structures politically, in the macrocosm, as well as rigidity within the microcosm. Whatever we fear we are disowning; are we not generating a false otherness which feeds dissociation?

Another common reason why secrecy exists in sacred as well as secular traditions is that authority does not trust students. They do not believe that students have the common sense to know what is good for them or how to handle powerful information and so they hide it from them. Essentially, they believe that students are too young, too immature, to be trusted. While they are indeed correct about this, their solution is not helpful, because it is based on fear and distrust. An alternative is to teach how to find and follow one’s inner compass so they have the wisdom to handle such information rather than treating them as inferiors.

Because Integral Deep Listening is largely self-directed, yet structured to access and amplify emerging potentials, it carries very few risks. When people request privacy, they get it. Interviews are published anonymously, if that is the wish of the student, and identifiers can be changed. IDL does not attempt to convince people interested in privacy that it is not needed. Perhaps it is! IDL shows its respect by deferring to the preferences of students, just as it shows respect to interviewed perspectives by suspending as many assumptions as possible. The main risk for IDL of not emphasizing secrecy has been that for some people it has not seemed powerful enough, mysterious enough, or risky enough to be effective, and so the danger is that people underestimate it. By so doing, they underestimate themselves. Secrecy is a decidedly non-spiritual action left over from fear-based shamanistic consciousness. Thankfully, the world is outgrowing it.[8]

Requires Knowledge of a Cultural Mythology

“There is said to be a relationship between dreaming, on the one hand, and the gross and subtle levels of the body on the other. But it is also said that there is a ‘special dream state.’ In that state, the special dream body is created from the mind and from vital energy (prana) within the body. This special dream body is able to dissociate entirely form the gross physical body and travel elsewhere.”

Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

The cultural mythology of Tibetan Dream Yoga is interwoven with its practice. For example, consider the following instructions:

“Use the lion’s out-breath; breathing out with the sound “ah…” Use the lion-like posture for awakening and purifying. Sit up in bed with raised head, gazing. Emphasize your exhalations, repeating the “ah” out-breath three times. Now raise your energy by standing up, reaching your fingertips to the sky, and repeating the lion’s out-breath. Enter into mindful reflection on the transition between the states of sleeping, dreaming, and waking reality – coming into the present moment, recording dreams. Thus, you will enter the day recognizing that all things are like a dream, illusion, fantasy, or mirage.”

Such instructions would be perfectly understandable to a Tibetan student of dream yoga, who would be studying under a Tibetan Lama or Rimpoche. For those who are not, there is some conceptual heavy lifting to do and some decisions to be made. “At what point do I need to commit to using the Buddhist iconography and mythology that accompanies the Empowerments?” “Do I need to focus on visualizing Tibetan syllables or not?” “Do I need to cultivate a relationship with a particular Bodhisattva?” “What is necessary and essential and what is not?”

For Tibetan Buddhists, it makes relatively little sense to study dream yoga outside that cultural context, because the emphasis of Buddhism is not on lucid dreaming per se. It is one more tool to end suffering and to awaken to suchness, emptiness, and nirvana. The language, culture, iconography, and various “empowerments” all play more important roles in Tibetan Buddhism, than learning to lucid dream.

While all practitioners of Integral Deep Listening are conditioned by the cultural context in which they practice, just as are practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism, its assumptions are not associated with a particular cultural mythology. A Moslem, Jew, Buddhist, capitalist, child, or secular humanist can use the interviewing protocol and experience benefit, such as increased access to their own unique emerging potentials, that can then be used to align the goals of their spiritual practice or life interests with the priorities of their inner compass. This will bring them into conflict with normally non-recognized cultural assumptions, which are challenged by the perspectives of interviewed emerging potentials. Integral Deep Listening teaches students to let each conflict take a color and then a shape, and to then interview that shape to illuminate the nature of the conflict to provide some objectivity regarding its possible resolution. For students of Tibetan Buddhism, this means that when conflicts with teachers or teachings arise, they have a way that they can increase their objectivity regarding how best to respond.

Meditation Central to Practice

Meditation was defined by the Buddha as “right concentration and right mindfulness.” Meditation is central for Tibetan dream yoga because it takes zhine, concentration and mindfulness, to become lucid in dreams and to learn to control them. Most practitioners of lucid dreaming will agree that concentration is essential to the practice, whether or not it is taken on as a meditative discipline.

Meditation is important to Integral Deep Listening because so many emerging potentials recommend it as an essential tool for waking up. All six of the core qualities associated with the round of breath and life are strengthened and expanded by meditation. Confidence increases as your sense of self detaches from the agendas, distractions, and desires of the world; compassion increases as you get out of your own way, because you are then better able to drop some of the normal filters that create misperceptions toward others; wisdom increases as you balance the six core qualities; acceptance increases as you develop objectivity not only toward your preferences and expectations but those of others; inner peace increases as you let go of stress; witnessing increases as you learn to observe the contents of your mind. When you become an emerging potential that is scoring tens in all six of these core qualities, both they and yourself are experiencing a state of relative meditation. Increasing any of these qualities, and especially increasing all of them, is a functional definition of waking up, or enlightenment, which is the purpose of meditation.

Because the zero to ten scale used in Integral Deep Listening interviewing is relative, your experience of meditative states deepens and broadens as you integrate the perspectives of interviewed emerging potentials into yourself. In Tibetan Buddhism this meditative process begins with concentration on an object; when mental fixation is strong enough, it moves to concentration without an object. Three types of zhine, forceful, natural, and ultimate, progressively build this core competency used in all Tibetan yogas.

You begin zhine by sitting comfortably in meditation. Buddhism, like Integral Deep Listening, uses open-eyed meditation to reduce daydreaming and visualization through objective grounding, even when this is no longer necessary to concentrate. Initial, or forceful zhine, places the object of meditation externally, in the line of sight. The object of your initial practice as a Tibetan Buddhist is to allow no sight, sensation, feeling, or thought to disrupt your concentration on the object. Choosing an inspirational object that personifies some aspect of the sacred supports the process. While Tibetan Buddhism has its favored objects, such as the written Tibetan letter “ah,” the point is the development of concentration, not the nature of the object of focus. Traditionally, the letter is white and is enclosed in five concentric colored circles: the center circle that is the direct background for the “A is indigo; around it is a blue circle, then green, red, yellow, and white ones.


When your mind becomes distracted, as it often will in the beginning, gently bring it back to a simple awareness of the object, without analysis of its nature or your practice. Because it may feel like an effort to recognize your awareness has wandered and to repeatedly return to the object, this is called “forceful zhine.Zhine is meant to be done every day until your mind is quiet and stable. You know that you have reached the second stage, “natural zhine,” when you are able to stay absorbed in observation of the object without needing to engage in any effort to keep your awareness still, centered, and clear. This will feel relaxed and tranquil. Thoughts and feelings that arise will not distract your mind from the object.

Now that your mind can maintain itself in a relaxed, undisturbed state, shift to observation of empty space, such as the sky or a point in the air half way between your eyes and the object your are observing. Do not focus or concentrate on this empty space, but allow your mind to be diffuse, yet strong. This is called “dissolving the mind” in space, or “merging the mind with space.” You will know that you have accomplished natural zhine when you are able to maintain stable tranquility with your awareness diffuse, not concentrated on any particular object, yet strong.

The third stage, “ultimate zhine,” involves the absence of any heaviness that is associated with absorption in any object at all. It is characterized by an ongoing awareness of tranquility, lightness, relaxation, and pliability. It has none of the rigidity or resistance associated with the effort of forceful zhine. Your thoughts will dissolve spontaneously and without effort.

Within the Dzogchen Tibetan tradition, it is at this point that the master traditionally introduces the student to what is called “the natural state of mind.” Because the student has developed zhine, the master can point to what the student has already experienced rather than describing a new state that must be attained. The explanation, which is known as the “pointing out” instruction, is meant to lead the student to recognize what is already there, to discriminate the moving mind in thought and concept from the nature of mind, which is pure, non-dual awareness. This is the ultimate stage of zhine practice, abiding in rigpa, or non-dual presence itself.

A fascinating aspect of IDL interviewing is that it naturally brings students to an awareness of “the natural state of mind,” as personified by various high scoring interviewed emerging potentials. This is not an “ultimate” or “full” natural state of mind, but compared to the ongoing level of development of the student, regardless of their background and experience with meditation, it produces a relatively clear experience of “the natural state of mind.” IDL does not claim that this is as pure as that produced by meditation, nor does it encourage students to substitute interviewing for meditation. It strongly endorses the basic instructions in the development of zhine described above and encourages all students of IDL to learn to concentrate not only as an essential competency for meditation but for lucid dreaming and lucid deep sleep.

The three traditional obstacles to zhine to look out for are agitation, drowsiness, and laxity. The first two are easy enough to understand, however, the third can be deceptive. You may reach spaces in your practice where you are comfortable, tranquil, and stable in emotion and thought but without strength of concentration. This is different from the effort of concentration that typifies the early practice of forceful zhine. Without power in your concentration you will reach plateaus of equanimity and can remain stuck there for years. You will mistakenly cultivate that stability without any discernible change in the quality of your consciousness. To counteract this, remember your purpose. Strengthen your intention. Wake up your focus and your practice. In addition to these traditional recommendations, it is not difficult to see that interviewing emerging potentials, whether as resistances that arise within your meditation practice or as dream characters, will help you to defuse all three obstacles to meditative clarity.

The cultivation of zhine is of benefit to anyone who wants to learn to lucid dream because it generates highly sophisticated and necessary forms of concentration and mindfulness; it is also not so difficult to see how lucid dreaming becomes a natural and more likely outcome for students of zhine. Even though day residue, what Buddhists call “karmic traces,” continue to produce dream images after falling asleep, adepts will remain in the clear awareness of ultimate zhine.

Meditating Eye

Integral Deep Listening meditation instruction can support Tantric instruction in zhine by providing experiences of increasingly subtle target states of consciousness. One of the basic problems for any meditator is not knowing what they are supposed to be doing with their minds, what the next object of focus is, and how to differentiate it from all the other mental contents and foci that are possible. Another problem is not knowing if one is on track or not, or staying motivated when you believe you are on track, yet nothing is happening. Accessing emerging potentials can greatly assist in overcoming such common obstacles by modeling target states in ways that provide you with experiential “tastes” of states that you are working to transform into ongoing permanent stages of greater wakefulness. In addition, such emerging potentials provide not only encouragement but helpful suggestions for improving your practice, suggestions that are tailor-made for you own particular challenges.


“Empowerments” are powerful initiations that are used in Vajrayana that are also central to Tibetan deity yoga. Their purpose is to internalize truths that awaken and enlighten while building cultural affiliation and support. They focus on “becoming” or “internalizing” the Buddha associated with the particular initiation.

The ritual for performing an empowerment can be divided into four parts, the water, secret, wisdom, and suchness empowerments.

The vase, bumpa, empowerment symbolizes purification of the body, senses, and world by incorporation into the body of the deity, and may include a vase filled with water or washing. This empowerment is intended to eliminate physical blockages. By visualizing the mandala of the Yidam, or associated deity, identification with the manifestation body of the Buddha, the Nirmanakaya, is amplified.

The secret, guhya, empowerment involves receiving nectar to purify the breath and transforming speech into the speech of the deity. Mantras are recited and meditation undertaken on the energy channels of the body, tsa, subtle energy currents, lung, and essential energy, thigle. The goal is identification with the Sambhogakaya, the Enjoyment Body, or Radiant Bliss Body, of a Buddha.

The knowledge-wisdom, prajnajnana, empowerment involves uniting with a real or imaginary consort, called the prajna, or “wisdom.” Its purpose is to purify the mind and experience the blissful wisdom mind of the deity. Permission is granted to do practices of union with the Dharmakaya, the Truth Body of the Buddha.

The fourth, or word empowerment uses words, sounds, or symbols to realize the unity, mind essence or mind nature, or the suchness of the particular deity. Its intention is to cleanse the subtle habitual tendencies that give rise to dualistic perception. Permission, or empowerment, is granted to practice the Dzogchen, the ultimate teachings of The Great Perfection. The object is identification with the Svabhavakaya, the union of the previous three kayas as the Vajra Body.

Integral Deep Listening and Tibetan Tantric deity yoga share a desire to transcend identification with deluded definitions of self, including limited and flawed self-images. IDL obviously finds much wisdom in the process of identifying with and “becoming” personifications of core qualities of enlightenment, which Tibetan deities personify. Integral Deep Listening views every interview as an initiation into the unique perspective of this or that interviewed emerging potential. While there is no comparison to the majesty or the powerful layers of cultural value and meaning that are found in Tibetan Buddhism, nor is there any intent to ridicule or demean these sacred practices, depending on the amount of reverence you bring to the experience, how deeply you allow it to touch you, and what you do with it, an interview with Micky Mouse can be as transformative as one with Buddha. Micky Mouse can serve as a doorway to developmental empowerment. The point is not only that secular, as well as sacred motifs have been found to be effective within the context of IDL, but that familiar and attainable personifications can be as effective as remote ones that are removed not only in cultural and mythological terms, but in terms of perfectionistic remoteness.

Examples of Tibetan Yogic Practices

The Six Dharmas of Naropa, also known as The Six Yogas of Naropa, are a set of advanced Tibetan Buddhism tantric practices dating from the eleventh century. These six are tummo, or the yoga of inner heat, Gyulu, the yoga of the illusory body, ösel, the yoga of the clear light or radiant light, milam, the yoga of the dream state, bardo, the yoga of the intermediate state between death and reincarnation, and phowa, the yoga of the transference of consciousness to a pure Buddhafield. Other yogas that are considered auxilary practices include Drongjuk Phowa, the transferrance of one’s mindstream into a recently deceased body. Karmamudra, or “action seal” is the tantric yoga involving sexual union with a physical partner, either real or visualized; Self-liberation, the acquisition of non-duality, which is also affirmed by mahamudra and dzogchen; yantra, which are practices preliminary to tummo yoga and include the visualization on the body as being hollow: “here the body and the energy channels, nadis, are to be seen as completely transparent and radiant.” The purpose is to release tension and provide suppleness to the prana channels in preparation for the other yogas.

Before engaging in the actual yogas, one begins by doing the “six exercises of Naropa”.

  1. Filling like a Vase — a breathing technique
  2. Circling like a Wheel — rolling the solar plexus
  3. Hooking like a Hook — snapping the elbow into the chest
  4. Showing the Mudrā of Vajra Binding — moving the mudrā from the crown downwards
  5. Straightening like an Arrow — hands and knees on the floor with the spine straight; heaving like a dog
  6. Shaking the Head and Entire Body — pulling the fingers, followed by massaging the two hands

Other practices are noted:

Meditation on the body as an empty shell — Imagine your body without substance, appearing in your mind like a rainbow in the sky.

Meditations on all appearances as illusory, dream illusions, and bardo experience. This is called, “Pure illusory body.”

The four emptinesses: Four experiences of sunyata, luminosity, or clear light while awake, dreaming, and in deep sleep. These are called “Emptiness,” “Very Empty,” “Great Emptiness,” and “Utter Emptiness.” They are described by archaic analogies that only make sense within the Vajrayana tradition: the appearance of mirage, smoke, fireflies, butterlamp, cloudless sky; and whiteness, redness, blackness, and the clear light of early dawn which resembles a mixture of sunlight and moonlight.

Union of clear light and illusory body involves becoming the results of the above. The state of a Buddha Vajradhāra.

Transference of consciousness and forceful projection:

Separating the body and the mind without a support occurs when the emptiness of consciousness disattaches the mind from the body and the body from the mind.

Separating the body and the mind with a support involves imagining the mind as a substance. With awareness you draw your consciousness up the central nadi and then with force expel your mind into the sky.

You can separate your mind from your body with support in stages by dissolving the sufferings of the six realms (Hell, Preta, Animal, Human, Asura, God) into a point or dot which travels upward through your body in the central nadi. This is a rather colorful process. Starting under the soles of the feet, each point radiates colored light. Feet: black-hell, joining yellow-hungry-ghosts together at the secret place. At the navel: gray-animals. At the heart: green-human. At the throat: red-demigods, and at the crown: white-gods. Once the point or dot has reached the crown, it has the nature of five colors, corresponding to the last five stages. The dot then leaves the central nadi through the crown and comes to rest inside the heart of a deity that is hovering a forearm’s length above the head.

Regarding the Karmamudra, an “optional” practice noted above, four types are mentioned.

Karma Mudra: Looking at and practice with a young woman; this is for “dull” yogis.

Jnana Mudra: Visualizing a young woman: for middling yogis.

Maha Mudra: Images within your mind spontaneously arise as various consorts. This is for sharp yogis.

Samaya Mudra: The mudra experienced as a result of accomplishing the former three.

 Milam, or Tibetan Dream Yoga

We have seen in the previous chapter on Theravadin Buddhism that there is little or no emphasis on dream yogas, in the form of lucid dreaming and nidra yogas, in early Buddhist scriptures. How does Vajrayana justify these practices in terms of their spiritual heritage? Here is one example: “Buddha Shakyamuni often told his disciples to regard all phenomena as dreams. He used many examples, like an echo, a city in the clouds or a rainbow to illustrate the illusory nature of the phenomenal world. Dreams represent just one type of illusion. The whole universe arises and dissolves like a mirage. Everything about us, even the most enlightened qualities, are also dreamlike phenomena. There’s nothing that is not encompassed within the dream of illusory being; so in going to sleep, you’re just passing from one dream state to another.”[9] All yogas of awakening are therefore recognized as “dream yogas” in the broadest sense, and therefore awakening in any state is in the furtherance of nirvana.

Different Tibetan lineages trace their dream yoga practices to different roots. The Nyingma tradition is the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It believes that there are ‘Seven transmissions’ or “empowerments,” and that their emergence can occur during lucid dreaming.[10] It involves the perception of Sambhogakaya thoughtforms[11] and yidam representations, which are deities believed to be associated with bodi, or an enlightened mind.Padmasambhava, (c. 8th century) received the transmission he codified as The Yoga of the Dream State from the mindstream of the mysterious siddha-yogi Lawapa in the tenth century.[12] The Kagyu lineage traces dream yoga from the Dharmakaya Buddha Vajradhara, the source of all the manifestations of enlightenment. Tilopa, in the eleventh century, traces dream yoga to Nagarjuna. The First Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa, is said to have realized the “absolute siddhi” of bodhi at the age of fifty while engaged in dream yoga.[13]

Here is the Tibetan justification for yogas of dreaming and lucid dreaming according to another source:

“In order to make the time we spend dreaming more meaningful, we must first recognize that we are dreaming. That is the initial exercise. The next step is called transforming the dream; the third is known as multiplying. The fourth practice is to unify the dream with the clear light. Recognizing, transforming, multiplying and unifying the dream with the luminosity of the true nature; these four outline the essential applications of dream yoga.”[14]

The first assumption we encounter, “In order to make the time we spend dreaming more meaningful,” implies that normal dreaming is less meaningful than lucid dreaming. Is this true? From the perspectives of both Vajrayana and waking identity it is indeed, because it is a state of relative awakeness, freedom, and aliveness. IDL does not make this assumption because interviewed emerging potentials rarely do. Some will, however, indeed encourage you to learn to lucid dream. If they do, evaluate their trustworthiness and take it from there. However, most emerging potentials seem to be more interested in becoming more awake in any and all states, mostly by reducing the perceptual filters. Clearly, aliveness, freedom, and being more awake are desirable in any state, so why do we not see interviewed emerging potentials recommending it more often?

The answer seems to be that there is preliminary work that most people need to do first, at least from the perspective of IDL. These involve getting out of drama in the three realms, recognizing and neutralizing the three types of cognitive distortions at play, and the setting of life priorities that reflect those of one’s inner compass. If those goals include lucid dreaming or nidra yoga, fine!

The next assumption is that we must first recognize that we are dreaming. This implies that dream lucidity is something of an “off/on” switch. All you have to do is learn how to turn it on. However, if you look at the literature, you find that there are many, many gradations of lucidity and “pre-lucidity.” Such a model tends to be more realistic because it is developmental; we learn very few things, like language or walking or a new job or how to get along with someone in a relationship, all at once. These are unfolding, developmental processes. This is a way that Vajrayana shows its roots in shamanism, where the emphasis is on accessing radically awake states. We will have more to say about graduations of pre-lucidity and lucidity below.

“The next step is called transforming the dream…”

“…the third is known as multiplying.”

“The fourth practice is to unify the dream with the clear light.”

“Recognizing, transforming, multiplying and unifying the dream with the luminosity of the true nature; these four outline the essential applications of dream yoga.”

Contemporary Dzogchen teachers such as Namkhai Norbu, Lopön Tenzin Namdak and Tenzin Wangyal note that the essential nature of both dreaming and life is non-dual, yet they proceed with dualistic interventions based on discriminations between sacred and secular, pure and impure, real and unreal, good and bad. These then require sophisticated, complicated teaching processes to move from the dual to the non-dual. It is as if we have to start with shamanism and then slowly see through its illusoriness. In contrast, IDL attempts to search for and assume the non-dual in all forms in all states. Is this unrealistic? Is this not possible? Is it dangerous? Do IDL interviews on your own dreams and pressing life issues and decide for yourself.

The Yoga of the Dream State is a series of advanced practices of Dzogchen, involving processes and techniques within the trance Bardos of Dream and Sleep. They are advanced practices similar to Hindu Yoga Nidra, maintaining consciousness during deep sleep. Tibetan dream yoga is described by Evans-Wentz in his book Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines[15] as one of the six doctrines or dharmas described by the Tibetan guru Marpa and passed down by his disciple Milarepa.

Some dream yoga practices are included within the Six Dharmas (Doctrines) of Naropa. Milam techniques are passed on by a practitioner after initiation. The “dream body,” and “bardo body,” is also called the “vision body,” probably because it represents the perspective from which events are perceived while in a lucid dream.

It teaches that we can learn five spiritually significant wisdom lessons through practicing this path of awakening:

  • Dreams are unstable, impermanent, and unreal, like fantasies, magical illusions, mirages, and hallucinations;
  • Daily perceptions in the everyday waking state are also unreal;
  • All life is here today and gone tomorrow, like a dream; there is nothing to hold on to;
  • Dreams can be altered through will and attention;
  • Conscious dreamwork can lead us to the realization of wholeness, perfect balance, and unity.

Each of these assumptions require some unpacking. Are dreams “unstable, impermanent, and unreal, like fantasies, magical illusions, mirages, and hallucinations”?” Obviously yes. However the entire tradition of shamanism believes they are real experiences in other dimensions. You can contact real gurus in real places that you travel. You can fight real demons and emplore real deities. Which view is correct? We find Tibetan Buddhism, just like every other traditional approach to dreaming, wanting to have it both ways; sometimes, when it suits the purpose, dreams are illusory and at other times they are real. If they make sense or seem important, they are real. If they do not make sense or do not seem important, then they are illusions, to be ignored. IDL suspends both of these assumptions because they fuel a dualistic, and therefore a non-unified, view of experience. By doing so, it uncovers a wealth of value and relevance without making dreams “real.” Instead of having a crazy-making occilation between illusion and reality, IDL says, “Why not do what life does and make both irrelevant?”

While Hinduism and Buddhism have done mankind a great favor, in a clear and momentous break from shamanism, by pointing out the dreamlike nature of waking life, the implications of this position veer into radical idealism and escapism. The radical idealism says that nothing but God or “higher Truth” is real, while the escapism says that the world is samsara, maya, to be avoided through the termination of incarnation. IDL points out that the world is very real, to the extent that actions have real consequences. Its position is that we are here to live and wake up, not to escape to some other realm that we imagine is more real. The impermanence of life need not imply that it is of lesser value or that it therefore does not deserve our attention. On the contrary, IDL sees the illusory and impermanent aspects of life as making it more precious, special, and worthy of our respect.

The idea that dreams can be altered through will and attention is a broader statement about life. It is a hopeful affirmation that through the use of our will and attention we can transform life in whatever state we are in. IDL completely agrees, and adds that we need to access our inner compass so that these transformations address the broadest good instead of being mere outpicturings of our current level of development.

Not only can conscious dreamwork lead us to the realization of wholeness, perfect balance, and unity, when dreamwork is understood as an integral life practice our focus broadens to waking up in whatever state of consciousness we are in at the moment.

Tibetan dream yoga intends to “apprehend the dream,” which means to attain conscious awareness that you are dreaming and then dissolve the dream state, as a manifestation of samsara. Tibetan dream yoga teaches lucid dreaming as a means of understanding the dreamlike nature of the mind and to gain control of it so that one can learn to be awake in all states of consciousness. In this regard, Tibetan dream yoga is best understood as growing out of a long tradition of waking concentrative meditation exercises. These are then applied to the dream and sleep states in a novel way. For example, as a waking preparation for lucid dreaming, The Yoga of the Dream State states, “Under all conditions during the day, hold to the concept that all things are of the substance of dreams and that you must realize their true nature.” This instruction reflects a fundamental and powerful recognition that both waking behavior and intent are dreamlike. If you want to increase awareness in your dreams, be more aware in your waking life. Pay attention to your intention. If your waking intentions are weak and diverse your dreams are more likely to be fragmented and vague. The clearer you make your waking intentions, both for your waking state and for dreaming, the more likely are your dreams to reflect that intention.

This also indicates an assumption that the more you wake up in your waking life the more awake you will be in your dreams. IDL completely agrees, and this is the reason it emphasizes practices to increase waking awareness, such as recognizing and avoiding the Drama Triangle and cognitive distortions, developing an integral life practice, and doing IDL. However, as indicated above, the most effective tool for influencing dream content, including waking up in them, is to practice the intention, thought, feeling, behavior, or relationship you want to experience and remember in your dreams, in your everyday waking activities, the more often the better.

Both classical and contemporary versions of Tibetan dream yoga emphasize the expansion of waking control over the dream state. In Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines dream yoga is one of six subtypes of yoga elaborated by the Tibetan guru Marpa and passed down by his disciple Milarepa. The practice has a number of steps, which permit the individual to gradually gain increasing amounts of control in the dream state.

In the first stage, the dreamer is told to become lucid or wake up in the dream state, that is, to experience a dream as a dream by gaining control over the delusion that the dream is real.

In the second stage, the dreamer is instructed to overcome all fear of the contents of the dream so there is the realization that nothing in the dream can cause harm. For instance, the lucid dreamer should put out fire with his hands and realize fire cannot burn him in the dream. This is also the stage for exploring: flying and shape shifting into other creatures, communicating with yidam, enlightened beings, and visiting different places, planes and worlds, lokas. In the Buddhist literature the story of Milarepa tells how he meditated for eight years alone in a cave. Through these years of discipline he was able to remain lucid while asleep and dreaming. He says, “By night in my dreams I could traverse the summit of Mt. Meru to its base – and I saw everything clearly as I went. Likewise in my dreams I could multiply myself into hundreds of personalities, all endowed with the same powers as myself. Each of my multiplied forms could traverse space and go to some Buddha Heaven, listen to the teachings there, and then come back and teach the Dharma to many persons. I could also transform my physical body into a mass of blazing fire, or into an expanse of flowing or calm water. Seeing that I had obtained infinite phenomenal powers even though it be but in my dreams, I was filled with happiness and encouragement.”

The rationalization for testing the limits of lucid dreaming is twofold. On the one hand, you build up competencies, such as confidence, with which to deal with life. On the other, you diminish attachments to basic assumptions about what is real and possible and what is not. This is assumed by Namkhai Norbu and others to contribute to liberation from the causal chain of samsara, leading to experiences of sunyata and enlightenment.

According to Norbu, the realization that life is only a big dream can help us finally liberate ourselves from the chains of emotions, attachments, and ego in order to have the possibility of ultimately becoming enlightened.[16]

Notice the similarities of Milarepa’s account to the descriptions in the literature of shamans of their trance experiences. Such abilities are reflections of nature mysticism, or oneness with energy, power, control, fearlessness, and freedom within space and time. These are the most commonly reported experiences in near death experiences as well, possibly because they reflect the initial of the four levels of union. This type of mysticism is also associated with the mastery of siddhis, or psychic abilities of various sorts.

In the third stage the dreamer should contemplate how all phenomena, both in the dream and in waking life, are similar because they change, and that life is illusory in both states because of this constant change. The lucid dreamer controls what he thinks about. He chooses to remember that both the dream and waking life are empty and have no substantial nature. This is the stage of contemplating the dream as maya, and equating this sense of maya with everyday experience in the external world. I am reminded of a friend who saw a famous dancer, now deceased, in a dream, and asked her how she was able to remember all the intricate moves of her dance performances. Her answer in the dream was, “How should I know? I’m dead!” This humorous response illustrates levels of lucidity; you do not have to know you are dreaming to be aware of what is real or delusion, true or false. Both the objects in the dream and objects in the world in the Vajrayana worldview are therefore empty and have no substantial nature. This is the stage of contemplating the dream as maya, and equating this sense of maya with everyday experience in the external world.

This third stage instruction breaks with shamanic worldview, which very much experiences the world as real. It also indicates that Buddhism has transformed indigenous Bon Tibetan shamanistic practices into activities intended to help people awaken from their waking state of delusion.

In the fourth stage, the dreamer should realize he has control of the dream by changing big objects into small ones, heavy objects into light ones, and many objects into one object. He should also experiment with changing things into their opposites, such as fire into water.

In the fifth stage, after gaining control over objects and their transformations, the dreamer learns to alter his body’s shape or make the dream body disappear all together, to realize that the dreamer’s dream body is as insubstantial as the other objects in the dream and that that he is not his dream body. While this realization is very difficult in normal waking existence, presumably it is quite obtainable in the dream since the dreamer who has control over dream objects could, for instance, alter the body’s shape or make the dream body disappear all together. These steps are a return to shamanistic themes of power, control, fearlessness, and freedom.

Finally, in the sixth stage, the images of deities (Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, or Dakinis) should be visualized in the lucid dream state. These figures are frequently seen in Tibetan religious art, thangkas, and used in meditation. They are said to be linked to or resonate with the clear light of formless “suchness.” They can therefore serve as doorways to Sunyata or clear light. The dreamer is instructed to practice sadhana, or very complicated visualizations of certain Buddhas and associated symbology, by concentrating on these images without distraction or thinking about other things so that the qualities of each of these personifications of the enlightened sacred are internalized: You awaken through becoming one with them while lucid dreaming.

This last instruction again indicates a Buddhist overlay in relation to classical shamanistic purposes and methods. Instead of focusing on control, power, fearlessness, and freedom, you repeat waking meditative practices of Tibetan deity yoga, in which you first visualize and then become personifications of enlightenment. Integral Deep Listening agrees with and supports this last recommendation in particular. However, it does not view the previous steps as pre-requisites for its accomplishment, based on experiences with IDL interviewing. Is there a necessary relationship between recognizing one’s freedom, power, and control in the dream state and one’s ability to visualize and merge with dream characters? Why?

IDL believes that this final stage, of visualizing and becoming one with transformational figures while lucid, can and should be done earlier, rather than waiting for progression through the previous stages. While the idea is to extend a sacred, worshipful practice into the dream state, the broader and deeper significance from the point of view of IDL is to thin and expand identity through repetitive identifications with these personifications of enlightenment. Interviewing begins the process today, now. This rationale appears to be supported by the following comment: “…if we do sadhanas regularly and faithfully we will begin to dream about doing them. In the same way, if we practise illusory body we will begin to dream about it, too. There is a great correspondence between dream yoga and illusory body. The more we think of illusory body, the more dreams we will have. We will see them as dreams, rather than mistaking them for real life. We can do many things in dreams which we are unable to do while awake. People who have practised dream yoga have been able to visit teachers they missed and travel to lands they never managed to get to in the waking state. Once lucidity has been established the applications are limitless. It is also possible to do different yogic practices while dreaming. One can then dream with lucidity and do all sorts of things, such as: practice sadhana; receive initiations, empowerments and transmissions; go to different places, planes and lokas, communicate with yidam; dialogue with sentient beings, creatures and people such as guru; fly; and shapeshift. The dream state is a very pure state of mind. [17]  

Notice the contradiction between dreaming as illusory and it being “a very pure state of mind.” Which is it? Also note its similarity of this to shamanistic journeying. The fascination that people have with “doing things in dreams which we are unable to do while awake” raises interesting questions. While it is definitely important and helpful to wake up in dreams and expand our abilities there, how good a job are we doing at becoming lucid in our waking lives? What are we doing in our waking lives to feel empowered and free? To what extent might this be an expression of a desire for power and freedom that is a compensation for feelings of waking powerlessness and imprisonment? While powerlessness is an obvious and important motivator within the shamanistic world view, imprisonment is an equally obvious and important motivator within the Buddhist world view. But what of those who have neither issues of powerlessness or imprisonment because they are conditioned by entirely different world views? Are these instructions of equal relevance to them?

IDL notes that these instructions do not involve listening; instead, they involve taking control based on waking preferences. This reflects the underlying predisposition of shamanistically-based naïve realism, in which the preferences of the perceiver are not questioned. This is in turn a reflection of an absence of a depth of reflection or self-awareness. Integral Deep Listening is a type of dream yoga that emphasizes listening, not control, and a depth and type of listening atypical for traditional approaches to development.

The practice of waking yidam visualization, along with many other waking practices, are intended to raise the level of a chela’s awareness, with the assumption that their level of development will then be higher, both while awake and dreaming. However, there is something of a schizoid split in Tibetan dream yoga between shamanistic goals and those of Buddhism. These instructions do not recognize that the level of waking development of the dreamer affect perception in the dream, lucid or not. To the extent that prepersonal developmental issues of power and control are emphasized, as we have seen that they most certainly are, wake-up calls, such as monsters or fires, are likely to be ignored in favor of the cultivation of waking control by transforming the monster or putting out the fire. Such control and power is not inherently good, wise, or spiritual.

Tibetan Dream Yoga Practice Comprises Three Parts

  • Daytime practice, designed to help you recognize the dreamlike nature of all existence and thereby prepare you to experience your dreams as vividly as you do your waking activities;
  • Morning wake-up practices that help you recall your dreams, and confirm your determination to recall more of them;
  • Nighttime practice, which prepares the ground for lucid dreaming and spiritual awakenings.

Namkhai Norbu, in Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light, provides the following instructions for incubating lucid dreams, based on classical Tibetan practices.

“First, visualize and meditate on the Tibetan syllable “ah,” in the center of your body. (A picture of the Tibetan letter “A” is above in the section on Tibetan meditation.) Keep your awareness on it while you are falling asleep. Look at the visual letter in your mind as your think the sound “ahhh.” If you do so, you will fall asleep with virtually full awareness. This will enable you to maintain awareness of the full presence of the state of natural light both while dreaming and while deeply asleep.

Simple, isn’t it? Norbu makes it sound easy, which it is, if you are a Tibetan Buddhist and have years of long hours of meditative practice. If this description does not fit you, you may find these instructions vague and daunting. “How do I visualize “ah” in the center of my body if I am looking at it in my mind?” “Why the Tibetan syllable “ah”? “How do I keep my awareness on it and not fall asleep?” “How do I keep my awareness centered on it during my dreams and deep sleep?”

Many people learn to lucid dream without doing these things. “Maintaining awareness of the full presence of the state of natural light both while dreaming and while deeply asleep” are a completely different order of magnitude from lucid dreaming. There is nothing intrinsically helpful about visualizing and meditating on the Tibetan syllable “ah” in the center of your body, to learn to lucid dream. However, within the context of Tibetan Buddhism these instructions make perfect sense because of what “ah” and the center of the body represent within that system. These instructions are important because they fit into a system of sacred instruction for waking up in general, not just in the dream state.

Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche has described “Four Formal Preparations” for lucid dreaming. “First, go through the day understanding all your experiences as being of the substance of dreams. The wisdom of this recommendation is cross-cultural. If you want to remember you are dreaming, you need to first learn to question the reality of your waking experience. We find this principle in LaBerge and most secular approaches to lucid dreaming. Secondly, remember that your mundane waking experiences, such as your relationships with your family members, co-workers, animals, nature, driving, eating are of the substance of dreams. By recognizing them as a dream, you can weaken your attachment to them. This applies to anything and anyone about whom you feel desire and attachment.” Notice that here Tibetan Dream yoga is again emphasizing waking up out of the sources of suffering in your waking life, not while dreaming. The implication and assumption is, Wake up in your waking life if you want to wake up in your dreams. “We say everything is a dream,” Wangyal adds. “Anything you’re attached to, anything that holds your mind, we emphasize that those things are dreams. When you have a cup of coffee, it’s dream coffee. Drive the dream car, meet with the dream boss, have a dreamlike problem. If you see everything like a dream, things happen to you like a dream, and what results will be like a dream too, and it won’t have such a strong effect. It’s a form of detachment.” Like Svapna, Hindu dream yoga, the emphasis of Tibetan dream yoga is on recognizing the dreamlike nature of reality and thereby waking up out of it. Notice that this is different from secular approaches to dream yoga, which generally use recognition of the dreamlike nature of waking life instrumentally, to generate a mind-set that makes it more likely that you will lucid dream.

Wangyal’s next step in his instructions in lucid dreaming is to review your day, when you are lying in bed before going to sleep, as if you were reviewing a dream. Remember how dreamlike your thoughts, feelings, and actions today were. Notice how your attachment to people and outcomes were dreamlike. Create an intention to stay aware during your dreams. Here, Wangyal is not only strengthening intention; he is calling out attachment, something which is not done and is not necessary in secular approaches to lucid dreaming. You can learn to lucid dream without giving up any of your attachments.

However, for Wangyal and for Tibetan Buddhism, lucid dreaming is one more tool for learning detachment, so one can wake up; lucid dreaming is not an end in itself, or an aid to improved adaptation to samsara, as it typically is for secular approaches. Before sleep, practice specialized Tibetan breathing exercises designed to calm and purify your consciousness. Merge your mind with the mind of your spiritual teacher. Immediately upon waking, review the night to see if you remember any dreams and whether you were lucid within a dream. If you were, try to generate a sense of joy and accomplishment about the practice. If you weren’t successful, then generate an even stronger intention to be more consistent in the practice during the next night.

Of particular interest to Integral Deep Listening is Wangyal’s instruction to merge your mind with the mind of your spiritual teacher. The purpose of this instruction is to access help from a superior consciousness by becoming that consciousness. As we know, Tibetan Buddhism encourages identification not only with spiritual teachers, but with Bodhisattvas, personifications of fully enlightened ones. This is very similar to what Integral Deep Listening teaches, with identification coming not only before sleep or during sacred rituals, but at those times recommended by this or that emerging potential. Integral Deep Listening does not reserve this practice of identification for “spiritual” elements such as teachers and bodhisattvas, but encourages becoming whatever interviewed emerging potential that recommends such identification, regardless of its external form or its acceptability within this or that cultural context. The result is a major clash of cultural assumptions. When you become tobacco or a centipede to wake up you are doing something that looks very different from the assumptions of Tibetan Buddhism. However, when pressed, Tibetan Buddhism will admit that there is no ontological difference between the Buddha and a dog. Integral Deep Listening forces this point, not as an abstract intellectualization, but as a living experience of the fusion of the sacred and the profane. The result is that we learn to differentiate intention from form. We come to understand that form personifies a set of intentions and values, and that intentions and values can and will use whatever form best resonates to convey the wake-up call they represent to a particular person at a particular time. This is done routinely, automatically, every night, in every dream, in every dream element.

Like Tibetan Buddhism, Integral Deep Listening does not view lucid dreaming as intrinsically supporting enlightenment. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself. In integral terms, it views lucid dreaming as a line of development within a particular state, dreaming. We know that people can be adepts at this or that line of development and be at any level or stage of development. For example, the personality disordered can lucid dream. There is no intrinsic relationship between lucid dreaming and enlightenment. This is why the emphasis of Buddhism on prior waking evolution into transpersonal stages is so important. Otherwise, you are accessing transpersonal states while functioning at something less than a transpersonal stage of development. However, once this distinction is understood, and people disabuse themselves of the fantasy that lucid dreaming equates to spiritual mastery, then lucid dreaming can be undertaken as a developmental line, just as any other line.

The Integral Deep Listening approach to dream yoga does not emphasize achieving transpersonal dream states. Instead, it is about lucid living, which means waking up in your daily, mundane waking life. The assumption is that by doing so you will evolve into broader and more inclusive stages of development. This is infinitely more beneficial than learning to wake up in your dreams, because what is critically important is what you do with your current level of awareness, regardless of the state of consciousness you are in. Do you use your current state to amplify the six core qualities in yourself and others? Do you use your current state to stay stuck in drama? If you become awake enough in your waking life you will naturally, organically, begin to wake up in your other two major states of consciousness, your dreams and finally in deep sleep. Lucid living naturally expands into the dream state, first with avoidance of drama and delusion, then with an awareness that you did not construct your dreams; that they are interdependently co-constructed by the intentions you set and your perceptions. Your dreams reflect the intentions and priorities of the personifications of your inner compass that appear in your dreams and are perceived by you according to your current level of development.

Your dream reality is one perspective among equally valid perspectives. These interact to create and maintain dreams. Like you, the dreamer, other dream characters lack any ontological reality other than that which you give them. If you think they are real or illusory while dreaming, that’s what they are. Integral Deep Listening attempts to suspend such assumptions in favor of practicing integral deep listening in the dream state. Why not work at avoiding drama in your dreams? Why not interview the characters and objects in your dreams? Why not become them and answer from their perspective? What would happen to the “you” in your dream if you did?

To attempt to wake up in your dreams and deep sleep before you have learned to wake up in your waking life tends to minimize a major reason why you have a body and a physical life. Work at waking up in all three states at once if you want to; cultivate those qualities that will allow you to observe the delusions that keep you asleep and dreaming the dream of your life.

Preliminary Purifying Practices

Tibetan deity yoga uses preliminary purifications prior to image identification. Vajrayana recommends special concentrative, visualization, breathing, mantra, and mudra practices in the context of the Eightfold Path for the purpose of attaining sunyata, or emptiness, and nirvana. For example, instead of references to kundalini, as occur in laya yoga, reference is made to the red and white subtle “drops,” tigle, in the navel and head chakras respectively, which integrate in the heart chakra. Through the dissolution of these drops and of various subtle winds, vayu, in the central channel of the spine, one attains the Clear Light.

Other practices may involve cleansing with water, the wearing of particular clothes, certain body postures, gestures, and the refraining from activities deemed impure. Integral Deep Listening takes the mind and body as they are, relatively pure and relatively impure. Regarding interviewing, the only criteria is, “Can you get into role and stay in role?” It makes no assumptions about sacredness or degree of purity. It sets no prerequisite purification practices, because emerging potentials speak to you at your current level of purity, development, and impurity. They mostly don’t care. Similarly, IDL takes a “wait and see” attitude toward sacredness. What does the warthog or calliope have to say about it, if anything? Such interviewed perspectives generally prove to be far more accepting of you than you are of yourself. Integral Deep Listening only requires you to stay in role during the interview and then use what makes sense and is helpful, while discarding the rest. Regarding waking up in the dream state, IDL recommends you study the various recommendations found here, seek out the recommendations of various interviewed emerging potentials, take what makes sense to you, and put them to the test in the laboratory of your life.

Emphasizes Literal Dreams

A literal dream is one which you believe is real: a real visitation by a deceased relative, a real visit to a mountain temple, a real visit by a master, a real vision of an impending accident. Most accounts of dreams in the Tibetan tradition are of this type or have symbology so obvious that the meaning is apparent. This reflects shamanic assumptions that literal dreams are somehow more valuable than ones that are deemed non-literal, possibly because they are assumed to be less delusional. The problem is that the assumption that waking identity can accurately determine whether a dream is literal or not, simply because it seems to be, is never questioned. How do you know that you can trust your perception that any event, waking or dreaming is “literal” or “real?” How do you know whether an apparently literal dream is more valuable than an apparently non-literal one?

Integral Deep Listening addresses these issues by inviting you to interview both types and draw your own conclusions. Take a dream that you are sure is literal, such as a visitation by dearly departed Aunt Gertrude and interview her or another character in it. Then take a dream that you are sure is non-literal, that is, is not reflective of real life events. Perhaps you are being chased by giant jelly beans; perhaps you go to the bathroom and discover you are the opposite sex. Do interviews on both types of dreams, “real” and “delusional,” and then compare what you have heard. Which had more to say? Which was more valuable? Which helped you wake up more? Which was more “spiritual?” If you perform this experiment a number of times you are likely to find that you can’t predict which will be more helpful. You may, in fact, find that both are equally helpful and beneficial, but in different ways. What this does is undercut the validity of the distinction between literal and non-literal dreams. From the perspective of interviewed emerging potentials, this distinction is not important. It is an artifact of identification with the perceptual cognitive distortion of the worldview of shamanism.

What Integral Deep Listening finds is that many dreams that we believe to be literal have a large non-literal component. Deceased relatives, when interviewed, may say that yes, they are actually deceased Aunt Gertrude, but they often also say that they represent a part of the dreamer. At the same time, many dreams that we believe to be pure fantasy, such as being attacked by the Flying Spaghetti Monster, turn out to contain transformational, yet practical, truths. They have a large non-subjective component. Those dreams which definitely appear to be non-literal generally are found to be, when interviewed, as valuable as those which we assumed were literal. The consciousness which creates our dreams does not seem to make a distinction between literal and non-literal dreams. It seems to create dreams that appear literal as a way to get us to pay attention and wake us up, because they get our attention.

Discriminates Between True and False Dreams

In Tibetan dream yoga the time of night that one dreams plays a large role in whether a dream is true or false. First stage dreams appear between 11:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. These dreams are influenced by daily life and “phlegm humor.” Second stage dreams occur between 2;00 and 4:00 a.m. They are influenced by evil spirits or past life memories, and bile humor. Third stage dreams appear between 5:00 and 7:00 a.m. This, the last section of the night, is the most balanced state of subtle wind energy, so dreams can show the true reflection of the body/mind situation and wind humor. Therefore these are the dreams that are interpreted for spiritual and health purposes. Integral Deep Listening does not distinguish between true or false or good or bad dreams, nor does it focus on the time of night that you have a dream. It views this as another shamanistically derived assumption about dreams that is easily disproven. IDL primarily relies on the pragmatic test of truth, that is, all dreams are considered to be more or less useful, depending on whether they are remembered, listened to, and used.

Once again, don’t believe anything you read here. Instead do experiments and draw your own conclusions. Do IDL with dreams recalled from different times during the night and see if you can spot any differences in truth and falsity. Of course first you have to define what is “true” and what is “false,” which is almost impossible to do without exposing obvious self-contradictions in the definitions. This is another assertion you should not believe but check out for yourself. Simply write down your own definitions of truth and falsity and attempt to look at them objectively. See if they make any sense at all.

Dreams are Caused by Memories

Both Tibetan dream yoga and Integral Deep Listening assume dreams are interdependently co-originated. More specifically, Tibetan dream yoga teaches that dreams are “…the consciousness, carried in the channels by the subtle wind energy, reaches the throat chakra, and goes to the upper, middle and lower parts of the body. It earns the favorable or unfavorable experiences and produces emotions, which are reflected as a dream by the reactivation of the memory of past and present experiences of life. The diseased people dreams are mostly negative and caused by blocked or stagnated energy in the channels by the diseases themselves.”

“During sleep or even during fainting, the sensory consciousnesses dissolve into the mental consciousness, the mind falls into a deep, dark and profound sleep and momentarily goes into an unconscious state. After that stage, the ‘mental affliction wind,’ risen from the past life and karma, awakens the mind and leads it through the two channels up to the throat chakra. The dream begins when the consciousness, enters either in the right or left channel and from there manifests in dreams.”

“Depending on which wind is manifesting in a dream and moving to the chakras of the body, the color of the images can change.

If there is an Earth wind, a yellow color rises from the navel chakra;

If there is a Water wind, a light blue color is produced by the heart chakra;

If there is a Fire wind, a red color rises from the throat chakras;

If there is a Wind wind, a green color moves from the secret chakra;

If there is a Space wind, mixed colors come from the crown chakra.”

IDL attempts to consider all four quadrants of the human holon when considering the origin of dreams. There are causes related to consciousness related to intention, thoughts, feelings, and developmental level; there are causes related to worldview, values, and interpretations of events; there are causes related to waking and sleeping behaviors; and there are causes related to interactions with others, environment, and dream characters. Interviewed dream characters themselves seem to have little interest in causation, but you can ask them yourself. Why not?

Dreams Are to be Interpreted by Experts

In Tibetan Dream Yoga, as in almost every approach to dreamwork in every culture, including our own, waking identity decides why we dream and what specific dream images mean. No one stops to question this waking narcissism, grandiosity, and psychological geocentrism. No one considers the possibility that the dream characters themselves may not only have their own perspectives, but that their interpretations are likely to be more informed than our own, since they have a direct investment in both the dream and the dreamer in ways no interpreter or dream dictionary does. It is difficult to understand how something so obvious and fundamental could be so pervasively overlooked by humanity until we remember that we all spent years locked in a shamanistic world view and that parts of it, particularly self-centeredness, don’t magically evaporate when we turn twenty one, forty, or sixty-five. Typically, we remain sure that we are equipped to accurately determine the nature and meaning of states, such as dreaming, others, and experiences, such as life, that we neither created nor understand. The result is that we simply remind blind to any other approach. It takes repeated exposures to an alternative world view to break us out of this perceptual cognitive distortion.

Three Types of Dreams

Tibetan dream yoga texts teach us that, in general, there are three types of dreams.

You may have ordinary, karmic dreams, which arise mostly from your daily activities, and your from previous life activities, thoughts, experiences, and contacts. These are typically dismissed today as “day residue.”

You may have “clear light” dreams, which contain spiritual visions, blessings, and energy openings. 
These are “spiritual,” “true,” or “real” dreams.

A third type of dream that you may have is lucid. These are of course characterized by awareness that you are dreaming.

These categories remain in place in one way or another for most people today. They are part of our childhood heritage and a direct expression of a shamanic world view.

Six Categories of Dreams

Tibetan dream yoga further divides these three broad divisions into six categories.

You may dream about:

events that occurred while you were awake;

other people, alive or dead;

forgotten elements emerging from your subconscious;

archetypal content and evocative symbols;

Recurrent dreams, nightmares, dreams of death, and other kinds of commonly reported dreams all fall within these first first four dream categories.

or you may dream about:

extrasensory perceptions, profound dreams, and omens;

or have radiant, luminous, spiritual dreams.

Tibetan Buddhism believes that positive and negative premonitions can be found in both categories of normal dreaming and spiritual visions, and that these predictions can be understood.

Consider these categories for a moment. Who creates these categories? Do characters that are in these dreams get a say in whether these categories fit them or not? Are they arbitarily imposed on them by waking minds that believe they know the proper categories because…they just know? This is called pre-rational shamanic naïve realism and psychological geocentrism. It is arbitrary groupthink. But those are only opinions, biases, and prejudices, and you are once again required not to believe them, but instead to be skeptical, to doubt those conclusions, and test them yourself by conducting your own interviews and making your own enquiries.

Body Parts and Types of Dreams

For Tibetan Buddhism, six different dream visions and images occur in dreams, according to the journey of the consciousness through the whole body during the sleep. For example, when the consciousness goes to different parts of the body with Sog-rlung, the ‘life sustaining wind,’ different dreams are shown.

When consciousness goes to the upper part of the body, you will have dreams of heaven, sky, flying and mountain climbing;

When consciousness goes to the eyes channel, you will have dreams of very clear objects;

When consciousness goes to the ears’ channel, you will have dreams containing very clear sounds;

When consciousness goes to the middle part of the body, you will have dreams of meadows, grounds, soft wavy hills, and trips to other continents;

When consciousness goes to the lower part of the body, you will have dreams of falling down, arriving in hell, animals, preta (hungry ghosts), worlds, darkness, diving in the water, and going down in valleys.

It is difficult to disprove these associations, but it is easy to see where they come from. The true and spiritual dreams come from the heavenly realms, represented by the head and upper body; when you have mundane dreams they come from the middle part of your body, and your nightmares are associated with the lower parts of your body. Therefore we have the shamanistic three realm cosmology mirrored both in the body and in dream interpretation.

IDL encourages you, if you have questions about either the reality or efficacy of these assumptions, to ask your interviewed emerging potentials. The more you ask the more confident you will be that you are not being lied to or just telling yourself what you want to hear.

Categories of Tibetan Medical Dream Interpretation

Tibetan medical dream interpretation produces a somewhat different list. It holds that there are six types of dreams that can be interpreted.

You may dream about:

what you saw yesterday or recently in your life;

dreams you have heard recently in your waking life;

reinactments of waking events;

the fulfillment your spiritual wishes and that answer your prayers;

the fulfillment of your non-spiritual, “normal” wishes; and you may dream about

dream omens or dreams of illness, including prognosis.

In Tibetan medicine, all of these types of dreams can be explained through three categories:

The first five dream categories mentioned above apply to dreams of healthy people. Dreams of healthy people may be about devas (spirits), emperors, kings, leaders, famous men, and other subjects.

The last category applies to dreams of unhealthy people.

The last three categories mentioned above apply to positive and negative omens and premonitory dreams. This group has three main different types of dreams: general omens, dream predictions, and spiritual visions.

Such categories are interesting for psychological, historical, anthropological, sociological, and other reasons. Clearly, Tibetans have considered them helpful or they wouldn’t have kept them. But then people routinely beat their children and wives for centuries because they considered doing so helpful or they wouldn’t have done it. Notice that what all these dream diagnostic categories have in common at least one thing: none of them ever consider asking characters in a dream what they think the dream is due to. None of them involve listening to the most likely source of information about the dream. Why not? This is more evidence at how groupthink and being locked in a pervasive perceptual cognitive distortion blinds us to possibilities that are right in front of us. This is as true for us as it is for dream interpreting Tibetan doctors.

Dreams Reflecting Health Bodily Humors

In Tibetan medicine it is assumed that the body has three humors or natures, (wind, bile, and phlegm) and constitutions, and that your dreams will reflect one or another of these.

Dreams of healthy people that contain the colors blue or black for meadows, birds, flowers, houses, or clothes, or that contain flying, riding horse or vehicles, objects moving, wind blowing, agitation, anxiety, joy, happiness, and emotions, indicate the dreamer has a wind nature.

Dreams of healthy people that contain the colors yellow and red for the earth, house, clothes, flowers, gold, copper, fire, sun, animals, sweating, or bright colors indicate a slow, stable, and clear mind, or fear, indicate the dreamer has a bilious nature.

Dreams of healthy people that contain the colors white or gray for water, snow, earth, elephant,

silver, pearl, clothes, ocean, peaceful rivers, calm and quiet, stable and slow and heavy

indicate the dreamer has a phlegmatic nature.

Tibetan doctors can also diagnose which channels of the body consciousness is traveling in based on the directions in dreams:

If the consciousness travels to the following areas:

  • Front channel Eastward direction
  • Back side channel Westward direction
  • Left side channel Northward direction
  • Right side channel Southward direction
  • Open and wide channels dreams of open space
  • Tide and tiny channels dreams of narrow places and

appearance of space dealing trouble etc.

Dreams Are Influenced By Illness

What about the dreams of an unhealthy person? What kind of diagnosis can you make from them? Tibetan medicine teaches that when the consciousness channel is blocked and contaminated by a disease, dreams are influenced by the illness. Diseased dreams appear differently according to the nature and energy background and their imbalances.

What are the premises of Tibetan dream interpretation?

Clearly, it is assumed that dreams can be interpreted, but that it takes a skilled interpreter that can differentiate dreams among several categories, those of healthy and the sick, secular and spiritual dreams, and the type of humor indicated. It also assumes that some waking perspective, in this case someone trained in Tibetan medicine and Tibetan dream interpretation, is the best, most authoritative, and accurate way to work with a dream. These assumptions are almost universal. You will find some version of them in Indian, Chinese, Shamanistic, Islamic, Judaic, Christian, and Western psychologically-based approaches to dreams.

Negative Dreams are to be Pacified

It is interesting that Tibetan Buddhism developed a series of interventions to use against nightmares. This tradition believes that to pacify negative dreams you should:

take part in rites and rituals that can pacify some of the bad dreams and omens;

receive long life initiation;

practice dream yoga;

study and meditate on emptiness;

go to a particular spiritual retreat; and

train yourself to recognize the dream as an illusory world.

The concept of a negative dream is foreign to Integral Deep Listening. When you experience a “negative” dream from the perspective of a different character in the dream, for example, the antagonist, the nature, purpose, and meaning of a dream generally expands and becomes either neutral or positive. Dreams that do stay negative are typically deemed so by interviewed dream characters for reasons far different from those of waking identity.

Imagining You Are a Buddha-Figure

Tibetan Buddhism is unique in that it has a well-developed practice of consciously becoming other perspectives in what is called “Tibetan Deity Yoga.” Its purpose is to support the attainment of enlightenment by consciously identifying with figures that are personifications of aspects or characteristics of enlightenment. While many traditions have practices that involve identification with sacred figures, this is typically done in an ecstatic or trance state. What makes Tibetan Buddhism different is that it is done consciously and procedurally, mostly in the context of advanced meditation instruction for waking and lucid dreaming.

A key to understanding Tibetan deity yoga is in a close reading of the title of Berzin’s article: “What Is the Difference between Visualizing Ourselves as a Buddhist Deity and a Deluded Person Imagining They are Mickey Mouse?”  The focus of the title is not on distinguishing an image of Buddha from that of Mickey Mouse, but of distinguishing a non-deluded person from a deluded one.  A deluded one will think they are the Buddha or Mickey Mouse; a non-deluded one can imagine they are either Buddha or Mickey Mouse and not think that is who they are. Berzin says as much. “One has to understand that one can receive teachings from anything – from the wind and so on – when you are at a very advanced level. But very advanced, not our ordinary level. So that means that you can receive teachings from Mickey Mouse or Snow White, but then you are at a very advanced level.” It would seem then, that Tibetan deity yoga, as understood by Berzin, is theoretically compatible with Integral Deep Listening although it engages practitioners within the context of the Tantric tradition, to which Micky Mouse, Snow White, chamber pots, mushrooms, stools, and Quetzacoatl are foreign. IDL encourages the combination of identification without loss of identity. That means without going unconscious and into trance, for instance, although once learned one maintains identity in any trance state, such as dreaming.

How could such imaginings lead to enlightenment? Are the elements that you imagine real or imaginary? Berzin writes, “….you can actually receive teachings from a painting, from a statue, from these close-bonding beings, from the deep awareness beings. So it’s not just your imagination, in the sense that it can’t function as an actual Buddha. And also the other aspect: the close-bonding figure is the external figure; the deep awareness one is the one inside, in the heart, and so on. So there are so many levels of this. So eventually we can receive teachings from all of them.” Integral Deep Listening does not think you have to be at a very advanced level to receive advanced teachings from Buddha or Micky Mouse, Tara or Snow White, Maitreya or a toilet brush, Avalokiteshvara or a gob of spit. Why would you need to be? Do you have to be highly advanced to suspend your disbelief, become, and listen to what such perspectives have to say? Do you have to be advanced to do so without becoming deluded and thinking that you are actually Micky Mouse, Buddha, or a toilet brush?

In Tibetan deity yoga you are merging with something that can be, may be, or is externally real. With Integral Deep Listening we simply call the objects of identification “emerging potentials,” in the belief that discrimination between internally created and objectively real beings are projections of waking human schemas. This distinction between internal subjective and external objective beings, as functional as it is in everyday life, withers into insignificance the more you do interviews and get in touch with high scoring emerging potentials of all varieties and origins.

Berzin does not deny the possibility that Buddha, Tara, or enlightenment itself could not manifest as Snow White or Mickey Mouse or Napoleon, only that it is not likely, based on his world view. “There would have to be a pretty good reason for there to be such a manifestation of Tara as Snow White.” Yet life routinely manifests itself as monsters and drama in our nighttime dreams. Regardless of what you dream, at that moment those illusions are your reality, just as in your waking dream your current experience is your reality, even if you know that it is a delusional, illusional distortion created by your physical, emotional, and mental matrices to support physical survival and earthly evolution. Life may or may not have good reasons to manifest as Snow White, but there is no doubt that it can and sometimes does. Integral Deep Listening supports the working hypothesis that whatever arises is not only a wake-up call, but a potential doorway to enlightenment, even if it is a gob of spit. It is Buddha in drag, so to speak.

Buddha-Figure or Mickey Mouse–Which is Sacred?

The distinction between that which exists or has existed and that which does not exist or has never existed breaks down in the world of perception. Integral Deep Listening demonstrates that we can very easily become a “presently-happening” Buddha, Napoleon, Cleopatra, or Micky Mouse, and with potentially transforming and liberating results. We do not have to be advanced practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism with years of advanced practice to experience the benefit. From the perspective of life and paramartha samvriti, higher, unconditioned truth, there is no real differentiation between these. “…if [a student thinks] that they are Mickey Mouse or Napoleon or Cleopatra, it isn’t with the intention to use this as a framework for ethical behavior and to achieve liberation and enlightenment free from problems as a Mickey Mouse.” Bezin’s point here is that these are secular identifications, devoid of a sacred context. Does this mean that such identifications cannot be used ifor sacred purposes? Is it possible to place them in a sacred context? If you did so, what would be the likely result?

The implication is that no, they cannot, because, it is assumed, that these figures are not accompanied by an ethical framework, such as accompanies becoming a bodhisattva or which the cultural context of Tibetan Buddhism provides. What if it were discovered that the same ethical framework that accompanies Buddha also accompanies Micky Mouse? What then? What if the student is not using such imaginings to escape from themselves or from life?

Integral Deep Listening places interviewed emerging potentials within the context of six core qualities that are associated with enlightenment: fearless confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing. Correlates of these six can be found within all the religious traditions of the world. Together, they form an ethical framework against which interviewed emerging potentials are asked to measure themselves. The result is that rather than escaping from oneself or from life, Integral Deep Listening challenges us to wake up to a higher ethical context for living.

For Bezin, imagining you are the Buddha is to substitute a pure self-image for a deluded one. The implication is that there are many images that cannot be pure self-images. If samsara is nirvana and the Buddha can appear in any form, then why can’t Mickey Mouse be a vehicle for accessing a pure self-image? The answer is, of course, he can be, just that this is difficult to imagine occurring and is not part of the practices of most recognized spiritual traditions. We have seen that within an Integral Deep Listening context there is no object of imagining that is more pure or less pure than another. Discriminations between sacred and secular, pure and impure, are self-limiting partial understandings, inherited from a shamanistic world view and maintained by unquestioned, comfortable traditions that serve invaluable purposes at prepersonal levels of development. They arise as common sense conclusions from normal life. However, as heliocentrism demonstrated a context that relativized the Ptolemaic worldview, Integral Deep Listening interviewing provides a personally verifiable, empistemologically grounded yoga that demonstrates not only the limits of these assumptions, but the limits that they impose on your development. With Integral Deep Listening you can be delusional and do deity yoga, in that you believe in the reality of sacred/secular, purity/impurity dualisms, or be sane and imagine you are Mickey Mouse, Napoleon, or Cleopatra.

Motivation: To Become Enlightened and Help Everyone

Regarding motivation, Berzin writes, “Another important difference here is the motivation. In tantra practice, our motivation is bodhichitta. We are aiming for enlightenment, for our own future enlightenment which has not yet happened. …this Buddha-figure that we are imagining ourselves to be represents that goal, that aim. …what we imagine that we’re doing is helping everybody. So imagining ourselves as this deity, as this Buddha-figure, all the time – or as often as we can – helps us to keep focused with bodhichitta on what we’re aiming for, which is enlightenment. The whole purpose of visualizing ourselves like this is to be able to benefit others as much as possible – it’s bodhichitta – so that helps us to overcome our self-preoccupation and our selfishness. Whereas a schizophrenic fantasy, on the other hand, is even more self-preoccupied, just caught in their own little world, and is not done at all to attain enlightenment and help others.”

Integral Deep Listening assumes that all others, in addition to possessing autonomy, are functionally aspects of ourselves. How we treat them is how we are treating those aspects of ourselves that they represent. A moment’s reflection on the source of your dream characters, which you assume to be objectively real while you are dreaming, illustrates this truth. Is a dream monster really a demon from another dimension sent to torment you, as the shamanistic worldview believes? Is it not most likely to be a personification of something within yourself? By helping others you are therefore helping those aspects of yourself that they represent. If you help a dream monster rather than ignore it, run from it, kill it, or transform it, you are helping yourself.

What this means is that Integral Deep Listening is selfless, in that it helps others, but for selfish reasons. When you respect and listen to the monster in your dream you are doing more than acting compassionately toward some other; you are respecting and listening to yourself. When you respect and listen to a cornflake in an Integral Deep Listening interview your respect does not have to be altruistically motivated; you do it because you are wanting to get unstuck, or wake up, or maybe even get enlightened, and it probably has its own perspective on what it means to do these things. However, you can make that determination for yourself. While Integral Deep Listening is not motivated by bodhichitta, it is motivated by interests in enlightenment and helping others that are not so different from those that motivate Tibetan deity yoga.

Are Buddha figures chosen by one’s inner compass? Tibetan Buddha would say “yes,” because by definition the tradition of the Buddha represents the highest good for oneself. However, this is an appeal to external authority based on prepersonal belief, validated because it is internalized and made one’s own. But that is different from one’s inner compass. As we have seen from discussions of triangulation in earlier chapters, conscience, intuition, higher self, God, and deities are internalized externalized sources of objectivity. We have taken parental voices and images, internalized, and now they are living, rent free, in our heads, channel-surfing somewhere between the limbic and cerebral cortex portions of our brains.

Therefore, the answer is, “No,” Buddha figures are not chosen by your inner compass. They were obviously chosen for you by Tibetan Buddhist tradition and perhaps by your Rinpoche. That you accept them as your own does not make them personifications of your inner compass. To do that you have to first interview them, as Bob does below, to get confirmation. Otherwise, you aren’t listening. You aren’t demonstrating respect for your inner compass. You are merely assuming.

Does Not Assume Dream and Lucid Dream Characters Are Emerging Potentials

While Tibetan Buddhism does not use the concept, “emerging potentials,” it would recognize it. Reality is divided into the Real and the illusory for Tibetan Buddhism; you can become the Real by identifying with it, and through successive identifications with various Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, that Reality will supplant your illusory identifications with your attachments. The most obvious, parsimonious, and rational assumption would be that the characters in our dreams are created by our own minds and are therefore aspects of ourselves. While this is an over-simplification, as the more ontologically correct awareness is that they are neither, considering the self-created aspect of our experience reflects the psychological geocentrism, that life experience is “all about me,” of middle to late prepersonal consciousness. It says considerable about both the human mind and predicament that this is a relatively recent explanation for our dream life, arising only in the twentieth century, and that the majority view across cultures and throughout history is the even more naive assumption that dreams are depictions of real events that we experience while we are asleep or out of our bodies. This is the concrete naive realism of early prepersonal consciousness. The assumption, that dream characters are real, makes the mistake of displacing and externalizing that which is self-created, while the second makes the mistake of owning that which is not self-created.

When you interview dream characters and the personifications of your life issues you are likely to discover that the perspectives of interviewed clouds, deities, extraterrestrials, shoes, and flowers find these distinctions to be relatively unimportant. While they can and will tell you what part of yourself they most closely personify, they will also demonstrate an autonomy of perspective that is clearly differentiated from your own and can only be reduced to a part of your “shadow,” “personal unconscious,” or “unconscious” by doing them violence. To say that an interviewed dream character or the personification of a life issue is an emerging potential is to say that it is intrinsic to your nature but does not belong to you. It is to point to a middle way between ownership and displacement that Buddhists could probably appreciate. Perhaps the pervasive unawareness that dream characters are emerging potentials comes from an instinctive desire to disown both the demonic and the angelic within ourselves while dismissing the mundane as irrelevant.

Similarities Between Tibetan Deity Yoga and IDL

Both encourage identification with personifications of enlightenment in all states, waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and mystical.

Both encourage the broadening and thinning of identity. Becoming “nobody” is about thinning identification with defining filters that precondition perception to confirm certain assumptions and ignore other data points. One of these filters is our sense of self.

Differences Between Tibetan Deity Yoga and IDL

We have seen that Tibetan deity yoga uses culturally sanctioned figures while IDL uses whatever arises as a wake-up call, to be answered via interviewing and respectfully listened to.

Tibetan deity yoga uses a culturally-structured identification procedure. These are the various yogic instructions for use during meditation, ceremonial initiations and empowerments, and while dreaming. IDL uses a rationally-structured interviewing procedure for identification. While it is a product of cultural assumptions and is one manifestation of particular perceptual cognitive distortions, it is not tied to one particular set of cultural assumptions. It is assumed the process will continue to evolve in response to ongoing triangulation.

Tibetan deity yoga does not typically ask questions of deities during these processes. The focus is on getting the visualization and embodiment correct and on maintaining it, on the assumption that by doing so you inherently receive the benefit of the image. IDL does not believe that either visualization or embodiment are necessarily linked to drawing appropriate or desired conclusions. We find this verified regularly by interviewed images telling us that we have misperceived both their actions and their intentions. Therefore, based on the irrefutable evidence that our waking assumptions are partial and biased, more information is required. This is most readily and accurately achieved through direct questioning of the emerging potential.

Tibetan deity yoga typically does not seek specific recommendations although the goal is to generalize the consciousness of the deity in the everyday consciousness of the adherent. IDL seeks specific answers regarding specific questions about dreams and life issues. The validity of those answers can usually best be verified only through a trial and error life application process.

Tibetan deity yoga does not use triangulation, although one may submit their experiences with deity yoga to the judgment of a Rinpoche or Lama.

Tibetan deity yoga does not involve answering questions as the perspective. Because questions are not asked, becoming the character and then answering them, in something resembling a shamanic oracular fashion, is not taught or encouraged. IDL teaches that the more one habitually does so, not only in formal interviewing, but as a routine, throughout the day, the more likely one is do so in their dreams and then remember dreams in which they encounter an element, decide to interview it, and then become it in the dream and answer questions from its perspective.

Tibetan deity yoga only allows identification with personifications of enlightenment. IDL encourages the dropping of this assumption and respectfully interview anything and everything. Let it tell you what it personifies, if anything.

An example of Integral Deep Listening and the dreams of a Tibetan Buddhist Rinpoche

Anyone practicing Tibetan Buddhism can enhance their practice by learning Integral Deep Listening, regardless of their level of attainment. This is because the emerging potentials that you interview from your dreams or as the personifications of your life issues include, yet transcend your own perspective. They have their own perspective to add to yours. Here is an example of how practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism are unlikely to ever outgrow Integral Deep Listening. It was conducted in 2004 with a wise and compassionate Rinpoche who remains the head of a Tibetan Buddhist center in one of the largest cities in the United States.

Dressed in deep orange/red robe and sash, our Rinpoche is kind, serene, intelligent, and articulate. Trained in India and a student of the Dalai Lama’s, he is immediately likable. Since he was a young adolescent in monastery this Rinpoche has gotten up around four AM and meditated for several hours, several times a day. When he learned of my interest in dreams, he volunteered several of his own. The first one centered on a twelve-foot long female cobra that was about two feet around who came into the ruin of a Buddhist monastery in which a number of monks were gathered and meditating. She would sniff each one, looking for the “right” person. She would then hiss, shake her head, and go to the next. Finally she came to our Rinpoche, and he could tell that she knew he was the one she was looking for. She coiled herself around him, boa constrictor style. He was very afraid. With difficulty, he put his hands together and began to pray the Four Immeasurables.[18] When he was through he turned his head up to accept his fate. Then she bit him on the forehead. It scared him so much that he woke up.

He had asked other people about the dream. Hindu priests had said that it was about the kundalini being awakened with a third-eye initiation. His parents thought that since snakes are nagas, which are water spirits, that he had some karma with water spirits from a past incarnation.   Of course I didn’t give him an interpretation, because that is not how Integral Deep Listening works. Instead, we bowed to a far superior knowledge, and interviewed the snake, using the usual dream interviewing protocol found in the appendix. She said that Rinpoche had done wrong unintentionally and that he still needed to be more careful. Her intention was not to eat or kill Rinpoche, but to punish him, despite his good intentions. This snake scored high in the six core qualities. The naga recommended that he be it in social situations to help him to be mindful of what he says. Rinpoche related what the snake said to times when he talked to people in the course of his lectures and public events and said things that were misconstrued by them and that cause them problems.

In Integral Deep Listening, after the character is interviewed and the subject has an opportunity to say what they heard, interpretations can be offered by the interviewer. I told the Rinpoche that it sounded to me as if the snake was saying that it was a personification of Rinpoche’s own self-criticism for unintentionally offending others. This seemed to imply that sometimes unpleasant consequences are unavoidable, despite our best intentions. I emphasized that these were merely my personal thoughts and I had no special insight into the dream. However, I did have the benefit of having heard a variety of different perspectives about the dream that he had related from different sources. We now had several sources of external objectivity and one source of internal objectivity, the snake itself. It was now up to the Rinpoche to triangulate by using his own common sense to decide what he thought and what he wanted to do with the information, if anything. For example, he could take his conclusion into subsequent dreams and request more help, or he could go to additional respected sources.

Practitioners of Integral Deep Listening listen to interviews as if they were their own and were for them. The idea is to grow personally through helping others to wake up. This does not rule out the other interpretations, and weight has to be given to what the interviewed character itself, in this case the snake, says. Notice that the snake’s comments focus on compassion and acceptance toward self, two of the six core qualities. This is an example of how interviews often identify and support the qualities of the six that we are lowest in, in an apparent attempt to bring all into balance, as a foundation within the developmental dialectic. When this balance is maintained it provides a stable grounding for first antithesis and then synthesis to our next highest developmental level.

How Does a Practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism Incorporate Integral Deep Listening?

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Here is an example of an interview from an American who has been a dedicated student of Tibetan Buddhism for over fifteen years. He has taken numerous empowerments more than once, including both mother and father tantra. He states, “I’ve accumulated information here and there [about Tibetan Buddhism] for decades through readings, references, some contacts and intuitional dream images. Formally though, my real studies began with meeting my main Tibetan Buddhist teacher in 1998. My meeting came at an interesting, rather intense point in my life; I was diagnosed with throat cancer and [was] coming to terms with treatment. I’ve written about it in an article called Visionary Encounters with Cancer and Buddhism. My main teacher who has taught me the most is Gelek Rimpoche.”

The interview was in response to a request for subjects who had near death experiences. The purpose of the research was to see if Integral Deep Listening could help near death experiencers, years after their transformational experiences, to use them in their current life circumstances. These interviews and commentary were collected in the book Fire From Heaven: Interviewing Near Death Experiences.

What are three fundamental life issues that you are dealing with now in your life?

1 Using my experience to help others in the mental health field.

2 Maintain my health and enhance and heal some of it

3 Connecting more with the Dharma.

Which issue brings up the strongest feelings for you?

Connecting with the dharma. Tibetan Buddhism is the foundation of my life. My connection with the Dharma is like the connection with that Being in my near death experience. It was about total liberation, being totally free of attachment, omniscient.

If those feelings had a color (or colors), what would it be?

A beautiful, lustrous, engaging, very rich and numinous Coral Red!

Imagine that color filling the space in front of you so that it has depth, height, width, and aliveness.

Now watch that color swirl, congeal, and condense into a shape. Don’t make it take a shape, just watch it and say the first thing that you see or that comes to your mind: An animal? Object? Plant? What?

The female Buddha Vajrayogjni!

Now remember how as a child you liked to pretend you were a teacher or a doctor? It’s easy and fun for you to imagine that you are the shape that took form from your color and answer some questions I ask, saying the first thing that comes to your mind. If you wait too long to answer, that’s not the character answering – that’s YOU trying to figure out the right thing to say!

Vajrayogini, would you please tell me about yourself and what you are doing?

I am sitting in a chair, fully present, showing up in different positions sometimes! Showing up right in front and simultaneously in a chair! I’m sitting and interacting with you!

What do you like most about yourself? What are your strengths?

I’m here to remain in an enlightened state of profound bliss and wisdom and to help all beings without exception. My strengths are to know where each person is at and be there for them, to offer insight into becoming free.

What do you dislike most about yourself? Do you have weaknesses? What are they?


Vajrayogini, what aspect of Bob do you represent or most closely personify?

I represent his absolute nature and the parts of him that he’s working on purifying to attain my state.

Vajrayogini, if you could be anywhere you wanted to be and take any form you desired, would you change? If so, how?

I would stay the way I am!

(Continue, answering as the transformed object, if it chose to change.)

Vajrayogini, how would you score yourself 0-10, in each of the following six qualities: confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing? Why?

Confidence:               10; I’m enlightened; I see all of it as the play of sensual nature; it’s all dependent arising appearances. I’m free of all of that.

Compassion:               10

Wisdom:                     10

Acceptance:                10

Inner Peace:                10

Witnessing:                 10

How would Bob’s life be different if he naturally scored like you do in all six of these qualities all the time?

He would have an optimum representation of my energy and my enlightened nature. He wouldn’t get hung up on situations. He would see how to be most effective. He would be able to perform actions that would be best suited in the life he has to help people in mental health and people who are suffering in so many ways.

There are many people who have been diagnosed as schizophrenic or bipolar who have had spiritual experiences. He would be able to help them and the system to get in touch with the spiritual nature of these experiences, to teach the providers that they need to pay attention to the people they are serving and there is great worth in the non-typical disorders that are diagnosed as psychotic or pathological.

If you could live Bob’s life for him, how would you live it differently?

I would focus with more concentration and let go of drama and being affected by external events and his thoughts and feelings…to put into practice what my essential nature is!

If you could live Bob’s waking life for him today, would you handle Bob’s three life issues differently? If so, how?

1 Using my experience to help others in the mental health field:

I think he’s handling it the best he’s able. He needs to follow through on his own ideas. He’s doing all right! He should cultivate more focus and attention; keep the priorities straight. Spend more time with his priorities…More effort…Make the choices that produce the results. Spend more time writing, focusing on practice while writing, studying the dharma that is related to the work he is doing. Don’t be afraid it’s too much to go straight into the practice itself with more depth and focus.

2 Maintain my health and enhance and heal some of it:

Pretty much the same! He’s doing what he can! You never know who is going to show up, so make an effort to find more views or connections. His health challenges and physical condition is what it is. He’s been told that he’s doing pretty well by different doctors, given the situation.

3 Connecting more with the Dharma:

The same way that he’s working now but even more; staying present with the practice. Getting to the practice without delay so much; spending a little more time and more focus on the important qualities of what he’s working with.

What three life issues would you focus on if you were in charge of Bob’s life?

The same ones. There is a lifelong process of grounding from the experiences that he has had (the NDE, the cancer, his mystical experiences, etc.) His main focus is about living in the world and dealing with ordinary life issues; the importance of that. That’s his grounding process. Dealing with them more slowly, with joy and acceptance of whatever difficulties that show up.

In what life situations would it be most beneficial for Bob to imagine that he is you and act as you would?

He’s on the path…every moment! Sit in a more relaxed way with what is and to make decisions with wisdom and compassion. Train in those things and recognize that his whole life is his practice in process of realizing his essential nature, which is ME!

Vajrayogini, do you do drama? If not, why not?

Yes! But in a free way so it is the drama of the play, the dreamlike nature, unfolding circumstances and karmas! The essential nature of it is pure, actually. It is just a drama that has no substantial basis – but it does make a big difference to the people involved. Birth, sustaining, then death!

What is your secret for staying out of drama?

I am free of the dramas. I don’t get hooked that way. I realize the essential nature of all the dramas, that they are play, bliss!

Why do you think that you are in Bob’s life?

I have shown up for Bob today because he seeks to realize my essential nature.

How is Bob most likely to ignore what you are saying to him?

He spaces out and sort of forgets, loses awareness…The remaining attachments and negative emotions that show up…

What would you recommend that he do about that?

Keep doing my practice! Do it with more focus, not forced, enjoy the process, be relaxed, be very present with it!

What can Bob do to benefit and grow today from his near death experience?

It’s what showed up in his life for him. Karmas ripened in his life and perhaps from other lifetimes. To take advantage of these opportunities – the NDE, the cancer, all sorts of adventures, some very disturbing. They are over; to learn from them and know what people go through and know it is a blessing because much of it has been transformed. There is still grasping after appearances and some fears of people that remains. He was feeling overwhelmed and not connected, alone when he had his NDE. I was there then, but he couldn’t see me until he had his experience!

Vajrayogini, do you grasp after appearances at all?


How would you recommend that Bob deal with appearances so that he does not grasp after them?

Focus on my practices and know that these events are dreamlike and not to be grasped.

Vajrayogini, how would you deal with his occasional fears of some people?

As his karmas unravel the fears that appear are seen to be empty and the result of his own misperception. There is nothing in others that can hurt his essential nature at all. People act in difficult ways because of their limitations and not out of their essential nature. Stay present with me and stay with that. He is working with that; it is a process that evolves over time.

Bob, what have you heard yourself say?

Continue these practices, things are going pretty well, keep on doing what you’re doing. Enhance some of these processes

If this experience were a wake-up call from the most central part of yourself, what do you think it would be saying to you?

You’re doing pretty good! Keep on going! Don’t lose faith! I sometimes have difficulty. January was difficult with the weather and obstructions. But I am happier than I have ever been in my life! I am very happy to be here. I have a wonderful family and wonderful opportunities in my job and my life. I have the practices that I was looking for all my life. It’s up to me to continue and do it well.

Traditional Tibetan Buddhists would probably understand the interviewing process as a type of yidam yoga – becoming personifications of bodhi or enlightenment.

Vajrayogini’s responses are fairly much what you would expect from a teacher of Tibetan Buddhist dharma; nothing revelatory, but solid support. This is typical for IDL. It respects change that is so incremental as to be almost unnoticeable. But what if we had talked to another character from Bob’s near death experience, such as the tunnel through which many pass? What if we had talked to some incidental character from a dream, such as a shoe or a dog? What then? What Bob would likely find is that each represents a legitimate perspective on his path, one that enhances his practice, yet focuses on the priorities that are associated with its unique perspective.

Other chapters from Dream Yogas may be found here.

[1] Much of the above is adapted from Reynolds, J.M., Ancient Tibetan Bonpo Shamanism, by Vajranatha, jcrows.com.

[2] Geshe Sonam Rinchen (2006). How Karma Works: The Twelve Links of Dependent Arising. Snow Lion, p. 21.

[3] „The subtlest level of mental activity (Mind), which continues with no beginning and no end, without any break, even during death and even into Buddhahood. It is individual and constitutes the mental continuum of each Being. It is naturally free of conceptual cognition, the appearance-making of true existence, and grasping for true existence, since it is more subtle than the grosser levels of mental activity with which these occur. IT is named the Light.” Alexander, Berzin (March 6, 2008). Berzin Archives Glossary.

[4] Rinpoche, Patrul (author); Brown, Kerry (ed.); and Sharma, Sima (ed.)(1994). The Words of My Perfect Teacher (Tibetan title: kunzang Lama’i shelung). Translated by the Padmakara Translation Group. With a foreword by the Dalai Lama. San Francisco, California, USA: HarperCollinsPublishers. p.410 & p.403

[5] This refers to a number of Tibetan Buddhist teaching lineages, Nyingmapa, Ngagpa, Mahasiddha, Kagyu and Bönpo.

[6] Fremantle, Francesca (2001). Luminous Emptiness: Understanding the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Boston: Shambhala Publications. p.198-9

[7] Rinpoche, Patrul, (1994), p.406

[8] The widespread condemnation of President Obama for his persecution of whistleblowers is one example of this. Another is the effectiveness of organizations like “Anonymous” and individuals like Edward Snowden at demonstrating the hypocrisy of secrecy.

[9] Shugchang, Padma (editor); Sherab, Khenchen Palden & Dongyal, Khenpo Tse Wang (2000). A Modern Commentary on Karma Lingpa’s Zhi-Khro: teachings on the peaceful and wrathful deities. Padma Gochen Ling.

[10] Dharma Dictionary (2008). Seven transmissions.

[11] The first of four states of mystical union in Vajrayana, associated with energy, power, and nature mysticism.

[12] Ouzounian, Alice (2003). “The Six Yogas of Tibet.” Zhiné Tibetan Dream Yoga: Part 2.

[13] Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Lineage History, The first Karmapa Düsum Khyenpa.

[14] Shugchang, Padma (editor); Sherab, Khenchen Palden & Dongyal, Khenpo Tse Wang (2000). A Modern Commentary on Karma Lingpa’s Zhi-Khro: teachings on the peaceful and wrathful deities. Padma Gochen Ling

[15] London: Oxford University Press, 1935

[16] Norbu, Chögyal Namkhai (1992). Dream Yoga and the Practice Of Natural Light. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, pp. 42, 46.

[17] Yuthok, Choedak (1997). Lamdre: Dawn of Enlightenment. (Transcribed and edited by Pauline Westwood with valued assistance from Ot Rastsaphong, Rob Small, Brett Wagland and Whitethorn. Cover Design: Rob Small) Canberra, Australia: Gorum Publications.

[18] “May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.

May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

May all beings rejoice in the well-being of others.

May all beings live in peace, free from greed and hatred.”

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