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Dream Yoga: Interview with Dr. Pasang Yonten Arya, by Raul Romero

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Dr. Pasang La, thank you very much for giving this special interview. Let’s start, how are dreams interpreted in the Tibetan medical field and regarded in the culture as well?

Generally dream is an interesting subject in both East and West. People try to interpret them in different ways, some through superstitions and some others try to read the dreams in a psychological way. Therefore dreams are found to be positive in one culture and negative in another. Culturally speaking, dreams may be interpreted or taken into consideration depending on the realization of each person in particular. The normal person takes them as illusion or simply disregards them. The higher spiritual practitioners take them as illusion though they interpret various aspects of their life and spiritual experience progress including future predictions and blessings. The people between these two see in them the development of their present life from various aspects. In the medical field, the dream is an experience taken as a reflection of the mind journey inside the body, and medical practitioners take them to interpret the internal state of the person regarding the body and mind in order to diagnose and cure his patients.

The field of dreams is extremely vast, spiritually speaking, can you please explain to us the meaning of dreams in this context?

I shall try my best. Dreams in the Tibetan Medical field are correlated with a law understood as a body/mind system functioning during the day (waking time) as well as during the night (sleeping time) that roughly can be put or applied and interpreted based on that. Precisely speaking, during the day we live in an "external" world and dream in an internal world at night. Bardo is a reflection memory (bag chags) of the body mind in between states. But dream meaning in this context may be defined according to the experience, realization and purpose of each practitioner, so it may be extremely complex, but generally speaking it is regarded as being of the same nature as the Bardo or intermediate state experience. In sutra it is regarded as an illusion, in tantra it is regarded as the mind transported by the subtle wind (rlung sems dbyer med) and wandering in the body parts, and organs, which is a microsamsara. The experience of the body/mind journey is felt as joy or suffering through contact with the outside world, which the body and channels reflect in the mind, and that is regarded as a dream, which appears completely as forms and aspects. A Master said that it is “like a child visiting a temple” which is seen by his eyes, but who doesn't recognize that it was seen before. For example a channel appears like houses, blood and lymph appear like rivers and lakes, organs appear like mountains and rocks etc. In the spiritual practice point of view, dream is regarded as a field to train the mind to recognize the appearances as a reflection of the self and its true nature and by means of the techniques realize the same, mix or dissolve the dream into the reality (bsrewa) and absorb it in the state of meditation for training during life as well as in the intermediate state, and actualize the ‘Sambhoka kaya body’ a body which allows the transcendent consciousness to go directly to a pure land or return to the earth because of some consciously predetermined purpose.

What is the root of the dream yoga, and who compiled and taught the techniques of this path?

Thousands of years ago, shamans of Central Asia and especially in Tibet, used the dreams to communicate with the guardians of the dreams of their patients or clients in order to access information or help to cure them or make political prediction especially to the Kings. But yoga and dreams are common in ancient Indian Hindu religion and Buddhism and especially Buddhist tantras use or describe special methods of mind transformation. Regarding to the Mahayana Buddhist dream context, Buddha taught ocean like tantras where dream yoga is an important method and subject of study and practice used to realize that the dream is a life and life itself is a dream on this earth. Realization and transformation of the present life and dream life is called mixing or ‘bsrewa’ which introduces the reality of the state of Bardo experience. This became one of the most important tantric sleeping meditation techniques basically discovered by Master Tilopa, who passed it to Naropa and Marpa Lotsawa the eye of the world. Then it was passed to Milarepa and Gampopa who spread the Naropa’s six yogas tantra all over the world. Generally each school of Tibetan Buddhism has the technique under different names and practices it in a hidden way. It wasn’t until the introduction of Buddhism in Tibet that the techniques were compiled.

It is also said that Niguma took part in this development, may you explain if there is any connection?

Honestly speaking I do not know much about Niguma and never received any initiation of her teachings. Niguma is regarded by some scholars as the sister, some believe her to be the consort of Naropa who in partnership with him taught the techniques, and some others regard her as the one who compiled them. The practice may be very secret in Tibet, or many parts of it are probably taken back to heaven by Dakinis. I don’t know much about this story.

When is the most appropriate time to practice those techniques?

A qualified disciple who renounced or gave up the world or self and who posseses great love and compassion toward all mother beings, one self must have or be in a state of bodhisattva vows, and actively searching for a master to learn and liberate himself from the samsara in order to help all the sentient beings. One should be young to find a qualified master who may teach and guide in the practice, otherwise if we do not do it while healthy or during the life interval, it is not possible to practice them or realize any truth in this life or in the intermediate state which is the principal or ultimate purpose of the path.

What happens then in the intermediate state?

You may recognize the mother clear light (gzhi’i od gsal) which is a state of void by nature, by meditating on the clear light pattern (bu yi od gsal) which means that you studied and learned the light of the emptiness e.g. like autumn dawn color: Waiting for the ‘od gsal’ of the intermediate state appearance in the bardo, during the sleeping time or during the process of dying and recognizing the ‘od gsal’ the truth of the light, and then mixing and dissolving the mother and son lights (od gsal ma bu bsrewa), the two into one, and going into the contemplation state, which helps and allows to realize the true nature of the phenomena and rise the body of ‘Sambhoka kaya’ and go to the pure land or achieve the Buddhahood. Even not said there is some kind of free choice about where to be born in this world.

Once we are a practitioner of this path may we discuss our experiences with others interested?

Indeed not, you may discuss them only with your spiritual master, because humans, devas, demons and ghosts and evil spirits especially make obstacles. Others may hear and as a consequence they retire not helping anymore. Also the accuracy of the dream practice may be diminished. Probably once you become a master in this practice and without illusion and delusions, in short with no more samsaric ignorance, then it is a different matter. What I understood from what the masters said is that ‘as much as you keep secret your experiences the progress will be bigger and bigger. Expressing and opening it may open the channels and increase the conceptualization mind (rnam rtog) which could give a chance to the demonic energy to enter into the body, and that could create obstacles”.

How are the normal dreams produced during the normal sleeping process?

The normal dreams start after the six consciousness in the brain dissolve into one another and descend to the heart chakra were they enter in profound silence and deep sleeping state. Depending on the constitution of the person, after a certain period of time the mental consciousness remains still but the mental affliction wind (nyon mong pai’i yid kyi rlung) moves and takes the mental consciousness and ascends it to the throat chakra. There it awakes into the sleep process from where it may go to different parts of the body through channels and create different types of dreams. The mental consciousness feeling is like a journey into the body and reflects it like a travel trough mountains, a house, an ocean, rivers and other phenomena depending on the part it goes to. Let’s say it is this way when the mental consciousness and subtle wind is there, “closed mindedness wind” rises from the crown chakra, “attachment and desire wind” rises from the throat chakra, “hatred and anger wind” rises from the heart chakra, “ego and envy wind” rises from the navel chakra and “jealousy and lust wind” rises from the secret chakra. The 72,000 winds carry 72,000 emotions and run into the 72,000 channels of the body. They are like the cars and highways of the body. I don’t see any particular rule on what happens and which phenomena happen before or after. It depends on the daily life emotions, physical conditions, and sort of external negative energy interferences that take place during the dream, although Tibetan Medicine divides one night into six sessions of dreams and Machik Labdon’s dream interpretation divides it into three sessions. Generally the process should happen that way but strong emotions and experiences could take place before others.

Could the practice of the dream yoga during the night pose any threat to the body or consciousness of the practitioner?

Yes actually, in some advanced practice, when the practitioner dissolves his consciousness in the heart center and goes out to a pure land to receive instructions from the Buddha, Bodhisattvas or masters, he or she must return before the sound of the gong of the monastery in the morning because otherwise the consciousness may not return, unless the practitioner has achieved the first stage of bhumi.

Could external influences affect our dreams?

Yes and there are plenty of them. They are divided in good and bad influences. Good ones help us and they are the good spirits, protectors and masters; bad influences refer to bad spirits, shamans, or bad energy in the nearby surroundings. Also the dream experience may be influenced by the quality of the internal channels, humors, memory and health state or diseases of the practitioner.

In the dream practice during the night, could the practitioner express different bodies at the same time?

Yes, this is one of the advanced techniques used; the practitioner may multiply or replicate their dream mental body and go to different parts of the world, physical, mental or higher, for different purposes because the consciousness at the mental level is pervasive in the space to all places, that is the nature of the consciousness. We just need the appropriate receptor or antenna to see them.

Are any type of herbs used by the practitioner to increase the effect of the techniques in the dream yoga practice during the day or night?

No, so far I’ve never heard of using something like that.

Could an advanced practitioner related to the medical field use his dreams as a tool to cure a patient?

I can’t say no. There are some that must be a highly kind heart. Some are living body-minds for other’s wellbeing. Many masters recorded in biographies, used to visit in dreams and blessed people who in the morning experienced great blissfulness and cured many diseases. In the same way a sort of transferring of energy to the patients could also be done, but they must have a great energy transformation power.

I confess and request pardon to the responsibles of this practice, protectors deities, if I exposed too much or made mistakes in this work. May this benefit all.

I also confess and request pardon to the same and you, if I made any inappropiate question or commited any mistake in writing your kind answers. Thank you very much Dr. Pasang La for your time and sharing your valuable knowledge and experience with us, I hope we can meet soon in order to continue with the second part of this great interview.

Dear Dr. Pasang Yonten Arya La, thank you very much for giving part of your time and allowing me to do the second part of this interview.

Briefly, in the case of a disease being manifested during the night and thus obstructing our practice, what type of dreams or experiences a practitioner may have?

Disease dream or obstacles may appear at any time, but the Gyud-shi (rgyud bzhi), the Four medical Tantras specifically mentions two times: after mid night and in early morning.
But let’s first define what the disease is: firstly, according to Buddhism, from the beginning of our previous lives, ignorance manifests five mental afflictions or three mental poisons that constantly influence our mind, producing the feeling of “I”, self-centered mind and desires. This conditions our mind and produces our own interpretation of the world, which by itself is an illusion, and the source of joy and sufferings, whether in dreams or in the daily life. This primary disease that deludes our mind is in anyway with us from the beginning, and thus also from the beginning of this present life.

Secondly, karma, and bad physical condition may affect the mind. Some of these diseases may already manifest during the pregnancy, disturbing the fetus development and leading to illness or insanity during the life. Though many of these diseases attack later in life. They are said to be of three types: disease manifesting from karma, disease manifesting from the physical body humors and disease manifesting from the mixed two first types. These diseases are conditioned by wrong diet, wrong behavior, unfavorable season and climate, and by mental and emotional disturbances including evil spirits influences. Therefore anywhere and at any time, disease may attack. However, good spiritual practitioners might see some clues of external or internal influences through feeling, vision or dreams.

Whether during sickness or in healthy life, thoughts, emotions and dreams are stimulated and driven by the subtle and gross Wind energy flows (rlung) in the channels. When these channels, whether gross or subtle, have not developed properly, are not flexible or are blocked by obstacles, Wind cannot flow properly or functions in the wrong channels, and manifests diseases. For example, body fire may produce an excess of negative wind energy (fire-wind: carbon dioxide) circulating in the body and flowing up to the brain. That phenomenon can become the cause of hallucination and produce anger. The person will begin to see and hear unusual phenomena, experience nightmares and unhappiness, leading to aggressiveness or mood changes during the dream itself, and also during the day. Tibetan medicine says that all body/mind diseases manifest due to the blockages of the channels.
Many of these blockages are invisible and subtle therefore they are called ‘evil spiritobstacles that destabilize the practice itself and the personality. I am not saying there are no evil spirits outside, there are but Mahayogi Milarepa said:

“Whatever appears in the outside,
Is just an hallucination, if [one is] not realized

Through another language, the Tantric spiritual practice states that all phenomena are caused by the Wind element suffering in the channels so that it may produce various dreams, sufferings, diseases and obstacles any time and at any place. Sometimes the body physiology produces many dreams but doesn't show anything particular. It is just a reaction of body/mind change in certain positions and functions.

A physical disharmony will also influence the dream practice. It is well described in the dream prognosis chapter of the Gyud-shi that uses dreams as a diagnostic tool for the humors diseases. For example dreaming of fire may mean fever, while dreaming of lake and water may show Phlegm and cold disorders, and a windy phenomenon be the sign of Wind disorders. Narrow streets are the signs of channels disorder, insects of infections, and naked body of a lost Lha. These body phenomena, experienced by the consciousness, and reflected in the dream under symbolic appearances alter or transform the practice. Beside the basic mental, physical and humors influences, much more is described concerning complex mental, spiritual and prognostications dreams.

Does our daily life diet influence our practice?

Yes, indeed. The daily food influences much the body, which, in turn, produces the gross mind (rnam shes rags pa), therefore the diet, and the behavior and seasonal factors also influence and change our mind. The nutrition essence and wind energy transform the life sustaining wind energy (srong ;dzin gyi rlung’) that goes to the brain, is burnt there to produce the energy that holds the life and maintain the body/mind "stability", if we may call it that way. For practitioners, but also for any ordinary person, it is generally said that vegetables, fruits and cereal-based diet is considered healthier for the mind than meat and other heavy food. Therefore to keep a clear mind in meditation it is ideal to be vegetarian. Yet in the Tibetan medical point of view, if there is unstable mind and emotion imbalance created by a Wind disorder, the person may need to eat red meat and other animal products in order to keep balance and stabilize the mind.

Which type of beings specifically may manifest during the dream practice at night, and during which part of the night?

Evil spirits provocations generally disturb the dreams of the middle part of the night, while in the early morning most of the prediction dreams appear like health, wealth and spiritual signs, and when practitioners may also see visions of their masters and Yidams (tutelary deity).

In your very interesting seminar about Dream Yoga, I heard that some kind of incenses may protect us, is that correct?

Generally Wind calming incenses such as the healing incense based on Agar31 (rlung dugs spos) are helpful to calm down all types of wind disorders. Especially in the case of the Wind constitution type of people, these incenses are helpful to calm down the agitation that arises from the daily life as well as high emotions. Tibetans believe that some ingredients of the healing incense may protect from negative energy.

I have understood that two different classifications exist to divide the night in portions, each one representing different aspects of our practice. Is it possible for you to delineate them briefly?

The duration of sleeping, whether short or long can be divided into six parts, but the explanation is based on a normal sleeping period such as 6-8 hours. The Gyud-shi describes six types of dreams that can be analyzed according to the time of dreaming:

Also the night can be divided into three sections of dreams:
The first part of the dream is influenced by daily life experiences, dinners, Phlegm humor and Phlegm disorders. The second part of the dream is influenced by other types of sentient beings of different natures, evil spirits and demonic influence, past life experiences, Bile humor, and Bile disorders. The last part of the dream or the morning dream is influenced by future prediction, spiritual messages, Wind humor and Wind disorders.

At which time of the night is a dream better remembered ?

As said before, there are six different time portions in one night, each of them reflecting different aspects, but the last one in the late night or early morning is the most significant to the memory, health, and prediction. The best method to remember dreams is to write down the experience right after the dream.

Let's give some terms used in the dream in literature and in colloquial language of the dreams. Dream is called ‘gnyid’ (or ’gnyid pa’) in Tibetan, which means losing consciousness. The gross consciousness temporarily dissolves and enters into state so it is also called ‘gnyid lam’ the path of sleeping. It is also called ‘rmi ba’ that means seeing the dreams or seeing in the dream the reflection of one’s self by our mind.
And having to follow the dream path without any choice in the dream is called ‘rmi lam’ the path of the dream. The dreamer is in fact like a “child in an unknown street”.

Dream is a physiological language, the body energy influences the mind and in ordinary people this interaction drives the mental consciousness without choice inside the ‘dream world’. For the practitioners, dream yoga is a practice to train the mind to keep control rather than be contrived by physiological driving. In the Tibetan spiritual context, the purpose of this practice is the training for the Bardo transformation.

Thank you very much Dr. Pasang Yonten Arya La