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Observations placeholder

Six Dharmas of Nāropa - 12 The practise of the Illusory body or Dream Yoga – How to recognize the dream



Type of Spiritual Experience


The instruction on the Dream-Illusory Body Practice falls into four divisions:
(1) how to recognize the dream;
(2) how to purify and develop the dream;
(3) how to overcome the rambling type of dreams and recognize them as illusory manifestations;
(4) how to practice on the real nature of dream

A description of the experience

The practise of the Illusory body or Dream Yoga – 1 How to recognize the dream

There are two different ways to recognize or to hold the dream. The first way is recognizing and holding the dream through the power of Prana. That is, through the power which is produced by the gathering and dissolving of Prana in the Central Channel during the waking stage, the Four Voidnesses will arise. At the outset, when the light of the dream stage is realized, the yogi will be able to recognize the Four Voidnesses clearly. Through this realization, he will automatically recognize the dream (as such). In this case, there is no need for him to practice any teachings for recognizing the dream. The second way is recognizing the dream by intention. These teachings are provided for those who do not have the power over Prana, as mentioned before. This practice is carried out by creating, in the daytime, a strong intention for recognizing the dream and concentrating on the Throat Center, etc.

Of these two (methods), the former is the unique teaching of recognizing the dream given by Tantra. The latter practice, however, is a common and general one. Here, I want to mention the so-called teaching of Matsur, of recognising the dream through concentration on the Heart Center, and the teaching of Mestson of accomplishing the same purpose by concentration on the Throat Center. Some claim that concentration on the Heart Center is for the practice of Light Yoga and that concentration on the Throat Center is for the practice of Dream Yoga. However, I think that, through the arising of the Four Voidnesses of sleep, before the dream appears, the power of Prana—which is produced by concentration on the Heart Center—will enable one to recognize the dream. Therefore it is permissible to say that concentration on the Heart Center will enable one to recognize the dream. In the case of practice through intensive intention, the yogi is not able to see the Four Voidnesses before the dream appears; therefore, concentration on the Throat Center is the right method.

In this connection, one may ask: "Since concentrating on the Throat Center is the right teaching, should we stick to it and disregard the others?" A brief discussion on this point may be helpful. Consider the case of the yogi who is able to hold (the dream) through Prana power; if he concentrates on the Throat Center during the time just before falling into the stage of sleep, the Pranas will gather and dissolve in the Central Channel at the Throat Center. Though the yogi has raised the Four Voidnesses beforehand, (because of the diversified attention placed on the Throat Center) the Prana is neither concentrated (completely) in the Heart Center nor gathered at the Throat Center. Since the Four Voidnesses can never be revealed through practices other than meditation in the Heart Center, the yogi should concentrate on the Heart Center just on the verge of falling asleep.

However, there is an advantage in concentrating on the Throat Center. If one concentrates at the Throat Center or at the forehead, the gathering of Prana in the Heart Center will become lesser and weaker; consequently, the sleep will become very light and the awareness of mind will become clearer. If a dream is produced through meditating on the Throat Center during sleep, this dream will last longer than usual (or be more steady than the usual dream.) Furthermore, if the yogi raises a desire to have a longer dream in his sleeping state after a certain dream he has experienced, he will shortly be able, through the power derived from previous concentration on the Throat Center (during repose), to hold his mind (and produce) a dream wherein he is able to practice the meritorious (Dream Yoga) for a longer. period. For these reasons, the instruction for concentrating on the Throat Center is given.

Generally speaking, if the yogi has a sound foundation of the practice of the path, his dream is clear and he is able to recognize it frequently. In this case, he does not have to depend on the infrequent clear dreams (as do those who practice with intention). If he has strong desires in the daytime, these will usually be (represented) in his dreams. Based on this principle, if he creates a strong desire during the day to recognize his dream, and repeatedly strengthens this desire while awake, he will, when asleep, be able to recognize the dream. This is not a very difficult practice.

If no dream whatsoever appears, there is then no way for the yogi to practice the Dream Yoga; therefore, he must use all methods to produce a dream as given in the Tantric instructions. If the dream takes place but is not clear, it will still be difficult for the yogi to practice Dream Yoga. Therefore, it is necessary to have a clear dream—clear to the point that the yogi can relate it when he awakes. To dwell in a solitary place helps to purify mind so that it will be as clear in the evening as in the morning. Then it is easy to recognize the dream. In short, this intentional practice requires a very strong desire directed toward recognizing the dream in the daytime, and only by such strong habitual thinking and awareness can the dream be recognized. Therefore, the practice in the daytime is important. Besides this, there are many teachings such as concentrating on the Throat Center, on the point between the eyebrows, visualizing certain objects and shapes, some special Prana practices, etc. Through these methods, the clearness and awareness of the mind is strengthened.

Thus, the yogi should follow these Pith-instructions of Dream Yoga, study them, and learn them well. He should rely on a guru who possesses the unmistakable experience of Dream Yoga; otherwise (if he follows the wrong instruction from the wrong guru), he may have some experiences in the beginning, but will have nothing but confusion in the end.

Once the dream is recognized, the yogi should visualize himself as his Patron Buddha, or practice the Guru Yoga together with offering-prayers. (In the dream state) the yogi should make an effort to create many clear, auspicious dreams at his own will, try to recognize them, expand them, and utilize them as an opportunity to practice various benevolent devotions. If any ominous dream occur the yogi should transform it into an auspicious one. He should pray to his Guru with great earnestness to grant him the ability to do so. In the dream state, the yogi should perform the ritual of offering the Gtormas to the Yi-Dam and protective deities, pray them to grant his wishes, etc. In his retreat-confinement, the yogi should work hard on these practices.

Practice during the daytime should put emphasis mainly on dwelling upon or retaining the memory of the desire (to recognize the dream at night). The yogi should think that all manifestations he beholds and all that cross his way in the waking state are (actually) in the dream state. This he does by reminding himself, "This is a dream. I now recognize it. I know that I am dreaming." With great earnestness the yogi should strengthen his wish by enhancing the desire. Thus, eventually, when the dreams appear, he will be able to recognize them and also to utilize them as a basis to exercise (the Dream Yoga practices). The yogi should not only strengthen his intention by repeatedly reminding himself of the desire during the day, but also strengthen the desire just before sleep. This will greatly increase the chance of recognizing the dream.

The instructions on the intensive practice at night are given in three divisions: first, to visualize the word-symbols in the Throat Center. When the yogi feels that he is about to go to sleep, he should visualize that he becomes the Patron Buddha and also prays many times to his guru who is sitting upon his head. Then he should visualize a red Ah word or Oṃ word situated in the center of a red lotus with four leaves in the Central Channel of the Throat Center, This Ah or Oṃ word is the symbol of the essence of Buddha's expression upon which the yogi should concentrate without distraction. In such a manner, the yogi should enter into the state of sleep (keeping these visualizations in mind).

There is another instruction on performing this practice, i.e. to visualize five words—Oṃ, Ah, Nu, Da, Ra—in a successive order, in contrast to meditating on one red Ah word alone. This method is quite different. The (Tantra) of the Non-Twofold Victorious Illusoriness says, "Meditating on the four words—Ah, Nu, Da, Ra—in a successive order does not increase more power. It helps little; therefore, this practice may be dispensed with." To meditate on the Oṃ word at the central point is in accord with the saying of Sambhudra and other Tantras85. However, visualizing a red Ah word is also acceptable. The extremely important point is to meditate on the word at the "central point"; i.e., to meditate on the word in the Throat Center in the Central Channel. Should he be unable to recognize the dream through this visualization, he must practice many, many times. If he still cannot hold the dream, he should visualize a Thig-le [here in the sense of bindu or seed of power] at the point between the eyebrows and hold on to it.

It is difficult to recognize the dream after midnight and before dawn, for this is a period in which sleep is very deep. In the time after daybreak into and through dawn, the sleep is usually light. During this period it is easy to recognize the dream. Then the yogi should pray to his guru, remind himself of the desire (to hold onto the dream),visualize a white glittering Thig-le at the central point between the eyebrows on his self-Yi-Dam body, and hold onto the visualization. He should also practice the Vase-Breathing exercise seven times; then he will fall asleep again. If he stresses visualizing the glittering Thig-le too much, he will not be able to sleep, or will be prone to awaken easily. In this case, he should visualize the Thig-le as a little darker in hue.

Some say that if he cannot fall into sleep because of meditating on the Throat Center, he should concentrate on the forehead, visualizing a white Thig-le there. This is very erroneous, because the forehead is a place that, if concentrated upon, causes dreams to arise, (puts consciousness in operation in opposition to the tendency to sleep). This foolish statement is akin to saying that concentration upon the Sleeping Center will make one awake. If he concentrates on the Throat Center at dawn and twilight for a long period and still cannot hold the dream, he must be a person who requires a sound, heavy sleep. For him, meditating on the Eyebrow Center will help. If by doing this, the sleep then becomes too light and he is liable to awake, or he can not fall into sleep at all, he should visualize a Thig-le within the reproductive organ and also repeatedly strengthen his desire for recognizing the dream during the daytime as mentioned before. Before sleep, he should visualize a black Thig-le in the center of the organ and practice the breathing exercise twenty-one times. Thus the destructive thoughts will be halted, and he can fall into sleep more easily. One should know that meditating on that organ is a cure for light sleep.

If through the practice [of meditating on the frontal sinus center] one still cannot subdue or overcome heavy sleep, one may follow such instructions as meditating on the month and year (visualizing the moon and sun). If by doing so, the yogi still cannot practice the Dream Yoga, he should know that only through the power of the (Wisdom)-Prana produced by the arising of the Innate Born Wisdom through the process of gathering, entering, and dissolving in the Central Channel of the Heat Yoga practice, one is able to hold a dream properly. Through the practice of intensive intention, no matter how hard one tries, he may still not be able to practice properly. Therefore, he should work hard on the superb Heat Yoga and try to lead the Pranas into the Central Channel. This is the primary practice, others being secondary.

The source of the experience

Six Dharmas of Nāropa

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Dreaming and lucid dreaming