Tibetan Dream Yoga and
Phenomenologically-based Experiential Multi-Perspectivalism
Tibetan Dream Yoga is one of the six dharmas or yogas of Naropa and the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. These six are tummo, or the yoga of inner or mystic heat; ösel, the yoga of clear light, radiance, luminosity; milam, the yoga of the dream state; gyulü, the yoga of the illusory body; bardo, the yoga of the intermediate state; and phowa, the yoga of the transference of consciousness to the pure Buddhafield. Integral Deep Listening (IDL) is a form of phenomenologically-based experiential multi-perspectivalism (PEM). While cognitive multi-perspectivalisms, such as Integral AQAL, are based on conceptual models or worldviews, experiential multi-perspectivalisms are based on identification with, or immersion in, alternative perspectives. While cognitive multi-perspectivalisms contain such identifications, experiential multi-perspectivalisms center around them. The difference is between a conceptual multi-perspectivalism that is organized around a developing and awakening self or identity and an experiential reality that is organized around multiple perspectives, with different ones having greater functionality in different life situations or when confronting different life issues. Another way of expressing this difference is between a psychologically geocentric integral and a polycentric one.
Cognitive and experiential multi-perspectivalisms represent two different ways that concepts and practices of Tibetan Dream Yoga may be approached. The majoritarian integral approach is via the framework of Ken Wilber’s integral AQAL (all lines, levels, quadrants, states, styles). Integral AQAL is multi-perspectival because it approaches life from multiple points of view, worldviews, levels of development, and four basic orientations of consciousness, behavior, culture, and society. Because worldviews are cognitive, and for Wilber the cognitive line leads, such frameworks can be considered cognitive multi-perspectivalisms. This is not to either deny or not acknowledge the non-cognitive elements of such approaches, but it is to point out that the emphasis of cognitive multi-perspectival worldviews is on the interior quadrant elements of consciousness and worldview. Approaching and understanding Tibetan Dream Yoga through the lens of cognitive multi-perspectivalism generates different results from doing the same through the lens of experiential multi-perspectivalisms. This essay both honors and attempts to take into account the valuable perspectives regarding Tibetan Dream Yoga made by Ken Wilber and cognitive multi-perspectivalisms while using the framing of phenomenologically-based experiential multi-perspectivalisms (PEMs), of which Integral Deep Listening (IDL) is one variety. Throughout this essay we will draw comparisons among Tibetan dream yoga and various forms of integral practice, including AQAL, PEMs in general, and IDL in particular. Here is a basic comparison between cognitive multi-perspectivalisms and PEMs:
|Cognitive Multi-Perspectivalisms||Phenomenologically-based Experiential
|Based on Wilber’s Integral AQAL||Draws upon Wilber’s Integral AQAL and JL Moreno’s sociometry|
|The cognitive line leads||The moral/ethical line leads|
|Primacy of self-development and consciousness in the interior individual quadrant||Primacy of collective development and intrasocial evolution in the interior collective quadrant|
|Revealed by meditation and cognition||Revealed by sociometry|
|Assertions; statements of principles||Interviewing; questioning|
|Objectification||Subjective immersion to generate subjective sources of objectivity|
|Control||Triangulation; collective decision-making|
|Worldview; cognitive understanding||Worldviews; experiential immersion|
|Interpretation by waking identity in all states||Interpretation deferred to interpretations by alternative perspectives in all states|
|Identification with self-sense central||Disidentification, “trance” central|
|Emphasis on self-development||Emphasis on collective development|
|Emphasis on enlightenment, excellence||Emphasis on balance|
|Eye of Spirit empiricism the final arbiter of Truth||Skeptical of transpersonal claims not inclusive of prepersonal/personal consensual evidence|
|Two Doctrine Epistemology||While some truths, realities and goods are superior, all can be contextualized|
|Centered on meditation and worldview||Centered on yogic application of recommendations of interviewed emerging potentials|
|Dualism between sentient and non-sentient||Respect toward non-sentient, imaginal perspectives|
|Interpretation is unavoidable; all interpretations are not of equal legitimacy or usefulness||Interpretation is unavoidable; all interpretations are not of equal legitimacy or usefulness|
What was Gautama’s understanding of yoga?
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, nor is it based on the concept of salvation, as is Christianity, or obedience, as are Judaism and Islam. In addition to not accepting the doctrine of an eternal soul or self, Buddhism is atheistic as well as historically non-violent. Buddhism 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. It is by far the most rational and philosophical of world religions, supplementing faith with reason while asking followers to question and test its assumptions and practices. Buddhism 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 which has meditation as its central practice. To my mind, Buddhism, of all world religions, does the best job of including and then transcending prepersonal belief and faith with reason and then including and transcending both belief and reason in the transpersonal and transrational. Other world religions tend to get bogged down in ethnocentric issues.
Buddha subscribed to a narrow definition of yoga. He said,
To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.
Yoga and enlightenment are based on self control.
Here are three famous comments of Gautama regarding dreams that are relevant to understanding basic assumptions of Tibetan dream yoga:
This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world:
Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
Or a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.
So is all conditioned existence to be seen.
This life of separateness may be compared to a dream, a phantasm, a bubble, a shadow, a drop of dew, a flash of lightning.
Know all things to be like this: A mirage, a cloud castle, A dream, an apparition, Without essence, but with qualities that can be seen. Know all things to be like this: As the moon in a bright sky In some clear lake reflected, Though to that lake the moon has never moved. Know all things to be like this: As an echo that derives From music, sounds, and weeping, Yet in that echo is no melody. Know all things to be like this: As a magician makes illusions Of horses, oxen, carts and other things, Nothing is as it appears.
From the above we can conclude that Gautama’s primary interest in dreams was as an example of the illusoriness of experience and life. Rather than focusing on the content or utility of dreams and dreaming themselves, he emphasized their illusory and deceptive nature. However, Theravadin Buddhism also has a tradition of differentiating between sacred and secular dreams and giving credence to the former.
The yoga of Buddhism is primarily a meditative one, a path of self control directed by a master, that is viewed as transcending illusion. Gautama lays out an empirically testable set of yogic injunctions to follow as a spiritual discipline, called the Eightfold Noble Path. It has little, if anything, to do with dreams and dreaming. This emphasis has continued up to the present day in religious, spiritual and mystical traditions, with Integral AQAL paying relatively little attention to dreams and dreaming. The problem here is that the causal, non-dual, and nirvana all transcend the subtle, as a state manifested by dreaming, without necessarily including it. Mystical experiences of the causal or non-dual do not require a previous understanding, incorporation, or integration of the dream state. Unconditioned objectivity is achieved without first accomplishing conditioned objectivity. One example of conditioned objectivity is scientific empiricism. Another example is any empirically-grounded, phenomenologically-based, experiential multi-perspectivalism (PEM), such as Integral Deep Listening (IDL). These specifically access the objectivity of subjectively experienced percepts and thereby provide an intermediate objectivity toward elements of the subtle realm.
The importance of dream yoga for the Tibetan tradition
As in Theravadin Buddhism and Mahayana in general, ignorance and self-delusion are explained in Tibetan Buddhism as due to attachment to transient, perishable things. This attachment is desire, craving, or clinging. The path to the cessation of suffering is the Middle Way between the two extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification, a balancing between extremes and oppositions, somewhat analogous to Aristotle’s Golden Mean and the balancing and integration of Yin and Yang in Chinese humanism. 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 one’s mind through right effort, mindfulness, and concentration. Buddhism says: do these things to wake up out of ignorance and self-delusion. PEMs agree, but believe this also requires the intermediate step of empirically accessing subjective sources of objectivity. While this can be pursued from mid-prepersonal levels of development on, it is primarily a mid-transpersonal practice. Tibetan deity yoga also work at this level; PEMs expand on subtle-based practices anchored in the collective quadrants.
Like both Theravadin and Mahayana Buddhism, the purpose of Tibetan Buddhism, sometimes called Vajrayana, 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. Unlike Hinduism, Theravadin, and other forms of Mahayana Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism emphasizes a dream yoga which includes lucid dreaming, something that it shares with svapna, or Hindu dream yoga. 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. This sets it apart from most schools of Buddhist thought, which view dreams and dreaming as illusory, for example, as in Zen, which views dreams as makyo, distractions to be ignored. However, Buddhism views at least some dreams as sources of spiritual direction, as the famous early Theravadin dream of Buddha’s mother Maya of a white elephant with six tusks entering her side. When and if dreaming is seen as a tool for enlightenment, then one undertakes a particular practice while dreaming. Within the Tibetan tradition, Milarepa’s dream yoga is part of this lineage, combined with Hindu svapna and indigenous Bon Tibetan shamanic influences. Vajrayana generally portrays itself as the integration and transcendence of all yogas.
Tibetan Buddhism, unlike other forms of Buddhism, concluded that dream yoga and lucid dreaming have relevance and purpose if they help us wake up out of ignorance and self-delusion. Why exactly this occurred in Tibet and not say, in Ceylon a thousand years earlier, is unknown, but the most likely reason is the strength of the shamanically-based indigenous beliefs and practices within Tibet. Hunter-gatherer culture had not yet been supplanted by agrarian forms as it had been elsewhere in the subcontinent, again partially due to the isolation of Tibet but most likely due to the difficulty growing crops in a cold and barren climate. Herding and a nomadic lifestyle made more sense, and shamanism is the religious form most closely associated with that socio-cultural stage of human development.
In the Tibetan native Bon tradition as well as within Tibetan Buddhism, dreaming is viewed as a state in which one can gain access to spiritual masters from the past or in heavenly realms. We can find a similar belief in shamanic traditions all over the world. Lucid dreaming is a way to control dream experiences so as to make such encounters more likely. Another reason one would want to learn lucid dreaming is to access such teachings to discern the illusory nature of all states, and to thereby wake up, or become enlightened, which was the primary motivator for both svapna and vajrayana dream yogas. Lucid dreaming also holds out the possibility of ignoring, defeating, and conquering suffering and pain. By the power of control over dream experience, suffering can be eliminated and experiences of nirvana attained. We can hear in these benefits, if we listen closely, an emphasis on early transpersonal forms of unity, associated with nature, power, and which Wilber has called “psychic.”
An integral perspective: Waking up out of suffering in the four quadrants
PEMs that are grounded in an integral perspective emphasize sources of misery and blocked development that are found in waking identification with delusions in all four quadrants of the human holon. In the interior individual quadrant of consciousness, the delusions of our thinking and feeling, as well as our sense of who we are, are due to our level of development. Because our identity and consciousness is subjectively immersed in experience, our sense of who we are lacks the objectivity to recognize its delusions. This is the human condition; while we will gain increasing degrees of objectivity, we will continue to be subjectively enmeshed in our reality, identity, and worldview in relationship to some broader, more inclusive reality, identity, and worldview. In the interior collective quadrant of values and interpretations, we are delusional because we are a product of the cultural assumptions into which we were born. We act on cultural and linguistic assumptions that are completely arbitrary and may have little to do with our emerging potentials or life compass. Our interpretations say more about who we are than about objective reality. In the exterior individual quadrant of behavior, when our actions do not bear fruit it is partially because they represent delusional thoughts, feelings, and values – our priorities rather than taking into consideration those of our life compass. In the exterior collective quadrant of relationship, society, and systems, our macrocosm is a delusional out-picturing of our assumptions about who we are and what we need to do in order to be happy. That macrocosm cannot help us change because whatever it does, we interpret in terms of our present level of development and our cultural filters, neither of which are likely to be informed by deep listening.
We have seen how deep listening suspends assumptions and roof-brain interior chatter in order to empathetically listen. While empathy is normally understood as feeling what others are feeling, it is generally based on the assumption that we know what someone else is feeling. The sort of empathy addressed here is a confirmed empathy: we ask the other person instead of assuming we that empathize: “Are you crying because you are sad? Depressed? Angry? Confused? Ashamed?” Because PEMs are phenomenologically based, a serious attempt is made to surface assumptions and table them so that they no longer filter our listening and hearing in the background, out of our awareness. Our ability to wake up out of somnambulistic sleepwalking in the four quadrants in any state is problematic if we do not adopt a phenomenalistic approach.
The inextricable embeddedness of Tibetan Dream Yoga in Tibetan religious mythology
Tantric ritual is generally more elaborate than in other forms of Buddhism, with complex altar arrangements, mandalas, thangkas, ritual objects, mudras, chants, and musical instruments. This complexity supports both a complex belief system and a complex set of practices. Aligning our desires for awakening, transcendence, and enlightenment with those of Tibetan Buddhism, perhaps the most sophisticated system of meditation ever developed, is a multi-textured and enormous undertaking. This is because the intentions and injunctions of Tibetan dream yoga are difficult to understand, much less apply in one’s life, without a familiarity with the Tibetan language, the systems of belief, practices, stories, symbols, and ethical guidelines of Buddhism that provide both context and meaning for them. 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. Like IDL, the teachings of Tibetan dream yoga are primarily for the waking mind and only secondarily for dreaming and sleeping consciousness.
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 our exhalations, repeating the “ah” out-breath three times. Now raise our energy by standing up, reaching our 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, we 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. Lucid dreaming 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. IDL shares this preference with Tibetan Buddhism. Rather than focusing on lucid dreaming, IDL focuses on lucid living – waking up out of drama in both waking and while dreaming, setting priorities that are in alignment with one’s life compass, and accessing multiple perspectives that are appropriate for addressing a constantly shifting set of unique life challenges.
While all practitioners of IDL are conditioned by the cultural context in which they practice it, just as are practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism, the assumptions of any PEM are not associated with a particular cultural mythology. A Moslem, Jew, Buddhist, capitalist, child, or secular humanist can use the IDL interviewing protocol and experience benefits, such as increased access to their own unique emerging potentials, that can then be used to align their goals with the priorities of their life compass.
The ultimate goal in Tibetan dream yoga
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. The ultimate goal of Tibetan dream yoga is to attain conscious awareness while dreaming, called “apprehending the dream,” and to 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. Like waking, dreaming is to be replaced by Nirvana.
As history advances, sacred traditions make new interpretations of old truths. 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, it is 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.
How Tibetan dream yoga views waking experience
The purpose of Tibetan dream yoga is to learn to “wake up” in our 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, a basic teaching of Gautama, as we have seen. The purpose is to help adherents 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. In these aspects, Tibetan dream yoga is aligned with fundamental, classical teachings of Theravadin Buddhism. It is probably not too much of a stretch to point out that its major difference is in the expansion of meditative aspects of Buddha’s eightfold noble path into dreaming. In addition to emphasizing the enlightenment of the waking self through meditation and various preparations for meditation, Tibetan dream yoga focuses on waking up in intermediate states between waking and turiya. This is indeed an expansion on traditional understandings of both Buddhism and spirituality in general.
Premises of Tibetan dream interpretation
Both indigenous and Tantric Buddhist Tibetan traditions have long assumed that dreams can be interpreted, but that it takes a skilled interpreter that can differentiate dreams among several categories, secular and spiritual dreams, secular and spiritual dreams, those of healthy and the sick, and the type of “humor” indicated. Other examples involve the direction one travels in a dream and its relationship to chakras and energic bodily “channels:” Front channel of the dreams of the Eastward direction are related to the heart chakra; a westward direction to the back side channel; a northward direction to the left side channel; a southward direction to the right side channel. Dreams of open space are associated with physical open and wide channels while dreams of narrow places and appearance of spaces in dreams that are associated with trouble indicate tight and tiny channels.
Tibetan dream interpretation 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. Such assumptions are almost universal. We will find some version of them in Indian, Chinese, Shamanistic, Islamic, Judaic, Christian, and Western psychologically-based approaches to dreams and dreaming.
Tibetan dream yoga texts state that there are three types of dreams. We may have ordinary, karmic dreams, which arise mostly from our daily activities, and our from previous life activities, thoughts, experiences, and contacts. We may have “clear light” dreams, which contain spiritual visions, blessings, and energy openings. A third type of dream that we may have is lucid. These are, of course, characterized by awareness that we are dreaming.
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.
His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama
Here the Dalai Lama is going beyond lucid dreaming to affirm the ability to consciously use that state to have objectively real experiences while in the dream state. This is quite similar to common shamanic beliefs.
Tibetan dream yoga further divides these three broad divisions of dreams into six categories:
We may dream of events that occurred while we were awake;
about other people, alive or dead;
about forgotten elements emerging from our subconscious;
about archetypal content and evocative symbols;
extrasensory perceptions, profound dreams, and omens;
or have radiant, luminous, spiritual dreams.
Recurrent dreams, nightmares, dreams of death, and other kinds of commonly reported dreams all fall within the first four dream categories.
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, Srok-rLung, 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,’ Nyonmongpei-rLung, 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.
Six different dream visions and images occur in dreams, determined by the journey of consciousness through the body during 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, we will have dreams of heaven, sky, flying and mountain climbing;
When consciousness goes to the eyes channel, we will have dreams of very clear objects;
When consciousness goes to the ears’ channel, we will have dreams containing very clear sounds;
When consciousness goes to the middle part of the body, we will have dreams of meadows, grounds, soft wavy hills, and trips to other continents;
When consciousness goes to the lower part of the body, we will have dreams of falling down, arriving in hell, animals, preta (hungry ghosts), worlds, darkness, diving in the water, and going down in valleys.
In this formulation we have displayed a common-sense or naive realism association of types of dreams with sensory and bodily domains.
In Tibetan dream yoga negative dreams are to be pacified. To do so one is to:
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 ourself to recognize the dream as an illusory world.
The concept of a negative dream is foreign to IDL as is the idea that dreams need to be “pacified.” This is a consequence of its distinction between the perspectives of dream self and waking perception, on the one hand, and the perspectives of other characters within the dream, on the other. When we experience the dream from one of these other perspectives, the nature, purpose, and meaning of a dream generally expands. The result is that dreams rarely stay negative, and the ones that do, are deemed negative by interviewed dream character for reasons often far different from those of waking identity. In either case, once the intent or motivation is perceived from the perspective of other dream characters, pacification is rarely if ever required.
The importance of literal dreams
A literal dream is one which we experience as objectively real, of the variety alluded to by the Dalai Lama in the above quote: a visitation by a deceased relative, a visit to a mountain temple, an encounter with a master or deity, or a 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 reveals an assumption that literal dreams are somehow more valuable than ones that are deemed non-literal, because they are assumed to be less delusional. The assumption that waking identity can accurately determine whether a dream is literal or not, simply because it seems to be, is never questioned. This is a form of naive realism which, once again, is not so different from what is typical for shamanic cultures.
How do we know whether an apparently literal dream is more valuable than an apparently non-literal one? IDL addresses this issue by inviting us to interview both types and draw our own conclusions. We can take a dream that we are sure is literal, such as a visitation by dearly departed Aunt Gertrude and interview her or another character in it, for example the bed we are in that she is hovering over, and then take a dream that we are sure is non-literal, that is, is not reflective of real life events and interview one or more character from it as well. Perhaps we are being chased by giant jelly beans; perhaps we go to the bathroom and discover we are the opposite sex; perhaps we are about to be overwhelmed by a gigantic tsunami. Why not interview the tsunami, our new sexual organs, or the giant jelly beans? Why not look at the dreams from their perspectives? After interviewing characters from both “real” and “delusional” types of dreams we can then compare what we have heard. Which had more to say? Which was more valuable? Which helped us wake up more? Which was more “spiritual?” If we perform this experiment a number of times we are likely to find that we can’t predict which variety will be more helpful. We may, in fact, find that both are equally helpful and beneficial, but in different ways. This finding undercuts the validity of the distinction between literal and non-literal dreams. It challenges our strong, built in assumption that nothing of value will come from taking the perspective of imaginary jelly beans, and that clearly, Aunt Gertrude is more real with more valuable information. From the perspective of interviewed emerging potentials, whether dream characters or the personifications of life issues, such as the vice creating the vice-like pain in our knee, or the fog leaving us in a state of mental confusion, this distinction is an artifact of our chronic identification with our waking sense of who we are, something IDL calls “psychological geocentrism.”
What IDL 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. His Holiness the Flying Spaghetti Monster may demonstrate remarkable autonomy, creativity, and relevance – right up there with a Dzogchen master. Those dreams which definitely appear to be non-literal generally are found to be, when their characters are 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 via the generation of objectivity and emotional intensity.
How can we discriminate 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. For Tibetans, these dreams are inﬂuenced by daily life and phlegm humor. Second stage dreams occur between 2;00 and 4:00 a.m and are inﬂuenced by evil spirits, 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.
IDL does not distinguish between true or false or good or bad dreams, nor does it focus on the time of night that we have a dream. This is because PEMs attempts to surface and table all such assumptions in favor of deep listening to interviewed emerging potentials. All dreams are considered to be more or less useful, depending on whether they are remembered, listened to, and used.
Can outside experts interpret our dreams?
What do others know about us? What do they know about our dream? What do they know about the consciousness that created our dream? At best others make educated guesses, projections of their personal, professional, and cultural prejudices. Is that a type of interpretation we want to rely on? IDL recommends triangulation: that we consult such sources in conjunction with interviewing emerging potentials and relying on our own common sense.
This is because we are in no position to interpret our dream either, due to the inherent subjectivity of our perspective both within a dream and when evaluating it later, when awake. While dreaming, our dream self is a subset of the creative context which created the dream and which has a perspective and intention that transcends and includes that of our dream self. This context is referred to in Dream Sociometry as “Dream Consciousness,” which is not to be understand as an entity, “thing,” or a noun, but as a sentient process which is itself a holon. From the perspective of chaos theory, it can also be thought of as an attractor basin which includes dream elements, including dream self, as sub-attractor basins within it. While awake, our waking identity is similarly a subset of the creative context that creates our waking dream. In both cases, who we think we are not only lacks the breadth of perspective necessary to make interpretations regarding the whole of which it is a subset, but, unless it is informed by other invested perspectives, that is, by other emerging potentials within the dream or by Dream Consciousness itself, we are merely reflecting our biases when we discriminate between real and self-generated dreams.
In Tibetan Dream Yoga, as in almost every approach to dreamwork in every culture, including our own, waking identity, whether directly, through our own assumptions, or indirectly, through the adoption of the assumptions of teachers, experts, traditions, or well-meaning friends, decides why we dream and what specific dream images mean. No one stops to question this waking grandiosity. 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. In addition, dream characters possess objectivity toward the dreamer’s own biases and assumptions. Similar, perspectives that are embedded in our waking dream, that is, our waking dramas and life issues, are more likely to provide insight into our subjective blocks and motivations than can others. This in no way is meant to discount the value of the perspectives of objective others but only to make the case for the importance of consulting multiple embedded, invested perspectives.
It is not so difficult to understand how something so obvious and fundamental could be so pervasively overlooked by humanity. Humans at both prepersonal and into personal levels of development are extraordinarily egocentric in that we are typically confident that we are equipped to accurately determine the nature of states we neither created nor understand. The result is that we are typically blind to any approach that questions our control as sense maker. What? Consult a jelly bean? Preposterous! This is a manifestation of a cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, as well as chronic psychological geocentricism, which is indicative of a personal and cultural fixation centered at late prepersonal development. We shall consider the reasons why this is preposterous, from the perspective of Tibetan dream yoga, when we examine Alexander Berzin‘s arguments below.
The universality of authority-based approaches, whether in the advice of “experts” or dream dictionaries, reflects the predominance of prepersonal approaches to dreams. The guessing game played by most dream groups is no better. Such approaches are projective in addition to being prepersonal, and go a long way toward explaining the disdain for dreamwork among those secular humanists whose cognitive line of development is advanced enough to question the assumptions of this approach. These individuals are more likely to focus instead on behavioral studies, content analysis, physiological correlates, and cultural similarities and differences among dreams and groups of dreamers.
The four-quadrant, integral approach to dream interpretation
While all such information is fascinating, informative, and may even be helpful, it does little to answer the question, “Why did I dream that last night?” And beyond that, “How can I best use this dream to further my development, access to my life compass, and species autopoiesis as a whole?” Instead, theories are proposed by outside “experts” looking at the dream from one or another of the four quadrants.
If the perspective taken is from the external individual quadrant, a behavioral explanation is given for the dream. “You ate anchovy pizza last night and so dreamt of fire.” Or, if you are a cognitive scientist along the lines of George Lakoff, you may explain the dream in terms of fundamental, sensory-based metaphors that anchor dreams to the body and emotional connections that are largely out of awareness. If the interpreter is an adherent of the internal individual quadrant, a consciousness-based explanation will be given (“You dreamt of the sky because you are attempting to still your mind in meditation.”). If he or she favors the internal collective quadrant, a symbolic interpretation will be given that reflects prevailing cultural assumptions: (“You dreamt of Atilla the Hun because you are afraid of your aggressive tendencies.”) If the exterior collective quadrant is preferred domain, there will be an interpersonal or social interpretation, such as, “You dreamt of your deceased aunt Margie because she has a message for you.” If these various approaches remind you of the famous Indian allegory of The Blind Men and the Elephant, it is not your imagination. An integral approach to dreamwork attempts to take all four of these quadrants into account, as well as the stage of development of the dreamer. Wilber has developed such an approach, one that recommends interpreting a dream from each of the prepersonal, personal, and transpersonal levels.
Integral approaches remain psychologically geocentric because they assume that waking identity, whether that of the dreamer or some expert, is qualified to interpret a dream. PEMs do not make this assumption, but instead assume that because others are not the dreamer they are less likely to know why he or she had a particular dream. It also assumes that because the dreamer is a subset of the overall dream experience that it lacks the objectivity to approach the dream accurately, and that other perspectives that are invested in the dream, that is, the individual dream characters, are most likely to add perspectives that are both invested and appropriate to a particular dream. The more such perspectives that are consulted the better; this is why Dream Sociometry provides more accurate results for dream interpretation than does the regular IDL dream interviewing protocol. None of these assumptions are dependent on authority or belief, and they have been borne out by many interviews with many dream characters over some four decades. However, they are still assumptions that require validation to be effective. Anyone can perform experiments with their own dreams using the IDL dream interviewing protocol or dream sociometry and compare the results to Tibetan dream interpretation, psychoanalysis, or any approach of their choice.
IDL has found that dreams are best interpreted by those perspectives that are innately invested in them. Who or what is more qualified? Therefore, interviewed dream characters are asked why they think the dreamer had the dream and what they make of this or that dream event. Several dream characters from the same dream can be consulted to compare responses, and then these can be compared with other sources of information and our own common sense. Because interviewed dream characters normally do not refer to the unconscious, personal unconscious, collective unconscious, archetypes, or symbols, these are not framings normally found in IDL dreamwork.
Tibetan medical dream interpretation
In Tibetan medicine it is assumed that the body has three humors or natures, (wind, bile, and phlegm) and constitutions, and that our 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 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.
There are six types of dreams that can be interpreted. We may dream of
what we saw yesterday or recently in our life;
about dreams we have heard recently in our waking life;
reinactments of waking events;
the fulfillment our spiritual wishes and that answer our prayers;
the fulfillment of our non-spiritual, “normal” wishes; and we may dream about
dream omens or dreams of illness, including prognosis.
The first five dream categories mentioned above apply to dreams of healthy people, which may be about devas (spirits), emperors, kings, leaders, famous men, and other subjects.
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. 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.
The last category applies to dreams of unhealthy people.
The importance of instruction in lucid dreaming
The Yoga of the Dream State, an ancient Tibetan manual on the practice of dream yoga and lucid dreaming, teaches that we can learn five spiritually significant wisdom lessons through practicing this path of awakening:
• Dreams can be altered through will and attention;
• 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;
• Conscious dreamwork can lead us to the realization of wholeness, perfect balance, and unity.
We have seen that Tibetan dream yoga intends to “apprehend the dream,” which means to attain conscious awareness that we 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 that have been 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 we must realize their true nature.”
This instruction reflects a fundamental and powerful recognition that both waking behavior and intent are dreamlike. If we want to increase awareness in our dreams, be more aware in our waking life. Pay attention to our intention. If our waking intentions are weak and diverse our dreams are more likely to be fragmented and vague. The clearer we make our waking intentions, both for our waking state and for dreaming, the more likely are our dreams to reflect that intention and we are to wake up within them.
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.
First, the individual must 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.
Second, the dreamer must 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. Tibetan literature tells the story of how Milarepa 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.
Third, 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. 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; we do not have to know we 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.
Fourth, 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.
Fifth, gaining control over objects and their transformations, the dreamer learns to alter her 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.
Sixth and finally, 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: We awaken through becoming one with them while lucid dreaming. This last step involves the practicing of Tibetan deity yoga while dreaming.
Three major practice periods noted in the literature. Daytime practice is designed to help the student recognize the dreamlike nature of all existence and thereby prepare to experience dreams as vividly as waking activities; morning wake-up practices are intended to support dream recall and confirm determination to recall more of them; and night-time 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. Keep your awareness on it while you are falling asleep. Look at the visual letter in your mind as you 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.
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. Many people learn to lucid dream without doing these things. 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 represents within that system. Such instructions are important because they fit into a system of sacred instruction for waking up in general, not just in the dream state.
IDL views Tibetan instructions for dream control and lucidity as the amplification of waking power and control within the dream state. There are two basic problems with this. The first is that it does not involve listening; it involves taking control based on waking preferences. IDL is a type of dream yoga that involves listening, not control. Such control by waking identity is a form of colonization of the dream state by psychological geocentrism. Dreaming is exploited for waking priorities. This is the case, even when these priorities are noble, such as the attainment of enlightenment or a means of pursuing the Bodhisattva vow. The second problem is that children and criminals can lucid dream, indicating that whatever our waking level of development happens to be colonizes our dreams when we wake up within them. Whatever worldview we happen to inhabit, warts, errors, and all, takes over and controls another state of consciousness, dreaming, with its present level of awareness. 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. This is one reason Tibetan dream yoga is best practiced within the context of Tibetan Buddhism.
In addition, Vajrayana recommends special concentrative, visualization, breathing, mantra, and mudra practices in the context of the Eightfold Path and in 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.
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche’s “Four Formal Preparations” for lucid dreaming.
First, go through the day understanding all our experiences as being of the substance of dreams. The wisdom of this recommendation is cross-cultural. If we want to remember we are dreaming, we need to first learn to question the reality of our waking experience. We find this principle in LaBerge and most secular approaches to lucid dreaming. Secondly, remember that our mundane waking experiences, such as our relationships with our family members, co-workers, animals, nature, driving, eating are of the substance of dreams. By recognizing them as a dream, we can weaken our attachment to them. This applies to anything and anyone about whom we feel desire and attachment. Notice that here Tibetan Dream yoga is again emphasizing waking up out of the sources of suffering in our waking life, not while dreaming. The implication and assumption is, Wake up in our waking life if we want to wake up in our dreams.
We say everything is a dream, Anything we’re attached to, anything that holds our mind, we emphasize that those things are dreams. When we have a cup of coffee, it’s dream coffee. Drive the dream car, meet with the dream boss, have a dreamlike problem. If we see everything like a dream, things happen to we 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 we will lucid dream.
Wangyal’s next step in his instructions in lucid dreaming is to review our day, when we are lying in bed before going to sleep, as if we were reviewing a dream. Remember how dreamlike our thoughts, feelings, and actions today were. Notice how our attachment to people and outcomes were dreamlike. Create an intention to stay aware during our 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. We can learn to lucid dream without giving up any of our 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 our consciousness. Merge our mind with the mind of our spiritual teacher. Immediately upon waking, review the night to see if we remember any dreams and whether we were lucid within a dream. If we were, try to generate a sense of joy and accomplishment about the practice. If we weren’t successful, then generate an even stronger intention to be more consistent in the practice during the next night.
Of particular interest to IDL is Wangyal’s instruction to merge our mind with the mind of our spiritual teacher. The purpose of this instruction is to access help from a superior consciousness by becoming that consciousness. We shall see that Tibetan Buddhism encourages identification not only with spiritual teachers, but with Bodhisattvas, personifications of fully enlightened beings. This is very similar to what IDL teaches, with identification coming not only before sleep or during sacred rituals, but at those times recommended by this or that emerging potential. IDL 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, as we shall see, is a major clash of cultural assumptions. When we become tobacco or a centipede we 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. IDL forces this point, not as an abstract intellectualization, but as a living experience of the fusion of the sacred and the profane.]
Like Tibetan dream yoga, IDL emphasizes waking up out of ignorance and self-delusion. It encourages us to listen to the advice of respected others. including our spiritual teachers. Listen to and follow those teachings that improve our lives, whether from Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, philosophy, science, poetry, nature, or any group or culture. Dream characters and personifications of life issues of importance to us are collectively called “emerging potentials” because their perspectives include but transcend our own; they reframe our dreams and life issues in ways that provide alternative ways forward that are both emerging into our awareness and exist only as potentials, in that they have not yet been integrated into our worldview. We can listen to interviewed emerging potentials that are, by our own estimation, more awake than we are. Because our emerging potentials are more likely than others to know what we need to do or not do to wake up, our practice of Tibetan Buddhism or dream yoga should move both more smoothly and more rapidly when we have confirmation that we are following priorities of our life compass. Other people’s solutions, or the remedies of religions and movements, are non-specific to our unique condition and circumstances. They are cultural solutions that have been found to work, yet tend to not be specifically tailored to each individual and his or her needs. Religious formulations, as mass initiations reflect, tend to be “one size fits all.”
In addition to listening to emerging potentials that are more awake than we are, it is also important to listen to those perspectives that are stuck or even more asleep than we are. That is because they often pinpoint both blocks and solutions to those blocks quickly and effectively. When we combine feedback from respected teachers of Tibetan Buddhism, interviewed emerging potentials, and our own common sense, we increase the likelihood that we will wake up more quickly. We can apply those recommendations in our life that make sense and support our practice and thereby test PEMs.
From the perspective of life, as revealed by IDL interviews of the personifications of life issues and dream characters, there is little difference between waking and dreaming. This is on the one hand, very much as Gautama concluded, but on the other, very different from the normal conceit that we are an exception to this rule. We are more awake; we are more enlightened. PEMs deconstruct this delusion, using the broader, more inclusive and transcending framings provided by teapots, ostriches, walnuts, and saliva to inject a much needed dose of humility into our normal state of grandiosity.
Our waking life dream has qualities of drama, myth, soap opera, and many of the characteristics of our night time dreams. In both we assume that we are awake when we asleep in dreaming. In both we assume that others are real and are not aspects of ourselves. These are both delusions that are core misperceptions. In this respect, both dreaming and waking are regressive, delusional states of consciousness. IDL emphasizes these sources of the dreamlike delusion of waking identity, while Tibetan Buddhism emphasizes karma, ignorance, craving, past life influences, and the influence of good and bad spirits. However, our sociocultural scripting gets in the way of how we understand Tibetan Buddhism; it acts as colored glasses that predispose everything we see, hear, or touch to conform to our worldview which, in turn, validates our sense of self. Information that contradicts that worldview creates cognitive dissonance which is easily experienced as a threat to who we are. In fact, that is a correct assessment: new, contradictory information is a threat to who we think we are. Our colored glasses do not only change the color of what we experience; they are fun-house glasses that change things radically. Experiments have been done with glasses that invert whatever one sees, literally turning reality upside down. However, it does not take the brain long to compensate for this and to make everything look right-side up, even though our eyes are seeing it upside down! Like such glasses, survival scripts automatically transmute what people say and what we read into information that validates our life position. If it needs to turn reality upside down to make it fit into our sense of who we are, it will do so. If, in order to maintain our worldview and protect our self sense, we need to see someone as a threat, we will do so, whether awake or dreaming; if we need to chunk our morals overboard in order to fulfill our social roles to advance this or that relational exchange, we most likely will do so, whether awake or dreaming. While this conclusion could be dismissed as cynical, in my psychotherapeutic training I learned about “decision trees” and “ruling out” possible etiologies of conditions. Rather than being cynical, it is simply wise to first “rule out” the parsimonious, low-hanging fruit of obvious and most likely causal factors. Defense against cognitive dissonance is one of those.
The good news is that the emerging potentials that we interview in PEMs are relatively free of such filters. As we learn to access them, we table more of our assumptions, enabling us to view the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism free of at least some of the biases and prejudices that largely exist outside our awareness. We move a bit out of our delusional world view; we wake up more quickly in our practice.
The centrality of meditation to Tibetan Buddhism
Meditation, defined by the Buddha as “right concentration and right mindfulness,” is central for Tibetan dream yoga because it takes zhine, concentration and mindfulness, to become lucid in dreams and to learn to control them. 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 six Tibetan yogas.
We begin zhine by sitting comfortably in meditation. Buddhism 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 our initial practice as a Tibetan Buddhist is to allow no sight, sensation, feeling, or thought to disrupt our 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 our mind becomes distracted, as it often will in the beginning, we are instructed to gently bring it back to a simple awareness of the object, without analysis of its nature or our practice. Because it may feel like an effort to recognize our awareness has wandered and to repeatedly return to the object, this is called “forceful zhine.” Zhine is meant to be done every day until our mind is quiet and stable. We know that we have reached the second stage, “natural zhine,” when we are able to stay absorbed in observation of the object without needing to engage in any effort to keep our awareness still, centered, and clear. This will feel relaxed and tranquil. Thoughts and feelings that arise will not distract our mind from the object.
Now that our mind can maintain itself in a relaxed, undisturbed state, we are to shift to observation of empty space, such as the sky or a point in the air half way between our eyes and the object we areobserving. Do not focus or concentrate on this empty space, but allow the mind to be diffuse, yet strong. This is called “dissolving the mind” in space, or “merging the mind with space.” We will know that we have accomplished natural zhine when we are able to maintain stable tranquility with our 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. Our 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.
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. We may reach spaces in our practice where we 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 our concentration we will reach plateaus of equanimity and can remain stuck there for years. We will mistakenly cultivate that stability without any discernible change in the quality of our consciousness. To counteract this, we are to remember our purpose and strengthen our intention to “wake up” our focus and our practice. The cultivation of zhine is of benefit to anyone who wants to learn to lucid dream; it is also not so difficult to see how lucid dreaming becomes a natural and more likely outcome for students of zhine. Even though karmic traces continue to produce dream images after falling asleep, adepts will remain in the clear awareness of ultimate zhine.
Meditation is important to IDL because so many emerging potentials recommend it as an essential tool for waking up. However, the sort of meditation most often recommended is emergence with the relatively empty perspective of the emerging potential being interviewed. Submergence in such perspectives not only in periods of sitting but while we are going about specific daytime activities both expands and thins our sense of self; we incorporate the objectivity that the perspective personifies. This is important, because the cultivation of objectivity is a central function of meditation. The sort of objectivity developed through the twin acts of disidentification/identification in relationship to this or that specific life issue is grounded and contextualized in a way meditation generally is not. Most meditative practice focuses on the transcendence of all thoughts, feelings, and sensory identifications, or else uses one or another exclusively, like a candle flame, image of a deity, or sense of thankfulness, as way of instigating a state of transpersonal unification.
IDL combines meditation and pranayama to strengthen and expand six core qualities associated with the round of breath and life. Confidence increases as our sense of self detaches from the agendas, distractions, and desires of the world; empathy increases as we get out of our own way, because we are then better able to drop some of the normal filters that create misperceptions toward others; wisdom increases as we balance the six core qualities; acceptance increases as we develop objectivity not only toward our preferences and expectations but those of others; inner peace increases as we let go of stress; witnessing increases as we learn to observe the contents of our mind. When we become an emerging potential that has elevated scores on a scale of zero to ten in one or more of these core qualities, both they and we are experiencing a state of relative meditative balance and integration in relation to that quality 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 IDL interviewing is relative, our experience of meditative states deepens and broadens as we integrate the perspectives of interviewed emerging potentials into ourselves.
How can IDL meditation instruction support Tantric instruction in zhine? Mostly 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 we believe we 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 us with experiential “tastes” of states that we are working to transform into ongoing permanent stages of greater wakefulness.
What are “Empowerments?”
Empowerments are initiations central to Tantric, Vajrayana, practice associated with individual mandalas of deities and mantras, that are required in order to practice the higher Tantras. Empowerments are not considered effective or as effective until a qualified master has transmitted the corresponding power of the practice directly to the student. 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 into the body of the deity and may include a vase filled with water or washing.
The vase empowerment purifies our obscurations of body. We are empowered to practice the development stage, visualizing the mandala of the Yidam. The result is identification with the manifestation body of the Buddha, the Nirmanakaya.
The secret, guhya, empowerment involves receiving nectar to purify the breath and speech into the speech of that deity. We are empowered to practice the mantra recitation, and meditations 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, prajna-jnana, empowerment involving uniting with a real or imaginary consort, called the prajna, is for the purification of the mind and to 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 involves means by word, sound, or symbols to realize the union, mind essence or mind nature, or the suchness of the deity. It purifies the subtle habitual tendencies which 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.
Four transpersonal or mystical states of oneness are recognized in both Integral AQAL and Tibetan Buddhism, perhaps most clearly in the four empowerments: energy (nature mysticism), bliss (saintly or devotional mysticism), formless (the Path of the Sages or formless mysticism), and non-dual. Energy states of unity focus on purity, power, and control. Both Tibetan Buddhism and AQAL associate nirmanakaya not only with nature mysticism but also with prepersonal and personal stages of development. For AQAL, that would also include vision-logic or integral-aperspectival, the intermediate, integrative, multi-perspectives stage between late prepersonal and early transpersonal. Blissful states focus on devotion, I-Thou oneness, and universal love. Emptiness or formlessness emphasizes radical detachment from thinking, feeling, sensations, and, most importantly, from a sense of a separate self. The causal realm provides experiences of oneness with a space that is prior to form. 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. The unborn and formless is now recognized as the same as the vital and multiple; death and decay are now recognized as the same as the undying.
The relationship of empowerments to PEM
When we generalize the above practices to PEM character identification we can recognize that we are looking at four different levels of identification with any image, whether from a dream, a personification of a life issue, fiction, or some other source. The first level of identification is with the prepersonal and personal levels of development, essentially the senses, emotions, and our cognitive abilities, or our sensory, emotional, and mental experience of life, as well as identification with energy, with powerful totem animals and natural forces, like thunder or lightening in what might be called at a prepersonal level animism and transpersonally, nature mysticism. The second level identifies with bliss, or identification with devotion and the subtle within the worldview of the particular image or character. This is the major domain of Tibetan deity yoga. The third focuses on disidentification with the two previous levels but their inclusion in identification with the formless or causal for the purpose of purification of cognition. The fourth integrates the previous three levels of identification by including and transcending their differences.
While PEMs could follow these progressive levels of identification suggested by Tantric deity yoga, IDL does not, for several reasons. First, it pays no attention to this or that particular aspect of an image, but instead focuses on deep listening, that is, on hearing whatever it has to say. Secondly, these levels of identification can be understood as various increasing levels of trance, if trance is understood as laying aside one’s own identity in an act of disidentification in order to identify with another perspective. IDL does not emphasize depth of trance. The reason for this is that the deeper the trance the less waking identity participates in, remembers, or integrates any trance experience. Because deep listening and waking participation in element identification are important priorities for IDL and are less important for Tibetan Deity Yoga, there is a differing interest in varieties and depth of trance immersion. Third, all four transpersonal states are often present in the perspectives of interviewed emerging potentials and can be identified if one looks for them. This is a very good reason for making transcripts or recordings of interviews and reviewing them with such questions in mind. For example, in reviewing an interview of a particular character, one could ask, “Are there comments that reflect identification with nirmana, sambogya, dharma, or svabhavya kayas present?” “If so, what are they and how do they reflect this or that depth of identification?” One can see such indications in Bob’s interview below, and also in very mundane interviews that have nothing to do with religion, spirituality, or a desire for enlightenment, such as the one below, in which Mickey Mouse transforms into a tree.
Instead of emphasizing any of these four levels or sub-states of mystical experience, PEMs encourage repeated identification with perspectives that innately manifest characteristics associated with one or more of these four transpersonal states. Reading books only provides conceptual understanding; mystical experiences can provide powerful realizations of one or more of these levels. However, such experiences are often so radically different from everyday experience that they are not only difficult to remember; they tend to be crowded out by the socio-cultural scripting of “normalcy.” PEMs compensate for that through repeated identification with perspectives that are concretely anchored to ongoing life issues. What is both different and important about that is the concreteness and practicality of transpersonal perspectives in relationship to our waking existence. Associations are made; conceptual and affective bridges are created, with the result that transpersonal experiences of oneness have a practical applicability they otherwise tend to lack.
In addition to initiations and empowerments, another important ritual occasion in Tibetan Buddhism is that of mortuary rituals associated with Bardo yoga. These are intended to assure that one has a positive rebirth and a good spiritual path in the future. Focusing on the intermediate or liminal state between life and death as well as various realms thereafter, the Bardo Thodol is read to they dying to help them skillfully navigate this intermediate state.
Interdependence in Buddhism and PEM
In the Mahayana tradition, the principle of 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 Madhyamika, 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.
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” by IDL. However, it is less easy to identify ourselves, as we are experiencing a dream, as possessing the same ontological status as the rocks, houses, animals, people, and spirits that occupy our dreams. They are either real others, if we are in a non-lucid dream or, if we are lucid dreaming, they are self-created delusions and we are real. While we are dreaming in a non-lucid way we attribute to dream elements, whether sentient or not, a waking degree of objective reality instead of attributing to ourselves the same interdependent insubstantiality that they possess. Even when we learn to lucid dream we typically continue to assume that we are “real” within the dream; it is only the dream environment that is an illusion. Although we can do things while dreaming that we cannot do when awake, such as fly, die and resurrect, or be hurt and not experience pain, we will typically still assume that we are real, within our illusory dream body, not only while dreaming, but also when awake and reviewing our dreams. We may look at the other characters as self-created delusions, but we ourselves in the dream – we are real.
Buddhism and PEMs agree that this is a misperception. A perspective that more closely corresponds to experience is that we have as much or as little reality as the characters in our dreams. They certainly possess “otherness,” autonomy, and some unpredictability when experienced, and so do we. However, unlike our experience of ourselves and our waking reality, the ontological status of dream elements is ad hoc; their existence is dependent on the existence of the group as a whole. The fate of all is interdependent; they arise and fall together, and our sense of who we are while dreaming is no exception to this.
Seeing beneath the appearances of bhava, own-being, within dreams, as within life, is a window into non-dual reality. Things do not disappear or go away; we do not evolve into a space where we no longer dream. Instead, what changes is our sense of separateness from others and their actions. What happens to others is seen to be occurring to us, not only because we begin to wake up and recognize them as parts of ourselves, but because we recognize ourselves to be part of them.
Nagarjuna is also famous for his distinction between absolute and conditioned truth:
We reply that here you have not experienced the purpose in openness [= sunyata: emptiness], and thus the use of openness is severed from openness by you. The instruction of the teachings of the buddhas are based on two truths [= satya]: the truth of common sense conventions about the world [= samvrti-satya] and truth in the higher sense of the word [= paramartha-satya]. Those who do not understand the distinction between the two truths do not understand the profound reality in the teaching of the Buddha. Higher truth [of sunyata] is not taught independently of common practice. Liberation is not accomplished by the unattainable higher truth.
This is another distinction/assumption tabled by PEMs, and it is left up to interviewed emerging potentials to determine its usefulness for them.
Disidentification from identity and existence
Tibetan Buddhism routinely encourages disidentification when it instructs chelas to become this or that Bodhisattva during meditation or an empowerment. IDL does so as well whenever we immerse ourselves in the perspective of a dream character or the personification of a life issue. Disidentification with our waking identity is thanatomimetic, imitative of death. Disidentification is a practice in dying, in that we are surrendering our sense of self so that we can deeply listen to the perspective of the emerging potential which we have chosen, Regardless of how broad and inclusive our 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 our waking identity by broadening our sense of who we are. The result is a greater, more profound death of self and rebirth into the non-dual, more clarity, more wakefulness, more enlightenment. We can easily and quickly both dissolve and expand our sense of self 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 associate with the idea that life is something to avoid. They want to celebrate life, to view the involutional turn of the sacred 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 via another one of the skandhas, consciousness itself. We cannot have physical life without sensory experience. We 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, not 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 we need to not only stop dreaming, because dreams are productions of samsara, but living. We can’t be physically incarnate and be fully alive, because the state of being identified with the skandhas is intrinsically a state of delusion. More recent interpretations of Buddhism have glossed this issue, notably with the statement that “nirvana is samsara,” meaning there is no real difference between formless deathlessness and life in form. While this is so, it is difficult to attribute this interpretation to Gautama.
How can cessation of life 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 more 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 is 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 Buddhism typically finds the middle way on this issue is through the doctrine of upaya – incarnation after nirvana for the purpose of service, as a manifestation of compassion. 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 PEMs because at any point we can take the perspective of emerging potentials that are already free, now, at this moment. We know they are existing in a relatively transpersonal and even non-dual reality by their own testimony and by their reasons for their particular scores in the six core qualities of fearless confidence, empathy, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing. When we identify with such perspectives we move out of the duality of future freedom and present enslavement as well as the duality of enlightened “other” and delusional self. When we do so, there no longer is a “real” distinction between life and death, purpose and nihilism, reality and delusion, nirvana and samsara. The shift is similar to believing the sun rises and sets to understanding that while this is a sensory reality, a clearer understanding recognizes that the Earth is turning, creating the illusion that the sun is rising and setting. As long as we stay in such a perspective, it does not matter whether we 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. IDL interviewing is one way to do so, perhaps 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 experience of the impermanence of all things. If this is the case, there are no lasting substantial realities, including selves. The perceived are therefore 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. Bruce Alderman, in his work on philosophemes, draws this differentiation out into a conceptual multi-perspectivalism based on grammar. Things are, grammatically speaking, nouns. Processes are verbs. However, reality can also be approached from pronounal, adjectival, adverbial, and prepositional framings and perspectives, which further builds the experience of interdependence while watering down or thinning identification with this or that conceptual framing. A self becomes not either a “thing” or a “process,” but “ being-as-perspective,” modifiers, and/or a bridging association. We can think of these as intermediate forms of selflessness that link the radical objectivity of oneness with all to concrete realities we confront in life via multi-perspectivalisms, such as how to handle aggression and debt. This is similar to the goals and methodology of PEMs.
The direct and personal experience of no self is an experience of radical freedom. While that awareness can arise as the result of decades of meditation, it is available to anyone who cares to take the perspective of an imaginal rock, cloud, animal, or entity, either while dreaming or in an PEM interview. Formless and non-dual forms of union exist within almost any interviewed perspective for those who choose to look for them, due to the indeterminate ontology and differing relational exchanges of emerging potentials, which generate alternative priorities. While humans are often focused on relational exchanges involving security, safety, sex, status, power, and the satisfaction of addiction, due not only to having bodies and familial/socio-cultural scripting, but also an established identity, the stability of which translates into control and the ability to fulfill these and other relational exchanges, the vast majority of interviewed emerging potentials are not focused on these relational exchanges. Instead, if they are invested in any relational exchanges at all, they appear to involve respect, reframing, and higher order awakening – not the maintenance and strengthening of identity, sensory rootedness, or emotional drama. Respect can be viewed as a prepersonal moral foundation that is shared by many, if not all, life forms. Reframing can be viewed as a cognitive-based re-experiencing of life circumstances and issues. Higher order awakening can be viewed as taking transpersonal perspectives of a more inclusive variety. Personality is then seen, in such contexts, as a 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 spirit that animates it.
For PEMs the concept of “no self” arises out of cultivation of the witness during interviewing. We are still present, but in an objectified space, watching, aware of our identification with a dream character or the personification of some life issue. A self still exists, but it is now both thinned and multiple; it is primarily functional rather than some definitive statement of who we are. This movement into “no self” 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 IDL and deepens over time, not as a religious, metaphysical, or esoteric doctrine, but as a lived experience. While such interviews can help practitioners of any religious or transpersonal tradition, including Tibetan Buddhism, to experience and amplify an awareness of anatma, it can also help children contextualize trauma in constructive ways or adults struggling with relationship or economic issues to reframe them not as conflicts but important components of a broader, more inclusive life tapestry. While merging in meditation with emerging potentials that experience life from a non-dual perspective also moves us into that space, depending on the depth of our allowance of that identification, anchoring objectivity to specific life issues provides a concreteness in relation to specific daily life issues that meditation is not intended to generate.
Non-dual perspectives are not only empty, in that there is no entity or thing witnessing or possessing a perspective, they are empty in that there is no “thing” to perceive or witness. There is no distinction between the knower and the known, emptiness and samsara. The six core qualities that personify aspects of human potential within IDL are themselves dual. The direct experience of these qualities is, at best, non-dual. It is the experiencing of confidence, empathy, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing directly, not the cognitive understanding of them, that wakes us up into more inclusive, transcendent, and transformative perspectives.
Tibetan and IDL Pranayama
The 11th century text Amṛtasiddhi teaches three bandhas in connection with yogic breathing. Tibetan Buddhist breathing exercises, such as the “nine breathings of purification” or the “Ninefold Expulsion of Stale Vital Energy” (rlung ro dgu shrugs), a form of alternate nostril breathing, commonly include visualizations. Here are instructions for this yoga:
While practicing Tibetan Pranayama, one should visualize breath as white light. This is to realize the prana/chi aspect of the practice and not just consider it as air or oxygen. Remember it is the vital life force of self and of all things.
While focusing on your breath, try and imagine your attention or mind as literally riding on top of the breath. Just like you are floating on the breath, staying with it the entire way, so as your breath and your attention become one. However, an easier beginner’s practice is to do just the breathing without visualization.
- Adopt a good posture. One that’s straight aligned, comfortable and relaxed. Sit very straight as subtle energy channels running on either side of spine are necessary features of this practice.
- Take few long breaths: straighten up when you breathe in like you are pulled up by the crown and when you breathe out, subtly relax shoulders, face and hands while retaining the alignment.
- Visualize yourself like a hollow balloon. Your skin is glowing and brilliant and on the inside there is only empty space. Take a few moments to strongly establish this visualization.
- Next, visualize a ‘central channel’ about 1cm thick from your perineum at the base to the crown of your head and two ‘side channels’ going in through the nostrils up to eyebrow level and then going down either side of the central channel merging at just below the navel. All the ‘channels’ are hollow like plumbing pipes. Take a moment to establish this visualization. It will get easier and even instantaneous with practice.
- Gently raise your hand and block the left nostril with your fingers. Take long, deep breaths through the right nostril all the while imagining drawing in white healing light through the right channel right down to the belly.
- Hold your breath and the white light in the central channel momentarily and then block the right nostril and release the air up and out through the left nostril. All the while imagining black smoke representing all negativity, illness and blockages releasing out through the left nostril.
This completes one round. Repeat 2 more times and do this with reverse sides. Breathe in through the left and breathe out with the right with the same visualizations. Do this 3 times. This makes it 6 times
For the last 3, do not block any nostrils; just take in long slow breathes through both and release through both visualizing white light filling you up and black smoke leaving you.
IDL meditation focuses on using pranayama to integrate awareness with breath over seven different perspectives on a six-fold round of breathing. These seven are 1. simple sensory awareness of six stages of every breath: abdominal inhalation, chest inhalation, pause, chest exhalation, abdominal exhalation, pause; 2. Experiencing six associated processes: awake, alive, balanced, detached, free, clear; 3. Experiencing six associated supports and gratitudes; 4. Experiencing six core associated qualities: confidence, empathy, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing; 5. Experiencing six transpersonal qualities; 6. Experiencing six forms of death; 7. Experiencing breath from the perspective of live in six different ways. The round of breath is also correlated with the round of each day, the cycle of life and death of individuals and civilizations.
These exercises are designed to intrinsically integrate the sacred and the profane in a yoga that is not centered either on meditation or the self. As such, they ground awareness regardless of our level of development or our present state. The six core qualities are used in some IDL interviewing protocols to assess how the interviewed perspective rates itself in each of these, and why. The questioning amplifies these core qualities in awareness while drawing interesting and helpful comparisons and contrasts to one’s own scores. Regarding the particular characteristics of the six, life itself is confident/fearless because it cannot die. Therefore, it is free and self-confident. Life transcends love and its opposites, fear and hate, in the embrace of empathetic compassion. Life is wise; it accepts itself and all others. Life has profound inner peace. It has the objectivity of clear witnessing. It is awake, alive, balanced, detached, free, and clear. Life involves these qualities and their opposites as well; it does not deny suffering or the reality of dualisms. However, interviewed emerging potentials tend, in their remarks, to reflect our level of understanding of life and then add their own on top. This is not only an additive but a multiplicative and synergistic addition, in that our identity is thereby thinned and to some extent, temporarily transformed.
As these qualities and processes are accessed and amplified through identification with interviewed dream characters and personifications of life issues, consciousness expands to include increasingly broader, more inclusive perspectives that are not completely non-dual, but more-so than we are. Consequently, they represent attainable approximations of the non-dual that keep expanding as we do rather than serve as conceptualized, idealized axioms and absolutes. Accessing and identifying with interviewed emerging potentials supports and strengthens movement into the non-dual through any practice, including that of Tibetan dream yoga. In addition, application of the recommendations that interviewed perspectives make in our day to day life grounds deep listening in action. We shall see how this practice is highly compatible with Tibetan tantric deity yoga.
Components of Tibetan dream yoga practice
The Unsurpassable Yoga Tantra, or Mahayana, anuttarayogatantra, is considered the highest tantric practice in Tibetan Buddhism. Anuttarayoga tantric practice is divided into two stages. In the first, the generation stage, one meditates on emptiness and visualizes one’s chosen deity, yidam, its mandala, and companion deities in order to foster identification with this divine reality. This is also known as devata yoga, deity yoga. In the completion stage, attention is shifted from focus on identification with the form of the deity to direct realization of ultimate reality. The completion stage also works with “vital winds” yayu, lung, substances associated with the subtle body bindu or thigle, as well as the luminous or clear light nature of the mind. These practices are also known as the Six Dharmas of Naropa or the six yogas of Kalachakra. There are additional practice and methods as well, mahamudra and Dzogchen, or atiyoga.
In order to recognize the true nature of reality, adherents of higher yoga yantra practice yogas and sadhanas. Deity yoga involves two stages, the generation stage (utpattikrama) and the completion stage (nispannakrama). In the generation stage, one dissolves the mundane world and visualizes one’s chosen yidam or deity, its accompanying mandala, and companion deities, for the purpose of identification with the divine reality that is being personified. The visualization of yidam, has a wide variety of possible objects, including Bodhisattvas, Buddhas, and male and female fierce deities, such as Yamantaka, Cakrasamvara, Mahakala, and Vajrakilaya. These are enlightened beings who adopt fierce forms to express their detachment from the world of ignorance. There are also wrathful feminine counterparts, Dakinis, such as Vajrayogini and Vajravarahi that are also subjects for sacred visualization. In the completion stage, both the visualization of and identification with the yidam are dissolved in the realization of ultimate reality. This may be accompanied by subtle body energy practices, such as tummo, and various practices for the six yogas of Naropa, such as dream yoga, Phowa, and bardo yoga. The six Vajra-yogas of Kalacakra may also be subjects at this stage.
If Buddhahood is a source of infinite potentiality accessible at any time, then the Tantric deities are in a sense partial aspects, refractions of that total potentiality. Visualizing one of these deities, or oneself identifying with one of them, is not, in Tibetan Tantric thought, a technique to worship an external entity. Rather, it is a way of accessing or tuning into something that is an intrinsic part of the structure of the universe — as of course is the practitioner him or herself. Geoffrey Samuel
The nature of visualization and incorporation of a deity, yidam, is central to Tibetan deity yoga. Here is a explanation by Sarah Harding in The Buddha Dharma:
To define the concept of the yidam is to approach the essence of Tibetan Buddhism. The yidam is a special deity one works with in meditation as a means towards recognizing one’s own awakened nature. The word is said to be a contraction of yid kyi dam tshig, which essentially means to bind one’s mind (yid) by oath to a deity who embodies enlightened mind.
In Tibetan Buddhism there are innumerable kinds of deities, but the yidam is defined by the very distinctive role it plays in meditation. Yidams may be sambhogkaya buddhas, tantric deities, bodhisattvas, dharma protectors or historical figures. In all cases, the yidam is the very manifestation of enlightenment, and every aspect of it is ultimately meaningful. The yidam is one of the so-called Three Roots that are the objects of refuge in vajrayana: the guru, the yidams, and the protectors and dakinis. As such, it is said to be the root of spiritual power or accomplishment (Skt. siddhi). How does that work?
The context for practice with a yidam in meditation is called a “means of accomplishment” (Skt. sadhana). The sadhana is a liturgy that functions as a guided meditation ritual in which the process of relating to and ultimately identifying with an enlightened being (the yidam) transforms one’s ingrained, impure self-image into the embodiment of enlightenment. In Vajrayana, this ideal is always projected onto the guru, with the yidam as the medium. As a practice, it presupposes the truth of emptiness and of one’s true, or buddha, nature as radiant awareness.
In visualizing the yidam deity, we use our creative imagination to shift our natural self-imaging tendency, using imagery that is ultimately more “real” than our current conditioned rendition of reality. Thus, the re-visualized self is the yidam deity and the re-imagined world is the mandala of the yidam appearing to one’s pure perception. During the process of the sadhana, one must relate with the yidam both as an object of reverence and a source of blessing. It is also an embodiment of one’s own intrinsic pure awareness. The resolution of the seemingly contradictory status of being both externally real and intrinsically inseparable from awareness is the very stuff of enlightenment in the vajra vehicle.
So how does one get one of these yidams? Using one possible connotation of “dam” in yidam as choice, Gangteng Tulku described one’s yidam not as a conscious choice but rather a “choice of the heart,” a feeling of relationship. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche called this a “choiceless choice.” Particular deities somehow manifest the individual’s potential enlightenment, and this might be discovered through practice. Sometimes the disciple takes on the special yidams of their teacher and the lineage. During empowerment, one throws a flower into a mandala to reveal one’s buddha family connection. If one really can’t make this choiceless choice by oneself, there is also the custom of requesting an all-knowing guru to give you a yidam to work with, as many people did with the 16th Karmapa, the head of the Kagyü lineage.
Really, any deity that one is practicing at any particular time may be considered a yidam. It would certainly be counter-productive to get attached to one yidam and wear it as a trophy or possess it as a bigger, better Self. It is to avoid that kind of misguided spiritual pride that one’s yidam is usually not flaunted in public. It is also believed that its power would thereby be diminished. At the same time, that very secrecy is quite enticing. I had always wondered about the secret yidam of Kalu Rinpoche, the teacher who guided me through the traditional three-year retreat. I imagined his yidam must be very exotic, with many arms and legs, perhaps a winged heruka (male deity) or a wrathful feminine deity. About a year into the retreat he came to visit us, going from cell to cell, sitting in the boxes we spent most of our time in, inviting questions. I thought surely this would be the time that he would share his intimate practice. I remember his exact response to my question, and I am sure he was telling the truth. He said, “Who me? I do manis.” His practice was nothing more elaborate than the recitation of Om mani padme hung, the mantra of Avlokitesvara, the most common of all Tibetan practices.
A section of the Northern wall mural at the Lukhang Temple depicting completion stage practice.
The relationship of lucid dreaming to enlightenment
As mentioned above, Tibetan Buddhism uses lucid dreaming as a means of waking up to the illusory nature of perception in all states. Like Tibetan Buddhism, IDL does not view lucid dreaming as intrinsically supporting enlightenment. It can, but it doesn’t have to, and usually, it doesn’t. 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, before practicing lucid dreaming, is so important. Otherwise, we are accessing transpersonal states while functioning at something less than a transpersonal stage of development. Hwever, this is the case with shamanism and mysticism within the context of ethnocentric religion. 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 IDL approach to dream yoga does not emphasize achieving transpersonal dream states. Instead, it focuses on lucid living, which means waking up out of drama, addiction, and psychological geocentrism in our daily, mundane waking life. The assumption is that by doing so we will evolve into broader and more inclusive stages of development. This is infinitely more beneficial than learning to wake up in our dreams, because what is critically important is what we do with our current level of awareness, regardless of the state of consciousness we are in. Do we use our current state to amplify the six core qualities in ourself and others? Do we use our current state to stay stuck in drama? Is our current awareness focused on validating the groupthink of this or that group, spiritual or otherwise? If we become awake enough in our waking life we will naturally, organically, begin to wake up in our dreams. While Hinduism and Buddhism state the importance of maintaining clear consciousness while dreaming, IDL considers this a lesser priority because drama and psychological geocentrism are absent in deep sleep. Deep sleep consciousness is not the problem, and IDL thinks time and effort is much better spent focusing on areas that are problematic. Additionally, we won’t require a practice of lucid dreaming to wake up; lucid living naturally expands into the dream state, first with avoidance of drama and delusion, then with an awareness that we did not construct our dreams, that they are interdependently co-constructed by the intentions we set and our perceptions. Our dreams reflect the intentions and priorities of the personifications of our life compass that appear in our dreams and are perceived according to the filtering associated with our current level of development as well as the assumptions of our socio-cultural context.
Our dream reality is one perspective among equally valid perspectives. These interact to create and maintain dreams. Like our perspective as “dreamer,” these other embedded dream perspectives lack any ontological reality other than that which we give them. If we think they are real or illusory while dreaming, that’s what they are. PEMs attempt to suspend such assumptions in favor of practicing IDL in the dream state. Why not work at avoiding drama in our dreams? Why not interview the characters and objects in our dreams while we are dreaming? Why not become them and answer from their perspective? What would happen to the “me” in our dream if we did?
“What Is the Difference between Visualizing Ourselves as a Buddhist Deity and a Deluded Person Imagining They are Mickey Mouse?”
This is the title of a very interesting article by Alexander Berzin, a translator for the Dalai Lama, interpreter, and adherent of Tibetan Buddhism who has written an excellent description of tantric deity yoga that addresses the value of interviewing personalities, whether they are historical or mythological, in one’s spiritual tradition. A key to understanding both Berzin’s article and Tibetan Deity Yoga is in a close reading of this title. The focus is not on distinguishing an image of Buddha from that of Mickey Mouse, but on 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 we are at a very advanced level. But very advanced, not our ordinary level. So that means that we can receive teachings from Mickey Mouse or Snow White, but then we are at a very advanced level.
It would seem then, that Tibetan deity yoga, as understood by Berzin, is theoretically compatible with IDL 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. The difference is that IDL (and PEMs in general) show that one does not have to be at “a very advanced level” in order to receive teachings from anything. Dream characters and the personifications of life issues of children can easily and effectively be interviewed.
How could such imaginings as the wind, Mickey Mouse, or Snow White lead to enlightenment? Are the elements that we imagine real or imaginary? Berzin writes,
….we 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 our 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.
Berzin is referrring to the different levels of identification referenced elsewhere as important to Tibetan deity yoga. IDL does not think we have to be at a very advanced level to receive advanced teachings from Micky Mouse, Snow White, a toilet brush or a gob of spit. Why would we need to be? Do we have to be highly advanced to suspend our disbelief, become, and listen to what such perspectives have to say? Do we have to be advanced to do so without becoming deluded and thinking that we are actually Micky Mouse, Buddha, or a toilet brush? Decades of interviews have shown that not only children, but disturbed individuals dealing with anxiety, depression, PTSD, head injuries, relationship and self-esteem issues can take such perspectives, say of characters in their dreams or nightmares, and answer questions from their point of view, not their own, without dissociating, decompensating, or otherwise “going crazy.” Adults, who supposedly have more capabilities to resist decompensation, have no trouble doing so, although a need to stay in control, offer interpretations, or a failure of identification, is more likely in adults than in children.
In Tibetan Deity Yoga we are merging with something that can be, may be, or is believed to be, externally real. For example, Bodhisattvas, Buddhas, and malevolent deities are all believed to be objectively real entities of the exterior collective quadrant, like you and I, only living on different planes of existence. With IDL 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 we do interviews and get in touch with multiple perspectives 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 worldview. “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 night-time dreams. Regardless of what we dream, at that moment those illusions are our reality, just as in our waking dream our current experience is our reality, even if we know that it is a delusional, illusional distortion created by our 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. IDL 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.
Is there a real difference between identification with a Buddha or with Micky Mouse?
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. IDL demonstrates that we can very easily become a “presently-happening” Buddha, Napoleon, Cleopatra, or Micky Mouse, and with potentially transforming and liberating results. From the perspective of life and paramartha samvriti, there is no real differentiation between these. Berzin writes,
…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.
Berzin’s point here is that these are secular identifications, devoid of a sacred context. Does this mean that such identifications cannot be used in such a way? Is it possible to place them in a sacred context? Is it possible that regardless of intent, PEM methodologies can allow sacred elements to be evoked from purely secular images? The implication is that no, they cannot, because, it is assumed, that Mickey Mouse, Napoleon, or Cleopatra are not accompanied by an ethical framework, such as accompanies becoming a bodhisattva or the ethical context that the cultural context of Tibetan Buddhism provides. However, what if an ethical framework did spontaneously appear when Micky Mouse is interviewed, as a possibility evoked by the questioning methodology? What then? What if the student was not using such imaginings to escape from themselves or from life, but to understand a dream, resolve life issues, or simply satisfy their curiosity?
PEMs suspend assumptions regarding the need for a sacred or ethical encounter which are basic not only to Tibetan Buddhism but to religious and spiritual pursuits of all kinds. Instead, they focus on respectful listening in a deep and integral way, allowing whatever perspective arises and is interviewed to disclose its own nature, worldview, ethics, and potentials. One could turn this into a religious or spiritual process; one could make the case that its basic nature is sacred. PEMs could be created that do so. However, PEMs are phenomenologically-based. That implies that by doing so we would be creating an interviewing process that is not a PEM. This is because PEMS do not assume spirituality, ethics, religiosity, or sacredness. These characteristics are left up to interviewed emerging potentials to emphasize or not. Some will, some won’t.
We have seen that IDL asks interviewed emerging potentials how they score themselves from zero to ten regarding six core qualities that are associated with six stages of each breath as well as with enlightenment: fearless confidence, empathy, 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 and to explain their scores. Characters are free to score low in any or all of these core qualities, and many interviews have not shown any correlation between high scores and high development. For example, it is quite normal for some characters to score low or zero in empathy. This does not mean that they are selfish, but it does mean that they are “bad,” “evil,” or non-aware, but rather detached, which may or may not be a constructive thing. After all, cultivation of detachment is a basic priority of both Hinduism and Buddhism..
For Berzin, to imagine we are the Buddha is to substitute a pure self-image for a deluded one. However, that will only be the case dependent on the purity of the qualities and characteristics that we associated with Buddha. There is no attempt to listen to these visualizations in Tibetan dream yoga; the assumption is that by the act of visualized mergence that externally real deities will permeate consciousness. This is an assumption that PEMs table. 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, given the assumptions of Tibetan dream yoga, and treating the mundane and secular with the same reverence and liberating capacity as the sacred is not part of the practices of most recognized spiritual traditions.
Within a PEM context there is no object of imagining that is more pure or less pure than another. That is an assumption that is tabled. Discriminations between sacred and secular, pure and impure, are self-limiting partial understandings that serve invaluable purposes at prepersonal levels of development. They arise as common sense conclusions from normal life. However, just as heliocentrism provided a context that relativized the Ptolemaic world view, IDL interviewing provides a personally verifiable, epistemologically grounded yoga that demonstrates not only the limits of such assumptions, but the limits that they impose on our development.
How important is 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.
IDL 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 our dream characters, which we assume to be objectively real while we are dreaming, illustrates this truth. Is a dream monster really a demon from another dimension sent to torment us? Is not the most parsimonious assumption to rule out that it is a personification of something within ourselves? 20th century psychology, beginning with Freud, has made great gains by approaching human dysfunction from this framing, which is basically one of taking responsibility for whatever one experiences in any state. What it has not done so well is to recognize the limits of taking responsibility. We move into grandiosity when we ascribe self-causation to the words and actions of others and we move into servitude and discrimination when we imagine unknown actions from past lives are self-generated causes of our present suffering.
While PEMs table assumptions of both self-creation and objective reality during interviews, that does not mean that we do not have assumptions that guide interviewing and our lives when we are not identified with this or that previously interviewed perspective. It also does not keep us from asking interviewed characters what aspects of ourselves do they most closely represent or, on the other hand, what aspects of them do we most closely represent. That these perspectives are at least in part self-aspects is a useful assumption for various reasons, including that we learn that as we treat all others, even imaginary images, we are treating those aspects of ourselves that they represent. By helping others we are therefore helping those aspects of ourselves that they represent. If we respectfully listen to a dream monster or villain rather than ignore it, run from it, kill it, or transform it, we are respectfully listening not only to ourselves but learning to make respectful listening our default approach to dealing with all others. This is functional training in bodhichitta that requires zero knowledge of Buddhism, religion, or spirituality.
PEMs help others, both for reasons of self-benefit and altruism. When we respect and listen to the monster in our dream we are doing more than acting compassionately toward some other; we are respecting and listening to ourselves. When we respect and listen to a cornflake in an IDL interview our respect does not have to be altruistically motivated; we may do so because we are wanting to get unstuck, or wake up, or maybe even get enlightened. Perhaps we are simply skeptically curious. That cornflake has its own unique perspective on the dream and our life issues. We can make that determination for ourselves, by interviewing it. While IDL is not motivated by bodhichitta, it is motivated by interests in enlightenment and respect for others that are not so different from core motivations of Tibetan Deity Yoga.
Tibetan Tantric Deity yoga and PEMs share a desire to transcend identification with deluded definitions of self, including limited and flawed self-images. IDL views every interview as an initiation into the unique perspective of this or that emerging potential. In contradistinction to Tibetan deity yoga, this is a sort of ad hoc initiation that has nothing to do with reverence for a particular set of beliefs. Depending on the amount of respect we bring to the experience, how deeply we allow it to touch us, as well what we do with those recommendations that are brought forth, an interview with Mickey Mouse can be as transformative as one with Buddha. Mickey Mouse can serve as a doorway to developmental empowerment. However, that is not meant to imply that Mickey Mouse possesses a similar majesty or cultural value and meaning to those found in Tibetan Buddhism. Obviously that is not the case. PEMs suspend such comparisons; interviews are not done, identifications are not made, and recommendations are not followed for the same cultural reasons as Tibetan deity yoga. IDL is best viewed as a support or adjunct to whatever spiritual or integral life practice you might be doing, rather than a replacement of it.
IDL interviewing may be done with one other person, by oneself, or in groups. The interviewing questions are read to the group, with each student becoming their character and writing down its answers. Different group members can be called on to answer this or that question from the perspective of their character. This experience and the sharing afterward of newly discovered perspectives and recommendations, build cultural affiliation and mutual support. People learn from each other by building a collective culture around interviewing and the sharing of the experience, as well as in helping each other enact whatever recommendations are chosen to work with. In addition, practitioners of IDL typically experience support by previously interviewed high-scoring emerging potentials that they become in the course of their daily lives.
The importance of the guru-student relationship
As in most traditional learning structures, as well as other Buddhist traditions, chelas within the Tantric tradition are considered spiritual children in need of a spiritual parent. These parents may be 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.
An attitude of reverence for the teacher or guru is a high priority. In Tibetan Buddhist Tantra, one is instructed to regard one’s guru as an awakened Buddha. Merit accrues to students whose interactions with the teacher are imbued with such reverence in the form of guru devotion, which is a clearly defined code of practices in itself. Students are to avoid disturbance to the peace of mind of one’s guru or lama and wholeheartedly follow his prescriptions in order to accrue “merit” or “good karma.” It is believed that this merit in itself significantly helps improve one’s practice. At the beginning of a public teaching, a lama will do prostrations to the throne on which he will teach due to its symbolism, as the center of the presiding deity and emblematic of nirvana, or to an image of the Buddha behind that throne. Students then do prostrations to the lama after he is seated.
The advantages of this model are that personal emotions, confusions, or reason-based resistances are circumvented. It is built on the fact that most of us, most of the time, are lost in the internalized cultural dream of our families, groups, nations, and religions. We lack sources of wisdom and the objectivity necessary to see beyond our socio-cultural contexts. Helping one to do so, as well as to bend identity and behavior into conformity with the structures and processes of a particular methodology, are the fundamental functions of teachers of all sorts. Many people want, even need, to be dependent on strong outside authority they can trust, whether it is a parent, teacher, spouse, boss, spiritual leader, or government. We have good reason not to trust ourselves; we know we are subjectively enmeshed in our waking dream or we would be awake and unstuck. Because few have ever had the experience of a reliable connection with a life compass that can make a real difference in their lives, they are reliant on trust of a teacher and the system they espouse.
For Tibetan Deity Yoga, teachers are important for safety. Otherwise, the practice of becoming an imagined person or thing is dangerous. Here is what 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, we 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.
What are the benefits and challenges of obediently following the instructions of spiritually valued figures? Practitioners of Tibetan Buddhists may respect and honor other paths, but 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 theTibetan Buddhist tradition, as Bob does toward Vajrayogini in his IDL interview, below. While Tibetan Buddhism can be approached and experienced as an integral life practice, it is to be directed by a lama or other official representative of the tradition, and by traditional practices and scriptures.
The disadvantage of the parental model is that at some point in our journey to enlightenment we must learn to trust ourselves. The only way to do this is to learn to listen to ourselves, reach decisions, act on them, and draw conclusions from the results. In contrast to the teacher/student relationship of both religious and secular education traditionally in both the East and West, this has been the predominant stance of Western psychology, rational humanism, and individualism. However, without prior reliance on the wisdom of teachers, individualism merely creates a society of grandiose egotists. We can also spend our lives in “rule outs” – learning a great deal about what does not work for us but not so much about what does; learning a great deal about who we are not compatible with as well as what goals and addictions not to pursue. If our individualism is not transcended through healthy interdependency, we are likely to remain stuck at pre-empathetic levels of development. The essential next step is to supplement both our individual preferences and those of respected teachers with the most often repeated priorities, recommendations, and worldviews of our interviewed emerging potentials, because these point toward our life compass. We can then subject what we learn from the input of multiple interviewed emerging potentials to both external authority and our individuality. The advice of teachers and that of our life compass become integrated as we learn to access, respect, and discriminate among both.
PEMs do not emphasize the centrality of the student-teacher relationship. Instead, the core relationship is with the dream character or personification of a life issue which is being interviewed or has been interviewed. The core quality of that relationship is respect, as demonstrated by the tabling of one’s interpretations and expectations (which makes the practice phenomenologically-based), maintaining a questioning stance, and taking those recommendations that make sense and have applicability seriously, meaning they are operationalized and tested in one’s own life.
What happens when there is a difference in the direction advised by some objective other or expert and the recommendations of our interviewed emerging potential? We can do more interviews to make sure that the recommendations we receive represent a consensual view by several emerging potentials, and are not simply reflecting the preferences of one voice, which could be marginal, or not representative of our life compass. If the difference in direction still exists and we are not sure, we can do more research. Remember Carl Sagan’s famous maxim: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” However, what you are likely to find is that the recommendations themselves are rarely extraordinary. Instead, what is extraordinary is the source itself, if it is a broom, villain, or some other mundane or imagery-based figure. What is likely to be extraordinary is the amount of trust that is required to suspend disbelief and work with this or that recommendation from such images.
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. My teacher was Ralph Metzner, a Harvard psychologist who had been fired along with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) for experimenting with hallucinogens. The lessons, which involved a kind of trance/imagery brain washing, wasn’t going down well with me. I had committed myself to this training, so I persevered. After more lessons I had a very powerful nightmare which 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 dream interpretations of Edgar Cayce and Jung. I submitted my interpretation of my nightmare to two mentors, Hugh Lynn Cayce, son of Edgar Cayce, and Russell Paul Schofeld, the founder of Agni Yoga. Cayce agreed with me; Schofeld explained that delusions were pulling me away from my true path forward, with Agni Yoga. 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 decision. Then one morning I awoke with a dream in which the founder Schofeld appeared, telling me to just wait until lesson twenty-four and my doubts would be resolved. It felt more like a real encounter than a dream, as if Schofeld had chosen a dream appearance as a way to influence my choice. I woke up with a very creepy feeling of psychic invasion, one I have never had before or sense. If I had known then what I only learned some nine years later, 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, back from Southern California to Arkansas, feeling like a prodigal son. I did not know what to do with my life, 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 life compass.
IDL 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 our spiritual 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 IDL, it is a mistake to give someone else priority over our own unique life compass. That’s crazy. It’s crazy because no one can possibly know us as well as our own life compass knows us, although many religious and spiritual traditions attempt to convince us that this is not true. Their priest, rabbi, guru, or lama knows the path to our salvation or enlightenment; we only need to trust in them and follow their injunctions.
IDL encourages us to listen to those we respect, including our spiritual teachers. When there is a contradiction between the advice of our interviewed emerging potentials and another source of guidance, IDL recommends that we give the latter priority, because we can easily test their recommendations in a context devoid of social pressures and collective groupthink. Even if we find that the recommendation is not helpful or decide the interviewed perspective is not trustworthy, we learn fastest when we commit ourselves to testing subjective sources of objectivity. All external sources of support, all teachers are welcome as long as they understand and respect that central truth, one which they hopefully would reserve for themselves as well.
Because the world of form is polycentric, that is, every point is its center, IDL believes that at some stages of development we will grow faster when we have a multiplicity of teachers, both outside and within ourselves, while at other times we will grow faster when we commit to one teacher or path, such as Tibetan Buddhism. Such a model is egalitarian, pluralistic, democratic, and consensual. It considers multiple world views simultaneously, thereby encouraging multi-perspectivalism and worldcentrism. However, a disadvantage of this model is that it provides less certainty and security and allows our mind to be overrun by a multitude of competing emotions, confusions, and thoughts.
Unlike Tibetan Buddhism, IDL does not place priority on listening to and following the guidance of figures from a spiritual or religious tradition. This is because its foundation is phenomenological, which means that it intentionally attempts to suspend cultural, spiritual, and social preferences. By so doing it reduces the emotional and mental filtering of life and increases deep listening to whatever wakeup call presents itself. If bodhisattvas show up to be interviewed, fine! They are accepted, along with snow shovels and dog slobber.
The importance of vows and commitments
Tantra succeeds in motivating adherents to commit to following a path to enlightenment, which is a major accomplishment. Traditionally, that commitment was due to the belief that observances accumulated merit leading to the cessation of incarnation and the attainment of nirvana. Today the motivation, at least in the West, has shifted more to a fascination with a very intricate and precise approach to the sacred, as well as the esteem Dzogchen and other sophisticated meditation practices have achieved. Commitments and vows made are an important part of getting mind, emotions, and behavior working together, focused toward the same end. For Tibetan dream yoga, these include the practice of the five precepts and bodhisattva vows as part of sila – Buddhist moral practice. In addition to these, there are also numerous sets of Tantric vows, termed samaya, which are given as part of Tantric initiations. There are various lists of these and they may differ depending on the practice and one’s lineage or individual guru. Upholding these vows is said to be essential for tantric practice and breaking them is said to cause great harm. Other rationale for commitments and vows has been the purification of karma, avoiding harm from demonic forces and enemies, promoting a successful harvest, the securing of blessings and good fortune in health and love. These are ancient, concrete motivators that harken back to shamanic roots, and lamas may use divination and exorcism to supplement vows and commitments. The problem is, there are growing masses of people who experience no harm from not following these rules, and their experience has destroyed the credibility of not only these particular vows and commitments, but for some, of Tibetan deity yoga, Tantrism, Buddhism, religion, and belief in general. People either become nihilistic or they find ways to generate meaning that are less reliant on beliefs. PEMs are an example of the reconstruction of meaning based on core ideas and practices shared by Tibetan dream yoga but without the associated faith-based superstructure.
IDL encourages people to question the assumptions underlying PEMs and IDL in particular, while interviewing, listening to, and following recommendations made by interviewed emerging potentials that make sense and are useful in order to test the methodology in their own lives. It encourages students to create a strong internal culture built around the priorities of their life compass, in the belief that by doing so, in time they will outpicture, create, and surround themselves with an external culture that reflects those priorities. Mutual interviewing, particularly among family members, relatives, and friends, is a way of creating a collective culture that is based on the authenticity of each member rather than on inherited familial and cultural scripts. This may not provide enough structure for those that have been heavily influenced from birth by their external cultures, internalizing the scripting of their parents, country, and friends, and subject to the mental and emotional delusions that arise because of those internalizations. Because IDL interviews generate reframings of life issues within each individual’s current socio-cultural context, it does not compete with waking systems of belief or cultural value systems. It can co-exist with Buddhism, Christianity, Integral, Islam, Judaism, Capitalism, atheism, socialism, secular humanism, or nature worship in a way not so different from how our personal dream culture, into which we retreat into every night, co-exists with our external reality, regardless of when and where we live. Consequently, IDL is compatible with just about any traditional practice that has vows and commitments as well as the assumptions inherent in most socio-cultural contexts. Although the process encourages the laying aside of assumptions in favor of listening in a deep an integral way to emerging potentials, as well as entering into an identification with their perspectives, that process has to be integrated with the assumptions governing one’s waking context. Recommendations from interviews generally point toward practical ways of doing so.
The importance of preliminary purification practices
Tibetan Deity Yoga uses preliminary purifications prior to image identification. These may involve cleansing with water, the wearing of particular clothes, certain body postures, gestures, and the refraining from activities deemed impure. IDL takes the mind and body as they are, both aspects that are relatively pure and relatively impure. The only real criterion is, “Can we take another perspective and maintain it?” Such identifications have nothing to do with level of spiritual development, or degree of purity. IDL sets no prerequisite purification practices because emerging potentials speak to us at our current level of purity, development, and impurity. They mostly don’t care. Interviewed emerging potentials generally prove to be far more accepting of us than we are of ourselves. IDL only requires we to stay in the chosen perspective during the interview and then use what make sense and is helpful, while discarding the rest. However, if someone gains benefit from doing purification practices before or after interviews, why not?
The importance of secrecy
Like many spiritual traditions, Tibetan Deity Yoga values secrecy. There is caution about revealing information to people who may be unready for it. 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 we hold it and therefore its transformative power for us. 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 we stuck in the mundane. Buddhism itself knows that this dualism breaks down when we 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.
In Vajrayāna particularly, Tibetan Buddhists subscribe to a voluntary code of self-censorship, whereby the uninitiated do not seek and are not provided with information about it. This self-censorship may be applied more or less strictly depending on circumstances such as the material involved. A depiction of a mandala may be less public than that of a deity. That of a higher tantric deity may be less public than that of a lower. The degree to which information on Vajrayana is now public in western languages is controversial among Tibetan Buddhists.
Secrecy is not an issue with PEMs because the need for secrecy, for whatever reason, is one more assumption to be tabled. If results warrant secrecy in the future, fine, but that decision is made in consultation with interviewed emerging potentials. Interviews are regularly shared with others for the benefit of all. No one is encouraged to not disclose their work. Unlike psychotherapy, PEMs do not start with assumptions of distrust, separateness, special relationship, defensiveness, and fear or the assumption of confidentiality, which is a form of secrecy. It assumes trust and openness as the default position because they are based on the further assumption of mutual respect. If this proves to be an unwarranted assumption, confidentiality and secrecy can always be introduced.
It is easy to understand how cultures of confidentiality and secrecy are created. People are not equally trustworthy, regardless of their intentions and promises. Other people are selfish and manipulative. Some information can be harmful if known. For example, telling a parter of one’s infidelity is generally done out of remorse and a need for forgiveness but generally generates exactly the opposite: anger and deep distrust that is difficult to overcome. While secrecy among humans is sometimes the best course, secrets are for the most part fear-based human inventions. Most people are as sick as their secrets. Life itself is not concerned with secrets or confidentiality. Sunlight is the great disinfectant; if who we 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 are afraid others will misunderstand them, need secrets and generate elaborate justifications for having and protecting them. Religious traditions and psychotherapeutic modalities that encourage secrecy inadvertently fuel the drama and paranoia that generates totalitarian power structures politically and rigidity within. This is not difficult to understand when we remember that whatever we fear we are disowning; we are generating a false otherness which feeds dissociation. Because IDL is largely self-directed, yet structured to access and amplify emerging potentials, it carries very few risks that require secrecy. The main risk is that it will not seem dangerous enough, risky enough, powerful enough, to be effective, and so the danger is that people underestimate it and in the process, underestimate themselves.
How do we awaken our stuck waking identity?
For Tibetan dream yoga, the answer lies in following the eightfold noble path, taking on the various vows and empowerments and in the practice of various yogas, of which dream yoga dream one variety. The overwhelming focus 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. IDL awakens waking identity through sharing control, decision-making, and power with other interviewed perspectives. It thins and expands identity, thereby reducing our fear of death, loss, and our perception of threat. This reduction of sensory, emotional, and mental filters allows life to provide its own perspectives and be the commanding experience, rather than our interpretations of life.
Why don’t Tibetan Buddhists interview dream characters?
Interviewing dream characters has not made sense to most people throughout most of history, including Tibetan Buddhists. 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. 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 IDL sense of the term.
Because the assumption is made 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. In contrast, the approach of IDL is much more questioning of authority than is permissible in the traditional student-teacher relationship within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. More importantly, IDL 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 directly when not dreaming, 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 we are that character, and then asking it questions, is historically very rare. I know of no account of it within the Tibetan Dream Yoga tradition. It is even more rare to find this done with inanimate and mundane objects like dream trees, clouds, rocks, or houses. It is yet even more rare to have such interviewing of dream objects occur within the dream itself. This would mean that the dreamer becomes this or that dream character and responds to questions asked of it within the dream itself.
However, Tibetan Buddhism offers the closest approximation to this among the broad historical cultural traditions, in its practice of becoming deities before and during sleep. This may result in looking at the dream from the imagined or internalized perspective of the deity, or it may result in questioning the deity in the dream. However, I know of no accounts in Tibetan Buddhism of questioning the deity and then becoming the deity to answer, while dreaming. Why not? We know of no waking interviewing protocol 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 become the character being interviewed, while dreaming. More basically, what relevance would any of this have to the Tibetan Buddhist goal of enlightenment?
An example of IDL and the dreams of a Tibetan Buddhist Rinpoche
Anyone practicing Tibetan Buddhism can enhance their practice by learning IDL, regardless of their level of attainment. This is because the emerging potentials that we interview from our dreams or as the personifications of our life issues include, yet transcend our own perspective. They have their own perspective to add to ours. Here is an example of how practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism are unlikely to ever outgrow IDL. This interview was conducted in 2004 with a 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. 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 could tell that he was the one. 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. 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. I didn’t give him an interpretation, because IDL defers out of respect to the interpretations of characters imbedded in a dream or life issue. Instead, we bowed to a perspective which was much more likely to give an interpretation that would resonate and be helpful, and interviewed the snake. She said that Rinpoche had done wrong unintentionally and that he still needed to be more careful. Its 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 of confidence, empathy, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing. The naga recommended that the Rinpoche become it, the naga, 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 listeners and that then caused them problems.
In IDL, after the character is interviewed and the subject has an opportunity to say what they heard, interpretations can be offered by the interviewer. 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. Practitioners of IDL listen to interviews as if they were their own and for them, and that is how I listened to what this snake had to say. My interpretation had the benefit of previously listening to that of the snake and the Rinpoche. When interviewers treat the experience as about themselves, as well as the subject, they grow personally through helping others to wake up. This does not minimize or discount other interpretations, and weight has to be given to what the interviewed character itself, in this case the snake, says, because it has intimate awareness of the thoughts and feelings of the subject. The snake’s comments focused on compassion and acceptance toward self, two of the six core qualities that the Rinpoche scored himself low in. 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 the next highest developmental level.
Why doesn’t Tibetan Dream Yoga consider dream characters 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; we can become the Real by identifying with it, and through successive identifications with various Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, that Reality will supplant our illusory identifications with our attachments. The most obvious, parsimonious, and rational assumption would be that the characters in our dreams are created by our own minds and therefore are aspects of ourselves. This is the self-referring psychological geocentrism of middle to late prepersonal consciousness. It says considerable about both the human mind and the human predicament that this is a relatively recent explanation for our dream life, while the majority view across cultures and throughout history remains either that of shamanism, that dreams are depictions of real events that we experience while we are asleep or out of our bodies, or that of agrarian and cultures that differentiate between “good” and “bad,” “spiritual” and “secular” dreams. The first worldview, that of shamanism, is the concrete naive realism of early prepersonal consciousness while the second demonstrates the emergence of objectification in the ability to understand that things that appear real can actually be creations of our own minds. A third, “psychological” worldview, is as reductionistic as the first, in that it considers all dream experiences to be subjective self-creations. The shamanic assumption, that dream characters and experiences are real, makes the mistake of displacing and externalizing that which is self-created, while the second, the agrarian and psychological assumption, makes the mistake of believing the self has the ability to accurately differentiate meaningful and meaningless dreams. The third, psychological, assumption, makes the mistake of assuming ownership of that which may or may not be self-created, or may be of indeterminate ontology.
When we interview dream characters and the personifications of our life issues we 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 us what part of ourselves they most closely personify, they will also demonstrate an autonomy of perspective that is clearly differentiated from our own and can only be reduced to being aspects of our “shadow,” “personal unconscious,” or “unconscious” by performing Procrustean reductionism. 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 our nature but does not belong to us. It is to point to a middle way between ownership and displacement, between absolute objectivity and absolute subjectivity which 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.
How does a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism incorporate IDL?
Here is an example of an interview from an American who has been a dedicated student of Tibetan Buddhism for over fifteen years. “Bob” had 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 Rinpoche.
The interview was in response to a request for subjects who had near death experiences at some point previously in their lives. The purpose of the research was to see if IDL could help near death experiencers, years after their transformational experiences, to use them in their current life circumstances.
For IDL, life dramas and life issues are aspects of our waking dream. This is not to imply that waking is illusory as a dream, but that it shares a similar ambivalent ontology and epistemology with dreaming. Dreams can be very real; waking life can be very real. Dreams can be very illusory and delusional; waking life can be very illusory and delusional as well.
IDL teaches students to let each life issue 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 one more way that they can increase their objectivity regarding how best to respond.
What are three fundamental life issues that we are dealing with now in our 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 we 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 we see or that comes to our mind: An animal? Object? Plant? What?
The female Buddha Vajrayogjni!
Now remember how as a child we liked to pretend we were a teacher or a doctor? It’s easy and fun for we to imagine that we are the shape that took form from our color and answer some questions I ask, saying the first thing that comes to our mind. If we wait too long to answer, that’s not the character answering – that’s We trying to figure out the right thing to say!
Vajrayogini, would we please tell me about ourself 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 ourself 0-10, in each of the following six qualities: confidence, empathy, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing? Why?
Confidence: 10; I’m enlightened; I see all of it as it as the play of sensual nature; it’s all dependent arising appearances. I’m free of all of that.
Inner Peace: 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 we 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! We 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 ourself say?
Continue these practices, things are going pretty well, keep on doing what I’m doing. Enhance some of these processes
If this experience were a wake-up call from your life compass, what do we think it would be saying to we?
I’m doing pretty good! Keep on going! Don’t lose faith! I sometimes have difficulty. January was difficulty 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.
Vajrayogini’s responses are fairly much what we would expect from a teacher of Tibetan Buddhist dharma. 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.
Notice that Bob, just as all of us, understands and approaches the interview through his worldview. Because he is used to identifying with deities in his practice of Tantric Buddhism, it is no surprise that the life issue of “connecting with the dharma” would personify as a Tibetan deity. Also notice that this deity is perfect, in that it scores all tens, which corresponds to Buddhist expectations of revered deities.
The interview gives validation to Bob that he is on the right track in his life. Vajrayogini also makes specific recommendations to support him in his practice and life path. Bob has the ability to return to the experience of becoming Vajrayogini whenever he needs support or direction in those life areas that are mutually important, particularly involving connecting with the dharma.
Interview with Mickey Mouse
Anyone can test the theory that interviewing Mickey Mouse can be as insightful or as helpful as interviewing some figure from Tibetan deity yoga. Here is an example:
Three life issues I am currently dealing with are:
- Developing confidence in my judgment and balancing it with a good dose of cosmic humor.
2. Staying on task; setting clear priorities and not allowing myself to get distracted from them.
3. Balancing respect and truth; love/compassion and fact.
Mickey Mouse, will you please describe yourself? How big are you? What color are you? Where are you? What are you doing?
I am an imaginary cartoon character, the creation of Walt Disney. His corporation has made a ton of money off me. I don’t care. I exist within your mind as an image and a thought. If I were to give myself a place and behavior, I would be dancing and singing on top of your limbic brain, since that is the seat of your emotions.
Mickey, what do you like most about yourself? What are your strengths?
I am carefree! I don’t know much, so I have a great deal of confidence, not knowing how much I don’t know. I love drama and I always win against my adversaries. While I am sometimes my own worst enemy, my faults never really matter.
Mickey, what do you dislike most about yourself? Do you have weaknesses? What are they?
I don’t dislike anything about myself. I like that I am imaginary, because I can’t die, really be hurt, and I can do and be anything I want to be.
Mickey, what aspect of Joseph do you most closely represent?
His carefree, pre-rational, emotional self that means well but is basically thoughtless.
Mickey, what aspect of you do I most closely represent?
You most closely represent my creator; that which evokes me into existence, determines who and what I am, and chooses what to think of me. Mostly you choose to make of me a happy, mindless, inconsequential diversion.
Mickey, since you are imaginary, you can change in any way you want. Do you want to change? If so, how?
I would be consequential. That is, what I say and do would matter instead of simply being trivial. When I think of a form I would take that would express that, I become a tree. While any tree will do, I will choose to become a very old, very wise, very large tree like Ygdrasilla, the over two-hundred year old ash gracing Joseph’s country home in Brandenburg, Germany.
Mickey, are you sure this is what YOU want and not what Joseph wants?
Yup, although he is pleased with my choice, a choice which he did not expect.
Ygdrasilla, if you were in charge of Joseph’s life, how would you handle his FIRST life issue?
1. Developing confidence in my judgment and balancing it with a good dose of cosmic humor.
I don’t do confidence because I am not human, but I do have a sort of confidence in my beingness and my relationship with life, which I experience as a sense of intrinsic interdependent oneness. Of course, I don’t do words or concepts either, so this is Joseph’s interpretation of my state of beingness. As a production of his imagination, I possess his level of development, including language, and add my own perspective on top of that.
Regarding cosmic humor, I don’t do drama or fear death. I am a part of the cycle of life, of which death is an essential part. I love being alive, and I think human fears of mortality and loss are pretty funny, although if I were human I would have real things to lose, so I would probably have to take more of that seriously, or be more concerned, or have more empathy. But none of that is who and what I am.
Ygdrasilla, if you were in charge of Joseph’s life, how would you handle his SECOND life issue?
2. Staying on task; setting clear priorities and not allowing myself to get distracted from them.
Hmmm…this is not an issue I relate to. I simply do what is within my nature to do. One could say it was genetically programmed in and that I do not have any freedom of choice, but I do not experience my existence that way. I feel very free and balanced, and I am neither focused nor distracted. I understand those, because I include Joseph’s consciousness, but I transcend them. So I suppose the way I would deal with staying on task, setting clear priorities, and not allowing myself to get distracted, is that I would set clear goals but then not allow them to define me, and not allow myself to get bothered by wandering off task, getting confused, or distracted.
Ygdrasilla, if you were in charge of Joseph’s life, how would you handle his THIRD life issue?
3. Balancing respect and truth, love/compassion and fact.
Again, I am not concerned with these because my doingness and beingness are merged, and I don’t really have a clear sense of either as separate or concrete realities. I am balanced by nature; my life is one of balance between earth and sky, my beingness and the insects, birds, and squirrels that inhabit me. I am not concerned with balancing those elements. So as Joseph, I would take them into account but not be particularly concerned about them.
Ygdrasilla, if you had one recommendation, one thing Joseph could work on every day that would make the biggest difference in his life, what would it be?
Live as fully as possible! Experience aliveness where it exists now in your life, experience balance in whatever way it manifests in the here and now. Be graceful, rooted, yielding, participatory. Let yourself as you are be enough. You don’t need to be any different. If you are completely who and what you are, in harmony with your environment, you will naturally grow into and adapt to, the next moment, and the next, and the next…
Ygdrasilla, what help does Joseph need from others to make progress with your recommendation?
None, really! This is his reality, his journey, but to the extent that he co-arises with all others, like me, it means to be receptive to the support and feedback he receives from other people, nature, his dreams, his own imagination – everything.
Thank you Ygdrasilla! here are some questions for Joseph:
What did you hear Ygdrasilla say?
It reminds me of Taoism. Becoming Ygdrasilla puts me into a flow with life and a place where my life issues are still there but drained of their drama; they feel almost inconsequential in the context of the awe, majesty and balanced intelligence of life.
What do you want to do about it?
Trust that I know what do do about these issues on some deeper level and not worry about them. If I screw up I can become Ygdrasilla, who doesn’t recognize failure or mistakes as failure but still takes them into account and compensates for them.
I can score myself on trust, zero to ten every evening before I go to sleep and I can become Ygdrasilla whenever I get stressed out about any of the three life issues, above.
This example is meant to illustrate how transpersonal perspectives normally associated with states of higher order unity often appear in these interviews and are thereby reinforced as components of everyday waking awareness, independently of religious or spiritual views or observances. Of course these answers will be quite different for you if you interview Mickey Mouse. Your interview is likely to go in an entirely different direction.
Comparing Tibetan Dream Yoga and
Integral Deep Listening (IDL)
As a Variety of
Phenomenologically-based Experiential Multi-Perspectivalism (PEM)
|Tibetan Dream Yoga||IDL|
|Control of thoughts, feelings, sensations||Adaptive flexibility via disidentification/identification|
|Conscious awareness while dreaming||Waking lucidity emphasized over dream lucidity|
|Dissolving the dream state (because it is illusory)||Respecting the dream state as intrinsically valuable and sacred|
|Use “waking up” while dreaming to learn awakening in all states||Listen to other perspective that include but transcend our own in any state|
|Eliminate suffering||Learn from suffering|
|Expansion of consciousness through meditation and lucid dreaming||Expansion of consciousness through identification with subjective sources of objectivity, triangulation, and application|
|Visualization/identification with deity||Identification with emerging potentials that are often secular/mundane|
|Visualization/identification a meditative practice||Identification may or may not be approached as a religious, spiritual, or sacred practice|
|Intense and detailed visualization used as an aid to identification||Identification does not emphasize visualization|
|Mandalas as aids to visualization/identification||Visual representations used to invoke recall of identification|
|Mantra as a meditative centering tool accompanying visualization||No necessary reliance on mantra|
|Religious teacher (lama) required||No teacher required, but an IDL Practitioner recommended|
|Emphasis on vows and initiations||No vows or initiations|
|Emphasis on secrecy||Secrecy and confidentiality issues are left up to students|
|Focuses on objective teachers (LR) and deities (UL/LR)||Focuses on subjective sources of objectivity (LL)|