Dream Yoga: History
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Subjects: Religion

Dream yoga or Milam (Tibetan: རྨི་ལམ་རྣལ་འབྱོར་, Wylie: rmi lam rnal 'byor, THL: milam naljor; Sanskrit: स्वप्नदर्शन, svapnadarśana)—the Yoga of the Dream State—is a suite of advanced tantric sadhana of the entwined Mantrayana lineages of Dzogchen (Nyingmapa, Ngagpa, Mahasiddha, Kagyu and Bönpo). Dream yoga consists of tantric processes and techniques within the trance Bardos of Dream and Sleep (Standard Tibetan: mi-lam bardo) Six Yogas of Naropa. In the tradition of the tantra, the dream yoga method is usually passed on by a qualified teacher to his/her students after necessary initiation. Various Tibetan lamas are unanimous that it is more of a passing of an enlightened experience rather than any textual information. In a footnote on 'Zhitro' (Tibetan: zhi khro) Namdak & Dixey, et al. (2002: p. 124) identify that the 'dream body' and the 'bardo body' is the 'vision body' (Tibetan: yid lus):

  • རྨི་ལམ་རྣལ་འབྱོར་
  • milam
  • naljor

1. Traditions, Transmissions and Lineages

Shugchang, et al. (2000: p. 17) frames the importance of dreams and dream yoga in relation to maya and gyulu of the Buddhist tradition originating from Buddha Shakyamuni:

Buddha Shakyamuni often told his disciples to regard all phenomena as dreams. He used many examples, like an echo, a city in the clouds or a rainbow to illustrate the illusory nature of the phenomenal world. Dreams represent just one type of illusion. The whole universe arises and dissolves like a mirage. Everything about us, even the most enlightened qualities, are also dreamlike phenomena. There's nothing that is not encompassed within the dream of illusory being; so in going to sleep, you're just passing from one dream state to another.[1]

1.1. Kagyu Lineage

In the Kagyu 'Lineage of the Four Commissioners' (Tibetan: Ka-bab-shi-gyu-pa), the lineage stream of Dream Yoga is identified as originating from the Dharmakaya Buddha Vajradhara. The Dharmakaya, synonymous with Vajradhara Buddha, is the source of all the manifestations of enlightenment. From Caryapa, Tilopa (988 – 1069 CE) of the Dzogchen Kham lineage, "received the oral instructions on Dream yoga according to the method of the Mahamaya-tantra."[2][3] From Nagarjuna (c. 150 – 250 CE), Tilopa received the radiant light (Sanskrit: prabhasvara) and Illusory Body (Sanskrit: maya deha) teachings. The Illusory Body, Clear Light and Dream Yoga sadhana are entwined. Düsum Khyenpa, the First Karmapa, realised the 'absolute siddhi' of bodhi (Sanskrit: बोधि) at the age of 50 whilst engaged in Dream Yoga sadhana.[4]

1.2. Nyingma Lineage

The Nyingma lineage holds that there are 'Seven transmissions' (Tibetan: bka' babs bdun[5]), or 'sacred streams of blessing and empowerment' (Tibetan: dam pa'i byin rlabs) that may iterate the mindstream of a tantrika. Transmission is a communion of mindstreams though at the substratum there is a mindstream 'singularity' or 'oneness' (Wylie: gcig). Though the fortuitous emergence of these seven modalities or channels of transmission may occur in the waking state if the time, space, circumstance and karmic connection is opportune; they may similarly be initiated in a lucid, dream yoga state. One transmission type particularly emphasized in relation to Dream Yoga, symbolism and iconography, and trance states, is that of 'pure vision' (Tibetan: dag snang[6]) and the perception of Sambhogakaya thoughtforms and yidam simulacrum.

The Nyingma tradition views itself as the fruit of three streams of transmission, one of which is the 'pure vision' which includes Dream Yoga and trance visions within its auspice:

  • the 'remote' canonical lineage, transmitted by an uninterrupted line of humans;
  • the 'close' lineage of hidden spiritual treasures; and
  • the 'profound' lineage of pure vision.[7]

2. Exegesis

Shugchang, et al. (2000: p. 16) whilst explaining Zhitro discuss the primary importance of lucid dreaming to the practice of Dream Yoga and pinpoint its four stages:

To make the time we spend dreaming more meaningful, we must first recognize that we are dreaming. That is the first exercise. The next step is called transforming the dream; the third is known as multiplying. The fourth practice is to unify the dream with the clear light. Recognizing, transforming, multiplying and unifying the dream with the luminosity of the true nature; these four outline the essential applications of dream yoga.[8]

Evans-Wentz describes Tibetan Dream Yoga in his book Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines (London: Oxford University Press, 1935) as one of the six subtypes of yoga elaborated by the Tibetan guru Marpa and passed down by his disciple Milarepa. The author describes six stages of dream yoga. In the first stage, the dreamer is told to become lucid in the dream. In the second stage, the dreamer is instructed to overcome all fear of the contents of the dream so there is the realization that nothing in the dream can cause harm. For instance, the lucid dreamer should put out the fire with his hands and realize fire cannot burn him in the dream. Next, 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. Both the objects in the dream and objects in the world in the Buddhist 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. Next, The dreamer should realize that he or she has control of the dream by changing big objects into small ones, heavy objects into light ones, and many objects into one object.

After gaining control over objects and their transformations, in the fifth stage, the dreamer should realize that the dreamer's dream body is as insubstantial as the other objects in the dream. The dreamer should realize that he or she is not the dream body. The dreamer who has gained complete control over dream objects could, for instance, alter the body's shape or make the dream body disappear altogether. Finally, in the sixth stage, the images of deities (Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, or Dakinis) should be visualized in the lucid dream state. These figures are frequently seen in Tibetan religious art (thangkas) and used in meditation. They are said to be linked to or resonate with the clear light of the Void. They can, therefore, serve as symbolic doorways to this mystical state of being (the Void or clear light). The dreamer is instructed to concentrate on these symbolic images without distraction or thinking about other things so that the revelatory side of these symbols will become manifest.

Yuthok et al. (1997: p. 229) states that:

...if we do sadhanas regularly and faithfully we will begin to dream about doing them. In the same way, if we practise illusory body we will begin to dream about it, too. There is a great correspondence between dream yoga and illusory body. The more we think of illusory body, the more dreams we will have. We will see them as dreams, rather than mistaking them for real life. We can do many things in dreams which we are unable to do while awake.[9]

Yuthok et al. (1997: p. 230) states that:

People who have practised dream yoga have been able to visit teachers they missed and travel to lands they never managed to get to in the waking state. The dream state is a very pure state of mind.[9]

According to contemporary Dzogchen teachers Namkhai Norbu, Lopön Tenzin Namdak and Tenzin Wangyal, the perceived reality and the phenomenal world are considered to be ultimately "unreal"—an "illusion" (refer Mahamaya): a dream, a phantasmagoria, a thoughtform. All appearances and phenomena are a dream or thoughtform, inter- and intra- reflecting and refracting jewels and mirrors of possibility and potentiality, "arising in relationships" or "dependent co-arising". These lineages hold it and due to the realisations of the sadhana, that the dream of life and regular nightly dreams are not dissimilar, and that in their quintessential nature are non-dual. The non-essential difference between the general dreaming state and the general waking experience is that the latter is generally more concrete and linked with attachments, saṅkhāra and skandha; whereas, standard non-lucid dreaming is ephemeral and transient, and generally culturally reinforced as baseless and empty. In Dream Yoga, living may become the dream, and the dream may become the living. Progressing the sadhana may be metaphorically likened to living the scientific hypothesis of a resolved superposition. The resolved superposition being a mindstream conflation of Dharmakaya with Shunyata and Indra's net. The entwined Mantrayana lineages of Nyingmapa, Bonpo, Ngagpa and Mahasiddha are saturated with trance and dream transmissions of teachings, doctrine, etcetera that transcend constructs of time, place and space, these are often called "whispered traditions" and terma. Refer Lucid living.

Also according to this teaching, there is a correspondence between the states of sleep and dream and our experiences when we die. After experiences of the intermediate state of bardo an individual comes out of it, a new karmic illusion is created, and another existence begins. Taking stock of store consciousness is the spontaneous perpetuant and fuel of the transmigration process.

The primary aim and foundation of dream practice are to realize during a dream that one is dreaming. Once lucidity has been established the applications are limitless. One can then dream with lucidity and do all sorts of things, such as: practice sadhana; receive initiations, empowerments and transmissions; go to different places, planes and lokas, communicate with yidam; dialogue with sentient beings, creatures and people such as guru; fly; shapeshift, etc. It is also possible to do different yogic practices while dreaming (usually such yogic practices one does in waking state through the product and fruit of sadhana is greatly accelerated due to the learning, play and practice context). In this way, the yogi can have a powerful experience and with this comes an understanding of the dream-like nature of daily life. This is very relevant to diminishing attachments, because they are based on strong beliefs that life's perceptions and objects are real and, as a consequence, important. Dream yoga mastery not only assists in the complete realisation of shunyata, but also in the lila of Mahamaya. When one realises and embodies the Shunyata Doctrine of Buddha Shakyamuni and Nagarjuna amongst others forded by Dream Yoga and other advanced sadhana, a complete realisation is imminent and elementary.

Namkhai Norbu gives advice, that the realization that life is only a big dream can help us finally liberate ourselves from the chains of emotions, attachments, and ego and then we have the possibility of ultimately becoming enlightened.[10]

The content is sourced from: https://handwiki.org/wiki/Philosophy:Dream_yoga


  1. Shugchang, Padma (editor); Sherab, Khenchen Palden & Dongyal, Khenpo Tse Wang (2000). A Modern Commentary on Karma Lingpa's Zhi-Khro: teachings on the peaceful and wrathful deities. Padma Gochen Ling. Source: [1] (accessed: December 27, 2007)
  2. Dharma Fellowship (2008). Biographies: Mahasiddha Sri Tilopa. Source: [2] (accessed: January 31, 2008)
  3. Rinpoche, S. (1992). Mahamaya Tantra (With Gunavati Commentary by Ratnakara Santi). The Rare Buddhist Texts Series No. 10. New Delhi, India: Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies. NB: Critically edited Sanskrit text with Tibetan; in English. "The original Sanskrit text on Mahamayatantra is restored with the help of its Tibetan version and the Sanskrit commentary Gunawati. This small text having three chapters deal with very important subjects such as S[i]ddhis[sic], Classification of Hetu, Phala and Upayatantras, and manifestations of the deity." Source: [3] (accessed: January 31, 2008)
  4. Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Lineage History, The first Karmapa Düsum Khyenpa. Source: [4] (accessed: February 20, 2010)
  5. Dharma Dictionary (2008). Seven transmissions. Source: [5] (accessed: January 31, 2008)
  6. Dharma Dictionary (2008). dag snang. Source: [6] (accessed: January 31, 2008)
  7. Holmes, by Ken (undated). Eight Chariots and Four Lineages. Source: [7] (accessed: January 31, 2008)
  8. Shugchang, Padma (editor); Sherab, Khenchen Palden & Dongyal, Khenpo Tse Wang (2000). A Modern Commentary on Karma Lingpa's Zhi-Khro: teachings on the peaceful and wrathful deities. Padma Gochen Ling. Source: [8] (accessed: December 27, 2007)
  9. Yuthok, Choedak (1997). Lamdre: Dawn of Enlightenment. (Transcribed and edited by Pauline Westwood with valued assistance from Ot Rastsaphong, Rob Small, Brett Wagland and Whitethorn. Cover Design: Rob Small) Canberra, Australia: Gorum Publications. ISBN:0-9587085-0-9. Source: "Archived copy". http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/lamdre.pdf.  (accessed: January 3, 2008)
  10. Norbu (1992), pp. 42, 46, 48, 96, 105
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