Andrew Holecek on the spiritual benefits of dream yoga
In spiritual terms, of the three principal states of consciousness—waking, sleeping, and dreaming—the coarsest state, or the one with the least potential for spiritual evolution, is the ordinary waking state. Because of its malleability, the dream state has more transformative potential. Dzogchen teacher Namkai Norbu Rinpoche says, “It is easier to develop your practices in a dream than in the daytime. In the daytime we are limited by our material body, but in a dream our function of mind and our consciousness of the senses are unhindered. We can have more clarity. Thus there are more possibilities. If a person applies a practice within a dream, the practice is nine times more effective than when it is applied during the waking hours.”
For those who relate to this sort of thing, you can also use lucid dreaming to prepare for death, purify karma, and prevent negative karma from coming to fruition in the waking state. In Western terms, karma is just another word for habit, which means you can clean up bad habits in your dreams. In the Buddhist view of mind, karma often starts to ripen in the subtle dream state before it manifests in the gross waking state, which means it can be purified at this more subtle level. In this regard, a sensitive relationship to your dreams can literally save your life, because you’re working with the blueprints of your experience before they become fully constructed in reality. There are countless stories of people having dreams of premonition, where the dreams did indeed come true. The basic principles of lucid dreaming can help you become more aware of these types of dreams and use them to guide your life.
You can even incubate lucid dreams—in which you deliberately dream about a particular topic—in order to receive guidance, a practice that goes back thousands of years, to the ancient Egyptians and then the Greeks. The literature is full of stories about people receiving messages and teachings in their dreams. This sort of thing is common in extended retreat, when the mind really opens up. Tenzin Palmo, a British nun, spent 12 years in solitary retreat in the Himalayas, often snowed in for months in a cave. She said that this was never a problem, because whenever she needed guidance or inspiration, she’d ask for it and get it directly from her dreams. When I did my own three-year retreat, I often did the same thing. I’d incubate a lucid dream, then get the information I needed.
You can also incubate dreams for others, and become a “surrogate dreamer,” receiving advice for other people. This is a common practice in shamanic traditions, and is frequently employed in Tibetan Buddhism. I’ve never actively incubated such a dream, but I have received such dreams serendipitously. When I shared them with the people for whom they were intended, the information did indeed bring benefit.