June 25, 2001 -- We've all experienced dreams, the gateway into
a chaotic territory of joy and embarrassment, exhilaration and fear. For
centuries, Tibetan doctors have used dreams for diagnosis and healing. Tibetan
dream yoga is said to be a preparation for death and a pathway to
enlightenment. Today, Western psychologists and mental explorers are developing
new ways to use dreams to unleash the creativity of the human mind.
Tibetan doctors ask patients about their dreams because it
helps them understand the person's physical problems, says Nida Chenagtsang, a
doctor of Tibetan medicine. Dreams must be combined with other diagnostic
signs, but they offer valuable clues.
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"For example, when a patient dreams of dirty water, this
could be connected with kidney problems and the urinary system," Nida says.
"The dream may signal problems on a energetic level, before those problems
manifest on the physical level." Nida is co-director of the medical
department of Shang Shung Institute in Tuscany, Italy, and teaches a course on
dreams in Tibetan medicine.
Tibetan Dream Yoga
Many of us look at dreams for signals about what's going on in
our lives, says Lama Tsering Everest. "However, Tibetan dream yoga isn't
about the content of our dreams. In fact, dream yoga is really about our waking
life. The Buddha said life is like a dream. Everything that appears so solid to
us is really insubstantial, like the reflection of the moon on water. Rather
than trying to manipulate the circumstances of our lives to produce happiness,
we can find true fulfillment by working for the welfare of others."
Everest, a westerner, has been recognized as a lama in the Nyingma Buddhist
tradition, and is the head of Odsal Ling Meditation Center in SÃÂ£o Paulo,
While Tibetan Buddhism does include many specific methods of
dream yoga, traditionally the details aren't discussed publicly, Everest says.
"These advanced teachings are available only within a personal relationship
with an authentic teacher of the tradition. In dream yoga, we use our dreams to
understand the nature of reality. The first step toward using the methods of
dream yoga is developing a sincere wish to help others."
Namkhai Norbu, in his book Dream Yoga and the Practice of
Natural Light, does reveal methods used in one dream yoga tradition. He
advises people to fall asleep while visualizing a white Tibetan syllable (or
English letter) representing the sound "ah." Men should lie on their
right side, women on their left side.
"Awareness within the dream state becomes a way to develop
oneself and to break one's heavy conditioning," he writes. However, Norbu
too says that a personal relationship with a teacher is essential for a full
understanding of the practice.
"When you read a book you can understand all concepts in an
intellectual way," he writes. "If you receive a transmission from a
teacher, you can have a different taste." Norbu is a retired professor of
Tibetan language and literature at the Oriental Institute of the University of