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The effects of emotion on Dream & Sleep

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This is an excerpt from the book "The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep" by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche.  It's a great book that I highly recommend.  I will preface this by making it clear that this is coming from the perspective of Tibetan Buddhism, so the terminology and perception of the processes and events come from Buddhist teachings.  I'm not to keen on Buddhist teachings myself, however, this author is also pretty westernized and he presents the Buddhist teachings in a way that western occult analogues can easily be identified.  So, I decided to post this excerpt because I think that the points made are very important to the practice of what is referred to as dreaming (but really means conscious or lucid dreaming, as well as astral projection).  I feel that these teachings are often ignored and as a result are the source of failure for many people.  I'm pasting a copy of the first couple chapters that I found to be relevant, as well as a link to a pdf version of those chapters. 

Again I highly recommend this book, it has helped me a lot and I think it brings a new perspective to LD/AP.  I met the author when he did a book signing at the bookstore I used to work at, and he told me that not only do the Tibetan Buddhists see dream as more "real" than waking life, but it only makes sense to live all of your life consciously, not just half of it.

Here is the link to The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep on Amazon, which they carry in both paperback and the kindle version.  It's worth buying, though if you're resourceful enough I'm sure you could find a free copy on the internet.

And here is the link to the PDF version  of the excerpt that I have posted here.

Excerpt from "The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep"
By Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche

The Nature of Dreams

1  Dream and Reality

   All of us dream whether we remember dreaming or not.  We dream as infants and continue dreaming until we die.  Every night we enter and unknown world.  We may seem to be our ordinary selves or someone completely different.  We meet people whom we know or don't know, who are living or dead.  We fly, encounter non-human beings, have blissful experiences, laugh, weep and are terrified, exalted, or transformed.  Yet we generally pay these extraordinary experiences little attention.  Many Westerners who approach the teachings do so with ideas about dream based in psychological theory; subsequently, when they become more interested in using dream in their spiritual life, they usually focus on the content and meaning of dreams.  Rarely is the nature of dreaming itself investigated.  When it is, the investigation leads to the mysterious processes that underlie the whole of our existence, not only our dreaming life. 
   The first step in dream practice is quite simple: one must recognize the great potential that dream holds for the spiritual journey.  Normally the dream is thought to be "unreal," as opposed to "real" waking life.  But there is nothing more real than dream.  This statement only makes sense once it is understood that normal waking life is as unreal as dream, and in exactly the same way.  Then it can be understood that dream yoga applies to all experience, to the dreams of the day as well as the dreams of the night.

2  How Experience Arises

   All of our experience, including dream, arises from ignorance.  This is a rather startling statement to make in the West, so first let us understand what is meant by ignorance (ma-rigpa).  The Tibetan tradition distinguishes between two kinds of ignorance: innate ignorance and cultural ignorance.  Innate ignorance is the basis of samsara (continuous cycle of suffering; generally considered the antithesis of Nirvāṇa), and the defining characteristic of ordinary beings.  It is ignorance of our true nature and the true nature of the world, and it results in entanglement with the delusions of the dualistic mind.
   Dualism reifies polarities and dichotomies.  It divides the seamless unity of experience into this and that, right and wrong, you and me.  Based on these conceptual divisions, develop preferences that manifest as grasping and aversion, the habitual responses that make up most of what we identify as ourselves.  We want this, not that; believe in this, not that; respect this and disdain that.  We want pleasure, comfort, wealth, and fame, and try to escape from pain, poverty, shame, and discomfort.  We want these things for ourselves and those we love, and do not care about others.  We want an experience different from the one we are having, or we want to hold on to an experience and avoid the inevitable changes that will lead to its cessation.
   There is a second kind of ignorance that is culturally conditioned.  It comes about as desires and aversions become institutionalized in a culture and codified into value systems.  For example, in India, Hindus believe that it is wrong to eat cows but proper to eat pigs.  Moslems believe that it is appropriate to eat beef but they are prohibited from eating pork.  Tibetans eat both.  Who is right?  The Hindu thinks the Hindus are right, the Moslem thinks the Moslems are right, and the Tibetan thinks the Tibetans are right.  The differing beliefs arise from the biases and beliefs that are part of the culture – not from fundamental wisdom. 
   Another example can be found in the internal conflicts of philosophy.  There are many philosophical systems that are defined by their disagreement with one another on fine points.  Even though the systems themselves are developed with the intention to lead beings to wisdom, they produce ignorance in that their followers cling to a dualistic understanding of reality.  This is unavoidable in any conceptual system because the conceptual mind itself is a manifestation of ignorance.
   Cultural ignorance is developed and preserved in traditions.  It pervades every custom, opinion, set of values, and body of knowledge.  Both individuals and cultures accept these preferences as so fundamental that they are taken to be common sense or divine law.  We grow up attaching ourselves to various beliefs, to a political party, a medical system, a religion, an opinion about how things should be.  We pass through elementary school, high school, and maybe college, and in one sense every diploma is an award for developing a more sophisticated ignorance.  Education reinforces the habit of seeing the world through a certain lens.  We can become an expert in an erroneous view, become very precise in our understanding, and relate to other experts.  This can be the case also in philosophy, in which one learns detailed intellectual systems and develops the mind into a sharp instrument of inquiry.  But until innate ignorance is penetrated, one is merely developing an acquired bias, not fundamental wisdom.
   We become attached to even the smallest things: a particular brand of soap or our hair being cut in a certain fashion.  On a grand scale, we develop religions, political systems, philosophies, psychologies, and sciences.  But no one is born with the belief that it is wrong to eat beef or pork or that one philosophical system is right and the other in error or that this religion is true and that religion is false.  These must be learned.  The allegiance to particular values is the result of cultural ignorance, but the propensity to accept limited views originates in the dualism that is the manifestation of innate ignorance.
   This is not bad.  It is just what is.  Our attachments can lead to war but they also manifest as helpful technologies and different arts that are of great benefit to the world.  As long as we are unenlightened we participate in dualism, and that is all right.  In Tibetan there is a saying, "When in the body of a donkey, enjoy the taste of grass."  In other words, we should appreciate and enjoy this life because it is meaningful and valuable in itself, and because it is the life we are living.
   If we are not careful, the teachings can be used to support our ignorance.  One can say that it is bad for someone to get an advanced degree, or wrong to have dietary restrictions, but this is not the point at all.  Or one might say that ignorance is bad or normal life is only samsaric stupidity.  But ignorance is simply an obscuration of consciousness.  Being attached to it or repelled by it is just the same old game of dualism, played out in the realm of ignorance.  We can see how pervasive it is.  Even the teachings must work with dualism – by encouraging attachment to virtue, for example, and aversion to non-virtue – paradoxically using the dualism of ignorance to overcome ignorance.  How subtle our understanding must become and how easily we can get lost!  This is why practice is necessary, in order to have direct experience rather than just developing another conceptual system to elaborate and defend.  When things are seen from a higher perspective they tend to level out.  From the perspective of non-dual wisdom there is no important and unimportant.

   The culture in which we live conditions us, but we carry the seeds of conditioning with us wherever we go.  Everything that bothers us is actually in our mind.  We blame our unhappiness on the environment, our situation, and believe that if we could change our circumstances we would be happy.  But the situation in which we find ourselves is only the secondary cause of our suffering.  The primary cause is innate ignorance and the resulting desire for things to be other than they are.
   Perhaps we decide to escape the stresses of the city by moving to the ocean or the mountains.  Or we may leave the isolation and difficulties of the country for the excitement of the city.  The change can be nice because the secondary causes are altered and contentment may be found.  But only for a short while.  The root of our discontent moves with us to our new home, and from it grow new dissatisfactions.  Soon we are once again caught up in turmoil of hope and fear.
   Or we may think that if we just had more money, or a better partner, or a better body or job or education, we would be happy.  But we know this is not true.  The rich are not free from suffering, a new partner will dissatisfy us in some way, the body will age, the new job will grow less interesting, and so on.  When we think the solution to our unhappiness can be found in the external, our desires can only be temporarily sated.  Not understanding this, we are tossed this way and that by the winds of desire, ever restless and dissatisfied.  We are governed by our karma and continually plant the seeds of future karmic harvest.  Not only does this mode of action distract us from the spiritual path, but it also prevents us from finding satisfaction and happiness in our daily life.
   As long as we identify with the grasping and aversion of the moving mind, we produce the negative emotions that are born in the gap between what is and what we want.  Actions generated from these emotions, which include nearly all actions taken in our ordinary lives, leave karmic traces.
   Karma means action.  Karmic traces are the results of actions, which remain in the mental consciousness and influence our future.  We can partially understand karmic traces if we think of them as what in the West are called tendencies in the unconscious.  They are inclinations, patterns of internal and external behavior, ingrained reactions, habitual conceptualizations.  They dictate our emotional reactions to situations and our intellectual rigidities.  They create and condition every response we normally have to every element of our experience. 
   This is an example of karmic traces on a gross level, though the same dynamic is at work in even the subtlest and most pervasive levels of experience: A man grows up in a home in which there is a lot of fighting.  Then, perhaps thirty or forty years after leaving home, he is walking down a street and passes a house in which people are arguing with one another.  That night he has a dream in which he is fighting with his wife or partner.  When he wakes in the morning he feels aggrieved and withdrawn.  This is noticed by his partner who reacts to the mood, which further irritates him.
   This sequence of experiences shows us something about karmic traces.  When the man was young, he reacted to the fighting in his home with fear, anger and hurt.  He felt aversion toward the fighting, a normal response, and this aversion left a trace in his mind.  Decades later he passes a house and hears fighting; this is the secondary condition that stimulates the old karmic trace, which manifests in a dream that night.
   In the dream, the man reacts to the dream-partner's provocation with feelings of anger and hurt.  This response is governed by the karmic traces that were collected in his mental consciousness as a child and that have probably been reinforced many times since.  When the dream-partner – who is wholly a projection of the man's mind – provokes him, his reaction is aversion, just as when he was a child.  The aversion that he feels in the dream is the new action that creates a new seed.  When he wakes he is stuck in the negative emotions that are the fruit of prior karmas; he feels estranged and withdrawn from his partner.  To complicate matters further, the partner reacts from her karmically determined habitual tendencies, perhaps becoming short-tempered, withdrawn, apologetic, or subservient, and the man again reacts negatively, sowing yet another karmic seed.
   Any reaction to any situation – external or internal, waking or dreaming – that is rooted in grasping or aversion, leaves a trace in the mind.  As karma dictates reactions, the reactions sow further karmic seeds, which further dictate reactions, and so on.  This is how karma leads to more of itself.  It is the wheel of samsara, the ceaseless cycle of action and reaction.
   Although this example focuses on karma on the psychological level, karma determines every dimension of existence.  It shapes the emotional and mental phenomena in an individual's life as well as the perception and interpretation of existence, the functioning of the body, and the cause and effect dynamism of the external world.  Every aspect of experience, however small or large, is governed by karma.
   The karmic traces let in the mind are like seeds.  And like seeds, they require certain conditions in order to manifest.  Just as a seed needs the right combination of moisture and light and nutrients and temperature in order to sprout and grow, the karmic trace manifests when the right situation is encountered.  The elements of the situation that support the manifestation of the karma are known as the secondary causes and conditions.
   It is helpful to think of karma as the process of cause and effect, because this leads to the recognition that the choices made in responding to any situation, internal or external, have consequences.  Once we really understand that each karmic trace is a seed for further karmically governed action, we can use that understanding to avoid creating negativity in our life, and instead create conditions that will influence our lives in a positive direction.  Or, if we know how, we can allow the emotion to self-liberate as it arises, in which case no new karma is created.

If we react to a situation with negative emotion, the trace left in the mind will eventually ripen and influence a situation in life negatively.  For example, if someone is angry with us and we in turn react with anger, we leave a trace that makes it more likely for us to encounter the secondary situations which allow our habitual anger to arise.  This is easy to see if we have a great deal of anger in our lives or if we know someone who does.  Angry people continually encounter situations that seem to justify their anger, while people with less anger do not.  The external situations may be similar but the different karmic inclinations create different subjective worlds.
   If an emotion is expressed impulsively it can generate strong results and reactions.  Anger can lead to a fight or some other kind of destruction.  People can be harmed physically or emotionally.  This is not true just of anger; if fear is acted out it too can create great stress for the person who suffers it, can alienate that person from others, and so on.  It is not too difficult to see how this leads to negative traces that influence the future negatively.
   If we suppress emotion, there is still a negative trace.  Suppression is a manifestation of aversion.  It occurs through tightening something inside ourselves, putting something behind a door and locking it, forcing part of our experience into the dark where it waits, seemingly hostile, until the appropriate secondary cause calls it out.  This may manifest in many ways.  For example, if we suppress our jealousy of others, it may eventually manifest in an emotional outburst, or it may be present in the harsh judgment of others of whom we are secretly jealous, even if we deny this jealousy to ourselves.  Mental judgment is also an action, based on aversion, that creates negative karmic seeds.

   Instead of either of these negative responses – being driven in our behavior by the karmic tendency or suppressing it – we can take a moment to stop and communicate with ourselves and choose to produce the antidote to the negative emotion.  If someone is angry with us and our own anger arises, the antidote is compassion.  Inducing it may feel forced and inauthentic at first, but if we realize that the person irritating us is being pushed around by his own conditioning, and further realize that he is suffering a constriction of consciousness because he is trapped in his own negative karma, we feel some compassion and can start to let go of our negative reactions.  As we do, we begin to shape our future positively. 
   This new response, which is still based on desire – in this case for virtue or peace or spiritual growth – produces a karmic trace that is positive; we have planted the seed of compassion.  The next time we encounter anger we are a little more likely to respond with compassion, which is much more comfortable and spacious than the narrowness of self-protective anger.  In this way, the practice of virtue cumulatively retrains our response to the world and we find ourselves, for instance, encountering less and less anger both internally and externally.  If we continue in this practice, compassion will eventually arise spontaneously and without effort.  Using the understanding of karma, we can retrain our minds to use all experience, even the most private and fleeting daydreams, to support our spiritual practice.

   The best response to negative emotion is to allow it to self-liberate by remaining in non-dual awareness, free of grasping and aversion.  If we can do this, the emotion passes through us like a bird flying through space; no trace of its passage remains.  The emotion arises and then spontaneously dissolves into emptiness.
   In this case, the karmic seed is manifesting – as emotion or thought or bodily sensation or an impulse toward particular behaviors – but because we do not respond with grasping or aversion, no seed of future karma is generated.  Every time that envy, for example, is allowed to arise and dissolve in awareness without our becoming caught by it or trying to repress it, the strength of the karmic tendency toward envy weakens.  There is no new action to reinforce it.  Liberating emotion in this way cuts karma at its root.  It is as if we burn the karmic seeds before they have an opportunity to grow into trouble in our life.
   You may ask why it is better to liberate emotion rather than to generate positive karma.  The answer is that all karmic traces act to constrain us, to restrict us to particular identities.  The goal of the path is complete liberation from all conditioning.  This does not mean that, once one is liberated, positive traits such as compassion are not present.  They are.  But when we are no longer driven by karmic tendencies we can see our situation clearly and respond spontaneously and appropriately, rather than being pushed in one direction or pulled in another.  The relative compassion that arises from positive karmic tendencies is very good, but better is the absolute compassion that arises effortlessly and perfectly in the individual liberated from karmic conditioning.  It is more spacious and inclusive, more effective, and free of the delusions of dualism.
   Although allowing emotion to self-liberate is the best response, it is difficult to do before our practice is developed and stable.  But however our practice is now, all of us can determine to stop for a moment when emotion arises, check in with ourselves, and choose to act as skillfully as possible.  We can all learn to blunt the force of impulse, of karmic habits.  We can use a conceptual process, reminding ourselves that the emotion we are experiencing is simply the fruition of previous karmic traces.  Then we may be able to relax our identification with the emotion or point of view, and let go of our defensiveness.  As the knot of emotion loosens, the identity relaxes and grows more spacious.  We can choose a more positive response, planting seeds of positive karma.  Again, it is important to do this without repressing emotion.  We should relax as we generate compassion, no rigidly suppress the anger in our body while trying to think good thoughts.
   The spiritual journey is not meant to benefit only the far future or our next life.  As we practice training ourselves to react more positively to situations, we change our karmic traces and develop qualities that effect positive changes in the lives we are leading right now.  As we see more clearly that every experience, however small and private, has a result, we can use this understanding to change our lives and our dreams.

   Karmic traces remain with us as psychic remnants of actions performed with grasping or aversion.  They are obscurations of consciousness stored in the base consciousness of the individual, in the kunzhi namshe.  Although it is spoken of as a container, the kunzhi namshe actually is equivalent to the obscuration of consciousness: when there are no obscurations of consciousness there is no kunzhi namshe.  It is not a thing or a place; it is the dynamic that underlies the organization of dualistic experience.  It is as insubstantial as a collection of habits, and as powerful as the habits that allow language to make sense, forms to resolve into objects, and existence to appear to us as something meaningful that we can navigate and understand.
   The common metaphor for the kunzhi namshe is of a storehouse or repository that cannot be destroyed.  We can think of the kunzhi namshe storing a collection of patterns or schematics.  It is a grammar of experience that is affected to a greater or lesser extent by each action that we take externally or internally, physically or cognitively.  As long as habitual tendencies exist in the mind of the individual, the kunzhi namshe exists.  When one dies and the body deteriorates, the kunzhi namshe does not.  The karmic traces continue in the mental consciousness until they are purified.  When they are completely purified, there is no longer a kunzhi namshe and the individual is a buddha.

   All samsaric experience is shaped by karmic traces.  Moods, thoughts, emotions, mental images, perceptions, instinctive reactions, "common sense," and even our sense of identity are all governed by the workings of karma.  For example, you may wake up feeling depressed.  You have breakfast, everything seems to be all right, but there is a sense of depression that cannot be accounted for.  We say in this case that some karma is ripening.  The causes and conditions have come together in such a way that the depression manifests.  There may be a hundred reasons for this depression to occur on this particular morning, and it may manifest in a myriad of ways.  It may also manifest during the night as a dream.
   In dream, the karmic traces manifest in consciousness unfettered by the rational mind with which we so often rationalize away a feeling or a fleeting mental image.  We can think of the process like this: during the day the consciousness illuminates the senses and we experience the world, weaving sensory and psychic experiences into the meaningful whole of our life.  At night the consciousness withdraws from the senses and resides in the base.  If we have developed a strong practice of presence with much experience of the empty, luminous nature of mind, then we will be aware of and in this pure lucid awareness.  But for most of us the consciousness illuminates the obscurations, the karmic traces and these manifest as a dream.
   The karmic traces are like photographs that we take of each experience.  Any reaction of grasping or aversion to any experience – to memories, feelings, sense perceptions, or thoughts – is like snapping a photo.  In the darkroom of our sleep we develop the film.  Which images are developed on a particular night will be determined by the secondary conditions recently encountered.  Some images or traces are burned deeply into us by powerful reactions while others, resulting from superficial experiences, leave only a faint residue.  Our consciousness, like the light of a projector, illuminates the traces that have been stimulated and they manifest as the images and experiences of the dream.  We string them together like a film, as this is the way our psyches work to make meaning, resulting in a narrative constructed from conditioned tendencies and habitual identities: the dream.
   The same process continually occurs while we are awake, making us what we commonly think of as "our experience."  The dynamics are easier to understand in dream, because they can be observed free of the limitations of the physical world and the rational consciousness.  During the day, although still engaged in the same dream-making process, we project this inner activity of the mind onto the world and think that our experiences are "real" and external to our own mind.
   In dream yoga, this understanding of karma is used to train the mind to react differently to experience, resulting in new karmic traces from which are generated dreams more conducive to spiritual practice.  It is not about force, about the consciousness acting imperially to oppress the unconscious.  Dream yoga relies instead upon increased awareness and insight to allow us to make positive choices in life.  Understanding the dynamic structure of experience and the consequences of actions leads to the recognition that every experience of any kind is an opportunity for spiritual practice.
   Dream practice also gives us a method of burning the seeds of future karma during the dream.  If we abide in awareness during a dream, we can allow the karmic traces to self-liberate as they arise and they will not continue on to manifest in our life as negative states.  As in waking life, this will only happen if we can remain in the non-dual awareness of rigpa, the clear light of the mind.  If this is not possible for us, we can still develop tendencies to choose spiritually positive behavior even in our dream until we can go beyond preferences and dualism altogether.
   Ultimately, when we purify the obscurations until none remain, there is no film, no hidden karmic influences that color and shape the light of our consciousness.  Because karmic traces are the roots of dreams, when they are entirely exhausted only the pure light of awareness remains: no movie, no story, no dreamer and no dream, only the luminous fundamental nature that is absolute reality.  This is why enlightenment is the end of dreams and is known as "awakening."


   At night, when we go to sleep, we generally do so with little sense of what is happening.  We just feel tired, shut our eyes, and drift away.  We may have an idea about sleep – blood in the brain, hormones, or something like that – but the actual process of falling asleep remains mysterious and unexplored.
   The Tibetan tradition explains the process of falling asleep using a metaphor for the mind and prana*.  Often prana is compared to a blind horse and the mind to a person unable to walk.  Separately they are helpless, but together they begin to run, generally with little control over where they go.  We know this from our own experience: we can "put" the mind into a chakra by placing our attention there, but it is not easy to keep the mind in any one place.  The mind is always moving our attention, going to this or that.  Normally, in samsaric beings, the horse and rider run blindly through one of the six dimensions of consciousness**, one of the six negative emotional states.
   For example, as we fall asleep, awareness of the sensory world is lost.  The mind is carried here and there on the blind horse of karmic prana until it becomes focused in a particular chakra where it is influenced by a particular dimension of consciousness.  Perhaps you had an argument with your partner and that situation (secondary condition) activates a karmic trace associated with the heart chakra, which pulls your mind to that location in the body.  The subsequent activity of the mind and prana manifests in the particular images and stories of the dream.
   The mind is not driven randomly to one chakra or another, but rather is drawn to the places in the body and the situations in life that need attention and healing.  In the example, it is as if the heart chakra is crying out for help.  The disturbing trace will be healed by manifesting in the dream and thereby being exhausted.  However, unless the manifestation takes place while the dreamer is centered and aware, the reactions to it will be dictated by habitual karmic tendencies and will create more karmic seeds.
   We can think of a computer as an analogy.  The chakras are like different files.  Click on the directory "Prana and Mind," and then open the file of the heart chakra.  The information in the file – the karmic traces associated with the heart chakra – is displayed on the screen of awareness.  This is like the dream manifesting.
   Then perhaps a situation in the dream elicits another response that energizes a different emotion.  The dream now becomes the secondary cause that allows another karmic trace to manifest.  Now the mind travels down to the navel center and enters a different realm of experience.  The character of the dream changes.  You are not jealous anymore; instead you are on a street without signs or somewhere very dark.  You are lost.  You try to go somewhere but you cannot find your way.
   Basically, this is how the content of the dream is shaped.  The mind and prana are drawn to different chakras in the body; affected by the associated karmic traces, experiences of the various dimensions of experience arise in the mind as the character and content of the dream.  We can use this understanding to look at our dreams differently, to notice which emotion and realm is connected to the dream.  It is also helpful to understand that every dream offers us an opportunity for healing and spiritual practice.
   Ultimately, we wish to stabilize the mind and the prana in the central channel rather than allowing the mind to be drawn to a particular chakra.  The central channel is the energetic basis of experiences of rigpa (non-dual awareness), and the practices that we do in dream yoga are meant to bring mind and prana into the central channel.  When this occurs, we remain in clear awareness and strong presence.  To dream in the central channel is to dream free of strong influences from the negative emotions.  It is a balanced situation that allows dreams of knowledge and clarity to manifest.

*(All experience, waking and dreaming, has and energetic basis.  This vital energy is called prana.  The content of dream is formed by the mind, but the basis of the vitality and animation of the dream is the prana.

**(According to the teachings, there are six realms [loka] of existence in which all deluded beings exist.  Fundamentally, the realms are six dimensions of consciousness, six dimensions of possible experience.  They manifest in us individually as the six negative emotions: anger, greed, ignorance, jealousy, pride and pleasurable distraction.  The six realms are not, however, only categories of emotional experience but are also actual realms into which beings are born...)
be awesome.