Dreams: Their Interpretation, Yoga and Discrimination


The Buddhist Yogi C. M. Chen

In this booklet, I will introduce Dreams and their interpretation, and yoga in Buddhism and discrimination from the Hindu Tantra.

The first part concerns dreams and their interpretations and instructions as taught by Gautama Buddha in the Maharatnakuta Sutra which I have translated and summarized in a list form.

The second part is the dream yoga as taught by Naropa for the practitioner who has practiced Hinayana and Mahayana, who has grasped the accomplishment of Sunyata and has practiced the first and the second initiations of Vajrayana.

The third part is the discriminations between Buddhist and Hindu Tantras on this subject as extracted from my bookDiscriminations Between Buddhist and Hindu Tantra.

I. Dream Interpretation

Buddha's head covered with something
Obstacles will block your practice; you should offer something to your Guru

Buddha sits with back toward you
See above

Buddha's image made in mud
You have disregarded Buddha; should offer lamps before Buddha's image!

Buddha is painting picture
Should offer flowers and incense to Buddha

Buddha is walking
Practice diligently, wipe the pagoda, give Buddhist books to others

You are going to preach, but you don't know how
Disregarded Buddha & have sinned; you should confess & try to reflect on your sins

Buddha walks in the sky
Practice deep patience

Buddha Parinirvana
Disregarded Dharma & sold Buddhist books; should offer gems to Guru!

Bury Buddha
Disregarded Buddha Dharma & agreed with those who do the same; should light lamps for a week and confess before Buddha

Get relics of any part of Buddha's body
Good sign

Obstacles are reduced

Hear from Buddha but do not see him
Preach with false view; should confess and meditate in Sunyata rightly

Make offering to Buddha
Good! Quickly obtain accomplishment of meditation

Offer flowers and incense to Pagoda
You haven't offered to Buddha, now you become better

Buddha wears dirty robe
Obstacles increase; should practice meditation of non-dualism

Rare Dharmas never heard before
You have done good deeds; be diligent again

Excellent preacher never seen before
No more obstacles

Preach yourself
You have helped Buddha to preach; practice it again

Good sign, rid of pride

Pure goodness

Buddha turns the Dharma wheel
No return to a lower state

Buddha's Parinirvana in Pagoda
Close to supreme path

Get Buddha's robe
Practice Buddha Wisdom

Get Buddha's bowl
Remembered by Buddhas

One Buddha only
Practice Sunyata

Buddha with many disciples
Practice patience and induce many students

Get Buddha's umbrella
Release demon

See Buddha's shoes
Practice diligently

Buddha seat
Practice as a hermit

Offer food to Buddha
Practice diligently

Offer flowers to Buddha
More obstacles.

Come up the mountain and have doubt
Disease and lack of wisdom

Go to the four directions
Laziness; should live with Guru

Miss the right way
Obstacles; should offer to the triple gems

Rains and clouds
Many demons; should keep deep faith.

Bad Karmas; should keep vinaya

Fight in battle
Didn't subdue the ghost; should practice six Paramita

Limbs in fetters & will be killed
More demons; practice great compassion

Body on knives
More bad friends; practice Bodhicitta

Get a Sutra
Dharma conditions gathered; practice diligently

Hear a Dharma Merit Voice
May obtain Mantra

Hear someone calling the Bhikshu
Lack of wisdom; practice Prajna Paramita

Good ability of rebuttal
Obtain certain wisdom

Hear Mantra
More sorrow, less obstacles.

Hear Buddha's name which never heard before
Will get Buddha's prophecy

Hear Bodhisattvas names of other world
Remembered by Bodhisattvas

Diligence and practice wisdom

Gathered many gems
More sorrow, do White Karmas

On the summit
No return to the vulgar world

Climb up the Mountain
Less obstacles but more demons

Get to the top of tree
Aware of Demon and practice wisdom

Dragon and elephant
Too much alms-giving, lack of wisdom

Ride on dragon or elephant
Have wisdom, release delusion

Ride on horse
Good samaya, practice wisdom

Vow truly
More demons, practice wisdom

Trees with flowers
Keep samaya

Ride on horse, pass a garden
Have much food; should offer to Guru

Live in new village with monks
Have difficulty; should repeat Amitabha

Preach before multitude
Have demons; practice chastity

Make a boat pass through dirty water
Obstacles and demons increase; reduce desires, don't separate all monks

Gather many boats
Practice 6 Paramitas equally

Thunder and lightning
Demons; give up lovely things

Get some knives
Obstacles increase; practice patience

Get some vessels
Obstacles; practice 4 kinds of inducements

Show Dharma path
Obstacles; should live with Guru

Heal other's disease
Demons increase; practice great compassion

On the Dharma path
Practice diligence

A bottle full of water
Some demons; practice Sunyata

City which never saw before
Have obstacles; practice patience

Palace of Dragon King
Have pure Karma, will get wisdom

Wear white clothes
Some obstacles finish, some demons remain.

Gurus of the whole tradition
No obstacles and demons; reflect on own sin

Get some fading flowers
Some obstacles; don't accept anything from others.

Beat the drum
Obstacles and demons increase; treat all persons equally

Moon and sun eclipse
White Dharma destroyed; many sorrows; give up all things to others.

Paint body with dirty things
Done bad things to sages; confess day and night!

To be a king
Have done many merits through difficulty; practice charity; keep silas.

To be an officer
Have sorrows; practice Sunyata.

II. Dream Yoga (from Tibetan Yoga)

The Doctrine of the Dream-State consists of four parts: Comprehending; Transmuting; Realizing the Dream-State to be Maya; and Meditating upon the Thatness of the Dream-State.

A. Comprehending the Nature of the Dream-State

The first part, Comprehending the Nature of the Dream-State, is comprised of three practices: Comprehending it by the Power of Resolution; Comprehending it by the Power of Breath; and Comprehending it by the Power of Visualization.

1. Comprehending it by the Power of Resolution

With respect to the first practice, Comprehending it by the Power of Resolution, that which has been called "the initial comprehending of the dream" refers to resolving to maintain unbroken continuity of consciousness (throughout both the waking-state and the dream-state). In other words, under all conditions during the day (or waking-state) hold to the concept that all things are of the substance of dreams and that you must realize their true nature. Then at night when about to go to sleep, pray to the guru that you may be enabled to comprehend the dream-state, and firmly resolve that you will comprehend it. By meditating thus, one is certain to comprehend it. It has furthermore been said (in this connection) that all things are the results of causes; they depend wholly upon resolutions (or motives).

2. Comprehending it by the Power of Breath

In the second practice, Comprehending it by the Power of Breath, the methods are: Sleep on the right side, as a lion posture. With the thumb and ring-finger of the right hand, press the pulsation of the throat arteries, stop the nostrils with the fingers of the left hand, and let the saliva collect in the throat.

3. Comprehending it by the Power of Visualization

This third practice consists of these processes: the Visualization itself; Deriving the Greatest Benefit from the Visualization; and Preventing the Spreading-Out of the Dream-Content.

  1. The Visualization Itself. In this first process, the method is as follows:
  2. Think that you are yourself the deity Vajra Yogini, and visualize in the throat psychic-center the syllable AH, red of color and vividly radiant, as being the real embodiment of Divine Speech. By mentally concentrating upon the radiance of the AH, and recognizing every phenomenal thing to be in essence like forms reflected in a mirror which though apparent, have no real existence of themselves, one comprehends the dream.

  3. Deriving the Greatest Benefit from the Visualization. The method is as following:
  4. At nightfall, (strive to) comprehend the nature of the dream-state by means of the visualization just described above. At dawn, practice 'pot-shaped' breathing seven times. Resolve (or try) eleven times to comprehend the nature of the dream-state. Then concentrate the mind upon a dot, like unto a bony substance, white of color, situated between the eyebrows.

    If one be of plethoric temperament, the dot is to be visualized (as being) red of color; if one be of nervous temperament, the dot is to be visualized as being green of color.

    If by these means the nature of the dream-state is not comprehended, then proceed as follows:

    At nightfall, meditate upon the dot. In the morning, practice twenty-one 'pot-shaped' breathings. Make twenty-one resolves (or efforts) to comprehend the nature of the dream-state. Then by concentrating the mind on a black dot the size of an ordinary pill, as being situated at the base of the generative organ, one will be enabled to comprehend the nature of the dream-state.

  5. Preventing the Spreading-Out of the Dream-Content. This process has four divisions:
  6. The Spreading-Out into the Waking-State; the Spreading-Out Because of Fatigue (from the Exercises); the Spreading-Out because of Physical or Mental Affliction; and the Spreading-Out into Negativeness.

    1. The Spreading-Out into the Waking-State occurs when one is about to comprehend the dream, in virtue of thinking that it must be comprehended and then wakes up. The antidote for this is to eat nutritious food and to perform bodily work (or exercise) until fatigued. Thereby sleep becomes deeper; and that cures it.
    2. The Spreading-Out because of Fatigue occurs when a dream recurs frequently without any change of content. The antidote here is to meditate often upon that dream and to resolve most firmly to comprehend its essential nature; amalgamating in the process the 'Pot-shaped' breathing exercise with the visualization of the dot between the eyebrows.
    3. The Spreading-Out because of Physical or Mental Affliction occurs when one dreams many dreams and recollects nothing of them upon awaking. The antidote here is to avoid pollution and impurities, to take the Initiation of Samadhi, and to visualize the dot as being inside the root of the organ of generation. Thereby this spreading-out will be cured.
    4. The Spreading-Out into Negativeness is the distinction of dreams to come. To overcome this, visualize, while meditating upon the 'Pot-shaped' breath, the dot as being in the root of the generative organ, and in particular worship with propitiatory offerings the Viras and the Dakinis.

B. Transmuting the Dream-Content

In the second part, the Transmuting, as it is called, the process is as follows:

If, for example, the dream is about fire, think "What fear can there be of fire which occurs in a dream!" Holding to this thought, trample upon the fire. In a like manner, tread underfoot whatever be dreamt.

After having gained proficiency in this, then turn the thought to the various Buddha Realms (thinking that they are attainable). Accordingly, when about to sleep, visualize a red dot as being within the throat psychic-center, and firmly believe that thereby you shalt see whichever of these Realms you desire to see, with all its characteristics, most vividly. By concentrating the mind thus, one beholds the Buddha realm which one has wished to behold, the Tushita Heaven, or the Happy Western Realm or that called "Happy to Know", or any other of the Realms. This practice serves as a test of efficiency (in the art of transmuting dreams).

C. Realizing the Dream-State, or Dream-Content, to be Maya

The third part, Realizing the Dream-State (or Dream-Content) to be Maya has been expounded as follows:

At the outset, in the process of realizing it to be maya, abandon all feeling of fear (or dread); And, if the dream be of fire, transform the fire into water, the antidote of fire. And if the dream be of minute objects, transform them into large objects; or, if the dream be of large objects, transform them into small objects. Thereby one comprehends the nature of dimensions.

And if the dream be of a single thing, transform it into many things; or if the dream be of many things, transform them into a single thing: Thereby one comprehends the nature of plurality and of unity. Continue such practices until thoroughly proficient in them.

Then by visualizing one's own body as seen in the dream-state, and all other bodies similarly seen. as being maya-like bodies of deities, they will be realized to be so.

D. Meditating Upon the Thatness of the Dream-State

This fourth part is, as has been said, "To meditate upon the real essence of the Thatness"; and thereby, the dream propensities from which arise whatever is seen, in dreams, as appearances of deities, are purified.

By concentrating the mind upon the forms of the deities seen in the dream-state, and by keeping the mind free of thoughts, in the quiescent condition, the forms of the deities are attained to the non-thought condition of the mind; and thereby dawns the Clear Light, of which the essence is of the Voidness.

If one attains mastery of this process, then whether in the sleeping-state or in the waking-state, one realizes both states to be illusory (in so far as their content are concerned); and all phenomena will be known to be born of the Clear Light (which is the noumenal reality sustaining the maya), and phenomena and mind (or noumena) will blend.

III. Discrimination of Dreams & Interpretations

(As extracted fromDiscriminations Between Buddhist and Hindu Tantras by C. M. Chen.)

There are a few statements concerning dreams in the Upanishads and I would like to discuss them first. In the Brihad-Aranyak Upanishad it is stated, "In the state of sleep going aloft and below, a god, he makes many forms for himself. Now, as it were, laughing and even beholding fearful sights." Again in the Chandogya Upanishad it is stated, "He who moves about happy in a dream, he is the self. That is Brahma." This seems to say that when Brahma sleeps, his dream is creation, when he awakens, it is his destruction. There is one kalpa, about 1,334,000,000 years between his creation and destruction. When the next Maha kalpa comes to pass, Brahma will sleep and then wake again. It is transmigration. What we want is a wakeful state outside of transmigration; therefore, this is not the doctrine we want to follow. The Buddha is awake and will never sleep again. He is in eternal Enlightenment. He who seeks the doctrine by which he can be rid of transmigration should learn the doctrine of dreams and others from Tantric Buddhism.

The real cause of dreams has been well stated in the book entitled "The Profound Bodily Doctrines in Tantra" by Ran-Chaing-Dorjee, Karmapa III. This book is one of the main cannons of Tibetan Tantra. I quote as follows: "The sixth consciousness together with its habits entices the defiled mind and life energy making dream occur." According to this truth, we know that the nature of dream contains two conditions: the defiled mind and active energy. Neither mind is God nor energy.

Even the layman who dreams never says he is the creator of his dreams and then wakes up to say that he is the destroyer of his dreams. It is only the person who holds to a concept of a higher self of Brahma that falls into sin of lying and the sorrow of pride. The dreams of human beings are caused by ignorance and karma of individuals, and this world which is like a dream is caused by public karma of the world community.

Regarding the interpretation of dreams, Hinduism is less accurate than Buddhism. This is because Brahma himself has only reached the four stages of dhyana, and his wisdom must necessarily be limited. There are many stories which relate discussion between Brahmin sages who have asked for information concerning dreams from Gautama Buddha. The following story is quoted from the "Sahat-Mahat King's Ten Dreams Sutra."

"Once the king of Sahat-Mahat named Prisience dreamed ten wonderful dreams. He asked his guru, a Brahmin to explain them. The sage said, "All your dreams are bad omens, you should kill your Queen, the Prince, the great officials and make offerings to Brahma. Again, you should put your clothes, diamonds, pearls, and all other precious gems and furniture in the fire as an offering to Indra. Then you will be rid of the dangerous conditions". Upon hearing this explanation and advice, the king became very anxious. The queen, Muni, suggested that the king go to Buddha Gautama to get the exact explanation of the ten dreams. He followed her advice and in response to the Buddha's questioning related the following:

About the first dream the king said that there were three bottles. The two bottles were on either side. The Buddha explained, "In the future there will be many rich people who will associate with one another but not with poor folks. There is nothing about yourself in the dream, so please do not grieve. What was the second dream?"

After giving thanks to Buddha. King Prisience said, "I dreamed a horse was eating with both mouths and anus." The Buddha told him that in the future there will be a king with all his officers, whether in high or low positions, who will take food from people gluttonously. There was nothing that had to do with the king.

With deep adoration the king told his third dream, "I dreamed again of a small tree blooming." The Buddha said, "In the future there will be youths who will be white-haired at the age of thirty because of their lustful habits."

In the fourth dream, a small tree was bearing fruits. The Buddha said, "In the future some girls will be married at a very early age without shame and bear children at the age of fifteen."

In the fifth dream a man was making a long rope and a sheep behind him ate the rope. The Buddha interpreted the dream in this manner. "In the future there will be some business man selling goods in very distant places and his wife with her lover will share all his wealth at home."

The sixth dream was that a fox sat on a golden bed and ate food from a golden box. Buddha said, "In the future there will be lower caste members who will become rich and be well regarded by members of the higher caste. At the same time the opposite will occur with members of the higher caste."

Next, a great cow took milk from a calf. Buddha explained, "In the future there will be women who have no shame and will teach their daughters to go to other's boys. They will act as procurers for the daughters for their own livelihood."

In the eighth dream there were four bulls coming from the four directions. They wanted sexual intercourse but did not succeed in satisfying their desires and disappeared. The Buddha told the king that in the future all the kings and officers will have no belief in God. However, during the period when a drought will appear they will pray to God for rain, and although there will be thunder and lightening, all clouds will disappear and there will be no rain.

In the ninth dream, there was a great pool. The water in the center of the pool was very clean but that along the edge was very muddy. The Buddha said, "In the future the center of the area of Buddhist countries will get disturbances from evil policies. The people will not honor their parents or elders. But those Buddhist countries on the edge will be in peace and they will honor parents and elders."

The last dream told to the Buddha was that there was a great river of red water. The Buddha explained that in the future there will be a great war in which countries will fight with one another. Many people will die, so many that their blood will be as a river of red. In conclusion the Buddha told the king that the ten dreams had nothing to do with him but were about the destiny of the dharma only. The king prostrated himself on the ground and said, "As a small vessel does not hold much butter, by changing to a larger one all the butter may be kept safely." The king no longer believed in his Brahmin guru and changed his beliefs to Buddhism.

Now, in our age these predictions have become existent facts. Why should all the Hindus not follow the king and take refuge in Buddhism. Suppose the king had carried out the advice of his Brahmin guru and killed his queen, prince, and all the great officers, what a great sinner he would have been.

As for common dreams which are not difficult to explain, we can find a verse in the Chandogya Upanishad as follows:

If during rites done for wish
One sees a woman in his dream
Success he there may recognize
In this appearance of his dream.

But it is not quite as simple as the verse intimates. If the woman is leprous, it is a sign of great sin. If she is a widow, trouble. If the woman kisses the corner of your mouth and you are Chinese, it is a sign of a quarrel because the word quarrel in Chinese is Kou-Chiao. Kou means mouth and chiao means corner. The words represent the phase of a quarrel to fight with the mouth. If the woman embraces a baby, it is also a sign of a quarrel. If you touch her sex organ with your second finger (in Chinese called a finger of food), you may get food. If you go to her, you will get money, but if you only saw her vagina, it is a sign of a quarrel again. I do not wish to waste your good time with any more extensive descriptions of dreams, so let us go on to the next subject.

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