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Dzogchen and Lucid Dreaming
by Paul Levy

Dzogchen, which is the ultimate healing practice in all of Tibetan Buddhism, and lucid dreaming, which is when you wake up inside of a dream and realize you are dreaming, can shed light on each other in a way that illuminates both.

In Dzogchen, our situation is likened to a kitten, who, seeing her own reflection in a mirror, reacts and becomes conditioned by the reflections, thinking it is another kitten, not realizing it is simply her own energy. This metaphor is a perfect one for lucid dreaming as well, as the nonlucid dream ego thinks that the dream is both real and separate from him or herself, not realizing that the dreamscape is none other than their own mind.

In Dzogchen, the metaphor most commonly used to describe our situation is that of a mirror and its reflections. The reflections in a mirror are like the thoughts in our mind, which if we don't recognize as being an illusory, impermanent, unmediated, manifestation of our true nature, we will react to, identify with, become conditioned by, absorbed in and embody. Our true nature state, on the other hand, is likened to the mirror itself, which underlies and embraces all of the reflections, all the while remaining pure and changeless, never being tainted or stained by any of the reflections. It is important to realize that each thought in our mind is like a dream; once we become absorbed in a thought, we have literally entered a complete dream universe and have evoked and stepped into an illusory, limited and arbitrary identity which we experience as being who we truly are. In Dzogchen, if we get immersed in our dream-like thoughts and don't recognize the pure, mirror-like nature of our mind, we are literally considered to be nonlucidly dreaming.

The problem is that as long as we are identified with and absorbed in the imagination or thought of being a separate self we are going to resist part of our experience, as resistance and contraction are themselves the very expression of the separate self. Once we, as a separate self, see that we are resisting our experience, we will undoubtedly try and not resist, which is just another, more subtle form of resistance, and we will find ourselves in a self-created double bind, a prisoner of our own mind once again.

Dzogchen truly offers us the key to liberation; from the Dzogchen point of view, these contractions and resistances are themselves seen to be the unmediated expression of the enlightened mind itself. If we don't recognize this, we will react to our resistance like it is something real and separate from ourselves, seeing it as a true obstruction to our enlightenment. If our resistance is seen in this way, it will, in no time whatsoever, spontaneously shape-shift and manifest as a seemingly genuine obscuration, as it is nothing other than our own reflection, and we will once again be caught in the infinite regression known as samsara or cyclic existence.

On the other hand, if we recognize our resistance as the unmediated expression of our enlightened nature itself, which is none other than to become lucid in the dream, not only does the resistance not last very long, but it ceases to be problematic, as we are no longer resisting our resistance, and have thus snapped out of our infinite regression. The resistance then reveals itself to be the very vehicle through which we have deepened our realization, as we have embraced even the part of ourselves that is non-embracing.

For more articles about dreaming, see