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Night Dreams and Daymares

The dying Buddha in sleeping lion pose, the posture of dream yoga. 

I'm going to tell you four stories:

Last Sunday I was training our practice period crew to take care of the farm stand. The farm manager was away so I went in early and made a check list of the farm stand transmission. I also made a quick work list, as 6 students would be joining us for Sunday chores. Things went smoothly, aside from my awkward double and triple checking of directions I had given. Everything was moving right on time; the students had to be finished setting up by 10am so they could attend the dharma talk. After we loaded the food, scales, and table clothes, we swung around to transfer baskets from Boxy, our big market truck, to Babe, our little blue farm truck. Boxy wasn't at the office, so I told the students not worry, go ahead to the farm stand and I'd be back with Boxy, who I thought would be down on the farm. I checked the packing shed, no Boxy. I checked the kitchen garden, no Boxy. I checked with the maintenance crew to see if they moved the truck, no Boxy. I checked with the farm elder, no Boxy. I checked the resident parking lot, no Boxy. I checked the outer parking lot, no boxy! I checked Spring Valley, where most of our teachers live tucked far away from the eyes of eager students and curious public, and there Boxy was, parked on a road that goes up the mountain!

I was sitting at a desk in a lobby. My wife was doing scary amounts of drugs, shooting them into her hand with a needle. Later that night, we were at her teacher's house in Spring Valley. I told her teacher that I was worried, her teacher pointed out that my wife sat in the kitchen, continuing her abuse. Her teacher encouraged me to help her; I approached. My wife clawed at me. I said, Lauren, I love you. She responded, Lauren get away! I said, my name's not Lauren! She chased after me, calling me Reirin, her dharma sister, and a senior priest who married us about 3 years ago. I screamed my name is not Reirin!

I went for a run early after Zazen and service. I got to the compost yard which lies on the edge of our farm fence. Three doe and a coyote stood together. I ran by. The fog, or rather the thick, grey, low lying cloud, obscured everything in sight, I could have been anywhere; in college at Penn State Harrisburg, running before a day of student teaching; in New Orleans, after one of those hot Halloween nights in a cold street; or in Alaska, moving from sea level to 3,000 feet with sled dogs. When I got half way up the mountain, the sky cleared and fog lay below me! It was as clear as oil on water, pure dharmakaya beyond the mud of samsara! The sun rose over San Francisco, the moon hung over the ocean behind me. Mount Tamalpais was bathed in a luminous orange glow. Three big coyotes with healthy bushy tails cut the trail in front of me and zig zagged ahead as I trotted and listened to a recording of Genjo Koan.

I was sitting in seiza with my hands in gassho. Another monk sat next to me. We were awaiting our server in the zendo, our oryoki bowls laid out neatly in front of us. When I parted my hands, popcorn popped into our mouths and all over our robes! The Ino scolded us and we giggled. As soon as she looked away, I continued to shower us in popcorn!

Two of these stories occurred during "waking" life and two occurred in my "dreaming" life. What I'd like to investigate is how all phenomena, arising during day or night, arises as a dream, a mystery of causes and conditions, and is truly the absence of the dream and the causes and conditions.

I dream almost every night. I wake up and bare witness to objects which seem external, but I'm convinced they are completely projected by mind; our bed, the moonlight, the paintings. I'm not sure about it, but it's a hunch! Things appear as amazing or not so amazing! This room, for example; what is the periphery? Things can seem 3 dimensional if I look for that dimension; things can seem very flat, like a paper shoji screen if I look for the flatness. And of course, everything I'm looking at is actually the absence of what I think I see. It's completely liberated from my projection.

What's interesting about dreams during sleeping life is that I hardly ever awake and feel guilty about what "I've done" or seek to right any injustice I witnessed. I don't hold any grudges. And yet, I often have nightmares that wake me up very early in the morning: my chest tightens, my breath becomes heavy with fear coursing through my body, and I struggle to stay in the dream, which is the third phase of practicing dream yoga, facing your nightmares. However, about an hour after the nightmare, it becomes more and more difficult to recall.  And its effects were physiologically palpable.

Story number one was an actual event! The physiological effects were similar to that of a nightmare. As I raced around on my bicycle, my heart pounded and I became angry. The difference was that it took me at least six to twelve hours to let the grating frustration go. I blamed people and wanted to tell them about what they did to me. But it occurred to me that just as people's eyes tend to glaze over when I drone on about my night dreams, maybe they don't need to hear about my day dreams either; maybe it didn't really happen the way it appeared to happen.

Recognizing a nightmare or daymare for it's illusory nature is not enough if they appear to exist independent of our own mind. I like when the fith and sixth precepts, not intoxicating self or other and not praising oneself at the expense of other, translate as "proceed clearly" and "see the perfection." Seeing clearly is acknowledging our imputation of this moment; seeing the perfection is acknowledging how this moment and what we see is free from our imputation. This is like an eyeball seeing an eyeball, luminous awareness of awareness.

In the Buddhist dream yoga tradition, sleeping, dreaming, and waking is a microcosm of dying, bardo, and rebirth. Lucid dreaming is breaking the habit energy of how we react to events, enlightened living is breaking the habit energy of how we react to events. But being lucid or being enlightened is not enough. The precepts wrap us in Bodhisattva armor, complete with phenomena-vision goggles- goggles that encourage us to keep looking to the three natures of all objects,feelings, and thoughts. When we vow every morning to see beyond form and emptiness, and when we take the sleeping lion's pose every night, gathering light at our heart and setting the intention to see the dream and practice the precepts, we turn our whole life into a practice life.

With this we may still be sleepwalkers, but without this we might not even know we are asleep.


  1. Just in case it wasn't clear to everyone, story 2 was a night-mare. Or dream depending on what language you use.

    1. It was clear to me, but I understand your desire to make sure. :)

  2. well zen is a pro-psychotic :o), you'll see it eventually :o)

    the mount tamalpais experience was authentic, the others are just confused junk!

  3. I loved the Mt. Tam piece, because we were there years and years ago with Tom's sister, whom we haven't seen since. But also because it's an original presentation of the experience of clarity. Sent them both that excerpt.
    Bowing - to the very idea that you are training kids. Wow!


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