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last updated 02/24/08
Bon pre-Buddhist shamanism & Dzogchen
Buddhists Just Wanna Have Fun
dZogchen Waking Life
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This Site Is Maintained By Students of Rinpoche,
Not By Rinpoche Himself :
Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, the director and resident lama of Ligmincha Institute, was the first lama to bring the Bön dzogchen teachings of Tibet to the West. He was recognized as the reincarnation of the famous master Khung Tul Rinpoche, a great mediator and scholar, and has studied and practiced dzogchen (the Great Perfection) since the age of 13. An accomplished scholar in the Bön Buddhist textual traditions of philosophy, exegesis, and debate, Tenzin Rinpoche completed an 11-year course of traditional studies at the Bönpo Monastic Center (Menri Monastery) in India, where he received his doctorate, or geshe, degree.
Upon graduation in 1986, Tenzin Rinpoche was employed at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives at Dharamsala, India. That same year he was appointed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to be the representative of the Bön school to the assembly of deputies of the government in exile.
Tenzin Rinpoche is a highly respected and beloved teacher to students throughout the United States, Mexico, and Europe. Fluent in English, he is known for his clear, lively, and insightful teaching style and his ability to make Tibetan practices easily accessible to the Western student.
Tenzin Rinpoche is the author of Wonders of the Natural Mind, in which he presents the view and practice of the Bön dzogchen teachings; The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep; Unbounded Wholeness; Healing with Form, Energy, and Light: The Five Elements in Tibetan Shamanism, Tantra, and Dzogchen; Tibetan Sound Healing: Seven Guided Practices for Clearing Obstacles, Accessing Positive Qualities, and Uncovering Your Inherent Wisdom
In 1992 he founded Ligmincha Institute for the Preservation of the Religions and Cultures of Tibet, in order to preserve the culture, religious teachings and arts of Tibet and Zhang Zhung. The aim of the institute is to introduce to the West the wisdom traditions of the Bönpo, which are concerned with the harmonious integration of internal and external energies, and most importantly, with the spiritual path to enlightenment. In addition to the Charlottesville headquarters, which includes the newly acquired rural retreat center, Serenity Ridge-"A home for Bön in the West"-there are study groups and branches of Ligmincha throughout the United States, Europe, Canada, and Mexico. Tenzin Rinpoche travels regularly to teach at these centers.
Q: What is the purpose of the sleep yoga practice?
TWR: Not just during the day, but every single night we have the opportunity to engage in meditation practice, either with the dream or the sleep yoga practice, or both. The purpose of the sleep yoga practice is to learn how to maintain awareness - to abide in the nature of mind - as we fall asleep and remain asleep.
The process of falling asleep is similar to the dying process, and so it is taught that if we can achieve a state of mind that is close or equivalent to the natural state of mind as we fall asleep, we are more likely to be able to do so at the time of our death.
Think of it this way: Every single night we have the opportunity to engage in meditation practice for six to eight hours. That means that one can practice for the equivalent of 15 or 20 years just by engaging deeply with the dream and sleep yogas!
The sleep yoga practice is one of the six paths to enlightenment from the Ma Gyud (Mother Tantra). The Ma Gyud is one of the most important and revered cycles of teachings in the Bon Buddhist tradition. I learned these practices at a very young age from my teachers, and they continue to be an important part of my practice today. Through connecting deeply with each of the six paths of the Ma Gyud - the elements, dream, sleep, chod, phowa, and bardo practices - we can learn to transform every moment in our life into a path to enlightenment. That is why I have been teaching these six practices to our sangha internationally for many years now. Everyone lives in an environment that is made up of the five natural
elements of earth, water, fire, air and space. Everyone dreams, sleeps, suffers from fear, dies, and ultimately travels to the next life through the bardo. So the purpose of practicing these six paths is to integrate dharma practice into every aspect of our lives. The elements teachings show us how to practice during normal waking life in our interactions with the elements, the environment, and people.
The dream yoga teachings show us how to practice while we are dreaming. The sleep yoga teachings show us how to practice while we are sleeping. The chod teachings show us how to practice while we are
afraid. The phowa teachings show us how to practice while we are dying. And finally, since we will all eventually travel through the bardo, the bardo teachings show us how to practice while in the bardo.
Q: How does the sleep yoga practice affect our everyday lives?
TWR: We start each day by awakening from sleep. But how do we feel when we wake up? Are we feeling restful, joyful, peaceful, with a lot of fresh, creative energy? Or do we wake up tired, exhausted, depressed, lacking inspiration, energy and direction? Every night we have so many different ways we can enter the realm of sleep. If we are able to maintain a positive experience of awareness each night as
we fall asleep, there is a much greater chance to integrate that experience into our everyday lives. Whatever we are thinking and feeling as we fall asleep is held in the mind and in our energy for the rest of the night. If we are able to abide in a peaceful, open space as we fall asleep, it will affect us very positively both during the night and during the day that follows. Similarly, falling asleep with disturbing, destructive
thoughts will negatively affect our dreams, our sleep, and all our waking moments. Perhaps during this sleep yoga retreat some of us will learn for the first time in our lives how to properly and restfully go to sleep; how to release and dissolve those last emotions, thoughts, feelings and disturbances; and how to develop better supports so that these disturbances will not return to influence us again and again. During the retreat we will engage with practices that can help us to recognize the natural state of mind during the sleep state. There will be supports to help us develop the proper position of the mind before sleep, such as subtle breathing exercises and sacred images and symbols to focus the mind. As a result of these practices, we may also find that the experiences of our daily waking state will also be transformed.
VOCL: Why will students be asked to refrain from sleeping for a 24- hour period during the retreat?
TWR: Generally speaking, both dream and sleep yoga are practices of awakened mind. They are based on how the awakened mind copes with a given situation - on the mind's emotional responses, thoughts and
feelings. It is these responses of the mind that directly affect our dream and sleep states. For example, if our day has been very peaceful and oriented to spiritual practice, we can imagine how our dreams and sleep will be affected. Conversely, if the day has been very confusing, stressful and painful, our dreams or sleep will be affected very differently. So during the retreat we will have the opportunity to focus intensely on the practice for a continuous 24-hour period. During that time we will use techniques such as gentle physical movement, pranic exercises, recitation of mantra, and silent, focused seated meditation to develop the strong intention to bring positive, awakened qualities into dream and sleep. Then, when we finally go to sleep at the end of the 24 hours, we will be able to see what kinds of experience arise, how much open awareness has been awakened, and how our reaction to the dream and sleep states has
changed. It is my hope that this kind of intensive practice will give some clear knowledge and understanding of how to successfully integrate this wonderful practice into our everyday lives.
An edited excerpt from a public talk given by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche on April 9, 2003 in Charlottesville,
The process of going to sleep is very interesting. Every single night, in the moment before you go to sleep, you are aware. You know that, "Right now I am taking a nap," or "Right now I am falling asleep." In that very moment you are aware.
We all know our favorite physical position for sleep, right? But, do you have a position or place for your mind? You may ask, "What do you mean a mental position?" We don't usually think that way about our minds, but the position of the mind is so important. If it's important to sleep in a particular position that you like, then finding a good position for the mind is even more important because the mind can wander more easily than the body.
Even dogs work on finding the right position before sleep. Have you ever watched a dog searching and circling before sleep? It is very interesting to watch. They go round and round and round very precisely and then bam. It seems to be an energetic thing they are looking for otherwise they really would not need to circumambulate six times; two times around would be enough. (laughter) But they are very exact in finding the right point.
In the same way, when I wake up in the middle of the night aware of my mind, I try to direct it. There are two ways you can help direct your mind before sleep. You can have positive images to focus on such as people you admire, people you love, people you like, as well as good thoughts and images. And two, you can rest your mind in a location that is helpful and pleasant such as in the heart. If you wake up in the night, you can immediately draw your attention to the heart and to
positive images that make you feel good. Changing the location and images of your mind before you go to sleep can have a great effect.
Otherwise, we tend to hang onto images that are not positive before sleep. I always make a little joke that when people are going to sleep they mentally go through everything that they HAVEN'T done that day. And they write down their lists. They say, "Oh, I was supposed to make a call to that person but I just hate to talk with that person. I'll do it tomorrow." It becomes number one on the list, right? You avoided doing it today so you are saving it for tomorrow. And now by focusing on it right before sleep, you are going to carry it with you for the whole night. A list like that will probably not help you sleep very well. You can just imagine that your dreams are not going to be
very good. The person on your list will probably be calling you in the night! You will be hearing a phone ringing in your sleep! (laughter)
It's very important to try to focus on positive images before sleep. In a similar way to the neardeath images one has, the near- sleep images also have a strong effect. When people are dying you want to support them by not bringing in negative images. When falling asleep, you also want to have the same thing - positive images. These are very, very important.
At times I have suggested this exercise before sleep: remember three people that you love or who inspire you or who make you laugh. Remember their names, where they live, their personality, when they make you laugh, how they are good, how they inspire you and so on. Activate your brain with positive, wonderful images a little bit more this way before you go to sleep.
Practice for one week and see what happens.
The next week, you can try this with the three worst people. Remember their names - of course you will remember, and their address and their character, and how mean they are, not only to you but to others, too. Activate those images and see what happens. You will know clearly; you will see the result.
Dream yoga practice is about these kinds of preparations one makes before sleep. The physical position during sleep, the position of the mind, one's breathing, the images and symbols in one's mind, as well as the exercises are all ways that one can prepare for dream and sleep.
All experience, waking and dreaming, has an energetic basis. This vital energy is called lung in Tibetan, but is better known in the West by its Sanskrit name prana. The underlying structure of any experience is a precise combination of various conditions and causes. If we are able to recognize its mental, physical, and energetic dynamics, then we can reproduce those experiences or alter them. This allows us to generate experiences that support spiritual practice and avoid those that are detrimental.
Bardo - The Intermediate State After Death
The bardo teachings and practices revealed in the Mother Tantra comprise one of six paths of meditation that lead to complete realization. In a beautiful explanation of the relationship of vision, action, dream and death, Tenzin Rinpoche writes in "The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep".
The Mother Tantra says that if one is not aware in vision, it is unlikely that one will be aware in behavior. If one is not aware in behavior, one is unlikely to be aware in dream. And if one is not aware in dream, then one is unlikely to be aware in the bardo after death.
What does this mean? 'Vision' in this context does not mean simply visual phenomena, but rather the totality of experience. It includes every perception, sensation, and mental and emotional event, as well as everything that seems external to us. Vision is what we 'see' as experience; it is our experience. Being unaware in vision means being unable to see the truth of what arises in experience and instead being deluded by the misunderstandings of the dualistic mind, mistaking the projections and fantasies of that mind for reality.
When we lack awareness of the true situation in which we exist, it is difficult to respond skillfully to what we encounter in both external and internal life. Instead, we react according to the karmic habits of illusory hopes.
Taking action based on these confusions is what is the reinforcement of attachment, hatred, and ignorance and the creation of further negative karmic traces.
Dreams arise from the same karmic traces that govern our waking experiences. If we are too distracted to penetrate the fantasies and delusions of the moving mind during the day, we will most likely be bound by the same limitations in dream. This is `not being aware in dream.' The dream phenomena we encounter will evoke in us thesame emotions and dualistic reactions in which we are lost when awake, and it will be difficult to develop lucidity or engage in the further practices.
We enter the bardo, the intermediate state after death, just as we enter dream after falling asleep.
If our experience of dream lacks clarity and is of confused emotional states and habitual reactivity, we will have trained ourselves to experience the processes of death in the same way. We will be driven into further karmic tendencies we have cultivated in life. This is 'lacking awareness in the bardo.
Conversely, when we continually bring awareness to the immediate moment of experience, this capacity will soon be found in dream. As we cultivate presence in dream, we prepare ourselves for death. Dream practice is correlated to this progression.
In order to progress we must develop some stability in the mind so that we can maintain greater awareness in experience, in 'vision,' and develop the capacity for skillful responsiveness. Therefore, the first practice is calm abiding (zhine), in which the mind is trained to be still, focused, and alert.