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Sleep/Dream cultivation or did the Buddha know about Lucid dreaming?


#1

Recently, I have been very interested in the phenomenon known as “lucid dreaming” in Western circles and the similar practice of “dream yoga” in the Tibetan tradition. Lucid dreaming is being aware that one is in a dream, while in the dream. This phenomenon has now been proven by modern scientific studies on sleep. Since we spend almost a third of our lives in sleep, it seems like it is an important, often neglected part of our lives where we can expand our dharma practice to.

I’ve been trying to find material related to this in the EBTs. It seems that, regarding dreams, there are texts which speak of the Buddha having certain dreams before his awakening, but nothing which states that he was “lucid” - i.e. that he was aware that he was in a dream while in the dream. Other texts talk about how one’s practice of good will and so on affects one’s dreams and thus “One sleeps easily, wakes easily, dreams no evil dreams.”

It seems logical to think that, an enlightened being like the Buddha, with perfected mindfulness and other mental qualities, would naturally retain a sense of self awareness during all phases of sleep, as well as during waking life. But none of the material I have found explicitly states this. So I am posting this to see if anyone knows of other mentions which might point to practices or teachings related to dreams/sleep in the EBTs and maybe also in the Abhidhamma.

The only thing I have found is a practice in which one falls asleep mindfully. For example, Anguttara 5.21 says:

“Mendicants, there are these five drawbacks of falling asleep unmindful and unaware. What five? You sleep badly and wake miserably. You have bad dreams. The deities don’t protect you. And you emit semen. These are the five drawbacks of falling asleep unmindful and unaware.
There are these five benefits of falling asleep mindful and aware. What five? You sleep well and wake happily. You don’t have bad dreams. The deities protect you. And you don’t emit semen. These are the five benefits of falling asleep mindful and aware.”

This seems to be associated with the practice of “wakefulness”, which is not just restricted to daytime practice, but also apparently extends to one’s sleep:

“And how is a bhikkhu intent on wakefulness? Here, during the day, while walking back and forth and sitting, a bhikkhu purifies his mind of obstructive qualities. In the first watch of the night, while walking back and forth and sitting, he purifies his mind of obstructive qualities. In the middle watch of the night he lies down on the right side in the lion’s posture, with one foot overlapping the other, mindful and clearly comprehending, after noting in his mind the idea of rising. After rising, in the last watch of the night, while walking back and forth and sitting, he purifies his mind of obstructive qualities. It is in this way that a bhikkhu is intent on wakefulness. - AN 3.16

Now, this practice might easily lead to lucid dreams, and indeed, it is often recommending among modern lucid dreaming circles to fall asleep mindfully and intentionally, but the text itself does not say it is for this purpose (ie for lucid dreaming) or that this effect may result.

Ok well, how does an enlightened being sleep? Well, some texts are clear that one should not sleep too much, for this is a kind of laziness. Besides that, there is the following from SA2 29:

It is because I have gained great Dhamma wealth /
that I can sleep peacefully.
In my sleep /
in every breathing in and breathing out
there is benefit /
nothing is lost.
Awake, there are no doubtful thoughts; /
there is nothing to fear in slumber.

Another clue is the following from Sutta Nipata 2.7:

Whoso ’mong them strong efforts made
resembling Brahma, best,
he never did engage in sex
not even in a dream.

Now, again, no explicit statement of lucidity while in the dream, but, from personal experience, if one is not lucid in a dream, it can be pretty hard to practice self restraint, especially regarding sexuality, so it is at least possible that lucidity is part of the story here.

It seems from my cursory overview that the Buddha did not explicitly teach lucid dreaming, perhaps because it is such a fickle ability to cultivate. Instead, he taught wakefulness, development of good qualities like mindfulness and good will throughout the day, and during the process of falling asleep. Then, over time, this would begin to affect one’s quality of sleep (and perhaps, even lead to lucid dreams - though it is not at all clear from the suttas that this was seen as desirable, necessary or important).

Anyways, I welcome further sources from those who have read relevant material.


#2

I think the intentionally falling asleep bit is about the intention to wake up (at a certain time) rather than falling asleep while half awake…


#3

I don’t recall anything pertaining to lucid dreaming in the EBT, but it is present as a practice in the Vajarayana tradition as part as a the Dzogchen system which purpose is to generate greater awareness.


#4

I remembered listening to a talk by a very well known Bhante mentioned that if you dream a lot that means your mind is wondering too much. Someone with very high meditation skills hardly has dreams he said maybe just few dreams in a year or no dream at all.

“Mendicants, a mendicant should live mindful and aware. This is my instruction to you. And how is a mendicant mindful? It’s when a mendicant meditates by observing an aspect of the body—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world. They meditate observing an aspect of feelings … mind … principles—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world. That’s how a mendicant is mindful.

And how is a mendicant aware? It’s when a mendicant acts with situational awareness when going out and coming back; when looking ahead and aside; when bending and extending the limbs; when bearing the outer robe, bowl and robes; when eating, drinking, chewing, and tasting; when urinating and defecating; when walking, standing, sitting, sleeping, waking, speaking, and keeping silent. That’s how a mendicant acts with situational awareness. A mendicant should live mindful and aware. This is my instruction to you.” SN47.2

By the way, Buddha talked about his five great dreams before his awakening in AN5.196 .


#5

If the Buddha had dreams before his awakening and other texts mention arahants having dreams (but are able to keep themselves from having sex in the dream), then it doesn’t seem like dreaming itself was seen as a problem in early Buddhism. Not sure why this bhikkhu was saying that.


#6

People with depression and anxiety tend have many worries and negative thoughts running amok in their minds. The remaining subconscious processes (the mind doesn’t need conscious awareness to run these ‘subroutines’) seem to carry on into sleep, and with moderate depression, anxiety, and PTSD they can manifest in their dreams or rather, nightmares. In a similar vein, our day to day thoughts are often driven by kilesas (defilements). With much progress in practice, the defilements reduce (right effort) and an en-enforced (that is, not just blocking via samadhi) peace descends on the mind. This means the mind is naturally quieter during the day. Seclusion is preferred as the quietness of the people and environment is in keeping with the peace of mind. In Post traumatic stress the trauma is recalled with much fear, angst and rage, so it keeps rising to the surface. One therapy approach is to rid the mind of these defilements, to allow the traumatic memories to become ‘simply memories, of past traumas’ and experience fewer ‘re-experiencing phenomena’. They are less likely to have dreams or nightmares which are driven by defilements then.


#7

Yea but many healthy people have normal, non traumatic dreams all the time. The bhikkhu did not specifically say (as reported in the post above) that one will not just not have nightmares, but all dreams. I don’t think this is borne out by the suttas.


#8

Possibly. I could also say that while mindfulness faculty might make for a light sleeper, samadhi development leads to very restful sleep and little need for sleep.


#9

@Javier: I have not yet encountered any text that talked about Arahant having dreams maybe you can provide the reference that mentioned about aharants having dream?

There is one occasion in the Vinaya that mentioned about a certain bhikku dreamed about having sex with his old wife, but it doesn’t say that the bhikku was arahant.
Other occasion in Vinaya talked some bhikkus eating too much, lack of aware and mindful and ejaculated in a dream. Same here, it doesn’t say the bhikku was arahant.