Dream Gates

Dream Gates

A Buddhist poet-saint: if dreams are illusions, so is life, so dream more!

- Milarepa_Late_19th-early_20th_Century,_Dhodeydrag_Gonpa,_Thimphu,_BhutanI am always astonished when Westerners drawn to Buddhism tell me that in tradition, dreams are regarded as illusions from an unclear mind, for which the Rx is to cleanse and purify the mind, in order to dream no more.

Serinity Young, a leading scholar of Buddhist dreamways, observes in Dreaming in the Lotus: Buddhist Dream Narrative, Imagery, and Practice, “without dreams and dreaming there would be no Buddhism”, since it was his mother’s dream of the six-tusked white elephant that announced both his coming and his nature. Especially in Tibetan Buddhism, dream yoga is a practice for raising and focusing consciousness, and a training ground for death and the afterlife journey.


There is a most instructive episode in the life of the great Tibetan spiritual teacher Milarepa (1040-1123), who has been described as “the greatest poet-saint” in Buddhist tradition.  He instructed his disciples to report their dreams. “Remember your dreams tonight and report to me tomorrow. I will then interpret them for you.”  He cautioned his followers to cleanse their minds of “habitual thoughts” that would carry over into the dream space and confine them to deceptive and illusory experiences.

In the morning, he asked his disciples to report their dreams. The most interesting narrative came from Gambopa, Milarepa interpreted Gambopa’s a rich and complex dream, explaining that it foreshadowed Gambopa’s future role as a great teacher and his spiritual heir.


Despite this revelation, Milarepa cautioned his followers not to assign excessive importance to dreams, since dreams partake  of “the illusory nature of all beings. Yet he applauded Gambopa for dreaming well: “Your dreams were marvelous, wondrous omens foretelling things to come.”

Milarepa delighted in recounting his own numinous dreams portending the growth of his lineage. “Last night I dreamed that an eagle flew from here to Weu and alighted on the top of a precious gem. Then many geese flocked around it…They disperse in different directions, each goose again gathering about five hundred more companions.”

His essential message was that dreams may be illusions, but probably less so than ordinary life – so go dream some more!


Milarepa quotations are from Garma C.C. Chang,  The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa: The Life-Story and Teaching of the Greatest Poet-Saint Ever to Appear in the History of Buddhism.

This article is adapted from The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Previous Posts

Approaching Halloween: when the veil between the world thins
The hair salon on the corner advertises, "Halloween Makeup Done Here." There are spooks and scarecrows at the doors of the houses on my block. As we approach Halloween, I am thinking of the many meanings of the festival, from trick-or-treat to ...

posted 10:42:07am Oct. 30, 2015 | read full post »

Whatever you think or feel, the universe says Yes
Whatever you think or feel, the universe says yes. Perhaps you have noticed this. Yes, we are talking about the law of attraction. It is indeed an ancient law, never a secret to those who live consciously. “All things which are similar and ...

posted 1:33:33am Oct. 29, 2015 | read full post »

Why Dreaming Is Important
A dream is a wake-up call. It takes us beyond what we already know. Dreams are the language of the soul, and they are experiences of the soul. There are “big” dreams and “little” dreams, of course. In big dreams, we go traveling and ...

posted 12:20:30pm Oct. 24, 2015 | read full post »

Dream symbols - Excremental issues
"Shit is good!" The elderly Italian grocery store owner's eyes twinkled as she bagged tomatoes and homemade pasta. "If you crap in your dreams, it means money." Her reading is an ancient one, still alive in many family traditions. The ...

posted 3:15:14am Oct. 15, 2015 | read full post »

Aboriginal Dreaming into the Dreamtime
Aboriginal Australians believe that we dream our way into this world, and dream our way out of it. "We talk to the spirit-child before a baby is born," naturopath and traditional healer Burnham Burnham explained it to me. If the father-to-be ...

posted 9:00:10am Jul. 08, 2015 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.