“Geshe-la is Teaching this Spring Festival”

I just had a dream with Geshe-la that began where I heard Geshe-la is teaching this Spring Festival. We were late in arriving at the temple and things had already begun. They let us in the back and I had to quietly make my way to an open seat in the back. I passed by somebody who I didn’t know and they looked at me and said, “you look good, what are you on?” I said, “nothing,” but felt like I was lying about it despite actually not being on anything. I then found my seat, it was like an old couch cushion thrown on the floor and then I fell asleep.

When I arose, everybody was arising to do the prostrations after the teacher sits on the throne and then, even though I knew he had passed, I saw directly Geshe-la up there on the throne. He looked old, but was very much right there. When I arose, my wife was right next to me. We haven’t been at a festival together in a very, very long time and I was surprised that she was next to me. I was surprised at how few people were at the Festival and thought about how I missed the last Festival Geshe-la taught at.

We then sat down, and the music for Liberating Prayer started. We then all sang “O Blessed One, Shakyamuni Buddha…” and then Geshe-la interjected and said, “Ohh, happy.” The music then somehow continued and was a long pause without words, just different melodies, and at first I thought something was wrong with the recording, then that perhaps they changed and simplified the Liberating Prayer since Geshe-la was teaching the festival. Then during this time, I started feeling powerful waves of blessings and understood why the pause. Geshe-la was sending out healing blessings to everyone. As they started to fill me, I couldn’t help myself, I just started crying and all my pain that I have been carrying around started coming out. It was painfully deep, wounded crying, but was simultaneously good to be getting it out. I worried about my wife seeing me cry, about how she would take it because I feared she rejected the Dharma and my practice of it. But I then thought I should let go of such worries and allow myself to have whatever reaction I had. I was reminded of how I cried so much when I first saw the Buddha Shakyamuni play at the festival. I cried almost the whole way through. I then thought, faith in Buddha Shakyamuni has this healing, expelling of deep wounds and sorrow effect. Then I woke up.

Normally, when I do blog posts of my dreams I then write what it meant to me. But here, I don’t think that is necessary.

Dream with Geshe-la Explaining the Eight Dissolutions

I just had a dream in which Geshe-la explained to me how the eight dissolutions work. I write my dreams down so I don’t forget and in case they prove beneficial to others. When we die or during completion stage meditations, our inner winds gather into our central channel at our heart. As they gradually do so, we perceive eight different appearances.

In the dream, Geshe-la was quietly seated off on the side while all sorts of other activities were going on and there was lots of noise as people were talking or doing whatever. I was seated there paying attention to all these other activities and didn’t really notice Geshe-la there. But then somehow he got my attention and was asking when something happened during the eight dissolutions, so I started speaking with him about it and I would guess thinking I knew the answer to his question but not sure, “during the smoke-like appearance?” and he would say, “no, no,” and then I would guess feeling like I was getting closer to an answer, “during the sparkling fire-flies like appearance?” And he said, “no, no,” but he was getting more excited. And then I said, “when the wind element wind dissolves?” And he said, “almost!” And then it clicked, “ah, during the transition between the candle-flame like appearance and the white appearance, and he said all excited, “YES!”

He then called me over to him so he could show me. He then was showing me these very tiny boxes like Russian dolls, with one inside the other. They were floating in space going downwards, and he showed how when we transitioned from one appearance to another as the winds dissolved, it was like a rocket shedding its booster rocket where it left behind one of the bigger boxes and one of the smaller boxes emerged out from within it (but it was moving downwards at an angle, not upwards). When one of the smaller boxes emerged out from within a larger box, it would release a new powerful appearance as the next appearance. It was understood that a new smaller box would be released when all of the previous wind was absorbed, and as the new box (which was felt to be ourself at increasingly subtle levels) emerged, it would release the appearance.

Then he drew me really close looking at the boxes and he showed me what happened when we made the transition from candle-flame like appearance to white appearance: no new box came out, but we nonetheless emerged like a phantom box that had no form whatsoever and when we did it released the white appearance, and then Geshe-la said almost like some cool teen would, “it’s A-MAZING!!!” And then he started laughing all happy. (Note, it is when we make this transition that we enter what is called “the four empties” of white appearance, red increase, black near attainment, and then clear light).

He then said, “it is like this,” and he folded some scripture he was writing in half to write on the back what he wanted to explain, but he didn’t have something hard to write on. So I said, “oh, I’ll go get something hard to write on,” and I went and found some coffee table picture book and brought it over to him, he put the scripture paper on the book and was about to write, and then I woke up.

I then thought, “woah, I need to go write that down in my blog,” but I then fell back asleep.

I was then in the dorm at a festival and I had to go take a shower. I went into the shower room, which was in this wood cabin type place, and I turned the water on and at first it came out strong, but then only a trickle. I then looked for something to hook the shower head on, but it wasn’t the right fit, but finally I got it to hold, but then the water basically dried up. I then put on my towel to go tell somebody and I ran into some friends who were in an adjacent room in the cabin. They had also just showered and were in their towels.

One of the friends then offering to help out, “do you all need another night?” And I said, “oh, that would be great, our single room just ran out” accepting their offer, and then she said in all sincerity, “here, you can use this ring to secure another night,” and she gave me this really ugly, gaudy, gold speckled ring that I could use like something somebody could hold as collateral securing the room for the night. She then showed me her whole collection of similarly gaudy ostentatious jewelry. I remember looking at the ring and thinking, “nobody is going to want this, this is worthless,” even though financially it was no doubt worth a lot, I couldn’t imagine anybody who could offer me a room would want this.

I then woke up again and realized the two dreams were connected, so I came to write this.

What does this all mean to me? In the first dream, I was paying attention to all the noise and clammer of activities in the room and not Geshe-la off to the side in the corner quietly writing scriptures, a metaphor of my life paying attention to the noise of appearance and not the quiet of my guru writing Dharma. My guessing was me thinking I know things and blurting out answers as if I knew, and while my answers I was blurting out were wrong, they were gradually moving in the right direction. This is like me and my social media presence and blog, writing things like I know what I am saying, and what I am saying is not quite right, but nonetheless gradually moving in the right direction.

Geshe-la was trying to explain to me how the eight dissolutions work, a subject that I have really been focusing on trying to understand for about 18 months now. Geshe-la showed me the mechanism where when one wind element dissolved completely, it would release the next box of us at a smaller, more subtle level, and when the box was released, it would release this powerful light of the next appearance. But in particular, the most important one I needed to understand was when the wind supporting the candle-flame like appearance dissolved and I made the transition to white appearance – entering the four empties. Here, there was no form that emerged, just the sky-like empty formlessness. I understood this to mean formless in the sense of the mind is clarity, without form. It is also at this stage that we transition from gross to subtle minds, leaving our gross minds completely behind.

Geshe-la then wanted to write something down for me of what the next thing I needed to understand, but there was no foundation in my mind to understand it (symbolized by the search for something hard to write on), meaning I lacked the experience to understand the next level. My then showing up at a festival indicated to me that I need more teachings, in particular at festivals – something I haven’t been able to physically for a long time. My going for a shower meant to me I needed to purify, but the lack of water coming out was understood to mean a lack of merit. It was my last day at the festival and my friends offered me another night. The fact that we were all basically naked bud didn’t care indicated for me I need to basically almost completely leave behind my sexual attachment to understand what comes next. But they did so offering me some really expensive piece of jewelry from their vast collection of similar jewelry, but this was understood to be worthless. This meant to me how I have been using up my merit on worthless external things which is of no value to those who can enable me to stay another night to receive the teachings I need.

All of these are powerful teachings for me.

Dream where Geshe-la blessed me and made two predictions

I occasionally have Dharma dreams, but very rarely ones with Geshe-la. I had one last night. I’m writing it down so I do not forget it and sharing it in case others might benefit from it.

It started and I was at a festival with some people from other countries I had just met. Somehow we were told or decided through some strange circumstances to go for a drive. So we went driving, I was in the back seat, and we were just talking about nonsense in a worldly way. We then come out on this country road with nobody around and Geshe-la was standing in the middle of the road like he was waiting for us. I had the feeling in the dream that we had been set up to go for the drive so that we could meet Geshe-la, even though there was no way we could have known he would be on the road.

We stopped the car and he came to the back window where I was sitting. He started greeting us and I noticed he was wearing a very warm ski mask that covered his whole face, except his nose and mouth, and I recalled how he often liked to stay warm, but went into cold climates for us. I then noticed that despite his eyes being covered by the sky mask, he was nonetheless able to see and talk with us perfectly, as if he could see everything. (I didn’t understand this at the time, but I understand this to mean despite from an ordinary perspective we mostly related to his speech, in reality he was omniscient able to see everything).

He then stuck his head in the car through the window where I was sitting to greet each person in the car individually. Each person gave him their name and he nodded as if meeting us for the first time. When it came to be my turn, I told him I was Ryan and thought he should know me, but he didn’t seem to know me which reminded me of the first time I had a close encounter with him at the Creperie at Manjushri, so I then started to describe myself in detail, but realized that was being needy of wanting his recognition, so I just said I used to be a Resident Teacher. He then just took that in stride without any additional recognition of me, and I accepted it didn’t matter if he recognized me.

And then the person sitting next to me started going off about how many people I help. This got Geshe-la’s laser like focus on me, and then he put his left hand squarely on my heart and his right hand on my shoulder and started to pray and bestow blessings into my heart while holding me. I felt like I was receiving a huge empowerment for the future to be able to help more people, and I remember remarking how incredibly physically strong he was despite the fact that I knew him to be seemingly very old and frail, knowing he was going to die soon.

He then somehow appeared to be in the front passenger’s seat in the car, directly in front of me since I was in the backseat (American style car with left-side drive). He then started talking and he gave me two predictions about the near future. First, he said I will soon be tested to see how I respond to some situation about the killing of something like animals, but he couldn’t come up with the word to describe it, and so I suggested the word “hunting?”, and he indicated kindof yes, that could work, but it wasn’t quite the right word. I mentally thought it interesting that his world is so pure he doesn’t even have the word for such things. He then said I will be tested to see if I allow the G20 (something that will preoccupy a good deal of my time at work over the next year) will become a weak excuse for why I am neglecting my spiritual life. I then thought that I needed to mention this to one of my work colleagues at USAID who I work closely with on G20 issues who I also understood in the dream to be a former Resident Teacher now working (she is not, but in the dream she was).

I then woke up and debated with myself whether to get up to write down the dream. I thought if I did so, I would wake up for the day and then be really tired (I have been very and easily fatigued ever since I got COVID about a month ago). So I said I would just try remember the dream and went back to sleep. I then had a second dream where I ran into my work colleague at USAID and I was all excited thinking, “oh, I’ve got to tell you about the dream I just had!” I started recounting the story, and I began by saying Geshe-la had told me to go to sleep, and then in the dream I found myself in the car and we ran into Geshe-la on the road – it was a dream in the dream like I had recently had and wrote a blog post about. I then realized that was not true, my original dream was not a dream within a dream and so I had just lied to make the story sound more impressive than it really was, but then I thought “oh well, I shouldn’t lie, but it doesn’t really matter in this context, so just be more careful in the future to not do that.”

I then started telling my colleague about the dream and mentioning to her the part where Geshe-la was mumbling trying to find the right word for the killing of animals, and she misunderstood the meaning of this and revealed she had a somewhat critical attitude towards Geshe-la because of the way he spoke unclearly and this was one of the reasons why she eventually stopped being a Resident Teacher. I then remember thinking I need to be careful, considerate, and compassionate about how I talk to people who are no longer actively engaged with the tradition, to not assume they have no problem with things, but understand they may have some mental obstacles which prevent them from having a happy mind towards the tradition which need to be skillfully worked through and addressed. I then woke up.

After I woke up, I then started wondering what he meant by the killing of animals, and it came to me that it would be more about what I think about what will happen with the war in Ukraine.

In writing all of this, several themes stand out for me. First, how I still have residuals of excessive concern for recognition by Geshe-la and my spiritual teachers, but I have made a lot of progress since the Creperie about 20 years ago. Second, I struggle to tell stories or talk about myself without my self-importance creeping in, like I am habitually bragging, but don’t want to. Third, Geshe-la doesn’t care about our position, but what gets his attention is our helping people. Fourth, we shouldn’t grasp at how he conventionally appeared, but realize how strong and all-seeing he was. Fifth, I still have tendencies for minor negativities, which is not good, but not something I should overly dramatize or beat myself up over – just acknowledge, course correct, and move on. Sixth, I have been a supporter of Western support for Ukraine for geopolitical and protection of others reasons, but fundamentally it is still like animals killing each other, and perhaps the test will be what I think about some sort of peace proposal that will come in the future – do I support that proposal or support the continuation of the killing. Seventh, I need to be clear where my priorities lie between work and my spiritual life, and not allow the former to become a weak excuse to neglect the latter. Eighth, I will not look at my work colleague the same, perhaps she was formerly some sort of spiritual person who somehow lost her way, and perhaps I need to be skillful in helping gradually guide her back. Ninth, there are all sorts of people who used to have a positive mind towards the tradition, but then had some negative experience or misunderstanding which caused them to leave. Instead of judging these people, we need to be considerate and compassionate with their mental obstacles, accepting them where they are at.

Dream about the Death of my Son

I just woke up from a very vivid dream and I’m writing it down so I don’t forget it. Long-time readers of this blog know I occasionally do this.

In the dream, I had two other dreams that were premonitions that my son Riley was going to die. These were dreams I had inside my dream. In one of those dreams, he had been hospitalized for something and the doctors said it was 50/50 whether he was going to make it. This was similar to when he was a newborn and almost died of an infection. In the other, there was some water accident associated with my Dad’s boat and sea plane. Then, after these dreams, in the waking state of my dream, he had some sort of accident and died (it is unclear what exactly happened). I then understood my two previous dreams inside the dream to have been premonitions of what was coming.

I then wanted to go talk to my wife about it, telling her that even though he had died, he had not disappeared but simply gone somewhere else. This was the advice that Gen Lekma gave me when my mom died that made all the difference. As I approached my wife, her sister materialized in the background. My wife then became like an emotional echo of my sister-in-law’s thinking. It echoed into my wife in the form of all sorts of ways in which my wife was thinking it was her fault or my fault that Riley had died – if only we hadn’t done this or if only we had done that – and the guilt of this was eating my wife alive and I wasn’t able to get out my message that he had not disappeared, he was simply somewhere else. I just kept on trying to tell my wife, “don’t go there, it’s totally wrong, don’t go there.”

Then, my wife and I moved to somewhere else away from my sister-in-law where we could talk without anyone in the background, and I started to tell my wife Gen Lekma’s point, but then I started crying about how I loved my son so much and it hit me that he had died. I cried out several times while crying deeply, “I love him so much, I love him so much” and it just hurt more and more with each recitation. With each recitation of this, I then thought something else to myself. With one recitation, I recalled Gen Lekma’s point as advice to myself and my hurt subsided somewhat. I then recited it again, but then recalled how angry I have gotten at him during his life for his misbehavior and how much my anger has hurt him. I then started screaming, crying out of intense guilt and remorse at how much hurt I have caused him with my anger and now it is too late, he is no longer with me. The pain and hurt were among the most intense I have ever felt thinking this. I then cried out I love him so much again, and I recalled bodhichitta that I can still become a Buddha for him and help him even though I had hurt him so much, and this helped relieve some of the inner hurt and then I woke up.

When I woke up, my first thought was about how much I have hurt him in his life, and especially recently, and how, due to his being on the autism spectrum, he disassociates when he gets in trouble and goes somewhere else into another mental space/personality/behavior pattern because it is too painful for him to be in the present moment where he is. I then thought how I love him so much and I need to be kind with him, not crack down on him for his misbehavior.

I then thought about how my wife’s family is always consumed by guilt for all the different ways they think it is their fault something bad happens to somebody else, and this guilt drives them to unnecessarily beat themselves up irrationally for not having done enough (something my sister-in-law does about the death of her mother when in truth she had done so much for her) and this guilt also drives them into being incredibly controlling behavior of others in the family to not do things that could potentially prove harmful to them. This anger-enforced controlling behavior to avoid potential harm was at the core of much of my wife’s childhood trauma with her father (such as getting mad at her when she was hurt playing on the monkey bars), and it was this same anger-enforced controlling behavior that we have recently been using against our son for his wreckless behavior going on the roof of our house where he could have died in some accident. This corresponds very closely with something Kadam Lucy told me more than 25 years ago that my wife’s anger comes from having learned it within her family as how things are done, and the only way to heal the anger is to first heal the misplaced guilt.

Additionally, this dream gave me a deep emotional feeling of just how much I love Riley, and when I remind myself of that when I am in my hurt, it brings me somewhat out of my pain. First, it triggers guilt in me for how I have treated him with anger, but on the other side of that is bodhichitta for him that looks at my relationship with him across lifetimes. I don’t know what will happen to Riley in his life, but I suspect he will face a lot of hurt. I don’t know if he will ever have some sort of accident in which he dies, etc., but I do know I would deeply regret all the hurt I have caused him. Just as I may die today, he may die today, and I don’t want him to die with him not knowing how much I love him and I would feel deep regret for having gotten so angry at him so often. But I can use that deep love for him as fuel for my bodhichitta. Wanting to become a Buddha for all living beings is a very abstract concept, but seeing my son hurting by my hands and then losing him makes me want to become a Buddha for him so I can make up for the hurt I have caused him and one day lead him to freedom. This touches my heart and makes the path much less abstract and more personal.

All my appearances in dreams are the supreme instructions of my Guru

In the Lord of All Lineages Prayer it says, “All my appearances in dreams teach me that all my appearances when awake do not exist; thus for me all my dream appearances are the supreme instructions of my Guru.” This verse can be understood at two levels: interpretative instructions and ultimate instructions. Interpretative instructions derive teachings from the substance of what appears in our dreams and ultimate instructions derive teachings from considering the nature of the dreams themselves.

How to interpret our dreams as Dharma instructions

Long-time followers of this blog know that I occasionally have very vivid dreams which reveal to me a host of Dharma lessons which I then write up and share here. Normally, these postings discuss how the substance of what appears in my dreams teaches some Dharma lesson. There are many books about how to interpret our dreams and it is a subject of much fascination in the world. Interpreting what appears in our dreams as Dharma lessons is the first level of understanding this verse. My experience has taught me that what exactly appears in our dreams doesn’t really mean anything – seeing a raven in and of itself has no fixed meaning. For one person, it could mean one thing; and for somebody else it could mean something entirely different. Most – if not all – of the books or popular understandings of interpreting dreams that say this appearance means this and that appearances means that in some fixed way for all people are simply an example of grasping at inherently existent things and meanings. If any appearance can mean anything, then how can we accurately interpret our dreams? The answer is simple: we ask ourselves what did we understand it to mean? If we understood either during the dream or shortly after waking up that the raven we dreamt of meant revealing the two wings of wisdom and compassion, then that is what the raven meant to us and that is the Dharma meaning or teaching our guru is trying to reveal to us through our dream. And if we understood the dream to mean we have perhaps watched a bit too much Game of Thrones and it is becoming a strong object of attachment, then that is the meaning our guru is trying to teach us. The same logic can be used for interpreting any dream. The main point is don’t over-think it. Simply ask yourself, “what did I understand it to mean?” That is your instruction from your guru. But it is not the supreme instruction of your guru, it is the interpretative instruction of your guru.

Contemplating the nature of dreams reveals the ultimate instructions of our Guru

The supreme instruction of our guru is the teachings on emptiness. Venerable Geshe-la has said on many occasions the real meaning of meeting him is discovering the truth of emptiness, and understanding the nature of our dreams is the supreme instruction among the teachings of emptiness. Why? Because we all instinctively understand the nature of dreams is mere appearances to mind. Geshe-la says all the appearances when awake are just like these. The only difference between our dream appearances and our waking appearances is the mind to which they appear – our gross waking mind or our subtle dreaming mind. In terms of their nature of being mere karmic appearances to mind, they are exactly the same.

So let’s dive in a bit to flesh this out by looking at the classic example of a dream elephant. Now mind you, I have never personally dreamt of an elephant, but apparently in ancient India, this was a thing! We all know that even though the elephant appeared vividly to us in our dream, there was no elephant actually there. We don’t go looking for the elephant when we awake, but instantly realize that we were just dreaming and when we awoke, the elephant simply dis-appeared – it ceased to appear to our mind. There was never any elephant there. What was there? There was an appearance of an elephant, nothing more. That is why we call it a mere appearance. There is an appearance of something there, but there is nothing, in fact, actually there. It is merely an appearance to mind.

But it appears to be real…

A particular characteristic of this appearance is despite it being a mere appearance, the elephant nonetheless appears to be a real elephant. When we are in the dream, we do not doubt at all the existence of the elephant. It appears to actually be there and we believe it to be there. Now of course, in truth, there is no elephant there – it is just a mere appearance – but in the dream, we believe without a doubt it is there and can generate a wide range of emotional reactions in response to the elephant, perhaps we marvel at its majesty or we tremble in fear if it is charging us. Because we believe (or grasp at) it is real, we experience it as a real elephant and can even be harmed by it, even though both the elephant and ourselves in the dream are nothing more than mere appearances to our mind. When we wake up, we then know without a doubt there was never anything there and we were never actually in any danger. Sure, our dream body was in danger, but we were not.

Communicating with others

If we encounter our friend in our dream, we can even have a very in-depth conversation about the elephant – what it looks like, what it is doing, how it makes us feel, and so forth. We both seem to see, more or less, the same elephant and as long as we do not investigate further into its ultimate nature, we are able to discuss it. If we are satisfied with its mere name, we can communicate with others about it. In truth, we are discussing nothing. There is nothing actually there that we are talking about, but relative to the dream world, we can nonetheless discuss it, have all sorts of opinions about it, and devise elaborate plans for how we are going to ride it and take selfies atop it.

Differentiating ordinary appearance from conception

Sometimes when we are dreaming we are aware of the fact that we are dreaming and we know that what is appearing to our mind is just dream appearances. This is often referred to as lucid dreaming. The things that appear still appear to actually be there doing their thing, but we know this to be false. Though they appear, we know they do not truly exist. Just knowing that they are false appearances does not give us the ability to make the appearances themselves cease to appear. Despite knowing better, they still appear, but we are not afraid because we know they are just appearances. They can’t actually harm us, though they can still harm our dream self. So it is quite natural and indeed appropriate to not provoke the beast and to avoid its charge if we can.

Understanding the relationship between karma and appearance

Where does the appearance come from? It comes from our karma. All appearances are “karmic appearances,” meaning they arise from our past karma. If we gave somebody a rose in the past, we planted the karma on our mind to have the appearance of somebody giving us a rose in the future. Karma shapes the emptiness of our mind into appearance. There are two types of karma – contaminated and uncontaminated. Contaminated karma is karma created with a mind that grasps at objects existing inherently, from their own side, independent of our mind. We believe that something is actually there and that we are actually there, and in dependence upon these beliefs, we engage in some action with respect to that object. In doing so, we create contaminated karma. This karma will later ripen in the form of appearances of something actually being there, us actually being there, and us actually doing something towards that object. None of it is true or real – but it vividly appears to be so, just like our dreams. In contrast, when we know the objects that appear to us, ourself, and our actions are all just mere appearances like in a dream, we create uncontaminated karma. This karma will ripen in the future in the form of appearances that we know to be just mere appearances to our mind, just like a lucid dream.

Most of the time we do not dream about the same things more than once. We see an elephant, but we don’t see that same elephant tomorrow night. Why not? Because every karmic seed only has the potential to ripen as appearance for a certain duration. Some seeds produce appearances that are long-lasting and other seeds produce appearances that are fleeting. This is primarily due to the degree of concentration the mind had when it created the karma in the first place – deeper concentration producing longer-lasting appearances. I have a friend who has narcolepsy. Unlike us, he sleeps maybe 16 hours a day and is awake only eight hours per day. For him, his dream world is more his reality than his waking world. When he dreams, he returns to the same home, the same life, the same family – night after night. He has a job, relationships, experiences, everything. It all appears to him to be real and he experiences it in that way. For him, it is quite common to encounter night after night the same appearances in much the same way as it is normal for us to encounter day after day the same appearances. His dream appearances are not, in fact, any more real than ours are, the only difference is the karmic seeds producing those appearances are of longer duration and waking up doesn’t exhaust that karma. The same is true for us with our waking appearances, they are just as un-real as our dream appearances, but their karmic duration hasn’t exhausted itself, so we continue to see more or less the same things day after day.

Do things cease to exist if they don’t appear directly to our mind?

Sometimes people wonder what happens to the waking world while dreaming and what happens to the dreaming world while awake. When we fall asleep, does the world that appears to our waking mind simply cease to exist at all? Does it shift into a state of utter non-existence? What happens to my narcoleptic friend’s dream world when he is awake? Some people argue that yes, both cease to exist at all when we shift from one world to the other. Their argument for why is if there is no dream mind, there can be no dream objects because an object cannot exist without a mind apprehending it. Similarly, if there is no waking mind there can be no waking objects. When the waking mind ceases, the waking world ceases as completely and irrevocably as last night’s dream. These people say if there is some trace of the dream world that remains while awake or the waking world while dreaming, then we would have objects that exist without a mind, which would be inherently existent objects – something we know doesn’t exist at all.

But others argue that is absurd. When I move from one country to another, the former country I lived in no longer appears directly to my mind. Does that mean that entire country ceases to exist at all when I am not seeing it? Do all of the people I knew and interacted with cease to exist at all when I’m not seeing them? When I remember them, do they then go from a state of total non-existence to a state of existence; but then when I’m not thinking about them anymore, do they cease to exist and function at all? If so, when I call them, how are they able to tell me about all of the things they did since we last spoke? When they engage in actions when I’m not looking, do they produce no results? If I put a message in a bottle and send it out to sea and nobody sees it for six months until somebody discovers it on a faraway shore, what happens to the bottle during this time? Nobody sees it or perceives it. Does it not exist at all? Does our heart cease to function when I’m not thinking about it? There are all sorts of absurd consequences that follow from saying these things cease to exist at all when they are not appearing directly to our mind.

Both sides of this debate have valid points. So how can we resolve this apparent contradiction? The answer lies in understanding there are two types of object – manifest and hidden. Manifest objects are objects known directly by a mind and hidden objects are objects known indirectly by a mind. My friends in China used to be manifest objects to my mind, but now that I have moved to India they have become hidden objects. They still exist and function, but as hidden objects and they are known indirectly. For example, if I saw my daughter enter her room and close the door, she no longer appears directly, but if I have been outside her room the whole time and never saw her leave, I can know without a doubt that she is still in her room even if I don’t give her another thought. If my wife asks where she is, I can answer, “she’s in her room,” and this will be valid and correct, even though she doesn’t appear directly to either one of us. At that time, she is a hidden object to me (but a manifest object to herself). When she comes out of her room, she transitions from being a hidden object to a manifest object for me, just like the bottle arriving on the other shore. She does not transition from being non-existent to existent, she transitions (for me) from being hidden to manifest. But in both cases, whether she is manifest or hidden, she remains equally empty – a mere karmic appearance to my mind. She appears directly or she appears indirectly (even if I am not thinking about her, my mind that saw her enter her room “knows” her to be in her room, thus maintains her existence). There is no my daughter that exists independently of my mind, thus this view avoids the problem of an object existing without a mind apprehending it.

This answers the question of what happens to the waking world when I’m dreaming. It transitions from being a manifest object to a hidden object, and then when I awake, it becomes manifest again. Because the karmic duration for seeing my wife, home, job, and so forth have not exhausted themselves, when I awake, there they are again. They did not cease to exist at all while I slept, they simply made the transition from being manifest to hidden, but in both cases, they remained empty of existing from their own side independent of my mind. This also answers the question of what happens to the dreaming world of my narcoleptic friend when he is awake. It doesn’t cease to exist entirely, it merely transitions from being manifest to hidden. The karmic duration of those appearances has not been exhausted, so he will return to his home when he dreams again, but the karma for them to appear directly has ceased while he is awake. They still exist – as dream appearances – but they are simply hidden. This is no different really then how, when we dream, what appears is only a small fraction of the world we understand those appearances to exist in. Our dream moments can have complete pasts and complete futures, even though neither appear directly to our mind. They exist and appear as hidden objects.

Another example worth considering is what happens to a friend who dies but I didn’t know it? I recently learned that a dear college friend died about a week ago. I haven’t seen him in years, but I assumed he was still alive. When I learned that he had already died, I realized I was wrong to think he had been alive. What happened here at a karmic appearance level? When I saw him last years ago, he transitioned from being a manifest object to a hidden object, but he did still continue to exist in this world and had all sorts of experiences with my other friends. When he died, he ceased to exist at all in this world, he transitioned from being a hidden object to an utter non-existent. The karma for him to exist in this world exhausted itself. How he appeared to different people (as a hidden or manifest object) varied, depending upon their karmic relationship to him. My thinking he was still alive was mistaken with respect to conventional appearance. My believing he existed inherently before was mistaken with respect to ultimate truth. In exactly the same way, the people I see in my dreams cease to exist at all when I awake because the karmic duration of those appearances is fleeting, whereas the people who appear in my narcoleptic friend’s dream world continue to exist because the karma hasn’t exhausted itself. But sometimes, people in his dream world die, at which point they cease to exist at all in his world – either as a manifest or a hidden object. But in all cases, these beings have never been anything more than mere appearances to mind, regardless of how they appeared.


Interpreting what appears in our dreams can provide us with many profound Dharma understandings and insights, but these are not the supreme instructions of our guru. The supreme instructions of our guru are the teachings on emptiness, and considering the relationship between what appears in dreams and what appears in our waking state, how things transition from one state to another, and when they exist (as mere appearances) or cease to exist at all reveal to us the meaning of the profound truth of emptiness.

Why does this matter? There are two main reasons – according to Sutra and according to Tantra. First, according to Sutra, by considering these things, we can gain a very accurate understanding of the meaning of the teachings on emptiness. By contemplating this meaning day and night, with respect to both our dream and our waking appearances, we will gradually be led to the final view or intention of Buddha. This wisdom will free us permanently from samsara.

Second, with this understanding, we can understand how Tantra works. When we received the empowerments, our spiritual guide placed within our mind an enlightened being and a pure world. Our future enlightened self and world were born and they came into existence. It is like our dream world we do not see directly very often, except when we are engaging in our tantric meditations. When we arise from meditation (and forget our tantric pure view), our pure world does not cease to exist entirely, it merely transitions from being manifest to being hidden. It is sustained both by our Guru’s compassion and our knowledge that we received the empowerments, even if we are not thinking about either. By engaging in our tantric meditations, we create new karma that will later appear directly to us as our pure world. That pure world is not created anew, it is discovered – our meditations make it manifest, but it has been there all along (as a hidden object) ever since we received the empowerment. The karma creating the appearances of our normal waking samsaric world will gradually exhaust itself and not be replenished since, as our tantric practice deepens, we will stop creating new karma for samsara to appear. We will at some point have “lucid dreaming” experiences of our samsaric world, where it will continue to appear, but we will know it is just a mistaken appearance. Though it still appears, we will know it does not truly exist. We will have overcome ordinary conceptions, even though we still have ordinary appearances. Eventually, through creating enough karma in our new pure world, it will also start to appear directly to us as a manifest object. We will move into the pure world, which is our guru’s pure dream for us. It will become our manifest reality, and we will be able to communicate with him about it, even though we both know everything that appears to us is just a pure karmic dream. Finally, we will be able to help others join us in purity forever.

Dream about being reborn together as vajra family

I just had a very vivid, what I feel to be important, dream and want to write everything down before I forget.

All night before my dream, I kept waking up, and then going back to sleep training in the yoga of sleeping, imagining I was going through the eight dissolutions. This happened multiple times throughout the night. The dream started with me in Geneva at the center where I used to teach. My former students, who feel like family in my heart, were there, in particular Madhuri, Patrizia, Gabriella, Remy, and my wife were there. And there was this other student there, who I didn’t really know in the same way, but felt a good connection with. I lead a meditation for everybody and we had a good experience which corresponded with about the level of spiritual attainment we had at the time I was at the center teaching more than 10 years ago.

We finished the meditation and then this other student wanted to lead a meditation. He had a somewhat ethnically Indian feel to him. We then sat down in this circle in the middle of the floor, like a circular pit inside the floor with us sitting on the floor, but our feet were in the circular pit that wasn’t that deep. He then started leading the meditation and I tapped into the energy of it, and it was extremely powerful at a much deeper level of spiritual attainment. As I came out of the meditation, I was transported into the pure land (or something spiritually adjacent) that I could see directly and it was amazing, full of everything comprised of mult-colored lights, and it felt so happy and full of wonder. It then started coming into greater focus and at first was cartoon-like in aspect, and then it phased into some sort of beautiful city scape in the future. Madhuri, Patrizia, Gabriella, Remy, and Claudine were all there in the future in different aspects, but the same people and still very close emotionally and spiritually. I turned to Madhrui, who now no longer looked like Madhuri but still was her, and excitedly said, ”oh my god, I was just in the pure land, did you see all that,” and while she didn’t see exactly what I saw, she clearly likewise had a very powerful experience and was blown away.

The dream then shifted to me being at some future home, somewhat out in the country. It was in the future and I was in the kitchen/living room area with my wife, who looked very similar to my current wife Claudine, but different, still her in essence, but younger. We had just had a baby who was understood to be asleep in a maxi-cosy just off of the kitchen towards the hallway leading to the bedrooms. It felt very happy, calm, peaceful, and good as we were going about our business at home.

I then went towards the bedroom area, turned the corner into the hallway where the baby was sleeping, I looked down and it was the body of a baby but with the aging head of my mother in law who just passed way a couple of months ago. She was both the baby and the mother in law, and she was holding our daughter Kiara as a baby – a baby holding a baby, but it all made sense because she was also the grandma. My mother in law was dying as the head, but holding Kiara in her arms like a loving grandma, but still in the aspect of a baby herself. As I was walking by her in the hallway, she was singing the song, ”you gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run. You gotta count your blessings [she sang blessings even though the song normally says money at this point, which I found to be her being clever, which she was in life], when your sitting at the table. There’ll be time enough for countin’, when the dealin’s done.” By the time I got past her in the hallway, she was singing the last line and I was looking back at her, and I understood that she had just died peacefully with Kiara in her arms who now became the baby we had that had just been [re]born. [Note, my wife did her Vajrayogini close retreat when she was pregnant with Kiara. Kiara was born literally 4 hours after my wife finished her last mantra of her close retreat. Kiara’s middle names are the names of her grandma, they are very close both emotionally and in terms of personality.] When she sang ”there will be time enough for countin’ in when the dealin’s done,” I understood it to mean she died peacefully without any regrets as a content grandma loving her grandchildren, despite the incredibly difficult life she had lead. [Note, when she was buried, the flower arrangement that said ”Grandma forever” was placed on top of her coffin].

I then walked into the bedroom and I had phased back into my current life. I went over by the window where my desk was and was simply overcome with joy and amazement. I was totally amazed at what I had just seen, crying with joy, in particular knowing that the grandma had died without any regrets despite her hard life. When I phased into my current life when I walked into the bedroom, I no longer had any awareness of the future life I had been in and was just seeing the baby as grandma from the perspective of having just died singing holding Kiara in her arms.

My wife Claudine then walked into the bedroom, cleaning everything around her in a whirlwind as she usually does. I was so excited, I wanted to tell her what I saw – that I had seen her mother directly dying without regrets, holding Kiara in her arms – but I couldn’t get out what I wanted to say because she kept interrupting me every two words making a playful joke at every thing I was saying (also like she often does in life). This went on a couple of rounds of me trying to get out what I wanted to say and her not listening – she was making jokes, but I knew she was emotionally hurting but would feel better if she knew what I just saw – and I started getting frustrated at her (as I often do in life). I then got upset and with a moderate degree of anger said, ”I’m trying to tell you something,” and then I walked out into the hallway towards the baby, knowing she would follow. This then broke her out of her joking mood and she started crying, hurt at me having gotten angry at her.

I walked down the hall towards the kitchen and was standing where the kitchen connected with the hall, and my future wife, who I understood to be Claudine, looked a lot like her, but at the age of a young mother, looked at me without saying anything with this WTF face of horror of what was I doing getting angry at somebody who was mourning the death of her mother. I realized she was right, and then looked back at my old wife [who was at this point in the dream experienced as my current wife] Claudine who was crying coming down the hallway towards me right next to the baby. I saw everybody simultaneously at this point – my future wife, my current wife, my mother in law, and Kiara. Seeing my current wife was hurt, I said sincerely, ”oh my god, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to get angry, I was just trying to tell you something.” This pacified her hurt and she was then ready to listen. I then started telling her while pointing down at the baby, ”I saw your mom directly…” and then I woke up.

When I woke up, I was flooded with understandings of what the dream meant.

First, I recalled that it was Heruka and Vajrayogini month, and understood that my mother in law had now been reborn with a Kadampa family, thinking how auspicious that it happened this month, and of course it did given how wonderful of a human being my mother in law was. Timing wise, she has spent a period of time in something adjacent to the pure land and then came back and is now reborn (still in utero) with a Kadampa family somewhere. This family might not even know they are pregnant yet. Perhaps even somebody reading this post, who knows?

Second, that myself, Madhuri, Patricia, Gabriella, Remy, and my wife are all karmically deeply connected and we have been taking rebirth together in past lifetimes and will do so again in the future, remaining close.

Third, that my current wife Claudine has been my wife in past lifetimes and she will be my wife again in future lifetimes [Note, when she gave me my engagement ring, it had seven diamonds on it, and she said, ”like seven lifetimes.” This was before she knew about the benefits of Vajrayogini practice that Vajrayogini will find us within seven lifetimes, but I knew this and when she gave me the ring, I recalled what Venerable Tharchin had told me that she is an emanation of Vajrayogini].

Fourth, her future self was completely pyschologically and emotionally beyond the anger and guilt that has weighed my wife down in this life. She was still her playful self, but totally emotionally had her shit together, and it was in fact me she was guiding into becoming a better person, not the other way around as I typically assume when I forget what Venerable Tharchin told me. When she looked at me in the kitchen with the WTF look, I am reminded of the line from Vajrayogini’s Eight Lines of Praise “OM To you with controlling eyes who remain like the vajra seat unconquered by others” which symbolizes her ability to subdue living beings delusions simply by looking at them.

Fifth, that I need to be much more careful and sensitive to not so often get angry or frustrated with my wife, knowing it hurts her when I do. I also shouldn’t be attached to her listening to what I have to say.

Sixth, that my mother in law and Kiara are actually two souls that have been working together for many aeons who, out of their great kindness, are in fact spiritually speaking taking care of both my wife and myself, conspiring in a good way to keep my wife and I together across lifetimes. In the dream, they were like a bridge between these two lifetimes and at the very end, I saw my future wife, my old wife, my current child, my future child, and my mother in law all at the same time that was all three times simultaneously.

Seventh, that at the end of this life, I will make it at least to something very close to the pure land and then later be reborn still a Kadampa practitioner and my spiritual family of this life will remain close in my next life.

Eighth, that some of our seemingly unknown students of this life are emanations and they will later be our teachers in future lives. While the former student was leading the meditation, in the middle, he transformed by imputation into my teacher of the future life. My next assignment for my work is in India, so him having an Indian feel to him has some significance, but I don’t know what yet. Perhaps I will create karma with somebody there who will later be my teacher, I do not know.

I pray that I never forget this dream and that it change forever how I view my mother in law, daughter, wife, and close spiritual family who was in the dream. I pray we all remain forever spiritually close in life after life as we care for each other and gradually guide and support each other along the path. I also pray that sharing this dream may prove spiritually meaningful for some who read about it. May we too remain forever spiritually close in life after life as vajra family.

Touched by Grace: Dream with Venerable Tharchin

I had a dream two nights ago where I met Venerable Tharchin. He was very, very old, and with the help of about 4-5 assistants holding up each limb, he was doing Tai Chi with what I understood to be him fine tuning his very last last inner winds before his death. I spontaneously went to hug him and did so for several seconds, which I can still feel now like a direct lived experience. Then, in the dream, I thought I had woken up and I ran into a dear Sangha friend who was also very close to Tharchin. I told her that I had just had a dream with Venerable Tharchin and, surprised, she said that she too just had one. I asked her what she had dreamt, and she was about to tell me, but then I woke up from that dream into my normal waking state.

I was then left with a clear feeling that Venerable Tharchin might be near his death (how near, very hard to say) and that I should contact my Sangha friend about this dream. She replied that at almost that exact time of my dream, somebody was falsely accusing her of something, and instead of retaliating as she normally would have done, she felt touched by grace and responded with wisdom instead. Around that time, she also for some reason thought of me and was feeling warm and close (we haven’t seen each other in years and have had little contact).

What does this dream mean for me? Clearly some sort of karmic convergence occurred.

In my dream, I was left with the feeling that he might be near the end, but he was just in the final stages of fine tuning his mind and his winds before he does. With Thich Nhat Han dying and everything else happening in 2020, it wouldn’t surprise me if he soon passed. I’m left thinking perhaps everything happening in the world is actually just pre-purification of them practicing taking and giving in the world before they do. I remember Venerable Tharchin once saying it only takes a handful of truly holy beings in this world to create a safety net preventing the world from completely sinking into samsara. Them dying doesn’t mean this protection will disappear any more than Jesus dying did; in fact, it might be when their protection rises to the next level.

I’m also reminded of what Venerable Tharchin once said about Sangha. He said the inner Dharma center is the realizations of the people who attend the center bound together by the love they feel for each other and the closeness of the karma they have together. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Kadampas have been deeply touched by Venerable Tharchin’s presence in this world. I have always for very inexplicable reasons had a very close connection with many of his former students, especially the Sangha friend of my dream. Tharchin lives on in this world through us and our connections with each other. I think his former students have a responsibility to stay close to one another, even if life takes us apart. We have special bonds.

I’m also reminded of the story of the last time I saw Ven. Tharchin. It was 2 years ago at the Summer Festival. He has terrible Parkinson’s right now. I walked into his room, he was lying on his bed shaking uncontrolledly, drool running down his mouth, he could barely speak above a whisper, etc. We started talking, this went on for a while, and then I asked him, “so how are YOU?” He then said without missing a beat, “despite all appearances, I’m doing quite well thanks.” He had always spoken of, advocated for, and taught extensively retreat. He was on a long retreat once and he felt like he was close to attaining enlightenment, and he went to Geshe-la and said if he could stay in retreat a little bit longer, he could do it. Geshe-la told him, “if you stay in retreat, you could attain enlightenment, but you would become a ‘useless Buddha’ because you have no karmic connections with others.” Geshe-la then asked him to leave his retreat and go teach. From that, many of our most Senior teachers have emerged. I’m guessing in his mind, he was going to spend his twilight years in deep retreat, or at least that is what I had always imagined. Then he got Parkinson’s. But after speaking with him, I felt that learning how to transform his Parkinson’s was his final retreat, just in a different form. Such is the power of his mind and example for us all.

I’m reminded that Venerable Tharchin stayed at my friend in the dream’s house when he visited Geneva for teachings and empowerments, and we all had lunch together once on her patio. My wife was pregnant at the time with our third child, and he blessed the baby. Shortly before my wife became pregnant, a nun and former student of Tharchin’s died of cancer, and after my child was born, another Sangha friend – also a close student of Tharchin’s – said she had a strong feeling our child was this nun reborn. My wife did her Vajrayogini close retreat while pregnant with this child, and literally not 20 minutes after she finished her retreat, she went into labor.

I’m sharing all of this first to record it so I don’t forget, but also I know many people have a close connection with Tharchin and might want to know. My friend in the dream concluded her reply message to me by saying “a dream within a dream.” So many layers of truth in so few words.

Catastrophe averted

I had a dream last night after the empowerment where I was just going about my way, and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, this giant rat came lunging out towards my head. To evade it, I jerked my head fast and then accidentally banged it hard against a wall. My non-dreaming body also lunged and I woke up, and I could feel pain on my waking head briefly before I realized it was a dream and then it went away. The message that then came into my mind from this was, “significant negative karma can ripen quickly and out of nowhere, and even if we succeed in evading it, the quick rection of doing so often comes with its own pain. Karma that ripens at the subtle level can spill over into our waking state, even though it was never anything more than mere appearance to mind. But realizing it is all a dream makes the pain of what appeared go away. This is true for all of samsara.” Then I fell back asleep. When I awoke again this morning, I remembered the dream again and the thought that came was, “even when we purify our negative karma, we sometimes don’t get it all. We avoid the main consequence, but a residual of the negative karma nonetheless ripens (me banging my head). We should accept this residual as ‘catastrophe averted,’ and be happy.” I then thought this whole dream is a metaphor for the pandemic and our individual experience within it.

The deep inner hurt that drives me

I just had a very strange, but notable dream. I suspect it is due to the Vajrapani empowerment tomorrow kicking things up. When this happens, I try always write them down before I forget.

The dream started out with me feeling very strong, teenager style love for this beautiful, very kind girl. She wasn’t particularly interested in me, but there did seem to be something between us. We were then in this bed in a hotel room engaging in foreplay, and then it mentally shifted where she had some sort of boyfriend and I was somehow related to her, like a cousin or something. I knew that was really messed up, but I was still attracted to her and we were still in bed. But now her boyfriend was also in bed with us, and she was interested in him, but still allowing me there, but I felt unloved or not worthy of wonderful people being attracted to me. I then stuck my finger in her, but it hurt her, and I was like, “oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry” (sorry for the graphic nature, I’m trying to record the dream). Then, her father came into the hotel room with a gun having caught us all into the act. The boyfriend ran away, and for some reason the father went into the bathroom to prepare to come after me. I then got up and started to head towards where I had a gun myself, but then I thought, “no, I need to try resolve this peacefully and assume the consequences of my bad choices that got me into that situation.” I then put my hands up and surrendered myself to him. I believe the meaning is I need to accept the consequences of and seek to purify all sorts of negative karma that I have on my mind that moves in the direction of wanting girls to like me and sexual misconduct.

The dream then shifted to me at a big party in a very wealthy area. If I’m honest, I have never really fit in or had a lot of friends. Even among Kadampas, I have always felt on the outside. This huge party was filled with young, beautiful people, all of whom were having a good time together but nobody had any interest whatsoever in talking to me. I then started to make my way out to escape from the party, and as I got close to the exit, I ran into my old debate partner – who himself is quite the social outsider – who was similarly trying to escape. I then started crying from deep within my heart from a profound hurt associated with a lifetime of feeling socially excluded. Intellectually, and even to a certain degree practically, in the dream, I recalled all of the different Dharma wisdoms I normally use to just repress my hurt, such as this is coming from my mind and how to transform it, etc. But I saw and felt just how much hurt I have inside over this and that, to a large extent, my total investment in debate and even Dharma in my life has been driven by this hurt of being excluded from normal social life.

Once I had gotten out of the party, some much larger power started tearing everything down with bulldozers and people started scrambling. I was like, “why are they doing that, destroying everything?” When all of the walls were finally down, the party complex was in this desert like area outside of some Hunger Games style capital city and I understood the entire party was just one temporary distraction put on by the authorities, and it was all basically an illusion of social control to prevent us from resisting, but they were demonstrating they are in change and can take it away at a moment’s notice. In the dream, I then somewhat realized I was dreaming and that this was a metaphor for China’s social control mechanisms over their population. I will be going to China for my next posting. Then, I woke up and realized it was a metaphor for samsara.