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An Interview with Norbu Rinpoche

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An Interview with Norbu Rinpoche

Michael: I would like to ask you a few questions about dreams. First of all, what is the history of the dream practice that you do?

Norbu: What do you mean “history”?

M: When and by whom was the first dream practice taught? Who was famous for teaching it?

N: It is not easy to answer this, because dream teachings come from different kinds of tantra teachings, particularly the Mahamaya Tantra, but also from Dzogchen teachings.

M: When was the Mahamaya Tantra written?

N: Beyond time; you cannot say when it was written.

M: Was there any particular author?

N: (laughing) There is no author of tantric teachings. Maybe a mahasiddha transmitted this teaching and introduced it from Odiyanna in India. After all, Saraha introduced the Guhyasamaja Tantra, and Tilopa introduced the Cakrasamvara Tantra. It is possible that something like that can be said to be the history of the transmission of a tantra, but there is no original history of the tantras.

M: Rinpoche, sometimes you have taught dream practices where one visualizes a white syllable “A”2 at the heart, but at other times you have taught that one should visualize an “A” at the throat. What are the different conditions in which one should visualize the “A” at one’s heart or throat?

N: The visualization of “A” at throat is particularly for remembering dreams. The visualization of “A” at the throat has the function of controlling energy and clarity. When you visualize a white “A” at the heart, you are working with the principle of natural light; that is another method.

M: Why do we dream?

N: Well, sometimes dreaming is due to bhakshas, the impressions of the day. These include our anxieties, attitudes, and preoccupations. There is also another type of dream which arises from our clarity. This type of dream is dependent on the dreamer’s circumstances and clarity.

M: How do we distinguish between dreams that arise from our clarity and dreams that arise from our daily impressions and bhakshas?

N: If we have had an exhausting day, and all we can do is eat and fell into a heavy sleep, it is not likely that we will have a dream of clarity. More often, in such circumstances we have dreams about something with which we are preoccupied. It may even be somewhat difficult to remember this dream due to

the heaviness of sleep. On the other hand, as we approach the early morning and are almost at the point of awakening, our dreams may become quite clear. It is more likely that they will be associated with our clarity during this period. If a dream is associated with clarity, it may have special meaning for our lives. It may indicate many things.

M: Is this true also for someone who practices dream yoga?

N: If you are a practitioner of dream yoga, dreams arising out of clarity will develop and increase. Nevertheless, dreams linked with clarity do exist for everyone. Everyone has innate clarity.

M: When do babies begin dreaming? Does their dream content reflect previous lives as well as bhakshas?

N: Yes, we say babies do have more dreams that arise from the impressions of a previous life. Small children can more easily remember events from a previous life; their clarity is less obstructed. Slowly this changes as the child grows up and the tensions and attachments of ordinary life are created.

M: Would you suggest that parents who are practitioners teach their children dream yoga at an early age and encourage them to develop their dreams?

N: I don’t think so. It’s not so easy for children.

M: Is there a particular age when babies start to dream? Or is it something which starts immediately from birth?

N: I think they dream almost immediately.

M: There are occasions when we have a dream in which we are receiving advice that seems logical. Are we really getting advice?

N: Yes, there are again two possibilities. If your dream is linked with clarity you can really receive advice and truly useful information. On the other hand, if you have very strong tensions or attachments you might also receive advice in a dream, but you wouldn’t say that this is perfect advice.

M: Can you give us an example of a specific dream you had that was linked with clarity?

N: Yes. Many years ago I had a friend in Italy. She was a good friend, a talented singer, and she was also interested in practice. This was not true of her family. Anyway, one night I dreamed that I was driving a car to Naples. Then I saw a red car heading towards me. When I looked closely, I recognized the

driver—it was my friend and she seemed angry. I turned my car around and headed back to Rome and after a short time arrived in front of my building. My friend arrived a short time later. She no longer seemed angry, but instead said, “I want to thank you for your help.” In my dream I gave her a watch from

Switzerland. Then I looked at her again and she had no head. I was very surprised. I awoke feeling very strange. I tried to call her home but her mother answered, and said she had gone to Lugano, Switzerland. I asked her mother to give her the message to call me, but I didn’t hear anything so I called

again. Her mother told me that she had returned briefly from Lugano and then had gone off to Yugoslavia on a singing engagement. Her mother hadn’t given her the message because she didn’t approve of our friendship. When she returned from Yugoslavia she left again, this time for Naples. On the road she had a fatal car accident. This is an example.

M: Rinpoche, you had dreams in which you remembered a particular book of teaching. How does this work?

N: Such a dream is also a type of dream linked with clarity. In this type of dream one can do many things, such as study, read, or learn.

M: Can you give us some examples of dream symbols that Tibetans believe are important?

N: I will give you two possible interpretations of the same dream. If you are doing some purification practice, to dream that you are washing or taking a bath would be positive. It would indicate that your purification is succeeding and that you are developing your clarity. If you are not practicing meditation and you have a dream like this, we would say watch out, for it might indicate that you are in danger of losing your money or wealth.

M: You have implied that when clarity develops in dreams, sometimes one can predict the future. Do you have any examples in your experience with your own dreams or those of your teachers?

N: If you develop your clarity you can certainly have these types of manifestations within dreams. Through these you may sometimes discover something about the future. Dreams of clarity are linked with our innate wisdom and the karmic seeds which we have created through our experience with meditation practice and the positive actions we perform within our life. In regards to the karmic seeds which we have accumulated, there is also the possibility that these potentials may become manifest. These potentials may become manifest when there are

secondary conditions3 to ripen them. With the proper secondary conditions, manifestations such as dreams of the future may occur. We may find many examples of these manifestations in the biographies of meditation masters.

We ourselves can also have dreams like this, dreams that enable us to see or understand something. That is an aspect of a dream of clarity. For example, many years ago, in 1960, when I had been in Italy for only about one year, I had a dream where I was talking to someone, but I did not know who it was. This someone explained to me how the political situation would be after some time.

I was told that China and Russia would have concrete problems. I replied in the dream that this was impossible, because I knew that these two countries had a deep relationship—they both shared the same communist point of view. When I had been in China there was a Soviet Association that collaborated with the Chinese in publicity and communist education.

Thus I thought it was impossible that China and Russia would have problems. Still, the voice told me that there would be conflict between the two countries. It went on to say that not only will the Soviet Union and China have problems, but there will be friendship between the United States and China. I responded that this was impossible.

The voice said nevertheless it would happen because the situation between China and the United States is of a different nature than the relationship between the Soviet Union and China. The United States and China are both interested in business and commercial exchange. They have no problems arising from sharing a border, unlike China and the Soviet Union, because the United States and China are very far from one another. This was one of my dreams. The next day I recounted this dream to my collaborator, Geshe Jampa Sangye. He thought that this dream sounded very unlikely.

After a few months, we saw newspapers stating that China and the Soviet Union had serious problems. My friend Geshe was very surprised. Later he was even more surprised when the United States and China developed a better relationship. This dream is an example of a dream through clarity; the dream proves out in a real situation.

A principal way for practitioners to develop clarity in dreams is to succeed in doing the practice of the natural light. Through this, dream awareness comes. But not only awareness. By doing this practice we continue to develop dreams of clarity and diminish our ordinary dreams of bhakshas. Through developing dreams of clarity, awareness of dreams develops.

Thus one may use many methods of practice within the dream state. There are many techniques of practice we cannot easily employ during the daytime, because we have limitations on a physical level. Even if we have a good idea of how to do these techniques, they are still not so easy to apply. In dreamtime, however, we have no functioning of our sense organs, so we are not limited by the material body and thus can more easily apply many methods.

Through the experience of practice in the dream state, we can have a very strong experience and understanding of the dream-like nature of daily life. In this way we diminish our attachments and our tensions, and can truly understand what Buddha Shakyamuni meant when he said that everything is unreal and like an illusion or a dream. The result that attachment diminishes is due to the fact that attachment is based on a strong belief that the phenomena of this life are important and real.

M: One time I had a dream in which I received a ticket from the police for parking in the wrong place. I remembered the dream the next day and decided to be very careful. I made a point of putting money in the meter so that I would not get a ticket. As I walked around I kept aware of

the time so that I knew when to return to my car. However, when I got back to my car it was one minute after the meter had expired and I found a ticket

exactly as I had seen in my dream. I had tried very hard to avoid this consequence. Is it possible to change the outcome of a sequence of events after having dreamed them a certain way?

N: Sometimes you can collaborate with your dream of clarity. It can become very useful for you in overcoming many problems. But changing events is not so easy because everything is linked with secondary causes. Sometimes they are very complicated secondary causes, and you cannot do very much. I told you the

story of one of my friends in Italy. I had a very complicated dream about her, but I could not do anything. That is an example. Nevertheless, sometimes when we know that a dream says something about the future, we can modify our plans to avert a potential problem. Once, when I was preparing to go to

China on my second visit I had many bad dreams night after night. I was disturbed by these dreams and became concerned about traveling to China. Then my wife Rosa and son Yeshe went to the north of Italy for the holidays. My own plan was to leave for China. However, the day they left to go to the north of

Italy they had a car accident. That early morning I had had a bad dream that I was driving a car very fast. I was approaching a place where the road ends and tried to stop the car, but I couldn’t, because I was going so fast. If I were to go ahead, I would fall off of a cliff. I did not know what to do

and was very frightened. At that moment I recognized that I was dreaming and that the situation was unreal. Immediately I thought, “I must transform.” Instantly I transformed the car into a horse. I was then riding on the back of a horse, a very big stone horse. I did not fall off the cliff. After I woke

up, at breakfast, a student of mine came from Rome to drive me to the airport. I told him about my strange dream the night before, and that over the past few nights I had had bad dreams. Later, before I was to leave, I received a telephone call from Northern Italy. I heard that my wife Rosa and Yeshe had

been in the accident. I thought the dream corresponded to only their negative situation, which was not very dangerous. They were in the hospital, but it was not serious. I still intended to go to China and the next day I was to go to Rome. But that morning I had another negative dream. I half woke up. In

this state between dream and wakefulness someone told me very clearly, “You must not travel.” It was very clear. Then I woke up. I had thought someone was really talking, but I discovered the voice was a dream. I changed my plans, and did not travel to China. I don’t know what would have happened to me

if I had gone that time. It is not easy to know what exactly was the problem. The only thing I could say is that one month later I heard news that in China

and Lhasa they had put many people in prison, and some were killed because they were regarded as threats to communism. I don’t know if this was the problem, or if it was perhaps related to the airplane. Sometimes it is possible to overcome ill fate by clarity in dreams; this is very useful.

M: Rinpoche, you have said that at the time of death one can use the awareness developed in the practice of natural light and in tantric dream practice. I have also heard it said that one’s awareness becomes seven times as strong after death. Would you talk about how to liberate oneself at the time of death

and how much experience a Westerner must have with lucid dreams to make it likely that he or she can accomplish this liberation? What are your ideas on this?

N: If you have had some dreams of clarity, you can have benefits and possibilities related to the teaching and the path. However, if you are interested in using the practice for liberation after death, then you must have transmission of the method, and teachings on this subject in your lifetime. As an

example, let us discuss shitro,4 what is called in the West The Tibetan Book of the Dead. It is a practice related to the peaceful and wrathful manifestations. When you receive a transmission—a teacher’s empowerment of a student to practice a specific method—then, through the power of that

transmission, something is connected with your potential which, until then, is latent as an unmanifest karmic seed. Subsequently, you use your experience of practice in your lifetime. It means you are developing the possibility of the manifestation of your potentials. A simple example of potential is a

mirror. If you look in a mirror you discover it has infinite potential, beyond limitation. It could be a small mirror, yet even a small mirror can reflect a whole view of a countryside. The reflection is beyond the size of the mirror. Through the reflections you find in the mirror, you can discover its

infinite potential; the reflection is very important for discovering that nature. If in our lifetime we receive a transmission and then unify the power of that transmission through the power of mantra, and subsequently practice and prepare for the series of wrathful and peaceful manifestations of the

shitro method which occur in the bardo of the nature of existence, before the ordinary bardo, then we have that possibility of that manifestation. Because we already have done preparation, we have the potential for this specific manifestation, and at the same time we recognize it is just our potential,

nothing else. When we recognize this through the transmission and through the method, then we can have real liberation. Liberation means entering into our real nature. No longer are we dependent on thoughts and judgments and conditioned karmic vision.5 When practitioners of the night die, they will

have the possibility of liberation. For those who do not have the capacity to realize at the moment of death in this way, there is a return to the bardo of existence. Such a return means that once again we will be reborn and have the function of the mind and the consciousness of the senses, both very similar

to their counterparts within the dream state. The difference is that within the dream state our functions of consciousness are not dependent on the material body and its sense organs. For this reason we have seven times the amount of clarity in the bardo than we have during our lives, as explained in Tantrism.

M: I have read many accounts of people in the West who have had lucid dream experiences. They can transform a nightmare into a peaceful situation or can overcome their fear in a dream. If they have never heard of the practices of Tantra and Dzogchen but have had experiences of lucidity and know enough to

transform their negative dreams into positive circumstances, could they in the bardo of existence transform a wrathful manifestation into a positive one and achieve at least a favorable rebirth, if not complete liberation?

N: If one has the experience of transforming a bad situation into a peaceful situation in a dream, it only means that one has this experience in the dream. When one has the capacity of transforming bad into good or peaceful within a dream, it doesn’t mean one also has that capacity in the bardo, after death.

If you want to be liberated you must have the power to connect with the awareness of your real nature. Your real nature is not a dualistic vision. Ideas of good and bad are linked with perception which is itself the result of our karma. Having knowledge of the bardo is another

situation. First you need a method to discover your potential, then you discover how your potential is beyond life and death, and beyond the limitations of your ordinary vision of good and bad. If you don’t have this understanding of your real nature I don’t think there is a possibility of liberating yourself in the bardo.

M: This brings us to the methods of Dzogchen, knowing one’s true nature through direct transmission and the practice of dream and natural light. Can you say something about the practices of Dzogchen and how one receives transmission? How do Dzogchen practices lead to the capacity to liberate oneself at the

time of death, or even to have experiences of clarity in the time of life? What is the relationship between all of the dream practices and all that we have talked about in terms of Dzogchen, that is, between the practices of the night and the awareness of Rigpa during the day?

N: The principle in Dzogchen teachings is knowledge. We need to understand our real condition. We can know this only through knowledge of our existence. For example, we say mind is one of our three existences—body, speech, and mind. It is also the root of the three existences. When we speak of mind, we mean

mind as a relative condition, with which we think and judge. We are going deeper when we say nature of mind. But there is no way to discover nature of mind if we don’t know what is the mind. The mind is part of our relative condition, our existence of body, speech, and mind. When we discover the knowledge

of our real condition in the Dzogchen teachings, we call it the state of Rigpa, or being in our real nature. This knowledge is the root of the practice of dreams also. Dreams are a part of our life. In our life we have daytime and nighttime. In the nighttime we have confusion in our dreams; in daytime we

have confusion with our mind—judging, thinking, creating many things. This is how we pass our life. Being aware or continuing our awareness in dreamtime means maintaining the same awareness we have during the daytime. If we have no capacity to be in the state of Rigpa, the state of real knowledge, in the

daytime with practice of contemplation, we cannot have it in the nighttime either. It is the same principle. If we have at least this knowledge of Rigpa in the daytime with many experiences, then when we use this knowledge in the nighttime it will be easier to be in this state. We can have more experiences in dreamtime than daytime. So this is the relationship of practice to night experience.

M: Is it the same for Tantra?

N: Yes, in Tantra it is more or less the same as in Dzogchen.

M: I have heard it is essential to have transmission from a master to receive these practices, to understand them, to develop them. Must you also have a transmission from a master in order to develop the practices of dream awareness? It seems many people in the West have had experiences with lucid dreaming. What is the relationship between transmission and developing lucidity within the dream state? How essential is it?

N: If you want to have only a limited experience of dreams, to have awareness in dreamtime or even some clarity experiences, you can do so even if you receive no transmission. However, if you want to consider the dream experience as your path, to see how it affects you beyond your life, after death, and to use your dream practice to prepare for the bardo, then you must get

transmission. Otherwise you cannot go beyond, and have the possibility of using different methods of practice. People can eventually discover the meaning of a teaching, even if at the moment of transmission they do not understand. You need transmission for awareness. Awareness is related to our clarity and our energy. If you have a transmission there is a continuity, a possibility of repetition. For example, if you have had the transmission for Shitro practice during your lifetime, you have the possibility of its manifestation in the bardo.

M: If you read about these dream practices in a book could you practice even without transmission?

N: It depends. One person can have some results while someone else has none. There is no guarantee. But if you follow the transmission the precise way you can have many experiences.

M: So transmission itself does not lessen one’s karma or create merit?

N: Everything is relative.

M: Rinpoche, there is a Dzogchen text by Mipham [[[Chapter]] 5 of this book] that explains the practice of awareness and contemplation. How can one deeply understand this text and apply it day and night?

N: When you read a book you can understand all concepts in an intellectual way. If you receive a transmission from a teacher, you can have a different taste.

M: Rinpoche, you seem to have a more informal method of transmission than many other lamas.

N: That is not my invention. This is the tradition of Dzogchen teachings. In Dzogchen there is a way to transmit. Analogously, a philosophy teacher, through the language of philosophy, transmits understanding and knowledge. This method works for people who are conditioned for it. People who are

conditioned by the method of Tantra can receive transmission through ceremony. Simple people can receive a transmission through talking, like two people, two friends, together. This too is a way of transmission and understanding. The point is that one must experience real knowledge. Without that, one may receive hundreds of initiations and explanations, but they don’t account for very much in the Dzogchen view.

M: Is it important to be aware that you are receiving a transmission?

N: It depends on who it is that receives the transmission. If someone is really prepared and has the capacity to receive transmission, then any way a teacher transmits could be very useful, and the person would benefit. If one is not prepared and has no capacity, then it is not easy to receive the transmission.

M: If someone receives transmission, but does not immediately understand, is there still a great value in receiving it, or is the value only in the understanding?

N: If someone receives a transmission but does not understand, then at the moment there is not very much benefit. When you receive a transmission and you wake up, really getting into a state of knowledge, then there will be benefits.

M: In the West there is at least one tradition which believes that all elements of a dream represent aspects or projections of the dreamer. They might ask a person to dramatize each element in order to gain information about the dreamer. What do you think about this?

N: We must distinguish between the dreams that originate from bhakshas and those that arise from clarity. If they are dreams originating from daily impressions, you can certainly learn about the dreamer’s condition in the manner you describe. If the dreams originate in clarity, it is a different case; they are not only a projection.

M: What is the significance of walking or talking in one’s sleep?

N: If people are sleeping very deeply and they have a dream associated with bhakshas, their preoccupations, they feel it is real and very concrete. They are very integrated with this condition. That’s why they not only dream but also talk and walk. If you are really angry in a dream, you might also jump.

M: Sometimes it seems as if dreams are occurring in fast motion. Why does this occur?

N: There are two reasons. One is that in general our minds have no limitation. The mind functions very quickly. Sometimes in a very short time we can dream the actions of an entire day. Another is that dreams may be associated with agitation, and when we are agitated the dream becomes fast.

M: Is there any link between dreams and putting information into our memory?

N: It is possible to learn and even train yourself within the dream if you are aware.

M: When one sleeps in the Clear Light is there still dreaming?

N: If you sleep in the Clear Light then your dreams become more linked with clarity and much less linked with bhakshas. Your dreams become more clear and meaningful.

M: What is the difference between our dreaming state and our ordinary waking experience?

N: Waking experience is more concrete and linked with our attachment, whereas dreaming is slightly detached. We use the word unreal because in dreams we already have an idea or knowledge of the subject.

M: For a lama or a strong practitioner, is there any difference between dreaming and waking experience in an absolute sense?

N: Maybe if one can integrate one’s experience completely, one can find the same principle and the same condition in both states. Then life really is a dream.

M: What relationship does the macic body, which is discussed in the Six Yogas of Naropa,7 have to do with dreaming?

N: Dreaming is the principal path for realizing the magic body. If you have experience of the magic body you will easily understand how dreams function.

M: What is the value of developing your magic body?

N: With a developed magic body you have total realization of the unreal.

M: When one develops the capacity of the magic body, is one able to project this body during the time one is awake as well as during sleep?

N: It is possible because one integrates everything.

M: If one receives a teaching or transmission in a dream, is this as valid as if one were awake and receiving a transmission?

N: If you are really aware in the dream state then it has the same value.

M: Would you say that in general if you are not lucid in your dream state when you receive a transmission, then this transmission is not of great value?

N: Sometimes a dream of transmission may indicate a disturbance of jabo,8 for example.

M: Recently I had a dream that I was with a lama and he was explaining what another dream I had meant. Is this a dream of clarity?

N: It depends on what was explained and who was explaining. Such a dream is not always one of clarity. It could also be demons creating problems.

M: How can one distinguish between a dream of real transmission and one that is a disturbance?

N: It depends on your understanding and how you feel. As your clarity develops you will distinguish. If it is a disturbance you may feel upset the next day.

M: Can a teacher enter into his or her disciple’s dreams? N: Yes.

M: Are there other unusual things that can occur in dreams or through them?

N: Unusual is a relative term, but I will relate several stories that may be illustrative. Once upon a time many, many years ago in east Tibet there was—and still is today—a province. There were two families who lived there, and they were related. One of the families had a daughter. Every

day she went to a mountain called Gundron. Gundron is the home of an important guardian of this area. There is a particular rock on this mountain known to be the support of this local guardian. The young daughter went near the rock every day, bringing animals there to roam. When she arrived she would

rest under an overhang of the rock while the animals, the dogs, and the sheep would graze. One day when it was raining, she went under the rock and fell asleep for a long time. In her dream she was near the rock with a young, very strong man. For her it seemed very real even though it was only a dream. They

talked together and had sexual contact. Later she woke up and found her experience to be a dream, but then after a few months she discovered that she was pregnant. Her parents were very surprised because there were no other men around where they lived. They were very remote from any other families.

After nine months she gave birth to a very strong baby. He grew up to be a special man. He was not nice-looking, but physically he was very strong. He built a house constructed of many big trees, and became very famous because he was so strong. There was a king of Derge, in east Tibet, during this

time, who had a problem with Mongolian invasions. The lord asked all the men of the region to come as soldiers to defend Tibet. The strong man became very famous because he conquered many Mongolian soldiers, and later became chief of the province. This story was written in a book that I read, about the

history and origins of my mother’s family. You would like to know if I believe this story? Oh yes. There are many similar family histories in Tibet. Such stories are not so very uncommon in the ancient history of Tibet. Within the ancient Bonpo tradition there is frequently reference to the Tirang. The

Tirang is a type of being, close to a human being, but not quite human. Tirang belongs to the class of Nyen.9 Most local guardians are considered to be from the class of Nyen. Within the class of Nyen there are beings called Masang or Tirang. These beings are considered close to human. As mentioned,

there has been sexual contact between humans and Tirang, and generations have been formed. In fact there is another book about the history of the first Tibetan King. He came from East Tibet, from a region called Puel. According to this account, written by an eleventh-century Dzogchen master, there was a

woman who had contact with a Tirang being and had children. One of these children was called Ouer. When the child was growing up, some Bonpo priests did divination and astrological calculations for discovering what kind of a child he was, because he had extraordinary powers. They were a little afraid of

these powers. So they said that this could be a Tirang child, and that he must be taken out of their region or they could have problems. Subsequently, they did rites to draw away the Tirang and then they sent him outside of Fuel. Eventually he arrived in Central Tibet. At this time in Central Tibet there was

no king. When the people discovered that the boy had extraordinary power, he was soon appointed the Tibetan King. He was called Pu-Gel. Gel means king and Pu means from the region of Pu-el. His name is widely known as the name of the first Tibetan king, but most people do not know the source of the name. The

history book that I mentioned gives this story and other examples of contact between human beings and Tirang beings. The next example occurred quite recently. I decided to go visit the place of the ancient Shang Shung kings in Tibet. We had been traveling by cars, but just before arriving, we left our

cars and arranged to go on by horse and yak. At the place where we stopped were some ancient ruins, for older than the ones destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. We put up our tents amidst these ruins. Many ruined structures surrounded us. Nearby was an intriguing heap of earth, and I

asked the local people what this place was. They said that in ancient times it was a Bonpo monastery called Shang-Shung Monastery. Since this was a very ancient monastery, no more information was available. That night I had an interesting dream. In it there was a very nice temple with four doors facing

the four directions. I entered through the eastern door. Inside was a gigantic statue of a yogi with three eyes. In his right hand was a gyan-sen, a victory flag. In his left hand was a kapala,10 a skull cup. I went very close to the statue and noticed Tibetan writing under the yogi; it read “Tempa

Namka”. Tempa Namka was a famous Bonpo master of Shang-Shung. This was not the Tempa Namka of Tibet, who was one of Guru Padmasambhava’s twenty-five disciples.11 This was Tempa Namka of Shang-Shung, who is from a more ancient time than the other Tempa Namka. In my dream, I left the temple through

the western door. Outside were many chortens,12 all around me. Suddenly my vision transformed back to my present vision; again there were only heaps of earth and no chortens. I wondered what happened. I then turned back to see the temple, only to discover that it had vanished. All that remained were

heaps of earth. I was surprised. I thought to myself: “There was once in the past a temple and many chortens here, which only exist as heaps of earth today.” In my dream I was aware that this was an experience of clarity. Then I looked west at a heap of earth, the ruin of a chorten. There was a light

coming from this chorten, similar to sunlight that reflects off a crystal or piece of glass. As I walked towards the light, it began to diminish. When I reached the chorten, the light had totally vanished, and there was a hole in the chorten. I thought, “There must be something interesting inside this

hole,” and put my hand inside. It was a very deep hole and I was able to put my whole arm inside up to my shoulder. Feeling an object inside the hole, I took it out. It was a garuda statue of the ancient time of Tempa Namka; I was very happy with my find. However, I was aware that I was dreaming

throughout this whole event. Then I woke up. It was time to pack our tents and I forgot my dream. As people were packing up their horses and yaks I was filming the ruins. At a certain point, I found myself near the same heap of earth that had been the chorten where I found the garuda in my dream. At

that moment I remembered my dream, and looked towards the chorten to see if there was any light. Although there was no light, I did see the hole. I put my hand in; it was not as deep as in my dream. I had to dig out the earth, breaking my fingernails in the process. When I had reached in almost up to my

shoulder I felt something. I pulled out this object. It was a metal garuda, just as in my dream. It was very old. You can see a photo of it in the film we made of our journey in Tibet. This event occurred near Mount Kailash in Tibet during the summer of 1988. It is an example of how a dream relates to something concrete.

M: What are the ultimate results of doing the dream work?

N: If one is highly advanced one may cease to dream. If one is moderately advanced one will come to recognize that one is dreaming. At the least, if one practices, one’s dreams will become more clear and positive.

M: Rinpoche, are you always lucid in your dreams?

N: Not always. It depends on the circumstances.


1. Oddiyana: The location and existence of this country has long been debated by scholars. It has been variously placed in the Swat valley of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and western Tibet. Oddiyana is the reputed origin of both the Anuttara Tantras and the Tantras of Dzogchen, and is considered to be the birthplace of Padmasambhava. [return]

2. “A” Norbu Rinpoche describes practices that utilize the Tibetan syllable “A” in Chapter two of this book.

3. Secondary conditions: The way in which primary conditions, or karmic seeds, might interact with secondary conditions to manifest a dream which seems to predict the future is explained below in a fictional example. Due to misdeeds either within this life or within previous lives, most individuals have

debts. These debts are karmic potentials that could result in the individual’s injury or death when they are repaid. In our example, an individual who is a strong practitioner of meditation and who has led a virtuous life takes his car to a mechanic to have the brakes repaired. Neither he nor the mechanic remembers that in a previous life he caused the mechanic personal injury. Due to the force of the karmic seed, the mechanic unintentionally fails to fully repair the brakes. As the practitioner is driving, he subconsciously registers a subtle squeaking of the brakes. Due to his meditation practice, he

generally remembers his dreams vividly, and that evening he dreams that he is in a car accident due to brake Mure. The next day he returns his car to the auto shop, and upon further inspection the brake defect is discovered before there is an accident. In our story, both the subtle cue of the squeaking

and the individual’s experience in remembering his dreams are secondary conditions that help manifest the dream of what might have occurred. In the case of a very advanced practitioner of meditation, the secondary conditions may fall into the realm of what is ordinarily considered miraculous. [return]

4. Shitro or Kar-gling-zhi-tro, a terma of Karma Lingpa. The practice of the 58 wrathful and the 42 peaceful deities which may arise as visions during the chonyid bardo. Shitro, which is associated with the dying process, brings clarity to those who practice it and prepares them to overcome obstacles at

death. It is also practiced by the living for the benefit of those who have recently died. The texts of this terma have become incorrectly known in the West as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, due to the mistranslations by Evans Wentz. (See John ReynoldsSelf Liberation Through Seeing with Naked Awareness, p. 132, note 2.) The correct name of the two main texts is The Bardo Thodol and Liberation Through Hearing in the Intermediate State. Ultimately there are six bardos or “intermediate statescorresponding to experiences from death to rebirth, including the after-death experience, all of which are described within the Shitro Terma.

5. Karmic vision: According to the Buddhist theory of karma, our very perception is the result of previous actions which lead to incarnation in a realm where there is a shared “reality”. Indeed,

the same environment may be perceived differently depending on one’s “vision”. According to a classic Buddhist example, a river which to a human being is seen as refreshing might be viewed as a river of molten lava by a hell dweller, while to a fish it is seen as its very atmosphere.

6. Magic body: The illusory body, developed through practicing one of the Six Yogas of Naropa.

7. The Six Yogas of Naropa: These yogas were compiled by Naropa, a Mahasiddha of the Kagyud tradition, and include the following: The Yoga of Dumo (heat), the Yoga of the Magic or illusory body, the Yoga of Milam (dreams), the Yoga of Light, the Yoga of the Bardo, and the Yoga of Phowa (transference of consciousness).

8. Jabo: A powerful class of beings who cause obstacles such as illness when provoked. Norbu Rinpoche mentioned that this class of beings may create confusion within dreams.

9. Nyen: A class of Dharma Protectors, often associated with a particular location such as a particular mountain or lake.

10. Kapala: Ritual container often made from a human skull. The kapala is a ritual object from the Anuttara Tantra. It represents compassion, as the blood of all sentient beings is symbolically carried inside of it.

11. Guru Padmasambhava’s twenty-five disciples: The chief Tibetan disciples of the great Master Padmasambhava during the time he taught the Dharma in Tibet. Each of the twenty-five disciples took a vow to take future rebirths in human form in order to discover Terma for the benefit of future practitioners. It is important to note that not all Termas come from Guru Padmasambhava; some also come from Vimalamitra, for example.

12. Chorten, also called stupa: A monument whose design reflects the stages of the path to enlightenment. The interior of the chorten is often filled with religious relics.

13. Garuda (Sanskrit) or khyung in Tibetan: A mythical bird resembling an eagle. In Tibet the garuda represents the fire element. It is also a manifestation of lightning. The garuda subdues the class of nagas (snake beings). The garuda or khyung is especially invoked to heal disease provoked by

the nagas, such as skin diseases and different types of cancer. In the Hindu tradition the garuda is half human and half bird and is also the vehicle of the deity Vishnu. The garuda is related to the Thunder Bird or Fire Bird in other mythologies.

14. Mt. Kailash: Located in West Tibet, Mount Kailash is the mountain most sacred to Tibetan Buddhists. It is considered an archetypal manifestation of the sacred mountain at the center of the world. It is also highly revered by Bonpos, Hindus and Jains.