Mind Training, 2nd Proverb

2. Look at all experience as a dream


The way in which all external objects appear to exist independently, by themselves, without any relationship to your perception or the mental labels you impute them, is the view of ignorance. In truth, there is nothing whatsoever that exists in this way. You are convinced that everything has true, inherent, independent self-existence because your mind is obscured by ignorance. Desire, greed, hatred, pride, and all other afflictions of the mind arise from this mistaken view.

With increased awareness of how your perception functions, you will come to see the fallacy of your present mode of experience. Examine how you perceive all things through the five sensory organs (ear, body, eye, tongue, and nose) in relation to the five sensory objects (sounds, touchables, forms, tastes, and smells). For example, when you look at an ‘external’ object, the way in which this object is presented to your mind is far from a direct perception. In fact, the eye receives stimulation in the form of light, generating a series of nerve impulses. These impulses then travel through the optic nerve, and are presented to the mind as a pattern of points of light and darkness which the mind interprets according to previous experience. The representation of the object is an internal image generated by the mind on the basis of a recognizable pattern.

Phenomena that is, the world and its inhabitants are objects that you grasp at with your senses. These appearances are simply your mind’s manifestations of confusion. In the end, they are not actually existent in any way whatsoever, but are like the appearances in a dream. By thinking along these lines, train yourself to look at the world in this way.

When dreaming, everything seems to have physical reality and to be fully capable of causing benefit, suffering, or fear. In fact, a nightmare may be so vivid that you awaken, panting and drenched in perspiration. However, all that you feel and see in a dream is merely illusory and does not have any real or true existence.

Even though the images that appear in dreams seem to be very real, they are actually internal representations in your mind. Likewise, viewing waking phenomena as existing by themselves, completely independent of their surroundings, and your labeling of them, is the same as regarding dreams as real.


Regard all that you hear, touch, see, taste, smell, think, feel, value, or believe, as if you were dreaming it. After all, it is a perspective generated by the predispositions of your mind. Repeat to yourself: “This is a dream. It is an internal representation. It is insubstantial and impermanent, just like a dream.”


Releasing the habit of perceiving waking reality as solid and permanent allows for greater flexibility, and prevents you from fixating on perceptions as if they were true.

About Tashi Nyima

I am a Dharma student, and aspire to be a companion on the path. I trust that these texts can offer a general approach and basic tools for practicing the Buddha's way to enlightenment. ||| Soy un estudiante del Dharma, y aspiro a ser un compañero en el sendero. Espero que estos textos ofrezcan a algunos un mapa general y herramientas básicas para la práctica del sendero a la iluminación que nos ofrece el Buda.
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8 Responses to Mind Training, 2nd Proverb

  1. Yeshe Gyatso says:

    Does “as a dream ” mean like a dream or suggest life is a dream ?
    It is logical to think there are intended to be ( implied ) limitations to this exercise?
    Are seeing and feeling the focus of this exercise or is it intended to affect behavior as well. The verse, for instance does say not “treat your life as a dream” or act as if your life were only a dream

    • Tashi Nyima says:

      This is a statement indicating that our experiences in waking and dreaming are fundamentally identical, as there is no difference in the mental processes that generate our perceptions. Both dreaming and waking perceptions are internal representations.

      This proverb asks us to realize that what we believe to be ‘direct’ perceptions of inherently existing persons, objects, and situations are merely internal representations in our minds. As they are internal, they are generated in dependence on our predispositions.

  2. Yeshe Gyatso says:

    I did not mean to split hairs. On reflection I just noticed the semantics were specific.
    Even in The Essence of Ambrosia on page three of the prologue at the end of the sixth paragraph Lord Taranatha says “the relative reality is that things are like an illusion”
    According to your answer above he could have simply said “is an illusion” or fabrication but instead seemed careful to say “like an illusion”. Could this careful choice of words be communicating that waking consciousness though it has many elements in common with a dream or an illusion and though it is useful to reflect and meditate on these commonalities it also important to remain mindful of the differences between them as well? If so, how would you describe those differences?

    • Tashi Nyima says:

      The text recommends that we regard all experiences “as an illusion.” No one is recommending that we cease to distinguish between waking and dreaming perceptions in conventional terms. That is actually impossible, unless we are suffering from a mental impairment. The advantage of dream perceptions over waking ones is that we already know they are illusory; we need not practice at realizing they are insubstantial.

      What we are instructed to understand is that the solidity and permanence we ascribe to waking perceptions should be challenged by realizing that both waking and dreaming perceptions are mental representations. In the sense of how they are produced (the operating mechanism of perception), they are identical. Both are illusions.

  3. Yeshe gyatso says:

    Thank you. Your instructions are clear and straightforward and I am practicing them.
    Forgive me it was not my intention to be a pest.
    I was only reflecting that there are major differnces in waking consciousness and dreams such as waking perception takes into account the data of the five senses and in waking consciousness there are karmic consequences of one’s actions which I assume are not present in dreams. I thought the verses were making a semantically sane distinction between likeness and identicalness of these two states. Perhaps because making them equal could lead to abuses such as nilihism and an attitude that nothing matters etc. Of course this where a teacher and guide such as yourself comes in handy. 🙂

    • Tashi Nyima says:

      It is always beneficial to seek clarification whenever doubts arise. Thank you for your questions and comments.

      The data of the five senses are present in dreams as well as in waking states –of course, they arise from previous (stored) experiences, but they are not absent. Furthermore, within the dream state these data are as ‘real’ to us as in the waking state. It is only upon waking that we realize their insubstantial nature.

      Please also note that there is a subtle karmic effect arising from dreams: the actions undertaken in the dream state reinforce existing karmic tendencies.

  4. Yeshe Gyatso says:

    Can you elaborate on these two points below?

    “No one is recommending that we cease to distinguish between waking and dreaming perceptions in conventional terms. That is actually impossible, unless we are suffering from a mental impairment”

    “There is a subtle karmic effect arising from dreams: the actions undertaken in the dream state reinforce existing karmic tendencies.”

    This is hard to grasp. I would tend to think from experience that the activities of my daily waking life influence my dreams … but not my dreams my waking consciousness … most all dreams evaporate like mist on waking for me. Also if someone commits a violation of the five precepts in their dreams it is difficult to believe it has much of a karmic effect in waking consciousness. Again I find such differences , even if they are only differences in magnitude , in these two states of consciousness most curious.

    • Tashi Nyima says:

      The reason for the recommendation that we regard all waking experiences as dreams is precisely because we already have the realization that dreams are insubstantial and impermanent, while on the other hand we hold the incorrect view that waking experience is endowed with self-inherent reality and permanence. Both are nothing but internal representations.

      Leaving aside, for now, the question of whether there is an external reality or not, consider what kind of contact we have with objects of perception. Is it direct and unmediated? Or is it rather an extremely subjective experience? When we hear a sound, for example, we have no actual contact with the sound as perceived. Modern science tells us that the vibrations are transmitted to the extremely small bones of the ear, which in turn bring these vibrations, through the otic nerve, to the brain. These patterns of vibration are presented to the mind, which then interprets them as a particular kind of sound. The ‘sound’ we ‘hear’ is but this internal representation; we do not hear the external sound.

      Whether we hear a sound as pleasant or unpleasant, high or low pitched, loud or faint, etcetera, is an artifact of our predispositions. If sound had inherent qualities, if it were actually (in and of itself) pleasant or unpleasant, high or low pitched, loud or faint, we would all hear each sound in the same way, and we would like or dislike the same sounds, but we do not. Our experience is our own; it depends on our accumulated previous experiences.

      When we dream, we affect our internal reality. An extreme example may suffice: if we have a terrible nightmare, our fight-or-flight mechanisms will be activated, our blood pressure will rise, and our entire physiology will change. In some cases, a nightmare may cause us to scream out loud, shed tears, fall off the bed, or even suffer a heart attack. Or a sensual dream may lead to ejaculation, which is not an uncommon experience among young men.

      Can we deny that dreams have effects beyond their evanescent nature? Do they not afffect our waking state, even physically? Are they not actions? If so, can any action fail to have consequences? If they are actions, and all actions have consequences, how can we say that they do not affect the waking state? We are not two different people, with different karma, when asleep and awake. What we do in either state is our karma.

      More importantly, the dream state is similar to the bardo of death, the intermediate state. If we have not mastered the dream state with lucidity –that is, if we do not know that we are dreaming while we dream– how will we know we are dead when dying? And if we do not know that we are dead, how will we not react with fear to the images that arise in the bardo? We will be driven by this fear to seek refuge in rebirth.

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