The Buddha Shakyamuni instructed us to regard all phenomena as illusory appearances. He used many examples, like dreams, echoes, and mirages to illustrate the illusory nature of the phenomenal world. Dreams are particularly apt examples, because unlike mirages and echoes, they resemble waking experience more completely.
Dreams can and often do include all six consciousnesses (mental, auditory, tactile, visual, gustatory, and olfactory), the six senses (mind, hearing, touch, vision, taste, smell), and the six sense objects (thoughts, sounds, tactile sensations, forms, tastes, and odors). There’s nothing that is absent within the dream experience; in going to sleep, we’re just passing from one type of experience to another.
If we can understand how dreams appear, and how they are capable of generating feelings, sensations, emotions, and volitions, we can better understand our waking experience. Exploring our dreams, then, can give us valuable insight into the nature of mental phenomena.
In the Nyingma and Kagyu lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, Dream Yoga (Tib. milam, Skt. svapnadarshana) typically includes four processes: recognizing that we are dreaming while dreaming; directing and transforming the dream; multiplying the appearances of dream objects and changing their dimensions at will; and unifying the dream with empty luminosity of the mind. These practices, although very beneficial, require much time and effort, and not all persons are successful at achieving lucid dreaming.
Among the Jonang, Dream Yoga consists not in controlling and manipulating dreams, but rather in analyzing, contemplating, and contrasting the workings of the mind during the waking and dreaming states, and realizing that they are not essentially different processes. In both cases, our senses make contact with sense objects, giving rise to feelings, emotions, and volitions. The only difference is that, when we arise from sleep, we realize that dream objects were generated internally and are insubstantial, while when awake, we believe that the objects we encounter are external and real.