Some people are fine with very little sleep. Is this desirable or will it make you lack something in the long run?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Basically, sleep is ignorance. But it is also a very useful ignorance. If you haven’t slept for too long, then you put the firecracker into your mouth instead of the cigar, like the joke about the drunk on New Year’s Eve.

If one needs very little sleep, then one might have a slightly manic predisposition. One does everything too quickly and then has many ups and downs. Despite the many great yogi examples like Milarepa, who hardly slept for a very long time, my experience is that one depletes one’s own reserves.

I myself am known for sleeping little. For weeks, I can function with three to four hours of sleep per night, but then I really lack something. If I get less than five hours per night for a week, then I sit there and know exactly what I want to say, but my vocabulary shrinks from fifty thousand words to five thousand. If you want to learn more, to really enrich things, and above all to work intellectually with words, you actually need six to seven hours of sleep per night in the long run. Otherwise you may achieve quantity but not necessarily quality—I have noticed this while writing books. The same holds for a body that is active, that loves, that jumps, that does things, that thinks, that usually doesn’t go to bed before three o’clock in the morning. Only those who stay in one place for a long time and don’t do much mental work can really reduce their need for sleep.

You are lucky if you manage to go to bed early from time to time—preferably before midnight. I myself have done this a few times during our book retreats. The dream phases one can go through then are pure luxury! But one shouldn’t sleep too much either.

You advise us not to talk about personal meditation experiences. Does this also hold for dreams?

Lama Ole’s answer:

There are different kinds of dreams. Serious dreams are messages from your subconscious, and there you should check it out a bit before talking about it much. With dreams where you see buddhas and bodhisattvas—these are something very special which you should not share so widely.

On the other hand, if you dream of something funny or interesting and it’s not too explosive, then of course you can talk about it. And if you are together with friends and someone shares about a dream with Karmapa, then this is actually a blessing for everybody. Everyone gets something good each time Karmapa is mentioned. Only if Karmapa tells you something in your dream that you think was meant especially for you, then you should keep it to yourself. Everybody who has dreamt about Karmapa can feel this.

Is it possible to remove bad karma through negative dreams, or is the dream only a mirror reflecting what happens in life?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Whenever body, speech, and mind are involved simultaneously, the energies built up and liberated are the strongest. If you have built up something subconsciously for a long time, then it might be confirmed to you in a dream.

Everything that you don’t have to live through to learn from is washed away by the power of the Buddhist refuge and your practice. The power of Mahakala steers everything. The blessing allows potential big dramas and suffering to be processed as smaller difficulties or as a headache. Since very intense things are also processed in this way, one can sometimes see characteristics of these processes in a dream. If one has gotten rid of something, then, for example, one can fly or one kills someone or is killed oneself. In this sense, we can experience different ego barriers falling away during the night, but the removal itself happens both day and night.

What is the meaning of déjà vu experiences in dreams?

Lama Ole’s answer:

There are two explanations for this. With short déjà vus that make little sense or are not related to anything, our consciousness gets the same message from two different channels: through the intuitive way of directly knowing, and a split second later through the different brain centers that also process the same impressions. This is then experienced as a sudden déjà vu.

But if you recognize the circumstances and places as a whole and you know what will happen next, then perhaps you aren’t completely within linear awareness with past and present, but a bit outside of this stream.

Consciousness can be seen as a limitless ocean or space. And in this space, past, present, and future run their course like streams or lines. And just as a wave or a stream in its essence is not different from the ocean, in the same way one can step out of this linear stream, which originated from personal attachment and expectations. This can be done through feelings like devotion or the wish for others to be happy. Then through the vibration of your molecules, through the space between your molecules, through the energy and clarity of your mind, you are connected to all things. This then is your constant experience, and suddenly your sense impressions plug into it too. You can easily see things that will come or have happened. I do this often when making divinations.

Some people also have this while dreaming. I would simply be happy about it if it is there—see it as interesting and go on cheerfully. As long as you cannot control this ability, it’s not possible to work with it. Only once you can hold and control it is it great.

If the bond between the teacher and student is sufficiently strong, is it possible to notice while dreaming when the teacher is in danger or when a very important situation unfolds?

Lama Ole’s answer:

One certainly can dream about that. This intuition of what is happening is much more developed than we usually think. Often our own issues cover up this feeling, so we don’t notice it.

An example is when Kalu Rinpoche died. During his last years, Hannah had a closer connection to him than I had. I drove him through Europe and we were great friends, but I wasn’t so enthusiastic about the people who stayed in his company. I thought they were too monastic and stiff. I didn’t want this kind of Buddhism with us. But Hannah had promised to work for him. So when he died, I had a vague feeling that something had happened with him. Hannah, however, who was closer to his power-field, thought of him in that moment, opened his book, and his picture fell to the ground. That was in Malaysia. It must have been exactly at the time when he died.

Before the 16th Karmapa died, all of us also felt, “It could be now.” And then, when we were told that he had actually died, it wasn’t so surprising because everybody was already tuned in to it.

What kinds of dreams do you have?

Lama Ole’s answer:

There are several phases of sleep. First, the often broken-up impressions of the day are processed once more. Everything gets checked again. In my case, these impressions are often protective states: the lecture halls, the experiences of the day, the old protector concepts like, “Be careful here, secure that there, how is he doing,” and so on.

Then there is usually a phase of sleep that I apparently don’t have at all. Here, some people have nightmares or something similar. I might have never had a nightmare in my whole life. People tell me about them and I have compassion, but I don’t understand it.

Then, every morning, there are phases where I can switch between dreams at will. I can decide, “Ah, now I want to dream about this—that would be exciting!” I have many action-movie dreams, where I fly, jump, and do such great things. OK, also a few prophetic dreams or memories of great experiences come up, like the motorcycle trip to Oslo. That was really fantastic! The colors and the light—everything was light green with a lot of birch trees.

Then I also consciously check different things in my dreams: “What signs are there? Does somebody want to tell me something?” If I see buddha aspects or hear mantras, it is very special. There of course I am immensely thankful!

In the moment I wake up, I then have a choice. Either I say, “Now you must remember!” and I am able to do so, or I say, “Now you don’t want to remember.” The dream was a completed thing, and with twenty letters waiting for me to answer, I have to be completely here and now. Most of the time I choose this option. Only if I really think there was a dangerous sign, then I must remember.

I know a woman who often dreams about things that actually happen later. Unfortunately, they are always negative things and she is quite unsettled by this.

Lama Ole’s answer:

This is actually difficult. Those mental abilities are signs that certain parts of the mirror of the mind have become clear. But it can also mean that one has reached a very high level in the calm-abiding meditation (shinay or shamatha).

If one has clear dreams of future events shortly before waking up, then one is in the role of a “Cassandra,” which no one likes. Cassandra said, “The Greeks will get into Troy—be careful with this horse!” But the Trojans only laughed. And then suddenly, the horse and the Greeks were in the city. This is difficult indeed.

While falling asleep, this woman should try to think, “May all beings I dream of be really well,” and then also incorporate this feeling into the dreaming process as much as possible and say some mantras. This way, she may even remove some of her suffering and dissolve something karmic. Otherwise, if one goes up to people and says, “Be careful! Don’t have a car accident today!” then perhaps they’ll take the tram the first few times, but at some stage they won’t listen anymore. It is not a blessing to have this ability, especially if you miss the target a few times; and this happens even to the best prophets. In the end, you only confuse people and make them angry with you. So add in good wishes and transform the situation. That would be my advice.

What do dreams of death mean?

Lama Ole’s answer:

The only thing that can die is the various ego obstacles, obstructions, and blockages. And if you dream of corpses, and so on, then it often means that you are currently achieving certain special abilities.

What is dying is the old incrustations—the stiff ideas and the habitual thoughts, the ego trips. And when those fall away, it is like cleaning a light bulb or a mirror: more and more of the light and the strength, which exist on the inside anyway, become visible. And after waking up, you feel good and are quite wise.

You said that dreams with a descending movement were bad. What is bad about them?

Lama Ole’s answer:

It is a bad sign for development because, in the dream phase, the energy is in the central channel—the energy axis through the body—and mostly at the throat or heart levels. Energy sinking in the body is often experienced as tightness, whereas if the energy moves upwards, one becomes clear.

Such a feeling of narrowness is a sign of energy movements that sometimes arise. One then can reverse this by saying, “I am a great bodhisattva and am going down to help beings.” This thought reverses it and makes it completely great.

Are there specific dreaming techniques one can use?

Lama Ole’s answer:

We do have a meditation that enables us to use deep sleep. We also have meditations for the state of dreaming, but those are a bit dangerous because they work with the throat center, where a lot of very mixed energies lie. If one works with the throat center in the wrong way, one starts to talk harshly and snappishly.

But the deep-sleep meditation works with the heart center. Here, one cannot make mistakes because this energy center is well rounded and in the middle. It can bear a lot and is unshakable—really solid and strong. However, one should take refuge before doing this deep-sleep practice called the “clear light meditation.” In this practice, you learn to become more and more aware and able to take the feeling of dreaming into the day. This protects you very, very well!

I myself received the transmission for this meditation from the 16th Karmapa, but it stems from the 15th. With this practice you can learn to remain in the clear light during the night and to feel at home in it. You do the meditation before falling asleep. It is easy to hold the awareness before falling asleep and while lying down—one can learn both. But to stay clear in the moment consciousness goes from being awake to sleeping, that is the difficult point. But you also don’t necessarily need this.

In any case, if you are working with a machine the next day and you want to take all ten fingers home with you, then you must not do the clear light meditation too often. In Tibet, where people often had to walk long distances with a horse in front, there one could afford to do this. But for us today, maybe just once a week is good.

What is the meaning of dreams in Buddhism?

Lama Ole’s answer:

First of all, ordinary life is more important than dreams, because this normal waking state that we experience now is a collective dream. In contrast, whatever happens during the night is just individual dreams. We also wake up every morning within more or less the same dream, while at night the dreams change constantly. Our dreams at night are mostly related only to the mind, while the dream we are experiencing right now includes our body and speech.

On the other hand, we have special kinds of wisdom in dreams that we don’t have here, because we are more tied to experience and have more attachment during the waking state. One can also definitely deduce things from dreams.

To do this, we can divide the night into three phases. During the first third, the impressions of the day get put into different drawers in the store consciousness. In the second third, some people have nightmares; they feel pressure and difficulties in the middle of the night. I myself don’t know about this, but if it happens it can have two causes: disturbing energies from the outside or too-slow breathing that causes the body to develop fear of dying. The body then discharges a lot of adrenaline, and when our consciousness perceives this it reacts—“Hey, danger! Enemies!” But in fact it is only the body reanimating itself.

And then the third part of the night is useful. Shortly before waking up, one can dream of the immediate future. And right in the moment of waking, one can dream of the somewhat more distant future. This way, our store consciousness tries to bring a message through the clouds of ignorance and veils into the moment of awareness. This happens in dreams; the mind tries to show itself something. But it has big hindrances caused by expectations, fears, veils, tomorrow and yesterday, etc., which make what is displayed inaccurate.

But in general, you can say that dreams in color are more important than those without color. Dreams with upward movement are a good sign and those with descending movement are not so good, except when one decides out of great compassion to go down consciously and help the beings there. Mind is the boss; it can transform this.

For Buddhists the best dream, of course, is to see one’s lama or buddhas, to receive blessings, or to hear mantras. That’s absolutely great! It means that during the process of dying, the good impressions are so strong and deep that they will come up from the store consciousness and help us into a good rebirth.

In general, also for non-Buddhists or those who don’t work with their minds, the feeling one has while waking up is crucial. If, for example, you have killed people during the night and you wake up feeling wonderful, then this doesn’t mean that you have found your true sadistic nature, but rather that you have removed disturbances. And if you were helping elderly women cross the street all night but you wake up with mixed or bad feelings, then you surely had subconscious thoughts of being mentioned in their wills later.

In any case, the most important thing about dreams is to experience that which is dreaming, the dreamer itself. Try to know who is dreaming and what is being dreamt. And during the day, try to bring the feeling of dreaming into life. Then you are coated with Teflon—you are protected. You won’t get caught by disturbing emotions as much as usual.

I often daydream for a long time. When I notice that I’m doing it, I try to focus on my work but it is hard for me to get really clear in my head. What does this mean?

Lama Ole’s answer:

For you it is certainly good to do a lot of practical work—to stay on the ground and not be pulled away. You found the right methods through your intuitive wisdom.

Forcing oneself to do something very precisely, here and now, is probably the best antidote against floating away, especially if one is very dreamy. Okay, if one has just fallen in love then dreaming is all right. But for general life, dreaming is not so meaningful. Instead it’s better to pull yourself together a bit and do what’s in front of your nose. One day you will break the old habit, and then any daydreams will be inspiration, fascination—everything will be interesting.

This is a case where one shouldn’t use any mantras, because with mantras one also lifts off. That’s why mantras are good against disturbing emotions.

What does it mean if we laugh while dreaming?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Laughter is a release of pressure. It has different meanings in different cultures. In some cultures, you show your teeth when you laugh as a sign that you’re not dangerous. Or you show your hands—that might be the first smile. This means something like, “I don’t have any weapons; I am not hiding anything,” and so on.

In the Himalayas, they laugh when someone falls. It’s not malicious joy, but rather to help the mind not hold on to what is happening. They laugh when someone trips so that the person who fell doesn’t take it too seriously. This laughter is a useful reaction.

In our culture, it’s simply liberating to laugh. When you laugh, you release energy and feel good. It’s healthy—people who laugh a lot get beautiful faces.

Is there a way to remember our dreams when waking up?

If one remembers a dream, it is because the mind somehow considers it to be significant. If we enjoy life during the day and everything goes well, then it is possible that we remember very little of our dreams. Dreams are probably always a sign that something is happening, simmering, and fermenting—that something is being processed.

If one is reasonably relaxed, then there will probably be less going on. If one wants to have a better memory in general, there is a blessing for this. We can also strongly resolve to remember our dreams before falling asleep. In the morning, while waking up, we remind ourselves of this and then the experiences come up again.

How can one use dreams on the way to enlightenment?

Lama Ole’s answer:

If we hold on to the moment where we know, “this is a dream,” and then expand this feeling more and more, we can become fully enlightened this way.

We have yogis who got enlightened while dreaming and in deep sleep—maybe not so many, but it has happened. If one recognizes the moment of dreaming and extends it into the day, this can provide great protection and keep a lot of disturbing emotions away.