"If we cannot remain present during sleep, if we lose ourselves every night,
what chance do we have to be aware when death comes?. . . Look to your
experience in dreams to know how you will fare in death. Look to your
experience of sleep to discover whether or not you are truly awake."
Tenzin Yangal Rinpoche
What happens when we die? Where do we go? Do we go anywhere? What will it be
like? If my body is dead, how will I be able to see or hear? Will I be able
to see or hear?
It was questions like these that occupied the mind of an ancient physician,
over 1500 years ago. He found his answers, not in his religion, not in the
science of his time, but in a more intimate and immediate way. He received
his answer in a dream - a lucid dream. In fact, this particular dream is the
first written report of a lucid dream in recorded history. The dream was
found within the letters of St. Augustine, a Christian philosopher and
In 415 A.D. St. Augustine wrote a letter to a priest by the name of Evodius,
in which he described the dream experiences of Gennadius, a physician from
Carthage. Gennadius, disturbed by doubts as to whether there was life after
physical death, had two dreams. In the first he was visited by a youth "of
remarkable appearance and commanding presence" who demanded that he follow
him. Gennadius did so and was led to a city where he could hear singing "so
exquisitely sweet" and unlike anything he had ever heard before. He asked
his guide what the music was, and was told, "it is the hymn of the blessed
and the holy." At this point Gennadius woke, believing the experience to be
nothing more than just a dream.
However, the next night, as he dreamed again, his young guide of the
previous night returned and asked Gennadius if he recognized him. Gennadius
replied "Certainly!" Then the youth asked him where they had met, but
Gennadius could not remember, though he did correctly recall and describe
the event of their meeting and what had occurred.
The young guide then asked Gennadius if the events he just described took
place in sleep or in wakefulness. Gennadius replied, "In sleep," to which
the youth responded with "You remember it well; it is true that you saw
these things in sleep, but I would have you know that even now you are
seeing in sleep." The youth continued, "Where is your body now?" Gennadius
answered "in my bed." (Gennadius was then lucid; aware he was dreaming,
while his body slept in his bed.)
The youth pressed on; "Do you know that the eyes in this body of yours are
now bound and closed, and that with these eyes you are seeing nothing?" "I
know it," answered Gennadius. The guide then asked, "What then are the eyes
with which you see me?" To this, Gennadius could not respond, he did not
know the answer. The young guide then provided him with answers he had been
seeking in his waking life:
"As while you are asleep and lying on your bed these eyes of your body are
now unemployed and doing nothing, and yet you have eyes with which you
behold me, and enjoy this vision, so after your death, while your bodily
eyes shall be wholly inactive, there shall be in you a life by which you
shall live, and a faculty of perception by which you shall still perceive.
Beware, therefore, after this of harboring doubts as to whether the life of
man shall continue after death."
According to St. Augustine, "This believer says that by this means all
doubts as to the matter were removed from him." Gennadius had awakened,
satisfied with his answer, and didn't doubt the existence of life after
Gennadius's "youth of remarkable countenance" or "dream guide" is not the
only one to compare the dreamstate to the afterlife. For thousands of years,
Tibetan Buddhists practicing "dream yoga" have been instructed in various
degrees of (what Westerners refer to as) lucid dreaming as a means of
increasing their awareness on the path to enlightenment. Dream Yoga was
developed to help train the practitioner to achieve enlightenment during
sleep so that at the time of death, he would be prepared for the death
bardo's. In the Tibetan language, the word "bardo" refers to an interval
between two events. In the case of the death bardo's, the intervals are
between death and rebirth.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead, ("Bardo Thodol") describes three bardos that
the deceased will encounter after death. In these realms of existence the
deceased will meet with experiences that are the result of his own "inner
manifestations"; just like dreaming, these manifestations are projections
originating from his mind.
If he does not recognize them as projections, he can become trapped within
them, believing them to be reality. Unable to attain enlightenment from
this stage, he will pass to the bardo of rebirth, to begin the cycle of life
and death again.
However, if he can recognize the projections as being manifestations of his
own mind, and can detach from them, then he has a better chance of achieving
enlightenment, after which he will no longer need to be reborn. Here is
where the practice of lucidity within dream yoga becomes important:
"The lucidity experience . . . assists in understanding the unreality of
phenomena, which otherwise, during dream or the death experience, might be
Michael Katz, Editor, Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light
With dream lucidity, the practitioner learns to recognize that all around
him is a dream, an illusion. He then learns to detach emotionally from the
dream, thereby reducing the likelihood of creating more illusory imagery.
Though lucid dreaming is viewed as a necessary stage of development in dream
yoga, to the Tibetan Buddhists, achieving lucidity in dreams is not the
ultimate goal. It is merely a step along path to enlightenment, it is not
Besides the dream state being like the death bardos, dream yogis claim that
the stages of consciousness experienced during the sleep cycle resemble the
stages of consciousness experienced when dying. Since we sleep and dream
every night, we have the opportunity to learn to consciously observe our
sleep cycle and to become more familiar with these stages of consciousness.
According to Rob Nairn, author of Living, Dreaming, Dying:
"We can have a trial run at death every single night when we go to sleep.
We can begin training to fall asleep consciously and to dream lucidly. The
process of falling asleep parallels the process of dying, while dreams
parallel the bardo of death."
Of course, you do not necessarily have to be a Buddhist-in-training, or one
awaiting divine intervention, to learn about the after-death condition in
the dream state.
From 1964 until her death in 1986 author Jane Roberts channeled Seth,
"an energy essence personality no longer focused in physical reality" or,
one who was "as dead as it gets" (as he called himself). It was Seth who
coined the now much-used phrase "You create your own reality." Seth's main
message is that consciousness creates reality and that individually we each
create our own personal realities based upon our beliefs, thoughts, and
Seth spoke on numerous other topics as well, including extensive information
on dreams and death. When asked what happens when we die he replied that
there is no specific answer as to what happens immediately after death,
because each individual is unique with his or her own personal beliefs and
expectations, and as our beliefs shape our experience of everyday living
reality, they will also serve to structure our experiences in the after
death state as well.
Like the Tibetan Buddhists, and Gennadius's dream guide, Seth also maintains
that the dreamstate is similar to the state of existence the deceased will
encounter after death. He too, suggests that getting familiar with your own
dreams can help prepare you for the immediate after-death condition.
"In sleep and dream states you are involved in the same dimension of
existence in which you will have your after-death experiences. . . .
Therefore, the best way to become acquainted with after death reality before
hand, so to speak, is to explore and understand the nature of your own
According to Seth, in the after-death state there is an almost infinite
number of things you can do. You can visit with already deceased friends and
relatives, go into the past, travel what seems to be great distances in an
instant, review your former life, review past lives, plan your next life,
move on to other dimensions of reality, and much more. He insists there are
always guides to help you out. No one is alone, but if you strongly do not
believe in an afterlife, or in helpful guidance awaiting you there, it may
take some time before you become aware of your condition or aware of any
helpers to assist you. But you will eventually become aware.
Texts on Tibetan Buddhism, dream yoga, and the Seth books go into much
deeper explanations and descriptions of the after death state. This article
merely hints at a portion of the greater tapestry, only to point out the
common thread - lucid dreaming.
If you want to know what your after death condition may be like, look to
your dreams. If you want to see in "quick time" how your beliefs and
expectations create reality, examine your lucid dreams and watch as your
thoughts and beliefs (both conscious and unconscious) manifest in imagery
and circumstance all around you. When lucid, perform experiments, ask
questions of your dreams, do all you can in order to become more consciously
familiar with operating in non-physical realities. Don't wait for science or
religion to hand you "answers." Explore, dive into your own dreaming
consciousness and see what discoveries await you there.
Is there life after death?
I'll leave that question to you, the reader, with these words from St.
"Nevertheless, while it is free to every one to believe or disbelieve these
statements, every man has his own consciousness at hand as a teacher by
whose help he may apply himself to this most profound question."
- Letter 159 (A.D. 415), St. Augustine.
- Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light, Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, edited by Michael Katz. Snow Lions Publications, Ithaca, New York, 1992, 2002
- Seth Speaks: The Eternal Validity of the Soul, Jane Roberts. Prentice Hall Press, New York, 1972
- Living, Dreaming, Dying: Practical Wisdom from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Rob Nairn. Shambala Publications, Boston, Massachusetts, 2004
- The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, 1998
The Lucid Dream Exchange is a quarterly newsletter featuring lucid dreams and lucid dream related articles and interviews.
To subscribe to The Lucid Dream Exchange send a blank email to:
You can also check us out at