Art by Tashi Norbu

Cognitive Illusion, Lucid Dreaming, and the Psychology of Metaphor in Tibetan Buddhist Dzogchen Contemplative Practices

International Journal of Transpersonal Studies (IJTS), 2023

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A classic set of eight similes of illusion (sgyu ma’i dpe brgyad) are employed recurrently throughout Indian and Tibetan Buddhist literature to illustrate the operations of cognition, its correlative perceptions, and experiences that emerge. To illustrate a Buddhist psychology of metaphor, the fourteenth century Tibetan scholar and synthesizer of the Dzogchen (rdzogs chen) or Great Perfection system, Longchen Rabjam Drimé Ödzer (1308-1363), composed his poetic text, Being at Ease with Illusion. This work on illusion is the third volume in Longchenpa’s Trilogy of Being at Ease (Ngal gso skor gsum) in which he presents a series of Dzogchen instructions on how to settle totally at ease. To complement each volume in his trilogy, Longchenpa composed auxiliary contemplative guidance instructions on their meaning (don khrid). This article contextualizes Longchenpa’s meditation manual on Being at Ease with Illusion, a translation of which is included in the appendix. Special attention is given to Dzogchen practices of lucid dreaming and working with cognitive illusions to spotlight underlying contemplative dynamics and correlative psychological effects. To analogically map these Tibetan language instructions in translation, this article interprets Buddhist psychological understandings of cognitive and perceptual processes in dialogue with current theories in the cognitive sciences.