Religions (Mar 2020)

Luminous Bodies, Playful Children, and Abusive Grandmothers: Trauma, Dissociation, and Disorganized Attachment in the Early History of Great Perfection (<i>rDzogs Chen</i>) Buddhism

  • Flavio A. Geisshuesler

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 11, no. 3
p. 114


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This contribution explores the development of the highest teachings of the “Old School” (rnying ma) of Tibetan Buddhism, known as the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen). Between the tenth and the twelfth centuries, when the “New Schools” (gsar ma) rose to prominence and challenged the legitimacy of the established ones, Dzogchen underwent radical transformations and grew into a complex of contradictory voices. Unlike existing scholarship, which relies exclusively on textual−philological analysis to elucidate the conflictual relationships between sub-traditions like the Mind Series (sems sde), the Seminal Heart (snying thig), and the Crown Pith (spyi ti), this article proffers a transdisciplinary perspective, which complements history with psychological investigations into myth and cognition. Introducing research from cognitive science, trauma studies, attachment theory, and dissociation, it scrutinizes fascinating Dzogchen myths of luminous bodies, playful children, and abusive grandmothers. Ultimately, this transdisciplinary approach results in a new interpretation of the early history of the Great Perfection, as marked by an internal division in the tradition that was the direct result of a historical trauma, which was first processed, then internalized, and finally perpetuated.