Consciousness and Luminosity in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism

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Consciousness and Luminosity in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism
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Citation: Skorupski, Tadeusz. "Consciousness and Luminosity in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism." In Buddhist Philosophy and Meditation Practice: Academic Papers Presented at the 2nd IABU Conference, Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University, Main Campus, Wang Noi, Ayutthaya, Thailand, edited by Khammai Dhammasami, Padmasiri de Silva, Sarah Shaw, Dion Peoples, Jamie Cresswell, and Toshiichi Endo, 43–64. Ayutthaya, Thailand: Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University, 2012.

Article Summary

Dr. Tadeusz Skorupski in ‘Consciousness and Luminosity in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism’ invokes the juxtaposition of the phenomenal world of saṃsāra and the perfected state of nirvana, noting that they reflect and essentially correspond to the dynamic operating in the Buddhist analysis of consciousness and the propensities of the human mind: the mind produces the factors contributing to rebirth, but is also the primary vehicle in the attainment of salvation. He identifies several key features that permeate early Buddhist doctrine: the pre-eminence of mind, the notion of inherent radiance, the alien nature of the defilements that contaminate the mind, and the interplay of the image of purification and corruption. Starting with a close reading of Buddhaghosa's interpretations of the nature of luminosity, the author extends his discussion to include the Mahāsaṅgikas, who emphasize the inherent radiance of a mind obscured by adventitious defilements, and the Sarvāstivāda Vaibhāṣikas, who aver that an inherently radiant mind could not be obscured, for to them it has a propensity, rather than an innate disposition, to luminosity. Delineating various attributes of the description of consciousness according to different schools, the author moves from Pāli Abhidhamma to Mahāyana and Vajrayāna sources and Bodhicitta doctrine. Alighting on subsequent Indian Tantric theories that posit a fourfold luminosity of consciousness as four kinds of emptiness, he notes that such an understanding of consciousness and luminosity was applied in the Tibetan understanding of the processes occurring during death, as described in the work known as The Tibetan Book of the Dead. The author describes this account of death, as involving the transition through four kinds of luminosity, as unique to Tibet, in particular to the Nyingma and Kagyu traditions. He concludes that although varied schools often disagree in certain features, all concur in the possibility of and access to a purified mind. Tracing the continuity between early Abhidhamma through to the various Mahāyāna schools, the author avers, provides an insightful range of perspectives on luminosity and nature of the mind itself. (Editorial Committee, introduction, 10)

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