Luminous Clarity

From Buddha-Nature
Luminous Clarity

Harding, Sarah (Kalu Rinpoché Translation Group), trans. "Luminous Clarity." In Esoteric Instructions: A Detailed Presentation of the Process of Meditation in Vajrayāna, 185–94. Book Eight, Part Four of The Treasury of Knowledge. By Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé ('jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha’ yas). Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2007.

Luminous Clarity [dd']

The fourth, luminous clarity, the heart of the path, has two parts: a general presentation of the meaning of the name and the arrangement of the divisions, and a specific discussion of the meditation topics.

The Name and the Divisions [1"]

Luminous clarity, the heart, is twofold: example and actual,
   experience and realization,
Or classified as four or five, such as natural, and so on.

The yoga of luminous clarity ('od gsal) is the heart of the path because the root of all practice is to realize that the abiding nature of all phenomena is naturally luminous clarity. The meaning of the name is that the inherent luminosity (rang 'od) of the abiding nature clarifies [or illuminates] (gsal) without restriction. Or "luminous clarity" is used because even though there is no intrinsic nature, there is spontaneously present luminous appearance (snang ba).[1]

      Of many divisions, the twofold ones are the most prominent: example and actual; experience and realization; day and night; thin and thick; mother and child luminous clarity, and so forth. But there are also divisions into four or five, such as natural luminous clarity and so forth, as in The Concise Illumination of the Five Stages, where it speaks of four kinds of luminous clarity: natural, of meditative absorption, conceptless clarity, and ultimate. Ronyam Dorjé's Guhyasamāja Commentary[2] describes five:

Natural luminous clarity is illustrated; the luminous clarity of sleep illustrates it; one familiarizes with luminous clarity of the path; connects with luminous clarity at the time of death; and the luminous clarity of dharmakāya is the result.

The Latter Authoritative Text[3] presents five kinds of luminous clarity and the times when they arise:

This luminous clarity is of five kinds:

Natural luminous clarity,
Luminous clarity arising as consciousness,
Luminous clarity of meditative absorption,
Luminous clarity of suchness, and

Luminous clarity of realization.[4]

The times of those are five:

The time of death and of abiding in the central channel,
When in meditative equipoise and in sleep,
When meditation and postmeditation become one taste,

When higher insight is realized.

In short, the reality of the basic ground, which is free of extremes such as eternalism and nihilism, is objective luminous clarity. The realization of that reality just as it is is subjective luminous clarity. This simple layout comes from both sutra and mantra sources, so it is called "general luminous clarity." What is taught in the mantra highest tantras is called "hidden meaning luminous clarity." There are several arrangements because different names are used according to contexts. The example pristine awareness that is born during an empowerment and the luminous clarity of creation phase are similar to luminous clarity. All that arises from completion phase practice is genuine luminous clarity.

      The real luminous clarity that is presented on this occasion is a special real luminous clarity that is made evident. Once the actual illusory body or a similitude is gathered in the two meditative absorptions, luminous clarity is made evident. That is the luminous clarity of training or beyond training, and there is no better luminous clarity than this.

The Meditation Topics [2"]

This has three parts: the time of the ground, the time of the path, and the time of the result.

The Time of the Ground [a"]

In practice, luminous clarity at the time of the ground is introduced.

Here we will present what must be practiced from among those divisions. First, the nature of luminous clarity at the time of the ground must be introduced for what it is. The minds of all sentient beings are naturally luminous clarity. That pervading principle of all phenomena is called "the primordial luminous clarity of the basic ground" (gzhi gdod ma'i 'od gsal).

      Concerning this there are many philosophical positions according to intellectual abilities. The Sautrāntikas[5] assert that luminous clarity is consciousness merely being aware of its own object. The Cittamātrins[6] believe that it is reflexively aware, reflexively illuminated consciousness without subject-object dualism. The Mādhyamikas,[7] such as Pakpa Namdrol and Haribhadra,[8] make the mind's emptiness of true existence the natural luminous clarity and then teach that itself as the buddha nature affinity.[9] In the final wheel of Dharma and the commentary on its viewpoint, the Highest Continuum, it is explained that the natural luminous clarity of mind and buddha nature are identical. This is not the same as the Cittamātrins, who believe that luminous clarity is the obscured neutral universal ground. Here it is held to be virtuous.

      There are many defining characteristics, but in short, since the essence of mind is naturally pure of any stains it is called "luminous clarity." If you wonder what the difference is between this and the mind's nature of luminous clarity as asserted by the Cittamātrins and lower philosophical schools, the Highest Continuum[10] states:

Since it is subtle, it is not an object of study.

Since it is the absolute, it is not thinkable.
Since it is the profound nature of phenomena,

It is not the realm of meditation by the worldly and such.

There is a great difference in being or not being the object of worldly people's study, reflection, and meditation.

      In this context of the profound path of skillful methods of highest tantra mantra, there are four distinctive assertions about the mind's nature of luminous clarity: appearances as mind, mind as reflexive awareness, reflexive awareness as great bliss, and great bliss itself as united with emptiness.

      As for the stains that obscure that luminous clarity, in the causal vehicle it is, of course, held that once the objects [of attachment] are disproved,[11] from that time on the mind that fixates on them is relinquished and cast off. Here in the highest tantra vehicle, it is by seeing the nature of mind that the obscuring stains are relinquished as a matter of course. It is not asserted that afflictive emotions are relinquished once objects are disproved. This position is illustrated by the example of people afflicted with jaundice who perceive a white conch as yellow. Even if they know that in truth it is white, that knowledge does not prevent the yellow appearance. When the jaundice clears up, the mind that perceives yellow ceases automatically.

      The method to see natural luminous clarity is taught in the "First Concise Account:"[12]

Just as fire that is always present in wood

Is not seen by means of cutting or splitting
But twirling the rubbing stick on its base by hand

Makes what abides there become visible,

In that way, the luminous clarity of mind

Will not be seen by means of conceptual meditation.
It becomes visible by the joining

Of purified left and right channels.

Thus, the luminous clarity of mind will be seen based on the profound completion phase yoga that binds the dualistic energy-mind of the right and left channels in the central channel. This, then, is the so-called ground luminous clarity, and it is clearly introduced by saying "mind's nature is thus."

The Time of the Path [b"]

At the time of the path, vital points of the support and supported are bound;
Outer, inner, and common manifest awakenings are manifest.
Of the five occasions, sleep time is taken as the example.
The arising of illusory body with instant or subsequent dissipation
Stabilizes recognition...

In ascertaining luminous clarity at the time of the path, the general technique is to rest evenly in the very essence of luminous clarity. Telopa said:[13]

Rest relaxed within the uncontrived native state;
Bonds are released and freedom is sure.

This and other such instructions are expressed unanimously by the mighty adepts. Accordingly, with the body in the seven-point posture of meditative stability, the mind rests without support, relaxed and uncontrived. This will create the unerring yogic direct perception of emptiness.[14] This is the ultimate esoteric instruction of the completion phase found in the profound tantras. The reason is that once the vital points of the vajra body, which is the support, are bound, the mind, eyes, and energy currents remain in a state of nonthought. Because of the special interconnection between body and mind, the movement in the right and left channels is stopped and immobilized within the central channel, causing the direct experience of mahāmudrā, emptiness with aspects.[15]

      Therefore the luminous mind, which is the supported, is realized as empty appearance arising as the mahāmudrā of forms of emptiness. This, again, depends on the dissolution of the energy currents of the right and left channels in the central channel, the supreme support. There is no more profound method for affecting this dissolution than resting the mind once it is uncontrived and relaxed. Therefore, in all the esoteric instructions of highest tantra, this is called "the esoteric instruction of withdrawal" in the presentations.[16]

      There is a special instruction for using a direct forceful method to identify luminous clarity. Through the profound meditative absorption in which the pure mandala of the environment and its inhabitants dissolves into luminous clarity, the energy currents of the moon, sun, and rāhula[17] are held at the heart center, causing luminous clarity to arise at the end of the three lights. If one trains in this right before going to sleep, one will easily recognize luminous clarity in sleep. If one recognizes that, one will also recognize the luminous clarity at death. Therefore it is known as the esoteric instruction that combines the three types of luminous clarity.

      In addition, binding the vital points of the support and supported[18] will reveal the luminous clarity of the outer, inner, and common manifest awakenings.[19]

Outer manifest awakening
The predawn sky is naturally totally pure; it transcends even the darkness of the interval when the moon's light has set and the sun's light has not yet risen. Likewise, having transcended the elaborated, unelaborated, and even the middle—illustrated by the sun, moon, and interval—the strength of wisdom does not conceive of anything at all like beginning, end, or in between. This teaching is held in common with the causal vehicle and is called the "outer manifest awakening."

Outer and inner [manifest awakenings]
In terms of recognizing luminous clarity based on another's body, the arising of the sun of warmth, skillful methods with passion, is the experience of increase. The arising of the moon of bliss, wisdom without passion, is light. And the center, the interval that is neither one of those, is full culmination.[20] Beyond that is the experience of great bliss, from which arises the luminous clarity of an instant in which the three times are not conceived in any way. Since this is also in creation phase, it is not the experience of the pristine awareness of luminous clarity that comes about from the force of actualizing the four empties internally,[21] but is nevertheless the manifest awakening through the force of connection with an awareness-consort. Therefore, it is referred to as common to both outer and inner manifest awakenings. That is because in addition to the presence of all the pure manifest awakenings described in the causal vehicle, luminous clarity is recognized at the climax of the three lights based on a spiritual partner.

Inner manifest awakening
In the first awakening, the karmic energy currents for the most part dissolve into the wind energy currents,[22] and one sees light with five colors like a mirage. The second is when concepts associated with desire dissolve and there is the [experience of] light, like the arising of moonlight in a cloudless sky. The third is when anger dissolves and there is the increase of light, like the arising of sunlight. The fourth is when stupidity dissolves and there is the culmination of light, which is like the pervasion of darkness of the interval [between moonlight and daylight]. The fifth is when all consciousness dissolves, and there is an instant of luminous clarity free of darkness. Since it is free from the darkness of perceived and perceiver (or subject and object), the luminous clarity of reality manifests to the eyes of nonconceptual pristine awareness. It is like someone without eye disease seeing through the true nature of illusory strands of hair.

The Eighth Lord, Karmapa Mikyö Dorjé, gave special oral instructions in this context for "manifest awakening when the consciousnesses are absorbed" (rnam shes sdud pa mngon byang) and "manifest awakening when pristine awareness arises" (ye shes 'char ba mngon byang).

      Now, as for applying this to practice, first one develops the recognition of the causal luminous clarity that has not yet been recognized. From the Oral Teachings of Mañjuśrī:[23]

The minds of embodied beings are refined

When thoroughly familiar with experiences
That occur in mere moments of death, faint, sleep,

Yawning, and sexual union.

In general, there are five occasions that are explained in connection with the arising of luminous clarity. Of those, take the luminous clarity at the time of sleep as an example. The training is to recognize the emptiness of everything, which is the last of the four empties, by uniting [meditation on] the five seed-syllables in the avadhūti.[24] The essence of that luminous clarity is the sleep that occurs after the moments of consciousness before sleep has dissolved and before dream thoughts and energy-influenced sleep, during which there arise moments of consciousness in dreams that are similar to the earlier daytime states of consciousness that dissolved as one fell asleep. For ordinary people, that sleep in between daytime consciousness and dreams is obscured by stupidity. But for yogins it is the nonconceptual dharmakāya—the pure pristine awareness of nondual bliss-emptiness—arising as luminous clarity like the core of a candle flame or the brilliant autumn sky. Nevertheless, since the three lights are impure, these are not the final experiences of luminous clarity that are a direct perception of the ultimate truth. Therefore this should be known as example luminous clarity.[25]

      Concerning example and real luminous clarity, example luminous clarity is that which is free from the manifestations of the two obscurations that are based on the delusion of sleep. It occurs through the force of gathering the energy-mind in the heart center by means of two kinds of meditative stability, and so forth. Real luminous clarity is ground luminous clarity freed from incidental stains. It occurs when the powerful luminous clarity of the path has eliminated even the seeds of the two obscurations, which are the factors to be eliminated during the paths of seeing and meditation in relation to the delusion of sleep.

      In this way, when sleep has been refined by luminous clarity, the seeds of concepts of the aggregates and constituents are killed off. Then, like Lavāpa, if one performs the conduct of a bhasuku, one will achieve the illusory-like form in this very life.[26]

      The methods for stabilizing luminous clarity once it has been recognized by the esoteric instructions for recognizing are as follows. The interdependent connection or method of absorption of energy-mind causes the inner heat to blaze. This brings about the realization of the bliss-emptiness of the melting bodhicitta. One arises as the illusory form following the signs of energy-mind of the three lights with luminous clarity. In order to manifest the real luminous clarity, the very subtle energy-mind must enter into luminous clarity by means of the three types of conduct and the two types of meditative stability. The three types of conduct will be explained below.[27]

      The two types of meditative stability will be explained according to the Five Stages and the Lamp Summary of Conduct. The instant [meditative stability] (ril 'dzin) is withdrawal all at once, as illustrated by the vanishing of the condensation that forms when one breathes on a mirror. Subsequent dissipation (rjes gzhig) is the gradual withdrawal as illustrated by the ice on a river or pond. Once the illusory body is allowed into luminous clarity through those two kinds of meditative stability, it will re-arise as a body that follows a reverse order of manifestation. That support of the trained illusory body will manifest the illusory body without training. As stated in the Full Awakening of Vairocana:[28]

This rainbow-like body
Will be obtained by meditating on this very thing.

To put this into practice, one trains in the joining and re-arising of the two types of meditative stability, with the three gates of oneself and all sentient beings as inseparable from the three vajras and their indestructible sounds. That will dispel the manifest aspects of the two obscurations contained in the supported vital essences and their mount, the karmic energy currents. Then the clear autumn sky of luminous clarity will arise like the sky at dawn, free from the three adulterating conditions.[29] When familiarization with that is perfected, the recognition of luminous clarity will be stable.

The Time of the Result [c"]

...and the actual result is perfected.

The guru points out just how one's own mindstream is luminous clarity primordially present as the ground. Using the daytime and nighttime luminous clarity as the path, one will perfect the realization of the actual result, the abiding nature. That is the resulting luminous clarity. It is the same as the stage of union that is stated in the Latter Authoritative Text:[30]

From the actualization of luminous clarity,
From that, union arises.

This shows that the perfection of luminous clarity is [the state of primordial] union. In this context, the exalted Marpa says:

Example luminous clarity is the pristine awareness that manifests by relying on another's body, that of a wisdom consort. Real luminous clarity is the pristine awareness that arises when the universal ground dissolves into luminous clarity in the interval of full culmination. The essence of luminous clarity itself is that it is the space-pervading vajra awakening of all buddhas. The excellent quality of luminous clarity is that it frees from all tendencies to perpetuate bad states by clearing away the veiling darkness of full culmination, and it produces the dharmakāya and rūpakāya, which abide neither in samsara nor nirvana.

Those few words of vast meaning convey the whole corpus on the cause, path, and result of luminous clarity in its entirety.

  1. 147 It seems valuable here not to lose the dual meaning of snang ba as both "appearance" or "perception" and "light" or "luminosity."
  2. 148 'Dus pa'i 'grel pa: Ronyam Dorjé's commentary on the Guhyasamāja Tantra, based on that of his teacher Marpa (BA, 418).
  3. 149 bKa' dpe phyi ma (Toh. 2333), f. 274b2-4.
  4. 150 Although the spelling in all copies is rtog pa, usually understood as concept or discursive thought, KTGR feels it is best translated here in the ultimate sense as "realization" (rtogs pa). However, he notes that from the point of view of the third turning on buddha nature, the luminous clarity of concepts and thoughts is not contradictory (personal communication, 11/29/05).
  5. 151 mdo sde pa: the "Followers of Sutras." The Sautrāntika was a philosophical school of early Buddhism that developed around 150 C.E. Its adherents based their philosophy only on the sutras, rejecting the abhidharma theories. They posit a refined consciousness, an uninterrupted succession of moments that persist from one rebirth to the next. See Chapter 3 in Treasury of Knowledge: Frameworks of Buddhist Philosophy.
  6. 152 sems tsam pa: adherents of the "Mind-only" school of Mahayana Buddhism that developed in the fourth century, originating with Asaṅga (Thog med, c. 350 C.E.) and Vasubandhu (dByig gnyen), and based on the scriptures of the third turning of the wheel of Dharma. This school asserts the reflexively aware or self-cognizing (rang rig) mind as the ultimate reality and identifies luminous clarity or emptiness as the absence of the subject-object dualism that obscures pure consciousness. See Chapter 6 in Frameworks of Buddhist Philosophy.
  7. 153 dbu ma pa: adherents of the Middle Way or Centrist school of Mahayana Buddhism. Madhyamaka is based on the philosophy of Nāgārjuna and holds the teachings on the intrinsic emptiness of all phenomena taught in the second turning of the wheel of dharma to be the definitive meaning. For Kongtrul's explanation of all these philosophical schools, see TOK 2: 442-560, and its translation, The Treasury of Knowledge: Frameworks of Buddhist Philosophy: A Systematic Presentation of the Cause-based Philosophical Vehicles, translated by Elizabeth Callahan. The Madhyamaka is found in Chapters 7-12.
  8. 154 'Phags Seng: Pakpa Namdrol De ('Phags pa rnam grol sde) a fifth-century Indian scholar, student of Vasubandhu, who wrote a commentary on the Ornament of Clear Realization; and Sengé Zangpo (Seng ge bzang po, or Haribhadra, eighth c.), an important Indian scholar of the prajñāpāramitā and yogācāra-svātantra-madhyamaka school, disciple of Śāntarakṣita and Vairocana, author of brGyad stong 'grel chen and 'Grel pa don gsal (KTGR).
  9. 155 This represents an intrinsic emptiness interpretation of the Highest Continuum (KTGR). Intrinsic emptiness (rang stong) and extrinsic emptiness (gzhan stong) are two interpretations of the meaning of emptiness that developed in Tibet. Intrinsic emptiness means that all phenomena are empty of intrinsic nature or existence, and that this emptiness itself is buddha nature. The extrinsic or other-empty philosophy asserts that mind is empty of incidental or extrinsic defilements that temporarily seem to obscure its true nature, which is the luminous clarity of buddha nature. The Mahayana Highest Continuum (Skt. Mahāyānottaratantraśāstra or Uttaratantra) by Maitreya and Asaṅga, the most important commentary on the buddha nature theory (tathāgatagarbha), generally seems to present this latter view, as Kongtrul's discussion demonstrates, although it has been interpreted according to both. See The Buddha Within by S. K. Hookham or The Buddha from Dolpo by Cyrus Stearns.
  10. 156 [Theg pa chen po] rgyud bla [ma'i bstan bcos], Skt. Mahāyānottaratantraśāstra (Toh. 4024), f.63b4-5 (verse 199).
  11. 157 sun phyung, from sun 'byin pa: to disown; to be disenchanted; or to undermine and disprove [another's philosophical position]. In other words, in the system of the causal vehicle of the sutras, one must become convinced through logical analysis that objects have no true existence, and then attachment to them ceases. But in the highest tantric vehicle, first mind itself is realized to be naturally free of stains (i.e., extrinsically empty) and then its true luminous nature becomes manifest.
  12. 158 mDor bsdus dang po: the first chapter of Stainless Light (Dri med 'od, Skt. Vimalaprabhā) by Puṇḍarīka, the great commentary on the Kālacakra Tantra (Toh. 1347), verses 51-52.
  13. 159 The second verse of Mahāmudrā Esoteric Instructions (Phyag rgya chen po'i man ngag, Skt. Mahāmudropadeśa) (Toh. 2303), also known as the Ganges Mahāmudrā (Gang ga ma) because it was taught by Telopa on the banks of the Ganges River.
  14. 160 rnal 'byor pa'i mngon sum [tshad ma]: Of the four types of direct valid cognition (mngon sum tshad ma bzhi), yogic direct valid cognition is a nonconceptual and unconfused state of mind that arises within or through meditation. There are many types of this; here it is the profound experience that is produced through the application of completion phase practice.
  15. 161 rnam pa dang bcas pa'i stong nyid: This is emptiness inseparable from form. What kind of emptiness has no form? Emptiness inseparable from great bliss (KTGR). See Chapter 7, notes 35 and 37.
  16. 162 sor sdud, Skt. pratyāhāra, individual withdrawal or sense withdrawal, is the first of the six branches of yoga in the Kālacakra system, also described in the Guhyasamāja Tantra and elsewhere. See Chapter 7 on the Six-Branch Yoga.
  17. 163 The rāhula energy current refers to the energy current of the central channel, since it is strong and powerful like the planet Rāhula, which is said to cause eclipses. Moon and sun are the energy currents in the right and left channels (KTGR).
  18. 164 As above, the support is the channels and so on of the vajra body and the supported is the luminous clarity of mind, or (according to KTGR) great bliss.
  19. 165 mngon [par] byang [chub pa], Skt. abhisaṃbodhi: the factors of manifesting awakening or enlightenment (Skt. bodhi). Generally there are two sets of five factors, one set that represents the final moment of a bodhisattva's attainment of enlightenment, and another set that constitutes the particular procedures for followers to practice on the path, which are specifically connected with the stages of the visualization process. See SBT, 414-5, n. 45. From the following discussion, it seems clear that there are many kinds of awakening factors.
  20. 166 These are references to the three lights or appearances (snang gsum), which in forward order are light (snang ba), increase (mched), and culmination or full culmination (nyer thob), and in reverse order are the opposite. Here the order is different than either, for which KTGR had no explanation.
  21. 167 stong pa bzhi: the four empties, corresponding to the four lights: light, increase, culmination, and full culmination (or luminous clarity itself). See notes 9 and 56.
  22. 168 rlung gi rlung: of the five inner energy currents or prāṇa (nang gi rlung lnga) associated with the five elements ( 'byung ba lnga'i rlung lnga), this is the green current of wind. The others are the yellow earth current (sa rlung ser po), the red fire current (me rlung dmar po), the white water current (chu rlung dkar po), and the dark blue space current (nam mkha'i rlung mthing ga).
  23. 169 'Jam dpal zhal lung, Skt. Mañjuśrīmukhāgama (Toh. 1853).
  24. 170 The vital essence, which is the seed of great bliss, is visualized in the shape of "seed syllables" ( 'bru yig) of the alphabet in the various locations within the central channel of the vajra body. The practitioner focuses concentration on different chakras.
  25. 171 Thanks to Ari Goldfield for helping to clarify this difficult passage.
  26. 172 Lva ba pa, or bLa ma dGe slong, Skt. Kambalapāda, was a tenth-century master who, with others, discovered the yoginī tantras in the country of Oḍḍīyāna (BA, 753), and was important in the lineage of Guhyasamāja. He was known as the Sleeping Bhikṣu (monk) because he is said to have slept for three years at the gate of king Indrabhūti's palace (BA, 362). A bhasuku or bhusuku is similar to a mendicant (sprang bu), that is, free of purposeful action (bya bral pa) (KTGR 2005). Sleeping for three years would probably qualify!
  27. 173 They are elaborate, unelaborate, and very unelaborate.
  28. 174 rNam snang mngon byang, Skt. Mahāvairocanābhisaṃbodhi, also known as the Mahāvairocanasūtra (Toh. 494).
  29. 175 Clouds, darkness, and sunlight (KTGR).
  30. 176 bKa' dpe phyi ma (Toh. 2333), f. 274b4. The stage of union (zung 'jug gi rim pa) is the fifth of the five stages. Zung du 'jug pa means to enter a state of primordial union.