Luminous Clarity and the Completion Phase of Union

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Luminous Clarity and the Completion Phase of Union
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Citation: Guarisco, Elio, and Ingrid McLeod (Kalu Rinpoché Translation Group), trans. "Luminous Clarity and the Completion Phase of Union." Chapt. 12 in The Elements of Tantric Practice: A General Exposition of the Process of Meditation in the Indestructible Way of Secret Mantra, edited by Ingrid McLeod. Book Eight, Part Three of The Treasury of Knowledge. By Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé ('jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha’ yas). Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2008.
Translated texts:

Luminous Clarity and the Completion Phase of Union



bb. The Ultimate: The Great-Seal Completion Phase of Luminous
      Clarity [II .B.2.d.iii.bb]
    1' The Preamble
    2' The Detailed Exposition
      a' The Meanings of Luminous Clarity
      b' Meditation on Luminous Clarity
        i' Meditation Methods
        ii' The Contemplations of the Eight Freedoms
cc. The Inseparability [of the Relative and Ultimate]: The Completion
      Phase of Union
    1' Distinctions Within Union
    2' The Method of Meditation on Union

[This chapter concludes the description of the three key elements of the completion phase. Presented now are part two: the ultimate, the completion phase of the great seal of luminous clarity; and part three, the inseparability of the relative and ultimate, the completion phase of union.] Part two, the ultimate, the completion phase of the great seal of luminous clarity, begins with a preamble followed by a detailed exposition.

The Preamble [1']

   The ultimate, the great-seal completion phase of luminous clarity, is as follows:

[Here] is presented the completion phase of the great seal of luminous clarity, which strikes the crucial point with respect to the ultimate nature [of things].

The Detailed Exposition [2']

This section has two parts: a general elucidation of the essential meanings [of luminous clarity] to be understood; and a discussion specifically on the subject of meditation [on luminous clarity].

The Meanings of Luminous Clarity [a']

The true nature and what manifests during sleep and at death are
the ground.
At the time of the path, the view of emptiness, the true nature, is
the general sense.
The unceasing clarity of that emptiness’s own luminosity is the
literal sense.
The innate joy from the winds dissolving in the central channel is
the hidden sense;
Accompanied by duality, it is the example luminous clarity;
without duality, the true.
Nonconceptual pristine awareness brings about realization and
the ultimate result.

[Maitreya’s] Jewel Affinity states:[1]

Mind nature is luminous clarity.
It is changeless, just as space is.

The luminous clarity of the ground, as spoken of in that [citation], is the luminous clarity of the true nature, the primordially pure, naturally clear and luminous basis of phenomena. It is, moreover, the luminous clarity during sleep and luminous clarity at death since those definitely manifest for everyone—meditators on the path and non-practitioners alike— regardless of whether they are recognized or not.
      During the time of the path, that [luminous clarity of the ground] is understood—through analyses based on reasonings and scriptural sources and through the strength of experience—as unborn emptiness, the true nature of all phenomena. This view represents luminous clarity in the general sense [from a perspective] shared by [the way of ] the perfections. All phenomena made to enter luminous clarity by way of either [the contemplation of] total apprehension or that of successive destruction[2] is luminous clarity in its general sense [from a perspective] unique to the indestructible way.
      The unceasing clarity of that emptiness’s self-luminosity is luminous clarity in its literal sense. This is essentially identical to what was discussed [above], the luminous clarity at the time of the ground.
      Through cultivation of and familiarity with those [various types of] luminous clarity, the winds dissolve in the central channel, and the luminous clarity of the fourth empty, or the innate [joy], the fourth joy, is recognized as a direct experience. This is the actualization of luminous clarity in its hidden sense. The innate [joy] or fourth empty accompanied by the duality of subject and object is the luminous clarity that is an example. The innate [joy] or fourth empty free from the duality of subject and object is the true luminous clarity. Those [types of luminous clarity] form a link with the direct realization of emptiness through the nonconceptual pristine awareness that is the true nature of things. That direct realization is [luminous clarity] at the stage of training.
      [Luminous clarity] at the stage of no more training is [reached when] all phenomena manifest fully as pristine awareness, and through the merging of mother–luminous clarity and son–luminous clarity,[3] arise as the infinite expanse of the dimension of reality. That is said to be luminous clarity as the ultimate result.

Meditation on Luminous Clarity [b']

This section has two parts: the actual meditation methods; and a supplementary discussion on the contemplations of the eight freedoms.

Meditation Methods [i']

In the many meditation methods such as total apprehension and
successive destruction,
To elicit correctly the luminous clarity in its hidden sense
requires giving rise
To the experience of winds having entered, abided, and dissolved
in the central channel.

[Next are explained] the methods of meditation on luminous clarity. In general, the luminous clarity that is the goal of practice is luminous clarity in its hidden sense. However, prior to that, one must have a definite understanding of luminous clarity in its general sense. The Abhidhana Tantra states:[4]

Being selfless in nature, all phenomena
Are without stain, just as space is.
Always meditate on their emptiness
With the emptiness pristine-awareness vajra.

      The actual method of meditation consists in dissolving the environment and inhabitants by means of one or the other of two contemplations, whereupon everything enters luminous clarity. This very method is found in every one of the works [composed] by the great adepts. [Nāgārjuna’s] Five Stages states:[5]

Students who have received esoteric instructions[6]
Train themselves next in the two types of yoga.
One is the sequence of total apprehension;
The other, that of successive destruction.

Thus, there are said to be the two contemplations, total apprehension and successive destruction. Concerning those, the same text says:[7]

From the head down to the feet
Until [the light] reaches the heart,
The yogin enters the true limit:
This is known as total apprehension.[8]
First, the animate and the inanimate
Are transformed into luminous clarity.
Afterwards, one does the same with oneself.
These are the steps in successive destruction.[9]
Just as the breath’s vapor vanishes
From the surface of a mirror,
Again and again, the yogin enters
The true limit [of luminous clarity].[10]

The proper cultivation of those two contemplations is an extremely profound key factor in bringing about the gathering of winds and vital essences in the heart [channel-wheel]. As a consequence, there arise five signs indicative of the sequential dissolutions of earth, water, fire, wind, and consciousness. The Continuation of the Guhyasamaja Tantra explains:[11]

The first resembles a mirage.
The second is like smoke.
The third resembles fireflies.
The fourth glows like an oil lamp.
The fifth is a lasting light
Like a sky free of clouds.[12]

      Thereafter, the four empties manifest in succession. In the cloudless sky [of the fifth sign] manifests the light of the empty, which is like moonlight. Then the increase of light of the [further] empty manifests, which is like sunlight. Thereafter the full culmination of the great empty, which is like the pervasive darkness of night, manifests. Then luminous clarity, or the all-empty, manifests, which is like a [perfectly clear] sky at dawn, not vitiated by the influences of moonlight, sunlight, or darkness. The manifesting of those [four] is described in [Nagarjuna’s] Five Stages.
      On this subject, the earlier masters have asserted that when the winds dissolve at the heart through practice of the outer and inner methods, one can give rise to the special fourth empty, the true luminous clarity. That is the real luminous clarity. Through the winds simply dissolving on their own, [there arises] the fourth empty, the luminous clarity that is an example. That is a similitude of [the real] luminous clarity.
      Those two contemplations, as well as the mother-tantra yogas of the channels, winds, and vital essences, are said to elicit the four joys and the four empties and cause the environment and its inhabitants to be absorbed into luminous clarity. There are many such specific details concerning the methods of practice. However, to elicit correctly the true luminous clarity in its hidden sense definitely requires giving rise to the experience that comes from the winds having entered, abided, and dissolved in the central channel. Furthermore, Nagarjuna and Aryadeva state that to meditate on luminous clarity requires the attainment of the real illusory body.

The Contemplations of the Eight Freedoms [ii']

The eight freedoms are based on steps in the way to enter
luminous clarity.
Although the name used is the same, the meanings are unique to
this way.

The eight freedoms are distinctions based on the steps of the actual awakenings that form the way to enter the luminous clarity of emptiness. [The steps include] the total apprehension and successive destruction by means of which contemplative experiences are achieved; the outer and inner elements manifesting like space; [the elements] simply arising as manifestations of consciousness; [the realization of ] their primordial nonexistence; the presence of [the effort of ] attention; and the absence of [the effort of ] attention.
      The name “eight freedoms” is the same as the name used in the way of characteristics.[13] However, here, the eight freedoms are distinctions made solely based on the pristine awareness of inseparable bliss and emptiness, which is the mode of entry into luminous clarity. They therefore have unique meanings, explained as follows:
      [One,] as the appearances of one’s own winds and mind arise unceasingly, all appearances unfold as an infinitude of clear images. [This is] the freedom in which forms are viewed as forms.
      [Two,] one’s own five aggregates are absorbed into luminous clarity, and what simply appears as an external object is regarded as the body of the deity and illusory [in nature]. [This is] the freedom in which forms are viewed as formless.
      [Three,] at the beginning of the successive destruction, oneself and all external appearances are regarded as being without any [basis of ] reference. Then, while the actual destructions, and even the manifestations of the deity’s body and bliss, [occur] ceaselessly, they are understood to be without any inherent nature.[14][This is] the freedom of what is especially beautiful.
      [Four,] the clear, empty light [that manifests] when all relative appearances have been dissolved by means of successive destruction is the pristine awareness of light. [This is] the freedom of infinite space.
      [Five,] that light manifesting extremely brightly is the increase of light. [This is] the freedom of infinite consciousness.
      [Six,] that increase of light manifesting with no inherent nature is the full culmination [of light]. [This is] the freedom of nothing whatsoever.
      [Seven,] an absence of fixation [on the previous stage of light], accompanied by a slight deliberate effort of attention, is the full culmination [of light] that leads up to the all-empty. [This is] the freedom of neither recognition nor non-recognition.
      [Eight,] to abide in the effortless[15] pristine awareness of bliss and emptiness, in which all dualistic appearances have ceased, is the freedom of cessation.


The Inseparability [of the Relative and Ultimate]: The Completion Phase of Union [cc]

This discussion has two parts: distinctions within union; and the method of meditation on union.

The inseparability of emptiness and compassion is union in its
general sense.
Being without the conceptual differentiation as two is union in
its literal sense.
The special stage, the one taste of emptiness and great bliss, and
the inseparability
Of illusory body and luminous-clarity mind itself, is union in its
hidden sense.
The three empties arising and passing in the forward[16] and
reverse orders
Is the union with training; the union beyond training is the
opposite of that.

The realization of the inseparability of emptiness and dependent origination, or the union of emptiness (wisdom) and great compassion (method), is union in its general sense, [a perspective] of the way of the perfections.
      The inseparability of innate great bliss (method) and the emptiness of luminous clarity (wisdom) is union in its general sense, [a perspective] unique to the indestructible way.
      The union of the two truths, without the conceptual differentiations of relative and ultimate, is union in its literal sense.
      Having received teachings on union in its literal sense and having gained experience of union in its general sense, [one reaches] the special stage: According to the mother tantras, what is referred to as “union” [means] the one taste—like a blend of water and milk—of the object, the emptiness endowed with the supreme of all aspects, and the subject, unchanging great bliss. Accordingly, the Samputa Tantra states:[17]

It is declared that the merging
Of two aspects, combined indivisibly
Like a blend of milk and water,
Is known as that of wisdom and method.

The perspective of the father tantras is as stated in [Nagarjuna’s] Five Stages:[18]

When the relative and the ultimate,
First understood as separate aspects,
Are then truly merged together:
That is explained to be the union.[19]

The relative truth is the self-consecration of the body so that it manifests as the illusory body. The ultimate truth is the mind entering essential reality through luminous clarity. The union is when those two are one: it is the combination or inseparability of the two, so that there is never an occasion for one to be without the other. Those [descriptions according to the mother and father tantras] represent union in its hidden sense.
      Thereafter, one needs to train on the path that involves the three empties arising in the forward order and passing away in the reverse order. Through that, [one attains] the union [at the stage] of training [related to] the first to the twelfth [stages of realization].
      The union [that requires] no more training is the opposite of that. It is free from [the arising and passing away of ] the three empties in the forward and reverse orders and is thereby beyond training on the path. It comprises both what is supported—the reality dimension, whose subject and object possess the two purities[20] —and the support—the form dimension of complete enjoyment, created from just wind and mind. However, those [two] are of a single nature (although conceptually differentiated), known as the “body of pristine awareness,” which is the ultimate union.

The Method of Meditation on Union [2']

The meditation method is to arise from the luminous-clarity
state as the illusory body,
Like the flash of a fish as it springs from water. What arises is the
real or a similitude.

The method of meditating on union is [first] to dissolve the environment and its inhabitants sequentially; and then, from the state of luminous clarity brought forth by the four empties, to arise as the illusory body. To explain, from the luminous-clarity state, the arising of the stage of self-consecration from just wind and mind is like the flash of a fish [as it springs] from water. [Nagarjuna’s] Five Stages[21] states:

Through the stage of self-consecration
Consisting of wind and consciousness,
The lights that are endowed with form
At times bring about beings’ welfare.
Like the sudden flash of a fish
As it springs from a clear stream,
The net of magical illusion arises
From the all-empty, so is taught.[22]

This [illusory body] arises from the combination of pristine awareness (which, with the sequential dissolution of the [three] empties, has become solely luminous clarity) and the subtle wind element upon which that pristine awareness is mounted. Like [the body’s] shadow, it cannot be cut asunder. It is a vajra body that is not subject to destruction by any means: the very nature of Great Vajradhara.[23] This is explained in [Aryadeva’s] [Lamp Summary of ] Tantric Practice.[24]
      One might wonder how this [illusory body] differs from the illusory body of just wind and mind that arises from emptiness when the winds have dissolved and that is made to enter emptiness and then re-emerge. However, there is a very significant difference between those two. The body of just wind and mind that arises from emptiness when the winds have dissolved is the illusory body alone. Equipoise in luminous clarity when the illusory body’s environment and inhabitants have been absorbed is luminous clarity alone. Hence, there is an alternation [between the illusory body and luminous clarity].
      In this case, the arising of the illusory body from the luminous-clarity state requires the simultaneity of the mind abiding in the nature of luminous clarity and the body manifesting as the illusory body.
      On this point, masters have said that the arising of the illusory body from the state of true luminous clarity is the real union. The arising of the illusory body from the state of the luminous clarity that is an example is a union that is a similitude.

  1. Jewel Affinity (Toh. 4024), vol. Phi, f. 57b1.
  2. See Chapter 7, nn. 33, 34.
  3. The mother–luminous clarity ( ’od gsal ma) refers to the luminous clarity of the ground; the son–luminous clarity ( ’od gsal bu), the luminous clarity cultivated during the path by special yogic means.
  4. Abhidhana Tantra (Toh. 369), vol. Ka. Citation not found.
  5. Nagarjuna’s Five Stages (Toh. 1802), vol. Ngi, f. 55a1. The Dergé Tengyur version of the last line of the second verse, which differs slightly from that of IOK, reads de bzhin rjes su gzhig pa’o.
  6. The esoteric instructions (man ngag) refers to teachings on the stage of actual awakening, or stage of luminous clarity, received orally from the master (Nagabodhi’s Explanation of the Five Stages: The Garland of Jewels, Toh. 1840, vol. Chi, f. 137b).
  7. Nagarjuna’s Five Stages (Toh. 1802), vol. Ngi, f. 55a1-3.
  8. According to Lakshmi, the instructions for total apprehension are to meditate on the first vowel, a, at the center of the eight-spoked channel-wheel of phenomena. Light from that vowel radiates from head to toe. Upon returning to the heart, the light dissolves the body. One’s total being—of a nature that has no point of reference—is apprehended by the contemplation (Lakshmi’s Elucidation of the Meaning of the Five Stages, Toh. 1842, vol. Chi, f. 263b3-5).
          Nagabodhi explains total apprehension in this way: Having imagined the vowel a (which represents the truth of no-self of all phenomena) at the eight-spoked channe-lwheel of phenomena at the heart, one then imagines the light of the syllable radiating throughout the body. The light returns and transforms the heart into ultimate reality. One thereby enters the true limit, ultimate reality. That describes the contemplation of total apprehension (Nagabodhi’s Explanation of the Five Stages: The Garland of Jewels, Toh. 1840, vol. Chi, f. 137b6-7). See also Chapter 7, nn. 33, 34.
  9. Lakshmi states that the first vowel, a, emanates a circle of light that dissolves the animate and inanimate worlds. Then, the light dissolves oneself. That describes the contemplation of successive destruction (Lakshmi’s Elucidation of the Meaning of the Five Stages, Toh. 1842, vol. Chi, f. 263b5-6).
          Nagabodhi explains that the light from the vowel radiates through one’s pores and dissolves all beings, who are identical in nature to the lord (the deity). Likewise, the light causes oneself to dissolve. Since all beings disintegrate in the manner of particles splitting up into increasingly finer particles, this meditation is called successive destruction, the ultimate (Nagabodhi’s Explanation of the Five Stages: The Garland of Jewels, Toh. 1840, vol. Chi, f. 138a1-2). See also Chapter 7, n. 34.
  10. These lines from Nagarjuna’s Five Stages provide an example for the contemplation of total apprehension and one for successive destruction. Lakshmi compares the way the breath’s vapor quickly vanishes from the surface of a mirror to the yogin repeatedly entering the state of ultimate reality. He points out that just as the reflection of the autumn moon on a clear pond cannot be said to be the actual moon, nor can it be said to be something else, the luminous clarity present in the minds of oneself and others cannot be described in words (Lakshmi’s Elucidation of the Meaning of the Five Stages, Toh. 1842, vol. Chi, f. 263b6).
          Similarly, Nagabodhi compares the autumn moon reflected on a clear pond to the yogin’s practice of the successive destruction; and the way the vapor of the breath on the surface of a mirror vanishes in an instant to the stage of total apprehension in which the yogin, in each instant, enters the true limit, luminous clarity (Nagabodhi’s Explanation of the Five Stages: The Garland of Jewels, Toh. 1840, vol. Chi, f. 138a1-5).
  11. Continuation of the Guhyasamaja Tantra (Toh. 443), vol. Ca, f. 154b4-5.
  12. Lakshmi explains that the first sign, resembling a mirage (smig rgyu), manifests through the dissolution of earth into water; the second, like smoke (du ba), through the dissolution of water into fire; the third, like fireflies (mkha’ snang/ srin bu me khyer), through the dissolution of fire into wind; and the fourth, like the flame of an oil lamp (mar me), through the dissolution of wind into consciousness. Through the sequential dissolution of the three phases of light arises the fifth sign, luminous clarity like a cloudless sky (sprin med nam mkha’ ) (Lakshmi’s Elucidation of the Meaning of the Five Stages, Toh. 1842, vol. Chi, f. 261b5-6).
  13. The way of characteristics (mtshan nyid theg pa) sets forth the eight freedoms (rnam thar brgyad ) as follows: the freedom of viewing external forms with the recognition of the inner consciousness as being form (nang shes pa gzugs can tu ’du shes pas phyi rol gyi gzugs la lta ba’i rnam thar); the freedom of viewing external forms with the recognition of the inner consciousness as being without form (nang gzugs can ma yin par ’du shes pas phyi rol gyi gzugs la lta ba’i rnam thar); the freedom of dwelling in completion after having actualized the body through its nature of beauty (sdug pa’i rnam thar te yid du ’ong ba’i rang bzhin lus kyis mngon sum du byas te rdzogs par gnas pa’i rnam thar); the freedom of infinite space (nam mkha’ mtha’ yas kyi rnam thar); the freedom of infinite consciousness (rnam shes mtha’ yas kyi rnam thar); the freedom of nothing whatsoever (ci yang med pa’i rnam thar); the freedom of neither discernment nor non-discernment ( ’du shes med ’du shes med min gyi skye mched rnam thar); the freedom of cessation of discernment and sensation ( ’du shes dang ’tshor ba ’gog pa’i rnam thar).
  14. This seems to indicate the contemplation in which the impure illusory body vanishes by means of either of the two contemplations; then, as union is attained, the illusory body is present as luminous clarity. See Wayman’s Yoga of the Guhyasamaja Tantra, p. 280.
  15. Read rtsol ba for rtsol pa.
  16. Read ’byung for ’gyur.
  17. The citation was not found in either the Samputa Tantra (Toh. 381) or the Samputa Tilaka Tantra (Toh. 382).
  18. Nagarjuna’s Five Stages (Toh. 1802), vol. Ngi, f. 56a1-2.
  19. Lakshmi writes that whoever understands that the relative and the ultimate are inseparable will attain the state of union. As the scripture Mother of All Buddhas states: Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form. Emptiness is not other than form. Form is not other than emptiness (Lakshmi’s Elucidation of the Meaning of the Five Stages, Toh. 1842, vol. Chi, f. 270b2-6).
  20. Here, "subject and object" likely refer to changeless bliss and emptiness endowed with the supreme of all aspects, respectively; and their "two purities" (dag pa gnyis), the intrinsic purity and the purity acquired through the elimination of adventitious stains.
  21. Nagarjuna’s Five Stages, Toh. 1802, vol. Ngi, f. 55a3-5. The first line of the Tibetan text (line three of the translation) has been translated in accordance with the Dergé Tengyur version, which reads gzugs bcas ’od zer de dang de. IOK reads rang bzhin bcas ’od de dang de.
  22. Nagabodhi explains these words in the following way: When the yogin wishes to accomplish the welfare of beings, at that time, by becoming the chief of one of the five families of buddhas, he emanates the light rays particular to the buddha. “Consisting of wind and consciousness” refers to the stage of the body of the deity, which is of the nature of mind; in other words, to the stage of self-consecration. Having generated through that a rainbow-like body (i.e., emanating five lights), one carries out whatever benefits others with that body and its lights, in other words, “the lights . . . bring about beings’ welfare.”
          Luminous clarity is the basis from which everything arises. From the all-empty, the very nature of luminous clarity, unpolluted by emotional afflictions such as attachment, this body of the deity manifests for the benefit of beings and shifts suddenly in response to their needs. That is compared to a fish that springs from a crystal clear stream in search of food and is capable of moving through water in a quick and sudden way (a summary of Nagabodhi’s Explanation of the Five Stages: The Garland of Jewels, Toh. 1840, vol. Chi, f. 138b2-6).
          Lakshmi explains that “consisting of wind and consciousness” refers to the union of the cessation of winds and the absence of consciousnesses (i.e., the three lights). He further states that, just as a fish suddenly springs from a stream in autumn, “the net of magical illusions,” that is, the lord together with his entourage, due to previous aspirations, manifests from luminous clarity devoid of the one hundred and sixty conceptions that are of impure and pure natures. Moreover, the body that arises from luminous clarity in order to benefit beings is the great seal. It is so called since it imparts joy, i.e., the mudra, to the great collection of beings (a summary of Lakshmi’s Elucidation of the Meaning of the Five Stages, Toh. 1842, vol. Chi, f. 264a4-b5).
  23. Read rdo rje ’chang for rdo rje ’char.
  24. Aryadeva’s Lamp Summary of Tantric Practice (Toh. 1803), vol. Ngi.