January 8, 2009

The LIGHT in enLIGHTenment

During my early days as an impressionable Internet Buddhist, circa 1995, I recall a discussion in an AOL chatroom where the most sapient among us insisted that the notion of light being an important part of enlightenment was folly. Other sagacious sutra readers in the room were insistant that the term enlightenment should be abandoned altogether because it planted in our minds misdirecting ideas of what enlightenment/satori/awakening was. For years thereafter, I clung to that appraisement: Enlightenment is ineffable. For us to impose preceptions of it that give it flavor or color or feel would cause us to misidentify markers in our spiritual advancement, sending us off on muddy time-wasting slogs through the barren marshes of error.

Today, I have come to think that light is important: its rays filling the room; its beams serving as a guide to anyone's quest to eliminate suffering in the adventure of life. Hui-neng, the great C'han master, said in his Platform Sutra, "Learned audience, to what are meditation and wisdom analogous? They are analogous to a lamp and its light. With the lamp, there is light. Without it, it would be dark. The lamp is the quintessence of the light and the light is the expression of the lamp. In name they are two things, but in substance they are the same. It is the same case with meditation and wisdom."

Let us simply consider the obvious importance of nature's light to life. It seems less important to us nowadays, living in our incandescent- and florescent-lit buildings, warmed by heat coming up to us from vents in the floor, living our lives vicariously through people pretending to be real on television shows, but the sun, this round disc in the sky, regulates and is necessary for all life known to us in the universe. Its warmth and its light make the day, and when it dips below the horizon, there is nothing but life-draining night and hope for the next day's dawn, when the streets and the trees and the sky will become fully visible, again. When that eastern star pushes into view, nature wriggles from its slumber; the birds start chattering; and all the creatures come to action to feast and fly and frolic. And Shakyamuni Buddha, persistant and willful, sitting beside that Bodhi tree, realized enlightenment on seeing that morning star and thought "I and all beings on earth together attain enlightenment at the same time."

Zen Master Ejo, Dogen's disciple, in the chapter "Absorption in the Treasury of Light" in his Shobo Genzo Zuimonki wrote "Buddha said, 'This light of lights is not blue, yellow, red, white, or black. It is not matter, not mind. It is not existent, nor nonexistent. It is not a phenomenon resulting from causes. It is the source of all Buddhas, the basis of practicing the Way of enlightening beings, fundamental for all Buddhists.'"

It is only in the last one hundred years, thanks to the creative intelligence of Albert Einstein, that we have come to better understand this light whatever-it-is that pervades the universe -- Buddha's remark, quoted by Ejo, being intuitively correct, but far, far ahead of science!

People commonly misunderstand light, thinking it this hybrid thing -- part wave, part matter -- that travels at an incredible velocity, the so-called Speed of Light. But light doesn't dawdle at the Speed of Light; unimpeded, it traverses the universe instantly. It is untouched by time. It is only from the perspective of lumpy, time-bound humans that light travels at 186,000 miles/second. If it were possible to chain our wrist to a beam of light, we would be everywhere in the smallest segment of a moment. Light is indeed as Buddha described it, "not matter, not mind. It is not existent, nor nonexistent. It is not a phenomenon resulting from causes."

According to currently configured theory of everything, M Theory, a photon of light is a non-looping vibrating string, atuned to the laws of harmonics, bounded, as sentient beings are, between two impassible membranes [that bar us from other dimensions we cannot perceive], leaving us in the universe we know, existing in the three dimensions of space. While sentient beings travel a life's journey on an arrow of time, light does not. Light is not subject to time; a beam of light is immutable.

From the Tibetan Book of the Dead we are told that the first stage of the Bardo -- the Chikai, the bardo of dying -- begins at death and lasts from a half a day to four days. During this period, the dead person realizes he no longer has a body. An ecstatic experience pervades the consciousness of the departed, called the "Clear White Light." It is written that everyone gets at least a glimpse of this light, but that the more spiritually advanced will see it longer and go beyond to a higher level. An average person will drop into a lesser state, the secondary "clear light."

It is believed that the "Clear White Light" is the light from all enlightened ones, indistinguishable from everyone's true essence. Ejo wrote something parallel regarding the treasury of light: "[It] is the root source of all Buddhas, the inherent being of all living creatures, the total substance of all phenomena, the treasury of the great light of spiritual powers of complete awareness. The three bodies [mind belonging to the Arhats, Pratyekabuddhas, and Bodhisattvas], four knowledges [realizing their liberation], and states of absorption [in mystic or meditative union with ecstacy] numerous as atoms in every aspect of reality, all appear from within this."

Those who have had a near-death experience describe something just like the "Clear White Light," and have other experiences which track and seem to validate the stages of the bardo described in the Book of the Dead.

This is written about Amitabha Buddha: "The splendor of His brilliant light is beyond mind. The light of His brows illuminates a hundred worlds. His eyes are pure brilliant light, limitless like the oceans. In Amitabha's realm of infinite light, all beings are transformed And Enlightened into countless Bodhisattvas and Buddhas. His Forty Eight Vows ensure our liberation In Nine Lotus Stages we reach the ultimate shore of Enlightenment. Homage to the Buddha of the Pure Land, Compassionate Amitabha Buddha."

Near the end of "Absorption in the Treasury of the Light," Ejo wrote:

This is the light in which the ordinary and the sage, the deluded and the enlightened, are one suchness. Even in the midst of activity, it is not hindered by activity. The forest and the flowers, the grasses and the leaves, people and animals, great and small, long and short, square and round, all appear at once, without depending on the discrimination of your thoughts and attention.. This is manifest proof that the light is not obstructed by activity. It is empty luminosity spontaneously shining without exerting mental energy.

This light has never had any place of abode. Even when buddhas appear in the world, it does not appear in the world. Even though they enter nirvana, it does not enter nirvana. When you are born, the light is not born. When you die, the light is not extinguished. It is not more in Buddhas and not less in ordinary beings. It is not lost in confusion, not awakened by enlightenment. It has no location, no appearance, no name. It is the totality of everything. It cannot be grasped, cannot be rejected, cannot be attained. While unattainable, it is in effect throughout the entire being. From the highest heaven above to the lowest hell below, it is thus completely clear, a wondrously inconceivable spiritual light.

If you believe and accept this mystic message, you do not need to ask anyone else whether it is true or false; it will be like meeting your father in the middle of town. Do not petition other teachers for a seal of approval, and do not be eager to be given a prediction and realize fruition.

Finally, this from Ken Wilber in Boomeritis [Note, the first three short sentences are a riff from Dōgen's "Genjōkōan"]:

To study enlightenment is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be one with all things. To be one with all things is timeless enlightenment. And this timeless enlightenment continues forever, it is a ceaseless process, absolutely perfect, and fully complete at every moment of its being, yet also unfolding endlessly ...


Michaelann Bewsee said...

Born on the winter solstice-- proud of it, which couldn't be sillier as it has nothing to do with me-- but knowing the light is increasing feels me with glee.

Been trying to get my mind around this speed of light thing for some time-- I think it's unreal. Because of relativity we will always perceive it as the same speed-- but its real speed is unknown.

I haven't bought into string theory yet-- I understand the math doesn't work out very well-- but I absolutely do believe protons, photons, gluons, muons!!-- are all different versions of the same thing.

Long may light reign.

anonymous said...

Light or radiance, is the natural or pure condition of the mind. This was discovered by yogis through Dibbacakkhu, one of the five powers resulting from the development of jhanas.

Once you get to fourth jhana then all impurities are supressed by samadhi and you can actually see your own mind, the energy version of it, and see its radiance, by using this higher power.

My own teacher says that whether your human eyesight is good or not the resolution of seeing the mind in its energy form is phenomenal, and you can see the minutest detail.

He also points out that this is simply a beginning view of the mind, as supressing impurities is not the real aim, which is to let go of impurities through vipassana.

Anyone interested in this should check out www.dhammaspread.org.

There is mention of this in the articles on 'Samsara' and the path knowledges.

Mumon said...

"Ineffable." You just can't f it.

I personally try to keep my theoretical physics and 見性 or 悟り separate, myself.

I don't want the pursuit of the scientific method to impede my practice, and I don't want my practice to compromise my practice of the scientific method.

Richard Dawkins or Ken Wilber or both might sneer at me, but as my ol' physics professor proclaimed, "I'm a plumber, not a philosopher."

That's what one (i.e., just me - can't speak for others) does with a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, anyway, when one's also a Buddhist.

Buddhist_philosopher said...

Then there is always Chogyam Trungpa's "The idea of enlightenment is born out of confusion."

- And Dogen (I paraphrase):

"One who is englightened,
is enlightened about ignorance.
One who is ignorant,
is ignorant about enlightenment."

Yours, in ignorance.