Luminosity of the Mind, by HH Dalai Lama

Stupa with view,. Photo: © Lisa Daix

In relation to the nature of mind, what is luminosity? In this respect it might be interesting to reflect on a passage which one finds in certain texts which says that ‘between the arisal of different instances of conceptual thought, the clear light nature of mind arises uninterruptedly’.

Say you look at an object which doesn’t have bright colours but is rather subdued in colour and not very attractive. And you look at it for a while. Then, while looking at this object, you make the determination: ‘I shall retain my concentration in order to focus my attention upon my own perception, upon my own experience. And I shall not allow myself to be distracted by other objects, external or internal.’ With such mindfulness you will be able to recognise the very moment your mind is distracted. For example, you hear a beautiful tune and you are distracted by it, but you immediately realise you are distracted, reinforce your mindfulness, and withdraw from it. Similarly, if you recollect past events, you will immediately realise that you have become distracted. Or if you have preconceptions of the future, you will also be able to identify that your mind has become distracted.

So, normally, it is these types of thoughts which come into being at any given moment and which obscure the essential nature of our minds. When this technique of mindfulness is utilised, therefore, of maintaining attention on the perception of the object in front of us, as and when a distraction arises, we are able to identify it and to withdraw from such distractions. Thus, eventually all these conceptual events, the cognitive processes that obscure the natural state of the mind, will be cleared away. And the result will be a very stable and lucid state of mind.

The mind is an affirmative phenomenon, but on the ordinary level it is obscured by concepts, different states of thinking and preconceptions, and so on. In order to recognise the essential nature of the mind, therefore, we have to peel off these different layers and clear away these obscurations. Then we shall see the true face of our own minds.

If you undertake such practices, such experiments, when you say ‘consciousness’, it will not be a mere word. You will be able to understand what it is. Consciousness is a phenomenon that is nonobstructive; it is nonphysical and has the quality of luminosity. It is analogous to a crystal. If a crystal is placed on a coloured surface, the real clarity of that crystal will not be seen. If it is removed from anything coloured, however, then its real form will be seen.

The luminosity of the mind, the nature of clarity of the mind, is something that I cannot simply explain in words to you. But if you undertake this kind of experiment on your own, you will begin to understand,’ Ah, that’s the luminosity of the mind!’

More teachings by the Dalai Lama.

[From teachings given by HH Dalai Lama
in London in April 1988
from Buddhism Now Aug 1995]




Categories: Buddhist meditation, Dalai Lama, Tibetan

Tags: , , ,

4 replies

  1. Why does HH call it luminosity? Is there a perception of light flash somewhere in the process of mindfulness practice? Or is it a metaphor for peacefull problem free sate of being?

    • This article by the Dalai Lama describes a practice common in many Buddhist traditions.

      Here is another description by a Theravada monk.

      I remember being in a room once where there was no light whatsoever; everything was completely black. I put my hand up in front of my eyes and I couldn’t see it, not even a shadow, and I thought, ‘I can’t see;’ and then suddenly I recognised . . . but consciousness is light, isn’t it? I had never thought of that before. Even though my eyes weren’t operating, they could see blackness. In terms of the objective world, my eyes couldn’t see colour, shape or form without light, but as I pursued that inwardly, I realised that the light is consciousness, is awareness — it isn’t dark.

      In Zen there is a practice called ‘Tracing back the radiance’ which is knowing or exploring awareness itself. It’s not to do with light in the normal sense. Awareness has its own brightness. Someone, caught or locked in thought, is in the dark. This is easy to experience just get heavily into thought, and of a sudden be aware. See how lighter it all becomes.

      As his holiness says it’s thoughts which obscure the essential nature of our minds.
      Hope this helps?

  2. In my experience luminosity is not a flash of light nor a peaceful, problem free state of being. Nor do I feel that it is the difference between heavy thought and awareness. In fact for deep mathematical and scientific thinking luminosity must be maintained WHILE conducting research; it is the only way to discern what the universe chooses to reveal.

    I think the best way to describe it is that state in which there is this clear focus that is an undercurrent of the mind while all else occurs on top of it; it is a very natural state. I guess the best way I would ask people to contemplate it is to imagine that you are a point in the universe, just a black point in space, focus on that, become that. Once that happens, you will experience it. if feels almost as though all of time and space collapse onto a point and you can witness all the transparent layers of time and space on top of it if you choose to, but it does not change that single point.

    I have noticed that when people have this state, there is also this radiance to their eyes, sometimes this happens when people are blissed out too, but from this state it is this penetrating radiance. these are my experiences with it anyway.

  3. What dalai lama said is very fundamental in terms of practicing buddhist retreat. In my experience, I saw the ‘light’ through meditation. meditation keeps our mind focus on now. we become aware of our inner soul and the core meaning of being human. if our thoughts wander around, we lose track of the light. the light that dalai lama spoke about is the light within you…

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