Saturday, March 26, 2016

Zomg, luminosity

Pick a sensation somewhere in your body that you can clearly feel, such as the pressure of your feet on the ground. Now close your eyes, and see if you can get a sense of what I mean when I say that this sensation is "luminous" -- as though it were glowing out of a dark background. Take thirty seconds and really get a sense of that. That luminosity is the topic of this post.

Notice that luminosity is the property by which you experience the sensation at all. If it were not luminous, you wouldn't be experiencing it. To be more precise, luminosity isn't just one among many properties of the sensation; the sensation is itself nothing more than luminosity in a particular configuration.

How is this luminosity experienced? Our usual mental framework is dualistic: luminosity is "over there" and I am "over here" and I experience it. Now let me suggest an alternate framework that may be hard to get your head around at first.

Luminosity does not need anything else to experience it. By its mere existence, its very luminosity, it is being experienced. Any need for a separate experiencer is extraneous. In a sense it is both the subject and the object of experience -- as though it is experiencing itself. But our mind is unable to make sense of such a statement, so it infers a subject sitting inside the head doing the experiencing.

It may sound like I'm trying to convince you of something true about the world. But actually I'm just trying to point out something interesting about your experience of the world that's easy to overlook.

Now notice how this luminosity doesn't apply only to the sense of touch, but to all five physical senses, as well as to mental content. Listen to something, and notice how sound is just another manifestation of this nondual luminosity. So are thoughts and emotions.

That nondual luminosity is the sole ingredient of all experience, and from it, we infer all sorts of other things. For example, we never actually experience time passing. It's always now, and from memory and anticipation we infer the existence of time. The existence of space and of a self experiencing it all are also inferences.

I'm not saying "time isn't actually real." I'm saying that we infer its reality and then think that we are directly experiencing it. Isn't it true that if I were to say "you've never actually experienced time," your first reaction would be puzzlement or dismissal? You think you experience time, and only close inspection reveals that it's false.

Now for a bold claim: if you could differentiate between what you actually experience and what you think you experience, your certainty in an external, objective reality would start to disintegrate.

That probably sounds crazy. Obviously there really is an objective reality, and if some practice were to break down your certainty of this fact, then that practice is dangerous and foolish.

But there's also an upside. You simultaneously begin to notice that the luminosity is magical, marvelous, mysterious, miraculous beyond belief. There is real magic in the world, and you have an ever-present front row seat to it! It is the gift to end all gifts, and you cannot help but be utterly humbled and awed by the spectacle.

It puts all other miracles into perspective.

"I'm alive!" is just another way of saying: holy shit, luminosity!!
"A universe exists!" That's you marveling at all the luminosity.
"I'm conscious!"... yet again, a yelp of surprise that there is luminosity.

In brief, it's the one and only thing you have always been looking for -- as well as, paradoxically, the one and only thing you've ever encountered. Maybe at some point it would be worthwhile to stop overlooking it and give it the attention both you and it long for.


Some words about meditation. Often, meditation goes like this: I notice how my mental state is now, and I subtly try to maneuver it toward some more optimal state. Perhaps if I'm really ambitious, toward the optimal state called "enlightenment." But in doing this, I'm missing out on noticing that the whole framework of "I" and "time" and everything else is just a manifestation of the very luminosity I seek. I run away from what I'm trying to find. All effort has this effect. And so it is said: nothing to do, nowhere to go.

If this is too radical, you can try something simpler. You could bask in the glory of the luminosity, without a care in the world about the particular forms it happens to be taking. Of course, even the ideas of "basking" and "luminosity" are extraneous in that place, but it seems an apt enough description. It may still not be easy, but sometimes having a conceptual framework to scaffold trust is worthwhile.

So, when meditating, don't worry about the expression (details) of the luminosity, and instead notice its essence. With respect to the conceptual domain, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche says:
The essence itself is totally free of conceptual thinking. Yet, at the same time, its expression is conceptual thinking. Do not focus your attention on the expression. Rather, recognize the essence: then the expression has no power to remain anywhere. At this point, the expression simply collapses or folds back into the essence. As we become more stable in recognizing the essence free from conceptual thinking, its expression as conceptual thinking becomes increasingly baseless or unfounded. As conceptual thinking diminishes and finally vanishes, what is left to cause us to wander in samsara? The very basis for samsaric existence is none other than conceptual thinking. 
And from Keith Dowman:
Reality—the “reality” that is evoked on every page of Longchenpa’s text—is the light of the mind that shines equally and inescapably in every moment of existence. Much of the difficulty of Dzogchen translation into English arises from the multiplicity of expression, the fine nuance of terminology, employed to evoke this fundamental luminosity. It is the single most important, unique assumption of Dzogchen that this light is self-existent and self-aware and in fact the sole ingredient of all our experience. This light is the great mystery of nondual mysticism. When we comprehend that Dzogchen is based upon the assumption that all and everything, consciousness and every form of experience, is naturally composed of this light, then we are able to read without let or hindrance the technical exposition of its revelation that allows the light to shine out in all its brilliance. The innate awareness of this pristine nondual brilliance is called rigpa.

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