Loppon Malcolm:


One cannot find the nature of water apart from water. It does not precede or succeed it. Now then, if you are an essentialist [Hindu, etc.], you will argue that all water derives its nature from some hypothetical essence of water. If you are a nominalist [Buddhist], you will argue our notion of a characteristic of water is an abstraction derived from our experiences of water. So, the answer is that your nature of water is merely an abstraction, and does not really exist. See MMK chapter 5:7:

    Therefor space is not existent, it is not non-existent, is not the characterized,
    is not the characteristic; also any other of the five elements are the same as space.

And 5:8:

    Some of small intelligence, see existents in terms of ‘is’ or ‘is not’;
    they do not perceive the pacification of views, or peace.


Your quote does not support Dolbupa's entire theory, which has much more to do with his treatment of three own natures, his interpretation of the idea of the three turnings, and so on that it does tathāgatagarbha.

We all accept tathāgatagarbha theory, we just don't accept Dolbupas interpretation of it, because it is eternalist.


Nope. Gzhan stong is the theory that the ultimate truth is empty of relative truth and utterly different than it; it is not the theory that the nature of mind (tathāgatagarbha) is empty of adventitious defilements and replete with buddha qualities (potentially). You can cite the Śrīmālādevī-siṃhanāda sūtra (and the nine other tathāgatagarbha sūtras) till you pass out from exhaustion but it wont make tathāgatagarbha theory any more "gzhan stong".


Umm, no, that is not what gzhan stong is. This is how it is defined:

    Dharmatā, the thoroughly established, the ultimate truth, is not empty of its own nature, but because it is empty of imputed and other-dependent entities, relative entities, conditioned phenomena, it is empty of other entities. That is the true unperverted emptiness, ultimate truth, dharmakāya, [3/b] the limit of the real, suchness, and emptiness endowed with the supreme of all aspects. The powers, major and minor marks and so on are the unconditioned qualities that abide in that from the beginning.


What you do not seem to understand is while the sūtra passages you are citing are noncontroversial, the gzhan stong interpretation Dolbupa applied to them in general is controversial for many reasons, but mostly having to do with his novel (and largely unprecedented) interpretation of the three own natures, his idea that the perfected nature (parinispanna) was empty of both the dependent (paratantra) and imputed (parikalpita) natures. In fact Maitreyanath, Asanga and Vasubandhu uniformly consider that the absence of the imputed in the dependent is the perfected. The second place where the gzhan stong view is found contradictory to Nāgārjuna is that if one follows the gzhan stong view, samsara and nirvana cannot be inseparable. Therefore, the statement by the Buddha in the Hevajra Tantra must be false:

    This so-called "samsara,"
    just this is nirvana.

Many other clear and unambiguous statements by the Buddha on the identity of samsara and nirvana must also be considered false. Not to mention Nāgārjuna's famed dictum:

    Samsara is not the slightest bit different from nirvana,
    nirvana is not the slightest bit different from samsara;
    whatever is the limit of nirvana, that is the limit of samsara,
    a difference between those two does not exist even slightly.

We can see that Vasubandhu agrees with this meaning in the Sūtrālaṃkārabhāṣya:

    The meaning of nirvana being all-pervasive is that because samsara and peace (nirvana) have one taste due to one not having concepts about their faults and qualities, in the respect there is no difference between samsara and nirvana.



Right, so you did not even answer the question.

As a basic definition, nirvana, space and so on are included in "all phenomena." In fact, the Śatasāhasrika-prajñāpāramitā, etc., state:

    All phenomena are included with the category of suchness, those cannot go beyond that category. If it asked why, Subhuti no coming or coming can be perceived in suchness. Subhuti, all phenomena are within these categories: the dharmadhātu, are the limit of reality, uniformity and inconceivability.


    Subhuti, when categorized, all phenomena are the nature of being unreal. Subhuti, in the same way, also all phenomena are nature of emptiness, all phenomena are the nature of signlessness, all phenomena are the nature of aspirationalessness. Subhuti, in the same way also, all phenomena are the nature of suchness, all phenomena are the nature of the limit of reality, all phenomena are the nature of dharmadhātu.

This being so, it is ludicrous to assert that the ultimate is empty of all relative phenomena. Such an assertion directly contradicts the words of the Buddha. It is one thing to claim "tathāgatagarbha is empty of adventitious afflictions." It is quite another to claim that the ultimate is empty of all relative phenomena. The ultimate is merely the emptiness of all phenomena, there is no other ultimate that can be found.


And it is for this reason, for example, that Rongton Sheja Kunrig classifies gzhan stong as a species of false aspectarian yogacara, or a sort of intermediate view between yogacara and madhyamaka.


The problem lies when one conflates the language of the tathatagarbha teachings, the language of yogacara and the language of madhyamaka. The ancient yogacarins in Indian took virtually no interest in tathāgatagarbha theory devoting only a total of two commentaries to the subject: the Uttaratantra and the subcommentary on that by Asanga. Further proof, is that Madhyamakas such as Bhavavieka and Chandrakirti treast the subject of tathāgatagarbha theory with much more interest then Asanga, Vasuubandhu and so on. We do not really find consistent commentarial treatment of tathāgatagarbha theory until the Vajrayāna commentaries dating from the ninth century onward. Even here it is not systematic.
The writings below by Lopon Malcolm reminded me of what Rob Burbea wrote.


Rob Burbea:

Sometimes, when we go to the texts of different Buddhist traditions, it seems as if, especially the Vast Awareness, it seems we find something in the texts that really corresponds to that. And I can find plenty of references. But this is actually not as simple as it seems. Words can sound very very similar when you get to a certain level in practice, and we say empty or nothingness or vastness or this or that, and it kind of all begin to sound very similar after some point. So it behooves us I think to really be careful not to be sloppy with language in our practice, as it's difficult, as precise as we can, which isn’t easy. And not to throw out words or concepts, because as I said, I can’t remember where it was in one of the talks. If I throw out conceptuality too early, what happens is I’m just left with my default unexamined concepts. I’ve done nothing to really dig them out. I’m just saying concepts are not helpful.

What we also find if you do kind of check out a lot of texts on this is the same words used in very different ways. So when we use words like Awareness is luminous, but it turns out if you really probe that, that luminous actually means empty. Or pure, meaning empty of inherent existence. Doesn’t mean bright in that sense. You wonder why they’re using that word. Or clarity, doesn’t mean clarity in the sense we would usually mean clarity. Or even the word space, funnily enough, doesn’t even mean space in the way we would usually mean space. It’s not easy.

One time the Buddha went to a group of monks and he basically told them not to see Awareness as The Source of all things. So this sense of there being a vast awareness and everything just appears out of that and disappears back into it, beautiful as that is, he told them that’s actually not a skillful way of viewing reality. And that is a very interesting sutta, because it’s one of the only suttas where at the end it doesn’t say the monks rejoiced in his words.

This group of monks didn’t want to hear that. They were quite happy with that level of insight, lovely as it was, and it said the monks did not rejoice in the Buddha’s words. (laughter) And similarly, one runs into this as a teacher, I have to say. This level is so attractive, it has so much of the flavor of something ultimate, that often times people are unbudgeable there.

In the Dzogchen tradition, there’s a very beautiful saying – very simple but very beautiful. And it says, “trust your experience, but keep refining your view.” Trust your experience, but keep refining your view - there’s a lot of wisdom in that, a lot of wisdom.


Malcolm/Loppon Namdrol:


Light = purity in the pre-modern mind.

Natural luminosity [rang bzhin gyis od gsal ba], as very clearly stated in the citations above, is a description of the purity of all phenomena. I did not exclude citations that were somehow inconvenient to this definition. On the contrary, I sought for them and could not find them because they do not exist.

Thus, to say that matter is naturally luminous is merely to say that it is ultimately pure. I am not sure why people are intent in ignoring the fact that the term "natural luminosity" is uniformly applied to all phenomena, all phenomena are naturally luminous, not only the mind.

To be sure, the term 'od gsal by itself can and is often used merely to refer to lights shining from the Buddha's uṛṇa and so on, the quality of the light of a gem and so on. But in this context, we are not discussing the generic term "light", we are discussing a very specific term, [rang bzhin gyis od gsal ba], which is a technical term that has a very persistent usage across a broad swath of sūtras and tantras.

Clarity [gsal ba] is the power of the mind to makes things evident. It is defined as the characteristic [lakṣana] of the mind, for example, in both Sakya Lamdre and Kagyu Mahāmudra.

Luminosity [in this context] and clarity, 'od gsal ba and gsal ba, are therefore, really not the same thing at all.

I very carefully looked for examples in the translations of Indian texts where gsal ba could be taken as an abbreviation of 'od gsal ba and was unable to find any at all. I have spent many hours engaged in this project. I also compared usages in available Sanskrit texts as well. Perhaps someone more skilled in Tibetan, in looking up citations, in reading them and in translating them, will be successful where I have failed.

Further, as I showed already, luminosity and clarity are treated separately and distinctly in one of the main sources for understanding the so called union of clarity and emptiness, which I presented in the tantra above.

I did not present this post with an intention to have a lengthy debate about the issue. I selected a few representative quotes out of hundreds (to avoid stultifying repetition) in order to edify all of you. If you choose to be edified, that is fantastic. If you prefer to cling to your own ideas, that is just fine with me too.

At this point, having restated my point of view three or four times, I will leave it here unless someone has something of further value to add. Otherwise, I fear we are just going in circles.


Then we have to be very precise, don't we? For example, we have in the Ṥrī-jñānavajra-samuccaya-tantra this line:

    Luminosity ['od gsal ba] is the ultimate truth.

But we also have this verse in the same text:

    If the two truths are separate,
    the path of wisdom is pointless.
    If clarity and emptiness ['gsal stong] are separate,
    there will be falling into the extremes of permanence and annihilation.

Now, in case you are tempted to think that emptiness is relative, the same text clearly states:

    Relative truth
    is the moon in the water;
    ulimate truth
    is the eighteen emptinesses.

Luminosity is clearly described here as ultimate. Clarity here is clearly described as relative, the apparent and evident aspect of the two truths, as we can further see:

    From the relative clarity arises the woman,
    the bhaga, and the assembly of goddesses.

Or for example, in Indrabhuti's Śrī-cakrasaṃvaratantrarājaśambarasamuccaya-nāma-vṛitti, it is stated:

    There is joy from the gradual blazing everywhere from the three channels; and in a moment of experience, samsara and nirvana arise as nondual clarity and emptiness.

In any case, clarity [gsal ba] is described as relative, samsara; while luminosity ['od gsal] is everywhere described as ultimate and nirvana; so how can gsal ba = 'od gsal? Clarity is relative and conditioned, luminosity is ultimate and unconditioned


Actually, what is being said is that space is pure, as the Śatasāhasrika-prajñāpāramitā states:

    Due to the element of space being naturally luminous, it is pure and without afflictions.

Vasubandhu echos this in the Āryākṣayamatinirdeśaṭīkā:

    Luminosity is natural because its nature is pure.


    Since so-called "luminosity" is free from the temporary taint of subject and object because there is no reification, it is explained as naturally pure. The concept that there is a subject and object is called "reification"; since there is no concept of the existence of subject and object, so-called "luminosity" means "the characteristic of natural purity."


    Since the obscurations of knowledge and affliction do not exist, the luminosity of discerning wisdom (prajñā) is explained as "the purity of discerning wisdom."

Bhavaviveka states in the Tarkajvala:

"Luminous clarity" is so called because of being free from the darkness of affliction and objects of knowledge.

Jayānanda states in the Madhyamakāvatāraṭīkā-nāma:

    It says in sūtra that "Tathāgatagarbha" means "All sentient beings have tathāgatagarbha." That passage concerns tathāgatagarbha. "Natural luminosity" means that natural luminosity is immaculate. It's characteristic is what which is pure. "Pure from the start" meanings immaculate from the beginning like space. "Possessing the thirty two major marks means possessing the nature of emptiness.


    So called "luminosity" means the nature of emptiness is intrinsically pure.

Prajñamokṣa's Madhyamakopadeśa-nāma-vṛtti states:

    Luminosity is natural purity.

I could go on citing Indian masters, but there is not much point.



Natural Luminosity

Postby Malcolm » Sat May 16, 2015 7:00 am
The following is a comprehensive selection of citations from sūtra and tantra concerning natural luminosity [prakṛti prabhāsvara, rang gzhin gyis ‘od gsal]. It is by no means exhaustive, and I have not included any commentarial glosses by Indian scholars.

To understand natural luminosity, the first place to start is with the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras. Most people are familiar with the famous statement:

    There is no mind in the mind, but the mind is naturally luminous.

The Śatasāhasrika-prajñāpāramitā, beginning with matter, ending with omniscience and including everything in between, states:

    Due to matter being naturally luminous, it is pure and non-afflicted…due to omniscience of all aspects being naturally luminous, it is pure and non-afflicted.

Ārya-suvikrāntavikrami-paripṛcchā-prajñāpāramitā-nirdeśa states:

    It is thought, “This mind is naturally luminous.” As this was thought, it is thought, “The mind arises based on a perception.” Since that perception is totally understood, the mind does not arise and does not cease. Such a mind is luminous, non-afflicted, beautiful, totally pure. Since that mind dwells in nonarising, no phenomena at all arise or cease.

The Ārya-prajñāpāramitānayaśatapañcāśatikā states:

    Since prajñāpāramitā is totally pure, all phenomena are naturally luminous.

The Buddhāvataṃsaka-nāma-mahāvaipulya-sūtra states:

    Since the original nature [prakriti] of the mind is luminous and endowed with purity, it is extremely pure…
    The original nature [prakriti] of the mind is correctly known as peaceful, luminous and equivalent with space…
    The natural luminosity of the dharmadhātu is abides as totality pure in the same way…

The Āryānantamukhapariśodhananirdeśaparivarta-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra states:

    Whatever is totally pure, that is an immaculate entryway, the mind is naturally luminous and never possesses afflictions.
    The Ārya-bodhisattvapiṭaka-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra states:
    All these phenomena are naturally pure,
    naturally luminous, fundamentally pure from the start,
    unfabricated and imperceptible.


    If it is asked what is luminosity, that which is natural is without affliction, like space, the nature of space. Follow space. That which is equivalent with the extent of space itself is extremely luminous by nature. Therefore, the immature are temporarily afflicted because they do not comprehend natural luminosity. Since sentient beings do not know natural luminosity, they must comprehend natural luminosity…Due to understanding the natural luminosity of the mind just as it is, the unsurpassed perfected awakening through the discerning wisdom possessed by an instant of the mind is called “full buddhahood.”

The Ārya-lalitavistara-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra states:

    I have obtained the ambrosia of Dharma,
    profound, peaceful, immaculate, luminous and unconditioned.
    Even though I explain it, no one will understand,
    I think I will remain in the forest without speaking.
    Free from words, untrained by speech,
    suchness, the nature of Dharma, is like space
    free from the movements of mind and intellect,
    supreme, amazing, the sublime knowledge…
    Always like space,
    nonconceptual, luminous,
    the teaching without periphery or center
    is expressed in this Dharmawheel.
    Free from existence and nonexistence,
    beyond self and nonself,
    the teaching of natural nonarising
    is expressed in this Dharmawheel…

The Ārya-sarvabuddhaviṣayāvatārajñānālokālaṃkāra-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra states:

    Mañjuśrī, because the mind is naturally luminous, the secondary afflictions are exhausted by temporary secondary afflictions, but the primary afflictions do not exist by nature. Whatever is naturally luminous is without primary afflictions…
    Mañjuśrī, awakening naturally luminous through the natural luminosity of the mind. If it is asked what is luminosity, whatever is natural is without the primary afflictions, is equal with space, has the nature of space and is included in space, and is like space because of being extremely luminous by nature.

The Ārya-cintye-prabhāsa-nirdeśa-nāma-dharmaparyāya states:

    The child asked, how shall I discern this? The mind is naturally luminous, within that afflictions are not produced and it does not become afflicted.”
    The Bhagavān replied, “It is just as you have said. The mind is always luminous, the common people become afflicted by temporary afflictions."

The Ārya-laṅkāvatāra-mahāyāna-sūtra states:

    Purified of the afflictions
    abandoned by meditation and seeing,
    the mind is naturally luminous,
    the pure tathāgatagarbha;
    but the addictions of sentient beings
    are boundless and endless.
    Just as when the surface of gold is polished, one sees
    the gold color, the brilliant shine and the pure surface,
    in just that way
    is the sentient being in the aggregates.
    The supreme ones have always shown
    the inexhaustible wisdom of the Buddha to be peace,
    without a person, without the aggregates.
    The natural luminosity of the mind
    endowed with the affliction of mind and so on
    along with [the affliction of] self
    possesses temporary afflictions
    from the start,
    naturally luminosity can be purified of the affliction of self,
    just like a [stained] cloth.
    Just as the flaws of either cloth or gold
    can be cleansed because they are [intrinsically] stainless,
    which neither remain nor are destroyed,
    and likewise have the nature of being flawless.

The Āryātajñāna-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra states:

    Since all phenomena are naturally luminous,
    one should fully cultivate the perception of nonperception.

The Ārya-Śūraṃgamasamādhi-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra states:

    All phenomena are naturally luminous,
    those are not real entities.
    When something is a nonentity,
    that is the purity of phenomena.

The Ārya-pratyutpanna-buddhasaṃmukhāvasthitasamādhi-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra states:

    Also the mind is pure, naturally luminous,
    unperturbed, all pervasive and unadulterated.


    Since all these phenomena are naturally luminous, they are equivalent with nirvana.

The Ārya-bodhisattvagocaropāyaviṣayavikurvitanirdeśa-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra states:

    Due to not being asserted in other vehicles, the mind is pure. Due to the removal of the turbulence of the afflictions, the mind is not afflicted. Due to naturally luminosity, the mind is luminous.

The Ārya-tathāgatamahākaruṇānirdeśa-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra states:

    Due to the natural luminosity of the mind, awakening is naturally luminous. If it is asked why it is called “naturally luminous,” whatever is natural is without the afflictions, equivalent with space, the nature of space, and equal in extent with space, and even with space. That nature is very luminous. Since immature common people do not comprehend natural luminosity, they are afflicted by the afflictions…
    The element of afflictions are fully known as the characteristics of the temporary afflictions. The element of purification is fully known as the characteristic of natural luminosity…
    The natural luminosity of the mind should be known in just that way. Due to that, the Dharma of the existence of result is shown in one moment of mind.

The Ārya-gaganagañjaparipṛcchā-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra states:

    Whoever skillfully realizes all phenomena as pure,
    that is the natural luminosity of the mind…
    Because the mind is naturally luminous,
    therefore it is never afflicted.

There are of course many sūtra citations which I have excluded, but they all present a consistent theme.

Moving onto the tantras, we really do not find much variation on this theme, apart from the fact that the tantras tend to present a more precise explanation of the stages of the experience of luminosity in meditation (which will not be disclosed here). To begin with, the Ārya-ḍākinī-vajrapañjara-mahātantrarāja-kalpa-nāma states:

    The dharmadhātu is luminous,
    someone who meditates on that
    is a sentient being who becomes equal with a buddha…
    The dharmadhātu is luminous,
    the taste of excellent bliss,
    called “the unobscured vajra.”

The Śrī-mahāsaṃvarodaya-tantrarāja-nāma states:

    Natural luminosity
    is beyond the range of analysis,
    it is not low, not high, peaceful
    it cannot be invoked,
    it is inexpressible, beyond enumeration,
    the aspect of emptiness
    abiding as the nature all entities,
    free from all qualities such as sound and so on,
    this is the sources of the bliss of buddhahood.

The Saṃpūṭi-nāma-mahātantra states:

    Natural luminosity is free from all concepts,
    free from being covered by the taints of desire and so on,
    with subject and object, the supreme being
    has said that is supreme nirvana…
    all phenomena are naturally luminous,
    because all phenomena do not arise from the start,
    it is termed non-origination by the mind.

The Mahāmāyā-tantra-nāma states:

    All phenomena are naturally luminous,
    pure from the start and without perturbation…
    All phenomena are naturally luminous,
    pure from the start, like space.

The Śrī-vajramālābhidhānamahāyogatantra-sarvatantrahṛdaya-rahasyavibhaṅga-iti states:

    Natural luminosity is stainless,
    free from all aspects.

The Sandhivyākaraṇa-nāma-tantra states:

    This phenomena is naturally luminous,
    since it is pure from the start, it is equivalent with space,
    there is no awakening, no realization,
    it is the explanation of bodhicitta.

The Māyājāla-mahātantrarāja-nāma states:

    All phenomena are naturally luminous,
    pure from the start, without perturbation,
    without sentient beings, without life,
    without buddhas and without awakening.

The Sarvatathāgatatattvasaṃgraha-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra states:

    Also everything is naturally luminous,
    pure from the start, like space,
    neither a phenomena nor a nonphenomena,
    inconceivable and delightful…
    All phenomena are naturally luminous,
    intrinsically pure from the start.

The Vajraśikharamahāguhyayoga-tantra states:

    Since everything is naturally luminous,
    its nature will be pure from the start,
    afflictions will not be perceptible,
    there will also be no liberation of nirvana…
    All phenomena are nonarising,
    totally luminous, peaceful from the start.

The Sarvarahasyo-nāma-tantrarājā states:

    To explain the meaning of “sentient beings:”
    the mind is naturally luminous…
    whatever is naturally luminous
    is unsurpassed bodhicitta.

The Śrī-paramādya-nāma-mahāyānakalparājā states:

    Since prajñānapāramita is totally pure, all phenomena are naturally luminous.

The Ārya-guhyamaṇitilaka-nāma-sūtra states:

    All conditioned things are impermanent, and never arose from the beginning in natural luminosity.

The Ārya-vajrapāṇyabhiṣeka-mahātantra states:

    The wisdom free from concepts
    is the actual buddhahood of all the past victors,
    that freedom from concepts
    is demonstrated as the accomplishment of Secret Mantra.
    The result of that is pure,
    naturally luminosity.
    Whoever dwells in conceptuality
    will never produce siddhis.

The Śrī-jñānavajrasamuccaya states:

    Whatever arises from luminosity,
    that is called “mind,” “intellect" and “consciousness,”
    that is the foundation of all phenomena,
    the two stages are realized from
    affliction and purification…
    In order to explain the reality of all phenomena [gnas lugs], whatever arises from luminosity is dharmatā, the dhātu of naturally pure luminosity. Since a nonconceptual knowing awareness arises at the same time as the subtle vāyu, the mind [citta, sems] is the basis of all…
    The reality of that inner consciousness,
    nonconceptual innate dharmatā,
    is the nature of luminosity, empty and not a self…
    The reality of luminosity
    is an unfabricated mind which arises from it
    different from generic consciousness…
    luminosity is the ultimate truth…
    based on luminosity, the ultimate true state,
    the path is traversed rapidly…
    luminosity is dharmatā, suchness,
    pure like space, great bliss,
    unceasing, immaculate, peace,
    ultimate, mahāmudra itself.
    Mahāmudra of union
    is attained from luminosity that is very free from proliferation…
    Natural luminosity is totally pure,
    immaculate, like the element of space…

So, in the end we can see here that luminosity is uniformly considered to be a metaphor for the purity of both mind and phenomena. It is the critical point of meditation in Mahāyāna Buddhism, in both sūtra and tantra, and its experiential recognition leads in both cases to the realization of the final result, buddhahood. I have not included any citations from either sūtra and tantra which indicate how it is experientially entered, as that is beyond the scope of this post.

Finally, we can also see here in these citations that the naturally luminosity of the mind what is being termed tathāgatagarbha, dharmadhātu, and so on, and we can see that it is also termed emptiness, suchness, dharmatā and so on.


Wayfarer wrote:
'Luminous' means 'giving off light; bright or shining.
synonyms: shining, bright, brilliant, radiant, dazzling, glowing, gleaming, coruscating, scintillating, lustrous, luminescent, phosphorescent, incandescent'

The mind doesn't literally give off light - neither does matter, really - so as said, it's a metaphorical description. But what is it a metaphor for?

Stainless purity, it is one of the central concepts in Mahayana.


Dan74 wrote:
    Why not say 'stainless purity' then?

    Perhaps there is a vibrant luminous quality to the mind when freed from the habitual defilements?

All phenomena are naturally luminous, not just the mind. In any case, few of these citations have been presented in English before. Perhaps it is best if you reference a particular citation.


"The point is that things, including the mind, are naturally luminous regardless of whether one is awakened or not."


anjali wrote:

        Wayfarer wrote:
        The mind doesn't literally give off light - neither does matter, really - so as said, it's a metaphorical description. But what is it a metaphor for?

    I've always liked this simple definition/explanation by Tony Duff,

            Luminosity or illumination, Skt. prabhäsvara, Tib. 'od gsal ba: The core of mind has two aspects; an emptiness factor and a knowing factor. The Buddha and many Indian religious teachers used "luminosity" as a metaphor for the knowing quality of the core of mind. If in English we would say "Mind has a knowing quality", the teachers of ancient India would say, "Mind has an illuminative quality, it is like a source of light which illuminates what it knows".


This is not what rang bzhin 'od gsal means. He is conflating 'od gsal ba and gsal ba. A very common error among translators. Luminosity and clarity are not the same thing.


Re: Natural Luminosity

Unread postby Malcolm » Sun May 17, 2015 12:34 am

    dzogchungpa wrote:
    From the entry in one of his glossaries for 'luminosity':

        Note also that in both Sanskrit and Tibetan Buddhist literature, this term is frequently abbreviated just to Skt. “vara” and Tib. “gsal ba” with no change of meaning. Unfortunately, this has been thought to be another word and it has then been translated with “clarity”, when in fact it is just this term in abbreviation.

    You're saying he's just wrong about this?

Yes. For one thing, he is splitting the word at the wrong place, i.e. he splits it as prabhās/vara.

The split is actually prabhā ['od] svara [gsal ba], hence prabhāsvara.

Prabhā means "light". svara primarily means "sound"; but also is the antonym of āsvara, indistinct, hence svara also has a meaning of "distinct". For example, the voice of a bodhisattva is described as prabhāsvara. If you look in the Sanskrit dictionary, you discover that prabhāsvara usually means "clear, shrill," but not in this case. When prabhāsvara is to be translated as "clear" as in a voice, it is rendered as gsal dbyangs, and not as 'od gsal.

The other Sanskrit terms which gsal ba generally translates are uttānaḥ, to stretch or vyaktaḥ, "...caused to appear , manifested , apparent , visible , evident", and a number other terms as well which are not included in the Mahāvyutpatti.