Friday, October 11, 2013

Ösel and Śūnyatā ...Luminosity Emptiness


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Ösel ('od gsal)......."The term ösel (Tib.’od gsal) literally means “clear [sel] light [ö],” and there are many who translate it this way. “Clarity” is another popular rendering. The Vidyadhara, however, preferred “luminosity,” which points not so much to the light itself, but to the quality or state of being radiant. He once remarked that even though the experience of brightness, the vividness of the phenomenal world, was an important experience on the path, it wasn’t in itself ultimately the point."…..

Śūnyatā, (Sanskrit, also shunyata; Pali: suññatā), in Buddhism, translated into English as emptiness, voidness,openness, spaciousness, is a Buddhist concept which has multiple meanings depending on its doctrinal context. In Mahayana Buddhism, it often refers to the absence of inherent essence in all phenomena. In Theravada Buddhism, suññatā often refers to the not-self (Pāli: anatta, Sanskrit: anātman)[note 1] nature of the five aggregates of experience and the six sense spheres. Suññatā is also often used to refer to a meditative state or experience.

English: emptiness, voidness, openness, thusness,etc.
Pali: suññatā
Sanskrit: śūnyatā, shunyata (Dev: शून्यता)
Chinese: 空 (pinyin: Kōng)
Japanese: 空 (rōmaji: Kū)
Tibetan: སྟོང་པོ་ཉིད་ (Wylie: stong-pa nyid….THL: tongpa nyi)

Etymology………"Śūnyatā" (Sanskrit noun from the adj. śūnya: "zero, nothing") is usually translated as "emptiness". It is the noun form of the adjective "śūnya" (Sanskrit) which means "empty" or "void", hence "empti"-"ness" (-tā).
Sunya comes from the root svi, meaning "swollen", plus -ta "-ness", therefore "hollow, hollowness". A common alternative term is "voidness". This word is ultimately derived from the Proto-Indo European root k̑eu- which means 'to swell' and also 'to grow'.

The Tibetan Yungdrung Bon-tradition regards the Ma Gyu, or Mother Tantra, as the highest tantra. Its views are close to Dzogchen. It sees waking life as an illusion, from which we have to wake up, just as we recognize dreams to be illusions….Sunyata is the lack of inherent existence. The Mother Tantra uses ... ...examples, similes and metaphors that we can ponder in order to better understand this illusory nature of both dream and waking life"……These "examples, similes and metaphors" ... ...stress the lack of inherent existence and the unity of experience and experiencer. In the sutra teachings we call this "emptiness," in tantra "illusion," and in Dzogchen "the single sphere.""….Wangyal Rinpoche, Tenzin (2004), The Tibetan Yogas Of Dream And Sleep,

"Ösel (tib. hod-gsal; 'od gsal), the Yoga of the Clear Light (often translated as 'Radiant Light' (Sanskrit: prabhasvara), referring to the 'intrinsic purity' (Tibetan: ka-dag) of the substratum of the 'mindstream' (Tibetan: sems-rgyud) is a sadhana found in Vajrayana and Bön centered on the state of luminous clarity. Many versions, derivatives and accretions of the sadhana are extant. Ösel is generally included amongst the Six Yogas of Naropa and its sister tradition the Six Yogas of Niguma. Ösel is also an experience of 'rigpa' the 'reflexive apperception' (Sanskrit: Svasaṃvedana, Wylie: rang rig pa) of the mindstream."…..Ösel_(yoga)

"Luminosity is often translated as "clear light," which is a literal rendering of the Tibetan rather than the Sanskrit. Trungpa Rinpoche did not like that term, although he did sometimes use it in his talks, which form the basis of his books, because it is so well known. He felt it had become inextricably associated with such notions as the light at the end of the tunnel in near-death experiences, and that it gave too much of an impression of ordinary, visual light, whereas what is meant is an extremely subtle concept that he thought would be conveyed better by "luminosity."…..Fremantle, Francesca (2001). Luminous Emptiness: Understanding the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Boston: Shambala Publications. ISBN 1-57062-450-X. p.199

"When Buddhism was introduced in China it was understood in terms of its own culture. Various sects struggled to attain an understanding of the Indian texts. The Tathāgatagarbha Sutras and the idea of the Buddha-nature were endorsed, because of the perceived similarities with the Tao, which was understood as a transcendental reality underlying the world of appearances. Sunyata at first was also understood as pointing to transcendental reality. It took Chinese Buddhism several centuries to realize that sunyata does not refer to an essential transcendental reality underneath or behind the world of appearances."….Lai, Whalen, Buddhism in China: A Historical Survey

"In his oral commentary on Pointing Out the Dharmakaya, Thrangu Rinpoche makes the following comments on ösel and shunyata in discussing “the dharmata nature of mind”: While it is empty and while there is nothing there in a sense, nevertheless there is a natural clarity or luminosity, which is traditionally referred to as buddha nature, the spontaneously present qualities, and so on. Here luminosity does not refer to physical light or some kind of physical radiance. In this context, luminosity simply refers to the cognitive capacity or awareness, which is the defining characteristic of a mind. A mind is not any thing, and yet it cognizes; that is what is meant by the unity of luminosity and emptiness. This is something that we experience directly and that we do not have to talk ourselves into through logical analysis."….

"Mother and child luminosities…….A fundamental distinction in the Dzogchen literature of 'od gsal (Wylie) is that of 'inner radiance of the ground' (Wylie: gzhi'i 'od-gsal) and the 'inner radiance of the path' (Wylie: lam-gyi 'od-gsal); otherwise known as the mother and child luminosity respectively. "The luminosity experienced in meditation is called the path luminosity, simile luminosity, or child luminosity. The true luminosity of our awakened nature is called the basic luminosity or mother luminosity; it dawns at the moment of death, and if it is recognized, the mother and the child meet and become one in liberation."….. Fremantle, Francesca (2001). Luminous Emptiness: Understanding the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Boston: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 1-57062-450-X. p.198-9

"Patrul Rinpoche……. 'Clear light of the moment of the ground' (Tibetan: gzhi dus kyi 'od gsal)' as the: ..nature of the mind of all beings, pure from the beginning and spontaneously luminous; fundamental continuum (of awareness), potential of Buddhahood...It can be "introduced" by a realized master to a disciple, who then stabilizes and develops that experience through the profound practices of the Great Perfection. Ordinary beings perceive it only for a flash at the moment of death."…..Rinpoche, Patrul (author); Brown, Kerry (ed.); and Sharma, Sima (ed.)(1994). The Words of My Perfect Teacher (Tibetan title: kunzang lama'i shelung).

"The second half of the mahayana teachings—the third turning of the wheel of dharma—goes on to teach that emptiness is not simply a mere nothingness, nor merely the other side of the coin of interdependence, nor even simply a state beyond all conceptuality. The third turning teaches that this emptiness—while lacking any limiting characteristics, such as color, shape, size, location, substance, or gender, and being empty of all cognitive and emotional obscurrations—is not empty of its own nature, the radiant clarity of mind and reality, which we refer to as clear light, in which all the positive qualities of intelli- gence, wisdom, compassion, skillful means, devotion, confidence, etc., inhere as one undifferentiable quality. "…..

Tibetan Avestan Dictionary online……



  1. Thanks for this posting. I enjoyed reading it, and am impressed by your scholarship. For many years, I've been intrigued by trying to imagine (and research if possible) what Oddiyana was like, and the little-known nature of early Mahayana tantric Buddhism. I first learned from Henry Corbin, to my surprise, that the Persian Mazdean mythos was extremely influential in the birth of Mahayana, and that a lot of this took place in those extraordinary lands known now as Afghanistan/ Pakistan/Kashmir. But I never heard of a specifically Manichean influence on Buddhism (normally one thinks of influence as going the other way between those two), until you mentioned it. Also, there are some geo-synchronicities about this area that excite the imagination: Balkh is the birthplace of Rumi, as well as the locus of that marvelous syncretism of Greco-Indian art and religion of Ghandara, etc. It reminds me of a quote whose origin I've forgotten: "From Afghanistan, giants come forth and influence the world."

  2. From Idries Shah's book "The Sufis."….. Jalaluddin Rumi, who founded the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, bears out in his career the Eastern saying, "Giants come forth from Afghanistan and influence the world." He was born in Bactria, of a noble family, at the beginning of the thirteenth century.

    1. Yes, that's it. Which reminds me that Shah (and his cohorts) wrote at great length about hidden places of esoteric power in Afghanistan --- sometimes with a hyperbole that makes one a bit skeptical. Nevertheless, those lands do seem to have been the birthplace of Mahayana and Vajrayana, right?

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