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Light. Part II

We continue our discussion on Light from Part 1

Of Five main points, Light discussed two points from world religions.

1. Light is the ‘prima mater’ from which the entire Universe is created,

2. There is only one God, and only one Light. Light is the source of all. God is that Light and, as Supreme Creator, he sculpts the Universe from the pure essence of His own Divine radiance.

Part 2 of Light discusses points three to five offering insights into ancient literature of world religions that discuss the universality of light.

Please feel free to leave comments at the end of the article.


3. Light is beyond description, as it cannot be perceived by the senses.

The Katha Upanishad of Hinduism, discussing the bliss associated with experience of the Light, indicates the need to

“…think of the indescribable…”

In the Flower Ornament Scripture of Buddhism, we find a similar sentiment in a description of

“…seeing the Pure, radiating a great Light inconceivable…”

It is to the Christian faith that we must turn to find the most detailed discussions, which highlight the difficulties inherent in attempting to describe the phenomena. Whilst the mainstream generally accepts that Light is

“…beyond the grasp of the physical senses…”

St Symeon, a mystic of the Eastern Orthodox Church, around 1000CE, indicates that:

“God shows himself in the form of an incomprehensible, inaccessible and formless light…”

Gregory Palamas, the 14th Century mystic, goes further, believing that

“The human mind [only] can attain to that Light, and become worthy of a supernatural vision of God. That vision, though marvellous, remains incomprehensible and unnameable…”

Within the Judaic tradition, Philo, an Alexandrain Jew much influence by Greek thought, similarly notes that:

“The Light is not perceptible to the senses… but can only be grasped by the mind”

Continuing that:

“This Light which is accessible to the mind is the source of all light – what we see with our eyes is simply varying degrees of dimness away from pure Light.”

A sentiment which parallels many of the Hindu religious texts, which concur that

“The Universe is constituted of various gradations of [Divine] Light…”


4. Light, or a particular aspect of it, resides in everything. All beings radiate, or house, an aspect of the Light: a direct consequence of being a creation of Light, by the Light.

This is most evident within the Hindu tradition, in which the Upanishads make it clear that Light is an essential component of the human soul.

Within the Maitreya Upanishad we find the description:

“I am free from space and time. Mine is the joy of the unclad…
My form consists of total Light; the Light of pure consciousness am I.”

Which continues even more explicitly:

“…the Light which shines higher than this heaven…
is the same as this Light which is here within a person.”

The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad is quite expansive on the subject:

“This self is like honey to all creatures. All creatures are like honey to this self. And that Person in this self, who consists of Light, who consists of immortality, that indeed is he who is that self. This is the immortal. This is Brahman. This is the All.”

The Maitreya Upanishad goes further, making a clear identification of the inner Light with God:

“I am Siva… I am the Seer of all…
I am the emancipated One… I am the Light…”

Perhaps the most compelling verses are found in the Bhagavad-Gita, which not only identifies Divine Light within the self, but identifies the location within the body where this Light is to be found:

“Also this is said to be the Light of lights
That is beyond darkness;
… It is seated in the hearts of all…”

The Tibetan Book of the Dead, from the Buddhist tradition, advises the need for prayer (to the Five Orders of those who have passed into Happiness):

“…by thus praying, one recognises one’s own inner Light.”

Whilst the Sikh text, the Adi Granth, makes the clearest statement of all:

“the Eternal Light indwells in the human mind,
and the human mind is the emanation of that Light.”

Further indicating that:

“the best light is the Light of God in the heart.”

Guru Nanak expands on this, clarifying that:

“…in Thy creatures is Thy Light…in every heart there is the same
Light…”

“Within every body Is the Lord hidden; Within every body Is His Light.”

St. Symeon, the Christian mystic, relating his encounter with the Light remains metaphorical:

“…I perceived a Divine warmth. Then a small radiance that shone
forth… Then a fire kindled in my heart… Then appeared to me as it
were a light in the night… What a marvel!

“At once I realized that He whom I had thought to be in heaven was
within me…”

George Fox, the 17th Century Quaker Mystic is more direct:

“…take heed and hearken to the Light within you, which is the Light of
Christ and of God.”

Whilst Jacob Boehme, the Lutheran mystic, contemporary of Fox, bridges both concepts:

“…there is hidden [within man] a spark of the Light and power of God”,
declaring

“…in its substance the soul is a magical fire-source, out of God the
Father’s nature body…”

Within Judaism, the references are obscure, and again largely restricted to the mystical aspects of the religion.

Within the Zohar, a literal connection is made by inference. When God said,‘Let there be Light, and there was Light,’ and ‘let us make man in our image, after our likeness,’ the Zohar points out that ‘in our image’ corresponds to Light, and ‘after our likeness’ implies that an element of Divine Light must necessarily reside within.

This Divine inner Light is expressed as the soul:

“The essence of man is his soul; the skin, flesh, bones and sinews
are but an outward covering, the mere garments, but they are not the
man. When man departs from this world, he divests himself of all these
garments… skins are a garment which protects a garment, viz, the
extension of the heavens which is the outer garment [of the Divine]”

The reticence of the Jewish mystics to declare, outright, that a part of God resides within Man is shared with their Islamic counterparts. This should perhaps not be surprising, given the obvious implication of doing so in the religious climate within which these mystics were operating.

The Sufis, usually so poetically expansive, unusually rely upon inference to make their point:

“The Essence of the First Absolute Light,
God gives constant illumination,
Whereby it is manifested and it brings all things into existence,
Giving Light to them by its rays.”


5. The ultimate goal of all religious experience is Union with the Supreme Creator (Light). The experience of this Light / Union is associated with feelings of extreme ecstasy, joy or bliss.

The Bliss, of Hinduism, the state of intense joy associated with encountering God, is described in various texts.
Within the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad it is indicated that

“…he whose world is Brahman becomes an ocean, the one seer, free from duality…. This is his highest bliss.”

In other Upanishads we variously find that

“Brahman is the all-illuminating”, “the bliss greater than the great”, “the form of eternal bliss…”

The Yogin who successfully comes to realise Brahman is described as becoming

“…immersed in an ocean of bliss”.

The Vedanta Sutra simply states

“God is All-Bliss.”

Nirvana, the ‘state-of-being’ to which all Buddhists aspire, goes by many names, each of which is associated with extreme bliss.

The Flower Ornament scripture simply makes the point:

“Pure Light…gives rise to joy.”

The attainment of Buddha-hood is described as causing

“…all to give up suffering and attain peace and bliss.”

The source of this joy is without doubt:

“The Buddha in vast aeons past amassed an ocean of joy, endlessly deep; … Such is the realisation of Exquisite Light… all who see or hear receive benefit, causing them to dance for joy… This is the liberation of Blissful Happiness.”

The Ecstasy, of the Christian mystics, is likewise described as a state of supreme joy and bliss.

St Teresa of Avila tells us that union with God

“…is above all earthly joys, above all delights, above all consolations, and still more than that.”

St. Symeon indicates that

“…he who perceives the Light… is in ecstasy. The infinite Light of His gracious Godhead brings unutterable and unending joy.”

Whilst Thomas Merton, the 20th century mystic, speaks of

“…our joy in the bosom of the serene darkness in which His light holds us absorbed. This joy of emptiness, of nothingness,… is the true light that shines in everyone…”

Encountering the Divine Light, within the Judaic tradition, is described as the Joy of Joys.

The Zohar speaks at length of the Union with

“The King of Peace… He Who emanates the light of the supreme joy from the fullness of his joy”,

indicating that after God

“…divided the Light from the darkness… Light continued to emanate from the supernal radiance, and through that radiance to bring gladness to all”

“… [when] the streaming, inexhaustible light bursts forth in splendor and beauty, be prepared for the joy of joys”

Within Islam, ‘The Rapture’ is described as a joyful, loving, blissfully ecstatic feeling that accompanies the Vision of Light sought by the Sufi.

When the Sufi sees God and His Light:

“…all the earth’s joys are dust beneath the feet…
In union I felt my self-consciousness
And my self-hood had bereft me.
Joy came to dwell in my soul
And now do I keep my body and soul
in a state of bliss.”

The love poems, found throughout the Sufi literature, act to reflect the intense feeling that the Sufi and God share through Divine Union, and stand as a direct allusion to the state of bliss afforded by the connection to God, and the
Light.

Khwaju of Kirman indicates:

“In ocean waves of love Divine
The lover’s soul is not aware of tranquil shores
And those who watch the ocean waves
from tranquil points of distant shores
Are not aware of shoreless love.”

Whilst Nuri, explained the mystic love of God thus:

“So passionate my love is, I do yearn
To keep His memory constantly in mind;
But O, the ecstasy with which I burn
Sears out my thoughts, and strikes my memory blind!”

The bliss associated with the Light, can lead the mystic to seek continuous attachment to it: the result being that the separation between God, the Light and the Self can become indistinct. Many have made the identification too direct between themselves and God – blasphemy of the worst kind to the Orthodox Muslim.

Rumi expressed it thus:

“What is to know of the Unity of God?
It is to extinguish oneself in the presence of the One.
Shouldst thou desire to be as bright as day…
He who loses his separate existence
The result of what he does is always full of bliss.”
“I am plunged in the Light like the sun;
I cannot distinguish myself from the Light.”

Fakhruddin ‘Iraqi echoes Rumi, coming rather closer to the blasphemy:

“No, I am the Light: All things are seen in my unveiling and from
moment to moment my radiance is more manifest…”
“Look: I am the mirror of the shining Essence. These lights which arise
from the East of Nothingness are myself, every one – yet I am more….”

Although most Sufi mystics, like their Judaic and Christian counterparts, shied from declaring an absolute identification with God, the main point of all spiritual practice is revealed. The closer the aspirant becomes to the Divine Light, the more the Self becomes One with God, and subsequently, the more the Self recognises its place, and purpose, within the Divine Plan.

Each of the traditions is quite clear about the best way for the aspirant to develop, in order to approach this Divine Union. Again, we find that each share surprisingly similar approaches.

The Hindu tradition includes many methods, each capable of raising the aspirant towards the Light. The most well known, and singularly important to the tradition, is Yoga. The emphasis of Yogic practices is on physical and mental preparation: for the moment of Divine Realisation is not one to be approached lightly. Unlike the ‘get fit’ class which Western Yoga has predominantly become; the ‘stretching’ exercises are merely a preliminary stage. Much more is expected, as encountering the Light is considered only possible through intensive practice of inward meditation.

In Hatha Yoga, a description of the final stages toward obtaining Divine realisation include the following step:

“With a steady mind and half closed eyes, fixed on the tip of the nose…
He who can see the Light which is the All, the seed, the entire brilliant,
…approaches Him, who is the great object.”

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, indicate that

“…the undisturbed flow of the ultra-meditative [state] causes Subjective Luminosity.”

The Bhagavad Gita contains additional detail, with various sections highlighting the need to apply appropriate effort, concentration, and to renounce material concerns:

“He whose self is unattached to external sensations
Who finds happiness in the self,
Whose self is united with Brahman through Yoga
Reaches imperishable happiness.
“Thus, continually disciplining himself,
The Yogin whose mind is subdued
Goes to Nirvana, to supreme peace,
To union with me.”

The Upanishads echo these sentiments:

“…meditate solely on Brahman, which is Self- luminous and allpervading.
A wandering ascetic who has renounced material
possessions is truly rich, for, with the thought, ‘I am He,’ he transcends
both knowledge and ignorance, both pleasure and pain. He shines with
his own Light.”

Beyond the path of the Yogi, Hinduism is incredibly versatile, with prayer and worship (of a substantial pantheon of Gods) being recognised as appropriate methods towards enlightenment. Similarly, the path of knowledge is recognised as useful, and possibly preferred by the more philosophical.

As Sri Ramakrishna explained:

“Many roads lead to the top of the mountain – just get yourself onto one of those roads if you hope to make progress.”

Buddhists too have devised numerous methods to promote experience of the Divine Light. Depending on the sect, and the preferred scripture, there are various points of emphasis that the aspirant may adopt.

The Maharatnatuka Sutra emphasises the need to perform “good works”, and to become detached from all physical craving (a central theme within Buddhism):

“One who realises the emptiness of the eye
Can eradicate desires forever:
Free of desire, he can emanate various Lights.”

Attempting to eliminate all negative impulses (sins) is also recommended:

“I vow to acquire the immeasurable Light of a Buddha…
I vow to eradicate all desire, hatred, and ignorance
And to eliminate the miserable realms of the world…
I shall acquire the limitless, superb, awesome Light”

Other texts focus on the need to think, rather than to act, correctly. The Shurangama Sutra specifies:

“In response to a thought, defiling objects vanish,
Becoming pure and wonderful
Perfect brightness…
If there is residual defilement, one must still study.
When the brightness is still ultimate,
That is the Buddha.”

The Flower Ornament Scripture indicates the importance of acquiring knowledge in the search for Enlightenment:

“The Buddha cultivated many practices over ocean of eons
In order to extinguish the ignorance and confusion of the world…
So it is with the Lights of the Great Being –
Those who have wisdom: all can see,
While ordinary folk with false beliefs and low understanding
Cannot perceive these Lights at all…”

The Tibetan Book of the Dead touches on the role of meditation, prayer, and acquiring a teacher who can properly assist the individual attain the state of bliss:

“…Along the bright Light path of undistracted listening, reflection, and
meditation, May the Gurus of the inspired line lead us…
May we be placed in the state of perfect Buddhahood.

The Sikh tradition exists as a Liberal admixture of the best of Hindu and Islamic thought. As such, many of the practices recommended to the Sikh aspirant are common to one or the other. In general terms, remembering God at all times is central to obtaining experience of the Divine Light. The excesses of self-denial, advocated by Hinduism and Buddhism, are rejected, as is the Islamic tendency to attach significance to shrines and pilgrimage.

Guru Nanak proclaimed:

“The true path to achieving salvation and merging with God does not require renunciation of the world, or celibacy, but living the life of a householder, earning an honest living and avoiding worldly temptations and sins…”

From the Adi Granth, we find that renouncing material concerns and constant meditation on God are key to achieving Divine knowledge:

“The ways of true devotees… [include] the abandonment of avarice,
covetousness, ego and yearning for riches of the world…
The mortal who abandons selfishness, greed, worldly love and ego;…
…by meditating upon His Word, achieves perfection.”

In common with their Muslim brothers, prayer is a daily ritual for all Sikhs. The Christian tradition, in likewise manner, attempts to aid the aspirant towards achieving constant mindfulness of God’s presence in all aspects of life. In this respect, Christian mystics generally do not stray far from the common practices of the laity. Prayer, mindfulness, and contemplation are all recognised methods for the Christian.

St. Symeon indicates that to become worthy, one must first repent from sin,

“…for penitence is the gateway that leads out of darkness into light.”

Beyond this, there is an implied requirement to turn from the distractions of the world, and to eliminate the ego:

“…the mystic’s path requires strict solitude, and perfect obedience, with complete elimination of [one’s] own will….”

Meditation, not an apparently obvious theme within the Christian tradition, is very much implied by Symeon who as well as recommending

“…the deepest contemplation of the inner Light…”,

indicates the advantages offered by studying under

“…an experienced guide or spiritual father, in order that one may learn the things that pertain to virtue and the difficult practice of the ascetic art.”

Gregory Palamas echoes many of these concepts, more familiarly associated with the Eastern traditions:

“One is able to see the Light when the soul …acquires inner peace and the stillness of thoughts, spiritual repose and joy, contempt of human glory, humility allied with a hidden rejoicing, hatred of the world, [and] the love of the sole God of Heaven.”

Jacob Boehme again approaches blasphemy, connecting the personal with the Divine, when he recommends:

“…with the inward eyes we must see in his Light: so we shall see him,
for he is the Light; and when we see him then we walk in the
Light…[by] lifting up thy thoughts and considering where God is…. then
thou [may] lay hold on him in his holy Heart…When this is done then
thou art as God is…”

The Judaic tradition places much on the practice of virtue. The primary method towards enlightenment is regarded as the pursuit of truth. As such, the path of knowledge and prayer are key components.

According to the Zohar, in order to approach the Light, one must make every effort:

“To be righteous … to pray to God, and to study and obey the Torah. …it is through the Torah [and knowledge of it] that man can make union with the Holy One.”

adding that:

“Prayer evokes a certain illumination…It is incumbent upon a man to offer up prayer and supplication each day so as to unite Himself with God… The earnest, devoted, and properly concentrated silent prayer, when heard by the Holy One, will result in a feast on the supernal radiances that will stream with added brightness from the supernal world.”

Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s Habad (an Hasidic mystic of the 18th century) believed that Torah study should be the only consideration of all mystics. For him:

“…while a person occupies himself with words of Torah… It follows [that at that time] the soul and these garments [of thoughts and speech] are also truly united with Ein-Sof…. Moreover, their unity is even more exalted and more powerful than the unity of God’s infinite Light with the upper [spiritual] worlds. For the Divine Will is actually manifest in the soul and its garments that are engaged in Torah study, since His Will proper is identical with the Torah itself…”

The attitude with which this study is approached is important, as one must constantly

“…harbour a great love for God alone, to do what is gratifying to Him alone, and not for the purpose of quenching his soul’s thirst for God.”

The Islamic tradition is much more pragmatic in considering how one can approach the Light. In effect, God leads the aspirant whom he chooses.

Abdul Karim, the sixteenth century Sufi, indicates that:

“God, the best of proposers, will unite the lover and the loved one…
He guides us to the Fount of Light, to Himself,
So to our source we all return…”

All mystical work in the Islamic tradition is, therefore, preparation for direct experience of the Light in case one has been chosen, and that if one has not been chosen, then there is no means by which the experience can be made
more likely.

For Maneri, however, pureness of heart is essential:

“When the mirror of the heart is thoroughly cleansed of the rust of human nature and selfish qualities, it becomes capable of reflecting lights from the extrasensory world….
As purity of heart increases, so too do the power and frequency of these lights….”

Rumi indicates agreement:

“Would you have eyes and ears of reason clear, tear off the obstructing
veil of greed! The blind imitation of that Sufi proceeded from greed:
greed closed his mind to the pure light…”

In keeping with the lay tradition, much focus is given to prayer, and remaining mindful at all times of the presence of God within our lives. The path of knowledge, as witnessed by the great scientific advances made by Muslim society during the middle ages, is also recognised as a suitable means of coming closer to God.

In summary, it appears that the differences expressed, between the various traditions considered, regarding the experience of Union with God tend to centre on the name assigned and the accompanying interpretation of what the
experience means. When we consider individual descriptions of the experience itself, however, it is striking how similar the accounts appear to be.

The techniques developed to reach this goal, are equally surprising in terms of their common threads of thought, focus and expectation.

The obvious conclusion, therefore, is that what is being described through the centuries, and across continents, is a core human experience. One which can be achieved through the application of a series of exercises which, though
developed independently, appear consistent across all cultures.

As indicated by Lama Surya Das:

“Almost inevitably a spiritual search becomes a search for divine or sacred Light. By cultivating our inner core, we search for this Light in ourselves as well as the divine.”

According to all traditions, most of us remain oblivious to the Divine Light within. This is unfortunate on many levels. By recognising and honouring the Light, which connects us all to each other, as well as to the Divine, and by accepting that our common spiritual goals culminate in an experience recognisable across all cultural boundaries, a new possibility emerges…

Sources:

Hinduism
“The Bhagavad Gita”, trans. by Winthrop Sergeant
“The Thirteen Principal Upanishads”, R.E. Hume
“Thirty Minor Upanishads”, K. Narayanasvami Aiyar

Sikhism
“The Adi Granth”, trans. Dr. Trilochan Singh, et.al.
“Guru Nanak: His Mystic Teachings”, J. R. Puri
“Three Muslim Sages”, S. H. Nasr
“The Feminine Principle in the Sikh Vision of the Transcendent”,
Nikki-Guninder Kaur Singh

Buddhism
“Buddhist Scriptures”, Donald Lopez
“The Tibetan Book of the Dead”, Trans. Robert Thurman
“Awakening to the Sacred”, Lama Surya Das

Christianity
“The Bible (New Testament)”, KJV
“Symeon: The New Theologian”, trans. C.J. de Catanzaro.
“Hildegard of Bingen: Book of Divine Works”, Matthew Fox, ed.
“The Journal of George Fox”, John L. Nickalls, ed.
“The Confessions of Jacob Boehm”, W. Scott Palmer, ed.

Judaism
“The Tanakh”, Jewish Publication Society
“Zohar”, trans. by Harry Sperling, et.al.

Islam
“The Qu’ran”, trans. A Yusuf Ali
“The Mystics of Islam”, Reynold A. Nicholson
“Sufism and Human Destiny”, Mehdi Nakosteen
“Sufi Thought in Persian Poetry”, Mehdi Nakosteen,
“Dimensions of Classical Sufi Thought”, R.S. Bhatnaggar

Article submitted by Haruth. Member of the Symbolic Living Forum.

Image: http://i274.photobucket.com/albums/jj245/shekinaspeaks/granduniversebyantifanrqn8.jpg
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