Of Luminosity and Light

As I sat in my study (that doubles as a recording studio) the other night during a WBTB period, the only light that I could see was the red light on my rack mounted power stabilizer. But then, as I shifted my position on the couch, I caught that same red light across the small room, reflecting off one of the large chrome tuning pegs of the bass guitar that I had left out.

It occurred to me that the light was radiating from the source and reflecting off the tuning peg but there was no visible light streaming across the room. I am continually pondering the concepts of luminosity and clear light as they pertain to dreaming and spiritual development. It has taken me a few days to organize my thoughts around this and I offer those thoughts now as an essay draft for peer review here at our most excellent Night School in the hope that someone more well versed in these concepts can help me to better understand them. :slightly_smiling_face:


Light can be seen as either radiant, clear or reflected.

The world around us is filled with energy that manifests as radiant light. Light radiates from the sun and from our electric lights. That light is then reflected off that upon which it falls. In between those two light flows clear. Our days are lit by radiant light that is reflecting off air molecules. In the black vacuum of deep space light still flows from the sun and the stars but with no air molecules for it to fall upon it flows as clear light.

In the waking state radiant light is reflected off the myriad of constructs around us creating images. Consciousness reveals those images and we perceive them with our mind. Consider the mind as a pool of clear water. When the pool is both perfectly clear and perfectly calm, images are truly perceived as they reflect off the surface. But when the surface of that metaphorical pool is roiled from the winds of uncontrolled thought and the depths are murky with the silt of unfocused habit, awareness is distracted and perception is unclear.

When the mind is calm and clear, pristine sensory awareness leads to pure perception. Even as the images reflect away they illuminate the clear waters of the metaphorical pool that is the mind…and it becomes luminous.

But where does the radiant light come from that illuminates the images in our dreams?

The body is also filled with energy that can, in theory, manifest as radiant light within. These energy flows come from the countless physiological processes that are always ongoing. There are also strong energy flows all around us from the physiological processes that are occurring in nature. If we open ourselves to the possibility, we can tap into these natural energy flows through protocols like Shinrin Yoku, T’ai Chi and focused meditation. In this way we can fortify our internal energy flows and, by extension, our ability to radiate light within.

In the dream state stored vestigial images from experiences (karmic traces) become the seeds for dream images. As these dream images form, from where are they illuminated? Perhaps they are illuminated by that light within and again reflected off the luminous mind.

In clear light dreamless sleep there are no vestigial images…no karmic traces for the light within to fall on. Instead, that light flows as clear light from the luminous mind.


Upon reading your response I had an interesting thought. I have been asking for years to see the point at which light becomes matter. There may be something here as the light becomes image?


In recent months I’ve been trying to come to an understanding of this very thing from both a scientific and a metaphysical perspective. Is light as fundamental as consciousness?

Neil Theise speaks of the quantum foam that is vestigial form. As positive and negative particles are generated in the super charged vacuum they continually self annihilate, with the exception of those random few that escape to then find each other to begin the process of self organization that leads to form.

It would seem that light would be an inherent part of that supercharged process at the quantum level.


I had a dream once where a friend was taking a shower in liquified light. He had done some great things and saved me from a very bad fall.


I have come into some recent perspectives on the subject of radiance and luminosity. As usual, I know that I have not quite got this right so I’ll deeply appreciate any insight from folks. :slightly_smiling_face:

If luminosity is the measure of radiance then, with regard to images in both the waking and the dream state, stronger luminosity will tend to dissolve weaker luminosity…as all of these images are inherently just light. With that perspective, if we practice dissolving the images that we perceive during the day when they are much stronger (fake it til you make it protocols apply :sunglasses: ) …we will be better able to dissolve the images that we perceive in the dream.

We just need to increase our radiant luminosity.

We can do that through the yogas of inner heat, illusory body and clear light. Then, while abiding in Turiya, we can let our enhanced radiant luminosity work to dissolve the perceived images in the waking, dreaming and even deep dreamless states of consciousness.


From where does the vajra body arise? Is the subtle body a light body? Or…can it manifest as a body of light?


I hope nobody minds me bumping this thread but I find myself still circling this subject…that is, the difference between radiance and luminosity.

In the texts that I am reading it appears as though the Pali canon tends to lump them together in translations. Even in texts attributed to the Buddha the terms are used interchangeably. That does not sit well with me as I relate those texts to others that I am working through that pertain to our current understanding of light on a quantum level…including Carlo Rovelli’s Helgoland ( thanks again @Andrew !)

As I ponder the role of light in the yogas of sleep and dream I see radiance as differing from luminosity in a fundamental way. My understanding is that photons are emitted from an energy source that has created heat. Those photons, at that time radiate as clear light…like the light in outer space where there is no air to reflect off. They become luminous upon being reflected.

My experience with this is that when I fall asleep after a strong session of Inner Heat yoga I will sometimes experience a period of sleep that is dreamless and…clear. I wake from this kind of sleep feeling, well, clear, and thinking that I only slept for minutes…only to see that a great deal more time has elapsed.

Most time, however, the radiance from within is reflected off the dream images from my mind…as luminosity.


My limited understanding is that light and Clear Light are not all that similar. Light is dependent upon a physical presence. Its radiance is a pattern that moves from the center of that presence outward into a field where it interacts with the physical presence of anything else by reflecting as an appearance that we perceive in waking consciousness. Clear Light has no particular location, and no center, being all-pervasive. It radiates in all directions simultaneously, therefore luminosity is a more accurate description of its nature, rather than radiance. It interacts not only with physical form, but with mental and all other formations, reflecting as appearances that can be perceived in waking, dream, samadhi and bardo states. I’m not sure, because my experience is limited, but I suspect that deep sleep, as well as Clear Light consciousness is when there is no appearance and therefore no reflection because nothing else is present.


I really appreciate this perspective @Leborland . I need to ponder and process…

I hope to hear from others to help with the processing. :slightly_smiling_face:


The way the Pali canon is interpreted by Wallace, it is talking about aspects of rigpa, not physical light radiating from the sun or similar sources.
Many dzogchen teachings speak of the inner radiance of substrate mind having an individual location at the heart, which travels through the kati channels to the eyes and is the source of projections seemingly outside the physical body, somewhat like a hologram.
When in rigpa it is said that colors pf the physical world „objects“ are very translucent and radiant. Images and energetic expressions of the substrate are being projected seemingly outside. That is what one „sees“ during practices of dark retreat or skygazing: expression of substrate mind.

Your attempt to try to unify physical light with rigpa is interesting. For example @Andrew writes that it“s not the same but not separate. What does this mean from an experiential and also representational view point?

For me, trying to make sense of the world from a non-representationalist world view, I see the world as energy being (mis-) interpreted by consciousness.
Energy is being interpreted as forms, sounds and light/colors but have no inherent entity status outside the frame of interpretation.

I interpret Andrew‘s words that dream images are self-aware even more fundamentally: all experiences are self aware, being manifestations and reflections of substrate consciousness.
The light or luminosity is the inherent luminosity of rigpa (the source of all conscious experience) which is being clouded by the activities of the superficial levels of the mind.


Nagarjuna differentiates between conventional truths and ultimate truths. Here’s part of that passage:

The Dharma taught by the Buddha relies on two truths.
The conventional truths of the world and the ultimate truth.
Those who do not understand how they differ
Do not understand the profound teaching of the Buddha.

So I’m trying to see light from both perspectives and through that process come to a deeper understanding of how that rigpa radiance illuminates this dream that is my life…both awake and asleep.

I actually just went for the Western definition of luminosity:

Luminosity is an absolute measure of radiated electromagnetic power, the radiant power emitted by a light-emitting object over time.

One could use that definition to unify radiance and luminosity by understanding luminosity as the measure of radiance. This is important for me as I find it helpful to envision these more metaphysical concepts in some way, or to put it differently…to find common ground between our blossoming understanding of the physical world (conventional truths) and our sometimes blind faith acceptance of the metaphysical world (ultimate truths).


Hey Steve,
maybe I misunderstood, would you mind to sharpen the question of ponderance a bit?


KhyungMar…my current ponderation concerns an apparent difference between radiating and luminous light. I am examining this because my reading of the texts seems to have the two terms as interchangeable but my experience is that radiating light has no “color” or form at all until it encounters something.

That something could be a physical object in Nirmanakaya or perhaps even a mental image (such as that which forms into a dream) in Sambhogakaya. If we were in outer space, the light of the sun would be flowing past us as clear light as there is no air. Were I to stick my hand out of the capsule…it would be illuminated. I only wished to sort this out to aid in envisioning the illumination process during meditation.

Also…I am constantly tying to tie together my studies of the Six Yogas with my studies of the physical world around me through an understanding of quantum mechanics. It feels as though there will be a point at which those protocols coincide.

Your post above as well as that of @Leborland helped me to sort through this. Funny how words can sometimes befuddle us, right? :slightly_smiling_face:


Saw this online, thought it might interest you:

from the promo:

Weapon of Light presents Dr Nida Chenagtsang’s highly practical and direct meditation instructions on how to access the Ati Yoga state in daily life and liberate the afflictive emotions. Featuring Dr Nida’s pithy and direct poem entitled “The Weapon of Light of the Primordial Wisdom which Vanquishes the Darkness of Samsara” and supplemented with several oral teachings inspired by Yuthok Yonten Gonpo’s practical teachings on Ati Yoga, this book is an indispensable handbook for both beginner and advanced meditators of any lineage.


Steve, in referencing the difference between absolute and conventional (relative) it’s important to recognize that they are inseparable. Andrew encapsulates that in saying “it’s not the same, but not separate.” Therefore trying to compare and contrast manifest and unmanifested light can pull you down a rabbit hole. In speaking of the sun or sunlight, recognizing that it is inseparable from the clear light, as is everything else, yet looking deeply we can find distinctions. Sunlight would appear to be clear until it makes contact with any phenomenon, which could be a small as a particle of dust floating in space. When there is contact, there is a reflection, which we can also call an appearance. Some would say that a potentiality becomes an actuality in that moment, or that a dormant potential becomes manifest. If there is an observer of that reflection then cognizance enters and interacts with the appearance. In the first moment there is pure perception, but in the next there is objectification, reification, and the complexity of conscious interpretation. In what you describe as “the illumination process during meditation,” I believe we might be clearing away all of that excess and bringing cognition back to that first moment when there is just a shimmering appearance. Then you realize that cognizance itself is a manifest appearance of the illumination.


Thanks so much for all of that as it all resonates with my practice. One of my earliest personal mantras has been;

Practice pristine awareness and pure perception.
Abide in pure presence and exist in the primordial state.


When I first read that quote from Nagarjuna referencing conventional and absolute truths in Guy Armstrong’s Emptiness, I wrote that wonderful excerpt from The Heart Sutra in the margin:

Form is Emptiness
Emptiness is Form


I do love the synchronicity of life.

When I finished my morning meditation here in my office I turned to my 15 minute reading period before starting my work…turning to page 256 of Emptiness: A Practical Guide for Meditators…where Guy Armstrong presented me with a thought experiment.

In this exercise we are placed in a space suit at the very edge of the solar system looking out at a starless black sky. That blackness is, of course, filled with the light of the sun which is at our back…but we see only blackness.

Then a meteor zips by and is brightly lit.

Armstrong says that this scene is an analogy for consciousness and the unconditioned. The sunlight that pervades the empty space stands for the union of emptiness and cognizance…he calls this radiance. The meteor that is briefly lit is an analogy for the consciousness of objects.

One light is unreflected and invisible - this is the empty nature, unconditioned. The other light is reflected and visible - this is consciousness in its conditioned state"



I like that analogy. So, it is conditioned mind that „creates“ objects of perception.
Welcome finally to the non-representationalist-side; we have cookies! :wink: :slight_smile:

Just joking :upside_down_face:


@Steve_Gleason I originally thought, you were pondering on a connection between physical light and the luminosity of rigpa… which is an interesting question by itself.

If one accepts the phenomenon of rainbow body, it is accepted that the physical body can be dissolved into light/energy.
So, what does that mean for the status of physical body matter before that dissolution; what holds that „form“ together? Marigpa? What does that mean specifically? Duality - maybe, but what does that mean in a physical context?
What makes light/energy „freeze“?!?

The day physisists understand the phenomenon of rainbow body, they will finally understand quantum mechanics, i.e. how matter/form is constituted.


I have definitely considered that connection. It is know that the body actually emits photons within…a measurable but small amount.

I do want to make a connection between physical light and metaphysical light. I think there is a connection to be made. When I have a strong Inner Heat Yoga session I often “see” light (eyes closed).

Need to ponder your excellent perspectives and questions a bit more…