Thu, 22 Mar 2012
Someone asked what luminious emptiness means during Lama Phurbu Tashi's class last Tuesday night. There still seemed to be some misunderstanding after the explanation, so I thought I would have my say here. First, emptiness is the absence of a characteristic in something we attribute it to. It should always be understood in the form X is empty of Y. The metaphor is plain, it's like a box being empty. The most imprtant type of emptiness for an aspiring practitioner to understand is that the mind is empty of a self or ego. The most profound form of emptiness is that explained by Nagarjuna, that everything dependent on other phenomena is empty of inherent existence. An example of this type of emptiness is a rainbow. A rainbow appears as a result of the eye, sun, and rain being in the proper alignment. But it has no inherent existence apart from this assemply of causes.
Emptiness is misunderstood if it is taken to mean total non-existence (this is called the extreme of nihilism) or some positive state achieved during meditation or some attribute of ultimate reality (this is called the extreme of eternalism.) Emptiness itself is a dependent phenomenon, there are many kinds of emptiness, as explained above. Because emptiness is dependent, emptiness itself is empty of inherent existence.
Luminsity is the awareness which directly perceives emptiness. Although emptiness as explained above is a concept, an idea, through meditation one can directly perceive the emptiness of mind during meditation. When the mind directly apprehends its own emptiness it transcends all conceptual filters and rests in a singular state that is called luminosity. The metaphor here is also plain, light is a metaphor for understanding. Because the mind which is empty is not separate from the awareness which cognizes itself, it is said that emptiness and luminosity are an inseparable unity, hence the expression luminous emptiness.