That Which Shines

What is the nature of awareness? Yogis have long likened the play of Light to that of pure awareness, asking, What is the nature of Light?

People have been trying to understand Light for thousands of years. There is no complete answer. Light is invisible but it is also everything that I see. The best definition of light that I know comes from the ancient yogis. They call Light "that which shines by itself, but by which all things are seen."

I see things but I am not aware at first of how I see them. Something may obstruct my sight, a solid object or a shadow, so, my first understanding of light is an inability to perceive. The same can be said for what we call Divine Light. If Light is something by which all things are seen, it's not surprising that I've recognized the presence of the Light most in my life when it isn't there.

The simplest definition of light from the point of view of physics is that it is a special kind of wave. Unlike waves in water, where only the water vibrates, a light wave arises from the vibrations of two interdependent kinds of energy: electric and magnetic. Together, they form a moving dance of continual transformation. Each dies away in providing the energy needed to give birth to the other, only to be reborn an instant later a little farther along in space and time. I have come to think of this as a "trading song." One analogy that comes up from yoga is the transformation of Radha and Krishna. In one Hindu myth, Radha longs for Krishna so much that she becomes Krishna. Now Radha is nowhere to be found. Krishna longs and pines for Radha and turns back into Her, on and on.

In both views, light is not passive, but a form of energy that moves and interacts and undergoes many transformations. It doesn't remain aloof and unchanged by its many encounters, it is transformed by them.

Yogis and physicists would agree that the source of light is vibrating energy. In Yoga, especially Kashmiri Saivism, the Light of knowledge and understanding results from the vibration of the energy of consciousness between a state of pure awareness and a state in which it takes the form of what it perceives. This vibration arises from the power of consciousness to reflect on itself in a never ending sequence: "I know... Who knows?...I know... Who knows?"...

Swami Radha, my spiritual teacher, introduced me to Kashmiri Saivism. She gave me the second chapter from the Doctrine of Vibration* to read, entitled "Light and Awareness: The Two Aspects of Consciousness." I resonated with what I read. The text was difficult to understand. A convoluted intellectual crust had been interposed over essentially intuitive experiences. But I felt an intense joy in discovering new words like prakasha (meaning the light of consciousness or pure awareness). They seemed to have a life and meaning of their own.

A couple of days later, Swami Radha asked me, "What's that word in your mind?"

I didn't know what to say, and replied with a smile, "There are lots of words in my mind." She waited and didn't make a quick reply, just watching me expectantly.
Finally, I asked, "Do you mean a Sanskrit word?"
"Then, it can only be prakasha. I was immediately struck by it, and have been trying to understand what it really means."
"That might be a good name for you someday."
I found this prospect pretty scary at the time.

Many scientists choose to ignore the existence of consciousness completely, and treat the brain as a "black box" whose behaviour can only be "objectively" studied by an external observer. Those who do consider consciousness tend to assume that it arises out of the interchange of electrical impulses between the brain's nerve cells. For them, consciousness emerges from the complex interactions of matter and then submerges again when those interactions are disrupted.

Even from a strictly scientific viewpoint, it seems to me that such conclusions are premature at best.

Scientists have found that all known forms of energy can be transformed into all the other forms, including all the forms of matter, implying that they all must have a common nature. Swami Radha often said that consciousness is energy. That would mean that physical light and the Light of consciousness are just different forms of energy. Thus it seems that consciousness could manifest as all the other forms of energy and all the other forms of energy could have a degree of consciousness.

For me, it seems important to distinguish consciousness from the contents of consciousness. My tentative conclusion from these explorations of consciousness is that pure awareness is very different from the limited "data processing" that western science has so far shown the brain to be involved in. In addition, phenomena like sleep and dreams, and finer feelings like love, gratitude and compassion seem to have little explanation or purpose within such a mechanistic viewpoint.

What is the alternative to matter-based consciousness? In many different spiritual and philosophic traditions, it is consciousness that is held to be primary, and matter to be only the result of the interactions of consciousness with itself. Whether matter leads to consciousness or consciousness leads to matter, the point is that they cannot really be different at a fundamental level. In either scenario, matter must "contain" the essence of consciousness, and consciousness, the essence of matter.

The Divine Light Invocation is a spiritual practice of identifying with Light. I have practiced the Invocation for many years and have recently intensified my exploration of it. It is hard to put these experiences into words, harder still to try to wrap scientific metaphors around them. Yet how else can I join the two halves of me?

The first line of the Divine Light Invocation Mantra is "I am created by Divine Light." If I am created from Light then I must in essence be Light. This is same conclusion that Einstein reached, that if matter can be transformed into energy (and vice-versa) it must have the same nature as energy. If Divine Light is Cosmic Consciousness and I am continuously being created from it then I must have the same nature as Cosmic Consciousness.

The yogi's goal is freedom from all limitations and realization by direct experience of who he or she really is. The scientist's goal is often said to be knowledge for knowledge's sake (and by some for "control" of nature). In the yogi's case the focus is on the subject (self), and in the scientist's case it is on the object (seen as other). Swami Radha has commented as part of a long tradition of spiritual teachers that this division is only "apparent," that there is no separation between I and the other.

Four years after Swami Radha gave me The Doctrine of Vibration, she asked me if I wanted to take a Sanskrit name as part of my initiation into brahmacharya*. I told her that taking a Sanskrit name would be very helpful to symbolize the state of pure mind that I was striving towards. I chose the name Prakasha, meaning pure awareness, Divine Light, or the Light of Consciousness. Swami Radha seemed to expect this choice of name and readily agreed to it. In Sanskrit "that which shines" is the root word for both Consciousness and the Divine. For me the Path of the Light is the exploration of the Divine in the form of the Light of Consciousness. In order to grasp the true nature of Consciousness, I know I need to further explore both my inner and outer worlds, the scientist and yogi in me.

*The Doctrine of Vibration, Mark S.G. Dyczkowski, SUNY, 1987.
*brahmacharya: an initiation into celibacy for the purpose of redirecting creative energy towards the light.

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