In the Clear Light of Emptiness: An Introduction to the Doctrine of Luminosity in the Mahāmudrā Tradition


Casey Alexandra Kemp

  • Betreuung: Klaus-Dieter Mathes

Luminosity (Skt. prabhāsvara; Tib. ’od gsal), which according to the bKa’ brgyud Mahāmudrā tradition is equated with the nature of mind, remains a controversial and often ambiguous Buddhist concept to scholars of the tradition. This thesis examines the development of the doctrine of luminosity and its soteriological significance during the early formation of the tradition between the 11th and 13th centuries.

This work investigates the various semantic uses of the term luminosity by the founder of the ’Bri gung lineage, ’Jig rten mgon po (1143-1217), through carrying out a philological study of relevant material from his collected works (bka’ ’bum). It also considers influences from Sanskrit and Tibetan primary material written by earlier Mahāmudrā proponents, particularly from Maitrīpāda (c. 1007-1085) onward. This provides a religio-historical context for the development of the doctrine during the tradition’s early formation by taking into account the Tibetan Buddhist emphasis on lineage transmission as an authentic and necessary system for transferring religious information over time and space.

’Jig rten mgon po’s model of blending various types of luminosities into one represents an alternative dynamic to the traditional progressivist approach to the Tibetan tri-fold scheme of basis, path, and result (gzhi, lam, ’bras bu) by incorporating both instantaneous (cig car gyis ’jug pa) and gradual (rim gyis ’jug pa) approaches to liberation. His method of de-construction advocates the path as a means to reveal the basis as the result, all of which are equal as luminous in nature according to the Mahāmudrā view. This presentation illustrates the evolving use of the concept both in terms of philosophy and practice and demonstrates an attempt to mix both tantric and sūtric traditions.