The Light of lights

The Upanishads were compiled between 800 and 500 BC. These contain voluminous references to topics in religious mysticism. Clearly, the writers of these texts had witnessed the Divine Light and its ecstasy. The Upanishads spend a great deal of space devoted to this experience and what it means.

One of the principal texts in this collection -- the Chandogya Upanishad -- tells us of what we are likely to encounter after we die. In a dialogue between Prajapati, one of the main characters, and the god Indra, we are told that

...this body is mortal. It has been appropriated by Death. [But] it is the standing-ground of that deathless, bodiless Self (Atman)... that serene one, when he rises up from this body, reaches the highest light...1

The Yogakundalini Upanishad adds that after a person's body "wears off," he or she attains "a disembodied state," after which the person "discards the body," as if "moving through the air."2 The "highest light" that the emancipated "Self" reaches is Divine by nature. Divinity goes by many names in Hinduism (e.g., Indra, Vishnu, Siva, Purusha, Brahma, or Brahman). However, the tradition is very clear on the point that these are just different manifestations of one Divine reality. This divinity is "higher than the highest, greater than the great, and naturally brilliant," according to the Naradaparivrajaka Upanishad.3 Vishnu, so says the Skanda Upanishad, is the "Light of all Lights."4 The Kaivalya Upanishad goes on to identify the One who is formless, wonderful, all-pervading, indestructible and Lord of all:

He only is Brahma.
He only is Indra.
He only is Vishnu.
He only is Self-Shining...5

The "real seat of Vishnu," then, dawns on man "as the form of light."6 Brahman is seen as the light of an endless sphere.7 The "Brahman-OM" is "the highest light, the foundation and sovereign lord of all...."8 Brahma is light, says the Maitri Upanishad, and the mystic symbol OM is "a leader, brilliant, sleepless, ageless [and] deathless...."9 Brahma, "the limitless One," is that "shining form which gives heat in yonder sun.... Unending are the rays of him."10 Brahman is "self-shining," "self-luminous," and "shines by his own brightness." As He shines "does everything else shine after."11 As we find in the Brahmarahasya Upanishad,

Brahma is the Light of lights.
He is Self-luminous.
He is Supreme Light.
He is ultimate light.
He is an embodiment of Light.
By His Light all else shines.13

Another of the great scriptures of Hinduism is the Bhagavad-Gita, written perhaps in the 2nd century B.C.14 The Gita deals with our topic in compelling fashion. According to this text, as with the Upanishads, the Light of the spiritual path is glorious and Divine:

If there should be in the sky
A thousand suns risen all at once
Such splendour would be
Of the splendour of that Great Being.15

This brilliance "illumines the entire universe."16 Within the Divine light abides "supreme peace and the eternal abode."17 Whoever encounters this extraordinary light achieves "incomparable bliss,"18 and "the highest happiness... happiness beyond end."19 That this light is divine in origin is abundantly clear:

With infinite power,
without beginning, middle or end,
With innumerable arms,
moon and sun eyed,
I see Thee, (with) Thy blazing,
oblation-eating mouth,
Burning all this universe
with Thine own Radiance...
Filling all the universe
with splendour,
Thy terrible rays consume it,
O Vishnu!20



Divine Encounters
The Light of lights

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"Divine Encounters"
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