Bhikkhu Anālayo: "The Luminous Mind in Theravāda and Dharmaguptaka Discourses"

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The idea of an intrinsically “luminous” mind is quite common in many Buddhist traditions. Within the Theravāda tradition, a short discourse in the Aṅguttara-nikāya is usually brought up in reference to this.

Bhikkhu Sujato has already discussed these passages in a blog post titled “On the radiant mind” suggesting that it is a reference to samādhi (to the consternation of most of the commenters, it seems).

A 2017 paper by Bhikkhu Anālayo titled “The Luminous Mind in Theravāda and Dharmaguptaka Discourses” looks at a number of references to luminosity in early texts and comes to similar conclusions as made by Bhikkhu Sujato; that the idea of an intrinsic luminous mind is a later invention not in accord with early Buddhist thought. Nonetheless, the idea of an intrinsic pure mind as related to awakening is widespread through much of the Buddhist world. Ven. Anālayo quotes many texts from different Buddhist traditions (Tibetan Dzogchen, Chinese Chan, Japanese Zen, Thai Forest) to demonstrate this.

Though it’s a long read, it is a very interesting paper that I believe should receive wider attention; therefore I’ve quoted some of it below (bold emphasis mine).

Ven. Anālayo’s begins by discussion of the terms luminous (pabhassara) and invisible (anidassana) as applied to consciousness. He suggests that the qualification of ‘luminous’ to the infamous line about “invisible consciousness” (viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ) in the Kevaḍḍha-sutta is probably a later addition and is not found in Sanskrit and Tibetan parallels:

Discourse parallels to the Kevaḍḍha-sutta extant in Sanskrit and Tibetan do not qualify the invisible consciousness as luminous. The same holds for a discourse quotation in the Mahāvibhāṣā. A reference to the present passage in the Ratnāvalī also does not mention any luminosity.

To summarize, in the passage from the Kevaḍḍha-sutta the original reading might well have been pahaṃ; the notion of luminosity would consequently be a later development. Understood along the lines of the suggestion by Rhys Davids and Stede, the verse might have been a pointer to consciousness “given up in every way”, sabbato pa(ja)haṃ, as the condition for the four elements to cease. Such an interpretation would better concord with the final line of the same poem in the Kevaḍḍha-sutta, which concludes that “through the cessation of consciousness”, viññāṇassa nirodhena, name-and-form (as well as concepts related to the experience of the four elements) come to cease. The whole passage could then be understood to express poetically the cessation mode of dependent arising, according to which name-and-form cease with the cessation of consciousness.

For more on this topic, see the following posts on Bhikkhu Sujato’s blog:

Nibbana is not viññāṇa. Really, it just isn’t.
Nibbana is still not Viññāṇa
Nibbana remains not Vinnana

Then the discussion moves on to references to luminosity. After going through a number of instances that mention luminosity with relation to the metaphor of heated gold (usually compared with an equanimous mind, the discussion moves to the famous passages in the Aṅguttara-nikāya.

Ven. Anālayo’s translation of the Aṅguttara-nikāya section:

This mind is luminous, monastics, and it is defiled by adventitious defilements; an unlearned worldling does not understand that as it really is. I declare that therefore there is no cultivation of the mind for an unlearned worldling.

This mind is luminous, monastics, and it is freed from adventitious defilements; a learned noble disciple understands that as it really is. I declare that therefore there is cultivation of the mind for a learned noble disciple.

I quote parts of the following discussion here:

From the viewpoint of this usage, it could even seem as if the luminous mind was somehow in existence earlier and the defilements are a sort of visitor that came later. The idea that a mental defilement could somehow be set apart from the mind in which it occurs is to my knowledge not attested anywhere else in the early discourses.

In other words, according to early Buddhist epistemology it would not be possible to identify a time in the past at which a supposedly luminous mind was already in existence and after which only it came to be defiled by craving. Once a time in the past when craving and defilements have not been present in the mind is not discernible, there seems little scope to postulate that the mind is naturally pure. Instead, one might even say that it is naturally defiled. But since defilements are conditioned phenomena, they can be removed. That is, purity and freedom from defilements is a potentiality of the mind that requires being brought about through meditative cultivation, rather than being a return to an already existing inherent nature.

Yet this is to some extent a sense conveyed by the identification of cultivation of the mind in the Aṅguttara-nikāya passage with knowing its luminous condition. In the early discourses in general the task is to purify the mind gradually through various practices, to be cultivated by avoiding the two extremes of excessive striving and undue laxity. In contrast, the present passage could give the impression that recognition of luminosity is what really matters for “cultivation of the mind”. Although this is just a nuance in the above passage, later tradition will articulate this more fully, in that “cultivation of the mind” comes to be concerned with recognition of its alleged innate purity. I will return to this below.

The Satipaṭṭhāna-sutta and its parallels list various states of mind for mindful contemplation, distinguishing between, for example, mind with lust, sarāgaṃ cittaṃ, and mind without lust, vītarāgaṃ cittaṃ. The contrast between “with lust” and “without lust” made in this way shows that early Buddhist thought was able to express the possibility of mental purification and freedom from defilements without needing to postulate an essential nature of the mind that is in principle unaffected by defilements. By way of illustration, just as for fruit to ripen there is no need to postulate that the ripe fruit already exists in the corresponding flower that has just blossomed on a tree, so for a mind to become purified there is no need to postulate that an intrinsic purity already exists in its present defiled state. Instead of creating a contrast between an allegedly inherent nature of the mind and defilements set apart as something adventitious, in the Satipaṭṭhāna-sutta and other early discourses the mind is simply viewed as an impermanent and conditioned process that can occur either “with” or else “without” defilements. Here citta simply refers to a contingent mental state.

Moreover, a state of mind with lust or any other such defilement would not be luminous. According to the Upakkilesa-sutta and its parallels, the presence of any out of a range of defilements (upakkilesa) results in a loss of whatever inner light or luminescence (obhāsa) had been experienced during meditation. This confirms that, from the perspective reflected in the Upakkilesa-sutta and its parallels, a mind defiled by defilements does not remain in a condition of luminosity. In other words, the luminous mind can be expected to lose its pure condition once a defilement manifests in it.

In this way the Upakkilesa-sutta and its parallels show that early Buddhist thought does recognize meditative experience of light or luminescence, but these are meditative visions rather than an intrinsic quality of the mind. In fact references to mental experiences of luminosity are cross-cultural phenomena, thus my exploration in this article is certainly not meant to deny the subjective validity of such experiences. My intention is only to discern developments in the interpretation of these experiences. From the viewpoint of the Upakkilesa-sutta and its parallels, it seems clear that inner experiences of luminosity come into being through successful cultivation of concentration and the temporary absence of defilements, but with the arising of defilements and the consequent loss of concentration they disappear.

As pointed out by Karunaratne:
what is meant by lustrous and pure mind (pabhassara/prakṛtipariśuddha) is not a state of mind which is absolutely pure, nor the pure mind which is synonymous with emancipation. It may be explained as pure only in the sense, and to the extent, that it is not disturbed or influenced by external stimuli.

Similarly Shih Ru-nien explains that
the Pali texts only emphasize the knowledge of the innate purity of the mind as a prerequisite step in the cultivation of the mind and the restoration of the purity of the mind is not the end of religious practices. As a matter of fact, after the removal of the defilements, the mind is not only pure, tranquil, and luminous but also soft, pliant, and adaptable. It then becomes suitable for the destruction of all the āsavas or the cultivation of the seven limbs of wisdom, and the like. This means that the tranquil, luminous, and pliable mind is just the basis for further religious practices.

The various points explored so far make it, in my view, safe to conclude that the working hypothesis mentioned earlier is indeed correct. In other words, the present passage in the Aṅguttara-nikāya does seem to be distinctly late. It builds on and further expands a notion resulting from a description of gold that led to the addition of a qualification of the mind as “luminous”. At the time of the coming into being of this apparent addition, the resultant phrasing in the passage in the Aṅguttara-nikāya need not have carried any special implications. In line with other instances surveyed earlier, it can be assumed to have been just another instance where the fascination exerted by the imagery of luminous gold and its potential as a metaphor influenced the wording of a description originally not concerned with any luminosity of the mind.

Given that the Upakkilesa-sutta and its parallels describe inner experiences of light during meditation, a qualification of the mind as luminous is hardly problematic in itself. Even though the use of the same qualification is less straightforward when applied to equanimity or the body of the Buddha, leaving room for a more metaphorical understanding could still accommodate such instances. What does make the above Aṅguttara-nikāya passage problematic, however, is the actual formulation that results from this apparent addition, as this can be read in ways that reify the ‘real’ mind as naturally pure and luminous, rather than being simply a series of different states, none of which is more real or natural than the other.

Such a reading would in turn have invested the actual formulation resulting from the introduction of the motif of luminosity in the Aṅguttara-nikāya passage with increased significance. Once the imagery of luminescence designates a nature of the mind considered to be unaffected by defilements and hence intrinsically pure, inner light-experiences of the type described in the Upakkilesa-sutta and its parallels could easily have come to be invested with an increased degree of importance. Instead of being just a reflection of having achieved some degree of concentration, they can be seen as rather profound realizations, authenticating a practitioner as having become a truly noble disciple acquainted with what it takes to cultivate the mind.

Another and perhaps even more powerful stimulant for an increasing interest in the mode of description found in the Aṅguttara-nikāya passage under discussion would have been the coming into vogue of the theory of momentariness. Once the mind is conceptualized as a series of discrete mind-moments that pass away as soon as they arise, something has to be found to explain continuity, in order to account for memory, identity, and rebirth. A search in this direction would naturally have led to an increased interest in the Aṅguttara-nikāya passage’s description of a mind that apparently remains in a condition of luminosity independent of the arising and passing away of any defilements.

The next section of the paper provides references from many later Buddhist traditions that show the idea of an intrinsic luminous mind eventually became widespread and came to be associated with awakening.

A passage in the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā proposes that the luminous mind is neither conjoined with lust, aversion, and delusion, nor disjoined from these. This sets a contrast to the Satipaṭṭhāna-sutta and its parallels, mentioned above. In these texts, the mind can be conjoined with lust, aversion or delusion, or disjoined from it. They do not conceive of a mind as apart from these two alternatives.

Another quote in the Ratnagotravibhāga proclaims that this intrinsic nature of the mind is without causes and conditions and hence also beyond arising and cessation.The Anūnatvāpūrṇatvanirdeśaparivarta provides an additional example for the powerful influence of the notion of a mind that is by nature pure. In the words of Silk

ultimately the intrinsically pure mind is identified with the dharmadhātu itself … this mind which is so fouled by defilements is actually pure and luminous just as is the dharmadhātu, the pure ground of being itself, virtually identical with Buddhahood …

the initial and innate state of the mind is equivalent to awakening, and realizing this means that no further practice is necessary.

The idea that no further practice is necessary, together with the emphasis on the need to realize the true nature of the mind, have had considerable impact on how cultivation of the mind came to be conceptualized in various practice lineages. Before surveying a few selected examples, I would like to clarify that my intention in what follows is decidedly not to debunk various meditation traditions or to pretend that they are not based on, or conducive to, genuinely transformative experiences. My aim is only to explore the degree to which the powerful imagery of the luminous and/or pure nature of the mind continues to influence the discourse on meditation practice and experience in these traditions.

Following this is a selection of quotes by various Buddhist authors ancient and modern. I quote some of them below:

According to a mahāmudrā text by the eleventh-century Maitrīpa:

The naturally luminous jewel [of this] nature of mind, which is self-awareness, is bright, pure and unobstructed. Natural luminosity is not found through [any] conceptual [state of] meditation or non-meditation: It is the uncontrived, undistracted ease in undistracted non-meditation.

Not to conceptualize anything, not to intend anything, not to grasp anything, devoid of conceptual analysis, and nothing that needs to be done, this is self-luminous awareness, the ornament of natural liberation without having to correct or modify [anything].

Ten centuries later the Tibetan Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche explains:

In Dzogchen the way one behaves in the state of presence is the Fruit, and there is nothing else to obtain. When one has this knowledge, one discovers that everything was always already accomplished from the very beginning. The self-perfected state is the inherent quality of the condition of ‘what is’; there is nothing to be perfected, and all one needs to do is to have real knowledge of this condition.

In twelfth century China, master Hóngzhì (宏智) offered the following instructions:

Completely and silently be at ease. In true thusness separate yourself from all causes and conditions. Brightly luminous without defilements, you directly penetrate and are liberated. You have from the beginning been in this place; it is not something that is new to you today. From the time before the vast eon when you dwelled in your old [original] home, everything is completely clear, unobscured, numinous, and singularly bright.

Korean master Sung Bae Park clarifies that

attaining enlightenment requires nothing other than giving up the search for it. At the moment we stop seeking, enlightenment is there. What is enlightenment? It means returning to our original nature.

A position held by some members of the Theravāda tradition in Thailand stands in continuity with the passages surveyed above, as evident in the following statements by Mahā Boowa Ñāṇasampanno:

where is the real substance behind the shadows of anicca, dukkha and anattā? Drive on further! Their real substance is in the citta …the citta by its very nature is amata―Undying―even when it still has kilesas …

the kilesas can’t destroy the citta … this nature is unassailable, absolute and permanent … this nature is complete, perfect and immaculately pure.


Thanks for this. I user to practice in a Dzogchen tradition, and found your examination interesting and revealing.


Thanks for this, I hadn’t read that article. As usual Ven Analayo’s arguments are well-founded. In addition, we could also invoke what I call the “principle of least meaning”: we should avoid inferring extra or unusual meanings into a passage when a well-established sense is possible.

In this case, the idea of “giving up” everything is, of course, a very basic Buddhist idea, and has no particular doctrinal weight in this context; it is merely reminding us what we already know from countless other passages. Indeed, if this is how it was read, people would have been far less interested in this passage.

To infer that the mind is intrinsically “radiant” is, on the other hand, a striking and distinctive idea, not really supported elsewhere in the canon (which is why this passage is always cited.)

It’s implausible that the Buddha should have only stated a doctrine with such dramatic implications in a fragment of ambiguous verse, one that, moreover, occurs only in strikingly similar narrative contexts involving Brahma. If this really was the key to understanding Nibbana, it would have been stated clearly and unambiguously in many central prose discourses.

I have amended my translation accordingly.


Which Sutta exactly was redacted (there is no reference anywhere in this topic).
I want to make sure @marco and I get that right in our Portuguese translation. :wink:



The Wikipedia-page also gives quite a good overview:


Thanks for this thread! I too found Bhante Anālayo’s essay very interesting and compelling, and am looking forward to reading Bhante @sujato 's essays on the topic as well . For the few who may be interested I did a YouTube video on the topic of the luminous mind (partly following Anālayo’s paper) awhile back: :anjal:


In Chinese Buddhist studies, there was a well-documented misinterpretation of early Yogacara translations, driven partly by one or more of the missionary translator (Paramartha, I believe). They went so far as to posit a ninth consciousness that was the pure essential mind sitting on top of the rest. When Xuanzang taught the orthodox Yogacara teachings he’d received in India a century later, it wasn’t well received because it clashed with the native understanding that had been entrenched. It formed the basis for the Chan/Zen teachings later. It was just more popular and motivating for people to believe the defiled pure mind model, I think.


My understanding is that this was not a misinterpretation, it was actually a transplantation of a subschool of Indian Yogacara, which merged orthodox Yogacara with Tathagathagarbha teachings. Dan Lusthaus says:

the Tathāgatagarbha hybrid school was no stranger to the charge of smuggling notions of selfhood into its doctrines, since, for example, it explicitly defined tathāgatagarbha as “permanent, pleasurable, self , and pure ( nitya, sukha, ātman, śuddha ).” Many Tathāgatagarbha texts, in fact, argue for the acceptance of selfhood ( ātman ) as a sign of higher accomplishment. The hybrid school attempted to conflate tathāgatagarbha with the ālaya-vijñāna . Key works of the hybrid school include the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra , Ratnagotravibhāga ( Uttaratantra ), and in China the Awakening of Faith. [2]

And the wikipedia article on Yogacara continues thus:

This syncretic form of Yogācāra-Tathāgatagarbha became extremely influential in both East Asia and Tibet. During the sixth and seventh centuries, various forms of Yogācāra dominated the Chinese Buddhist landscape such as orthodox forms and hybrid Tathāgatagarbha forms. There were feuds between these two approaches to the interpretation of Yogācāra. The translator Bodhiruci (6th century CE) for example, took an orthodox approach while the Ratnamati was attracted to Tathāgatagarbha thought and sought to translate texts like the Dasabhumika sutra in conformity with his understanding. Their disagreement on this issue led to the end of their collaboration as co-translators.[84] The translator Paramārtha is another example of a hybrid thinker. He promoted a new theory that said there was a ninth form of consciousness, the amala-vijñāna (a pure vijñāna ), which is revealed once the ālaya-vijñāna is eliminated. He also associated his theory with Tathāgatagarbha ideas.[85]

According to Lusthaus, Xuanzang’s travels to India and his composition of the Cheng Weishi Lun was an attempt to return to a more “orthodox” and “authentic” Indian Yogācāra and thus put to rest the debates and confusions in the Chinese Yogācāra of his time. The Cheng Weishi Lun returns to the use of the theory of seeds instead of the tathāgatagarbha to explain the phenomena that tathāgatagarbha is supposed to explain (that is, the potentiality for Buddhahood).[86] However, Lusthaus writes that in the eighth century, this ‘schism’ was finally settled "in favor of a hybrid version, which became definitive


Ah, yes. Thanks for providing the details. At least my memory is still fairly accurate. The Tathagatagarbha concept by itself was a major influence, but the connection to Yogacara had fallen out of my memory of Paramartha’s version of Yogacara. There are several texts like the Nirvana Sutra that weren’t Yogacara per se, but instead were Tathagatagarbha attacks on the emptiness and not-self teachings.


@Javier, what paper was this by Dan Lusthaus? I’d be interested to see it. Often it has seemed to me that Tathāgatagarbha smuggles in an ātman but as you know there are various interpretations of the concept and so what’s needed is some clarity with the texts which this seems to provide.


It’s cited in the wiki article:

Lusthaus, Dan, What is and isn’t Yogacara, What is and isn't Yogācāra


These issues are very much alive in contemporary Taiwanese Buddhism, too. Master Yin Shun controversially tried to shift the debate, arguing that the Tathagatagarbha style ideas were a rhetorical device used to engage and convert brahmins, and the the Madhyamaka teaching on emptiness was the true teaching. (I’m sure what he said was much more nuanced than that, this is just a summary of what someone told me many years ago!)


IIRC from a paper I read about it, he also worked to prove that the Madhyamakasastra doctrines were founded in the Agamas.


Certainly some/most of them. I posted a quote from it here a while ago under the name Mādhyamikopadeśa. It was the section in which Venerable Vimalākṣa comments on the Ātmaparīkṣā of Venerable Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā.

The part that I didn’t include (it wasn’t relevant) was this:

Question: If the Buddhas do not teach self, non-self, and the cessation of all mental activities and the cutting-off of ways of verbal expression, how do they make people understand the real character of dharmas?

Reply: All the Buddhas have unlimited powers of skilful means, and dharmas have no fixed characteristics. In order to save all living beings, they may teach that everything is real, or they may teach that everything is unreal, or that everything is both real and unreal, or that everything is neither unreal nor not unreal.

This idea of the Buddhas teaching selfhood (controversially stated in the Chinese recension of the MMK that accompanies this section of commentary), or the idea of the Buddhas teaching the reality of all dharmas, could likely be in reference to the confusing multitude of not-always-interally-coherent Mahāyāna sūtras, some of which, an infamous few, heretically acclaim the ātma, or it could be a reference to Sarvāstivādin Abhidharmika metaphysics.

The only thing in the āgamas it could perhaps be a reference to is IMO the Sarvāstisūtra, T99.91b4/SA320, parallel with the Sabbasutta, but that is a stretch to say that it proclaims the reality of the dharmas.

But, yeah, a lot of the material in it is pretty old Buddhism. And when it is distinctly Mahāyāna-only, one can usually tell.


not sure about the impact of this article on other readers. In my personal case inmmediately I had the vision of an elephant dancing inside a porcelain shop.

One can say a lot of things on this although the time would be not enough. Neither it is a task for people who is not professional in producing such papers.

Some points. First of all, I believe there is the necessity to remember the issue of the numinous nature of the mind is not an exclusive Buddhist topic but an universal ancient issue

“As sight is the most highly developed sense, the name Phantasia (imagination) has been formed from Phaos (light) because it is not possible to see without light.”
- Aristotle, De Anima Book III ,3.

therefore, the hypothesis of some “agenda” placed by the author in a footnote seems to be qute conspiranoic and out of point. From a more humble approach, perhaps there is something that the whole human kind has noticed in all the times in this issue. And sounds logical keeping some care and contemption.

I believe the mixture of confusion and temerity inside the article can exists because different factors. It is amazing how somebody can deal with this complex issue with such precipitation. Not only because its universal reach but also because the numinous nature of the mind can be an immediate fact of knowledge for anyone. For that reason it was noted even for the ancient people. Because in the same way the objects of our room are manifest because there is a light and without need to point to the source of that light, also the objects arising in the mind are manifest to us because there is a numinous nature to enlighten these.

This numinous nature becomes so logic as the needed light for the external objects. This is not something of difficult discernment, and then it becomes obvious the possibility of a direct contemplation and knowledge of this nature when the mind can be detached of its own mind-contents, by taken the knowledge of that nature as the object of knowledge in itself. In that situation, it sounds logics it can be revealed like something naturally luminous. That knowledge wouldn’t be the essential nature of nibbana neither a mechanical requisite to get it but just the manifestation of the nature of the mind when the knowledge turns the look to himself

For that reason it sounds logical when the Buddha said:

“This mind is luminous, monks, and it is defiled by adventitious defilements”

In the Mahayana tradition there are similar examples. One very famous is seeing a ray of light entering by the window and then seeing the dust floating. Similar examples were provided also by Aristotle and the ancient Greeks trying to profile a picture for the Greek soul:

“This is what led Democritus to say that soul is a sort of fire or hot substance; his ‘forms’ or atoms are infinite in number; those which are spherical he calls fire and soul, and compares them to the motes in the air which we see in shafts of light coming through windows; the mixture of seeds of all sorts he calls the elements of the whole of nature (Leucippus gives a similar account)”.

the seeing of light and the dust floating is an universal example because it remember quite well what happens with the nature of knowledge and the arising objects.

In the Buddhist thought the dualism and the origin of the existence is timeless, and the problem is not knowing if the light or the dust was previous as the article suggest. Those descriptions are descriptions about the nature of the mind instead about the nature of nibbana. There is no any contradiction in the Suttas because the different descriptions exists when they are empathizing a contemplation or a discernment. Same when we point to the light enlightening the grasped objects in our room or just the action to know: there is a contemplation and/or discernment.

The author take those descriptions on the nature of the mind as essential descriptions of the nature of nibbana, and from here he build his own scenery of contradictions despite in the Buddhist thought there is no mind in nibbana. The only description of nibbana inside the Suttas are related with anatta, and this is not incompatible or opposed with a numinous nature for the mind. Because anatta is not a nihilistic concept and there is no need to delete the nature of anything, except atta, which is not the nature of the things but a delusion for our knowledge.

However, we read in example this:

"26 Thompson 2015: xxi proposes that “according to Indian and Tibetan Buddhist philosophy the definition of consciousness is that which is luminous and knowing. Luminosity means the ability of consciousness to reveal or disclose.” It seems to me, however, that this is not necessarily the case for early Buddhist thought, where consciousness is something that is receptively aware not something that actively illuminates, hence luminosity is not part of a general definition of the functions of consciousness."

the supposition is wrong, because to say “consciousness is something that is receptively aware not something that actively illuminates” become a non-sense. There is not awareness outside a knowledge process, and the act of knowledge needs the prefiguration of the object under space and time, in where arise the inner vision that we name “to know”. Even the non-buddhist people from all times were aware of that fact.

The numinous nature is not a factor in the process but the scenery of knowledge. Again, as happens in the process of knowledge of the outer objects in our room. The light is nor part of the process but the nature of the whole event as it is. When there is an object in the mind, that numinous character is so needed for the knowledge as happens with the common light for the seeing of the external objects. The reason because the nature of knowledge is numinous is unknown. This is as is. This mystery not only belongs to the inner dimension of mind but also to the presence of light in the perceived universe. Our primitive science still doesn’t have a solution for the mystery and nature of light, and she is walking supported in a logical phantom named photon.

The Nobel Prize in Quantum Optics, Roy Jay Glauber, said:

“A photon is what a photo-detector detects.”

which is not really different of what happens with that inner light of our mind: that light is what the mind knows it is.

In a first view, sounds logical the mystery of the light is related with space, time and causality, which are not only magnitudes for the outer universe but also are needed for the existence of knowledge. However, the mystery goes beyond logics when it is referred to the cease of the individuation and of that threefold jail of the conditioned world. Some descriptions for that realization leave some tracks about that nature seems to be so indestructible as happens with the light in the outer universe

When a person attains realization, it is like the moon reflecting on the water. The moon never becomes wet; the water is never destroyed. Although it is a vast and great light, it reflects itself on a small amount of water. The whole moon and even the whole sky reflects on even a drop of dew on a blade of grass, or a single tiny drop of water. Realization does not destroy the person, as the moon does not make a hole in the water. The person does not obstruct realization, as a drop of dew does not obstruct the moon in the sky.
- Dogen Genki

philosophically, some ideas could derivate in the typical easy and non-rational materialism (“there is only active awareness” like the reactive sensors of a machine). This would be a very simplistic notion for the old problem of the nature of knowledge. Still more when in the scientific world neither there is a solution for the nature of light.

Well, I believe the level of the article is quite poor. Deep topics like this should be treated with more historical care and philosophical depth.


It’s not too bad, but note that it persists in offering Thanissaro’s incorrect translation, saying “the mind is radiant”, whereas the Pali says “This mind is radiant”, i.e. the kind of mind under discussion, i.e. the mind developed in jhana. It is a statement about jhana, not about the nature of the mind in general.


Perhaps experiences vary :sun_with_face:

Ajaan Maha Boowa (Arahattaphala):

:sunny: Even now that extraordinary Dhamma moves and amazes me. It is all-embracing, an encompassing luminosity that lights up the entire cosmos, revealing everything. Nothing remains hidden or concealed. (page 75)

:sunny: The destruction of that suffering [arising from the kilesas] marks the emergence of Supreme Happiness; that is, the arising of the Supreme Dhamma. And it happens precisely where the luminosity of Dhamma was concealed by a thick covering of kilesas, preventing its light from streaming forth in all its brilliance. (page 85)

:sunny: Once the citta—their caretaker—collapses, these conventional realities, being its enemies, are then torn asunder. Then the pure nature of the citta shines forth in all its brilliance, following its own natural principle. This is one aspect of the experience. (page 86)

Ajaan Dun Atulo (Gifts he Left Behind)

:sunny: Right there is where everything ends. All that remains is pure, clean, bright — great emptiness, enormously empty. (100)

:sunny: Knowing is the normality of mind that’s empty, bright, pure, that has stopped fabricating, stopped searching, stopped all mental motions — having nothing, not attached to anything at all. (103)


for sure. Although at least I believe this is more a problem of logics and precipitation instead experience

Some Analayo claims only can be understood when that luminosity should be absent or destroyed because anatta. It seems he identify that luminosity in opposition with anatta, although we cannot read the reasons for that. A perception of a radiant mind or its absence are not described in the Suttas as a key neither some essential nature of nibbana. There are not special perceptions or situations to be the key for that. It can be a key situation or not

Why the experience of a radiant mind cannot be realized as anatta as happens with any other?.
Why that luminosity should be destroyed in anatta ?

The author shows here his understanding of the issue, when he believes the Sutta could be corrected:

"Applied to the present context, a proposal in line with the procedure adopted elsewhere in the discourses would be that the unlearned worldling and the noble disciple differ in their ability to distinguish between a defiled mind and a mind that is not defiled. Whereas the worldling is not able to recognize this indeed crucial difference, the noble disciple does recognize it. Such a contrast could be expressed in a statement of this type:*

This mind is defiled by defilements, monastics; an unlearned
worldling does not understand that as it really is. I declare that
therefore there is no cultivation of the mind for an unlearned

This mind is freed from defilements, monastics; a learned noble
disciple understands that as it really is. I declare that therefore there
is cultivation of the mind for a learned noble disciple.

*A statement of this type would be fully in line with the position taken in other early discourses. Lack of understanding of what defiles the mind will make it indeed impossible for the worldling to cultivate it"

the problem with this proposal to rectify the Sutta, is the mind cannot be defiled when there is no other nature to know except the same defilements, which will be the only nature of the mind.

The mind cannot be defiled if there is no some nature which is not defiled. Or the same notion of “defilement” can become an absurdity. What he is bypassing here is the -self. Because some nature of the mind should be grasped in order to know she is defiled or purified by another thing = we say “my mind”. There is need to grasp a mind like the object for knowledge in itself to know that she can be purified or defiled by defilements. Like a cinema needs some screen to project the images. And in that realm, any object is something “real” as soon it can be grasped and known.

Without that knowledge, only the defilements would be the only nature of the mind for the knower, and without possibility of purification, because nothing could be purified. Neither the knowledge of a nature free of defilements can be a “dark hole”, a nothingness, because it can be known. Therefore the experience of some numinous nature of the mind in that situation becomes a necessity.

I fear the Buddha was fully right, no need to change the Sutta. Not because some “early Buddhist thought” could be this or that but because pure logics.

"This mind is luminous, monastics, and it is defied by adventitious
defilements; an unlearned worldling does not understand that as it
really is. I declare that therefore there is no cultivation of the mind
for an unlearned worldling"

well, he seems to be a methodic and intelligent author. Although there is some precipitation in some of his recent articles as happened with the Two Paths discussion. Or perhaps are heavy issues with difficult conclussions


Yes, as Bhikkhu Anālayo points out in the paper, it is an idea that is pervasive in many Buddhist traditions, and within the Theravāda tradition, it is usually found among some teachers of the Thai Forest tradition (e.g. Ven. Mahā Boowa and Ajāhn Amaro are referenced in the paper, and here’s an old video of Bhante Sujāto talking about this). We can acknowledge that this is something not in accordance with early Buddhist texts, while giving due respect for these traditions for their wonderful teachings.