9. Non-Luminosity – The Realm of Unenlightenment

Having discussed Citta, we discuss the second domain of Buddha’s “Such is the way of Dharma” in this post. 

As discussed, Citta is the quiescent mentality of Ultimate Reality, and, by Buddha’s definition, it is also the realm of enlightenment and luminosity.  

However, in Anguttara Nikaya, Buddha teaches that Citta is defiled. 

Aṅguttara Nikāya (Chinese=增一阿含經) “is a Buddhist scripture, the fourth of the five nikayas, or collections, in the Sutta Pitaka, …of Theravada Buddhism.” 

According to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, in the Aṅguttara Nikāya, Buddha stated, “The mind, O monks, is luminous, but defiled by adventitious defilements.” 

So, how can the luminous mind of Citta change, and what does defilement mean? 

The only change Citta can make is to go from quiescent to active. In other words, adventitious defilement is the fluctuation of mentality.     

However, a fluctuating mentality can no longer be the Ultimate Reality in Buddhism because its “realness” changes with every fluctuation. Furthermore, the fluctuating mentality does not fit Buddha’s definition of “no thought.” So, defilement means that the fluctuating mentality is no longer the Ultimate; neither is it enlightened nor luminous anymore. 

Indeed, the domain of the fluctuating mentality is known as non-luminosity (Chinese=無明), and non-luminosity is the beginning of unenlightenment.  

So, what is adventitious? According to dictionary.com, adventitious is “associated with something by chance rather than as an integral part; extrinsic.

  1. Association by chance: In Buddhism, “association by chance” means no causal relationship exists between Citta and non-luminosity. It is to be expected because Buddha teaches both realms in “Such is the Way of Dharma” are “not causal.”
  2. Extrinsic. Extrinsic means that Citta and non-luminosity are separate; one is not “an integral part” of the other. This is understandable. After all, fluctuating and non-fluctuating mentality cannot co-exist in the same domain. 

Now, let’s look at some of the attributes of non-luminosity. 

1) “Without Begining”

The Śrīmālādevī Siṃhanāda Sūtra (Chinese=勝鬘師子吼一乘大方便方廣經, English=Lion’s Roar of Queen Śrīmālā) “is one of the main early Mahāyāna Buddhist texts belonging to the Tathāgatagarbha sūtras that teaches the doctrines of Buddha-nature and “One Vehicle” through the words of the Indian queen Śrīmālā. After its composition, this text became the primary scriptural advocate in India for the universal potentiality of Buddhahood.”

According to this article, “non-luminosity without beginning” (Chinese=無始無明)originates in the Śrīmālādevī Siṃhanāda Sūtra. 

But what does it mean that non-luminosity is without a beginning?

In this one-minute video, Dharma Master Jing Kong discussed the Buddha’s answer when asked the same question. This exchange is recorded in Śūraṅgama Sūtra (Chinese=大佛頂首楞嚴經), which “is a Mahayana sutra that has been especially influential in Chan Buddhism.”

In the exchange, Purna (Chinese=富樓那), a disciple of Buddha and the “foremost in expounding the Dharma,” asked the Buddha, “Where does non-luminosity without a beginning come from (Chinese=無始無明是怎麼來的?)” Buddha replied, “There is no reason; it comes from nowhere and goes nowhere (Chinese=它沒有原因,它沒有來處,也沒有去處).” 

  • “There is no reason” confirms that non-luminosity is a “not causal” phenomenon. In the words of Dharma Master Jing Kong, it “is how it originally was from the beginning and is not contrived.” 
  • “It comes from nowhere and goes nowhere” is why Buddha teaches that non-luminosity is “without a beginning.” Like Citta, non-luminosity is eternal, without a beginning or an end. 

2) First Link in the Twelvefold Chain of Dependent Origination. 

Twelvefold Chain of Dependent Origination (Romanized Sanskrit=Pratityasamutpada; Chinese=十二緣起), according to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, is “in Sanskrit, “dependent origination,” “conditioned origination,” lit., “origination by dependence” (of one thing on another); one of the core teachings in the Buddhist doctrinal system.”  

According to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, “In one of the earliest summaries of the Buddha’s teaching, Buddha is said to have taught: “When this is present, that comes to be. /From the arising of this, that arises. /When this is absent, that does not come to be. /From the cessation of this, that ceases.”

In the Twelvefold Chain of Dependent Origination doctrine, Buddha enumerates twelve interconnected links in the chain of a life cycle of every phenomenon in the universe from origination to demise. Each link on the chain serves as the cause (Romanized Sanskrit=nidana, Chinese=因緣/尼陀那) for the origination of the following link until the last link, old age and death. 

Of the twelve links, non-luminosity is the first. It is understandable because, as the first link, non-luminosity itself cannot be dependently originated, or it will lead to a chicken-egg dilemma. In fact, non-luminosity is the only phenomenon that can possibly be the first link because it is the singular “not causal” phenomenon in its own realm. All other phenomena originating from non-luminosity are causally dependent on it. 

3) Foundational Block of the Universe

Given that non-luminosity is the first link in the Twelvefold Chain of Dependent Origination, it can be considered the building block of the universe, a function quantum mechanics assigns to the fluctuating quantum energy field, as Dr. David Tong made plain in his video lecture

4) Unenlightenment

That everything is founded on non-luminosity answers the question, “Where does delusion come from?” Most, if not all, people certainly do not feel delusional. “Why does Buddha teach to save humans from the suffering resulting from the delusional misunderstanding of reality?”

The fact is that anyone born conscious, i.e., with an active mind, is unenlightened. Unenlightenment and delusion are the two sides of the same coin. They are both inherent, having nothing to do with a fall from grace or human ignorance. 

In other words, unenlightenment and delusion are humanity’s state of being. The minute anyone opens his eyes and sees a beautiful day, he is delusional because any phenomenon anyone sees does not exist if his mind is quiescent. When his mind is still, what a person experiences about the world has nothing to do with the “experiential content” of nature our senses sense. It is because his active mind automatically conceptualizes the “experiential content “in ways our minds do not govern.” These are the words of Dr. Menachem Fisch, a prominent historian and philosopher who will help us understand Buddha’s teaching of epistemology. This topic will be discussed in future posts

That is why some quantum scientists call the phenomenal world illusional. Buddha calls it artificial, imaginary, or imputed: it only exists when the mind is active.  

Unfortunately, the inherent nature of delusion means that endless cycles of determinative birth and death are also inherent, together with the suffering they cause. The only way to get rid of delusion is to experience it through enlightenment to realize that the world does not exist when one’s mind is inactive. When the person’s mind is quiescent, the universe disappears. This is what “Emptiness” means, as discussed in a previous post. That is the only event that allows one to experience the delusional nature of the phenomenal world. 

When one experiences that everything is “Empty,” there is nothing “real” to grab onto, one is less inclined to crave wealth, fame, power, and other transient possessions and more willing to let go, help others, stop fighting wars, and be altruistic. 

However, enlightenment is not easy. Many have tried, but only a few have succeeded. That is why Buddha also teaches so his followers can understand “Emptiness” even though they may not experience it. Believing in Buddha can have the same effect by making one more willing to let go, help others, stop fighting wars, be altruistic, and live a contented life. While learning is easier than trying to get enlightened, it is also less effective because you may not recall your knowledge in the next life. That’s why Buddha prefers all to get enlightened. However, if one listens to him and does the right things, one’s next life will improve in this or future reincarnations.   

5) Energy and Mentality: Two Sides of the Same Coin

That Buddhism teaches the fluctuating field of mentality is the building block of the universe, and science teaches the same using fluctuating quantum energy implies that Buddhism and science may be two sides of the same coin. Given that energy is designed to explain universal phenomena in science, it is a reasonable assumption that energy can help explain Buddha’s teaching concerning universal phenomena even though they are mental in nature. In fact, if energy in science is exchanged with mentality in Buddhism in their corresponding teachings, Buddhism and science should be compatible. 

Indeed, examples are abundant.  

One of them is the conservation of energy in science. In Buddhism, however, what is conserved is not energy but mentality in the form of Causality, karma, fruition, etc. Another example is that while science considers energy to be spread throughout the universe, in Buddhism, mentality is also spread throughout the universe. Another convincing example is Buddha’s teaching that “mentality is contrasted with the physical body and materiality.” In science, energy is uniquely the only one that fits the description.

Indeed, Einstein, who allegedly said“If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it could be Buddhism,” alone provides three examples discussed in this blog, including Buddha’s teaching on Causality. 

Today, scientists acknowledge that Einstein’s Special Relative equation affirms Buddha’s Causality that “one person’s past may be another’s future.” Furthermore, if mentality replaces energy in Einstein’s equation, it also affirms Buddha’s teaching that the driver of Causality is mental. 

The most well-known example of supposed compatibility between Buddhism and science involves Einstein’s famous formula, E=mc2. However, they are only compatible when mentality replaces energy in the equation. 

The third example involves how Buddha solves what is known as “the worst theoretical prediction in the history of physics,” which involves Einstein’s Cosmological Constant

Scientists think the universe should be simple. Indeed, they are right. Buddha provides them with a scenario that cannot be any simpler. Mentality is the only reality in the cosmos, and it comes in two states. The non-fluctuating mentality is the Ultimate Reality, and the fluctuating mentality is the foundational block of the universe. These two different statuses of mentality can explain every phenomenon in the cosmos.