“… and this Light does know all other light as its shadow”
This little string of words arrived uninvited and unexpected within the Awareness I used to call mine, about 25 years ago.
They spoke themselves into a head that was in the grip of a killer migraine. A body that was screaming to be “finished off” because it could no longer bear the agony, the vomiting, the suffocating blinding pain that made death desirable.
End! End! Now!
Shockingly and suddenly, a milky white light washed down through the inside of my head. Instantly the pain vanished. I mean instantly – within the space of one breath it was gone.
With the light came the string of words. A gilt-edged, perfumed calling card had been left in the folds of a freshly washed brain-space.
I sat up, sweat still streaming down my body, and cried, “What . . .?”
What kind of power could switch off a brain-body event of such intensity, in an instant?
What kind of power could utter a string of biblical-sounding and totally unfamiliar words inside one’s head?
What means this?
My life-koan had arrived. I read somewhere that working with a koan is like being a fish with an iron ball stuck in its jaws; it can’t be swallowed and it can’t be spat out. You’re stuck with it. You sit with it on your zafu. You run around your day with it. You sleep with it, and it often shows up in your dreams. It can’t be solved by clever intellectual maneuvering. You just have to abide with the darned thing until … it cracks open in a place on the other side of thought and you KNOW its secret. You know it with every cell in your body and you can’t escape the knowing of it.
And it’s usually the most simple and obvious and self-evident thing. You feel like a total idiot for having missed it all those years. You fall about in mirth.
The Light! The one and only Light by which all other light can be perceived – this is the self-luminous Light of Being, and the ‘I’ of all beings. It is said in the scriptures to be brighter than the light of a thousand suns. I found out that it is brighter than the light of a million suns. For without this Light how could they be perceived or even said to exist?
This unknowable Light of Awareness knows all apparent light – and all apparent phenomena – as its shadow, and its substance.
– miriam louisa
Artist: Bob Law, Untitled (Black watercolour), 1987
Watercolour on paper, 56 x 76
Collection Art Gallery NSW Sydney
For many years I’ve been reluctant to add an image to this page since any depiction of light whatsoever would be a contradiction of the content, which attempts to explain that this unlit light cannot be perceived, let alone portrayed as an object (although once it’s “known” it is recognised as the substance of all objects). Recently, while looking – in the context of another project – at the way some artists have painted a black field as a way of expressing their relationship with the sacred, I came upon this watercolour by Bob Law (UK, 1934 – 2004).
The experience of looking at a field that emits no light, has no surface texture and depicts no form, is very interesting. The mind is silenced.
Into that silence we can drop a little question: “What sees this?”