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The Five Pure Lights (Tibetan: 'od lnga) are experiential manifestations in the Dzogchen tradition of Bön and Nyingma and are aspects of non-dual clarity and primordial luminosity of dharmakaya, Kunzhi and/or the Void. It is important to emphasize from the outset that their light-like essence-quality and their associated colours are oft-described according to the five coloured Himalayan Rainbow.[1]

The Five Pure Lights and the Yoga of Clear Light ('od-gsal) are entwined.

The Five Pure Lights are the most sublime essence-quality of the mahābhūta or classical elements ; namely: Space, Air, Water, Fire, Earth and constitute the Rainbow Body (Wylie: 'ja' lus) of Dzogchen. The Five Pure Lights are essentially the Five Wisdoms (Sanskrit: pañca-jñāna)[2] and in their primoridal purity the unstainable substrate of the mindstream.

In the Bonpo Dzochen tradition, the Five Pure Lights are discussed in the Zhang Zhung Nyan Gyud and within this auspice two texts in particular go into detail about the Five Pure Lights: The Six Lamps (Tibetan: སྒྲོན་མ་དྲུག་Wylie: sgron ma drug) and The Mirror of the Luminous Mind (Tibetan: འོད་གསལ་སེམས་ཀྱི་མེ་ལོང་Wylie: 'od gsal sems kyi me long).[3]

In the rite of the Ganachakra, all that is offered or within the chakra or mandala is augmented and purified by the Five Pure Lights of which it is constituted. There is understood to be a sanctification comparable to a transignification and/or transubstantiation which instead of adding anything new to the substances, returns them, but more essentially and fundamentally our cognition and perception of them, to their 'primordial purity' (Wylie: Ka Dag). It is important to emphasize that in the Dzogchen tradition the apprehender and that which is apprehended or stated differently, the perceiver and that which is perceived are a continuum and nondual so there is no dichotomy or separation.

Tenzin Wangyal holds that the Five Pure Lights become the Five Poisons if we remain deluded, or the Five Wisdoms and the Five Buddha Families if we recognize their purity.[4]

The Five Pure Lights are also evident in the terma traditions of the Bardo Thodol (Gyurme, et al. 2005) where they are the 'coloured lights' of the bardo for example, associated with the different 'families' (Sanskrit: gotra) of deities. There are other evocations of the rainbow lights as well in the Bardo Thodol literature such as Namkha Chokyi Gyatso (1806-1821?), the 3rd Dzogchen Ponlop's 'Supplement to the Teaching revealing the Natural Expression of Virtue and Negativity in the Intermediate State of Rebirth, entitled Gong of Divine Melody' (Tibetan: སཏྲིད་པའི་བར་དོའི་ངོ་སྤྲོད་དགེ་སྡིག་རང་གཟུགས་སྟོན་པའི་ལྷན་ཐབས་དབྱངས་སྙན་ལྷའི་བཎཌཱིWylie: strid pa'i bar do'i ngo sprod dge sdig rang gzugs ston pa'i lhan thabs dbyangs snyan lha'i gaND-I[5]), wherein the 'mandala of spiralling rainbow lights' Gyurme et al. (2005: p. 339) is associated with Prahevajra. Dudjom, et al. (1991: p. 337) ground the signification of the 'mandala of spiralling lights' (Tibetan: འཇོའ་འོད་འཁིལ་བའི་དཀྱིལ་བཧོརWylie: 'ja' 'od 'khil ba'i dkyil khor), seminal to the visionary realization of Thod rgal.

Refer also the colours associated with the different deities in the Five Dhyani Buddhas.


  1. ^ "Color Symbolism In Buddhist Art". Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  2. ^ Keown, Damien (ed.) with Hodge, Stephen; Jones, Charles; Tinti, Paola (2003). A Dictionary of Buddhism. Great Britain, Oxford: Oxford University Press. P.209. ISBN 0-19-860560-9
  3. ^ Wangyal, Tenzin (author) & Dahlby, Mark (editor). Healing with Form, Energy and Light: The Five Elements in Tibetan Shamanism, Tantra, and Dzogchen. Ithaca, NY, USA: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-176-6, p.8
  4. ^ Wangyal, Tenzin (author) & Dahlby, Mark (editor). Healing with Form, Energy and Light: The Five Elements in Tibetan Shamanism, Tantra, and Dzogchen. Ithaca, NY, USA: Snow Lion Publications. P.9 ISBN 1-55939-176-6
  5. ^ Caveat lector: 'gaND-I' is a transcription of the Tibetan as per the Extended Wylie Transcription System of Garson & Germano (2001). Conversely, Gyurme et. al. (2005: p.433) employ the transcription 'gaṇḍĪ', unfortunately, excavation of this text furnished no key to the Wylie extension employed nor the title rendered in Tibetan script. Hence, the Tibetan has been tentatively reconstructed from this transcription as གཎཌཱི following Garson & Germano (2001) and the pool of phonemic and orthographic possibilities.


  • Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche (2002). Healing with Form, Energy, and Light. Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1559391766
  • Rinpoche, Tenzin Wangyal (2002). Wonders of the Natural Mind. Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York.
  • Scheidegger, Daniel (2007). "Different Sets of Light-Channels in the Instruction Series of Rdzogs chen" in Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines. Source: [1] (accessed: Tuesday January 13, 2009)
  • Garson, Nathaniel & Germano, David (2001). Extended Wylie Transliteration Scheme. University of Virginia.
  • Gyurme Dorje (trans.), Coleman, Graham, with Thupten Jinpa (eds.) (2005). The Tibetan Book of the Dead [English title]: The Great Liberation by Hearing in the Intermediate States [Tibetan title]; composed by Padma Sambhava: revealed by Karma Lingpa. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-140-45529-8 (the first complete translation)
  • Dudjom Rinpoche and Jikdrel Yeshe Dorje. The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: its Fundamentals and History. Two Volumes. 1991. Translated and edited by Gyurme Dorje with Matthew Kapstein. Wisdom Publications, Boston. ISBN 0-86171-087-8


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