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The Buddha (c. 563c. 483 b.c.e.) had spent one week in samadhi, a state of deep awareness when, on the morning of December 8, 528 b.c.e., he looked up at Venus, the morning star, beheld its brilliance, and exclaimed in a state of enlightenment, "That's it! That's me! That's me that's shining so brilliantly!"

Rinzai Zen master Shodo Harada Roshi (1940 ) writes, in Morning Dewdrops of the Mind: Teachings of a Contemporary Zen Master (1993), that Buddha, in the rebirth of his consciousness, looked around and saw how wondrous it was that all beings were shining with the brilliance of the morning star. From such a deep illumination of the mind of Buddha, all of Buddha's wisdom was born and all of Zen was held within the deep impression of Buddha's mind at that moment. Therefore, each year as the eighth of December approaches, Zen monks anticipate the rohatsu sesshin (intensive meditation retreat) and vow to experience the brilliance of such a deep realization.

In An Introduction to Zen Buddhism (1934), D. T. Suzuki (18701966) describes satori, the state of illumination attained by reaching a higher level of consciousness, as the state that the masters of Zen call the mind of Buddha, the knowledge whereby humans experience enlightenment or Prajna, the highest wisdom. "It is the godly light, the inner heaven, the key of all the treasures of the mind, the focal point of thought and consciousness, the source of power and might, the seat of goodness, of justice, of sympathy, of the measure of all things," Suzuki states. "When this inmost knowledge is fully awakened, we are able to understand that each of us is identical in spirit, in being, and in nature with universal life."

The Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita's instruction on how best to practice Yoga ends with the promise that "when the mind of the Yogi is in harmony and finds rest in the Spirit within, all restless desires gone, then he is a Yukta, one in God. Then his soul is a lamp whose light is steady, for it burns in a shelter where no winds come."

In the chapter on "Basic Mystical Experience" in his Watcher on the Hills (1959), Dr. Raynor C. Johnson (19011987) places "the appearance of light" at the top of his list of illumination characteristics:

  1. The Appearance of light. This observation is uniformly made, and may be regarded as a criterion of the contact of soul and Spirit.
  2. Ecstasy, love, bliss. Directly or by implication, almost all the accounts [of mystical experience] refer to the supreme emotional tones of the experience.
  3. The Approach to one-ness. In the union of soul with Spirit, the former acquires a sense of unity with all things.

Johnson lists other aspects of the illumination as profound insights given to the recipient of the experience; a positive effect on the person's health and vitality; a sense that time has been obscured or altered; and a positive effect on the individual's lifestyle. Johnson quotes a recipient of the illumination experience who said, "Its significance for me has been incalculable and has helped me through sorrows and stresses."

In her autobiographical work Don't Fall Off the Mountain (1970), actress/author Shirley MacLaine (1934 ) tells of the night that she lay shivering in a Bhutanese hut in the Paro Valley of the Himalayas, wondering how she might overcome the terrible cold. Suddenly she remembered the words of a Yoga instructor in Calcutta who had told her that there was a center in her mind that was her nucleus, the center of her universe. Once she would find this nucleus, neither pain, fear, nor sorrow, could touch her. He had instructed her that it would look like a tiny sun. "The sun is the center of every solar system and the reason for all life on all planets in all universes," he had said. "So it is with yours."

With her teeth chattering, she closed her eyes and searched for the center of her mind. Then the cold room and the wind outside began to leave her conscious mind. Slowly in the center of her mind's eye a tiny, round, orange ball appeared. She stared and stared at it. Then she felt as though she had become the little orange ball. Heat began to spread down through her neck and arms and finally stopped in her stomach. She felt drops of perspiration on her midriff and forehead.

MacLaine writes that the light grew brighter and brighter until she finally sat up on her cot with a start and opened her eyes, fully expecting to find that someone had turned on a light. "I lay back," she said. "I felt as though I was glowing. The instructor was right; hidden beneath the surface there was something greater than my outer self."

Parapsychologist Dr. W. G. Roll has commented that "It is true that this light phenomenon does occur. Some people believe it's a sort of quasi-physical light. When we get into these areas, it becomes difficult to distinguish between the physical and the spiritual worlds. What we call the spiritual, the physical, and the mental, are probably all the same thing."

Dr. Walter Houston Clark speaks of the phenomenon of the blinding light of illumination in connection with those who have undergone revelatory experiences as "a kind of symbol of the new and freeing insight into the nature of the subject's existence. However, I am inclined to think that the profundity and excitement of the experience causes some kind of nervous activity that produces the light. Of course, in some sense, this may have a cosmic origin."

Writing in Psychiatry (Vol. 29, 1966), Dr. Arthur J. Deikman refers to the mystical perceptions of encompassing light in terms of his hypothesis of a "sensory translation," which he defines as "the perception of psychic action (conflict, repression, problem solving, attentiveness, and so forth) via the relatively unstructured sensations of light, color, movement, force, sound, smell or taste. 'Sensory translation' refers to the experience of nonverbal, simple, concrete perceptual equivalents of psychic action." In Deikman's theory, "light" may be more than a metaphor for mystical experience: "Illumination may be derived from an actual sensory experience occurring when, in the cognitive act of unification, a liberation of energy takes place, or when a resolution of unconscious conflict occurs, permitting the experience of 'peace,' 'presence,' and the like. Liberated energy experienced as light may be the core sensory experience of mysticism."

According to research conducted at the University of Wales, Christians, Jews, and Muslims have similar experiences in which they describe an intense light and a sense of encompassing love. The research-in-progress, funded by the Sir Alister Hardy Trust, has collected 6,000 accounts of religious experiences from people of all ages and backgrounds. About 1,000 of these describe a light which enters the room, and others tell of being enveloped or filled with light. Most people are alone when they have such an experience, but the researchers have collected accounts of a number of individuals witnessing the same light.

Sir Alister Hardy (18961985) formed the Religious Experience Research Unit, Manchester College, Oxford, in 1969 and began the program by studying a more general kind of spiritual awarenessthe feeling of being in touch with some "transcendental power, whether called God or not, which leads to a better life." Although the researchers stressed their interest in collecting these kinds of reports, they immediately received an almost equal number "of the more ecstatic mystical type," which included experiences with the light phenomenon that accompanied illumination.

In his book The Divine Flame (1966) Hardy suggested that science should "entertain the possibility that the rapture of spiritual experiencemaybe a part of natural historyand that perhaps it may have only developed as religion when man's speech enabled him to compare and discuss this strange feeling of what [Rudolf] Otto called the numinous[and] what I am calling a divine flame as an integral part of the creative evolutionary process which man, with his greater perceptive faculties, is now becoming aware."

Hardy concedes that science can no more be concerned with the "inner essence" of religion than it can be with the nature of art or the poetry of human love. But he does maintain that "an organized scientific knowledge indeed one closely related to psychology dealing with the records of man's religious experienceneed not destroy the elements of religion which are most precious to manany more than our biological knowledge of sex need diminish the passion and beauty of human love."

With the advent of the twenty-first century, many scientists are involved in research projects dealing with religious, spiritual, and mystical experiences. Varieties of Anomalous Experiences (2000), edited by Etzel Cardena, of the University of Texas Pan American in Edinburg, Steven J. Lynn, of the State University of New York at Binghamton, and Stanley Krippner, of the Saybrook Graduate School in San Francisco, examines the scientific evidence for altered states of consciousness associated with mystical experiences and other so-called anomalous events. According to Science News (February 17, 2001), the three psychologists "see no reason to assume that supernatural worldsexist outside of the minds of people who report them. Instead [they] want to launch a science to study the characteristics of human consciousness that make mystical experiences possible. Their focus on a spectrum of consciousness defies the mainstream notion that there's a single type of awareness."

David M. Wulff, a psychologist at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, has said that mystical experiences occur on a continuum: "Even if they are not religiously inspired, they can be striking, such as the transcendent feelings musicians sometimes get while they perform. I have colleagues who say they've had mystical experiences, although they have various ways to explain them."

Other scientists pursuing the study of mystical experiences suggest that the transcendent feelings noted by musicians, actors, and artists; the claims of two-thirds of American adults who claim to have been in touch with a force or spirit outside of themselves; and even the illumination of Buddha or the heavenly voices heard by Moses (14th13th century b.c.e.), Muhammed (c. 570c.e.632c.e.), and Jesus (c. 6 b.c.e.c. 30 c.e.) were nothing more than the decreased activity of the brain's parietal lobe, which helps regulate the sense of self and physical orientation. And what of the feelings of unconditional love and overwhelming compassion for all living things that come over so many of those who claim illumination? These scientists argue that perhaps prayer, meditation, chanting, or some other religious or spiritual practice could have activated the temporal lobe, which imbues certain experiences with personal significance.

Other scientists testing the boundaries of the human psyche and the wonders of illumination are more open to the reality of the individual mystical experience. While researchers like Matthew Alper, author of The "God" Part of the Brain (1998), argue that human brains are hardwired for God and religious experiences, others, such as Daniel Batson, a University of Kansas psychologist, respond that the "brain is the hardware through which religion is experienced."

Duke psychiatrist Roy Mathew told the Washington Post (June 18, 2001) that too many of the contemporary neuroscientists and neurotheologians are "taking the viewpoints of the physicists of the last century that everything is matter. I am open to the possibility that there is more to this than what meets the eye. I don't believe in the omnipotence of science or that we have a foolproof explanation."

Delving Deeper

Bach, Marcus. The Inner Ecstasy. New York, Cleveland: World Publishing, 1969.

James, William. Varieties of Religious Experience. Garden City, N.Y.: Masterworks Program, 1902.

Otto, Rudolf. The Idea of the Holy. New York: Galaxy Books, 1958.

Suzuki, D. T. Mysticism, Christian and Buddhist. New York: Perennial, 1971.

Tart, Charles T. Altered States of Consciousness. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1969.

Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism. New York: Dutton, 1961.

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"Illumination." Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained. . 16 Jan. 2018 <>.

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illumination (in art)

illumination, in art, decoration of manuscripts and books with colored, gilded pictures, often referred to as miniatures (see miniature painting); historiated and decorated initials; and ornamental border designs.

Early Illumination

The earliest known illustrated rolls come from Egypt; they include the oldest example, the Ramesseum Papyrus (c.1980 BC) and fragments from the Book of the Dead, found in tombs. Little or nothing survives of ancient Greek illumination, although scientific treatises and epic poetry are said to have contained pictures. It is thought that by the 2d cent. AD the long papyrus roll began to be replaced by the parchment codex (or leaved book). Thus a new, compact format was introduced as the framework for the picture. From the late classical period (probably 5th cent. AD) come the illustrations of Vergil (Vatican) and the Iliad (Ambrosian Library, Milan).

Illumination in Early Christendom

Most illuminations of the early Christian period, whose style was based on Hellenistic prototypes, are preserved only in medieval copies made in monasteries. Sumptuous Byzantine codices of the 6th and 7th cent., such as the Vienna Genesis, also show the adaptation of antique models to biblical subject matter.

In the 7th and 8th cent. the work of the Irish, Anglo-Saxons, Franks, and Lombards displayed rich decorative geometric designs with intricate human and animal interlacing, largely concentrated in initials and title pages. Among the masterpieces of Hiberno-Saxon illumination are the Book of Durrow, the Book of Kells (both: Trinity College Library, Dublin), and the Lindisfarne Gospels (British Mus.).

The chief works of the Carolingian period date from the beginning of the 9th cent. and were created for the court of Charlemagne, whose aim was to revive the art of antiquity. The existence of several local monastic schools led to a variety of styles; prominent were the Ada group, characterized by splendid coloring and figures full of movement and expression, e.g., The Gospel Book of Ada (Municipal Library, Trier), and the Reims school, known for vibrant pen drawings with little color, e.g., the Utrecht Psalter (9th cent.; University Library, Utrecht).

Works of the Reims school greatly influenced the English school of Winchester in the 10th and 11th cent. The Benedictional of St. Aethelwold (c.980) typifies this style, with sketchy drawings of elongated figures in fluttering drapery, enriched by foliated borders. Contemporary with the flowering of the Winchester school was the Ottonian renascence in Germany. Germanic illuminators used thick, luxurious colors with vigorous outlines and dynamic movement. Reichenau, Hildesheim, and Fulda were prominent centers of Ottonian art.

In Byzantine miniatures a more classical mode continued into the 13th cent. in such works as the Joshua Roll (10th cent.; Vatican), along with images of a hieratic austerity. Italy was important for the diffusion of the Byzantine style; the most original works are the Exultet rolls (Pisa), containing joyous hymns. Byzantine work declined after the capture of Constantinople in 1204.

In Spain, where there was a mixture of Christian and Arabic elements, a highly inventive work was the Commentary of Beatus on the Apocalypse (a 10th-century copy is in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York City). The illumination of large books, Bibles and psalters, was fashionable in the Romanesque era. Richly decorated initials graced these books and, in the early 12th cent., stylized figures enhanced by complex garments and gestures were plentiful. Characteristic of mid-12th-century work is the Winchester Bible.

Before the 14th cent. illuminated manuscripts in the West were nearly always made of vellum. Both ink outline and full-color drawings were common. The color medium was usually tempera, and the gilt was burnished to a high luster. Lavish illumination was most commonly applied to religious books, including early gospels, fashioned for rich patrons, then psalters and books of hours. A few other sorts of manuscripts, such as the bestiary, were, by tradition, profusely illustrated.

The Golden Age of Illumination

Paris was the birthplace of new ideas in book ornamentation at the beginning of the 13th cent. Picture and text were more closely integrated. The most striking quality of the Gothic miniatures was their parallel to stained glass windows in the use of similar colors, drawing, and medallion frameworks. Book size decreased, initials were expanded, and grotesque little monsters and drolleries appeared in the margins.

Lay schools emerged in the 14th cent., directed by individual artists, such as Maître Honoré and Jean Pucelle. Gold fields were replaced by colored and landscape backgrounds, although colors were sometimes abandoned for grisaille, as in the Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux (c.1325; Metropolitan Mus.) by Jean Pucelle.

Greater realism and a wealth of ornament in the margins can be seen in the works done in the early 15th cent. for the duc de Berry by the Burgundian court artists André Beauneveu, Jacquemart de Hesdin, and the Limbourg brothers. The epitome of elegance was reached in the Très riches heures du duc de Berry (Chantilly) by the Limbourg brothers, showing a fusion of the refined Parisian style with the more realistic art of Flanders and also the influence of Italian panel painting.

Other notable works of the 15th cent. include the Hours of Catherine of Cleves (c.1428–45; Morgan Library) and illuminations of the Master of Mary of Burgundy (Bodleian, Oxford). The Boucicaut Master also made notable contributions. From the region of Tours came the highly accomplished Hours of Étienne Chevalier (Chantilly) by Jean Fouquet and the work of his pupil Jean Bourdichon. In England the early 14th-century art of illumination was nearly indistinguishable from that of France, e.g. Queen Mary's Psalter (British Mus.).

Italy was an important center of illumination in the 15th and 16th cent. Among those who worked as illuminators were Fra Angelico, Mantegna (briefly), Liberale da Verona, and Giulio Clovio. In general, illuminations were no longer closely related to the text but became little paintings in Renaissance frames. The decline of the art of the miniature was made inevitable by the invention of the printing press, and toward the end of the 15th cent. wood-block prints began to replace painted illumination.

Illumination in the Middle East and India

For information on the art of illumination in the Middle East and in India see Persian art and architecture; Islamic art and architecture; Mughal art and architecture; Indian art and architecture.


Since the mid-1960s many illuminated books have been published in relatively inexpensive facsimile editions. See S. Mitchell, Medieval Manuscript Painting (1965); D. Diringer, The Illuminated Book (rev. ed. 1967); D. M. Robb, The Art of the Illuminated Manuscript (1972); O. Pacht, Book Illumination in the Middle Ages (1987); J. J. G. Alexander, The Painted Page (1995); T. B. Husband, The Art of Illumination (museum catalog, 2009).

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illumination Coloured decorations serving to beautify manuscripts of religious books, the earliest dating from about the 5th century. The style ranges from decoration of initial letters and borders to miniatures and full-page illustrations. Glowing colours and the use of gold leaf are common features. Early medieval illuminations were produced by monks. Illumination was at its height during the 14th and 15th centuries when the International Gothic style was in use by such Flemish and French artists as the Limbourg brothers and Jean Fouquet.

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illumination The distribution of light falling on a surface. See local illumination, global illumination.

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illumination (in physics)

illumination, in physics: see lighting; photometry.

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