I think most Course students find the Great Rays a somewhat captivating topic. The term itself sounds cool. It’s also capitalized, which makes it seem Bigger and more Mysterious. But what exactly are the Great Rays? And perhaps more importantly, of what practical use are they? Or are they just a kind of magnet for empty fascination?
I think we can answer just about all these questions with a single passage:
As the ego would limit your perception of your brothers to the body, so would the Holy Spirit release your vision and let you see the Great Rays shining from them, so unlimited that they [the Rays] reach to God. (T-15.IX.9:1)
So we have a choice in how we see our brothers. We can see their body. We can see them defined by their body, by its small size (the Course asks, “How can a body be extended to hold the universe?”—T-23.IV.2:7), by its beauty or ugliness, and most of all, by its deeds and misdeeds. This is how we normally see people, right? If we are shallow, we judge them by their appearance. If we are deep, we judge them by their character, which is basically the sum total of their body’s deeds and misdeeds. Either way, it amounts to seeing them as their body.
But there is another way to see them. Instead of seeing the body, we can instead “see the Great Rays.” To understand what these Rays are, we first need to get a visual idea of what’s being described here. The Rays are “shining from them”—from our brothers—and reaching “to God.” The visual, then, is obvious, the Rays are shining from us and shining to God. This is the key to understanding them.
Now imagine that you are looking at someone you know (it will help to pick somebody in particular). At first, you just look at her appearance and how physically attractive or unattractive she is. Then you realize that’s shallow, and so you think about her character. You review her kindnesses and unkindnesses. In light of the latter, she now, to some degree, appears to be sinful.
Then you feel your vision going past her body, to the point where the body fades from awareness. From your standpoint, it might as well not be there. And as your sight moves past it, you become aware of a light. The light starts as a tiny spark in the area that was her body. But as it grows brighter, it starts to send out rays. So now you see bright rays of light extending from her—extending outward, say, about six feet.
But these rays keep growing. They become longer and longer, so that as far as the eye can see they just keep going. They never seem to end. They appear to be truly unlimited. They thus fully deserve the term “Great Rays.” These Rays are so unlimited, in fact, that they reach all the way to God and fuse with His limitless Light.
If you really imagine such Rays shining from this person, how does she now seem? I don’t think there is any mystery there. She seems holy, the opposite of sinful. And she seems purely spiritual, the opposite of merely physical. She has gone from a tiny hunk of sinning flesh to a vast radiance of divine light. Traditionally, we are used to thinking of Christian saints or Buddhist bodhisattvas as emanating rays of light. So now this person will seem more like a saint or bodhisattva than the ordinary, hum-drum individual she seemed like before.
And therein lies the practicality of the Great Rays. Before we see them for real, as a real experience, we can imagine seeing them. And even when you just imagine seeing such vast Rays shining from someone, it is very hard to see that person in the same way that you did before. To practice this, you might even want to repeat a line drawn from our passage above:
“Let me see the Great Rays shining from [name], so unlimited that they reach to God.”