What Are the Great Rays?

Question: What exactly are the "Great Rays?"

Short answer: The Great Rays are the Rays of (nonphysical) light and holiness that radiate from the Christ in each of us. We heal our brothers and ourselves by looking past the darkness of our brothers' bodies to the Great Rays in them. This paves the way for return to full knowledge of the light of God.

The Great Rays are the Rays of (nonphysical) light and holiness that radiate from the Christ in each of us.

The term "Great Rays" occurs only seven times in the Course,* yet it has long fascinated Course students. Just what are the Great Rays? To some, the term brings auras to mind. Others are reminded of the "seven great rays" described in the works of Alice Bailey, rays of quasi-physical energy that emanate from God and underlie the physical universe. Many Course students believe that we—the Sonship—are the Great Rays, shining out from God our Creator like sunbeams from the sun.

Yet based on the Course's own references, I believe that the Course uses the term "Great Rays" to refer to something different from the above descriptions. In its usage, the Great Rays are the nonphysical Rays of light and holiness that radiate from the Christ in each of us. This definition is different from the above descriptions in at least two ways. First, the Course's Great Rays are nonphysical light; this must be so because they are revealed through true perception, which is nonphysical vision. Therefore, the Course is not speaking here of auras or any kind of quasi-physical energy like the astral and ethereal energies of occult lore (though visions of physical light around people and things can symbolize true light—see W-pI.15.2-3).

Second, rather than depicting the Rays emanating from God, the Course's usage always depicts them emanating from the Son—specifically, from our brothers and ourselves. Now of course, the Son comes from God, so one could rightly say that the ultimate Source of the Great Rays is God. My point here is simply that whenever the Course uses the term "Great Rays," the picture it paints is not one in which those Rays are shining out from God the Father, but one in which the Great Rays are shining out from our brothers and ourselves.

Here is one reference that clearly shows the Great Rays emanating from our brothers:

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 reach to God. (T-15.IX.1:1)

There is also this beautiful passage, which depicts the Great Rays emanating from both our brothers and ourselves, shining so brightly that we act as lamps unto each other's feet as we journey to God:

You have found your brother, and you will light each other's way. And from this light will the Great Rays extend back into darkness and forward unto God. (T-18.III.8:6-7)

The Great Rays, then, are the radiance of Christ that streams forth from each of us as a Son of God. Like the golden halo that shines out from Jesus in medieval paintings, the Rays are the halo of holiness that shines out from us. We might imagine them as great shafts of light pouring forth in all directions from each brother that we see, and from ourselves as well. (Visualizing this is actually a great exercise; I will present such an exercise below.) They are the light of our true Self, revealed through the vision of Christ. They are the ever-present reminder that our true Identity is holier and more glorious than we have ever dared imagine.

We heal our brothers and ourselves by looking past the darkness of our brothers' bodies to the Great Rays in them.

Though there are few references to the Great Rays in the Course, an entire process of healing can be drawn out from those references. This healing process is essentially a gradual shifting of perception from physical sight, which sees only darkness in everyone, to spiritual vision, which reveals the Great Rays streaming forth from everyone. This process can be divided into five basic steps, which I will briefly summarize here.

1. We see darkness.

Normally we see only darkness. This is the Course's way of saying that normally we look upon the physical world with our physical eyes, and regard it as the only reality. More specifically, when we look at a brother, our sight is limited to his body, "an isolated speck of darkness" (T-20.VI.5:2). Whenever we see somebody, we see some body. Even when we notice a person's mental or personality traits, we see them as traits of a particular body.

Based on such traits, we categorize the bodies we see. Some bodies we regard as "enemies" who are out to make us miserable, and others we regard as "friends" whom we hope will make us happy. This dark perception of our brothers amounts to not really seeing them at all; to "see darkness" is really an oxymoron, since darkness is a condition that makes seeing impossible. Seeing our brothers as bodies blinds us to the Great Rays in them, which represent who they really are.

2. We look honestly at the darkness and realize we do not want it.

The first step out of this darkness is simply to look at it without flinching. With the Holy Spirit's help, we must begin "the necessary process of looking straight at all the interference and seeing it exactly as it is" (T-15.IX.2:1). The "interference" here is both our perception of our brothers as bodies, and our belief that this perception will give us something we want.

We must begin to realize that all this perception has really brought us is pain. Whether our brothers' bodies offend us or please us, it doesn't really matter. By seeing them as bodies, we've reduced them from glorious, limitless spiritual beings to little slabs of meat on the butcher block of the world. And since we inevitably see ourselves the same way we see our brothers, we have condemned ourselves to the same butcher block. As we see this and get in touch with how painful it really is, we become much more willing to cut through the interference that has blinded us to the vision of the Great Rays.

3. We see a little spark of light in our brothers.

Our current perception of our brothers and ourselves is dark indeed. However, each of us carries a little spark of light within ourselves—the spark that originally lit the Great Rays when we were created. We have shrouded it in such deep darkness that "in many only the spark remains" (T-10.IV.8:1). Yet once we are willing to see past the interference, we can enter a holy instant, and look beyond our brothers' bodies to the little spark in them. Our physical eyes continue to see bodies, but to our spiritual vision "the little spark that holds the Great Rays within it is also visible" (T-16.VI.6:3). We begin to catch the faintest glimpse of who our brothers really are.

4. Seeing the little spark in them reveals the Great Rays in all their glory. This heals our brothers.

Our glimpse of our brothers' reality may be faint at first, but it does not remain that way. "This spark cannot be limited long to littleness" (T-16.VI.6:3). Seeing the spark leads inevitably to seeing the lamp lit by that spark: the Great Rays. What could the sight of bodies give us that compares to this? Who would want to see slabs of meat all around him when he can see instead the infinite glory of the Great Rays?

This vision of who our brothers really are is true perception, the agent of healing, and so it inevitably heals our brothers. Indeed, just "perceiving the spark will heal" (T-10.IV.8:4). As we behold the Great Rays of light and holiness radiating from the Christ in our brothers, we withdraw our reinforcement from their self-perception as bodies. Through our vision of them as the Christ, we show them who they really are. How could they not be healed?

5. This heals us: we become aware of the Great Rays in ourselves.

Since we see ourselves as we see our brothers, seeing the Great Rays in our brothers inevitably leads to us seeing the Great Rays in ourselves. The radiant light that we see in our brothers shines from them into our own minds. Seeing that our brothers are holy beings of light convinces us that we too must be holy beings of light. Through looking past our brothers' bodies and seeing who they really are, we discover who we really are: "I am Your Son, forever just as You created me, for the Great Rays remain forever still and undisturbed within me" (W-pII.360.1:2).

Seeing the Great Rays: a practice

Here is a brief practice we can use as an aid to seeing the Great Rays. It is loosely based on the practice of Workbook Lesson 121, and takes us through the basic process outlined above. This practice uses imagery of physical light, which the Course often uses as a symbolic aid to bring about an experience of the nonphysical light of Christ.

Bring to mind a brother; it doesn't matter whom.
It could be someone you like, or someone you dislike.
Picture him in your mind; imagine his appearance.
Think of all the ways he has impacted your life, for good or ill.
Think of the things he has done that have distressed you,
and the things he has done that have pleased you.
Notice how your entire picture of him is centered on his body,
and what it says and does.
You are not seeing who your brother really is at all.
You are only seeing his body,
and so you are seeing darkness.
Say to your brother, "I see only darkness as I look upon you now."
Now, think about what this perception of your brother has brought you.
Look closely at both the distress your brother's body has given you,
and the pleasure it has given you.
Has any of this, even the pleasure, really brought you lasting happiness?
Seeing your brother as a body keeps you separate from him.
This perception condemns him to a tiny prison,
doomed to suffer limitation, loss, pain, sickness, aging, and death.
And because you see yourself the same way you see him,
it condemns you to the exact same fate.
See if you can get in touch with the pain in this dark perception.
Say to your brother, "I am willing to look beyond the darkness I see in you."
Now, with the Holy Spirit's help,
open your mind to a new perception of your brother.
"Try to perceive some light in him somewhere;
a little gleam which you had never noticed.
Try to find some little spark of brightness
shining through the ugly picture that you hold of him." (W-pI.121.11:2-3).
Say to your brother, "I see the little spark in you."
Now, "Try to let this light extend until it covers him,
and makes the picture beautiful and good" (W-pI.121.11:4).
Let the spark you see in him expand
until it becomes the Great Rays,
streaming forth from your brother in radiant glory.
This is what the darkness of his body hid from your sight.
This is who your brother really is:
the Christ, the holy Son of God.
Let this vision go forth from your mind to his mind.
Let it bring healing to your brother.
Say to your brother, "I see the Great Rays shining from you, so unlimited that they reach to God" (based on T-15.IX.1:1).
Now, "let him offer you the light you see in him" (W-pI.121.13:1).
Let the Great Rays in your brother shine into your own mind,
filling you with the radiant light and holiness of Christ.
What you have given, you have received.
Let the healing you have given your brother shine from his mind into yours.
The Great Rays stream forth from you and your brother alike.
Bask in this glorious vision.
Let the Great Rays in both of you mingle together,
and become one light.
Say to your brother in gratitude, "You stand with me in light, [name]" (W-pI.87.2:3).

This paves the way for return to full knowledge of the light of God.

With time and practice, we will look past our brothers' bodies and see the Great Rays more and more. The Course promises us that we will eventually see the entire world bathed in the reflection of God's light. Beyond those slabs of meat that once brought us such pain, the eyes of Christ in us will behold the joyous "vision of the Son of God" (T-21.I.9:1): "an arc of golden light….extending to infinity forever shining and with no break or limit anywhere" (T-21.I.8:1,4). The time will come when we will walk the world transfixed with a vision of indescribable glory.

Yet this vision is not the end, but a harbinger of far greater things: "Once you have accepted it as the only perception you want, it is translated into knowledge by the part that God Himself plays in the Atonement" (T-15.IX.1:5). The vision opens up to reality. The reflection of God's light is translated into the light itself. The true perception that brings the Great Rays into our awareness on earth is transformed at last into the infinite knowledge of God's light in Heaven.

* The seven references to the term "Great Rays": T-10.IV.8:1, T-15.IX.1:1, T-15.IX.3:1, T-16.VI.4:5, T-16.VI.6:3, T-18.III.8:7, and W-pII.360.1:2. There are also a few other references to "Rays," capitalized.

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