This is Post 6 in the ‘Mandala of Love’ book blog series.
In previous posts, I have spoken about our need for a psychology that gives us a language with which to talk about soul and spirit and Consciousness, and of my belief that we do not have to be scholars or psychotherapists trained in Carl Jung’s tradition, in order to make use of his powerful psychology of the archetypes, or archetypal psychology. The Mandala of the Five Buddhas, which was such an inspiration to Carl Jung, came out the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, and I would like to talk briefly about that tradition before moving on to talk about the mandala archetype in more general terms.
The Mahayana – the Expansion of the Buddha’s Vision
The Mahayana or ‘Great Vehicle’ is the phase of development of Buddhism that emerged in the Indian subcontinent during the 1st Century BCE, and thereafter spread to most of the countries of Asia. Although the rich and refined culture of the Indian Mahayana was almost entirely destroyed by the invasions of India in the Middle Ages, the vestiges of it remain because it was translated, before its demise in India, into so many other Asian cultural forms – in Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Singapore.
A Buddhist Archetypal Psychology?
I am not trying to persuade anyone to become a Buddhist, but I need to point out that Mahayana Buddhist culture is a very special phenomenon in world history. It functioned for centuries, and continues to function to this day, as both a very sophisticated system of spiritual psychology, a form of archetypal psychology, as well as a religion. Although there is a greater emphasis on philosophical study and self-enquiry for the monks than for the lay community, the devotional element is always present. And yet even though the Mahayana is characterised by a strongly devotional culture, and a vast profusion of male and female archetypal buddhas (and bodhisattvas – buddhas in training), it is not a theistic religion in the sense of say Jewish-Christian-Islamic monotheism, or Ancient Greek and Roman polytheism.
We can make this distinction for many reasons. Foremost among these is the fact that Buddhist practitioners are, for the most part, fully aware of that the objects of their devotion are projections. This act of projection is embraced by the practitioner as a means to the end of familiarising themselves with their own Divine nature. Furthermore it is recognised that the distinction between self and other is this regard, is a false one anyway, since the core of the experienced personal self is found to be transpersonal and archetypal.
The Bodhisattva – one who rests as Consciousness
What is most distinctive about Mahayana Buddhism is its very strongly altruistic spirit – its philosophy of kindness and compassion and the emergence of the bodhisattva archetype. This emphasis on kindness and compassion of course reflects the nature of Consciousness, but it finds wider expression culturally in the mythic stories and images of the bodhisattvas, which personify a attitude of receptivity to Consciousness and its qualities. Present in all the cultural forms of Mahayana Buddhism, a bodhisattva is a more accessible figure than a buddha, like a sort of apprentice buddha.
The bodhisattva presents a much more realistic goal for human aspiration – not a perfected being but one who is undergoing a process of perfection. A paradoxical and very important feature of the bodhisattva’s process is its apparent ease-fullness and playfulness. It would be easy to mistake the bodhisattva for a sort of hero, but this would be incorrect. In general, the heroes of mythology represent the egoic will – whereas the bodhisattva is one who is swept along by the cosmic will. His or her compassionate motivation arises from Consciousness as a transpersonal or archetypal force.
A bodhisattva could therefore perhaps be described as a being who rests in, and identifies with Consciousness, and is in an effortless process of embodying the ethical and relational qualities of Consciousness ever more deeply.
A Compassionate, Healing and Evolutionary force
The bodhisattva can therefore also be thought of as a personification of the compassionate, healing, and evolutionary drive in the universe – the volitional dimension or purposeful activity of Consciousness that has been present throughout the process of biological evolution, and is always present in history when human culture is developing away from violence and towards wisdom, social justice, and sustainability. I shall be talking more about this evolutionary principle in Consciousness in later blog posts in both this Mandala of Love book blog series, and in my Meditation Blog series.
© William Roy Parker 2017