This is Post 19 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found by clicking here.
In the previous five posts I have been talking about the inner landscape of the blue Eastern Quadrant of the mandala – the Thinking function; the Mental Body; the Hara chakra (second chakra); the brahmavihāra of Equanimity; the qualia of Being; the attitude of objectivity; the ethical characteristics of honesty and integrity; and the mirror as a symbol of Consciousness and of non-dual wisdom. We also started to explore the polarity between, or the choice between: the peaceful, objectively observing, and embodied, style of consciousness, which is associated with Equanimity and Being; and the fragile, judgemental, mentally-constructed, and obsessively self-referencing form of identity, which psychology might speak of in terms of narcissism.
Cosmic Appreciation and Gratitude
Circumambulating clockwise round the mandala, we come next to the Southern Quadrant of the mandala and to the brahmavihāra of muditā. In Tibetan Buddhist tradition the Southern Quadrant is yellow – the colour of gold and of the earth. Muditā is often translated as Sympathetic Joy, and occasionally translated as Empathetic Joy, but Appreciative Joy is, in my view, a better translation. While I have sometimes been happy to translate muditā as Sympathetic Joy, as I was first taught, many years ago, I now prefer to use Appreciative Joy.
Traditionally muditā is understood to refer to our innate sympathetic response to the happiness and achievements of others. It is certainly this, and it is naturally present in all those types of social interactions and responses to events in the world that are in any way genuine expressions of appreciation and gratitude. It is important however, to recognise that muditā, in its archetypal and suprapersonal essence as mahamuditā, or Great Appreciative Joy, is a cosmic principle – an attitude of Consciousness itself.
Muditā can best be thought of as the appreciative response of fully integrated Consciousness to the apparently physical body, the world, and the universe, as we experience these through our senses – perhaps a sense of wonder comes close to it. It is important however that we do not try to reduce muditā to a word or a phrase – it is enormously rich with meanings and implications. I shall need to give several posts to exploring it in detail.
Consciousness pervades our Bodies, our World, and our Universe
Consciousness pervades, equally and evenly, every tissue and cell of our physical bodies and every atom of our planet. Indeed this perfectly equal distribution of Consciousness pervades every rock, plant, and animal, of our world, and even pervades the vast vacuum of space and all the other stars and galaxies.
In the new science of Quantum Physics we can no longer regard the universe as dead matter and empty space, in the way that the scientific materialists and many religious fundamentalists do. Rather, our universe is ordered in a unified and integrated way that is closer to the visions of the mystics and the founders of our religions, than it is to the scientific materialism of Isaac Newton and René Descartes. We are obliged, it seems, to recognise that our bodies, our world, and our universe, are embodied Consciousness.
Quantum Physics – the Scientists and the Mystics are of One Mind
Quantum Physics presents a vision of a single universe in which two completely different worlds are present simultaneously. One may be called the ‘Newtonian’ world of ‘Classical’ Physics – the observable, measurable, tangible world of apparent atomic particles. The other is the unknowable Quantum Mechanical world of wave energy, the sub-atomic world out of which the apparently physical objects of Sensation mysteriously appear. Indeed Quantum Physics suggests, to many of those who strive to interpret the experimental results, that the Quantum Mechanical world is a reality that has the character of a unified field of Consciousness.
It is important to recognise however that the Quantum Mechanical world is referred to as unknowable and ‘dark’ only because it is not knowable to the senses – and does not obey the laws of Classical physics. In reality, this Quantum world is far from dark in the sense of negative. On the contrary, Quantum field is the energetic ground of the universe, which nourishes and gives form to everything in the Classical world, and everything in our experience. The parallels between the mystical vision of the Buddhist tradition and those of other religious and spiritual traditions are obvious.
The presence, in Quantum Physics, of clear evidence of a vast unitary and unknowable dimension of the universe, which is supporting, animating, and interpenetrating the concrete universe, is profoundly affirming – and for meditators it draws us into a deeper and more appreciative engagement with the mystery of our experience. Speaking in spiritual metaphor, and bearing witness to our experience as we look within, while also holding in mind this scientific knowledge, we might say that Quantum Physics suggests – or perhaps objectively confirms – that our universe is filled with a compassionate life supporting energy like a bright and benevolent light.
Sensory Embodiment – a Crystallisation out the Field of Consciousness
In truth, when we perceive our bodies and our world through our senses, as we do in every moment of our waking lives, we are experiencing a moment-to-moment process of creation – a mysterious material crystallisation of a physical and sensory world, out of the concentrated solution of Consciousness that has carried the potential to create such a world since the birth of the universe. As human beings we are aware, even if we have only a basic knowledge of Astrophysics, Quantum Physics, and Evolutionary Biology, of the fact that we are standing at the pinnacle of a vast evolutionary process.
While the scientific materialists will assert that all this is meaningless, those who meditate and investigate their experience closely, and those who attend to their heart’s knowing, cannot help but be aware that the evolutionary process appears to unfolded as if it had an inherent purpose and intentionality from the beginning. This evolutionary vision when we receive it fully and allow it to effect us, fills us with a sense of meaning, purpose, appreciation, and compassionate understanding in regard to the human condition.
Human beings have always looked for the origin, the purpose, and the meaning, of this universe and of human life, and each of the religions since prehistoric times have tried to answer these questions. Now Science seems to saying that a form of proto-Consciousness is inherent in the unitary Quantum field that pervades the universe; and that this has in turn ensured that Consciousness is inherent in biological life and has given it an evolutionary direction. This biological evolution has further ensured that in homo sapiens full Consciousness – in the sense of awareness of being aware – has been optimised.
Our more imaginative Quantum Physicists have referred to the field of Consciousness as an ‘ocean of potentiality’. The field of Consciousness, it seems, is fulfilling its potential in us – in the creation of beings who are able not only to know Consciousness, but also to embody it, and to reflect its qualities in a physical, biological, and sensory form.
Sensation – a Gateway into Spiritual Liberation
The Southern Quadrant of the mandala is the realm of the Sensation function and of the Physical Body, and is very fruitful territory for self inquiry. The Buddhist tradition used the term vedanā skandha (Sanskrit) for perceptual function of Sensation, and early Buddhist texts repeatedly refer to it as a key gateway into spiritual liberation. The concept of the vedanā skandha refers to a very rich and complex reality however, and it refers to both the more obvious domain of ‘external’ and objective perceptions through the five senses, and the more subtle ‘internal’ and subjective perceptions such as the experience of the internal space of the body. As we investigate our experience carefully, we find that both of these domains are not at all as concrete as they appear – indeed we find that both the Sensing functions of the mind, and the sensory data that flows though them are ’empty’, or non-personal.
Our assumptions about the entirely personal nature of the Consciousness that sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches, or senses balance and proprioception (position sense), is not born out by our actual experience when we examine it closely. When we look for the ‘I’ that ‘sees’ for example, we cannot locate it. The sensory apparatus of the body exists, and there is certainly a field of Consciousness but, the process of perception is clearly much more mysterious than it is assumed to be, and very difficult to describe.
The Buddha and various other wise ones, and now the new mystics of Quantum Physics, are suggesting that there is a very real sense in which the sum of our collective consciousness creates, or at least profoundly affects our collective material world – and not the other way around as the scientific materialists would have us believe.
Quantum Mechanics – we Continuously Create our Body and Our World
Not only are our sense perceptions assembled by the brain on a neurological level, but more fundamentally, our body and our world is continuously being assembled by Quantum Mechanical processes that involve Consciousness – and we, as Conscious Observers, are significantly affecting that creation process through the mental, emotional, and volitional energy of our participation in the perceptual process.
The implications of this for the meditator is clearly enormous. I hope, in the course of this series of posts, to at least start to approach the difficult questions that this throws up, and to start to give some sense of the power it gives to us, to understand that the energy of our attention is not only profoundly affecting our relationships, but even affecting our experience of our body – and even perhaps affecting the occurrence of events in our world.
These articles are best read in sequence. To go to the next article in the series just click the ‘Next’ button at the bottom of the page. For an overview of the sequence, with short summaries of each article, click here.