This is Post 19 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series.
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 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 calls 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 much better translation. While I used to be 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 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 the next four or five 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 distinguishes what may be called the ‘Newtonian’ world of ‘Classical’ Physics – the observable, measurable, tangible world of apparent atomic particles – from the unknowable Quantum Mechanical world of wave energy, out of which the apparently physical objects of Sensation mysteriously appear. Indeed Quantum Physics tells us that only a tiny proportion of the universe is available to the senses. All the rest is ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’ – and this unmeasurable reality has the character of a unified field of Consciousness.
It is important to recognise however that the Quantum Mechanical world is referred to as ‘dark’ only because it is not knowable to the senses – and does not obey the laws of Classical physics. Speaking in spiritual metaphor, we can say that the presence of these ‘dark’ or unknowable aspects of the universe suggests – or perhaps even objectively confirms – that our universe is filled with 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 have both the vision and the responsibility that comes with the fact that we are standing at the pinnacle of a vast creative process – a process that appears to have had an inherent purpose and intentionality from the beginning.
Human beings has 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 it is Consciousness that has given the great evolutionary process its direction. 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 word vedanā (Sanskrit) for Sensation, and ancient texts repeatedly refer to it as a key gateway into spiritual liberation. As we look within in self-inquiry, we find that the domain of the five senses is not at all as concrete as it appears – for several reasons.
Firstly, 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.