This is Post 20 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found by clicking here.
Each of the four brahmavihāras is a doorway into meditation and a doorway into a key aspect of spiritual truth. Muditā, which is usually translated as Sympathetic Joy, but is perhaps better translated as Appreciative Joy, is a particularly important doorway for us however. As I have been explaining in the last two of posts, the body, because of its seeming obviousness, is easily misunderstood and overlooked, when in reality it is our entry point into the mysterious somatic dimension. Without examining this bodily-felt dimension through meditative enquiry, the universal blessing which is our experience of embodied Consciousness cannot be fully received and understood.
The Body – our Doorway to Somatic Transformation
I have talked in a previous post (here) about the importance of acknowledging and becoming deeply familiar with the seven subtle bodies (and the seven chakras) – especially the first four bodies, which correspond to the quadrants of the mandala, and which we may call the four surface bodies. The subtle bodies are important because they provide us with a way of understanding that meditation, while it takes the apparently physical body as its starting point, gives us a way of engaging directly with these ‘subtle’, or non-physical, dimensions of our experience, which are nevertheless felt in the body.
Using the map that the mandala provides, these energetic or somatic dimensions can be distinguished and discerned in meditation. When we first start to meditate we experience the way the subtle bodies have a felt quality that reflects the psychological parts that we have fallen into identification with. As we learn to rest as Consciousness however – and learn to break our identification with psychological parts, if only in brief moments of Mindfulness, or in periods of meditation – the energies of the subtle bodies can start to transform. Even if we only practice resting as Consciousness for short moments of time whenever we remember to do so, this can be very significant, because we come to recognise our choice – and our power to transform ourselves in this way.
Our egoic identification with psychological parts – and with their component cognitive-perceptual functions and cognitive-perceptual data (the skandhas) – is a bodily-felt, or somatic, experience. The moments of Mindfulness, or resting as Consciousness, are also a bodily-felt, or somatic, experience. Once the power of the choice to ‘rest’ out of our identifications is recognised, and we recognise the extraordinary benefit of Mindful states – states of alignment with, and ‘as’ Consciousness – we naturally become increasingly strongly motivated to return to those states of alignment. And this, of course, profoundly effects the physical body, and profoundly affects the quality of our lives, because we naturally begin to embody the ethical and relational principles that Indian tradition called the brahmavihāras.
Resting the Four Surface Bodies as Consciousness
The meditation mandala, which I have been calling the ‘Mandala of Love’, gives us a very powerful explanatory framework for conceptualising how the four brahmavihāras, or attitudes of Consciousness, are reflected somatically as bodily-felt energetic states of the four surface bodies (as listed below). The brahmavihāras are most keenly felt at the locations of the first four chakras (the base chakra, hara chakra, solar plexus chakra, and heart chakra), but it is important that we allow ourselves to notice that they are also be experienced throughout the body – and often beyond the physical boundary of the body.
The Physical Body (base chakra) is where we experience the somatic reflection of the attitude of Appreciative Joy (muditā); the Mental Body (hara chakra) is where we experience the somatic reflection of Equanimity (upekshā); the Emotional Body (solar plexus chakra) is where we experience the somatic reflection of the attitude of mettā (Loving-Kindness); and the Volitional Body (heart chakra) is where we experience the somatic reflection of the attitude of Compassion (karunā).
The Joy of Ethical Transformation
As our felt-sense of somatic alignment with, and embodiment of, Consciousness becomes deeper and clearer, it is reflected in our imagination, in our relationships, and in our behaviour. Although the process of transformation is integrated, and can begin anywhere, it is helpful, especially from the point of view of meditation, to understand it as beginning with the transformation of our surface bodies by our receptivity to Consciousness. The brahmavihāras therefore start as aspects of Consciousness; are integrated as bodily-felt states of somatic alignment; and this is then reflected in a completely unforced ethical transformation of our imagination, our relationships, our communication, and our behaviour.
By exploring how the energies of these first four subtle bodies operate in us, affect us, and relate to each other psychodynamically, we have a way of understanding and more reliably achieving the Mindful and healing state of ‘resting as Consciousness’. We also gain an understanding of how meditation works, as a process for affecting our physical well-being, our relationships, and our world, and open ourselves to a deep and subtle joy that is always available to us. While Sympathetic Joy also describes our generous, appreciative, and inclusive relationship with our world and with other people, the cultivation of it starts with our own joy, as we recognise, appreciate, savour, and celebrate, our bodily-felt connection with Consciousness, as we experience the way it pervades our body.
Mindfulness of our Body and our World
The core of the Buddha’s teaching was his ‘remembering practice’ (see my previous post – here), which has come down to us in translation as the practice of ‘Mindfulness’. I have, in general, avoided talking about Mindfulness so far in this series of articles, because I believe it is a much misunderstood teaching. There are a several commonly held assumptions about the practice that I do not subscribe to, and would wish to challenge. While I celebrate the widespread interest in the practice, I am concerned that it is often distorted and reduced both by Buddhist teachers and by its incorporation by the psychology profession.
The Buddha’s remembering practice is easily misunderstood because we tend to approach it in a dualistic way – a view that sees the practice as one in which an egoic subject is paying attention by an effort of the egoic will to objects that are regarded as separate. Mindfulness is such a vast and subtle idea as to almost completely indescribable, but I would tentatively suggest that something like: resting as Consciousness while experiencing fully, might provide a more adequate pointing – because it suggests that our outer attention is, in Mindfulness, always balanced by an openness to the inner reality of (empty) Consciousness. By explicitly pointing out that Mindfulness requires a foundation in self-inquiry practice, we can get a little closer to honouring the great depth and subtlety of the Buddha’s intention.
The experience of allowing ourselves to identify with Consciousness and embody Consciousness, while recognising that Consciousness is non-personal, is very different from merely paying greater attention to the body as an object. Likewise the experience of noticing that our world and our universe are pervaded by a unitary field of Consciousness is very different from merely paying greater attention to objects in our world. It is important to remember that the Buddha was a great non-duality teacher and teacher of self-inquiry, and that Mindfulness has to regarded as integral to his approach to self-inquiry, and as a extension of profound meditative-inquiry practice into the activities of daily life.
Mindfulness – Quality not Quantity
In regard to Mindfulness, I would like to suggest that it is quality and not quantity that is most important. It is better to achieve occasional short moments of deep recognition of Consciousness, than many hours of intense attention on objects in which this deeper perspective, and actual recognition of the qualities of Consciousness, is lacking.
In regard to the practice of Mindfulness of the body and of Sensation, the Buddha would have emphasised an equality of attention between the sensory object of Consciousness and Consciousness itself. The attention to the all-pervading context of our experience – the non-personal Consciousness that is experiencing – is ultimately equal in the perceptual process of Mindfulness, to the attention on the sensory objects themselves. And the Buddha would have recognised that this expansive and equal quality of attention that we bring to our experience when we find this balance, is an expression of what ancient Indian tradition called muditā, or Appreciative Joy.
Indeed it seems to me, that when we are fully conscious of either bodily states and sensory objects, Appreciative Joy, with its characteristics of appreciation and inclusiveness, is always present. Our cultivation therefore, of both that state of somatic alignment, and that attitude of Consciousness, which is Sympathetic Joy, is crucial if we wish to practice Mindfulness as the Buddha intended.
The Southern Quadrant – the Realm of the Creators
The yellow Southern Quadrant of the mandala, which is associated with Appreciative Joy, can be thought of as the realm of the creators – the inventors, the craftsmen, the artists, the musicians, the performers, the engineers, the physicians, the carers, the teachers, the nurturers, and the organisers – the practical people who love the detailed and specific work of meeting real needs in the real world. The attitude of Appreciative Joy invites us to approach our creative work from a deep place – from embodied Consciousness; from an expansive and generous and social perspective; from an environmental sensibility rooted in a sense of wonder; and with that cosmic sense of purpose which is Compassion.
For those who would wish to achieve spiritual transformation that goes really deep – so that it heals not only the individual soul, but the soul of the world – the yellow Southern Quadrant is the place where real magic happens, in our body and in our physical world.
When we learn to rest the Physical Body as Consciousness as part of the meditation-cycle of the brahmavihāras, we come to a new understanding of what it is to be a creator. We come to know our own body as embodied Consciousness; we recognise the grand evolutionary purpose of our beautiful planet; and our practical engagement with our world is recognised as a co-creation supported by benevolent suprapersonal forces – so that, even in the face of enormous challenge of the horrific mess that egoic identification creates, we find the capacity to relax and enjoy the process.
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.