This is Post 32 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found by clicking here.
In this ‘Meditation Guidance’ series, I have frequently drawn on the wisdom that Carl Jung articulated in his mandala-form psychological model of the ‘Four Functions of Consciousness’, as we have been exploring the corresponding mandala of the four brahmavihāras – the ancient Indian ‘attitudes’ of Consciousness that were adopted so enthusiastically by the Buddha. Also, drawing on the Tibetan Buddhist form of the mandala, I have, in recent months been looking in detail at the dichotomies within each of the first three Quadrants of the mandala. Sometimes these dichotomies appears as clear oppositions, but I have endeavoured to show that they can also resolve into relationships in which we recognise the two poles as expressions of the same archetypal principle – but manifesting as dysfunction and limitation on the egoic level, and as wisdom and supreme benefit on the level of Consciousness. We saw this in the apparent opposition of the egoic Thinking function and Equanimity in the East; then the apparent opposition of the egoic Sensation function and Appreciative Joy in the South; and most recently the apparent opposition of the egoic Feeling function and Loving Kindness in the West.
In each of these polarities, I have been highlighting the spiritual choices that are presented to us in life, between the ‘attitudes of Consciousness’ (the brahmavihāras) that we experience when we rest naturally as Consciousness, and the egoic expressions of the same archetypal principles, that we experience when we fall into identification with psychological parts. By exploring the imagery of the Buddha’s Six Realms, we have seen that the extreme of egoic identification through Thinking (rūpa skandha) is expressed in the archetypal psychology of the Hell Realms, or Narakas (here); that the extreme of egoic identification through Sensation (vedanā skandha) is expressed in the archetypal psychology of the Human Realm (here); and that the extreme of egoic identification through Feeling (samjñā skandha) is expressed in the archetypal psychology of the Preta Realms (here).
The Northern Quadrant – Compassion versus the Egoic Will
I would like now to move on clockwise round this mandala, to the Northern Quadrant, where we shall be looking at the egoic function of Intuition / Volition and the corresponding Volitional aspect Consciousness, which expresses itself in the brahmavihāra of Compassion. In Buddhist tradition, the archetypal Buddhas who preside over the Northern Quadrant are the male Buddha Amoghasiddhi and the female Buddha Green Tara, who embody two aspects of the All-Accomplishing Wisdom.
In the next few articles I will be addressing the core of the egoic will, that deep volitional aspect of the egoic mind, which the Buddha personified, in an extreme but very illuminating way, in the archetypal imagery of the Asura Realm – a realm of demonic, power-seeking anti-gods, or ‘Jealous Gods’. It is extremely valuable to have a familiarity with, and an acceptance of the style of egoic identification with Intuition/Volition (samskaras skandha), which the asura archetype represents – our envy-based, and fear-based drives for control. By first recognising this category of obscuring egoic energies (the kleshas of Buddhist tradition), we can in turn learn to let them go, and can thus reveal the universally present and universally benevolent spiritual energies that are hidden by them.
The Four Surface Bodies – Four Energetic Layers in our Experience of Presence
The mindset of the 19th Century scientific materialism, which is still with us despite the advent of Quantum Physics, has taught us to be sceptical, and to be suspicious of spiritual dogmas, and of things that cannot be concretely known and measured. While this has been a blessing and a step forward for humanity in some respects, it has also closed down our sense of the divine – at least in the developed world. Indeed, scientific materialism has done this to the point where it has itself become a dogma and a superstition. Thankfully, the new science of Quantum Mechanics has now, it seems, brought the realm of ‘spirit’, of metaphysics, of the irrational, and of ‘subtle energies’, into the domain of biology and psychology. As we begin to take in the implications of the findings of the sub-atomic scientists of Quantum Physics, we are also forced to take seriously some of the psychological, somatic, and spiritual phenomena that scientific materialism has previously caused us to dismiss.
For anyone interested in Consciousness, or engaged with meditation practice or in any form of psychotherapeutic innerwork, it is enormously helpful to have a conceptualisation that supports us to be present with the complexity of the bodily-felt experience of the somatic energies of embodied Consciousness – the internal fields of the body. Far from being an irrelevant abstraction, these phenomena are inseparably related to the health of our emotional life and the soundness of our ethical instincts – as I have been trying to show as we have been exploring the mandala of the brahmavihāras (Equanimity; Loving Kindness; Compassion; and Appreciative Joy). Especially relevant to our mandala framework for self-enquiry, are the four surface bodies – the first four subtle bodies – which correspond to brahmavihāras, and to the Five Wisdoms of Buddhist tradition, and whose presence is felt most keenly in the four lower chakras.
The Volitional Body – Egoic Control versus Compassionate Self-Surrender
An important part of our exploration in the next few articles will be in regard to the importance of recognising the Volitional Body in meditation. Of the four surface bodies, this is the deepest and most fundamental – but also perhaps the most difficult to understood. We can think of it as the energy body in which we carry our fear of lack; the energy of not-wanting; the energy of our envy; and the fear-based egoic motivations by which we want to control, dominate, and manipulate our world.
As we learn to rest as Consciousness however, the underlying energy of embodied Consciousness in this subtle body, is revealed to be quite the opposite. It is found to have the character of the evolutionary and healing energy of our innately Compassionate nature, and it is associated with an intuitive awareness of the benevolent life energy of our desire for true fulfilment, in ourselves and in others. Those who are deeply familiar with Consciousness gain a deep trust in life, and learn to surrender to these creative and compassionate energies, recognising that they are flowing through all of us at all times.
21st Century Spirituality – the Reality of Consciousness and Energy
Those who teach meditation from a rationalist or scientific materialist perspective that denies the objective reality of Consciousness and the energetic resonances of Consciousness in the field of the body, may be doing their students a great dis-service. It could be argued that they are in effect denying centuries of the experience of the great meditation traditions. Unfortunately those who do acknowledge the subtle bodies, also frequently mislead their students – by the superficiality and inaccuracy of the received opinions that they share as explanations; and by the quasi-mechanical and literalistic way in which they talk about these phenomena. The time is ripe for humanity in general, and for meditation practitioners in particular, to respond to the challenge of Quantum Mechanics, and to recognise that Consciousness is no less real than matter – and is in fact more fundamental – and that although it finds embodiment in us in complex energetic ways that are impossible to fully describe, we must try to describe that which is at the limit of what can be described, and must resist the temptation to fall back on scientific materialist assumptions.
Since returning to meditation practice in 2016, I have consistently experienced powerfully healing states of samadhi, or somatic integration – every time I sit to meditate. I attribute this to several factors. In part this was due to my new understanding of the Quantum Biology of the brain. This allowed me to recognise that the experience of Consciousness cannot be attributed to the brain, but rather is a feature of the relationship between the Classical and Quantum levels of the universe. This relationship is between the field of proto-Consciousness that is the basic Quantum space of the universe in one side, and the mechanisms of the molecular and neurological phenomena of consciousness in the neurons of the brain and nervous system on the other. I believe the Quantum Mechanical interface between the two levels has now been located and well described by Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose – it takes place in particular molecular structures within the large tubulin molecules that the microtubule structures within brain cells are made from.
There was a further contributing factor in that period of break-through. It was due to the fact that I started to consistently apply the traditional Tibetan Buddhist ‘subtle body’ teachings in the context of a non-dual and mandala-wisdom-based approach to meditation and self-enquiry – but with additional information that is not widely known, which I shall be explaining below. This consistent stability in my mediation practice, has given me the conviction to strongly encourage other meditators to study this information and to explore these energetic phenomena in their own practice. Those who would like to read my previous articles on this subject can read them here, here, here, here , and here.
Sexual Polarity – within Consciousness and within our experience of Presence
These understandings about the subtle bodies are of enormous value for people who wish to understand the nature of the feminine and the masculine, and the play of these different archetypal principles in our relationships, in our creative lives. These archetypal principles also find expression in our awareness of being aware – the difficult-to-talk-about experience of our consciousness of Consciousness. It is this subtle experience that we refer to with the words ‘Energy’ and ‘Presence’ – the words we use in English to describe the bodily-felt and intuitively perceived experience of energetic embodiment. This is a huge subject, and one that I have touched on before (here, and here) – and I will need to return to this theme many more times in this series of articles.
There are essentially two dimensions that it will be very useful for us to explore. Eventually, I would like to address the larger background phenomena of the way that the non-dual Consciousness is often experienced as itself containing a feminine-masculine polarity, as we see in Taoism, Tibetan Buddhism, and various other traditions. But first we need to understand, from an energetic point of view, why women and men are so different in their emotional lives, and why the meditative experience of the energetic fields of the body is subtly but significantly different for women and men.
The Differently-Alternating Polarity of the Chakras
I have previously introduced the strikingly obvious, but rarely acknowledged phenomena of the way the polarities of the subtle bodies, and their corresponding chakras, alternate – and alternate in the opposite way in women and men.
In those previous articles we were focusing on the first two, or bottom two, chakras, and it was acknowledged that in women, the Subtle Physical Body (and the Base Chakra) is yin, or receptive, and the Mental Body (and the Hara, or Second Chakra) is yang, or expansive; and conversely in men, the Subtle Physical Body (and the Base Chakra) is yang, or expansive, and the Mental Body (and the Hara, or Second Chakra) is yin, or receptive.
We need now to look at the same differently-alternating-polarity phenomena in regard to the Emotional Body (and the Solar Plexus, or manipura chakra, which I described previously – here), and the Volitional Body (and the Heart Chakra). Of the four surface bodies these two are the deepest and subtlest, while also being slightly larger – the Volitional Body is larger than the Emotional Body, and both contain the other two. It is extremely helpful for meditators to understand not only the location of the chakras (i.e. where to look in the field of the body for a felt-sense of the corresponding subtle bodies), but an understanding of the polarities of the subtle bodies and chakras (and bodies) is described by, and governed by the archetypal polarity of the feminine and masculine, or yin and yang.
So, it needs to be understood that in women, the Emotional Body (and the Solar Plexus Chakra) is yin or receptive, and the Volitional Body (and the Heart Chakra) is yang, or expansive; and conversely in men the Emotional Body (and the Solar Plexus Chakra) is yang, or expansive, and the Volitional Body (and the Heart Chakra) is yin, or receptive. The implications of this energetic difference are enormous, and I shall be exploring these further in my next article.
The Yin and Yang of Energetic Presence
Understanding these different polarities leads to profound insights into the nature of the masculine-feminine erotic bond – in both heterosexual and gay relationships. But perhaps even more importantly, it shows us important gender related differences in the way Consciousness is embodied, and therefore also in the brahmavihāras are embodied in women and men, as we learn to rest as Consciousness.
This bring a whole new dimension of complexity into our understanding of the brahmavihāras. Those who practice the brahmavihāras will already know that they each have both an introverted, or receptive, or self-regarding dimension, and an extraverted, or expansive, or other-regarding dimension. What I am saying here, is that we need to understand how this introverted-extraverted, or receptive-expansive, or self-other polarity, fits together with feminine-masculine, or yin-yang – and unfortunately the correspondence is not as simple as we might at first think. In our relative, egoic mode of functioning, everything is structured in polarities – and our unconsciousness is in part due to our unwillingness to acknowledge these polarities. We prefer to live in denial – only seeing one side of every issue; believing in half-truths; and living half-heartedly. The mandala calls us to overcome our unconscious biases and our one-sidedness, and to find wholeness and true wisdom.
The path of non-duality does not avoid polarities – it embraces them. I have, in some of my earlier posts, shied away from the apparent dualism of distinguishing Consciousness as the boundless field in which everything rests, on one side; from the experience of embodied Consciousness, or Presence, on the other. This is a necessary distinction to make however, because Consciousness is ever present and does not ever have to be cultivated, whereas Presence is a resonance, or reflection, of Consciousness in the field of the body, and certainly can be cultivated, through the practice of resting as Consciousness in meditation, or in the midst of activities.
Waking Up, Cleaning Up, and Growing Up
The reflection of Consciousness in the fields of the body is obscured by egoic patterning (the Buddhist mandala model identifies five categories of these obscurations – the five kleshas). Because of this, Presence appears to develop over time as we make the choice to rest as Consciousness whenever we remember to do so. This apparent ‘development’, is more accurately understood as a process of revealing what has always been present, but was previously obscured. The ‘waking up’ process of recognising Consciousness, needs to be followed up and integrated, by engagement in processes of ‘cleaning up’, and ‘growing up’ (to use the terminology of Ken Wilber) – processes by which we heal the accumulation of egoic patterning in our surface bodies, and start to move towards a state of psychological and ethical integrity that reflects our essential nature as Consciousness.
One of the distinctive features of the experience of ‘resting as Consciousness’ is the keen sense, or recognition, that Consciousness itself is utterly still and and unchanging. Paradoxically however, as we rest in that place in which we recognise that, in our primordial true nature, there is nothing that needs changing – and perhaps even that nothing ever does change – something in the surface of us does indeed change. In fact a very profound transformation begins to happen – seemly without effort.
What changes, and what gradually emerges and progressively deepens, is our experience of Presence – and this is our experience in meditation if we approach it as resting as Consciousness. As we rest as Consciousness, our identification with the egoic energies is progressively broken. Our dis-identification from the egoic energies, which normally fill our surface bodies, allows them to self-release – in a ongoing process that gets easier and easier.
Love and Compassion – Value and Volition
It is natural that the two words, ‘Love’, and ‘Compassion’, should be used synonymously, but it is helpful to distinguish them, as ancient Indian tradition does so well, when it distinguishes mettā (Loving Kindness) from karunā (Compassion).
Essentially mettā is the attitude of unconditionally valuing our experience; the ability to be unconditionally present; and to love what is. As I have endeavoured to explain in previous posts, mettā brings with it an ability to discern, through the function of Feeling, that which is good, beautiful, and truly of value. Mettā is the basis of our capacity to love, our capacity to be warmly and unconditionally present with others – connecting deeply with people, and holding them naturally and instinctively in our valuing attention.
Karunā, or Compassion, on the other hand, is about volition, motivation, and a desire for the good, and is that generous, open and energised state in which the personal will finds itself attenuated and called willingly and powerfully into the service of the needs of others – especially for the alleviation of suffering. Karunā is about empathy – an intuitive recognition of the needs of others – in such a way that the needs of others and the needs of ourselves arise together in the heart in perfect balance.
In my next article, I shall be exploring this distinction more deeply. I shall also be making important distinctions between love and compassion as they manifest in women, on one hand; and love and compassion as they manifest in men on the other. These are distinctions that are universally recognised, but whose implications are insufficiently acknowledged. These distinctions are of great interest, or course, to anyone who is interested in the mysterious energetic nature of the erotic bond between lovers – but they are also essential in my view, for those of us who love to rest as Consciousness, and cultivate Presence.
These articles are best read in sequence, and this particular article is the first of two that were originally written as single piece. 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 whole sequence of articles, with short summaries of each one, click here.
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