This is Post 34 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series.
Before we can go further in our exploration of the wisdom of the green Northern Quadrant of the mandala, we need to ask why it is that the perceptual function of Intuition-Volition, which Buddhist tradition speaks of in terms of the samskaras skandha, and which so naturally finds expression as Empathy, and as a compassionate recognition of the needs of ourselves and others, should so often manifest instead as fear and dis-integration, and as actions characterised by deep inhumanity. This takes us to the heart of the distinction between resting as Consciousness on one side, and living in egoic identifications on the other.
When we are in identification with egoic psychological parts, Intuition serves those parts in a crude self-serving way, primarily by anticipating dangers and unmet needs, and therefore generating anxiety and fear. Our reflex response to that intuitive mode of perception is to act to manipulate our internal and external world in the light of those fears. While Intuition and Volition are entirely integrated on the level of Consciousness, in the egoic psyche they give rise to fused pairs of psychological parts. Often the vulnerable, predominantly intuitive part is more deeply exiled from awareness, and the more volitional part, which carries and energy of protection, defence and attack, is more conscious in the personality.
The Psychology of Bullies and Bullying
If these pairs of parts predominate within the psyche, they can form a narcissistic dissociation – a deeply unconscious and defensive psychological dynamic, which usually manifests in a range of extremely unconscious, violent, and unethical behaviours. These destructive and self-destructive behaviours might be described psychologically as sociopathic or psychopathic, but they are actually much more common than those diagnostic terms might suggest – and are very frequently seen as personality traits in many of the ‘successful’ high profile individuals in politics, in business, and in the military and its intelligence agencies – the people who shape the culture of our world.
One part in each of the pairs of psychological parts has an intuitive recognition of a vulnerability or threat, while the other part carries the impulse to control that vulnerability or threat. And the greater the unconscious fear and vulnerability of the intuitive part, the more destructive and heartless will be the volitional impulse of egoic control, to protect from vulnerability by destroying the threat, or otherwise preventing the emergence of the vulnerability into awareness. This is the stark truth of the deep heartlessness that we face in the egoic psychology of the green Northern Quadrant – which is also, paradoxically, the quadrant of Compassion.
For completeness, it needs to be acknowledged that, in narcissistic dissociation, the pairing can operate the other way around, so that the vulnerable intuitive part is the one that is uppermost in the persons identity, and the desperate need to control circumstances at any cost to relationships, is the more unconscious one. These vulnerable personalities tend to attract the violent attention of bullies, and find themselves locked in conflicts in which they experience themselves as the victim.
There may even be circumstances in which the previously described bully identity will flip into the deep vulnerability pattern (and will use this in a manipulative way), only to bounce back once again, into the emotionally cut-off bully mode as soon as they can. A person in the grip of this pattern is as far from resting as Consciousness (the ’empty’ vijñāna skandha of Buddhist tradition) as it is possible to be. A true self that is capable of empathy and self-empathy is disturbingly absent as they move between these two different states of identification.
Intuition-Volition – Needs and Empathy, …… or Fears and Violence
The Volitional Body, which is most keenly felt in the region of the Heart Chakra, is ultimately a field of sensitivity which connects us with our world, with others, and with our own true self, and which appears to allow us to know intangible things directly – recognising motivations, dynamics, and processes, and especially the ‘Needs’ of ourselves and others. I find the notion of Needs extremely useful in this regard, especially as it is defined in the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) model of Marshall Rosenberg, where it refers to the intuitively recognised energetic essence, or ‘Life Energy’, of what is being sought in any action, and also as the energetic or volitional ‘driver’ of that action. I find it useful to capitalise the words ‘Need’ and ‘Needs’ as a way of referencing this important and quite subtle definition.
When we rest as Consciousness, Intuition manifests as Empathy, and is deeply and essentially relational. Unfortunately however, our normal psychological disintegration and unconsciousness is such that psychological parts often use Intuition in a completely non-relational way, and without any integration with thought or feeling, giving rise to harsh and delusional ways of thinking, and deeply irrational fears. Even in normal neurotic people this can give rise to surprising inhumanity and violence in our behaviour, thinking, and communication, as we seek security through activities of body, speech and mind that are entirely lacking in Empathy.
Heart and Heartlessness
If we are not resting as Consciousness we do not recognise our desires as positive and benevolent – as the drivers of fulfilment that they are. Instead, every Need perceived within, is a source of vulnerability and weakness, and every Need perceived in others, is an opportunity to gain dominance over them, and to gain the security that comes from control – from power over the people in our lives. Relationship is sacrificed in the service of power.
Without a recognition that the volitional energies of Consciousness are inherently benevolent, there is no reason to trust life, and life is given over to the pursuit of power, and the various strategies by which power is accumulated – money, wealth, property, political control, and dominance by physical violence and war. The predominance and excess of these preoccupations, and the bizarre acceptance of this as somehow inevitable and even necessary, and as a societal norm, can only be understood by deep reflection on the nature of the Egoic Will – which is the focus of our enquiry in the green Northern Quadrant of the mandala.
By regularly returning to the state of resting as Consciousness (the ’empty’ vijñāna skandha), in meditation and in the experience of Mindfulness, the Volitional Body and the Heart Chakra are healed and realigned with our true nature. When however, the Egoic Will is functioning in a state of normal neurotic dissociation or worse, it is common for all ethical discernment to be lost. At worst, humanitarian values, and consideration for other people does not even enter into it; everyone is looking after number one, and life is a game – a race to the bottom – in which the most heartless player is the most powerful.
Asura Culture – Fear, Manipulation, Dominance, and War
One of the great strengths of Buddhist wisdom is its dual focus, within a non-dual context – what the Buddha aptly called a ‘Middle Way’. This Middle Way invites self-enquiry into both our compassionate true nature as Consciousness, and into the habitual and unconscious egoic nature that we manifest when we fail to recognise who we are. I have spoken before about the very clever and engaging way in which the Buddhist tradition came to present the key spiritual choices that we face in every moment in the form of a mandala.
Each quadrant of this mandala is associated with a particular spiritual dichotomy – a choice between a brahmavihāra (an ethical and relational ‘attitude of Consciousness’) on one hand, and a loka, or ‘Realm’, on the other. And each loka, or ‘Realm’ is a collective manifestation, or objectification, of one of the skandhas, or perceptual components – or one of the four ‘Functions of Consciousness’ described in Jung’s mandala model of the psyche. For more on the way the Buddha’s ‘Six Realms’ teaching is integrated in this way into the mandala framework of the brahmavihāras and the skandhas, consider reading my previous articles on this (here, here, here and here).
The choice that the tradition associates with the green Northern Quadrant is very stark indeed. On one side there is the fearlessness, deep trust, empathy, and the instinctive and skilled compassionate activity that springs from resting as Consciousness. On the other, there is the egoic function of Intuition-Volition, manifesting collectively in the archetypal psychology of the Asura Realm – a realm of fear, manipulation, domination, and warfare; and a domain in which personal power is achieved not only at the expense of compassionate, but through a egoic position that actively rejects empathic connection.
I will be devoting a whole separate article to the Asura Realm, because it is so important. Neither human psychology nor human society can be fully understood without recognising and understanding the Asura archetype – an archetype without which we cannot understand the problematic nature of the Egoic Will and the closely related notion of the psychological Shadow, and without which we cannot understand how our natural ethical instincts are so easily eroded.
Appropriation of Consciousness by the Egoic Will
One of the archetypal themes of the Asura Realm is theft. When the Asuras are not fighting amongst themselves, they a locked in an eternal struggle to appropriate the Wish-Fulfilling Tree from their great enemies the Devas, for whose lifestyle they feel deep envy. But this Tree, and the harmonious, integrated and creative mental states that it represents, are integral to the style of consciousness of the Devas. The Asuras cannot possess it, however hard they try. The idiocy of the Asuras’ approach is represented by the fact that the roots of the Wish-Fulfilling Tree are in fact in the Asura Realm. They need not fight for it – they could just let the fruits fall.
This archetypal situation is clearly an eloquent metaphorical pointer to the nature of the egoic mind, and perhaps also points to the dangers of a particular and very common type of wilful and unreflective approach to meditation practice. It is also a warning about the delusional nature of the Egoic Will, which appropriates and personalises the impersonal life energies of motivation – the innocent creative desires. Motivation that has been pumped up by fear of deprivation, and envy of what others possess, does not serve us in the subtle processes of cultivating somatic integration through meditation practice, or of opening to wisdom.
Asura Culture and the Psychology of the Heroic Ego
Thankfully there are now a variety of approaches to psychotherapy and personal development that understand the limitations of the Egoic Will, but this critical perspective is nowhere more strongly expressed than in the Buddha’s imagery of the Asura Realm – the imagery of an eternal battle. Despite this warning, many meditation teachers, within the Buddhist tradition and elsewhere, continue to teach meditation as if we must engage in an eternal battle with our own minds, or must struggle to appropriate something that is outside of ourselves.
From the perspective of an archetypal approach to psychology, like that of Carl Jung and others, we find the Egoic Will to be personified in the legendary and mythic heroes of various ancient cultures, like the heroes of ancient Greece and Rome. Freud, and many others in the history of psychotherapy, have mostly failed however, to emphasise how very limited the hero is as a guide on the path of psychological and spiritual development. When we examine the myths closely we usually find the hero to be a deeply flawed figure – and that more often than not the heroes fail, or only succeed with the help of divine forces (Perseus for example, as mentioned previously – here), or by gaining wisdom, and becoming beings more akin to the Buddhist Bodhisattvas, much more than mere heroes.
Perhaps because of our crude understanding of the nature of the heroic, our everyday psychological and cultural assumptions about the creative process are often deeply flawed. It is helpful to acknowledge that the default unconscious psychology of humanity is a heroic Ego Psychology, which is a psychology of the Egoic Will – and one that is unfortunately very close to the psychology of the Asura Realm.
One of the loudest and clearest voices pushing back against this unconscious assumptions of Ego Psychology has been James Hillman – a man whose writing has influenced me greatly. Hillman is a Jungian trained psychotherapist and cultural commentator, who has highlighted the notion of ‘Soul’ – a rich non-egoic, or ‘Archetypal Psychology’, perspective, which shows similarities with Buddhist philosophy – especially that of the Tibetan Buddhism. We could say that ‘Soul’ is Hillman’s word for that aspect of Jung’s psychological philosophy which urges us to go beyond the hubris of the personal will and to fully embrace the archetypal dimensions of mind. Being a counterpoint to the unconscious assumptions of Ego Psychology, the Hillman’s ‘Soul’ perspective is also one which moves away from an archetypally masculine style of identification to one which accesses deeper, more feminine, sources of strength – and the qualities of receptivity, being, surrender and allowing – that come from acknowledging and embodying the archetypal feminine.
The All-Accomplishing wisdom of the green Northern Quadrant is, I believe, a perspective which implicitly incorporates an archetypal psychology. Indeed, it urges us to embrace a ‘mandala psychology’ – a mandala wisdom – a psychology which shows us how human motivation really works, and how, when we are resting as Consciousness, psychological energy can move, act and create, without effort, and without conflict. The Buddha made it very clear when his spoke of ‘the emptiness of the samskaras skandha’ that Volition simply cannot be understood without an archetypal, or collective, or suprapersonal view. The Egoic Will is an illusion – and is neither single nor personal.
Resting, Trusting, Yielding, and Receptivity
There is a place for vigorous effort, and a place for courage and determination, but the mandala wisdom and the subtle intuitive psychology of the green Northern Quadrant invites us to apply effort on the basis of deep reflection and self-enquiry – with a particular focus on the nature of psychological energy and the nature of the transformative psychological processes by which we recognise, and return to, our true nature. The mandala wisdom reminds us that creativity, the resolution of internal conflict, and psychological integration, can ultimately only take place in the context of that indefinable reality that I have been calling Consciousness.
An understanding of the Asura Realm and the flawed nature of the Egoic Will is fundamental to our ability to practice meditation and Mindfulness correctly and effectively. I have been endeavouring to create a fresh conceptual framework for our reflections on meditation and Mindfulness by talking about these practices in terms of ‘resting as Consciousness’ – resting as Consciousness. The notions of resting, of yielding, and of receptivity are all fundamental to this attitude of resting as Consciousness. We cannot achieve psychological integration simply by an effort of the Egoic Will – ultimately only Consciousness can do that. Through self-enquiry we gradually gain a deeper confidence in the great benevolence and psychological support that Consciousness provides when we recognise it and open to it. Then we can start to relax and trust, and allow the compassionate, evolutionary and healing energies to do their work – the work of creating Integration, Positive Emotion, and real fulfilment.
The Egoic Will Cannot Bring About Psychological Integration
Indeed the wisdom of the mandala is telling us that the Egoic Will is inherently conflictual, and entirely incapable of bringing about significant psychological integration. Until we start to engage in self-enquiry, resting as Consciousness and familiarising ourselves with that experience, we are helplessly identified with the Egoic Will – and enmeshed in its dysfunctional fear-based psychology.
Until we learn to rest as Consciousness, it is as if the Egoic Will, and our egoic identification with thoughts, feelings, and sensations, are all that exists for us – and all these components of experience are experienced as entirely personal. When we begin to see the emptiness of the Egoic Will, not only does the whole edifice of the separate self start to collapse, but there is a releasing of the various obscuring egoic energies in the subtle bodies that Buddhist tradition calls the kleshas.
The Buddhist tradition speaks of the Egoic Will in terms of the samskaras skandha – the volitional energies. It is worth noting that, while all the other skandhas are singular, the word samskaras is plural – because the Egoic Will is inherently multiple, fragmentary, and therefore conflictual as I have been describing. The recognition of the emptiness of the samskaras skandha gives rise to the wise impersonal awareness of the samskaras as beneficial ‘life energies’, which the tradition calls the All-Accomplishing Wisdom.
I have chosen to highlight this impersonal perspective in my articles by capitalising Dharmic principle of ‘Life Energy’ to highlight it – because we need a way of naming this introverted and intuitive perception, which in the absence of the distortions that egoic identification brings, recognises that all motivations are just Needs; just Life Energy; just the non-personal energy of desire seeking fulfilment. This introverted intuitive/empathetic, Life Energy dimension of the All-Accomplishing Wisdom is personified by the green archetypal Buddha Amoghasiddhi. Familiarising ourselves with the Dharmic principle that this figure embodies can be a powerful support to the healing of the Volitional Body (most keenly felt in the front of the Heart Chakra).
The extraverted aspect of the All-Accomplishing Wisdom, which is Compassion, is personified by the equally powerful female Buddha figure of Green Tara. While Amoghasiddhi (Life Energy), in my experience, is associated with the initial and foundational ‘Integration’ stage of meditation, which is more introverted and receptive; Green Tara (Compassion) is associated with the subsequent ‘Positive Emotion’ stage, in which the focus of practice is more extraverted and expansive.
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 whole sequence of articles, with short summaries of each one, click here.