This is Post 38 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series.
The four brahmavihāras are a description of Consciousness, and of our innately compassionate nature, and together they give us a very powerful approach to meditation. This extremely important ancient Indian framework for personal transformation is unfortunately however, very little known and poorly understood. I am very keen to do what I can to help the brahmavihāras to be better known – the world sorely needs this practice and this understanding.
In my efforts to find ways of making this approach to meditation more accessible, I have developed a somewhat simpler, and more experiential approach, which supports the original brahmavihāras framework, and which I call the Four Qualia. I have been introducing this Four Qualia framework in detail in recent posts (here, here and here), and I recommend that you read those articles first – as they will provide context for this one. I hope, students of meditation and non-duality will find that these four Qualia – these four ever-present, but subtle and difficult-to-define experiences – provide a useful foundation from which the brahmavihāras can more easily be integrated into their practice and their understanding.
The Four Qualia are a mandala framework, and can be approached in meditation as a mandala-cycle – usually starting with the Eastern Quadrant. The exploration of the Four Qualia that I have set out below however, is presented in the order that is suggested by the stupa – by the natural hierarchy of the subtle bodies and chakras – and which I have described previously (here). Those wishing to incorporate this approach into their meditative enquiry, may wish to return to this article several times.
Embodiment, the Physical Body, and Appreciative Joy
The Qualia associated with the experienced reflection of Consciousness in the Physical Body, is Embodiment. When we sit to meditate, and we bring the word Embodiment to mind, we find that we can use it as a pointer to the whole experience of embodied Consciousness in the field of the Physical Body.
For women, Embodiment has a yin, or receptive quality, and for men it has a yang, or expansive quality. You will find it helpful to acknowledge these subtle polarities in meditation. It is also helpful to be aware that the energetic polarity of the Physical Body is most keenly felt in the area of the Base Chakra, so in men the Base Chakra may helpfully be experienced as the centre of an expansive field; and in women the Base Chakra may helpfully be experienced as the centre of a receptive field.
Indian and Himalayan tradition associates the Physical Body and the Embodiment of Consciousness in the Physical Body, with the solidity of the Earth element. This symbolism invites us to recognise that the Physical Body is foundational – that it is our vehicle in this life. Integral to that experience of Embodiment however, is the sense of being held – cocooned within the more subtle bodies and inseparable from the greater field of Consciousness itself.
The Brahmavihāra of Muditā – Appreciative Joy (Sympathetic Joy)
As we rest as Consciousness, sitting with the always present experience of Embodiment in the Physical Body, we may become aware of the appreciative attitude of Consciousness that is inherent in that. This is the brahmavihāra of muditā, or Appreciative Joy (more often translated as Sympathetic Joy). Even when there is discomfort, there is also, at the same time, much that is truly miraculous about in the Physical Body – with all its extremely refined physiological and metabolic mechanisms; optimised for Consciousness; and highly evolved over millions of years.
Muditā is associated with the golden sun at mid-day. With Appreciative Joy, we recognise the way that the inner sun of Consciousness warms us and gives us life. It is like resting in warm mid-day sun and receiving its warmth with deep appreciation.
Indeed the human experience of being in a physical body and of having such a wonderful brain, and of being alive on such a beautiful planet, and of being conscious of our experience of Consciousness, is a profound mystery and deep cause for appreciation. In a previous articles on Appreciative Joy (here, and here) I found myself encouraging readers to think of muditā, as ‘a sense of wonder’.
If we were to place the conventional scientific materialist mental limit on our experience of ourselves, this sense of Embodiment would remain limited. If we allow ourselves to go deeper however, and to open to the other three Qualia (Being, Uncaused Happiness, and Life Energy) we find that the Physical Body is merely the entrance hall, into a much larger experience of embodied Consciousness – an experience of wholeness, of integration, and of connectedness, which takes us far beyond the confines of the Physical Body as it is usually conceived.
It is enough however, in the first stages of meditation, to simply acknowledge the profound mystery of experiencing, and of physical Embodiment – of Consciousness embodied in a physical body.
Being, the Mental Body, and Equanimity
The Qualia associated with the experienced reflection of Consciousness in the Mental Body is Being. When we sit to meditate, having first acknowledged the experience of Embodiment as we rest in the Physical Body and notice that it is pervaded by Consciousness, we then bring the experience of Being to mind. Being is closely related to Consciousness, and is an almost indefinable notion, even though it is always present in everyone’s experience. We can think of it as the experience of existing, or of existence. For most of us, the word Being has a powerful resonance, and can be used as a pointer to the subtle experience of embodied Consciousness in the field of the Mental Body.
Giving attention to the experience of Being brings about a profound deepening of our experience of embodiment. We find that we are no longer just experiencing the mysterious Physical Body, but opening to something even more intangible. When we rest as Consciousness and experience the field of the Mental Body, we find ourselves registering the accumulated residue of the mental habits of the egoic mind as energy – while simultaneously experiencing the profound stillness and purity of the field of Consciousness in which it all rests. This is the experience of Being.
The Brahmavihāra of Upekshā – Equanimity
This imperturbable stillness is the reflection of Consciousness in the Mental Body, and is that aspect of our ultimate true nature that Indian tradition calls the brahmavihāra of upekshā, or Equanimity. So ‘Being’ is a word we can use for that apparently incongruous energetic mixture in the Mental Body, which is partly due to egoic thinking, and partly a reflection of the imperturbable mental silence and peacefulness of the brahmavihāra of upekshā, or Equanimity.
Upekshā is associated with the sunrise. With Equanimity, we recognise the way that the inner sun of Consciousness outshines the darkness of confusion, ill-will, unconsciousness, and distress. In the bright but gentle light of the dawn we relax deeply, we let everything be, and allow ourselves to see everything just as it is.
For women, the Mental Body and Being have a yang, or expansive quality, and for men they have a yin, or receptive quality. You will find it very valuable to acknowledge these polarities in your experience. Notice also that the energetic field of the Mental Body is most keenly felt in the area of the Hara Chakra. This means that in men, the Hara Chakra is usually experienced as the centre of a receptive field – and with sense of ‘drawing in’; and in women, the Hara Chakra is usually experienced as the centre of an expansive field – and with sense of ‘fullness’. I have described this in previous articles (here and here).
To recognise the way in which the Physical Body and Mental Body have opposite polarities in this way, and form a yin-yang pair that is different for men than it is for women, is very valuable for meditators. When we embrace the combined experience of Embodiment and Being in our somatic anatomy, together with this awareness of these energetic gender differences, we usually find they bring a helpful experience of ‘groundedness’ and ‘centredness’. You may find it helpful to remember that Indian and Himalayan tradition associates the Thinking Body and Equanimity with the downward-moving Water element – that which purifies, clarifies, and refreshes – and settles the dust.
This grounded experience of Embodiment and Being provide a very good foundation and starting point, from which we can easily open to, and include, the other two Qualia. Indeed we find that, once we are resting the Physical and Mental Bodies as Consciousness, and becoming familiar with the Qualia Embodiment and Being, the third Qualia of Uncaused Happiness will start to arise as a natural deepening and development of that opening, into more subtle levels of experiencing.
Uncaused Happiness, the Emotional Body, and Loving Kindness
The Qualia associated with the experienced reflection of Consciousness in the Emotional Body is Uncaused Happiness. If, when we sit to meditate, we bring the notion of Uncaused Happiness to mind, we find that we can use it is a pointer to a deeper experience of embodied Consciousness, and an experiential opening into the field of the Emotional Body.
For women, the Emotional Body and Uncaused Happiness has a yin, or receptive quality, and for men it has a yang, or expansive, or outflowing quality, and these gender specific polarities of the Emotional Body are most keenly felt at the Solar Plexus Chakra. As I have talked about previously (here and here) connecting with Uncaused Happiness has enormous but slightly different implications, in the emotional lives of women and men. Both sexes however, experience a significant sense of both emotional healing and empowerment as they familiarise themselves with this level of their somatic experience. To no longer believe that happiness is subject to conditions is profound freedom.
The Brahmavihāra of Mettā – Loving Kindness
As we rest as Consciousness, sitting with the experience of Feeling, and with the energetic reflection of Consciousness in the Emotional Body, we become aware of a contentment, an unconditional warmth, and a benevolent, valuing presence – the brahmavihāra of mettā, or Loving Kindness. As I have explained previously in connection with mettā (here and here), it is very important not to force this, and important not to expect too much. Even the slightest inkling of the Uncaused Happiness is all that we need to enter the mystery.
In recognising Uncaused Happiness, we can also fully acknowledge that the Emotional Body carries the energetic residues of egoic Feeling, even including our accumulated feelings of loss, grief, deprivation, and worthlessness, because that does not exclude us from experiencing Uncaused Happiness. Uncaused Happiness is unconditional – always simultaneously present with all the rest of our experience of Feeling. This is because it is a reflection, or resonance, of Consciousness, and of the brahmavihāra of mettā, or Loving Kindness, which is inseparable from Consciousness.
Indian and Himalayan tradition associates mettā with the upward-rising Fire element. To rest as Consciousness, and recognise even the palest reflection of Loving Kindness as Uncaused Happiness in the Emotional Body, is to be burning up our emotional conditioning and returning to our true nature. The contentment and benevolence of mettā is also associated with the deep red warmth of the setting sun. It is beautiful and comforting blessing that lights up our emotional life – available to all, like spectacular sunset.
Life Energy, the Volitional Body, and Compassion
If, having noticed, acknowledged, and opened to Embodiment, Being and Uncaused Happiness, we then turn our attention to the Heart Chakra, which is where we most keenly experience the Volitional Body, a further opening naturally unfolds. The Qualia associated with the experienced reflection of Consciousness in the Volitional Body may be called Life Energy – the bodily-felt aliveness of empathy and desire. If, when we sit to meditate, we bring the notion of Life Energy to mind, we find that we can use it is a pointer to the whole experience of embodied Consciousness in the field of the Volitional Body.
When we just let the Volitional Body rest as Consciousness, we find that we can experience the volitional energies very fully, but also very lightly, as a sense of aliveness. It is helpful to remember that Indian and Himalayan tradition associates Volition and karunā, or Compassion, with the Air element, which evokes both power – like the power of wind – and a sense a lightness. The male and female archetypal buddhas are usually depicted floating on air. For women, Life Energy has a yang or expansive, or out-flowing quality, and for men it has a yin or receptive quality. I have written previously (here) about the significance of these polarities in the emotional lives of women and men, and shall be returning to it again.
The Brahmavihāra of Karunā – Compassion
As we rest as Consciousness, sitting with the experience of Intuition-Volition, and with the energetic reflection of Consciousness in the Volitional Body, we become aware that the Life Energy within us is benevolent and benificial – that it is life-supporting, purposeful, healing, and evolutionary. We may be surprised at this. Most of us are conditioned to experience the volitional energies of desire, in ourselves and others, with deep ambivalence, or even fear. This deeply relaxing recognition that we can experience the energies of desire and empathy without a sense of lack, and as essentially benevolent forces, is characteristic of the wise disposition from which springs the subtle brahmavihāra of karunā, or Compassion.
The Qualia are experiences. They are universal ever-present experiences. But they defy the rational mind – that is why they called Qualia. It is very important therefore, that we embrace them experientially, and do not try to understand them – or the need to understand them will be an obstacle to the experience, and an obstacle to going deeper in meditation. This is especially so of the Qualia of Life Energy and the Volitional Body. I shall be returning to this theme in the next post and in future posts. The Volitional Body, and the green Northern Quadrant of the mandala, is associated with mid-night, which is appropriate. The energetic dimension is somewhat dark and mysterious. Its nature is like all the phenomena of Quantum Mechanics – it cannot be completely known.
The recognition of any the first three Qualia, and their corresponding brahmavihāras: Embodiment and Appreciative Joy; Being and Equanimity; or Uncaused Happiness and Loving Kindness, can be profoundly effecting – and to recognise all three can be life-changing. The full recognition also, of the Qualia of Life Energy and the brahmavihāra of karunā, takes us even deeper, and may take some time. I shall be talking much more about Life Energy in my next article, and in future articles.
Once again, it is important to remember that the degree of realisation is of no consequence. Even the slightest inkling of what is being pointed to in the notion of Life Energy, is enough to transform us fundamentally, if the subtle healing power, which is the reflection, or resonance, of Consciousness in the Volitional Body is recognised and embraced.
Entering the Stream of Compassion
While a true recognition of any of the brahmavihāras can be a great turning point for us, the Buddhist tradition gives a special place to Compassion. The development of Compassion is the surest sign that our deepest true nature is being revealed. Such individuals find themselves completely in the flow of the benevolent energy of the divine, as the Volitional Body is transformed.
I shall be returning to Compassion in future posts. Compassion needs to be imagined extremely richly and multidimensionally to do it justice. It is not just a sentiment. It is also about effectiveness. Compassion is subtle, deep, many-faceted and skilled. Not only is it about recognising and understanding the full spectrum of human needs – it also about gaining the necessary skills, knowledge, and depth of wisdom, to respond appropriately and effectively to those needs.