This is Post 41 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series.
Making use of the rich mandala-form analysis of the dynamics of cognition and perception that Carl Jung called the ‘Four Functions of Consciousness’ (which parallels the ancient Indian skandhas), we recognise that the green Northern Quadrant in the Buddhist meditation mandalas, is related to the perceptual function of Intuition-Volition. Carl Jung, who identified himself as an Introverted Intuitive type, was writing in the face of great intellectual resistance from the scientific materialist consensus, when he presented his mandala-form psychological model – a model that is distinguished not just by its inclusion of the function of Intuition, but by its embrace of the archetypal and energetic dimensions of psychological reality.
All Life Energies are Compassionate and Life-Serving
In my last two articles (here and here) I have also been drawing heavily on the psychological model of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) which was developed by Marshall Rosenberg, as a way of illuminating the non-dual wisdom of the green Northern Quadrant, which the Buddhist tradition calls the All-Accomplishing Wisdom. The NVC model stands out as another mandala-form psychological framework, which not only includes the Intuition-Volition component, but includes this dimension in the most practical and powerful way in relation to the practice of self-empathy.
NVC does this by recognising that what we experience as a situation of need or apparent lack, is arising not only from an objective Current Reality in the world of Sensation (Southern Quadrant), but from volitional Life Energies (Northern Quadrant), which are apprehended by the function of Intuition in those who are observing the situation. We can say therefore, that it is our internal relationship to the Life Energies of desire, longing and aspiration, that gives us our perception of a Need – and is the key to the creative and self-empathetic attitude that will bring healing to our psychological parts on the inside, and the communication style that will ‘get our needs met’ on the outside.
The experience of a need is only partly related to the degree of tension or incongruence between the Current Reality of lack and one hand, and the vision of fulfillment on the other. It is also entirely dependent on our capacity to rest as Consciousness, and the degree of objective recognition that we have of the Life Energy from which our wish and our vision of fulfillment is arising. The NVC model talks about this key capacity to rest as Consciousness in terms of the cultivation of Presence and Connection – which I spoke about in my last post (here). The English-speaking Buddhist world talks about this maintenance of Presence and Connection in terms of Mindfulness, but I find the notion of ‘resting as Consciousness’ to be a more descriptive way of approaching that practice. The self-empathy practice, which is taught in the context of NVC, and in which we endeavour to stay internally connected to the components of our experience but not identified them, is another extremely useful parallel.
For the Buddhist tradition, the question of how we develop our creative ability to accomplish the fulfillment of a compassionate vision, and meet the Needs of ourselves and others in effective, and in entirely ethical and non-violent ways, was of central importance – so much so that one of the Five Wisdoms that emerged as guiding principles in Mahayana Buddhism, was called the All-Accomplishing Wisdom. The All-Accomplishing Wisdom is the Wisdom associated with the green Northern Quadrant that we are currently exploring, and can be thought of as a non-dual approach to creative and compassionate activity. Indeed all of these energetic, archetypal, and non-dual psychological perspectives that we are currently exploring, and that find expression in Carl Jung, in NVC, and in Buddhism, are manifestations of what Buddhist tradition would call the All-Accomplishing Wisdom – which is essentially the recognition that Compassion is inherent in Consciousness, and that all Life Energies are ultimately beneficial and life-serving.
In the practice of NVC, we separate Needs from Requests, and endeavour to rest self-empathetically with the Life Energies of our Needs, and to rest empathetically with the Life Energies of the Needs of others. ‘Requests’ are a category that can include externally expressed requests, but importantly also includes all of our internal reflections on ‘what meets our Needs’, and ‘what would meet their Needs’. The internal separation of Needs and Requests in this way, is not only of enormous practical value in communication, it also opens up the possibility of the entirely different attitude to creativity that Buddhism calls the All-Accomplishing Wisdom.
There are stages to the learning of this however, and while it is natural for us, it is not always easy, because of our egoic tendency to either appropriate the Life Energies to the Egoic Will; or disconnect from them, making them unconscious. I have spoken about this previously (here) with reference to the Buddhist imagery of the Asura Realm, which gives us a profound mythic description of the fear and violence of the Egoic Will. We need to cultivate the creative attitude and psychological ability that I have been calling ‘resting as Consciousness’, if we are to consistently relate to the Life Energies of Needs, recognising them as aspects of Consciousness, and ‘being in’ them mindfully – present and connected.
A Psychology with Depth, Soul, Humanity and Compassion
If they do not provide us with a way to acknowledge the Intuition-Volition dimension (the Life Energy, the ‘life-forward direction’) in our psychological experience, our psychological models are lacking in soul, depth, and intellectual integrity. We find them ineffective in crucial ways, because they fail to address aspects of our inner life that are integral to our experience of empathy and compassion.
When we rest as Consciousness however, and achieve a degree of somatic integration (samadhi), we find that we no longer separate our intuitive empathetic recognition of the volitional energies (which NVC would call Needs) in ourselves and others, on one hand, from our volitional response, our wishes, aspirations, and our impulses to act compassionately, on the other. Rather, our compassionate desire for the well-being and fulfillment, of ourselves and others, just flows naturally – it is unconstrained by thoughts or fears of unfulfilment, or the egoic impulse to control our situation or our experience of it. This is the mystery that Robert Gonzalez, with his focus on the self-empathetic and spiritual dimensions of NVC, called ‘the Beauty of Needs’ (a have referred to this in a previous article – here).
The integrity of our psychological models is important. The Humanistic Psychology of the 1960s, which I spoke about previously (here), had a huge positive impact on the culture of that time. It gave us a vision of the ‘person’ – the individual on a journey of healing and self-realisation, but ultimately it could not take us far enough. Carl Jung, and Marshall Rosenberg are however, in my view, 21st Century thinkers, and they engage with the ultimate questions of human collective purpose, and they take us into the territory of acknowledging the non-dual nature of Consciousness – which is also the territory of Quantum Mechanics.
When we combine the models of Jung and Rosenberg together in a three-fold synthesis with the non-dual wisdom mandala of Mahayana Buddhism (which is very easy to do – they are each holding key pieces of the mandala wisdom), we create a psychology that has a practical focus on communication, on psychological integration, and on the quality of relationships, but also has the depth of a non-dual and archetypal perspective. A psychology with these qualities of depth, balance and wholeness is much needed if humanity is to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
The Buddhist Mandala – the Psychodynamics of Consciousness
Carl Jung recognised the Buddhist mandalas to be the graphical descriptions of the psycho-dynamics of Consciousness that they are. He was not aware of the brahmavihāras (which I explain here), as far as I know; rather, his main point of entry into the mandala wisdom of Buddhism was the Bardo Thodol, or ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’, where he recognised the mandalas of the five skandhas, and of the five ‘Wisdoms’, as descriptions of the egoic cognitive and perceptual functions; and of Consciousness, respectively. The Wisdoms are in some ways a very similar formulation to the brahmavihāras, but since the the brahmavihāras were part of Theravada teaching and the Wisdoms were part of the Mahayana, their close association is seldom explored or explained – which is a great pity, because each of these formulations serves to illuminate the other.
As the Buddhist tradition developed its teachings of the skandhas and the brahmavihāras, it appears to have crystallised them into a mandala form – a form that became increasingly rich with cultural elaborations over the centuries. Eventually these mandalas became the complex and decorative ones that many will be familiar with from Tibetan Buddhist tradition – with their five male and female Buddhas, and their associated Wisdoms, symbols, colours, Realms, Poisons, and animal thrones, etc.
In future articles I would like to start to explore some of the rich symbolic details and iconography of the Buddhist mandalas, because each of those details can be a pointer to spiritual truth. At the same time however, I am aiming to stay close to the non-dual essence of the mandala wisdom, and to focus on the key psychological structures and dynamics that these mandalas present for us. As we unpack the dynamics and structures of the Buddhist mandalas, we will be further unfolding the All-Accomplishing Wisdom of the green Northern Quadrant.
The length of the table below, even though it makes no claim to be complete, is an indication of the richness that we can find in the mandala wisdom when we draw together insights from Buddhism, Carl Jung and NVC. In this version of the table of symbolic associations and psychological principles, I have chosen to use the order that we find in NVC: first the centre of the mandala, and the principles of Presence and Connection, or Mindfulness, or resting as Consciousness; then the Thinking-Feeling axis (Observations and Feelings); then the Intuition-Sensation axis (Needs and Requests). A key aspect of the intuitive wisdom by which these structures and dynamics are grasped, is the two pairs of oppositions at north and south, and west and east.
Our task as we attempt to grasp the mandala dynamics in their totality is a subtle one. Ultimately the mandala shows us a process of separation and reconciliation by which the apparent opposition between mind as Consciousness, and the mind as the egoic functions of cognition and perception, is transcended as we learn to rest on the place where these apparent opposites coincide and are unified. This requires that we also confront the mandala as a whole, and to engage in a separation and reconciliation of the oppositions that are represented by its vertical and horizontal axes. The axes of the mandala are key dimensions of the mandala wisdom – our recognition that the apparent oppositions are in fact complementary pairs that bring balance and wholeness to the psyche is a key step in our psychological integration through meditation practice. I have returned to this central theme frequently in previous articles, and will continue to do so in the future.
The Mandala – A Framework for the Development of Intuition
So ultimately, the Buddhist meditation mandalas are guides to psychological integration through non-dual wisdom, and they show us how the various apparent oppositions on the relative, or egoic level, are reconciled on the level of Consciousness.
In the initial explanation of the green Northern Quadrant, in the last few articles in this series, I have been aiming to shed some light on the nature of Intuition and Volition, and on Empathy and Compassion (the brahmavihāra of karunā), which are the associated ‘attitudes’ of Consciousness. I have also been starting to explore the way the integration of the pairs of cognitive and perceptual functions can be integrated in meditation by a focus on their ‘somatic’ or bodily-felt dimensions, which I have been calling the Four Qualia: Embodiment (Sensation), Being (Thinking), Uncaused Happiness (Feeling), and Life Energy (Intuition-Volition).
As we explore further, I hope to show how the mandala provides a psychological framework to guide the development of our Intuition – so much so that the mandala, in the form of the visva vajra, or Vajra Cross (depicted below), in effect became a symbol of Intuition-Volition in the Buddhist tradition, and a symbol of the mysterious intuitive wisdom that the tradition came to call the All-Accomplishing Wisdom. It is very important that Intuition is not regarded as special in any way. We all have Intuition – the capacity to recognise patterns, dynamics, processes, possibilities and Needs (desires, longings, and motivations). And just as we need to rest as Consciousness in order to fully recognise and express our capacity for Thinking, Feeling, and Sensation, so we need to rest as Consciousness in order to fully express Intuition – and in order to start to recognise the beneficial nature of all Life Energies.
The Five Wisdoms – the Life Energies of Consciousness
Although I have so far been mainly viewing the the mandala wisdom though the insights of Carl Jung and though the wonderful ancient Indian brahmavihāras teachings that the Buddha appears to have embraced as his own framework, I would like in the next few articles to start specifically including the Five Wisdoms. This is a more subtle, and in some ways more complex framework, but one which becomes more understandable in the light of Jung’s Functions, Rosenberg’s ‘components of NVC’, and the Buddha’s brahmavihāras.
The Five Wisdoms give us a particularly powerful way of talking about the transformative affect of resting as Consciousness. Whereas the brahmavihāras may be characterised as the ethical and relational ‘attitudes of Consciousness’, which we encounter in meditation, the Wisdoms enrich our perspective by giving us what may perhaps be called the ‘activities and effects’ of Consciousness. In clockwise order, starting in the east, the Five Wisdoms are: the Mirror-Like Wisdom (blue Eastern Quadrant); the Equalising Wisdom (yellow Southern Quadrant); the Discriminating Wisdom (red Western Quadrant); and the All-Accomplishing Wisdom (green Northern Quadrant). And in the centre of the mandala, we have the Dharmadhatu Wisdom, which is the all-pervading and ever-present ‘space’ of Consciousness.
As the Buddhist tradition developed, each Wisdom was personified, not only by a male archetypal Buddha, but more specifically by a female archetypal Buddha, and each of these female Buddhas was seen as an embodiment of an aspect of the Life Energy of Consciousness. The same impulse to personify the innermost person, or soul, as feminine, is found in Western religious and esoteric traditions. We can think of the Wisdoms as aspects of the Divine Feminine – aspects of the compassionate energy, the evolutionary purpose, and the healing power, of the all-pervading field of Consciousness.
So, the Wisdoms are named according to particular ways in which these groups of beneficial Life Energies effect us, and transform our vision of the world, and our capacity to relate to it creatively. The female Buddhas are archetypal personifications of these ‘inner’ energies of Consciousness, and of the fresh perspectives, or dimensions of the non-dual wisdom that spontaneously arise when we rest as Consciousness. The male Buddhas on the other hand are archetypal personifications of the ‘outer’ expression, or compassionate activity, of each of these groups of Life Energies that naturally arise as dimensions of character, personality, skillfulness and activity, in anyone who consistently chooses to rest as Consciousness.
Green Tara: Female Buddha, embodiment of Compassion and of the All-Accomplishing Wisdom
In Tibetan tradition, each of the female and male Buddhas is a partner in a Buddha couple that is often depicted in sexual union, and one of these archetypal ‘Divine Marriage’ couples is associated with each Quadrant of the mandala. This now familiar imagery of sexual union, is particularly striking in the context of the Buddhist tradition, with its long history of monasticism, but these images speak directly to us in a non-conceptual symbolic language. Although it would take us away from our current thread of discussion, there is much more that could be said about this curious about-face, and the recognition, within a predominately male monastic tradition, of this need to embrace sexual union as a symbol of psycho-spiritual integration, and to embrace the Divine Feminine, as a symbol of both the path and the goal, of our transformation.
Of all the archetypal figures in the pantheon of Tibetan Buddhism, there is an important female Buddha who is universally loved, and which I need to name in this context – the beautiful figure of Green Tara (above). Green Tara is the embodiment of empathy and Compassion, and of the All-Accomplishing Wisdom that I have been exploring in recent articles. She is sometimes depicted in sexual union with the green Buddha of the Northern Quadrant, Amoghasiddhi (‘Unfailing Success’), but more often seen alone, as a figure in her own right. She has been an integral part of the imaginal world of the Buddhist tradition since she emerged during the Indian Mahayana and spread across Asia.
Tara is now most well-known in the Himalayan countries, where she is felt by many to be ever-present – always looking down (one of the meanings of her name is ‘Star’), holding us in her empathetic embrace, reassuring us when we are anxious, and providing us with comfort and guidance on the spiritual journey and in the challenges of life.
The Wisdoms as Groups of Compassionate Life Energies
The notion of the Life Energies, or the life-serving, compassionate energies of Consciousness, and the way that these may be grouped into categories that correspond to the Wisdoms, brings us back to the NVC model, which for me articulates this profound wisdom in a very practical way. In my last article (here) I spoke about the way in which the spiritual motivations (or Needs) that we have been addressing (Presence, Connection, Being, Objectivity, Equanimity, Embodiment, Appreciation, Equality, Contentment, Loving Kindness, Empathy, Compassion, etc.) are best regarded as Life Energies – energies that can be more easily integrated in the course of our practice of self-empathy or meditation if we recognise them as aspects of Consciousness.
As we ‘rest as Consciousness’, and specifically explore the experience of receiving the Life Energy of the Needs, allowing them to resonate energetically at all the levels of our being, it becomes clear that these archetypal principles fall into groups – groups that correspond to the mandala Quadrants and to the Five Wisdoms that are presented in Buddhist tradition. Whether our primary interest is in Buddhism, or in the NVC framework, which shares Buddhism’s focus on ethics and mindfulness in the context of relationships and communication, there is great value in taking time to familiarise ourselves with these groups of perspectives and healing principles – especially if we can use them to begin to recognise the inherently evolutionary, beneficial, and compassionate nature of the Life Energy of Needs.
In my expanded reflections on each of the brahmavihāras in the course of this series of articles, and on the aspects of non-dual psychology that each Quadrant of the mandala addresses, I have, often without referring to them directly, been endeavouring to point us to these Wisdoms – these subtle universalising perspectives – which serve as categories of insights and understandings, and also as groupings of the compassionate Life Energies from which these insights spring.