This is Article No. 4 in the ‘Buddhism’ series.
This is the second of several articles on the ‘Five Skandhas‘ of ancient Indian tradition, which were the five ‘heaps’ of materials, or cognitive-perceptual components, from which the metaphorical ‘house of the self’ was believed to have been built. The mandala of the Five Wisdoms in Mahayana Buddhist tradition is based on the idea that each of the Five Wisdoms arises from recognising the Emptiness of one the skandhas. In the first two articles in this ‘Buddhism’ series (here and here), I have introduced the first of the Wisdoms – the Dharmadhātu Wisdom – and the notion of Emptiness (Skt: Shunyatā). I would like, in future, to provide more articles on the Dharmadhātu Wisdom, and several articles on each of the other Wisdoms, but I need first to provide an overview of the Buddha’s ‘Emptiness of the Five Skandhas‘ teaching, and this will include an outline of the Five Wisdoms.
I have been referring to the skandhas as ‘cognitive-perceptual components’, or as ‘cognitive-perceptual functions’. This term ‘cognitive-perceptual’ is borrowed from modern science – from medicine and psychology. I trained as an Occupational Therapist and worked in both physical rehabilitation services and mental health services for many years, so I have a very good understanding, and a deep appreciation, if not a sense of wonder, in regard to the biological dimensions of cognition and perception. For professionals in the fields of Neurology and Psychiatry, the two-part word ‘cognitive-perceptual’ refers in part to the different functioning of the two hemispheres of the brain – the left brain being, loosely speaking, more ‘cognitive’ and the right brain being, loosely speaking, more ‘perceptual’. What we are talking about in regard to the skandhas however, is something much deeper. We are talking about the underlying archetypal pattern, or eternal structure, by which Consciousness unfolds into manifestation – the mandala structure within Consciousness that caused the human brain to evolve in the spectacular way that it did.
Carl Jung – a Passionate Student of Tibetan Buddhism
To be clear, we need to define what we mean, in this context, by ‘cognitive-perceptual’. The Buddha’s approach is very much closer to that of Carl Jung and his ‘Four Functions of Consciousness’, than it is to the scientific materialism of modern medicine and psychology. As I have mentioned frequently in previous articles, our unconscious identification with the pre-Quantum-Physics worldview of scientific materialism is a major obstacle to our understanding of the Buddha’s non-duality teachings. Carl Jung was a student of both the early Quantum Physics (he had a long-standing personal friendship with Wolfgang Pauli), and of the universal spiritual psychology that underlies all the spiritual traditions – and one of his most valued sources in his pursuit of that knowledge, was Tibetan Buddhism. It is unfortunately little known that Jung was passionate about the Bardo Thodol, or Tibetan Book of the Dead, and was reported by Marie-Louise Von Franz to have carried a translation of it with him whenever he was traveling. The contents of that book profoundly affected the development of his ideas, including his psychological typology framework, which has a mandala structure, and is essentially identical with the mandala of the Skandhas/Realms/Wisdoms that I am currently exploring in these articles.