This is Article No. 6 in the ‘Buddhism’ series.
It is also the second of ten articles, which explore the ’emptiness’, or non-personal nature, of the ‘Form’, or ‘conceptual form’, aspect of our cognitive-perceptual experience – that which Buddhist tradition calls the rūpa skandha. Together these articles make up a single longer article, or ten-part mini-series of articles, which are best read in order. When all these articles are published, you will be able to click on the titles below to access the other parts.
The Rūpa Skandha – Part 2: The Mirror-Like Wisdom
The Rūpa Skandha – Part 4: Mindfulness and Emptiness
The Rūpa Skandha – Part 5: Dharma and Truth
The Rūpa Skandha – Part 6: Consciousness and Qualia
The Rūpa Skandha – Part 7: The Heart Sutra
The Rūpa Skandha – Part 8: Perfect Speech
The Rūpa Skandha – Part 9: Equanimity and Being
Objectivity, Clarity, Equanimity and Being
In the previous article in this series I began to explore what is meant in Buddhist tradition by a recognition of the ’emptiness’ of the rūpa skandha. This recognition is also called the Mirror-Like Wisdom, and in the mandalas of Indian Mahayana Buddhist tradition and early Tibetan Buddhist tradition, it is represented by the blue eastern quadrant. In later versions of the Tibetan meditation mandalas we see the blue eastern quadrant replaced by a white one – I shall be endeavouring to explain this in a later article in this series. In the Tibetan Bardo Thodol teachings, which were given to us by the great Padmasambhava, we are given the wonderful image of the ‘luminous light-path’ of the Mirror-Like Wisdom. This notion of a light-path can also be thought of a transformational journey, or a purification process, that we undergo as we move from our habitual and unconscious identification with the rūpa skandha to a state of mental objectivity, clarity, and equanimity.
I have suggested that rūpa, which is conventionally translated as ‘Form’, is perhaps best thought of in terms of its association with the Thinking function of the mind. ‘Form’ is that aspect of our experience that can be conceptually described by thoughts, and thoughts are always thought-forms – conceptual forms of various degrees of subtlety. So, rūpa is that aspect of the mind which creates conceptual forms, or works with conceptual forms, and manages our experience, and makes our decisions using conceptual forms.
The rūpa skandha is that aspect of mind that names and manipulates concepts using words, language and various forms of verbal communication – sometimes very crudely, sometimes with great sophistication, and often very dishonestly. Mirror-Like Wisdom, on the other hand, involves a different order of thinking – a different quality of intelligence, which arises directly from the experience of Being, and which creatively addresses the central questions of the nature of mind and its implications for human suffering, human development and human freedom.
We are also told, as I explained in the previous article, that our identification with the rūpa skandha, generates and sustains an energetic residue in the mind – the kleshas of dvesha, or hatred. Dvesha, or hatred, is the characteristic mental state of the Hell Realms, and it is our identification with the rūpa skandha that leads to the Hell Realms – and it is only by releasing that identification that we can finally and completely free ourselves from the mental tendency towards the particularly extreme forms of mental suffering that the Hell Realms represent. We need to cleanse ourselves of the judgemental, hostile and aggressive kleshas in the dvesha category, in order to return to rest in the experience of Being, and to the Mirror-Like Wisdom.
Vajrasattva-Akshobhya and Buddhalocanā
If we are lucky enough to have the Bardo Thodol teachings recited over our body in the hours and days after our death, we may hear our spirit being invited to recognise the emptiness of the rūpa skandha, so that we are released into the Mirrror-Like Wisdom. The ‘hearing in the bardo’ teachings coach us through the experience of being newly deceased but not yet re-born, systematically warning us about each of the Realms of Conditioned Existence, and reminding us that the intermediate state is precious opportunity for complete liberation. For example, we are told to be aware of the great danger that our accumulated kleshas of dvesha, or hatred, may cause us to be drawn to the dull blue light of the Hell Realms. At the same time we are urged to allow ourselves to be drawn to the beautiful blue-white light of the Buddha Vajrasattva-Akshobhya and his female Buddha partner Buddhalocanā (pronounced buddha-loach-anar). Buddhalocanā’s name means ‘She of the Buddha Eye’, or ‘Eye of Awakening’ – I shall be reflecting on this name later in this article.