This article is the fifth of fifteen articles inspired by the ‘Inspiration-Prayer for Deliverance from the Dangerous Pathway of the Bardo’, in which I shall be aiming to show meditators how each one of the ten deities of the Dharmadhātu Mandala can be felt in the fields of the body as profound suprapersonal sources of somatic healing and wisdom. Those who read the whole series of articles – and it is intended that these articles should be read in sequence – will be able to incorporate these reflections into their meditation practice in a systematic way. The first article in the series can be found here; brief summaries of all the articles can be found here; and you can read the five verses here.
I offer these reflections without any claim to the authority of any particular tradition, or school of thought. I am adding my own personal and idiosyncratic commentary to the other commentaries that are available on the Five Wisdoms, and on the archetypal Buddhas of the Dharmadhātu Mandala, only because I believe passionately in the preciousness of this information. I cannot help feeling that there should be much more engagement with this knowledge than is evidenced on the Internet – much more discussion, reflection, contemplation and meditative self-enquiry which takes this primordial mandala as the integrated whole that it is. I sincerely hope that the thoughts that I am sharing will be supportive of this work, and supportive of those who share my love of the mandala wisdom.
In this article, I make reference to the five-fold ‘System of Practice’, that has been used, within the Triratna Buddhist Community, as a framework for thinking about the dimensions of meditation practice and the Dharma life more generally. Sangharakshita’s model originally identified Integration, Positive Emotion, Spiritual Death (i.e. Insight), and Spiritual Rebirth, as four key stages. To these four, a fifth component – Receptivity – was later added – usually as a third ‘stage’. While I am in complete agreement regarding the importance of receptivity and the need for its inclusion in the model, but I do not agree with the addition of it as an additional stage. In my own experience Receptivity is integral to the foundational Integration stage – and therefore to all the subsequent stages. The placement of Receptivity third in a series of five stages, does however reflect the reality that meditators generally come to an appreciation of the importance of Receptivity after they have been engaged with the goals of Integration and Positive Emotion for some time. It certainly fits my experience that a reframing of meditation through an emphasis on Receptivity is necessary for the sort of deepening of practice that is necessary for the emergence of the subsequent stages of Spiritual Death (Insight) and Spiritual Rebirth (Bodhicitta).
I need to acknowledge, and indeed emphasise, that where I have suggested, in these articles, that Receptivity should be given greater primacy, and have proposed that five of the ten deities can be considered to embody Receptivity are particularly supportive of the initial ‘Integration’ phase (and that the other five are more ‘expansive’ can strongly support us during the subsequent ‘Positive Emotion’ stage), this is an observation from my own explorations, and certainly goes beyond the standard interpretation of Sangharakshita’s model. I do not however, believe my suggestions are in conflict with Sangharakshita’s emphasis. I prefer to think of my ideas as a respectful engagement with his; as building on the foundation that his work has given us; as affirming the value of his original four-fold model; and as a tentative contribution to the process by which the Triratna meditation practice model is being forged in the furnace of experience.
The Mandala of Receptive Deities
In my last article (here), I spoke about the way in which the ten deities of the mandala fall into two groups of five. In the first of these two groups there are three female Buddhas and two male Buddhas, but all of them can be characterised as more ‘yin’, or ‘receptive’ in their energy as they are experienced in meditation. In the second group there are three male Buddhas and two female Buddhas, but all of them can be characterised as more ‘yang’, or ‘expansive’ in their energy as they are experienced in meditation. In the next five articles, I shall be talking about the first group of five deities – the ‘yin’, or ‘receptive’ group of deities – which are shown below. I shall starting with the deities of the mandala quadrants and finishing with White Tāra, in the centre.
I have chosen to start, in this article, with an exploration of the figure of Pandaravārsini; with the Discriminating Wisdom; and with the Dharmic principle that I have come to call ‘Uncaused Happiness’. It will not be possible to separate Pandaravārsini and the experience she represents, from Amitābha and the experience that he represents, but my focus will be on Pandaravārsini. I hope to show that for meditators, she is of enormous importance for our healing of the klesha of rāga, or ‘craving’, which is one of our greatest obstacles to realisation. More than this, because she represents the essence of our capacity to truly love ourselves, she can be regarded as the source of our capacity for emotional self-healing through meditation practice.
The Samjñā Skandha, the Klesha of Craving (rāga), and the Preta Realms
When, through craving, I wander in samsara,
on the luminous light-path of Discriminating Wisdom,
may Blessed Amitābha go before me,
and Pandaravārsini behind me;
help me to cross the bardo’s dangerous pathway,
and bring me to the perfect buddha state.
The five verses in the ‘Inspiration-Prayer for Deliverance from the Dangerous Pathway of the Bardo’ take us clockwise around the mandala in the traditional way, starting in the centre and then the eastern quadrant. In this exploration, I shall be taking us on a different journey – a journey that aims to explore and embrace the hidden polarities and dynamic tensions within the mandala structure. We shall be starting in the western quadrant with the red light-path of the ’empty’ sanjñā skandha and the Discriminating Wisdom, which leads us away from the egoic reactivity of the Preta Realm and towards the emotionally nourishing influence of Pandaravārsini and Amitābha. Only then will we move across to the eastern quadrant to look at the blue light-path of the ’empty’ rūpa skandha and the Mirror-Like Wisdom, which leads us away from the Hell Realms, and towards the peace and mental clarity of Vajrasattva and Buddha-Locana.