This article is the seventh of fifteen articles inspired by the central five verses of Padmasambhava’s ‘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; you can read the previous article in the series here; and you can read the five verses here.
In these articles, I am choosing once again to use a non-traditional terminology for talking about the process of transformation that the Dharmadhātu Mandala invites us to engage in. Those who have read the previous articles on this series may recognise Integration, Positive Emotion, Spiritual Death and Spiritual Rebirth as the stages of a system of meditative practice that was suggested by Sangharakshita in the 1970s. This being the case, I need to point out once again, that while I find that these four general stages fit my experience very well indeed, the detail of my own approach to these stages of meditation practice is not based on any detailed exposition by Sangharakshita, but on my own explorations.
I should also make it clear that what I am presenting here does not represent the consensus within the global Triratna Buddhist Community regarding Sangharakshita’s ‘System of Practice’ – far from it. My intention is only to share my own experience, and to share my own somewhat personal and perhaps idiosyncratic reflections. My hope is that others will find my exploration of that four-fold conceptual frame of reference to be meaningful and useful, and will be stimulated to engage in their own meditative enquiry into the profound spiritual psychology of the Dharmadhātu mandala.
This article was originally written as the first part of a longer article on the female Buddha Māmaki, but I have chosen to present it as a separate article, and as one which will hopefully serve as an introduction to that article. In it, I hope to provide a recapitulation of key understandings from previous articles in the series, and to further introduce the notion of the somatic, and the idea that meditation is an experience of, not mind, but body-mind – these being foundational conceptualisations for the article on Māmaki that follows. By talking of mind as body-mind, I mean, not an integration of two separate elements – mind and body – but an acknowledgement of the extent to which mind and body must be regarded as inherently integrated in the practice of meditation. So, while meditation can usefully be thought of, at least in the beginning stages, as an integration of mind and body – of ‘bringing the mind home to the body’, as Thich Nhat Hahn used to say – I am interested in a deeper integration, in the sense of a bringing into full awareness, of the five already integrated body-mind components, which Buddhist tradition calls the five skandhas. By way of introduction to the article on Māmaki, I shall, in this article, be reflecting on the vedanā skandha in particular – the skandha of ‘internal’ and ‘external’ Sensing, Sensation and Embodiment.
A Comprehensive Non-Dual Archetypal Psychology
In this series of articles, I have set out to describe the ten archetypal Buddhas of the Dharmadhātu Mandala – the mandala of the Five Wisdoms – and to present them as personifications of an interrelated constellation of Dharmic principles that together form a comprehensive non-dual psychology. These Dharmic principles can be viewed as stages in a transformation process – a transformation process that leads not just to Insight, and to the release of self-view (which we can call Spiritual Death); but to our embodiment of the transcendent Bodhisattva principle (a stage which we can call Spiritual Rebirth), through the release of the energetic residues of the egoic mind, which Buddhist tradition calls the kleshas.
We can characterise the process of realisation that we call Enlightenment as having four stages – Integration, Positive Emotion, Spiritual Death and Spiritual Rebirth – and we can approach each of these four stages through five meditative contemplations, using the Five Wisdoms Mandala as our guide. Each of the four stages engages with the Five Wisdoms at a higher level than the last. They are are like four octaves – the subsequent stages resonating with the earlier ones, and each expressing a higher and more comprehensive level of transformation and wisdom than the last. While it is true to say that embodiment of Consciousness characterised by Positive Emotion requires the foundation of mental and emotional stability such as is developed in the Integration stage, there is also however, a sense in which these two different familiarisation processes can progress in parallel. I shall be talking more about this below.
The most obvious division of the four stages is into the first two and the last two. There is however, a particularly strong resonance between the Integration and Spiritual Death stages (first and third), and between the Positive Emotion and Spiritual Rebirth stages (second and fourth). This means that our practice in the Integration stage, and our deepening connection with the five receptive ‘Integration’ Buddhas (that we we are currently studying), is likely to also produce significant insights into the impersonal nature of mind (Spiritual Death). Similarly, a deep practice of the Positive Emotion stage, and our deepening connection with the five expansive ‘Positive Emotion’ Buddhas, is likely to propel us into that profoundly and naturally altruistic way of living our embodiment of Consciousness, which the Buddhist tradition speaks of in terms of the Bodhicitta – the emergence of the Bodhisattva archetype as the guiding principle of our being (Spiritual Rebirth).
What I am presenting here is clearly not an ego-psychology – in which an heroic and narcissistic egoic self makes vain attempts at transcendence by trying to appropriate divine powers to itself. Rather it is a Buddhist archetypal psychology, in which the humble and reverent egoic self of the Mahayana Buddhist practitioner seeks to know, familiarise themselves with, and surrender to, the benevolent forces of the Transcendental – the archetypal powers that are inherent in Consciousness and organised as a mandala of Five Wisdoms.
The Brahmavihāras – Self-Regarding and Other-Regarding
The egoic mind has tendencies which we can characterised in terms of energetic dis-integration and energetic contraction, and the practice of meditation, or resting as Consciousness, leads to the opposite tendencies – Integration being the opposite of energetic dis-integration, and Positive Emotion being the opposite of energetic contraction. One way in which this distinction that I am making, between Integration and Positive Emotion can be understood, is in terms of the brahmavihāras (Equanimity, Loving Kindness, Compassion, and Appreciative Joy) which can be either self-regarding or other-regarding – either energetically receptive or energetically expansive.
Although it is not my preferred approach, it is conventional within the Buddhist tradition to present the practice of the four brahmavihāras as if they were four entirely separate practices – four separate practices in which a stage of self-regarding practice (e.g. mettā towards self) is followed by several stages of other-regarding practice (e.g. mettā towards others). For example, in the traditional five-stage mettābhāvana practice, the ‘Cultivation of Loving Kindness’, we first direct mettā towards ourselves, then towards a friend, then towards a neutral person, then towards an ‘enemy’, and then towards the world.
The conceptual framing of this common approach can often fail to acknowledge that the self-mettā stage is one of receptivity – one in which, ultimately, we are familiarising ourselves with a transpersonal source of mettā, and making ourselves receptive to it, and in so doing developing our confidence, or Faith, in that transcendental source of love. Ultimately, in self-mettā practice, we are not so much ‘directing mettā towards ourselves’, as recognising that mettā as inherently present in Consciousness, and making ourselves receptive to it. Because Pandaravārsini, the female Buddha that I spoke about in a key article in this series (here), is the archetypal personification of this confident recognition of, and receptivity towards, the transcendental source of mettā, she clearly represents an absolutely foundational principle in meditation practice – hence my suggestion that she should be placed first in our systematic contemplation of the ten archetypal Buddhas.
If we are serious about framing our practice in the context of a truly non-dual Buddhist psychology – a psychology of shunyatā (’emptiness’) and of anattā (‘no-self’) – this is clearly a very important distinction to make. If we are going to engage in years of intensive mettā practice with the intention of transforming our emotional life, we need to sure that we are not also cultivating a very subtle form of narcissism – a personalising tendency that prevents the arising of true Insight. It is common to speak of the need to ‘love ourselves’, but we need to be clear that when we use this phrase we are using a very crude conceptualisation, and not a very Buddhist one, to describe our intention. When we speak in the more rigorous language of Buddhist non-dual psychology, we endeavour to acknowledge the fact that in the internal relationship of self-love, neither the source nor the recipient of that love is personal – and nor is the love itself.
It is useful to acknowledge how very different the self-regarding brahmavihāras are from the other-regarding ones, because this has several huge implications. The self-regarding brahmavihāras have a powerfully integrating effect, and are psychologically introverted or receptive. They have the effect of gathering our psychological energies and are essential for mental and emotional stability and for establishing that capacity for inner relationship, which prevents us from identifying with our various psychological parts (more on psychological parts here). The other-regarding brahmavihāras, on the other hand, are more obviously expansive, relational, and external in their focus. Their development requires not only the energetic, or attitudinal, dimension that we can develop though meditation practice, but also highly developed interpersonal self-awareness and communication skills.
The Feminine and Integration, the Masculine and Positive Emotion
When we hold a truly spiritual view of life, in either a Buddhist cultural context, or any other religious context, we are subject to two main imperatives. Firstly, we find ourselves in a devotional-receptive relationship to a transcendental reality, and secondly, we find ourselves confronted by the immanence of that transcendental reality in ourselves and in other people, and are therefore obliged to live it – to embody it in ourselves and to live a life informed by ethics, compassion and wisdom. The devotional-receptive impulse is intrinsic to the first stage of meditation that I have been calling ‘Integration’. The establishment of a devotional-receptive relationship to the beneficial spiritual forces – to forces beyond the egoic mind – is actually very quiet and undramatic. It is the egoic mind that is dramatic, wilful, and grandiose. The devotional-receptive attitude is relaxed and humble. We progressively recognise during this ‘Integration’ stage that the universe is inherently ethical and inherently good. On the basis of that foundation, a choice naturally emerges to live the truths that we have discovered; to live according to what we know; to embody the benevolence that we have recognised. In other words, there is a natural and concurrent arising of ‘Positive Emotion’.
The archetype of feminine-masculine polarity appears in numerous ways in the psychology of the Dharmadhātu mandala, but a fundamental manifestation of this archetype is in these first two stages. The initial ‘Integration’ stage can be regarded as energetically feminine, or yin, and the subsequent ‘Positive Emotion’ stage can be regarded as energetically masculine, or yang. By acknowledging the necessity of the foundation provided by an energetically feminine, devotional-receptive Integration process, we highlight a danger that male practitioners are perhaps more prone to than female ones. It is understandable that the male practitioner will often seize upon the expansive ‘Positive Emotion’ stage, and will apply his masculine egoic will to it in a way that is not sustainable – it is difficult to embody the transcendental Bodhisattva principle however, if we have not first actually recognised the energies of that principle, and begun to make ourselves receptive to their blessing. Without the foundation that comes from a devotional-receptive recognition of the objective and collective nature of the brahmavihāras, the male practitioner (or the female practitioner) is likely to approach these Dharmic principles merely as ideals, rather than as objective spiritual realities and aspects of our deepest true nature.
The tendency, inherent in the Western mind, and in the narrow mind-set of scientific materialism, to reduce the brahmavihāras, and the other ethical and relational Dharmic principles, to ideals – rather than recognising them as suprapersonal forces – is very unfortunate. Even Buddhists can find themselves thinking in this way. This idealising and idealistic way of thinking can have extremely negative psychological and social consequences, and it is absolutely necessary for us to recognise the limitation of this approach (I spoke about this in more detail in the very first article in this series, here). Our avoidance of this sort of crude conceptualisation requires that we go deeper into our practice and begin to root our practice in the principles of shunyatā (’emptiness’) and anattā (‘no-self’). It is also of enormous value for us to integrate into our Western practice of Buddhism, the principles of archetypal psychology, such as I have been suggesting in these articles. Buddhism is after all, a form of archetypal psychology. This characteristic is especially evident in the psychological attitude that emerged in the Mahayana and Vajrayana developments, but is also very clearly present in the life and teachings of the historical Buddha as they are presented to us in the Pali Canon.
Releasing the Egoic Kleshas – Through Receptivity and Expansiveness
So, the archetypally feminine, Integration stage, can be thought of as the initial more receptive stage of a two stage process of learning to rest ‘as’ Consciousness. Another way of framing this would be to say that, as we begin to familiarise ourselves with the Five Wisdoms, we first learn to rest ‘in’ the field of Consciousness; and then, subsequently, we learn to rest ‘as’ Consciousness. As we progress though these two stages, the Five Wisdoms are recognised to be the component dimensions of a deepening process in which the egoic mind begins to come to rest in its source – to rest as Consciousness.
There are two corresponding stages in our release of the egoic kleshas – the ‘obscurations’ of our true nature. Initially, in the ‘Integration’ stage, that releasing has a receptive character. The klesha energies are flushed out of us by our receptivity to suprapersonal forces of healing – we become more integrated by the removal of those energies that have dis-integrating character. When we begin to recognise the Wisdoms as aspects of our essential nature however, we initiate a further more active release of the egoic kleshas. This is the ‘Positive Emotion’ stage, in which there is a self-release of those obscurations that are more contractive in character – that are the energetic obstacles to a deeper embodiment of the other-regarding aspects of the brahmavihāras.
Significantly, we are talking about embodiment here – talking about the somatic. Whether we are talking about the brahmavihāras as aspects of embodied Consciousness, or about the obscuring kleshas, we are talking about the somatic – about the multidimensional and difficult-to-define mystery of bodily-felt experience. All of the ten archetypal Buddhas are doorways into the somatic, but I hope in the course of this article, to show that Māmaki, who is associated with the ’emptiness’ of the ‘internal’ aspect of the vedanā skandha – the introverted aspect of the perceptual function of Sensing or Sensation – has a special role to play in this regard.
There is enormous value in recognising the inseparability of the brahmavihāras and the Wisdoms, and therefore recognising that the brahmavihāras are inherent in Consciousness, and are a reflection of the Transcendental in our own mental experience. When we first recognise the brahmavihāras as existing inherently in Consciousness, they are, or course, obscured – obscured by the kleshas. But our recognition of them – sensing them like the sun behind the obscuring clouds of the kleshas – is all that we need to initiate a radical transformation of the body-mind. By beginning to release the obscuring kleshas in the Integration stage, we are much more able to allow the brahmavihāras to find a more complete and expansive somatic embodiment in us in the Positive Emotion stage.
The Foundational Principle of Receptivity
The ten archetypal Buddhas are usually seen as five male-female pairs – each ‘Buddha couple’ representing two aspects of each of the five Wisdoms. These pairs of Buddhas correspond to the ‘internal’ and ‘external’ aspects of the skandhas, which are referred to in the Pali Canon, and to the self-regarding and other-regarding aspects of the brahmavihāras – we can also think of each pair as containing an introverted/receptive aspect, and an extroverted/expansive aspect. When we look closely however, we find that these polarities do not correspond to the polarity of male and female.
While we often see these deities approached as a group of five male Buddhas, with a second group of five female ‘consorts’, I have taken a different approach. My aim has been to introduce the ten deities, and their associated Dharmic principles, by relating them to the stages of our spiritual practice. This initial process is very usefully conceptualised as I have been describing above – as an initial stage of Integration, followed by a second stage of even more expansive and more extraverted energetic transformation, which we can call Positive Emotion.
I have therefore divided the ten archetypal buddhas into two groups of five – the first five being ‘receptive’ deities (which support the ‘Integration’ stage); and the second five being ‘expansive’ ones (which support the ‘Positive Emotion’ stage). Using Carl Jung’s terminology, the Integration stage can usefully be regarded as more introverted – providing for a more meditative and inward focus; and a ‘drawing in’, or gathering, of psycho-spiritual energies. The Positive Emotion stage, which can be thought of as more extroverted, can also be cultivated though meditation, but finds fullest expression in the more overtly extraverted and social realm of empathetic relating, compassionate activity and creative work. In this way, the wisdom energies that we first encounter in the (receptive) Integration stage, are more fully embodied and outwardly expressed in the (expansive) Positive Emotion stage.
In the last two articles in this series, I have spoken about the first two ‘receptive’ Dharmic principles: Uncaused Happiness (Pandaravārsini); and Equanimity (Vajrasattva). Please read these articles (here and here) if you have not already done so – I have used the terms Uncaused Happiness, and Equanimity as placeholders, or conceptual labels. Each one refers to a rich and complex spiritual realities – to Dharmic principles that provide foundational support in the Integration stage of meditation. Uncaused Happiness is the term that I have chosen to describe the receptive aspect of the Discriminating Wisdom – the faith, confidence and contentment that arise from recognition of the great Loving Kindness (mahamaitri) that is inherent in Consciousness, and personified by Amitabha – a recognition which came to be personified in Buddhist tradition by the great female Buddha Pandaravārsini.
Vajrasattva on the other hand, represents Equanimity (upekshā), one of the mahabrahmavihāras (the great ‘divine abodes’, which we can think of as ‘attitudes of Consciousness’), and can be thought of as the receptive aspect of the Mirror-Like Wisdom – that purifying power within Consciousness, which brings mental stability, clarity, and non-reactivity. By our recognition of the imperturbable stillness, and inherent purity and non-reactivity of Consciousness, we gain Equanimity as an aspect of Integration, and the associated qualities of Being and deep non-judgemental psychological intelligence – qualities that came to be personified in Buddhist tradition by the male buddha Vajrasattva and the female Buddha Buddha-Locana.
In this and the next article, we are going be moving on and exploring a third introverted/receptive Dharmic principle – one that is represented among the archetypal buddhas of the Dharmadhātu Mandala by the figure of Māmaki, who is the female Buddha counterpart of Ratnasambhava, the great yellow Buddha of the southern quadrant of the mandala. This third receptive principle is Appreciative Joy, which is another of the mahabrahmavihāras.
Below, I shall be explaining in detail why I place Appreciative Joy third in the order of the ten Dharmic principles – but first let me explain the connection between Appreciative Joy and the Equalising Wisdom.
As a way of entering somatically into the felt meaning of the imagery of Māmaki and Ratnasambhava, we can consider Māmaki as embodying the ‘receptive’ principle of Appreciative Joy, and Ratnasambhava as embodying the corresponding ‘expansive’ principle, which we can point to using the words Embodiment and Generosity. We can see Appreciative Joy and Embodiment not only as feminine and masculine aspects of the Equalising Wisdom, but as ‘Integration’ and ‘Positive Emotion’ aspects of the Equalising Wisdom. While these principles cannot, in reality, be completely separated, I shall be focusing, in this article, on the Integration-related and introverted aspect – Appreciative Joy – and will be reflecting in more detail on Embodiment / Generosity, when we come to the five expansive, or ‘Positive Emotion’, Buddhas later in this series of articles.
Emptiness (Shunyatā) and the Embodiment of Consciousness
Foundational to this series of articles, have been two subtle and complex, and seemingly incongruous ideas – ‘Emptiness’ and ‘Embodied Consciousness’. At the heart of Buddhist wisdom, is the apparent dichotomy of ‘Emptiness’ (shunyatā) and ‘Form’ (rūpa). This dichotomy wrestles with the fact that, while persons and things are ultimately insubstantial and ’empty’ of self-nature, they nevertheless always ‘appear’ as ‘persons’ and as ‘things’ – a perception which cannot, and should not, be denied. One of the ways in which we can unravel this conundrum is through the idea of Embodied Consciousness. By learning to see Form, especially the form of ourselves, as Embodied Consciousness, and then enquiring into the way in which Consciousness, and our objective and collective reality, is reflected somatically, and structured in the bodily-felt experience of an apparently individual body-mind, we have an opportunity to resolve this dichotomy.
The Buddha repeatedly explained, using the ancient Indian ‘Five Skandhas‘ model as his teaching framework, that nothing in our experience is personal – and that this anattā, or ‘no-self’, principle, applies to Consciousness itself (the ’empty’ vijñāna skandha) – which we find in the centre of the mandala of the five skandhas. Prior to the Buddha, the skandhas were viewed, in ancient Indian spiritual psychology, as subtle but substantial components of a substantial self – an enduring self that is subject to rebirth. The Buddha took these same five components and presented them in a fresh way, as components of a cognitive-perceptual ‘open-system’ model, which emphasised that the self that arises from the coming together of the five skandhas is only an appearance. The notion of rūpa, in the Buddha’s re-vamped skandhas model, described the way the appearance of a self and a separate objective world, is concretised by the mind’s conceptualisation of it – and indeed, by our personalising identification with all of the components of the experience.
The bodily experience of observed, conceptualised and seemingly objective Form (rūpa) is more that just the rūpa skandha, however – although the concretising, conceptualising rūpa skandha plays the key role of labelling, or naming, the experience, and therefore giving it ‘conceptual form’. In Buddhist tradition, when ‘Form’ is presented as a dichotomy with ‘Emptiness’, ‘Form’ represents not only the objectifying, form-creating, conceptualising rūpa skandha; it also indicates our failure to recognise that all of the cognitive-perceptual functions of Consciousness are ’empty’. So, the Buddhist tradition gives the conceptual reification of the illusion that arises from the coming together of the skandhas the conceptual label ‘Form’ – in full awareness that what is being referred to is not a substantial reality, but ’empty’(shunyatā) and without self-nature.
Consciousness and its Four-Fold Embodiment as Body-Mind
This notion of ’emptiness’ (shunyatā), which the Buddha used when talking about the impersonal nature of the five skandhas – to explain that they are merely cognitive-perceptual, rather than substantial – remained central and continued to develop as the Buddhist tradition developed. Its meaning was also considerably expanded so that shunyatā came to be synonymous with Consciousness – with an objective and collective field of Consciousness, conceived of as an infinite, luminous reality, teeming with compassionate Life Energy, pervading every aspect of our concrete experience, and unconditionally available to us for the support of our evolution.
In this and the subsequent article, I would like to engage more deeply with the skandhas – and begin to address the vedanā skandha – which denotes both the perceptual act of Sensing and the perceptual data of Sensation. Because the vedanā skandha is best understood as the domain of bodily or sensory experience, I need to establish that all of the skandhas are both ‘bodily’ and ‘mental’. Indeed the skandhas are best understood as a description of mind as body-mind, in which Consciousness (the empty’ vijñāna skandha) and its four cognitive perceptual functions come together to create an embodiment of Consciousness – the five dimensions of body-mind, which we take to be a ‘self’.
As I began to explain above, ‘Form’ (rūpa), when it is contrasted with ‘Emptiness’ in this way (as in the Heart Sutra, which emerged in the Mahayana period), is, somewhat confusingly, also being used to denote a larger and more comprehensive conceptual category than just the skandha of rūpa – which though translated as ‘form’, is better identified as ‘conceptual form’, or better still as the cognitive act of ‘form-creation’ through conceptualisation. The ‘Form’ that is presented in Buddhist thought as a dichotomy with ‘Emptiness’, refers to the aggregated totality of all the cognitive-perceptual data as it appears to Consciousness as an egoic body-mind. It is misleading to assume, as many Buddhist commentators do, that rūpa refers to ‘body’, because in reality there is no separation of mind and body in the skandhas model. All of the skandhas are aspects of a unified body-mind, and each one of the skandhas describes a unity of body and mind in regard to that aspect of the body-mind experience.
So, ‘Form’, in that context, is: vedanā (the Sensing function of the body-mind and the perceptual data that we call Sensation); samjñā (the evaluative function of the body-mind and the evaluative data that we call Feeling); samskaras (the volitional data and the Intuition function of the body-mind through which we perceive it); and rūpa (the function of the body-mind that labels, concretises, and objectifies our experience, and the conceptual, or Thinking’ data it uses to do this). All of this is rūpa, or ‘Form’ – the conceptualising rūpa skandha is just the leading component, and the most obvious component, in the process by which the self-illusion is created. The rūpa skandha, though it is often simply translated as ‘form’, is much better thought of as referring to the conceptualising, concretising, form-creating function of Consciousness, and to the ‘conceptual data’ of mental cognition; the ’empty’ ‘form-data’ of the body-mind. For more on this, please consider reading my series of articles on the rūpa skandha (here).
Shunyatā – the Emptiness that is also a Vast Abundant Fullness
As the Buddhist tradition evolved into its Mahayana and Vajrayana stages, it supplemented its previous specific use of the notion of shunyatā in the analytical dissection of mental experience, with a broader engagement with shunyatā conceived of as the vast totality of the benevolent and evolutionary archetypal (i.e. non-personal) forces of the universe. There is great value in understanding the connection between these two uses of the word. Shunyatā , because it denotes the non-personal nature of the psyche – its foundation being in ’empty’ cognitive-perceptual dynamics, and in a non-personal source of Consciousness – also identifies Buddhism as an archetypal psychology, akin to that of Carl Jung.
It was perhaps inevitable therefore, that Buddhism would come to populate its conceptual maps with mythic personifications. The archetypal perspective within psychology tells us that this it what the human mind has always done, and always will do – as it attempts to grasp and express its own nature, and recognise its own transpersonal source. The Buddhist tradition makes the wise and powerful distinction, as did the much later tradition of Archetypal Psychology that emerged out of Jung’s Analytical Psychology, of acknowledging that this personification process is ‘true’ – spiritually, psychologically and metaphysically true; real and necessary – even as the beings personified are also recognised to be ’empty’ and non-personal.
The imaginal processes by which mythic figures spontaneously emerge into collective consciousness are usually primarily unconscious. In the Buddhist cultural situation however, this process was much more deliberate – arising from systematic contemplation of the Buddha and his teachings – and centuries of meditation on the profound cognitive-perceptual framework provided by the Buddha’s ‘Five Skandhas‘ teaching. The contemplation was a meditative one – a bodily-felt form of self-enquiry that in modern parlance we would call a ‘somatic’ approach. This somatic enquiry asked such questions as: ‘How are the ’empty’ skandhas embodied in us?’; ‘How is Consciousness (the ’empty’ vijñāna skandha) embodied in us?’; and ‘What was the inner, or bodily-felt, experience of the Buddha after he had released his identification with each of the skandhas?’ Not surprisingly, the archetypal Buddhas of the Mahayana imagination, which emerged from these contemplations, were not viewed literally, as gods. They were seen as ’empty’, as archetypal personifications rather than divine persons, but seen as no less ‘real’ for that. Indeed they were an undeniable mystical reality – frequently and vividly experienced by meditation practitioners.
The Dharmadhātu Mandala, which we are exploring in these articles – and which is presented in the Bardo Thodol verses with the authority of the great Padmasambhava – was the collaborative product of many generations of Buddhists engaged in meditative enquiry. It is a gift of incalculable value – a graphical and imaginal representation of shunyatā, and a map of the archetypal landscape of our meditation journey as we explore the experience of embodied Consciousness. It is a map with which we can follow in the footsteps of the great meditators and Enlightened sages of the Buddhist tradition – and those of the Buddha himself.
The Skandhas; Brahmavihāras; ‘Spiritual Faculties’; and the Foundations of Mindfulness
Although this is something that I have touched on before, I would like to again briefly expand upon this reflection on how the Five Wisdoms evolved. Not being part of Gautama Buddha’s teaching framework, they are not found in the suttas of the Pali Canon – even though they appear in the Abhidharma commentaries written in the subsequent centuries. The great Buddhist libraries of the Indian Mahayana, which might have explained in more detail how the Five Wisdoms emerged and rose to their later prominence, were destroyed during the Moslem invasions of medieval India. It is clear however, that the Five Wisdoms represent not only several centuries of meditative reflection on the five skandhas, but also a gathering together of several of the Buddha’s other teaching frameworks into a single internally consistent model. Significantly both the skandhas and the brahmavihāras were originally non-Buddhist (i.e. pre-Buddhist) frameworks. We can imagine that the Buddha, and the lineage of teachers that followed him, while seeing the great value of these ancient Indian archetypal frameworks, were also concerned to develop practice models that had a more distinctively Buddhist character.
We can see the ‘Four Foundations of Mindfulness’ and the ‘Five Spiritual Faculties’ as examples of the Buddha, responding to his students needs, and presenting fresh sets of perspectives, insights and areas of practice, which are based on the same archetypal pattern that we see in his earlier teaching on the skandhas and brahmavihāras. When we entertain this possibility, and explore the connections, we can see that all four frameworks are intimately connected – and that they correspond in innumerable very illuminating ways. In Pali, the language of early Buddhism, the ‘Five Spiritual Faculties’ are called the indriyas, which literally means ‘belonging to Indra’ – Indra being the king of the Hindu gods. Indra is associated in the India cultural sphere with with power, so the indriyas are ‘spiritual powers’. They are also associated, in Hindu spirituality, with the sense organs, and with the functions of the body – hence the English translation of the indriyas as ‘Faculties’.
The connections between the skandhas and the ‘Foundations’ are particularly clear, and well-known to Tibetan Buddhists – and extremely useful for our understanding of both frameworks. It is by seeing the associations between the skandhas and the brahmavihāras however, and by seeing the implications of these connections reflected in the ‘Spiritual Faculties’, that the combined framework opens up and moves towards the Five Wisdoms model that subsequently emerged. Whereas the skandhas can be seen primarily as a framework for meditation and self-enquiry, the ‘Foundations’ use the same archetypal framework to describe corresponding aspects of Mindfulness practice. In the case of the ‘Spiritual Faculties’ the same archetypal framework is presented as five areas of an approach to spiritual practice that is balanced and comprehensive – with Mindfulness in the centre.
In my ‘Meditation Guidance’ series of articles (listed with summaries here), I focused on the brahmavihāras and the skandhas (using Carl Jung’s cognitive-perceptual terminology to shed light on the skandhas). In this series I have been a little more ambitious, and have been drawing on the other connections. Significantly, both the skandhas and the ‘Foundations of Mindfulness’ are described as having both ‘internal’ and ‘external’ dimensions – so it would not be incorrect to say that the Buddha described ten skandhas and eight ‘Foundations’. This explains why each of the Five Wisdoms are so well described by a pair of Dharmic principles – and by a pair of archetypal Buddhas. I hope to be unfolding more of this intriguing set of correspondences in this article and the one which follows it – especially the important connections between the brahmavihāra of Appreciative Joy; the ‘Spiritual Faculty’ of Meditation (samādhi) the skandha of vedanā, or Sensation (or Sensing); and the female archetypal Buddha, Māmaki.
The Subject-Object Dichotomy
So, in the Pali texts that present the Buddha’s teachings on Mindfulness, which are called the Satipatthana Suttas, we find that there are not just four ‘Foundations of Mindfulness’, but eight – because each foundation has an ‘internal’ and an ‘external’ aspect. There are, in effect, four pairs of ‘Foundations’ in the Buddha’s Mindfulness practice model – very much akin to Carl Jung’s four pairs of ‘Functions of Consciousness’ in his cognitive-perceptual model. This is, of course, not surprising, since Jung’s model was, at least in part, based on his study of Buddhism – and his especially deep study of the mandala imagery of the Bardo Thodol. This pairing of Introverted and Extraverted Dharmic principles arises directly from the subject-object dichotomy, which is transcended at the very highest level of meditative experience, but is always present for us as we engage with the external world.
I have referred above to a similar pairing of ‘internal’ and ‘external’, or Introverted and Extraverted, that is found in traditional Buddhist practice of the brahmavihāras – Loving Kindness, Equanimity, Appreciative Joy and Compassion. As I have already explained, the practice of the brahmavihāras as four separate five-stage practices (i.e.: 1 – Self; 2 – Good friend; 3 – Neutral person; 4 – Enemy; 5 – World), do not always acknowledge that the ‘receptive’ and introverted first stage (the ‘self’ stage) is qualitatively different from the four subsequent ‘expansive’ and extraverted stages. If we are serious about using our practice of the brahmavihāras to overcome the subject-object dichotomy and to support the arising of the bodhicitta, as Buddhist tradition recommends, we need first to recognise this fundamental subject-object dichotomy in our egoic experience, and need to practice the brahmavihāras in a way that directly challenges the thinking and energetic patterning that maintains the illusion of separate selfhood.
There is much more that could be said about this. In a sense, what I am doing in this series of articles, is an attempt to address the need to practice the brahmavihāras in a way that addresses this incongruity – the need to practice in a way that allows us to move towards a place in which the subject-object framework is transcended by our meditation practice, rather than affirmed by it. I hope to highlight, when we come to the article on Māmaki – the female Buddha of ’empty’ vedanā skandha (Sensation, or Sensing) – the fact that this is a somatic process. By which, I mean that the subject-object dichotomy is energetically structured into the subtle fields of the body (as the obscuring kleshas of Buddhist tradition), and this patterning is only released through our bodily confrontation with that experience, which is the practice of meditation (samādhi). When we engage in systematic meditative enquiry that is guided by the non-dual psychology of ‘resting as Consciousness’, we challenge the somatic kleshas much more fundamentally – and begin to transform the somatic energies of the egoic body-mind that sustain the illusion of egoic separation.
The Vedanā Skandha – Sensation and the Perceptual Function of Sensing
In the last two articles, we have examined the ’empty’ samjñā skandha, and the ’empty’ rūpa skandha, which form the west-east axis of the mandala of the five skandhas. In the Buddha’s cognitive-perceptual schema, this pair of complementary but seemingly opposed functions, can be thought of as rational, discriminative, judging, or decision-making functions – ‘Judging’ was the term used in the English translations of Carl Jung’s writings. Jung’s terms for these two Judging functions in the cognitive-perceptual mandala are ‘Feeling’ and ‘Thinking’. ‘Feeling’ was English word that Jung chose for decision-making via subjective or evaluative discrimination (samjñā skandha), while ‘Thinking’ was chosen for decision-making via conceptualisation (rūpa skandha).
In this, and the next two articles, we are going to be engaging with the first of two perceptual, or ‘Perceiving’ functions, the ’empty’ vedanā skandha, which Jung called Sensation, or Sensing. The skandhas, we need to remember, are variously used to refer to: (1) the apparently substantial components of a ‘self’ (as in the original ancient Indian model); (2) to the ’empty’ cognitive-perceptual ‘functions’ through which the egoic body-mind is conscious and develops in consciousness, differentiation, capability, and functioning; and (3) to the ’empty’ cognitive-perceptual data flows which the Buddha recognised as being the ’empty’ components from which the self-illusion is created. Our examination of the Sensing component of perception is foundational, because nothing affirms the illusion of a separate self more strongly than our lack of awareness in regard to the vedanā skandha (Sensation) – since we identify with our apparent physicality so strongly, and in such a personalising way.
Unfortunately vedanā is often translated as ‘feeling’ and this causes enormous confusion, since Feeling, in the sense of ‘evaluative discrimination’, is denoted by the samjñā skandha – and is associated with the western quadrant of the mandala; with the Discriminating Wisdom; and with the archetypal Buddhas Amitābha and Pandaravārsini, the central figures in the Padma (Lotus) family of Buddhas. Everything about the southern quadrant and the Equalising Wisdom, and the associated symbolism of Ratnasambhava and Māmaki – the central figures in the Ratna (Jewel) Family of Buddhas) – point to the fact that vedanā refers to the perceptual function of Sensation or Sensing. While Feeling is often used colloquially, to denote Sensing, if we are serious about trying to understand the way the Buddha separated out the components of the cognitive-perceptual process, we need to be clear that the vedanā skandha denotes the Perceiving function of Sensing, and we need to reserve the word ‘Feeling’ as a synonym for the Judging function of samjñā – evaluative discrimination.
This is a crucial distinction, and one that I have endeavoured to make clear in several articles. It is an essential distinction if we wish to go deeper into the notion of the somatic. The mis-translation of vedanā as Feeling is in part due to the fact that vedanā refers to a domain of perceptual experience that is far greater than the word Sensation, or Sensing, normally denotes. Vedanā, properly understood, also addresses the totality of the somatic. Vedanā therefore, is the pair of perceptual functions, which together address both the ‘internal’ and the ‘external’ aspects of sensory experience – (1) the ‘internal physical’, or psycho-physical, or somatic, experience of the body-mind; and (2) the ‘external physical’ experience of the body and its world, through the senses.
Samjñā, on the other hand, is the evaluative and discriminative function that we use in concert with vedanā (or in concert with the samskaras skandha), to judge, to discern, and to make decisions through subjective evaluation – a mode of discernment and decision-making that is best pointed to in the English language using the word ‘feeling’. The Buddha’s precious skandhas teaching is rendered impenetrable, and of no practical use as a framework for self-enquiry, if we persist in using the word ‘feeling’ as our translation for vedanā rather than for samjñā. Samjñā, while it is clearly subjective, is a Judging, discriminating, discerning, and decision-making function, whereas vedanā, which is a Perceiving function. By understanding vedanā as a Perceiving function, and therefor as entirely different from samjñā, we can start to examine the confusing non-conceptual, non-rational world of our inner ‘somatic’ experience with more accuracy and clarity.
Mindfulness of the Skandhas – ‘Internal’ and ‘External’
As I mentioned above, and have previously pointed out in these articles, the skandhas and the ‘Foundations of Mindfulness’, are almost completely interchangeable cognitive-perceptual, or Mindfulness, models. This is nowhere more clear than in the case of vedanā, which is both the second skandha, and the second ‘Foundation’. In the Satipatthana Sutta, the Buddha invites us to be aware that the Mindfulness category of vedanā (like all the Foundations) has an ‘internal’ and ‘external’ aspect, and we find this same distinction between ‘internal’ and ‘external’ in relation to the skandhas, whenever these are described in the Pali Canon. These ‘internal’ and ‘external’ aspects are rarely discussed meaningfully in Buddhist discourse, even though they are of great importance because of their bearing on the subject-object dichotomy. Carl Jung however, took the skandhas and this idea of the ‘internal’ and ‘external’ aspects of cognition and perception (unfortunately without acknowledging his Buddhist sources) and developed his rich eight-function cognitive-perceptual model – one which is essentially identical with the one we find presented in the Dharmadhātu Mandala in the Bardo Thodol.
Some may find it useful to think of the model of embodied Consciousness that is implied by the Dharmadhātu Mandala, using a mathematical analogy. Once we see the skandhas and Foundations as both referring to the same experience, and seriously investigate the Buddha’s notions of ‘internal’ and ‘external’ in regard to Mindfulness with the help of Carl Jung, the implication is, that our internal experience of embodied Consciousness; and the external processes of differentiation that allow us to function as fully conscious individuals, both have a three-dimensional structure. These three axes, in this three-dimensional model, are: (1) samjñā-rūpa (Feeling-Thinking) ; (2) vedanā-samskāras (Sensing-Intuition); and (3) internal-external (Introversion-Extroversion). Just as a three dimensional Cartesian space in mathematics is divided into 8 regions by its x, y and z axes, so too is our cognitive-perceptual experience divided into eight dimensions by these three axes: (1) the horizontal (Judging) axis of the mandala; (2) the vertical (Perceiving) axis of the mandala; and (3) the internal-external, or inner-outer dimension (Introversion-Extraversion) that shows itself in the mandala in the way the deities appear in pairs. In the Buddhist Mandala there are two more principles, making ten in all – the extra two principles being the ‘external’ and ‘internal’ aspects of Consciousness itself – the ‘external’ and ‘internal’ aspects of the ’empty’ vijñāna skandha, which ultimately find expression in the archetypal figures of Vairocana and Ākāshadhātvishvari / White Tara.
Myers Briggs – Jung’s Eight-Fold Mindfulness Model and the 16 Types
If we use this knowledge of how the mandala structure of mind and Consciousness plays out in personality development to help us cultivate Mindfulness of rūpa, vedanā, samjñā, and samskāras, in their ‘internal’ and ‘external’ aspects, this can lead to a differentiation within our Mindfulness practice of not just four areas of attention and awareness, but eight. The exact meanings of words in ancient languages elude even the wisest and most engaged scholarship, so students of Buddhism can find it very difficult to clearly recognise the eight aspects of Mindfulness that are described in the Satipatthana Sutta. The same cognitive-perceptual framework is, however, nowhere better described than in Carl Jung’s psychology, and in the discourse within the Jungian Typology / Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) community, with its detailed analysis the sixteen psychological types, which arise as permutations of the eight functions.
Of course, the Buddhist analysis of cognition and perception takes us much deeper and further than does the Jung / MBTI model, but I have nevertheless come to think of the Jung / MBTI model as a extremely helpful interpretive tool for serious students of Buddhism. Once we recognise, as Buddhists, that the Jung / MBTI model was derived from the Dharmadhātu Mandala and that it perfectly reflects that mandala’s structure, then it can begin to serve us like the archeologist’s Rosetta Stone. It allows us to translate the previously indecipherable skandhas into modern language, and in doing so it opens up the kleshas; Realms; Foundations; Elements; Spiritual Faculties; brahmavihāras; and Wisdoms – which together provide us with a beautiful, internally consistent system of spiritual psychology.
The Jung / MBTI model also gives us a framework for understanding the personal mandala that each one of us carries within us. Our cognitive-perceptual preferences cause us to embody consciousness uniquely within the sixteen possible permutations that the MBTI model suggests. The uniqueness of our path of growth and development towards wisdom, and towards the unfoldment of our compassionate capabilities, is much better understood when we understand the ways in which we are all constrained in particular ways by dynamics that are inherent within the cognitive-perceptual structure of the egoic mind – and indeed within the structure of Consciousness itself.
MBTI – Identifying Personal Shadow and Validating Difference
When I have time, I shall be writing another long series of articles to explain this aspect of the mandala wisdom. I find it heart-braking to see Buddhist teachers falling into a one-size-fits-all approach to spiritual development, and I would very much like to push back against that tendency. Tragically, the Buddhist tradition, when it fails to understand the Buddha’s shunyatā (’emptiness’) and anatman (‘no-self’) teachings correctly (or puts them in the too hard basket and in effect refuses to engage with them), can easily fall into the deeply unconscious Shadow behaviour of condemning expressions of personal uniqueness and individuality. Ironically, the ethical discernment that is held to be so foundational to a Buddhist world-view, is not developed until practitioners develop the more sophisticated self-knowledge, and the deeper empathy and respect for difference, that I believe can be found when we combine the mandala wisdom of Vajrayāna Buddhism with that found in Carl Jung’s typology.
The culture within the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) community is one of very deep and multi-dimensional engagement with personal development, through the cultivation of self-awareness, social awareness, and skill acquisition – using Jung’s eight-fold cognitive-perceptual model as a framework. The goal, as Jung framed it, is not only one of wholeness, in the sense of a comprehensive awareness and a comprehensive embodiment of Consciousness, but involves an ethical and social maturity – a compassionate and humanitarian sensibility such as cannot be developed without an awareness of the psychodynamics of Shadow. These larger goals are applied, within the MBTI community, in a very practical and focused way. Indeed there is an intense focus on ethics by attending to the ethical blind-spots that are revealed as we bring awareness to the personal areas of unconsciousness and dysfunction that the model shines a light on, especially our ‘Inferior Function’, which is Jung’s term for the least conscious of our four preferred cognitive-perceptual functions – the area of deepest and most habitual un-Mindfulness among those four.
Proactive and Vigilant Awareness of Shadow
There can be no real spirituality without a framework that supports a proactive and vigilant awareness of the Shadow as an ever-present reality in human psychology – and both the Buddha and Carl Jung articulated this very clearly. While the unravelling of the psychodynamics of Shadow is fundamental to the approach that I am presenting here and in my other articles – and it is also, I believe, fundamental to all Buddhist psychology – I do not have time to go deeply into this here. There are two points that I would like to make here however.
The first point I need to make, is that the Mahayana Buddhist focus on non-dual Wisdom, and its use of a ‘Five Wisdoms’ model to highlight the ’empty’ or non-personal nature of the cognitive-perceptual functions – with each Wisdom personified by a unified pair of archetypal Buddha figures – takes us into dimensions of psychological and spiritual transformation that go far beyond the frame of reference of the MBTI model as it is usually presented.
The second point, is that Carl Jung has done the Buddhist tradition a great service, in his adoption of the Buddhist mandala into his ‘Psychological Types’ model, and it makes no sense for the Buddhist tradition to turn its back on this, asserting that his translations are invalid, or that Buddhism does not need what this model has to offer. My passionate wish is that Buddhists will look at the incredibly low level of engagement with Skandhas / Five Wisdoms model within the Buddhist world, and compare that with the huge numbers that are engaging in a detailed and practical way with Jung’s version of the same mandala-based self-awareness framework, and drop their arrogant assertion that the Buddhist tradition already has everything that its modern students need.
© William Roy Parker 2022