The text below is the Preface to a book that I am currently working on – Buddha; Dharma; Sangha, and the Five Wisdoms Mandala – the first chapter of which I will be giving away free to ‘Mandala of Love’ subscribers.
There are three archetypal ideas that have guided Buddhist tradition for twenty-five centuries – Buddha; Dharma; and Sangha. This triad of archetypal principles is often called the Three Jewels (triratna) and also referred to as the Three Refuges. In each of the three long essays, that are the chapters of this book, I have taken one of these three principles, and in the course of the book, I have set out to weave them together in way that reveals both their underlying unity, and the completeness of the model that they present. Most of my readers will have some familiarity with the Three Jewels, but my intention with this book is to challenge myself, and to challenge my readers also, to go deeper into this familiar formulation. I feel a desire to bear witness to the universality of these three principles – to reveal them as universal spiritual principles – principles that can be regarded, ultimately, as going beyond the Buddhist tradition. The Three Jewels are three universal human values; values that ennoble humanity; values by which humanity may reach its potential.
I believe that we live in a time of great moral, and indeed mortal, danger – a time in which, even when humanity’s potential for peace and prosperity is at its height, key institutions and cultural forces for the good and for truth appear to be failing. This is a time in which the forces of evil and untruth and have drawn powerful new resources to themselves. By contrast, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are, in essence, three powerful universal truths that are much needed by humanity at this time of global crisis. There is a liberating wisdom and a natural compassion at the heart of all three of these principles, without which human civilisation will not survive.
While this may seem ambitious, to approach the Three Jewels in a lesser way would be to reduce them, in my view – to reduce them to a merely historical, cultural and religious phenomena. This awareness of Buddhist principles as universal, or archetypal, principles, is easily lost within the dominant post-modern worldview that we are educated into in the West. Although the Buddhist tradition has, historically, seen itself as naming the universal principles at play in our psychology and in our world, I feel grateful to have also gained a particularly keen sense of this sensibility through my reading in the area of archetypal psychology (predominantly through the work of Carl Jung and his students) – which I studied concurrently with Buddhism, in my twenties.
In addition to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, there are several other major themes that I have set out to weave through these three essays. Most obviously, there is the theme of the Five Wisdoms Mandala. When I speak of the Five Wisdoms Mandala, I am speaking of the universal mandala structure of the body-mind, which the Buddha spoke of in terms of the five cognitive-perceptual skandhas – a model which we find particularly well elucidated in the psychology of Carl Jung. These skandhas, when we are completely identified with them, give structure to the egoic mind and appear as a fixed and separate self. When, however, we begin to recognise, as the Buddha did, that the skandhas are universal and non-personal cognitive-perceptual components, they show us the structure of the Enlightened mind – the five Wisdoms.
It is one of my most important aims in this book to communicate this dual and reconciliatory function of the ‘mandala wisdom’. It provides us with both a powerful description of the various dimensions our egoic dysfunction, our suffering, our ignorance, our empathy failure and our cruelty, on one side; and a beautiful description of our sublime potentiality, on the other. The spiritual psychology of the mandala that we find in Tibetan Buddhist tradition, is extremely rich and profound, and I can only provide the barest introduction to this richness and profundity in this short book – but I hope to at least provide an overview of this vast and multidimensional inner terrain.
Not least among the themes of this book, are the closely related themes of the Trikāya Doctrine and the Middle Way. These are two important teachings through which the Buddhist tradition approaches the often-bewildering notion of non-duality. Like many Buddhist teachings it is common for these very practical teachings to be reduced to intellectual abstractions, but they each express, in slightly different conceptually useful ways, a core principle that guided the Buddha and has guided the Buddhist tradition – the principle of reconciliation by which the fundamental dichotomies between the egoic mind and the non-personal Consciousness out of which the egoic mind arises, find resolution. For me, the Trikāya Doctrine and the Middle Way are experiential guides, in meditation and in life, and I would love to help to rescue them from their relative obscurity – especially as they are so valuable to us as we seek to relate to the multiple dichotomies of Ignorance and Wisdom that are presented to us by the mandala wisdom of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
This book is concerned with universal spiritual truths, so it is my hope that it is book that can be enjoyed by both Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike – and that no previous knowledge of Buddhism will be necessary. Those with some knowledge of Buddhism, who are trying to identify my philosophical and cultural affinities within the Buddhist tradition will notice that I am coming from a perspective that is most clearly articulated in the context of Tibetan Vajrayāna, but in a somewhat unconventional way – so I shall try to briefly explain myself.
The three historical phases of the Buddhist tradition – the three yānas – are confusing because early Buddhism appears so very different, philosophically, and culturally, from the later Buddhism that is reflected in Tibetan Vajrayāna Buddhism. Some observers, seeing these incongruities, even regard the development of Buddhism as a decent into confusion from an original clarity. I see an opposite process. I see a refinement process in which the core of the original inspiration of Buddhism in the Wisdom and Compassion of the Gautama Buddha was articulated through successive stages of cultural adaptation, and with ever increasing philosophical clarity and sophistication. I would even venture to identify myself with this process of clarification. Like many writers and practitioners within Western Buddhism, I am, in my writing, endeavouring to contribute to that ongoing work of cultural adaptation and philosophical clarification which is the Buddhist tradition.
I regard this acknowledgement of the three-fold nature of Buddhism, as a system of psychological and spiritual philosophy, is foundational. We cannot deeply embrace Buddhism without engaging with the deep incongruities that are inherent in it. This is why I give such importance to the Buddha’s foundational principle of inclusiveness and philosophical reconciliation that he called the ‘Middle Way’. The Buddha’s Middle Way is essential, both as a guide to spiritual practice and as a method of enquiry. Without the Middle Way perspective we fall into disastrous oversimplifications or actual falsifications of the Buddha’s teachings. With the Middle Way we can progress without taking polarising and dichotomous views that would exclude some aspect of the truth. It allows us to embrace Buddhism in its totality.
So, as a provisional way of trying to conceptually grasp the historical development of Buddhism, it has been said that early Buddhism appears to present a ‘self-development’, or ‘self-power’ emphasis; that the middle (Mahayāna) phase presents a path of devotional-receptive ‘self-surrender’ – or ‘other-power’; and the Vajrayāna presents a path of ‘self-discovery’ – in which the ‘self-power’ and ‘other-power’ principles are subtly combined and reconciled. In this way we can understand Buddhism as a three-fold and ‘nested’ philosophical system in which three apparently quite different archetypal perspectives are being blended. The blend is slightly different in each Buddhism’s various cultural forms – but each of these three elements is present, at least to some degree, in all of them.
We can therefore – again over-simplifying a little – observe three main groups of practitioners within contemporary Buddhism. The first group – the ‘self-development’, or ‘self-transcendence’ group – are those whose predominant frame of reference could be characterised as a form of idealism. I am talking here of a refined and paradoxical idealism in which the Buddha is adopted as a personification of a transcendental ideal – an ideal to be striven towards by with an egoic will which, on achieving the goal, will be have been transcended.
While this group of practitioners may recognise that the ultimate goal involves a transcendence of the egoic dichotomy of self and other, there is humanistic faith in the power of the egoic will to achieve this transformation, and in the power of egoic mind’s intelligence to guide the process. Many Western Buddhist practitioners are drawn to this ‘self-development’ perspective and see it as a primary feature in the culture of the Hinayāna / Theravāda tradition – since it appears to present a view that is a natural extension of the psychological heroism and idealism of Western liberal humanism.
The main distinguishing feature of the second group of practitioners within Buddhism – the ‘self-surrender’ group – is their incorporation of devotional practices, and their identification with the culture of the Mahayāna phase of Buddhist tradition. There are two subgroups within this group. The most obvious of these two subgroups are the ethnic Buddhists of the Mahayāna Buddhist countries – those who feel a natural devotion to the Buddha; towards other Buddhist deities; and towards their revered teachers within those traditions. Within this group there is a cultural attitude that can be characterised as ‘other-power’ or ‘devotional receptivity’.
In the modern West, we can distinguish a second sub-group within the Mahayānist ‘self-surrender’ group. This group, rather than practising in the pre-modern ethnic-Buddhist cultural frame of reference, tend to see ‘self-surrender’ as an extension of the ‘self-development’, or ‘self-transcendence’ perspective. For this group therefore, the ‘self-surrender’ perspective represents a stage of practice that, at least initially, is probably better characterised as ‘devotional-heroic’, than ‘devotional-receptive’.
Whether this heroic and self-willed approach to devotional practice evolves into a more truly ‘devotional-receptive’ approach depends on the individual’s openness, or not, to recognising a bodily-felt resonance in the body-mind of a transcendental dharmic reality – the benevolent archetypal, or suprapersonal, forces within Consciousness that ultimately guide and facilitate the process of realisation. I find this notion of a transition from a devotional-heroic to devotional receptive to be fundamental to a deepening of practice for the Western practitioner. The egoic perspective of self-power, even if it aspires to a ‘self-transcendence’ or ‘self-surrender’ approach, can, by definition, only bring us to the threshold of realisation. It is our complete surrender of the hubris of the egoic mind that ultimately carries us over that threshold.
I am of the belief that, ultimately the Mahayānist ‘self-surrender’ perspective needs finds expression in the ‘self-discovery’ perspective that we find in the Vajrayāna Buddhism of Tibet and the Himalayan countries. I am not saying that Tibetan Buddhism is the only place where we find this complete, three-fold Buddhist vision – only that this provides our best historical example and our best source of inspiration, within Buddhist culture, of this level of practice. A temple in Tibet is called a gompa, and the Tibetan word gom means ‘familiarisation’. So, the culture of Tibetan Buddhist practice is directed towards familiarisation with reality – it specifically includes the ‘self-discovery’ orientation.
I hope this brief elucidation of the three archetypal perspectives with Buddhism – which have been referred to as the ‘Three Myths’ within Buddhism – will help my readers to understand where I am coming from psychologically and philosophically. While I am embracing key elements of the philosophy and archetypal psychology of the Tibetan Vajrayāna, and doing so with deep sense of gratitude, appreciation, and devotion, I have not necessarily, in so doing, entered into the cultural identity of ‘being a Tibetan Buddhist’.
Tibetan Buddhist culture is so rich and beautiful and compelling, that Western students can find themselves ‘unable to the wood for the trees’. I have endeavoured to avoid this pitfall. What I have sought, found, and treasured in Tibetan Buddhism are its universal elements. I hope however, that my readers will come to recognise, like myself, and like Carl Jung, that there is, in Tibetan Buddhism, a vast resource of universal spiritual truth – of truth that are of great importance for humanity – of truth that is better expressed there than anywhere else in the history of human spirituality.
I am aware that this book reflects my own idiosyncrasies and my personal spiritual journey. Indeed, it has been my conscious wish and intention to present Buddhism in a fresh and stimulating way. It is my hope that, by presenting information that has been neglected elsewhere, I have contributed a new and clearer perspective – one which challenges some commonly held preconceptions.
This book is not for everyone. Some will say it lacks academic rigour. Others will have preferred more anecdotes from the Pali Canon. Others will say that I am addressing the profound wisdom of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism without having received any of these teachings formally in the context of a lineage – and that I therefore have no authority to say anything. What I have however, and what I am offering, is 40 years of passionate engagement with key themes within Buddhist philosophy and practice, during which I have rigorously tested them in my experience.
Some will say that the approach that I am presenting is too eclectic – that I draw on too wide a range of psychological wisdom from beyond the Buddhist tradition (like that of Carl Jung) and that I give too much weight to those sources of understanding. This, however, is precisely what the ‘Mandala of Love’ approach is. It is my contribution to a modern and Western approach to Buddhist wisdom, which draws on numerous strands of knowledge, both within Buddhism, and outside of that tradition, in order to triangulate and discern the essence of the precious world treasure which is the universal ‘mandala wisdom’ that the Tibetan masters have given us.
Readers may want to think of me as someone who has been meditating in an isolated mountain cave for several decades – and is now returning to share the fruits of his contemplation. I apologise to those who find that my assertions, seem too bold and insufficiently evidenced by citations from the tradition. To those people I have to say that it the meditators and independent, introverted thinkers who bring renewal to the tradition, not the scholars and academics, and as meditators we are addressing a domain in which our actual experience is the most valuable thing we can share. Please know that I am keenly aware that the spiritual path is different for everyone, and always needs to be tested in our own experience and adapted to our individual needs. I feel bound however, to share what I know with the conviction that I feel. I need to share what is true for me. I am trusting that in doing this I will serve you best – and that you will apply whatever discernment you need to, to what I am saying.
It is my intention that it will be the first of at least two books, which will together provide a form of introduction or overview of the approach that I have adopted, and which I have found myself advocating on my website. Until the second book is published, you will find much more of my writing available free on my website at https://mandala-of-love.com.
When I started publishing articles in 2017, I chose ‘Mandala of Love’ as the name of my website. While the most obvious reason for this name is my focus on the ‘mandala wisdom’ that we find in Buddhism and in the tradition of Carl Jung; no less important is my wish to make Love the focus of my writing. It has been said that, while the pursuit of wisdom may not lead to Love, Love is most certainly the path to Wisdom. While I understand this sentiment, and have, to a large extent, been guided by it, it is not entirely true. Rather, there is a reciprocal relationship to be recognised here, and our approach requires, as usual, a Middle Way – a path of integration and reconciliation.
Indeed, our lack of understanding in regard to Love, or wisdom in regard to Love, is perhaps the greatest problem facing humanity – even to the point where the world has witnessed a series of ever more violent wars, each one justified by bogus humanitarianism and the supposed goal of protection against violence and injustice. We may think we are living in a time when the weak and vulnerable are protected from gangs and psychopaths, but in reality the dynamics of violence and psychopathy are just more hidden from view. They are operating on a larger scale as dynamics within geopolitics and international capitalism. The apparent democracy of nation states fails to create rationality and justice in the foreign policy arena, and since our international institutions are so easily subverted, there has, for some three decades now, been no effective restraint on the violent military and economic hegemony of the US-centred unipolar world order.
I notice that even Buddhism sometimes fails in regard to this need for Wisdom in regard to Love, but this is a wider problem – one that is behind the failure of Christianity, and behind the failure of the Western liberalism that has largely taken Christianity’s place. The Buddha’s understanding of Love was very comprehensive and sophisticated however, and has much to teach us. He adopted the ancient Indian framework of the four brahmavihāras (Compassion, Loving Kindness, Appreciative Joy and Equanimity) and made it his own. Having practiced these meditations myself and found them deeply transformative, I have become a passionate advocate for them, and one of my main aims in this book is to share what they have taught me.
In pursuit of the much-needed reconciliation of Love and Wisdom, I shall be outlining in this book the correspondences between the brahmavihāras and the skandhas – the brahmavihāras being the Buddha’s primary framework for talking about Love, and the skandhas being his primary framework for talking about Wisdom. This connection between the brahmavihāras and the skandhas is rarely made – and when it is, the correspondences made are often incorrect – but it is of enormous value for meditators, and for those intent on liberation from the constraints and inherent negativity of the self-illusion, to make this connection clearly.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this preface, the Three Jewels are also referred to as the Three Refuges. This may seem like a curious use of the word ‘refuge’, but for those who see the human condition clearly it is a word that resonates – we ‘Go for Refuge’ to the Three Jewels because we recognise the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha jewels as symbols of realities that are above and beyond the inherent suffering and unsatisfactoriness of human experience, and capable of bringing healing and comfort, and perhaps salvation, to this world.
There are several levels of Going for Refuge however, and for me this needs to be framed in a very much bigger way. For me, Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels is also a creative engagement with the reflection of those archetypes in this world. In Going for Refuge to the Buddha, I could say that I am expressing a passionate commitment to the personal transformation involved in realising what the Buddha realised – but it is more than that. I would say that Going for Refuge to the Buddha is an acknowledgement of, and a surrender to, an animating principle that has become increasing clear within me over the decades; and has been guiding me to the realisation of my highest potential in this life, and to the expression of the highest good. One of my goals in this book is give articulation to this intuition – an intuition that we all share to one degree or another.
In Going for Refuge to the Dharma I am not simply undertaking to study and follow the guidance of the Buddhist tradition. I am doing that, but I am also seeking to creatively engage with the Dharma, to clarify the Dharma, and even to re-express the Dharma freshly, so that it ‘works’ as a description of reality – and as a description of the transformational path that I have been undertaking for myself, and that I am tentatively recommending to others. So, one of my goals with this book is to inspire perhaps, a Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels in you, the reader, by providing some illumination and fresh clarity as to what the Three Jewels are.
In Going for Refuge to the Sangha, I am seeking to find a social and relational expression for my spiritual life in the transformative principle of spiritual community and spiritual friendship. For me, this calls for much more than simply joining a Buddhist organisation – it calls for a creative engagement with the essence of Sangha. It calls me to ask myself what Sangha is for the modern practitioner – what are its characteristics, and how can these characteristics be introduced into my life and the lives of others. This is the most difficult part of the task that I have set for myself. Going for Refuge to the Sangha is not a passive act of group membership – it is a creative act.
So, our Going for Refuge is always a longing, an aspiration, and an act of creation, and this book is an expression of my Going for Refuge. I very much hope that you enjoy it, and that it will support you on your journey.
William Roy Parker
Brunswick Heads, New South Wales, Australia
(c) William Roy Parker 2023