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.
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