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 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 their underlying unity. 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 go beyond the Buddhist tradition.
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 good in the world appear to be failing. 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 wisdom and a natural compassion at the heart of all three of these archetypal principles, without which human civilisation will not survive.
While this idea of framing the Three Refuges as universal and absolutely necessary spiritual principles 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 give structure to the egoic mind, and when we are completely identified with them, they appear as the components of a fixed and separate ‘self’. When, however, we start to recognise the skandhas as universal and non-personal cognitive-perceptual components, they begin to 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’, The mandala wisdom 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, so 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 on one side; and the non-personal Consciousness out of which the egoic mind arises, on the other, find resolution. For me, the Trikāya Doctrine and the Middle Way have become 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 a book can be enjoyed by both Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike – and that no previous knowledge of Buddhism will be necessary for you to find it useful. Those with some knowledge of Buddhism, who may be 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 the Tibetan Vajrayāna. I shall be approaching Tibetan Buddhism in a somewhat unconventional way however – 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 different, philosophically and culturally, from the later Buddhism of the Tibetan Vajrayāna. 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 has been re-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. Like many writers and practitioners within Western Buddhism, I am, in my writing, endeavouring to contribute to the ongoing work of cultural adaptation and philosophical clarification which is the Buddhist tradition.
This question of the three-fold (or perhaps four-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’. I regard the Buddha’s ‘Middle Way’ as essential, both as a guide to spiritual practice, and as a method of enquiry. Without the Middle Way perspective we fall into disastrous oversimplifications and actual falsifications of the Buddha’s teachings. With the Middle Way, we can progress without falling into those polarising and dichotomous views that would inevitably exclude some aspect of the truth. The Middle Way, allows us to embrace Buddhism in its totality – and to embrace reality in its totality.
As a way of trying to conceptually grasp the historical development of Buddhism, it has been said that early Buddhism appears to present a path of ‘self-development’- or ‘self-power’; 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 slightly differently in Buddhism’s various cultural forms – but with each of these three elements present, at least to some degree, in every strand of the tradition.
We can therefore – perhaps 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 an egoic will which, on achieving the goal, will 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 a faith in the power of egoic mind’s intelligence to guide the process. Many Westerners are drawn to this humanistic ‘self-development’ perspective, which is seen 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 of Western culture and of Judeo-Christian tradition.
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 of the East – those who feel a natural devotion to the Buddha; towards other Buddhist deities; and towards the revered teachers within those traditions. Within this group there is a cultural attitude that can be characterised in terms of ‘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, which, 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 the 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 a devotional-receptive perspective, 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’ (Hinayāna) or ‘self-surrender’ (Mahayāna) approach, can, by definition, only bring us to the threshold of realisation. It is our surrender of the hubris of the egoic mind that ultimately carries us over that threshold.
The ultimate purpose of the Mahayānist ‘self-surrender’ perspective finds expression in the ‘self-discovery’ perspective that we find most clearly articulate 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 these strands within the tradition provide our best historical examples and our best sources of inspiration, within Buddhist culture, of this more comprehensive level of practice.
I hope this brief elucidation of the three archetypal perspectives with Buddhism – sometimes called the ‘three myths’ within Buddhism – helps 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 a 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 see 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 a vast resource of universal spiritual truths – truths that are of great importance for humanity – that are better expressed in Tibetan Buddhism than anywhere else in the history of human spirituality.
I am aware that this book presents, not a standard Buddhist view that you could read elsewhere, but a unique synthesis – the unique synthesis that my spiritual journey has brought me to. Indeed, it has been my conscious wish and intention not to inhibit the idiosyncrasies in my perspective, but 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 to a new and clearer perspective on philosophy and practice within the tradition – a perspective which may challenge 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 these 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 wish to contribute to a modern and Western approach to Buddhist wisdom – an approach that draws on numerous strands of knowledge, both within Buddhism, and outside of the tradition, in order to triangulate upon, 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 if some of my assertions, seem bold and insufficiently evidenced, but as meditators we are addressing a domain of experience 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 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.
The subtitle of this book is ‘An Introduction to the Mandala of Love – Part One’. So, 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 for 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 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. 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 international capitalism, or have simply moved to the international arena. 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 of them, and one of my main aims in this book is to share what they have taught me.
In pursuit of this 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.
I very much hope that you enjoy this book, and that it will support you on your journey.
William Roy Parker
Brunswick Heads, New South Wales, Australia
(c) William Roy Parker 2023
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