This is Post 30 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found by clicking here.
The ultimate source of the attitude that the Buddhist tradition calls mettā, or Loving Kindness, is unconditioned. Being unconditioned, it is inherent in Consciousness, and always available to us, but cannot be cultivated by an effort of the egoic will. This is a difficult but very important distinction to understand.
The Buddhist tradition, as it progressed into into its Mahayana (Great Vehicle) phase, began to use Sanskrit as its main language – so the Pali word mettā, or Loving Kindness, was replaced by the Sanskrit word maitri. It was also during the centuries of Buddhist meditation practice and scholarship during the Mahayana period, that an important understanding arose, which distinguished two levels of maitri: firstly, the universal, or archetypal source of maitri, which was called mahamaitri, or ‘great’ maitri; and secondly, the embodied reflection of that in our relationships and communication, and in the energetic fields of the body. Much of the time, I have not been making this formal distinction, because I believe that it is essential that we see mettā/maitri as always having these two inseparable levels, because maitri is ultimately best ‘cultivated’ by a paradoxical process in which we acknowledge its already existing presence in our experience as mahamaitri inherently present in Consciousness.
The Power of Consciousness to Heal the Emotional Body
Mettā, in essence then, can be thought of as the attitude, already inherent in Consciousness, of being unconditionally present with Feeling (samjñā skandha). It is therefore best understood as a process – a process by which our Emotional Body and our capacity for relationship is progressively healed by the power of Consciousness. Continue reading
This is Post 29 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found by clicking here.
The psychological function of Feeling, is symbolised in the Western poetic imagination, and in the esoteric lore of Western tradition, by the element of Water. Whereas the Indian imagination generally uses the element of Fire to symbolise Feeling, as I have described previously (here), I would like to now draw on Western tradition to very briefly acknowledge something that the symbolism of the Water element can teach us about the nature of Feeling. As the parallel with Water might suggest, Feeling is a phenomena that is almost always in a state of flow and change: like tides, or waves, or the tributaries of a river, or the eddies in a sparkling stream, or like a stormy ocean.
Feeling, like Water can seem chaotic, but it carries energy and moves with purpose – a purpose that may sometimes be hard to discern, but is nevertheless always present. Just as the Fire element in the symbolic language of India, can be seen to be reaching consistently upwards towards the Divine, so the Water element in the West can be seen as relentless and purposeful in its downward course towards the universal ocean.
Psychological Parts – the Apparent Persons behind our Currents of Feeling
It is perhaps helpful, to see Feeling as analogous to currents or tributaries in a body of Water, because Feeling is certainly not single. Feeling is also much more like a surging wave that recedes and appears to disappear, only to surge again when we don’t expect it. When we examine our experience carefully we notice that it is inaccurate to say “I feel sad” or “I feel afraid” – and worse still to say “I am sad” or “I am afraid”.
Both sadness and the fear are actually only single currents among the many currents of feeling that surge in us from time to time – but more importantly, if we look carefully at our experience, we have to acknowledge that the ‘I’ in both those statements, is always separate from those currents of Feeling. It is never the ‘I’ that feels sad or afraid. The ‘I’ is the imperturbable field of Consciousness within which Feeling is experienced. The conventional verbal forms “I feel …….. “, “I am feeling …….. “, or “I am …….. ” followed by words identifying the category of our feeling state, are not only inaccurate, but very unhelpful psychologically – because they encourage identification with Feeling rather than self-empathetic connection with it.
I have practised various forms of self-empathetic innerwork over the years. In the past, my personal method has been a distillation of, and a combination of, the innerwork approaches of Eugene Gendlin (Focusing), Ann Weiser-Cornell (Focusing), James Hillman (Jungian Innerwork), Marshall Rosenberg (Nonviolent Communication), Richard Schwarz (Inner Family Systems), Jerry Donoghue (Inner Presence Coaching), Steve De Shazer (Brief Solution Focused Therapy). While I continue to draw on the specific methods of these innovators in the fields of psychology and psychotherapy practice, I have more recently found it helpful to set these learnings in the context of the non-dual mandala-wisdom that we find in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and which Carl Jung helped to make so much more available and accessible in the West. Hence my own personal name for the form of self-empathic innerwork that I now practice, is ‘Mandala Innerwork’, reflecting the fact that it is essentially a form of Buddhist self-enquiry.
The Buddha’s Self-Enquiry / Self-Empathy Dyads
As I have developed my approach to self-empathetic innerwork, and studied the various other self-enquiry dyad models that I have mentioned above, I have increasingly found myself coming back to the Buddha’s approach and to the Buddhist terminology of the Five Skandhas, the Five Realms, the Five Wisdoms, and the brahmavhāras. I have begun to outline the details of how these fit together in various articles on this website. By making these connections we can bring the richness and power of the Buddhist wisdom tradition to our Western approaches to psychotherapeutic innerwork, while also bringing a much needed psychological sophistication to Buddhist Mindfulness, meditation and self-enquiry practice.
In this article however, I will be avoiding the complexity that arises for us when we try to use the Sanskrit terminology of ancient Buddhism – by mainly using the language of the self-empathy aspect of Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC) model.
In the language of Nonviolent Communication, we can conceptualise Mandala Innerwork as a self-empathy practice, and the person doing it as a ‘self-empathiser’ and the person holding space is the ’empathiser’. In Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing model the activity of self-enquiry came to be called ‘focusing’, and the person turning their attention inward was called the ‘focuser’, and the person holding space is the ‘companion’. In the context of Mandala Innerwork, I prefer to think of the activity simply as ‘doing self-enquiry’, but I acknowledge a debt to Eugene Gendlin by using the terminology of ‘focuser’ and ‘companion’ for the roles.
The Buddha had his monks do meditative self-enquiry dyads, the details of which got lost down the centuries. The modern Buddhists and historians of Buddhism understand the practice as some form of ‘confession’, which is an unfortunate projection of Christian cultural practice onto the much more complex and subtle culture of early Buddhist self-enquiry. It is my belief that these early Buddhist ‘Confession’ dyads would have more closely resembled the self-empathy / self-enquiry dyad practices of today, and my Mandala Innerwork model has in part been an attempt to recreate the sort of Buddhist self-enquiry that would have characterised them.
The notion of ‘Confession’ is not completely illegitimate – of course. It just needs to be freed from the assumptions that tend to attach to it. I shall be sharing more of my thoughts on this in future articles, but the main thing I would like to highlight here is that in a confession process we are addressing that which is incongruous with our deeper true nature. In other words, not merely incongruous with an external religious creed, but incongruous with our deeper ethically and aspirational sense of ourselves, which is felt to be more essential and more authentic. So, ‘confession’ is always about our inner relationship between this deep inner knowing (which I like to call Consciousness) and something more superficial which is incongruous with that.
Resting as Consciousness; Relating to Psychological Parts
Their are two close related features in my approach, and they are both rooted in the profound early Buddhist psychology of the five skandhas and the four brahmavihāras. The first, could be characterised as ‘resting as Consciousness’: a focus on familiarising ourselves with, and learning to ‘rest as’ the ’empty’ impersonal Consciousness (the ’empty’ vijñāna skandha), that is capable of witnessing our experience objectively, and ‘relating’ to our experience with a warmly accepting quality of Presence. In my articles – especially those on meditation and self-enquiry that are to be found under the Meditation’ menu above – I have been highlighting the fact that the character of that the ’empty’ field of Consciousness, as it becomes embodied in us as Presence, is beautifully and comprehensively described by the four brahmavihāras.
The second feature of my Mandala Innerwork, or ‘Buddhist Self-Enquiry’ model, is based on our development of a deep familiarity with the other four skandhas – essentially the conceptualising (rūpa), sensing (vedanā), evaluating (samjñā), and volitional (samskaras) functions of Consciousness – and this involves learning to ‘work with psychological parts’. By working with psychological parts I mean, essentially, that we look at our experience closely, and learn to recognise that our conventionally experienced self never does actually have the character of a self at all. Rather, on close examination is it found to be an aggregation of cognitive-perceptual processes and cognitive-perceptual data that are assembled into the appearance of a self. What’s more, when we engage in this enquiry, we also become keenly aware of the fact that the egoic self is certainly not single. Rather, it is multiple – each of our separate egoic selves or ‘psychological parts’ are an adaption, in the course of our development to particular developmental stages and challenges.
I have come to regard these two features: resting as Consciousness; and working with psychological parts, as inseparable. Whether our focus is on learning to be self-empathetically present with yourselves for the purpose of self-knowledge and psychological healing; or we are spiritual seekers wishing to know the ultimate nature of mind, we cannot avoid acknowledging these two features of the process. It is one of foundational paradoxes of the process of spiritual integration and psychological healing that in order to become more unified and whole, we need to acknowledge that our egoic self is made up of many psychological parts; and need to develop a sense of the inner relationship between Consciousness and those psychological parts.
To the Trikāya, which is the true nature of all Dharmas, non-dual, limitless, profound and vast, I make obeisance. I worship the unmade, the unlimited, and the eternal. I make confession of the sin of not knowing that my own mind is the Buddha. Rejoicing in the natural state, the self-aware, I request the Buddha to revolve the ungraspable, omnipresent and all-accomplishing Dharma Wheel. I pray that the mundane and the transcendental may be established in oneness. Whatever obeisance and worship I have performed, I transmute into the great shunyatā. May all beings attain both shunyatā and great bliss.
I hope you enjoy my articles. The various inter-related categories of my writing are described below, and my coaching and teaching work is described below that. Keep scrolling to find links to my most recent articles. On a computer you can hover your pointer over the categories in the menu bar above to reveal the sub-menus, and listings of the articles. On a mobile, the articles are best read in a ‘landscape’ orientation.
Current Mandala of Love Projects:
I have not been able to find time to add much to the Mandala of Love website in recent months, as I have been in a full-time caring role taking care of a close family member. Below are a few of the projects that I have either been working on recently, or hope to be returning to before too long:
I have recently created a new page for email subscriptions (here), and would very much encourage you to add your email to the Mandala of Love list. In addition, if you are interested in the online course program that I have outlined below, please consider subscribing to that list also.
I am currently preparing material for a Zoom-based group training program, so that those who want to engage more deeply with the themes that I have been presenting on the Mandala of Love website articles, can do so. I have chosen to call the program of courses Five Wisdoms Mandala. Click here for more details. The program will be presented via weekly group-Zoom sessions, which will each run for two hours with a short break. The courses will be structured into a series of modules – the initial course will probably have at least three six-week modules, making eighteen Zoom sessions altogether. It will include guided meditations; powerpoint presentations; self-enquiry dyad exercises; group discussion; and group question and answer sessions.
For those interested in these Zoom-based group trainings on the Mandala of Love themes, I have provided a summary of the main components of the program here.
You can sign up for email notifications here if you would like to receive information about these courses.
Those who have followed my writing on meditation and self-enquiry closely, may know that I give particular importance to the individual and collective psychology that we find symbolised in Buddhist tradition by the archetypal asura Realm. The asura Realm is associated with the green, northern quadrant of the mandala, where we see that our innate human potential for empathy and compassion, and for the fearlessness that springs from confidence in the beneficial power of the Transcendental, is lost due to our personalising identification with the samskāras skandha (the volitional energies). This identification leads to the egoic power-drive of the klesha of irshya (envy), and to dominant, conflictual, and manipulative ways of being. For more on this, see my articles here and here.
The Buddhist tradition is telling us, in the language of an archetypal psychology, that our personalising identification with the volitional energies , is personally and collectively very dangerous indeed, because it can lead the world to become lost in a particularly dark, violent and unconscious style of embodiment. The asuras are the powerful and obsessive ‘war gods’ of ancient Indian mythology, who are eternally at war with the benign devas, who are associated with refined ethical sensibility and positive emotion. It could be argued that, more than any other, it is the asura archetype that shapes human history – and yet it is very little known, and given very little attention, even by most Buddhists. While we need to be vigilant regarding the asura tendency in our own nature, I believe that we also need to be recognising it, naming it, and pushing back against it when we see it in our external world. While I have recently begun to write a few anti-war articles on this website, which you can find listed here, most of my anti-war writing can be found on my personal Facebook page which is here.
My ethical and compassionate response to the tragedy of the Ukraine crisis is complex, and is likely to be misunderstood by many people. While I recoil in horror at violence of this sort, or any sort, my training in nonviolence, mediation, and Buddhist meditation and self-enquiry, leads me to be more interested in understanding the conditions that lead to violence, than in mere condemnation of it. Rather than simply rushing to judgement, and joining the calls for more weapons for Ukraine, and for the punishment of the population of the Russian Federation through sanctions, I take a much wider historical perspective on the conflict than we are currently being presented with in the mainstream media. I prefer instead to ask what awareness we can bring, which might contribute to understanding, to resolution, to mediation, and to a break in the cycle of violence rather than a further escalation of it. This seems particularly necessary, since a major cause of the original escalation of the civil war in Ukraine into a direct Russia-Ukraine conflict has been the confusion and misinformation, much of it deliberate, that has surrounded the crisis, and has accompanied the deeply irrational and provocative actions of the US and NATO.
My extensive study of the historical and geopolitical background to this war, leads me to see this as a war in which Russia has, in absolute desperation, used military force to protect its own security, and the security of the Russian-speaking people of eastern Ukraine. The military confrontation that we are seeing was predicted 28 years ago, and it was perhaps inevitable, given NATO’s determination to expand to Russia’s borders, and its complete unwillingness to consider Russia’s reasonable security needs. It was brought very much closer, and perhaps even made inevitable, by the reckless US-facilitated coup in Ukraine in 2014, and by the passivity of the international community as 14,000 Russian-speaking Ukrainians were killed (and 50,000 were injured) by the sniper attacks and shelling from the Ukrainian army and its associated neo-Nazi militias over the 8 years from Feb 2014 to Feb 2022 – over a thousand people were killed by landmines alone. The fanatically anti-Russian neo-Nazi militias have been a minority element in Ukrainian society since WW2. US intelligence services have worked with these groups since that time, but it is the more recent actions of the US, that have allowed them to become the dominant political force that they have become in Ukrainian society today.
The actions of both Ukraine and the US and the other NATO countries, can be seen as expressions of the violent and manipulative spirit of the asura realm playing out very concretely and extremely destructively on the geopolitical stage – as it always will until we learn to recognise it and challenge it. Ultimately, in my view, the resolution of this horrific conflict is to be found, not only in an honest enquiry into its economic and historical causes, but also in reflection on its spiritual/psychological causes. I would like to provide a little of both in the articles on this website.
There are currently 43 articles in my introductory series on meditation, self-enquiry, and the psychology of the mandala, which I initially chose to call ‘Meditation Guidance’. I generally recommend this initial series of articles to anyone who is new to the Mandala of Love website. I have now written summaries for the first 37 articles in this series and this listing is available by clicking here, or on image below. For more information on this ‘Meditation Guidance’ series, please see my description further down this page.
Click on the title above to read the first article in a series of twelve articles, which together take a very deep, broad and detailed look at what recognising the emptiness of the rūpa skandha, the ‘form-creating’ skandha, might mean in practice. This series is part of a larger series of articles, which can be found under the ‘5 Wisdoms’ menu above, and in which I will eventually be covering each of the five skandhas in turn. To read from the beginning of the ‘5 Wisdoms’ series click here.
The fact that the rūpa skandha is associated, in the Bardo Thodol (the so-called ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’), with both the Mirror-Like Wisdom and the Buddhist ‘Hell Realms’ (with their archetypal imagery of inhumane mental judgement, condemnation and hatred – leading to horrible tortures and punishments), establishes very clearly that the rūpa skandha is best understood to be referring to the Thinking function of the mind. The rūpa skandha however, is usually rendered, not by more accurate and descriptive words like ‘conceptualisation’, or ‘conceptual form’, but simply by the word ‘Form’. This introduces a confusion in which the rūpa skandha, the concretising, form-creating dimension of the mind’s cognitive functioning, and the corresponding ‘form-data’ of mental experience, is frequently associated with ‘the body’ in the concrete, sensory, and corporeal sense of the word – an association that is best reserved for vedanā, the skandha of Sensing, or the perception of Sensation. These articles aim to recover the great power of the Buddha’s ‘Five Skandhas‘ teaching by addressing this area of confusion.
During the last couple of years, I have had very little time for writing, but have begun work on a series of longer articles on the ten deities of the Dharmadhātu mandala that were described by Padmasambhava in his Bardo Thodol teachings. I have taken as my starting point, the central five verses in Padmasambhava’s ‘Inspiration-Prayer for Deliverance from the Dangerous Pathway of the Bardo’ (which you can read here). I have found these verses inspirational ever since I was introduced to them nearly 40 years ago, and I hope you will find them the same.
In this series, I am aiming to show meditators how each one of the five male Buddhas and the five female Buddhas 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, and brief summaries of all the articles that I have written so far, can be found here.
The introductory series of 43 articles on meditation and self-enquiry, which I chose to call the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series, and which is listed under the ‘Meditation’ menu above, was my main focus in 2017 and 2018. I tried to write these articles in a way that would make them accessible to anyone who might have a general interest in meditation, self-awareness, and spiritual development. My approach to meditation and Mindfulness is distinctive, and perhaps idiosyncratic, because, although it is based on the Buddhist psychology of non-duality, and on the mandala-wisdom of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, it also makes use of the translations of the Buddhist skandhas that we find in the English translations of Carl Jung. Jung borrowed very heavily from Buddhism in the development of his own mandala model of the psyche – unfortunately without acknowledging his debt. I am borrowing back from Jung – and I certainly acknowledge a great debt to him.
An important source of inspiration for these articles was my deepening appreciation of the meeting of Quantum Physics and Quantum Biology with Neuroscience, which is now taking place. I find this to be most fully articulated in the brilliant Penrose-Hameroff hypothesis in regard to the nature of the brain-Consciousness interface – a hypothesis that is steadily accumulating experimental support.
Brief summaries of the articles in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series can be found here, or by clicking the image below.
I am most strongly influenced by Buddhist thought, and my approach could be characterised as a ‘Western Buddhist’ one – and one in which I have tried as much as possible to address the general reader. Where they can serve to illuminate and ground the deep non-dual psychology of the Buddhist mandala wisdom, I therefore make connections with other psychologies that share the same inspiration. I engaged in intensive study of Carl Jung concurrently with my Buddhist studies in my twenties and have drawn heavily on that knowledge. I have more recently been a passionate student of the deep humanistic psychology of Marshall Rosenberg (founder of Nonviolent Communication – NVC), and of Eugene Gendlin (founder of the ‘Focusing‘ self-empathy/self-enquiry dyad practice) and, since I have found these to be of enormous value in my understanding of Buddhist psychology, I have woven these perspectives into this Mandala of Love approach to meditation and self-enquiry.
This ‘Meditation Guidance’ series of articles, does not in fact present any detailed explanation of specific meditation practices, but aims to bring fresh insights to several common approaches to meditation – the Mindfulness of Breathing, Mettā Bhavana (‘Cultivation of Loving Kindness’), and the Zen ‘Just Sitting’ practice for example. The initial framework for the Mandala of Love approach, and for this whole series also, is provided by the four brahmavihāras (Loving Kindness, Appreciative Joy, Equanimity and Compassion) – a four-fold meditation-cycle and self-enquiry practice from ancient India, which was given a very important place in the Buddha’s teaching framework, and in the subsequent development of the Buddhist tradition. Central to my approach is the conceptualisation of meditation practice as ‘resting as Consciousness’, and the recognition of the brahmavihāras as ‘attitudes of Consciousness’. I find ‘resting as Consciousness’ to be more descriptive than the traditional Buddhist term ‘Mindfulness’, with which it is essentially synonymous.
The word Consciousness as I use it in its capitalised form in these articles, refers to the ’empty’ vijñāna skandha of Buddhist tradition, which we find placed at the centre of the Buddhist mandalas. To know Consciousness is not easy, since Consciousness is the ‘knower’ of our experience – the awareness that is aware of being aware. Our engagement in self-enquiry and familiarisation with the phenomenon of Consciousness is absolutely key to spiritual practice however – the Buddha told us that “Mindfulness is the Way to the Immortal”. As with all of the skandhas, the Buddhist tradition speaks of the vijñāna skandha having ‘internal’ and ‘external’ aspects. As I understand it, the ‘internal’ aspect is the non-personal experiencing subject – the spaciousness that is the centre and the circumference of our experiencing; and the ‘external’ aspect is the quality of ‘knowing presence’ that is orientated outwardly towards our cognitive-perceptual experience.
By re-framing meditation and Mindfulness practices as expressions of ‘resting as Consciousness’, and acknowledging the ’empty’ and impersonal nature of all the components of cognition and perception that arise in Consciousness (the skandhas of Buddhist tradition), there is an opportunity to set these practices in a non-dual context – one that is, I hope, much more true to the Buddha’s teaching than many of the modern derivatives. The Buddha bore witness to the impersonal nature of all psychological phenomena, and to the ’empty’ and non-locatable nature of Consciousness, and urged his students to take these insights as the foundation of their practice. When we step out of the egoic perspective, we can re-discover meditation as an activity whose purpose is to reveal our true nature and recover our natural state – the compassion and intelligence of our natural humanity.
Since the beginning of 2019, I have been aiming in my articles, to provide some in-depth analysis on the Five Wisdoms; on the Buddha’s ‘Emptiness of the Five Skandhas‘ teaching; and on the closely-related ‘Four Foundations of Mindfulness’. I have created a new menu category for some of these articles, which I have called simply, ‘5 Wisdoms’. Under this menu you will find a group of introductory, or overview articles on the five skandhas. This will eventually be followed by five groups of articles – one for each of the five skandhas. I have begun the first group, which is one focused on the very important, but much misunderstood, rūpa skandha – the ’empty’ conceptualising, or ‘conceptual-form-creating’, function of the mind.
Find this series of articles listed under the ‘5 Wisdoms’ menu, or access brief summaries of the articles in that series by clicking here. You can access the first post in the series by clicking here.
I have been a passionate student of Marshall Rosenberg’sNonviolent Communication (NVC) model for over twenty years, and have taught several courses based on his work and on the closely-related work of Eugene Gendlin, the originator of the Focusing self-empathy dyad practice. I have also developed an innovative approach to the NVC model, which I call the NVC Mandala, and which sees the ‘four components’ of Rosenberg’s model as a beautiful example of the universal mandala wisdom that we find in Tibetan Buddhism, and in the psychology of Carl Jung – although Jung, it should always be noted, borrowed much from Tibetan Buddhism in the creation of his mandala model of the psyche.
The ‘NVC Mandala’ that becomes clear when Marshall Rosenberg’s ‘four components’ model is arranged with Observations and Feelings at east and west, and Needs and Requests at north and south, is all the more remarkable for the fact that he developed his model without any knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism or the work of Carl Jung. The obvious connections between the non-dual psychology of the Tibetan Buddhist mandala and the practical psychological analysis of thought and language that is provided by Marshall Rosenberg, provide the basis for an extremely rich synthesis of ideas and very profound support for the Buddhist practice of Mindfulness.
I have placed Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication and Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing under the same heading because I have found it helpful to combine them into a single model. The outer clarity of communication, which the Nonviolent Communication model aspires to, requires a foundation of deep Presence and self-empathy – and these qualities can be more powerfully cultivated and more fully understood through self-enquiry dyad practice of the sort that Eugene Gendlin showed us when he presented his Focusing model.
I hope that the articles in the ‘NVC/Focusing’ series will be thought-provoking for anyone with an interest in bringing harmony and compassion to their relationships and communities; in the psychology and spirituality of everyday life; and in the Buddhist ideals of nonviolence, loving-kindness, and creativity. I would like to find the time to write some in-depth reflections on how both Nonviolent Communication and Focusing can support a deepening of Buddhist practice; and how Buddhist insights can support a deepening of the practice of Nonviolent Communication and Focusing.
You can access the first post in this series by clicking here, or via the ‘NVC/Focusing’ category in the top menu.
The Mandala of Love website started as a book project called A Mandala of Love: Consciousness, Ethics and Society. I have published some of the drafts of the early sections of that book (from 2016) in the form of articles in a ‘Book Sections’ series, which can be accessed by clicking on the ‘Book’ menu above.
Alternatively, you can access the first post in the ‘Book Sections’ series by clicking here.
The earliest piece of writing in the site, this is a longer piece from 2012. Even though it is not quite complete, it covers the most significant events on the wonderful Hui Neng story. To access it click here, or on the title above. I am hoping that this article will provide inspiration and guidance to students of both meditation and non-duality. I find the story of Hui Neng to be one of the most beautiful and illuminating in the whole of the Buddhist tradition. Among the many deep themes in this rich and multi-dimensional autobiographical work, you will find, I believe, the essence of Zen.
Those who have been reading my articles on the mandala wisdom on this website, will find that Hui Neng’s story brings us back, in a fresh new way, to the traditional point of entry into the mandala: the blue Eastern Quadrant; the ’empty’ rūpa skandha; the Mirror-Like Wisdom; and the brahmavihāra of Equanimity.
Individual Coaching, Mandala Innerwork, and Meditation Teaching
Although I am currently very busy with personal commitments, I may be able to provide individual meditation guidance and coaching sessions via Zoom to people who are interested in my work. My Mandala Innerwork approach to coaching is a form of self-enquiry that students of meditation will find very supportive. These sessions are also especially valuable to students of the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) model, since these sessions focus on the development of the attitudes and skills of self-empathy, which is foundational to that model. I am particularly keen to work with those who are interested in the Mandala of Love approach to self-enquiry, meditation, and self-empathetic innerwork, and who would value my support to apply the principles that I have been outlining in my articles.
My approach to innerwork draws on various sources of inspiration, but makes extensive use of the work of Eugene Gendlin, and his student Anne Weiser-Cornell. I have also completed the Inner Presence Coaching training of Jerry Donoghue, an NVC teacher who is based in Ashville, North Carolina, in the USA – an NVC teacher who, like me, is engaged with integrating NVC with the non-dual wisdom of the Buddhist tradition.
Jerry Donoghue and I also share the conviction that the practice of self-empathy, which is a foundational element of the NVC model, requires the acknowledgement of psychological parts – a theme that I have addressed frequently in my ‘Meditation Guidance’ articles (including here, here, here, and here). Indeed the self-empathy / self-enquiry approach that I have come to call Mandala Innerwork is founded on my observation, over several decades of my own innerwork practice, that the ability to self-empathetically recognise and work with psychological parts is an essential self-awareness skill, and a necessary skill if we wish to become more conscious; to recover an authentic self; and to integrate non-dual wisdom.
In the context of my individual coaching sessions, I like to integrate my meditation and self-enquiry work with my facilitation of self-empathetic innerwork. Both skills take the idea of ‘resting as Consciousness’ as their starting point. Indeed, my coaching work is best characterised as a form of self-enquiry facilitation, or of Mindfulness with the goal of Insight – seeing through the self-illusion. The depth of that enquiry depends on the choice of those that I am working with, but my own personal framework is rooted in the rich and powerful psychology of the Buddhist non-duality teachings.
If you would like to read more on my approach to NVC Self-Empathy work and Mandala Innerwork, please consider looking at the articles that can be found under the NVC/Focusing menu above. A brief summary of my approach can be found here.
This is Post 28 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the articles in this series can be found by clicking here.
Each of the four Quadrants of the mandala can be a point of entry into the experience of embodied Consciousness. Each is distinctive, and each is as powerful and as important, as all the others. The Western Quadrant, which we have been examining in the last few posts, takes us into the mystery through the experience of the evaluative and discriminative psychological function of Feeling, which the Buddhist tradition calls the samjñā skandha. The distinctive red male Buddha of the Western Quadrant, who is always seen with his hands resting together in meditation posture, is Amitābha – the Buddha of love, or mettā, or Loving Kindness. The invitation of Amitābha is that we rest as Consciousness and evaluate our experience from that place – to relate to others and evaluate our experience not from egoic Feeling, but from the Feeling aspect of Consciousness, which the Buddhist tradition speaks of in terms of the Discriminating Wisdom, and in terms of mettā.
Pandaravārsini, the female Buddha partner of Amitābha is an archetypal figure of enormous spiritual importance. While we can say that Amitābha personifies the extraverted aspect of love – love poured out towards others – Pandaravārsini personifies the subtle introverted counterpart of that, which is love received. So, Pandaravārsini is a personification of that in us, which is able to rest as Consciousness so completely that our emotional life (the somatic energies of our Emotional Body) are taken over by mettā. She could therefore associated with what may be called our ability to ‘love ourselves’, but this a crude conceptualisation. More accurately, she is that in us which recognises the source of love within with instinctive confidence – and who, through absolute Faith and devotional receptivity rests always in a state of uncaused happiness. Pandaravārsini represents ‘the confidence that we are loved’ in the most absolute and impersonal sense of that notion. The principle that Pandaravārsini embodies is so absolutely foundational for the meditator (and for humanity), that I have chosen in these articles to give this Dharmic principle of primordial contentment, this introverted dimension of Loving Kindness, its own name – Uncaused Happiness.
Consciousness does not evaluate like the egoic mind does – it does not simply distinguish between that which it ‘likes’ and that which it ‘does not like’; or between that which it values and that which it de-values. It might seem, at least at first, that Consciousness makes no evaluation at all. When we allow ourselves to rest as Consciousness however, and familiarise ourselves with Consciousness and with the experience of the Emotional Body through meditative enquiry, we notice that Consciousness is indeed evaluative – but it evaluates unconditionally. It seems that Consciousness unconditionally values everything in our experience. We might say that, paradoxically without lacking discrimination, it feels everything, values everything, accepts everything, embraces everything, loves everything – and even perhaps, is happy with everything. This attitude, and this transformative state of alignment of the Emotional Body layer of our somatic anatomy with the great love that is inherent in Consciousness and inherent in the universe, is what the Buddhist tradition calls mettā, or Loving Kindness.
This is Post 27 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found by clicking here.
When we rest as Consciousness, the Feeling aspect of that experience is the brahmavihāra of mettā, or Loving Kindness. Mettā is associated in Buddhist tradition with the colour red, with the end of the day, and with sunset. Although, in Western tradition, the Feeling function is associated with the water element, in Indian tradition it is associated with the element of fire.
In the poetry and imagination of India (and that of the first nation peoples of North America) fire is the element that turns the gross into the subtle, that cooks and transforms things, that extracts bright metals from dull ores. When the body is cremated, fire helps the soul on its journey to the heavenly realms. Fire is the element that radiates a nourishing warmth – but we instinctively recoil from it when it threatens to scorch us. It is the upward-rising and aspirational element that dances, and appears to reach up to heaven. All this fire imagery provides eloquent symbolism of the Feeling function. In India, the Hindu religious ascetic, or sannyasin, will usually put on robes that are the colour of fire when he or she abandons the worldly life – signifying the fire of their aspiration, and the self-transformation that they are undertaking.
In the context of the mandalas of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the fiery Feeling function in the red Western Quadrant appears to carry us upward from the earthy Sensation function in the yellow Southern Quadrant, to the airy function of Volition / Intuition in the green Northern Quadrant. The downward-flowing water element in the blue, or white, Eastern Quadrant, which symbolises the Thinking function, carries us back down to the yellow Southern Quadrant, the earth element, and the Sensation function, and so completes the cycle. The elements, in this context, are symbols of the cognitive-perceptual functions that Indian tradition calls the skandhas – something that students of the mandala wisdom need to be keenly aware of.
It is traditional among the Tibetan people to orientate their maps to the path of the sun, so they put the blue eastern sunrise point at the bottom of the mandala, and the red western sunset point at the top – so the way in which the element symbolism highlights the cyclical process of the mandala is unfortunately usually lost. While it is very much my wish to honour the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, I find the western-style orientation of the mandala, which puts the north-point at the top, to be much more symbolically meaningful.
The archetypal symbolism of the two axes – the two main pairs of polarities within the mandala – are so important. By placing the Earth-Air axis vertically, with the Earth Element, which in Buddhist tradition symbolises the basic and foundational skandha of vedanā (Sensation) at the bottom; and the Air Element, which symbolises the subtle and energetic skandha of samskaras (Intuition/Volition) at the top, we allow the mandala to express important truths that would otherwise be missed – important truths that in other traditions might be suggested symbolically by the dichotomies of Heaven and Earth, or Spirit and Matter.
A Four-fold Embodiment of Consciousness
The foundational stages of meditation practice require that we familiarise ourselves deeply with embodied Consciousness in all four of the surface bodies, and one of our best guides to this four-fold embodiment is the cycle of the four brahmavihāras. The Emotional Body is the third of the surface bodies, and is associated with the Western Quadrant of the mandala, and with the brahmavihāra of mettā. It is the Emotional Body that is felt most keenly in the region of the maṇipūra, or Solar Plexus Chakra, which is a point in the centre of the trunk of body just below the sternum, which I have written about in the previous post (here). Continue reading
This is Post 26 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found by clicking here.
It has been the experience of the ancient meditation traditions of India and Tibet that the internal space of the human body is filled with not one but seven different energetic, or somatic, fields – the seven auras, or ‘subtle bodies’. Many readers will already be aware that each deeper layer in the succession of auric layers is slightly larger than the last, so that the layers that are closer to the surface are enclosed within the deeper ones.
An important feature of this spiritual anatomy that readers may not be aware of however, is the way the polarity of the layers alternates between receptive and expansive – yin and yang – and in way that is opposite in the two sexes. I have outlined this phenomenon in previous posts (here and here) and will be returning to it – this understanding is essential, in my view, for the meditator, and provides wonderful insights into the very different emotional life of men and women.
An understanding of the ways in which these fields of our spiritual anatomy interpenetrate each other and interact, is very useful information for the meditator. Of the seven fields, by far the most important are the first four, which I have been calling the surface bodies – these are somatic fields through which our sense of ‘being a person’ finds a sense of energetic embodiment. While these four key subtle bodies, and the relationships between them, are most comprehensively described by the meditation mandalas of Tibetan Buddhism, the implicit description of embodied Consciousness that we find in the four brahmavihāras of early Buddhism (and in the pre-Buddhist teaching of the four brahmavihāras) gives us a much simpler ‘way in’ to this mandala wisdom.
Each of the subtle bodies is felt most keenly at the points in the body that we call the chakras. So, as previously in connection with the Mental Body and the subtle Physical Body (which I described here and here), we will find it useful in understanding our experience of the Emotional Body when we are resting as Consciousness, if we look briefly at the traditional Indian description of the Solar Plexus Chakra, which is outlined below.
The Manipūra Chakra – City of Jewels
The traditional Indian name of the third chakra, the chakra at the Solar Plexus, is maṇipūra, which is a Sanskrit word made up of the word maṇi, which means ‘jewel’, and pūra, which means city or place. Maṇipūra gives us an image of a sort of paradise – a place of extraordinary wealth and beauty – sparkling and radiant. In this context, the image of a landscape glittering with jewels is being used to symbolise not only ultimate beauty and value, but also unlimited ease, grace, contentment and happiness – a world of pleasurable and joyful feelings. Continue reading
This is Post 25 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found by clicking here.
While there is much more that could be said about the brahmavihāra of Sympathetic Joy and the Southern Quadrant of the mandala, we need now to move clockwise round the mandala to the Western Quadrant, to the function of Feeling (the samjñā skandha of Buddhist tradition), and to the brahmavihāra of Loving Kindness, or mettā (Pali), or maitrī (Sanskrit). Although in general I like to use Sanskrit, the classical language of Indian spiritual discourse, and the language of the magnificent but no longer existing tradition of Indian Mahayana Buddhism, I prefer, out of habit, to use the more familiar Pali word mettā, for Loving Kindness, rather than equivalent Sanskrit word maitrī (pronounced ‘my-tree’).
Even those who are unfamiliar with the four brahmavihāras as a mandala map of Consciousness, such as I have been presenting, may well have heard of mettā, which is the most well-known of the four. And some will perhaps be familiar with a form of the popular Buddhist meditation practice called the mettā bhāvanā, or ‘Cultivation of the Loving Kindness’. Because of this, I have already written one post about mettā (here) in my introduction to the brahmavihāras at the beginning of this ‘Meditation Guidance’ series.
In that previous post, I explained that mettā is most frequently presented in a way that does not clearly distinguish it from karuṇā (Compassion), muditā (Sympathetic Joy), and fails to acknowledge the important connection between mettā and upekṣā (Equanimity). Because I believe so strongly that a deeper understanding the whole mandala of the brahmavihāras constitutes such a powerful framework for self-enquiry and meditation, I would like now to return to the themes of that previous post.
Distinguishing Feeling from Sensation
In order to fully understand and distinguish the nature of mettā, we need first to understand that function of psychological cognition that we call Feeling, and in order to understand Feeling, it is extremely important for us to make a clear distinction between Feeling and Sensation – something that not all psychological models achieve. Indeed these two words are unfortunately often used interchangeably in English and other languages – and this causes much confusion. The distinction I make between the perceptual sensing function of Sensation and evaluative and discriminative function of Feeling follows both Carl Jung and the Buddhist tradition. I also draw on Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication model and various others who have also recognised and described this universal four-fold pattern, which I have some sometimes called the Mandala of Love, or more simply, ‘the mandala’.
This is Post 24 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found by clicking here.
In order to understand meditation fully, an understanding of the way our psychology manifests somatically, or energetically in the field of the body, is essential. We especially need to understand the way in which female and male spiritual character manifests somatically. These are things that are extremely poorly understood, given their great importance as key factors that govern the level of harmony and fulfilment that we experience in sexual relationships. They appear to be difficult to consciously acknowledge and talk about, even though we are all very keenly aware of them.
This is perhaps partly because these phenomena are so difficult to conceptualise. The great Carl Jung, who developed a very sophisticated understanding of the way archetypal, or transpersonal, psychic forces shape male and female psychological character, also understood that the archetypal psychology of sexual difference manifests somatically – in the subtle energies of the body. He theorised that there was an energetic patterning of the body, or somatic unconscious, that shapes our psychology in a similar way to the archetypes of the collective psychic unconscious. Whereas the archetypes of the collective unconscious show themselves in our myths, stories, dreams, and movies, the energies of the somatic unconscious can be felt in the body as energetic dynamics and states.
Our ability to know ourselves, and to function with psychological freedom and integrity, is closely related to our capacity to fully acknowledge this bodily-felt dimension of the inner world. Our engagement with the somatic dimension takes us to the core of the human mystery – and to the core of how human beings embody Consciousness, or fail to do so.
The Qualia of Embodiment
In connection with the yellow Southern Quadrant of the mandala and the brahmavihāra of muditā, or Appreciative Joy, it is helpful to acknowledge the experience of ‘Embodiment’ that we have been addressing is a ‘qualia’. The qualia are the difficult-to-define subjectively experienced phenomena that occur in connection with Consciousness. As a way of finding alignment at the beginning of a meditation session, try just taking a few moments to notice your experience of ‘Embodiment’. You are likely to find that when you look in your experience for ‘Embodiment’, you will find yourself being pointed to the experience of Consciousness. You will have a similar experience when you look for the experience of ‘Being’, which names another key qualia. Continue reading
This is Post 23 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found by clicking here.
Self-inquiry, meditation practice, and the practice that the English-speaking Buddhist traditions call ‘Mindfulness’, all involve what can be described metaphorically as an inner drawing back, out of the egoic identification in which we find ourselves, into an identification with the field of Consciousness itself – and discovering the blessings that flow from that. We usually associate these practices with Indian and far eastern spirituality (and perhaps with a few Christian mystical traditions like the Quakers). It is important to understand however, that the same subtle spiritual knowledge was present at the beginning of Western Philosophy in the Platonic and Neoplatonic traditions that flourished before the Christian period, and then re-emerged in the Renaissance.
An Ancient Greek Vision of Spiritual Freedom
Socrates, the Classical Greek philosopher, who lived in Athens in the 5th Century BCE, was teaching on ethics and the ultimate nature of mind in the same century that the Buddha was addressing these themes in ancient India. If he did ever do any writing himself, none of Socrates’ writings have survived, so we only know of his ideas though the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and via the playwright Aristophanes.
There is much in Plato’s literary record of Socrates’ life and teachings, that is relevant to this series of posts on the brahmavihāras, but I would like to return to one of his teachings that I have touched on briefly before in this series (here) – the ‘Allegory of the Cave’ from Plato’s Republic. Set in the context of a wider discussion about the value of education and of spiritual knowledge, it appears to present a philosophical theory of human perception that is very similar to both the Buddha’s view, and that of Quantum Physics. Continue reading
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