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