This article is the fourth of fifteen articles inspired by the ‘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 Dharmadātu 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; you can read the previous article in the series here; and brief summaries of all the articles can be found here.
In this article, I make reference to the five-fold ‘System of Practice’, that has been used, within the Triratna Buddhist Community, as a framework for thinking about the dimensions of meditation practice and the Dharma life more generally. This model originally identified Integration, Positive Emotion, Spiritual Death (i.e. Insight), and Spiritual Rebirth, as four key stages. To these four, a fifth component – Receptivity – was later added as a new third stage. While I am in complete agreement regarding the importance of receptivity, I do not agree with the addition of it as an additional stage. In my own experience Receptivity is integral to the foundational Integration stage – and therefore to all the subsequent stages. The placement of Receptivity third in the series of five stages, does however reflect the reality that meditators generally come to an appreciation of the importance of Receptivity after they have been engaged with the goals of Integration and Positive Emotion for some time – and it is usually this reframing of meditation through an emphasis on Receptivity, that leads to the subsequent stages of Spiritual Death (Insight) and Spiritual Rebirth (Bodhicitta).
I need to acknowledge, and indeed emphasise, that where I have suggested in these articles that Receptivity should be given greater primacy, and have proposed that five of the ten deities are particularly supportive of the initial ‘Integration’ phase, and that the other five can strongly support us during the subsequent ‘Positive Emotion’ stage, this is an observation from my own explorations, and certainly goes beyond the standard interpretation of Sangharakshita’s model. I do not however, believe my suggestions are in conflict with Sangharakshita’s emphasis. I prefer to think of my ideas as a respectful engagement with his; as building on the foundation of his work; as affirming the value of his orginal four-fold model; and as a tentative contribution to the process by which the Triratna meditation practice model is being forged in the furnace of experience.
In this article, I hope I can begin to tentatively explore how the kleshas and Wisdom energies, that I spoke about in the last article in this series (here), are located in the fields of the body, and on how we can begin to ‘hold the tension’ between those opposite groups of energies – as they appear as polarities within our bodily-felt experience in meditation practice. Each quadrant of the mandala points to an opposition between an egoic manifestation on one side, and a mysterious transcendent aspect on the other – which we can think of an aspect of our true nature as embodied Consciousness. We need to hold the tension between these opposites. By being careful not to deny the reality of either pole, while paying special attention to the ever-present somatic resonance of the transcendent reality, we begin to heal, and move towards our goal. Mandalas are complex multi-dimensional images of the many and various inherent oppositions within the psyche – which are the obstacles to our integration. Each quadrant of the mandala therefore describes a tension to be held – a polarity to be reconciled – and each axis of the mandala describes a tension to be held and reconciled also.
The Dharmadhātu Mandala as a Ten-Fold Meditation Cycle
I prefer to meditate on the ten archetypal Buddhas, not only as five apparent ‘couples’ as in the ‘Inspiration-Prayer’ – with one male-female pair representing each of the Five Wisdoms – or as five female Buddhas and five male Buddhas. Rather, I meditate first on what I have come to think of as the five ‘receptive’ deities (three female Buddhas and two male ones), and then on the five ‘expansive’ deities (three male Buddhas and two female ones). The two diagrams below, show these two groups of five deities – each with the ‘Dharmic Principles’ that I find useful for identifying the aspect of the Five Wisdoms that they personify, represent, or embody.
In the course of the articles in this series, I shall be explaining the words that I have chosen for the ‘Dharmic Principles’ and expanding upon them. There are two of these ‘Dharmic Principles’ for each Wisdom – one for each of the ten archetypal Buddhas in the mandala. The eight ‘Dharmic principles’ that are shown in the four quadrants of the two mandala are either brahmavihāras (Equanimity, Appreciative Joy, Loving Kindness, and Compassion), or are closely related Dharmic principles, which I call Qualia (Being, Embodiment, Uncaused Happiness, and Life Energy). While the Five Wisdoms are usually defined as the aspects of wisdom that arise as the emptiness of each of the skandhas is recognised, I, like many others, regard the brahmavihāras as an equally important way in to an understanding of them – and absolutely key to our bodily-felt experience of the Wisdoms in meditation. In previous articles on this website, I have already written quite extensively on each of the brahmavihāras and their related Qualia, but will be systematically examining each one of these Dharmic principles as we progress in this series of articles.