This article is the second of fifteen articles inspired by the central five verses of 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 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 the five central verses of the ‘Inspiration-Prayer for Deliverance from the Dangerous Pathway of the Bardo’ (you can read those verses here), we are shown the five ‘light-paths’ that lead us from ignorance to wisdom – from identification with the skandhas, and with the self-illusion, to a recognition of the ’emptiness’ of the skandhas and to the realisation of the five Wisdoms. In order to begin to explore each skandha / Wisdom light-path, I shall be describing each of the five kleshas and five Realms; and each of the five Wisdoms, and the five ‘Buddha couples’ that correspond to them.
The Vijñāna Skandha, the Klesha of Spiritual Ignorance (avidyā), and the Deva Realms
When, through spiritual ignorance, I wander in samsara,
on the luminous light-path of the dharmadhātu wisdom,
may Blessed Vairocana go before me,
and White Tara behind me.
We need to start in the centre of the mandala, with the central skandha / Wisdom light-path, which is the white light-path of the ’empty’ vijñāna skandha, which is Consciousness. In conventional egoic perception, we identify with the vijñāna skandha and personalise it – we take Consciousness to be personal. It could be said that this ignorance of the suprapersonal nature of Consciousness is the foundational klesha – the ‘spiritual ignorance’ from which all the other kleshas inevitably follow. To release this personalisation of Consciousness, and the egoic self-view idea that springs from it, is the beginning of Wisdom. When we are truly mindful, and learn to ‘rest as Consciousness’ in meditation, we are resting in the recognition that Consciousness is in fact an objective and collective reality. By ‘seeing through’ our habitual personalisation of Consciousness we begin to recognise that personal self-hood is just an illusion that we have created – an illusion that we will inevitably continue to create, and will move in an out of, until we are fully realised.
In the Buddhist texts there are two words used for this spiritual ignorance. These are moha and avidyā, and both are sometimes used in the ‘five kleshas‘ list. While the term moha is also taken to mean delusion, confusion, and dullness, or unconsciousness in general, the term avidyā is preferable, in my view, because it generally refers more specifically to the spiritual ignorance of personalising Consciousness, and to the egoic belief in a separate self.
It is clarifying to remember that the klesha of ‘spiritual ignorance’ is the deep rooted habit of egoic personalisation that is the distinguishing characteristic of the Deva Realms – and is the reason for the devas’ bondage to conditioned existence, despite their ability to dwell in ultra-refined and extremely ‘positive’ mental states. When we are talking in the context of the five-fold mandala model of mind, which crystalised during the Mahayana period of Indian Buddhism, and became the underlying structure for the Vajrayana teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, it is also helpful to think of this klesha as the ‘spiritual ignorance’ that is the opposite of the Dharmadhātu Wisdom. In other words, avidyā is that ignorance which is our failure to recognise the ’emptiness’, or non-personal nature of Consciousness – the ’emptiness’ of the vijñāna skandha. So avidyā is the klesha that leads us, when we are in the ‘intermediate state’ – the bardo between lives – to be drawn toward rebirth in the Deva Realms, rather than toward recognition of our true nature as the white light of the Dharmadhātu Wisdom, which shines from the figures of Vairocana and White Tara (originally Ākāshadhātvishvari).