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.
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 my previous 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:
In the limited time that I have had available, in the last year, I have been working on a small book called ‘Buddha, Dharma, Sangha and the Five Wisdoms Mandala’ – I hope to have the book completed by the end of this year. I have for a long time felt the need to write a book that will provide a fairly compact but comprehensive overview of the philosophical and practical approach that I have been presenting in my articles, and I hope that this book will serve that purpose. You can read my Preface to that book here.
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 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 22 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found by clicking here.
In very general terms, the classic Zen meditation practice of Zazen, or ‘Just Sitting’, is usually thought of as a meditation that takes the body as a whole, and its environment, as the ‘object’ of the meditation practice. For those that have not experienced the practice, it can be difficult to understand how this seemingly diffuse and unfocused approach to meditation could, in a very natural and effortless way, give rise to strong states of somatic integration, where it appears that Consciousness is the unifying power that is producing the state of effortless concentration. I could be argued that the ‘object’ of attention in Zazen practice, if there is one, is Consciousness itself – the field of Consciousness in which all our experiencing is happening; and Consciousness as it is experienced in the field of the body. Zazen therefore, is a prime example of the practice of ‘resting as Consciousness’.
Sympathetic Joy – the Zen of Embodied Consciousness
In the last few posts I have reflecting in different ways on the brahmavihāras or muditā, which is usually translated as Sympathetic Joy. In the text of these articles, I have mostly been translating muditā as Appreciative Joy, which I prefer. I can see that the translation of muditā as Sympathetic Joy is in some ways more appropriate when we are describing the extraverted aspect of muditā – our relational response to the wellbeing or achievement of another – but when talking about our relationship to our own experience, Appreciative Joy is definitely more appropriate.
I am aware that Zen Buddhism has different associations for different people, and different schools of Zen have different emphases. In this instance, I am making reference to Zen to highlight an approach to meditation practice that is characterised by a sense of embodiment, expansiveness, appreciation, contentment and gratitude, and a deep and fearless willingness to fully inhabit the body and the sensory world as Consciousness – attitudes that are characteristic, in my view, of Appreciative Joy.
While all of the brahmavihāras can spontaneously arise during Zazen meditation, but I believe the practice has this especially close connection with muditā. This is because muditā, or Appreciative Joy, is the brahmavihāra that arises in connection with the skandha of vedanā – the brahmavihāra which arises as our relationship with the vedanā skandha begins to take on a less personal and more universal character. There is a natural refinement of our relationship with our internal sensory experience as we learn to dis-identify from our experience, while simultaneously recognising our experience as ’embodied Consciousness’ – and this more refined and objective experience of vedanā is called muditā, or Appreciative Joy.
This is Post 18 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found here.
In order to fully understand the brahmavihāra, or attitude of Consciousness, that the Buddha called upekṣā, or Equanimity, it is very valuable to contrast it with its polar opposite in egoic consciousness. Indeed each of the four brahmavihāras is essentially an archetypal or transpersonal power by which a particular aspect of the egoic mind is healed. To help us consistently experience the transformative effect of the four brahmavihāras we need to understand the nature of the close relationship between these four beneficent cosmic principles on the one hand – and the four corresponding tendencies in the egoic mind on the other.
A Spiritual Choice within each Quadrant of the Mandala
In previous posts I have talked about the choices we face, in every moment, between each of the qualities of Consciousness on one hand, and each of the corresponding qualities of the egoic mind on the other. In regard to the Thinking function and the Mental Body, we find that Equanimity and the quality of Objectivity that is integral to it, are in polar opposition to the egoic tendency towards judgement and the inability to just be with things (and people) and let them be as they are. An important way in which this opposition was previously highlighted (in a previous post – here) was in the stark contrast between the positive mirror of Consciousness and the negative mirror of narcissism.
As we start to practice the mandala wisdom we recognise that each quadrant of the mandala presents us with a spiritual choice – and to recognise that we have a choice where we previously were not even aware that choice was possible, is always an experience of empowerment. We live in a world that claims to give us choices, and which even overwhelms us with choices, but ultimately the only thing that really gives us choices is Consciousness. Continue reading
This is Post 17 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found here.
The Mental Body entirely pervades, and extends slightly beyond, the physical body, but the felt experience of the Mental Body is most keenly felt in the lower belly three or four finger widths below the naval. Throughout the cultures of the East, from India to Japan, this point or area is widely understood to have a close association with mental stability, physical vitality, and with the sort of mental focus that supports high-level feats of physical coordination.
The Swadhisthāna Chakra – a Place of Rest and Beneficial Alignment
The same understanding is found in the Western tradition of Classical Ballet, and elsewhere in the West, but in the East, with its traditions of meditation and self-inquiry, its intuitive and energetic approaches to medicine, and its deep and subtle martial arts, this understanding has gone very deep. In Indian tradition this area of the belly is called the swadhiṣṭhāna chakra, while in Japanese tradition it is called the hara, or ‘belly’. If we wanted to be culture-free we could simply call it the second chakra, but I find the Japanese word hara to have wide recognition.
The entomology of the Sanskrit word swadhiṣṭhāna is worth acknowledging. The prefix swa denotes ‘my’ and adhiṣṭhāna expresses the idea of a resting place, or seat, or base, or dwelling place, especially a place from which it is possible to have an overview. I am not a Sanskrit scholar, but there are associations with this word that convey the idea of a position of benevolent and protective authority, or an objective point of view – and an empowerment or blessing that is not personal, but comes from the Divine. All this speaks volumes about the experience of allowing the Mental Body to rest as Consciousness, and the felt experience of being centred in the swadhiṣṭhāna chakra or hara. This alignment and empowerment ultimately requires that the other bodies are also allowed to rest as Consciousness, preferably at the same time – but this is a very good place to start. Continue reading
This is Post 16 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found here.
In the previous posts about the the Buddha’s Equanimity practice – a practice which aims to bring the Mental Body and the Thinking function into alignment with Consciousness, I have briefly touched on the symbol of the mirror. The mirror deserves more time however, because it is such a profound symbolic pointer to spiritual truth. It is a deeply paradoxical and indeed an ambivalent image – both extremely positive and extremely negative.
As a positive image, we find the mirror as a symbol of Consciousness, as in Zen or Tibetan Buddhism (which I have spoken of in a previous post – here); again in the Ancient Greek myth of the hero Perseus; and elsewhere. The mirror is also a symbol of narcissism – an extremely important psychological concept, and one that has profoundly negative personal and cultural implications.
Perseus and Medusa
The mythic hero Perseus encountered the Gorgon Medusa in a landscape littered with the crumbling remains of countless heroes who had been turned into stone by her gaze. So great was the force of her narcissistic objectification of those who meet her gaze – that they are immediately reduced to literal objects. Perseus manages however, to avoid her petrifying stare by only looking at her reflected image in the mirror shield that he has been given by the Goddess Athene. Only the heroes with divine help succeed – those with the capacity for reflection that Consciousness gives them. All the rest fail. Continue reading
This is Post 15 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found here.
One of the most common misconceptions about meditation is the idea that it is a merely mental activity. Anyone who would characterise meditation in this way has been taught incorrectly. Meditation is more akin to dance than ordinary egoic thinking. We meditate with the body.
But we need a much larger and more sophisticated conception of what the body is, than scientific materialism has afforded us. We need an understanding of the subtle bodies, especially the first four subtle bodies: the Physical body; the Mental body; the Emotional body; and the Volitional body – which may be called the surface bodies. This seeming digression from my thread of discussion about the brahmavihāras is necessary if we are to fully understand the actual experience of the brahmavihāras and embrace them as transformational processes in our felt experience of resting as Consciousness.
We need ways of thinking about the body that are experientially true – conceptualisations that fit our actual experience. Prior to modern medicine and the domination of our thinking by the Newtonian / Cartesian dualism of a physical body and a mind that is entirely separate, various ancient cultures had very rich and complex ways of imagining the soul or mind/body system.
Psycho-Physical Anatomy – The Seven Bodies
For me, the most experientially true account of our psycho-physical anatomy is given to us by the great meditation traditions of India and Tibet, which identify seven subtle bodies, or ‘energy bodies’, or auras. While we can say that the first of these is most obviously connected with the physical body (which we now know from Science to be much more subtle than we had thought – pure energy and empty space in fact), and the other six are certainly not separate from the physical body. To be true to our experience we need to speak of the whole integrated system not as body and mind but as a body-mind – an integrated body-mind that is described both by the mandala and by the hierarchy of subtle bodies.
As Carl Jung recognised, the depth of human psychological experience cannot be understood unless we conceptualise it as being simultaneously individual and universal – ultimately characterised by a mysterious internal relationship between these two poles, which leads to an integration of these two poles. He gave us a vision of soul that includes a spectrum of experience – the personal, physical and instinctual at one end of that spectrum, and the universal, spiritual and archetypal at the other. This is how we experience ourselves in meditation. Far from leaving the body behind, we find ourselves greatly expanding our sense of what the body is, and opening to more and more subtle dimensions of bodily experience.
The Tibetan Buddhist Body-Mind Model as a Middle Way
The seven layers of our psycho-physical anatomy are a way of objectifying and conceptualising the paradoxical nature of our range of felt experience when we turn our attention inwards in meditative-inquiry. The range of our experience in meditation is vast – we have the experience of being a person in a physical body, but we may also recognise that the core of our experience of self is Consciousness – a non-locatable field phenomenon, that appears as a unity, and seems to pervades the universe.
The universal Consciousness in which we rest is generally ignored because it is non-personal and felt to be incongruous with our concrete experience of a separate physical body. By seeing the body as not single but seven-fold, and predominately energetic and subtle, we are able to overcome that fundamental incongruity and give ourselves a way of making the universal Consciousness central to our experience, while also emphasising the energetic dimensions in the way we think about our inner life.
Many modern Western students of Buddhism, not finding a clearly articulated body-mind model in the early Buddhist texts, tend to shy away from the challenge of giving conceptual form to our experience of the body-mind. There is some value in this attitude of avoiding conceptualisation – just letting our experience be as it is. This approach can however, paradoxically lead to extremely crude and un-thought-through conceptualisations – and at worst leads to an unconscious embrace of a scientific materialist view that is far from that proposed by the Buddha.
It is important to remember that the Buddha rejected the anti-body view that he had initially embraced when he embarked on his spiritual search. The insights gained at the time of his Enlightenment found expression in a ‘Middle Way’. This was an extremely subtle view of the path to realisation, in which the body was embraced, and seen as the vehicle of, and venue for, realisation – and valued both as the crucible in which spiritual transformation takes place, and as the vehicle for the compassionate activity of Enlightenment.
The venue for the practice of samadhi, or meditation, is the body; and the states of dhyana, or meditative absorption, are bodily-felt experiences. It is however, with a keen awareness of the reservations that some may have about this, that I have I am going to be taking the body-mind model that is found in Tibetan Buddhist tradition as the starting point for some ideas that I have found helpful. In my experience the model works. We can think of it as a somatic ‘anatomy’ – but hopefully not in a literalistic way. The main thing is that we release the literalism, and the extreme constraint that unconscious scientific materialism places on our ability to fully receive the rich, complex, and multi-layered experience of embodied Consciousness.
The Mental Body – the Somatic Reflection of the Thinking function
The somatic dimension that we can call the Mental Body is the second of the seven that are spoken of in esoteric literature. All these subtle bodies are ‘mental bodies’ of a sort, but have different felt-qualities and associations, so I will try to distinguish what we might mean by this term. This subtle body is experienced as, and ‘seen’ by some, as very slightly larger than physical body. This means that the first subtle body – the complex psycho-physical reality that we can call the Physical Body – rests inside the Mental Body. Thus it is entirely enclosed and interpenetrated by it, and subject to its contents – a fact that all healers, acupuncturists, shiatsu practitioners and applied kinesiologists would attest to. While we cannot know the mechanisms involved, it seems clear that all the subtle bodies interpenetrate and resonate with each other to some degree – and that the Physical Body and the Mental Body are a particularly closely related pair.
The Physical Body and the Mental Body exist in polarity with each other in that one is yin, or feminine, or receptive, while the other is yang, or masculine, or expansive. Understanding these polarities is of great assistance in meditation. I shall be returning to this phenomena in future posts, and shall be addressing the little known fact that the Mental Body is experienced as yin, or receptive, in men, and yang, or expansive, in women.
The Thinking Mind is Both Energetic and Neurological
Even if the mechanisms of this are not knowable, it is helpful for meditators to think of the egoic mind as an energetic and somatic phenomena – one in which thinking has an energetic reality, not just a neurological one. It seems that even though thoughts take place in the neuronal networks of the brain, there is an energetic reflection of thought in this somatic phenomenon that I am calling the Mental Body.
So, in addition to the more concrete and well-understood neurological and hormonal connections between the subjective experience of the thinking mind and physiological processes of the body, there is also a profound energetic one. And whereas the neurological re-wiring of our brains, and the calming of our endocrine systems that has been traumatised by fear-based thinking can take a little time, the energetic realignment of our Mental Body, can be achieved relatively quickly if we allow the Mental Body to rest receptively in relationship with the primordial stillness of Consciousness.
The Buddha’s Equanimity practice – Healing the Thinking Mind
This is the power of the Buddha’s Equanimity practice. It allows the Mental Body, and hence the personal thinking mind, to be held in the healing field of Consciousness itself. The transformation that takes place is a purification of the Thinking function, which starts with the Mental Body, and then via its profound effect on the Mental Body, initiates a process in which the dysfunctional wiring of the brain is progressively undone.
When we rest as Consciousness and acknowledge that from the point of view of meditation practice, the Thinking function of the mind is primarily energetic and only secondarily neurological, we open ourselves to a powerful new path of psychological transformation. By choosing to allow the Mental Body to rest as Consciousness and be informed by the field of Consciousness, we do not immediately wash it clean of all its egoic habits of punishment, judgement, justification and projection of shadow, but we do very concretely initiate that profound process.
Purifying the Mind and Integrating Mental Clarity
When we rest in a receptive relationship to Consciousness, we may not suddenly experience the perfect peace of the Great Equanimity immediately, but we can open ourselves to it, and we can readily experience a deep sense of Being, and a sense of alignment with a transpersonal healing power. It is as if we can rest under an inner waterfall of white healing light that is running through our body purifying us and washing us clean of the mental negativities that are inherent in egoic thinking. The more we rest in the mental silence and the mental stillness of the field of Consciousness, the more our mind is cleansed by it, and the more we integrate its qualities of objectivity and mental clarity.
The Buddhist tradition speaks of the purification process within our meditation practice as one in which egoic kleshas are released. These kleshas can be thought of as the energies of the egoic mind – somatic energies that accumulate in the subtle bodies. To the extent that life in self-identification we will accumulate kleshas, and those kleshas have a momentum – they will keep us in habitual egoic identification until we release them though meditation. The category of kleshas that Buddhist tradition associates with the Thinking aspect of the mind is called dvesha, or ‘hatred’ – but this includes the egoic habits of punishment, judgement, justification and projection of shadow, which I mentioned above. The more extreme kleshas that accumulate in the Mental Body show the characteristic quality of ‘hatred’, but they all fall into the category of dvesha. I shall be returning to this important theme in future articles.
Being as the Basis of Identity – Not Thought
Our experience of the Mental Body when we rest as Consciousness, is not primarily one of thought, but of Being. We are still aware of the momentum of our thought processes and of our reflections on our experience, but these are felt to be secondary to the experience of Being. Consciousness and Being are in the foreground of our experience, and thought is arising secondarily, and in that context.
The effect of resting as Consciousness is to fill the Mental Body with the experience of Being. What we experience over time is a new basis for our identity. Our identity is no longer predominantly a mental construction as the Cartesian error (“I think, therefore I am”) would suggest, but instead is rooted in Being, and in the field of Consciousness. It is as if Consciousness stands behind us like a constantly affirming friend, except that we are that Consciousness – we are that friend.
William Parker 2017
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For more on the themes addressed in this post consider reading these previous articles:
This is Post 14 in the Meditation Guidance series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found here.
Although I have already talked a little about mettā, or Loving-Kindness, I shall be starting at the traditional beginning point of the mandala-cycle in this post, with upekṣā, or Equanimity, which is the brahmavihāra associated with the eastern quadrant; and with the creative use of the Thinking function of the mind – and with the dawn.
Those whose frame of reference is pre-Quantum-Physics scientific materialism, and who do not have a psychological framework that acknowledges a transpersonal or archetypal dimension, are forced to understand the brahmavihāras as personal emotional states. This is certainly not the way the Buddha understood them. With due respect to those who pride themselves on their ability to cram the Buddha’s sublime teachings into a Newtonian / Cartesian world-view, I feel bound to talk about the brahmavihāras as cosmic principles, which find – if we are receptive to them – a reflection in our personal mental and emotional development.
An Archetypal Source of Mental Clarity
Mahupekshā, the Great Equanimity, the archetypal source of upekshā, or Equanimity, is best thought of as the imperturbable cosmic stillness, which pervades the universe, and is single and unified – and has the power to bring integration, unity, and mental stability to those who are willing to recognise it as their own ultimate true nature. Mysteriously, this cosmic principle is also the basis of each individual person’s experience of observing, thinking and knowing. I have talked in previous posts about how, when we rest as Consciousness, the Thinking function of the Mind finds a new intelligence – a mental stability that starts to approach the always illusive quality of objectivity, and that is non-judgemental, solution-focused, relational, collaborative, and inherently creative. Continue reading
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