This article is the eighth of fifteen articles inspired by the central five verses of Padmasambhava’s ‘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 these articles, I am choosing once again to use a partly non-traditional terminology for talking about the process of transformation that the Dharmadhātu Mandala invites us to engage in. Those who have read the previous articles on this series may recognise Integration, Positive Emotion, Spiritual Death and Spiritual Rebirth as the stages of a system of meditative practice that was suggested by Sangharakshita in the 1970s. This being the case, I need to point out once again, that while I find that these four general stages fit my experience very well indeed, the detail of my own approach to these stages of meditation practice is not based on any detailed exposition by Sangharakshita, but on my own explorations.
I should also make it clear that what I am presenting here does not necessarily represent the consensus within the global Triratna Buddhist Community regarding Sangharakshita’s ‘System of Practice’. My intention is only to share my own experience, and to share my own somewhat personal and perhaps idiosyncratic reflections. My hope is that others will find my exploration of that four-fold conceptual frame of reference to be meaningful and useful, and will be stimulated to engage in there own meditative enquiry into the profound spiritual psychology of the Dharmadhātu Mandala.
This article began as a longer piece of writing, which I subsequently decided to split into two sections – the first section being an introduction to this one, and in part a recapitulation of themes from earlier in this series. I gave the introductory section the title: Part 7: Somatic Body-Mind. If you have not already read it, you may want to consider reading the previous article first – by clicking here.
Vajrayāna Meditation – A Somatic Approach to Practice
The Buddhist tradition unfolded through three great historical and spiritual stages – usually called the Hinayāna, Mahayāna and Vajrayāna. While it can be shown that the Mahayāna, and Vajrayāna stages where implicit in the historical Buddha’s teaching (nominally Hinayāna), the Mahayāna and Vajrayāna teachings of later centuries gave even richer cultural expression to ways of thinking about realisation, about meditation, and about Mindfulness – ways which, while they were not completely new to the tradition, had not been fully expressed either in Gautama Buddha’s teaching, or in the earlier centuries. While the Mahayāna could be characterised as emphasising the seeming ‘otherness’ of the suprapersonal spiritual forces of Consciousness and the importance of an attitude of devotional receptivity towards those forces; the Vajrayāna goes a step further, by acknowledging that our personal experience of embodied Consciousness cannot ultimately be separated from the Transcendental – that all of human experience is pervaded by the transcendental dharmadhātu, or dharmic dimension, and that all beings, without exception, are subject to its evolutionary energy.
So the Vajrayana can be characterised as advocating, not just a fierce determination to become more conscious (the Hinayana emphasis); and not just a profound receptivity to benevolent spiritual forces that are beyond the egoic mind but inherent in Consciousness (the Mahayāna emphasis); but also a recognition that realisation is already present in the experience of embodied Consciousness – albeit very profoundly obscured by the egoic kleshas that have seized the body-mind. The Vajrayāna Buddhism of Tibet therefore sees psychological development as involving, not only a broadening and deepening of cognitive-perceptual awareness, and a differentiation of every human function and skill, but, through meditation practice, a direct transformation and profound expansion of the way we embody Consciousness somatically. So, the Vajrayāna sees meditation practice as a bodily, or somatic, process – one in which the accumulated kleshas are systematically driven out by our consistent return to states of alignment with our ultimate true nature.
Recognising Embodied Consciousness
This approach holds the possibility of rapidly accelerating our process of healing, personal development, and realisation. Those meditation and Mindfulness practitioners within the Buddhist tradition, who engage with this level of practice, achieve this acceleration of their process by resting ‘as’ Consciousness, and recognising that the ’empty’ vijñāna skandha of Consciousness, is itself a phenomenon of the transcendent dharmic order of conditionality within the universe. When we practice in the spirit of the Vajrayāna, we set out to systematically familiarise ourselves with all aspects of our experience of embodied Consciousness – using the mandala and its archetypal Buddhas as our guide. While I have no wish to denigrate other approaches as ‘lower’, or to identify my own approach as ‘higher’, it is this more comprehensive approach to Mindfulness and meditation, such as we find in the Tibetan Vajrayana, that I have been seeking to present in these Mandala of Love articles.
This integration of the ‘self-discovery’ perspective of the Vajrayāna, into the way we think about meditation practice, allows us to see both the earlier ‘self-development’ perspective of the Hinayāna, and the subsequent devotional-receptive ‘self-surrender’ perspective of the Mahayāna, much more clearly. As I have been explaining in previous articles, the meditation practices of Buddhist tradition can be thought of as methods for releasing the energetic residue of our egoic patterning – which Buddhist tradition calls the kleshas – from the somatic body-mind. As this releasing takes place, we reveal the somatic energies of embodied Consciousness that were always present, but were previously obscured by the energetic residue that is accumulated through egoic identification – we reveal the dharmic order of conditionality to be the most fundamental and reliable aspect of mind, even as it is clearly non-personal.
While many Buddhist teachers claim that any act of intense concentration will help us develop Mindfulness and samādhi this is not necessarily true. The practice of samādhi, or meditation, is unfortunately usually understood merely as ‘meditative absorption’, or ‘concentration’. ‘Concentration’ is an especially limited and limiting conceptualisation. I find it much more helpful to think of samādhi as a process in which we endeavour to integrate and embody the suprapersonal forces of Consciousness. It is an active process, but that activity is the subtle one of an active and systematic ‘meditative receptivity’. So, Mindfulness is not a merely mental process, or a neurological ‘executive function’ skill of the brain, and it is certainly not about developing awareness in a single narrow areas – like body position in space; sensations; feeling states, etc. If we study the Buddha’s ‘Four Foundations of Mindfulness’ with an imagination informed by the mandala wisdom of later Buddhist tradition, we recognise that Mindfulness requires the cultivation of a broad, multidimensional, and comprehensive embodiment of Consciousness, and requires our willingness to enter into the non-conceptual inner-world of somatic energy and of indefinable bodily-felt experience. All this is implied by the idea of Mindfulness of vedanā. We cannot engage with either Mindfulness practice, or samādhi practice, without entering this non-rational somatic realm of ‘internal’ vedanā , since it here, in our bodily-felt experience that the psychological opposites are most concretely confronted, held and reconciled, so that the invisible forces that have held us back can at last be released. Continue reading