Below is a listing of all the articles in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series, with brief descriptions of each. These series takes a systematic look at what the universal mandala model of the psyche, that we find in Tibetan Buddhist tradition and elsewhere, can tell as about the twin themes of meditation and self-enquiry. Click on any of the titles or images to be taken to the corresponding article.
Published 16 April, 2017 – 450 words
In this introductory article, I very briefly present the main aim of this ‘Meditation Guidance’ series of articles, which is to outline some foundational understandings for a non-dual approach to meditation. I did not originally conceive of this series as a presentation of Buddhist philosophy – and because of this I used a language and an emphasis that some Buddhists may not recognise, but which most, I hope, will welcome for its freshness. Although I have drawn upon many strands of inspiration from other traditions (Quakerism, Jungian Psychology; Eugene Gendlin’s ‘Focusing’; Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication’; etc.), my earliest and deepest spiritual education was in the Buddhist tradition. Ever since I discovered it in my early twenties, I have had a great love of the Buddhist tradition, and of the profound mandala ‘model’ of the mind, which it developed over the centuries.
The Buddha was not a Buddhist, and all Buddhist practitioners who reflect deeply enough on the nature of mind also come to release, at least to some extent, the identity of ‘being a Buddhist’. Nevertheless, it is clear to me as I return to this series of articles in order to write summaries of them, that in the language of traditional Buddhism, the writing of these articles was an expression of my ‘Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels’, and was the occasion for a return of my identification with that rich, profound, and multi-facetted spiritual tradition. It is my heart-felt wish however, that anyone from any background or tradition, or none, and anyone interested in meditation, enlightenment, spiritual psychology, or just self-awareness and conscious communication, will find value in these articles.
Published 17 April, 2017 – 1250 words
Here, I set out to begin to explain the archetypal, or suprapersonal perspective that provides the overall framework for these articles. I chose to be uncompromising, by acknowledging from the outset, in this article, that I regard Consciousness as an objective, collective, and energetic phenomena, which has the power to support our integration and our healing if we relate to it receptively. To the extent that we can describe our direct experience of Consciousness, I have to say that it has been my experience that our process of transformation is made very much easier when we take this metaphysical view – a view born out by the Buddhist tradition and numerous others. It is my conviction that if we gain an understanding of the mandala structure of Consciousness; and an understanding of the need to engage receptively with it in order to more fully embody it, our progress is assured.
Published 19 April, 2017 – 850 words
It is not always appreciated, even by experienced meditators, that the content of the mind – our thoughts, feelings sensations, and volitional impulses – are in a sense secondary and unimportant. By attending to the ever-present reality of Consciousness, and re-framing our purpose in meditation practice as one of familiarising ourselves with Consciousness, we can avoid the discouraging experience of wrestling with the contents of the mind, which many meditators are very familiar with. It is more helpful, and will take us much further, if we understand meditation practice as the embodiment of Consciousness through processes of meditative receptivity and surrender to Consciousness – to that in the mind which is stable, reliable and unchanging. In this article, I reflect on this important paradox, and explain how the desired changes to the content of our minds (integration, clarity, positive emotion, etc.) can only be achieved indirectly – by resting ‘as’ Consciousness and naturally integrating its positive qualities.
Published 24 April, 2017 – 1050 words
In this fairly short article, I attempt to introduce the important notion of non-duality in an accessible way, through the intriguing imagery of Plato’s ‘Cave Allegory’. This allegory carries an invitation to ‘step back’ out of the egoic perspective, and to see the perceptual process from the point of view of Consciousness. If we respond to this invitation we are taken very quickly into the mystery – into a recognition of the illusory nature of the egoic self and recognition of Consciousness as the ground of our being. Although the observing Consciousness, which is the ultimate subject of all cognitive-perceptual processes, cannot be located, it has an absolute reality – which nothing in the perceived world has. Standing outside of the relative and conditioned world of our cognitions and perceptions, it is the source of both our wisdom and of our freedom.
Published 25 April, 2017 – 1150 words
In this article I reflect on Objectivity – an illusive personal quality and an illusive idea. It is important to understand that Objectivity is a function not only of the ethically-informed discipline of critical and un-biased thinking, but of our ability to rest as Consciousness. In this article, I explore the important idea that Objectivity requires the ability to dis-identify from thought – to rest as Consciousness and observe our thinking minds, and to use the conceptualising function of the mind without identifying with it. Human reason is entirely different from mere computation – because it arises in the context of the mystery of Consciousness.
2 May, 2017 – 950 words
While René Descartes may, in himself, have been a more sophisticated thinker than the other later thinkers who were influenced by him, the apparent equation between Thinking and Being, which his saying “I think therefore I am” established in Western thought, is very unfortunate indeed. In this article, I take this statement and its legacy in Western culture, as a starting point for further reflections on what objective thinking is, and what it is not.
3 May, 2017 – 2150 words
The practice that the English speaking world knows as Mindfulness, is much more subtle than is commonly understood. It ideally needs to be thought of in the context of the Buddha’s foundational assertion that the egoic self in an illusion – an appearance of a person, constructed out of the coming together of non-personal cognitive-perceptual elements (the five skandhas). In this article, I attempt to further challenge the scientific materialist assumptions within which Mindfulness is usually framed, and to introduce a deeper understanding – one that is hopefully a little closer to the Buddha’s intention.
15 May 2017 – 1850 words
In this key article, I reflect on the important notions of: the Unconscious; the ‘egoic’; ‘psychological parts’; and the primacy of Consciousness, as we begin to explore what we mean by psychological and spiritual integration. The image of the mandala from Buddhist tradition is introduced – a powerful and complex graphical description both of spiritual integration and of egoic dis-integration. Two of the foundational frameworks from Buddhist tradition that give the Buddhist meditation mandala its structure, are also introduced: the five skandhas (the cognitive-perceptual components); and the four brahmavihāras (ethical and relational attitudes). These two layers of the mandala model of the psyche provide the foundation of a Buddhist approach to meditation and self-enquiry, and a way of directly approaching the mysterious Buddhist notion of ’emptiness’, or ‘no-self’.
19 May 2017 – 1600 words
To balance the introduction of the Buddha’s bold idea that the skandhas – the cognitive-perceptual components that give us our sense of being ‘a self’ – are in fact impersonal, or ’empty’, I wrote this article to qualify that assertion, and hopefully ground it, by referring to some modern psychological theories about how that sense of self emerges. It is extremely important that the very subtle and profoundly liberating insights of the Buddha are not grasped incorrectly – and not used to invalidate the personal. The relative experience of ‘being a person’ arises within the universal Consciousness that is the source of that experience – we need to embrace both realities. The Buddha advocated what he called the ‘Middle Way’ – an extremely subtle spiritual psychology in which all pairs of apparent opposites are ultimately reconciled and transcended. The Buddha’s vision was not one of nihilistic denial of personal fulfilment and personal vocation – far from it. On the contrary, as I set out to explain in this article, meditation can be thought of as a process in which we ‘nurture an authentic self’.
24 May 2017 – 1050 words
In this article, I begin a more detailed exploration of the four brahmavihāras – the four sublime ethical and relational attitudes that the Buddha encouraged in his students: Loving Kindness (mettā); Compassion (karunā); Equanimity (upekshā); and Appreciative Joy (muditā). While we can think in terms of ‘cultivating’ the four brahmavihāras, the Buddhist tradition also acknowledges that ultimately, the four brahmavihāras are inherently present in the mind as attitudes of our essential self – so we can think of them as attitudes of the universal Consciousness. Our engagement with the brahmavihāras is an example of the Buddha’s ‘Middle Way’. On the relative level this engagement involves the challenges of developing our communication skills and our capacity for compassionate and effective relationships with other people. On the absolute level it involves the inner process of our resting ‘as’ Consciousness, and familiarising ourselves with that indefinable reality.
6 June 2017 – 1650 words
The initial energetic transformation processes that occur though meditation practice, can be described in terms of Integration and Positive Emotion – Integration being an initial stage with a more introverted and receptive focus, with the subsequent Positive Emotion stage being more extraverted and expansive. All of the brahmavihāras (Loving Kindness; Compassion; Equanimity; and Appreciative Joy) find expression in both these stages, but in slightly different ways. In the Integration stage, they are received inwardly, as we develop a capacity for ethical and nonviolent internal relationship – developing our capacity to support the emergence of an authentic self. In the Positive Emotion stage, our intention is to allow the brahmavihāras to flow outwardly so that we develop our capacity for ethical and nonviolent external relationships – our capacity to love, to relate, to contribute, and to collaborate in effective and spiritually fulfilling ways. Although I strongly believe in the great value of opening ourselves to all four brahmavihāras, mettā, or Loving Kindness, is usually singled out in Buddhist tradition, and regarded as the primary brahmavihāra, so in this article I have introduced it in a fair amount of detail.
12 June 2017 – 1050 words
This article returns again to reflect on the importance of the brahmavihāras as a set of four ethical and relational principles, and on the implication of the fact that they are found to be inherent in Consciousness – as if woven into the fabric of the universe since the beginning of time. Although the Buddhist tradition came to highlight the important distinction between the relative brahmavihāras in our experience and the absolute brahmavihāras (or mahabrahmavihāras (i.e. ‘great’ brahmavihāras) in which we rest, Buddhist practitioners in the West often play down, or even deny, this important spiritual reality – preferring to frame the meditative cultivation of Loving Kindness, Compassion, Equanimity, and Appreciative Joy as a heroic activity of the Western ‘moral will’. This emphasis is an unconscious expression of our Ancient Greek and Christian cultural inheritance filtered through our equally unconscious scientific materialism and postmodernism. This refusal to grant the brahmavihāras an absolute metaphysical reality is a form of nihilism, and has extremely negative consequences for our practice and for the culture of Buddhist communities, and is one that I have endeavoured to counter in these articles.
21 June 2017 – 1200 words
In the post-modern world in which we currently live, there is a terrible tension – a philosophical division. On one side of this division are those people who wish to return to old theistic religious codes, believing that belief in God, and fear of the judgement of God, is the only basis for a moral order. On the other side are those who would say, like Friedrich Nietzsche, that “God is Dead”, and believe that humanity has moved beyond such superstition. Many in this second group find themselves in a sort of moral vacuum, and caught in a form of nihilism – and even Buddhists can find themselves in this trap. The Buddha’s view, and the Buddhist vision of the mahabrahmavihāras, which I explore further in this article, offers us a way beyond this post-modern malaise into an experiential recognition that Consciousness is inherently ethical – and that an ethic sensibility is inherent in human psychology, while also being in some mysterious and unknowable way woven into the fabric of the universe.
9 July 2017 – 1000 words
The Buddhist tradition associates the brahmavihāra of upekshā, or Equanimity, with the eastern quadrant of the mandala, and therefore also with the dawn of the day. Hence, following the tradition, I have taken Equanimity as my point of entry into a deep investigation of each of the four brahmavihāras – in which I shall be taking several articles to explore each one. Equanimity is a capacity for non-reactivity and true creativity on the mental level. It is our capacity to step back out of identification with the egoic minds thoughts and into a place of mental stillness and objectivity. Buddhist tradition came to speak of this mental capacity as the ‘Mirror-Like’ Wisdom. In this article, I reflect on the mirror as a symbol of the ultimate nature of mind, and also on the parallel descriptions of mind and reality that are emerging within contemporary Quantum Physics – the Quantum Biology / Quantum Psychology of the Penrose-Hameroff hypothesis regarding the mechanism of the brain-Consciousness interface.
15 July 2017 – 1950 words
As meditators we engage with a field of experience that is not knowable in the ordinary sense. Consciousness is ever present, but not definable or fully describable, and nor is the complex experience of embodied Consciousness that we conventionally think of as a ‘self’ or a ‘person’. We must therefore always keep in mind the fact that our conceptualisations should never be viewed as comprehensive descriptions of reality, but merely as ‘pointers’ to a reality that is not available to the intellect, and can only be experienced directly. It is with this reservation in mind that I have, in this article, ventured into the difficult territory of the ‘subtle bodies’. Students of Indian yoga will be familiar with this conceptualisation, which is found in both Indian and Tibetan Buddhist tradition. I begin an outline of it here because I believe it provides extremely useful pointers as to how the experience of apparent individuality is reconciled with the mystical experience of a single universal Consciousness; and of how the five skandhas (the non-personal Consciousness and its equally non-personal conceptualising, sensing, evaluating, and volitional functions of the body-mind) are experienced as somatic energies in the bodily-felt interior space of the body-mind.
24 July 2017 – 1850 words
The experience of meditation challenges us to accept that Consciousness is an objective and collective reality beyond the egoic mind. If we do this, we open ourselves to an associated experience of imperturbable mental stillness that we can speak of in terms of Objectivity, Equanimity and Being – and in terms of the ‘Mirror-Like’ Wisdom of Buddhist tradition. As part of an exploration of the egoic opposite of this, I have, in this article, taken a brief dive into the archetypal psychology of the phenomenon of narcissism – something that is an ever present possibility in the human condition, and particularly prevalent in the modern world. I have made use of two Ancient Greek myths – the myth of Narcissus and Echo; and the myth of the Hero Perseus and the Gorgon Medusa – both of which provide rich insights into the mirror as a psychological and spiritual symbol.
2 August 2017 – 1800 words
The various teachers within the Buddhist tradition, and other spiritual traditions have taken widely different approaches to meditation practice. The richness of the Buddhist mandala, with its ten deities, is a reflection of this great diversity of valid approaches to Enlightenment. Ultimately we each find the way that best suits our temperament – some prefer utter conceptual simplicity, others need to acknowledge the complexity. Spiritual progress was greatly accelerated for me when I began to conceptualise meditation as ‘resting as Consciousness’, while also striving to understand the complex energetic ‘shape’ of samādhi – and recognising the traditional descriptions of the subtle bodies and chakras in my bodily-felt experience. In the second of several articles in which I look at these phenomena in detail, I address the hara chakra, which is well-known to martial artists, and its associated subtle body – which we may call the Mental Body.
My own path in regard to all this, has drawn on teachings that have been attributed to Padmasambhava and other Tibetan Buddhist teachers. In this article I have also incorporated other key insights however – for example insights regarding the opposite polarities of the subtle bodies and chakras in men and women. While I am not suggesting that these understandings are absolutely essential to non-dual realisation, I attempt to show in this article, that they are nonetheless of enormous value to us as meditators. They are also necessary if we are to fully understood the mysterious use of the symbolism of the sexual union of masculine and feminine in Tibetan Buddhism
12 August – 2100 words
In the Buddha’s discourse on the Four Noble Truths shortly after his Enlightenment, he presented and vision that is difficult for the egoic mind to grasp – he bore witness to his realisation that Nirvana, the state of spiritual freedom, is actually present simultaneously with our bondage and our suffering. We find this same juxtaposition in the Buddhist mandala symbolism, where the close relationship between our conditioned nature, and our divine nature as Consciousness, is presented as five dichotomies that find resolution in five ‘Wisdoms’. Each of the Wisdoms is a Middle Way, or resolution of opposites, and each Wisdom arises when one of the five skandhas – or cognitive-perceptual components – is recognised as non-personal, or ’empty’. Although the five Wisdoms allow us to resolve the dualism, the five dichotomies that the mandala presents are between, on one side, the Wisdoms and brahmavihāras as the ‘positive’ expressions of the ’empty’ skandhas; and on the other side, the corresponding kleshas and ‘Realms’, which are the ‘negative’ expressions, which arise when there is a failure to recognise that the skandhas are ’empty’.
In terms of the ‘Four Noble Truths’, the ‘Realms’ correspond to ‘Suffering’ (the first Noble Truth); egoic identification with the skandhas and kleshas is ‘the Cause of Suffering’ (the second Noble Truth); the Wisdoms, and the archetypal Buddhas that personify them, are descriptions of ‘Nirvana – the Cessation of Suffering’ (the third Noble Truth); and the brahmavihāras are ‘the Path to the cessation of Suffering’ (the fourth Noble Truth). The ‘Realms’ and their associated skandhas and kleshas, being very closely related to their corresponding Wisdoms and brahmavihāras, can help us understand them. So, in this article, I take a look at the ‘Hell Realms’, which in a mythic and symbolic language have much to tell us about the rūpa skandha – the ‘form-creating’, conceptualising, or ‘Thinking function’ of the mind.
22 August 2017 – 1650 words
When the Buddha spoke of the five skandhas being ’empty’, he was asserting the fact that mind – or rather body-mind – is not a personal phenomenon, and that we do ourselves a great disservice if we convince ourselves that it is. One of the ways that we can take a step toward this mystery of ’emptiness’, is to consider that every function of mind appears personal from a subjective and personal point of view, while also appearing universal, or non-personal, or ’empty’, from an objective and universal point of view. The release of our habit of ‘personalising’ our experience, requires only a release of our identification and a shift of our point of view. The brahmavihāras (Loving Kindness; Equanimity; Compassion; and Appreciative Joy), like all mental phenomena or processes, are also ’empty’, and they are also best approached via this idea that although they appear personal from within an egoic frame of reference, they are in reality, universal, or archetypal.
Although it is more common to emphasise the personal perspective, I have been endeavouring, in these articles, to highlight the universal or absolute aspects of the brahmavihāras. This perspective is ultimately more true, and it changes our attitude towards the brahmavihāras to one in which we are making ourselves receptive to, and even perhaps ‘channeling’, the brahmavihāras – and seeing them as suprapersonal forces inherent in the objective and collective field of Consciousness, rather than cultivating them in ourselves by an effort of will, in a completely personal way. In this article, I give what may seem to some a somewhat idiosyncratic introduction to muditā, or Appreciative Joy – making connections with Quantum Physics and Quantum Biology; and with the vedanā skandha (Sensation) and the Equalising Wisdom.
1 September 2017 – 1700 words
In the rich and comprehensive mandala-psychology that emerged in the course of the development of Indian Mahayana Buddhism, Appreciative Joy is associated with the southern quadrant of the mandala, and with the perceptual function, or skandha, of vedanā, which means Sensation, or Sensing – and it is very closely associated with the Equalising Wisdom. In this article, I begin to reflect on these profound associations with particular attention to the internal aspect of the vedanā skandha, which includes the complex bodily-felt, or ‘somatic’ experience that we can attend to, and transform, through the practice of meditation. I also return to the theme of Mindfulness, highlighting the fact that Mindfulness can be thought of as a process in which we embody Consciousness – bringing together an awareness of the ’empty’ suprapersonal field of Consciousness in which we rest, with a fully appreciative experiencing of the objective contents of our mind and our world, and a fully ethical, relational, and appreciative experience of other people.
3 September 2017 – 1880 words
Although this connection is only very infrequently made, I find the brahmavihāras to be our best point of entry into the wisdom of the meditation mandalas of Tibet – and also our best point of entry into a deep practice of meditation and self-enquiry. When we understand the brahmavihāras as one of the key antecedents in early Buddhism (along with the five skandhas and the five ‘Spiritual Faculties’) of the Five Wisdoms mandala that emerged many centuries later, we unlock the transformative power of that whole system of spiritual knowledge. In this article, I continue to examine the brahmavihāra of Appreciative Joy (muditā), by exploring its corresponding Wisdom and ‘Realm’ – in this case the Equalising Wisdom; and the Human Realm, with its associated skandha and klesha. The Human Realm, while it is regarded by the Buddhist tradition as one of the two fortuitous places of rebirth (along with the Deva Realm or ‘God’ Realm), it is nevertheless a place in which there is a particular obstacle to realisation. Clearly, as human beings, we need to gain a very clear awareness of what this particular style of identification and personalisation is – and this is described by the archetype of the Human Realm; by the skandha of vedanā, or Sensation; and by the klesha of māna, or ‘pride’. At the same time, we need to understand that one of the keys to liberation in the context of the Human Realm, is muditā, or Appreciative Joy.
23 September 2017 – 2550 words
When we come to recognise muditā, or Appreciative Joy, as an ‘attitude’ that is ever-present in Consciousness, we have an enormous advantage in meditation practice. In this article, taking Zen practice and the Zen aesthetic as a starting point, I set out to show that this is because Appreciative Joy is an expression of the ’empty’ vedanā skandha (Sensation) and the Equalising Wisdom. However different we are as Human Beings – as residents in this ‘Human Realm’ of Buddhist tradition – we are, in a difficult to define, but important important sense, equal in our experience of Consciousness. Our starting point as we acknowledge, explore, and familiarise ourselves with embodied Consciousness in meditation, is the experience of Sensation – the ’empty’ cloud of non-personal sensations that we erroneously take as evidence of a self. As we acknowledge Consciousness in this internal perceptual process, and we can release that identification, and may then find ourselves in that spacious and appreciative state which is Appreciative Joy.
1 October 2017 – 2050 words
This is an important article. In it, I return to the theme of Appreciative Joy once again, but look at it this time through the lens of Plato’s wonderful ‘Cave Allegory’, which I introduced previously (here). The ‘Cave Allegory’ is an inspired and visionary text that speaks to the imagination, but like a weird dream it needs to be mulled over and reflected on from a variety points of view, if it’s multiple meanings are to be revealed. Many philosophers and artists have done this over the centuries – most notable in recent years, being the Wachowski’s, in their Matrix trilogy, and the band Mumford and Sons, in their song The Cave. I was delighted to also find a beautiful rendering of Plato’s imagery by the artist John Grigsby, using the painstaking process of stop-motion animation. I have included a link to this video below the article.
17 October 2017 – 2450 words
In this article, I continue to talk about muditā, or Appreciative Joy, with particular reference to the felt-quality associated with it, which I like to call ‘Embodiment’. As spiritual discourse has matured in the West in the course of the last few decades, there has been an increasing acknowledgement of the general principle of embodiment – providing an extremely welcome point of correction and balance to the tendency for spiritual discourse to be too intellectual. When I use the term Embodiment (capitalised) I am acknowledging this more general principle, but also trying to name a qualia – a difficult-to-define aspect of the experience of embodied Consciousness that is associated with the perceptual function of Sensation (the vedanā skandha). For me, the principle of Embodiment is very closely associated with concrete practical activities of Generosity and Compassion. For many, Embodiment comes naturally, for others it requires attention – especially if we endeavour to connect deeply with the brahmavihāra of Appreciative Joy.
As meditators we are seeking a fully multi-dimensional state of embodiment – a state which I have been speaking of in terms of ’embodied Consciousness’. Pushing back against the bias of those who would frame meditation as a mental process, I have been endeavouring to help my readers to engage deeply with the difficult-to-define and difficult-to-talk-about somatic reality of the four surface bodies – the first four bodies in the seven bodies /seven chakras model of Indian tradition. While we can talk of this model as if it describes a ‘somatic anatomy’, this is actually not my intention. What it presents however, especially when we keep our focus on the four ‘surface bodies’ that correspond to the four quadrants of the mandala, is a powerful set of ‘pointers’ as to the ‘energetic shape’ and the energetic dynamics of the indefinable bodily-felt experience that we explore in meditation. Importantly, it provides us with a way of beginning to tentatively conceptualise a body-mind in which something as seemingly personal as a physical body might relate and interact energetically, and apparently seamlessly, with something as universal as an infinite field of pure Consciousness. More than that, it provides us with a way of approaching the question of why the internal experience of embodied Consciousness can be so different in women and men – an important theme for meditators, and one which I start to explore in this article.
13 November 2017 – 2200 words
In this article, we move around the mandala in clockwise direction, leaving behind for now the southern quadrant and the brahmavihāra of Appreciative Joy, so that we can begin to explore the western quadrant and the brahmavihāra of Loving Kindness (which Buddhist tradition calls mettā). It is my conviction, that a full understanding of the brahmavihāras, requires us to reflect deeply on the illuminating connections between the brahmavihāras and the corresponding Wisdoms and skandhas, and with the other aspects of the mandala symbolism. The brahmavihāra of Loving Kindness is associated with the Discriminating Wisdom, and the corresponding samjñā skandha is that discriminative cognitive function which Carl Jung called ‘Feeling’. In this article, I begin to explore Feeling in some detail, and highlight how the psychologically complementary and oppositional relationship between Thinking (the form-creating, conceptualising rūpa skandha) and Feeling (the evaluating, discriminating skandha). Our unconsciousness of this polarity (at east and west across the mandala) can lead to psychological dis-integration and negative emotional consequences through unconscious shadow projection.
28 November 2017 – 1900 words
In this article, I focus in a little deeper on mettā, or Loving Kindness, and begin to investigate the nature of the emotional transformation that arises when we learn to rest as Consciousness and familiarise ourselves with its qualities. Resting as Consciousness has a refining and transforming effect on our relationship with ourselves, and on our relationship with others. Externally, we develop emotional positivity – finding a capacity to be unconditionally present, empathetic, warmly accepting, and genuinely valuing of other people. These, we could say, are the social characteristics of mettā. Perhaps more important are the foundational internal changes from which these outer changes spring. As we begin to recognise and familiarise ourselves with mettā as a suprapersonal force that is always available to nourish us and support our integration, our relationship with ourselves is increasingly informed by ease, acceptance and contentment. To provide us a way of conceptualising how this profound transformation of our emotional life might happen so easily, I return once again to the notion of the Emotional Body, and invite readers to consider the explanatory power of the description of the psycho-physical, or ‘somatic’ dimensions of mind that Indian tradition provides.
1 December 2017 – 2650 words
The Buddhist tradition makes a symbolic association between the cognitive function of Feeling (the samjñā skandha) and the element of Fire – the element which, like Loving Kindness (mettā), has a refining and emotionally transforming effect on the mind. In this article, I briefly explore this Fire symbolism and talk about the way the four elements help us to see the cognitive-perceptual functions and the brahmavihāras as components of a process – and as aspects of our potential wholeness.
Given the complementary relationship of conscious and unconscious in the egoic mind, and the way in which repressed contents of the mind tend to return as perverse incongruities of personality, we need to be quite sophisticated about how we think about developing psychological integration through meditation practice. I have therefore taken time in this article to outline some of the psychological pitfalls that we can fall into – especially the problem of ‘idealisation’ in relation to the cultivation of Loving Kindness and the other brahmavihāras. In the early stages of practice, it is understandable and perhaps appropriate to take mettā as an ideal to be aspired to, and cultivated by an effort of will. As we progress however, I believe there needs to be a shift, at least in the context of our meditation practice, to a devotional-receptive mode, in which our personal experience of mettā is recognised as a reflection of an objective, collective and eternal reality – the ‘Great’ Loving Kindness of Buddhist tradition – a suprapersonal source of healing that is always present in Consciousness, and does not need to cultivated.
12 December 2017 – 3000 words
In its cosmological model of the Six Realms, the Buddhist tradition provides us with a rich archetypal psychology of the egoic mind. In the Western Quadrant of the mandala we find an apparently very stark opposition between the beautiful Buddhas of love (mettā) and contentment, and the ugly horror of the Preta Realm, with its archetypal imagery of beings driven by the klesha of craving – by compulsion, desperation and emotional emptiness. In this article, I go even deeper into this apparent dichotomy, both sides of which are associated with the evaluative samjñā skandha, which Carl Jung called Feeling.
I have not wanted to dwell too heavily on the archetypal Buddhas of the mandala, preferring in these introductory articles to focus on the four brahmavihāras, but an especially important feature of this article, is the introduction, briefly, of the sublime figure of Pandaravārsini, the female Buddha counterpart of Amitābha, the Buddha of love. Pandaravārsini is usually taken to be a personification of the bliss of the Enlightened mind. As the archetypal personification of the introverted aspect of mettā, and of the ‘uncaused happiness’ that arises in those who dis-identify from egoic Feeling (samjnā skandha) by resting as Consciousness, she may perhaps be regarded as the true psychological opposite of the preta archetype.
5 March 2018 – 1950 words
Still reflecting on the brahmavihāra of mettā, or Loving Kindness, in this article, I return to the subject of how the goal of psychological integration is achieved not only through mental focus and intense concentration, as many mediators believe, but through self-empathy. Self-empathy is difficult to define, because it is at first unclear what is empathising with what. I believe we are given the answer to these questions when is we combine the Buddhist re-interpretation of the ancient Indian five skandhas model, with the Buddhist re-interpretation of the ancient Indian brahmavihāras model. As we integrate these two models, and begin to recognise what the Buddha meant by ‘the emptiness of the five skandhas’, then we can see that ultimately, the source of empathy is the ’empty’ Consciousness skandha, and that it finds expression through the four brahmavihāras (Equanimity, Appreciative Joy, Loving Kindness and Compassion). These four ‘aspects of empathy’ naturally find increasingly profound embodiment in us as our identification with the corresponding four skandhas (rūpa – conceptual form; vedanā – sensation; samjñā – evaluative discrimination; samskāras – volitional energies) is increasingly released. The internal psychological parts that are the object of our self-empathy are also ’empty’, but we allow them a provisional reality in order to engage with them, to bring them into Consciousness, and to transform them.
23 March 2018 – 2250 words
In this article, I go even deeper into the philosophical and psychological questions raised in the previous one – especially the question of ‘psychological parts’, and of how our self-knowledge and our capacity to ‘love ourselves’ inevitably involves some form of self-empathetic engagement with those psychological parts. My experience has been, that without this sort of psychological perspective on why it is that the ’empty’ cognitive-perceptual skandhas are experienced as such emotionally-charged identifications, even those with strongly held spiritual values find themselves manifesting deeply incongruous behaviours in their relationships and communities. Indeed, it is the most spiritually idealistic that are often the most prone to such irrational reactivity. In this article, I examine these complex psychodynamics, and set out to explain why the combination of meditation practice based on the attitude of ‘resting as Consciousness’, with innerwork practice that works self-empathetically with psychological parts, together constitutes such a powerful approach of personal transformation.
18 April 2018 – 2500 words
I take the view that the spiritual path of meditation and self-enquiry cannot be separated from the larger process of seeking psychological self-knowledge and self-empathetic healing by resting as Consciousness and working with the various ’empty’ identifications that arise in our experience. So once again, I am giving time to exploring further in the territory of self-empathy with psychological parts – a territory that I have come to call Mandala Innerwork. In this article, I make reference to contributions to this area of understanding that come from Eugene Gendlin and Ann Weiser-Cornell (Focusing); from Marshall Rosenberg (Non-violent Communication); and from Carl Jung’s mandala model of the psyche – all of these being modern frameworks for self-empathy and self-enquiry. Most importantly however, I return to the Buddhist teaching of the ‘Emptiness of the Five Skandhas‘ and the ‘Four brahmavihāras’. My aim for us, in outlining other models that are a modern reflection of the skandhas, and by starting to show how these models can be used interchangeably, is to try to make the skandhas more accessible and recognisable in ourselves in daily life.
26 May 2018 – 3000 words
The icon image for this article (above, created by John Hain) shows the silhouette of a Buddha against a space filled with a large number of the words that we use to name the universal spiritual principles that guide us on our spiritual journey. We can think of these words as virtues, or as ideals, or as personal qualities that we admire in others, or strive to cultivate in ourselves. There is an equally valid spiritual perspective however, that takes these universal spiritual principles as archetypes, and as objective and collective energetic realities woven into the fabric of the universe and inherent in Consciousness. It is this perspective that I begin to explore in this article – which is the first of a group of articles in which we shall be exploring the nature of the brahmavihāra of Compassion; the All-Accomplishing Wisdom; the samskaras skandha (the volitional energies); the perceptual function of Intuition; and other aspects of the Northern Quadrant. We shall also be looking more deeply at how the archetypal polarity of feminine and masculine finds expression in our experience of embodied Consciousness.
15 June 2018 – 3250 words
This article continues the themes of the previous one, and continues to explore how the spiritual principles associated with the green Northern Quadrant of the mandala – those associated with Compassion and the All-Accomplishing Wisdom – are experienced in meditation and Mindfulness, as we learn to rest as Consciousness. As previously, we find as we delve into the actual somatic experience of all this, that embodied Consciousness is a gendered experience, and that the Emotional Body and the Volitional Body, which have different yin-yang polarities from each other, also generally have different polarities in men and women. This article takes a very deep look at the significance of this, and at how the archetypal feminine and the archetypal masculine is felt in the body. Although, in these introductory articles, I have not been exploring the symbolism of the male and female Buddhas of the Buddhist mandalas in detail, I make reference to Amoghasiddhi and Green Tara, the mysterious ‘Buddha couple’ that is associated with the green Northern Quadrant and with perceptual function of Intuition/Volition (the samskaras skandha).
21 July 2018 – 2250 words
The Asuras of ancient Indian and Buddhist tradition, are extremely profound archetypal figures in the collective psychology of humanity. One of my primary aims in creating this website was to present this archetype to a wider audience – hopefully including non-Buddhists. I would also like to support Buddhists to fully grasp the culture-shaping power of this archetype and violent style of egoic functioning that it personifies – because this is not a way of being that Buddhists are immune to. The collective archetypal psychology of the asuras is pervasive in human culture, because it is the psychology of social and political power and ultimately is the archetype of geopolitics and war. Unfortunately, it is the archetype that shapes human history very negatively, and more strongly than any other. This is a very important article in the series. The volitional aspect of mind (the samskaras skandha), contains the potential for both Compassion or great evil – so it is very important for us to recognise its dynamics.
2 August 2018 – 2950 words
The stupa monuments in the Buddhist countries have a variety of different culturally specific symbolism associated with them. The overarching symbol of a stupa however, is that it is a representation, in a concrete physical form, of the embodiment of Consciousness that is possible through spiritual practice. While the mandala is graphical symbol, like a map of the psyche, which highlights the polarities which are reconciled in the course of our inner journey, the stupa presents a hierarchical model – one which directly parallels the bodily-felt or somatic experience of the subtle bodies and chakras. These important themes are difficult to talk about – indeed they are almost impossible adequately conceptualise. While we need to acknowledge that ultimately our somatic anatomy is only available to direct experience, we do need pointers to that experience, and that is what the stupa provides – and that is also what I have attempted to provide in this article.
8 August 2018 – 2750 words
The way in which our identification with the apparently concrete physicality of the body appears to confirm our separate selfhood is a spiritual obstacle, and can be a problem as we engage in meditation practice. While we may want concrete outcomes from our practice – mental clarity and focus, emotional stability, etc., meditation requires us to imagine the body richly, and to entertain the possibility that it is much more energetically complex and subtle than we might otherwise acknowledge. In this article, I go a little further in presenting an outline of the four main subtle bodies, which I have been calling the four surface bodies – those connected with the first four chakras. I talk more about how the mandala axes are experienced in the body, and how a reflection of the polarities in the mandala may be experienced in the rhythm of the breath.
More Summaries Coming Soon
1 January 2019 – 4650 words
This article may be regarded as a linking article between this ‘Meditation Guidance’ series, and the ‘5 Wisdoms’ series that follows it. It introduces the Dharmadhātu Wisdom and its associated male Buddha – Vairocana. Both sets of articles are approaching meditation from the point of view of Buddhist non-dual wisdom and a non-dual psychology. However, whereas the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series takes the mandala of the four brahmavihāras as its primary frame of reference, the ‘5 Wisdoms’ series uses the Emptiness of the Five Skandhas (i.e. the mandala of the Five Wisdoms) as its starting point, and attempts to more deeply address the richness, complexity and subtlety of Mindfulness practice in Buddhist tradition. In this article, there is reflection on the Buddha’s Enlightenment; on the Four Noble Truths; on my ‘Short Breath / Long Breath’ approach to the Mindfulness of Breathing; and on the healing power of the brahmavihāras. I also reflect on the Buddhist notion of ‘Emptiness’ – the non-personal nature of Consciousness.
15 June 2019 – 4550 words
In this important article, we begin to go deeper into the Dharmadhātu Wisdom, and I introduce the figure of Ākāshadhātvishvari (which later Buddhist tradition came to call White Tara), who personifies this Wisdom in the Bardo Thodol (Tibetan Book of the Dead). The Deva Realms of Buddhist tradition are also introduced in this article, because it is important for us, as meditators, to understand the important distinction – which is made very clearly by the Buddhist tradition – between, on one side the ultra-refined and extremely positive mental states (i.e. deva states) which are nevertheless experienced as personal, and the release of identification and recognition of Emptiness, which characterises the Dharmadhātu Wisdom. In the Bardo Thodol texts the devas are presented as an egoic opposite of the Dharmadhātu Wisdom – the deva archetype representing high-level states of integration, in which unfortunately, the impersonal reality of Consciousness is personalised. The metaphors of Light and Space used in Buddhist tradition to point the nature of Consciousness, are explored with brief reference to other spiritual traditions. The Buddha’s teaching on the ‘Emptiness of the Five Skandhas‘ is further introduced.
2 January 2018 – 2400 words
In the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series, which can be accessed via the ‘Meditation’ menu above, I set out to present a non-dual approach to meditation based on the meditation mandala that evolved in the Buddhist tradition, and found its most symbolically complete and comprehensive form in Padmasambhava’s Bardo Thodol texts (which first became known to Westerners as the ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’. These initial articles were aimed at a general audience (i.e. including not Buddhists). I made extensive use of Jung’s ‘Functions of Consciousness’ in place of the more obscure ‘Five Skandhas‘ of Buddhist tradition; and took the ancient Indian brahmavihāras (Equanimity, Appreciative Joy, Loving Kindness and Compassion) as my main framework in place of the Five Wisdoms, which are more difficult to grasp. I wrote this ‘Overview’ article (and ‘Overview Part 2’ below) to accompany the reflections in that ‘Meditation Guidance’ series, and to give my Buddhist readers a little more explanation of my thinking in approaching the series in that way.
16 January 2018 – 2650 words
This article explores the subtle notion of ‘resting as Consciousness’, which plays a foundational part in the approach that I have presented in the Mandala of Love articles. To frame Mindfulness practice as resting ‘as’ Consciousness, is not unusual in Buddhist tradition, but is usually regarded as an ‘advanced’ approach. I argue that this more conceptually and philosophically challenging frame of reference is not only appropriate, but necessary, if we are to honour the Buddha’s intention – and his non-dual and non-personal framing the spiritual goal. The psychodynamic description of embodied Consciousness using mandala imagery, is then contrasted with the description of embodied Consciousness that is provided by the hierarchical ‘somatic anatomy’ of the subtle bodies and chakras.