This article is the first of fifteen articles inspired by the central five verses of the ‘Inspiration-Prayer for Deliverance from the Dangerous Pathway of the Bardo’, in which I shall be aiming to show meditators how each one of the ten deities of the Dharmadhātu Mandala can be felt in the fields of the body as profound suprapersonal sources of somatic healing and wisdom. Those who read the whole series of articles – and it is intended that these articles should be read in sequence – will be able to incorporate these reflections into their meditation practice in a systematic way. Brief summaries of all the articles can be found here and you can read the five verses here.
As I begin this new series of articles, I would like to express gratitude to Dharmachari Subhuti, a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order. It was Subhuti who set me on the five-fold light-path of the Five Wisdoms, when I attended a seminar on the Bardo Thodol with him in the1980s. Having said that, I should however make it very clear, that the perspective that I am presenting here is entirely my own, and does not reflect the current consensus of thinking within the Triratna Buddhist Order.
I also need to thank Subhuti for the central idea in this introductory article – the notion that the yānas are like three ‘myths’, or defining frames of reference, within Buddhism – an idea which comes from a talk that he gave in 2003 (and later published here as article in 2004). Once again however, I need make it clear that I have reframed this conceptualisation, and elaborated it in my own way.
Three Ways of Relating to the Archetypal Buddhas
There is a foundational conceptual framework, which I would like to share as we embark on this exploration of the Dharmadhātu Mandala – the great Five Wisdoms mandala of Mahayana Buddhism, with its five pairs of Buddhas. This is the three-fold conceptual framework of the three Yānas. While most Buddhists will be aware of the three Yānas – the three great historical phases of the development of the Buddhist tradition – Hinayāna; Mahayāna; and Vajrayāna – it is less common to see the three Yānas associated with the three stages of our progressively deepening engagement with the archetypal Buddhas. This however, is a conceptualisation that I find very useful, and I would like to share it at the outset, because it not only guides us in our evolving relationship with the mandala deities – it guides us in our deepening familiarity with mind and Consciousness as we progress in our meditation practice.
Essentially there are three ways of relating to the mandala deities. Firstly, we can think of them as personifications of the various extremely positive characteristics of Enlightenment – as mental states that we aspire to, and would like to cultivate in ourselves. This perspective, we can say, is an expression of the attitudes of striving and idealism that we associate with early Buddhism – with the stage that the later Mahayana (the Greater Vehicle) came to call the Hinayāna (the Lesser Vehicle). While I do not really like this pejorative and somewhat disdainful characterisation – especially as the spirit of the Mahayāna and Vajrayāna phases are clearly discernible on the Buddha’s life and teachings – but the term Hinayāna allows us to make an important distinction. It denotes a set of more limited cultural attitudes and psychological frames of reference in which the later elements of Buddhist tradition (i.e, the Mahayāna and Vajrayāna elements) are nevertheless present in a germinal form, but are not yet explored and articulated.
In the second, Mahayāna, phase, we can think of the archetypal Buddhas as existing objectively ‘out there’ in the universe – in a very real but non-material world beyond this material one in which we exist. The popular Mahayāna world-view of many ethnic Buddhists in the east, appears to view the archetypal Buddhas in a personalising way – as if they are gods. The more accurate and more sophisticated understanding within Mahayāna tradition however, sees them as ’empty’ and non-personal. In the terminology of a modern psychology, we can say that the Buddhist deities exist as archetypes in the collective psyche. Although we encounter them subjectively and inwardly, the more we familiarise ourselves with them, the more we naturally come to think of them as objectively existing realities.
Through the Buddha’s invitation to recognise that all things are insubstantial and ’empty’ we come full circle. The idealisation of the Hinayāna and the projection of the Mahayāna are resolved as we recognise that all things are ‘appearances’. The Vajrayāna perspective, deeply rooted as it is, in the recognition of Emptiness, acknowledges that while these archetypes appear as objectively existing beings in ‘out there’ in an objectively existing imaginal realm, are also not only related to the way Consciousness unfolds into cognition and perception, but related to the mystery of how those archetypes find somatic embodiment in us as bodily-felt energies.
Just as the Mahayāna perspective is a natural extension of the Hinayana one, so the Vajrayāna is a natural extension of the Mahayāna view. I shall be trying to characterise it in more detail below, but very briefly we can characterise the Vajrayāna as a perspective that sees the archetypal Buddhas as personifications of energies that already exist, embodied within ourselves – albeit obscured by the energies of the egoic mind. The Vajrayāna is concerned above all with deep transformation, and with the energetic and bodily-felt processes by which we come to know our true nature – the Buddha within – and begin to recognise that the play of the Transcendental is ever-present in this world.
The Three Yānas as Aspects of the Bodhisattva Archetype
So, the Buddhist tradition presents three somewhat different perspectives on meditation practice and on the spiritual life – and there is great value in taking the Buddhist tradition in its totality, and therefore developing the ability to move easily between these three perspectives, understanding the way they fit together into a whole. It is also important for us to be fully cognisant of which conceptual perspective we are thinking from, or thinking within, at any one time.
The three yānas then, are much more than three stages of the historical development of the Buddhist tradition. They also represent three successively more sophisticated approaches to meditation and Mindfulness practice. At the risk of using labels that limit rather than enhance our understanding, we may characterise these three approaches to spiritual development in terms of: (1) a ‘self-development’ approach (Hinayāna); (2) a ‘self-surrender’ approach (Mahayāna); and (3) a ‘self-discovery’ approach (Vajrayāna).
What we are looking at in the three yānas, are not three different perspectives, but three dimensions of a complex and comprehensive understanding that emerged over many centuries of Buddhist practice, all of which are implied in the life and teachings of the Gautama Buddha, and also by the central Buddhist archetype – the archetype of the Bodhisattva. I hope to be able to show in the course of this article, that one of the powers of the Bodhisattva archetype as a philosophical and metaphysical principle, is its capacity to reconcile these three perspectives.
These three approaches do not ultimately conflict with each other. On the contrary, they together form a logically complete understanding. Indeed, if we are to engage fully as spiritual practitioners, we need to be able to move up and down this nested hierarchy of conceptualisations at all times within spiritual discourse. While each of the successive stages are distinct and challenge us to go deeper and to view spiritual practice in fresh ways, the three also need to be seen as inseparably linked and nested within each other. Each subsequent stage naturally arises out of the previous one, because it was implicitly present from the beginning. As these less developed but implicitly present dimensions are unfolded, the lower stages are not left behind – rather they are returned to, revisited again and again with new insights and with greater depth of engagement as we go deeper.
While each of the three approaches are essential, all three have a potential shadow side – since each one can be grasped incorrectly by the egoic mind. Our ability to recognise these shadow aspects is largely dependent on our having the awareness and mental flexibility to recognise and apply all three perspectives – since each one serves to bring balance and completion to the other two.
The ‘Self-Development’ Approach – Hinayāna
Dharmachāri Subhuti originally used the term ‘developmental’ in association with the Hinayana approach. While I am deeply grateful to him for making the connections that he does, I have, because I regard all three approaches as broadly ‘developmental’ approaches, taken the liberty of using the term ‘self-development’ for the first stage, in order to distinguish it more clearly. Others, reflecting on this model, have also spoken of this first stage in terms of ‘self-transcendence’, but I find that ‘self-development’ more clearly identifies this stage, and more clearly distinguishes it from the subsequent ‘self-surrender’ stage.
The ‘self-development’ approach can be characterised as Heroic – in the archetypal sense – since it is associated with a conviction that spiritual progress is a process of heroic self-transcendence that takes place primarily through the effort of a personal moral will. Clearly, this is at least partially true, but if we fail to see the limits of this view, we will run into difficulties. Because this psychological perspective is so deeply and unconsciously established in the modern collective consciousness, it is often not sufficiently acknowledged, even among Buddhists, that this approach is limited, that it is quite simply not sustainable, and that it will not lead to realisation – at least not until we open to, and integrate, the other two perspectives – which allow our practice to deepen, and allow us to go beyond a merely Heroic perspective.
The Empty Nature of the Personal Will
At worst, the ‘self-development’ approach, when it is applied narrowly, and with fierce conviction – as it often is – produces the very opposite of spiritual development, and the very opposite of wisdom. Buddhists often fall into the humanistic assumption that the assumed personal will is the only basis of our moral agency. The Buddha’s view was very much more sophisticated however. For him the samskaras – the non-personal ‘volitional energies’ that we experience as a personal will – were not personal, but insubstantial, ’empty’, and non-personal; and not single, but multiple.
I find it useful to acknowledge the correspondence between the samskaras skandha and the Buddha’s Mindfulness of Dharmas practice – the fourth ‘Foundation’ of Mindfulness. The implication when we make this connection, is that the Buddha was inviting us to recognise the Dharmic principles as energetic principles. When we give our attention to Dharmic principles in this way, we naturally start to see them as suprapersonal spiritual forces and as eternal, or archetypal principles – energies that appear to be at work both ‘internally’, within ourselves, and ‘externally’ in our world. This dimension, or ‘Foundation’ of Mindfulness challenges our tendency to reduce the spiritual life to a wilful personal struggle – one which deepens our egoic identification rather than releases it.
Padmasambhava, in the Bardo Thodol, offers an even deeper critical perspective – one which emerged during the Indian Mahayana. He points out the important connection between the samskaras skandha and the klesha of irshya (envy, jealousy, and obsessive desire for wealth and power), and the Asura Realm. When the Buddha spoke of the ’emptiness’ of the samskaras skandha, this was his way of talking about the illusory nature of personal egoic will and the problematic consequences of clinging to that illusion. The Asura Realm is an archetype – an archetypal image, which personifies the individual and collective psychology of our failure to recognise the emptiness of the samskaras skandha and the embattled and wilful style of egoic identification that follows from that.
The Asura Archetype – Shadow of the Personal Will
There is a deep paradox here, that we must try to understand if we are serious about meditation. While we might imagine that spiritual development only requires our engagement with the karma niyama level of the conditionality – the level of the personal moral will – this is not in fact the case. We might imagine that ethical action requires only the rational application of the values and the psychological logic of the Buddha’s ethical precepts, and that compassion is only an extension of these through a fierce application of effort. Rather than taking us to the threshold of realisation however, our identification with the egoic will gets us into all sorts of trouble. The idea that hell itself, and the road to hell, “is paved with good intentions” has become proverbial. By not recognising this paradox, we persist in our naive belief that good intentions and a fierce and relentless application of the egoic will are all that is needed to make spiritual progress.
It is worth noting that Māra, the ‘Devil’ of Buddhist tradition – was an asura. The asura archetype is a personification of the ‘power mode’ in human behaviour. The Buddhist tradition does not contain a substantial metaphysical ‘evil’ such as we see in Christianity. It prefers to talk of the failure of our ethics, of our failure to value others, and of our of lack compassion for, or mindfulness of, others. It is needs to said however, that the image of the asura is actually one of the wisest and most eloquent archetypal images of evil in the whole of human culture. Indeed, I regard it as a something of a failure on the part of the Buddhist tradition, that even with its great popularity in the modern world, it has not been able to bring this important archetype into the collective consciousness of humanity. Nowhere in the domains of sociology, social psychology, politics, economics, international relations, and war, where its impact is so clearly seen, is there any cultural awareness that this extremely negative archetypal principle is at work.
Even as the cruel effects of the asura archetype continue to wreak havoc down through the centuries of human history, and even as the asura attitudes of conquest, dominance, and power over of the other, is being misguidedly upheld as necessary for the vitality of capitalism, there does not appear to be any widespread Buddhist critique of what is happening. Worse still, Buddhist groups themselves fall into asura modes of thinking: obsessively seeking to expand their cultural dominance rather than seeking wisdom; operating through hierarchical internal power structures; policing internal discourse to maintain cultural purity and conformity to tradition; deliberately provoking ideological warfare with other Buddhist groups; adopting a narrowly muscular and scientific materialist view of the body; and, at worst, reducing Buddhist practice to a feat of physical and mental endurance in which most of its would-be heroes are destined to end up turned to stone in the lair of the gorgon Medusa.
For more on the Hero myth of Perseus, and on the narcissism that the Heroic approach is prone to, please consider reading my previous article on these themes (here) – and for more on the asura archetype read my previous article on it (here).
The ‘Self-Surrender’ Approach – Mahayāna
The Mahayāna Buddhist approach gives great importance to receptivity, self-surrender and devotion. Whereas the Hinayāna practitioner can be characterised (perhaps incorrectly) as primarily engaged with his own liberation, and with achieving Buddhahood by an effort of his own personal will, the Mahayāna practitioner is engaged in a much larger cosmic drama. He or she aspires to become a Bodhisattva – a realised being who lives for the sake of the liberation of others. Furthermore, in the Mahayāna view, the universe is peopled by a vast number of male and female Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who exist in various realms and various states of being, both material and and non-material.
Significantly from the point of view of this article, the most important of these Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the Mahayana imagination are best understood as archetypes. Rather than thinking of them as beings existing in non-material realms, we need to think of them as existing in the ‘collective unconscious’ of humanity. Carl Jung’s notion of the ‘archetypes of the collective unconscious’ correspond very closely indeed to the way in which Buddhist tradition came to view these figures. Rather than being personal and separate from us, they are non-personal and intimately connected with us – personifications of aspects of our own true nature, waiting to be discovered as we release our egoic identifications.
While the ‘self-surrender’ approach might at first appear to be strongly in contrast to, and even opposed to the ‘self-development’ approach, I would like to emphasise that this stage can be seen as, at least in some respects, as a natural progression from the previous ‘self-development’ stage – and even as nested within the frame of reference of that stage. The attitude of receptivity can, after all, be seen as simply a more refined and discerning application of the personal will. It is however, a radically different way of seeing spiritual development. Psychologically, this approach that I am calling ‘self-surrender’, takes an explicitly ‘archetypal’ view of the body-mind – one in which our most fundamental psychological structures and motivations are recognised to be archetypal, or suprapersonal. Hence, the Buddhist wisdom reveals the fact that we are persons in appearance only. We are dynamic, systemic, and without self-nature – but nevertheless unique. While the mandala describes the ’empty’ and universal structures of cognition and perception from which the self-illusion is assembled, the apparent beings that find embodiment in this way are infinitely various.
Spiritual ‘Inflation’ – Shadow of Spiritual Receptivity
The recognition that our spiritual development requires us to relate with receptivity and devotion to spiritual forces that appear to be coming from outside of ourselves – or at least beyond the egoic mind – holds the potential to be an extraordinarily significant and positive step forward. It can usher in a profound shift of consciousness, especially for the Westerner, partly because it represents such a liberation from the constraining assumptions of scientific materialism. It can also be challenging and even disastrous however – if not engaged in consciously – in ways that are sometimes obvious but usually very subtle. In the theistic traditions, especially in the East, we are used to seeing great passivity in people who believe that their lives are entirely subject the will of forces beyond themselves and beyond their control. We also see deep irrationality, incongruous behaviour, and even extreme violence, in people of faith around the globe. Even in Buddhism there are significant dangers that go hand in hand with this attitude of acknowledging this ‘otherness’ – relative to the egoic mind – of the suprapersonal forces.
When the reality of the divine ‘other’ is truly encountered, this is not an easy experience for the human mind to integrate – and all manner of egoic distortions may ensue as people try – and often fail – to make sense of the experience. Most common of these egoic distortions, is the simple, but little acknowledged phenomenon of ‘inflation’, that Carl Jung spoke of so persistently and with such clarity. Inflation is a way of talking about the way contact with the suprapersonal forces of the transcendental often do not humble the egoic mind, or heighten its empathy and wisdom as we might expect, but rather propel the person blessed – or cursed – by the experience, into various unconscious and grandiose styles of thinking and activity in which they believe they are wise and compassionate when in fact they are not.
In traditional Mahayāna Buddhist cultures there is a high degree of psychological safety in this regard, in that when these suprapersonal forces are contacted, there is absolutely no doubt in the practitioner’s mind that he has contacted something beyond himself. The Westerner however, can find himself falling into difficulties. Sometimes he will relate the archetypal figures with ambivalence – aspects of the the egoic mind instinctively fear overwhelm and reject the experience. More often, he will merge with the archetypal dimension in a way that does not involve a true integration of the energies of the figure. True integration of archetypal energies requires a prior stage of ‘relating to’ them with appropriate humility, receptivity and devotion. I am using masculine pronouns here for the sake of brevity – while men seem more prone to inflation than women, the practitioner could just as easily, or course, be a woman.
When Westerners engage in the regular practice of Mahayana Buddhist worship (puja), or chant the mantras of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, or study the Mahayana Sutras, they will usually come into a keen intuitive sense of the vast transpersonal reality that is the cosmic landscape of the Mahayāna. While this represents a hugely beneficial opening to the symbols of wisdom and compassion, Westerners are usually not aware of the way that this vision also creates psychological challenges – experiences that are difficult to integrate.
Just like the Buddhist practitioners of mediaeval India who developed these practices and evolved the Mahayāna vision, we can find ourselves having moments when we are living within a cosmic drama peopled by a great hierarchy of spiritual beings – a cosmic drama animated by the wise and compassionate Bodhisattva principle. But as Westerners our emotional responses to this can be complicated. We may find ourselves devoted to a spiritual teacher without discrimination, or seized by a grandiose sense of the cosmic importance of the lineage in which we are practicing, or simply depressed because we have glimpsed heights of inspiration that we cannot sustain.
The antidote to all this is found through the deep grounding of the sort of appreciative and body-based, or somatic practice that can be found in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. I shall be talking more about this below – and in connection with the female Buddha Māmaki in a later article in this series.
The Mahayāna World-View and the Western Mind
Engagement with the Mahayāna perspective can be an extraordinary experience of expansiveness and inspiration – one that lifts the individual out of the self-development frame of reference – beyond mere ‘personal’ development and ‘personal’ liberation and into a sense of participating in, and living in service to, the cosmic evolutionary process of life and consciousness. It is not uncommon however, even when we feel a deep ease and affinity with the Mahayāna perspective, for us to find it difficult to marry this with our Western world-view, and difficult to find a place for our legitimate personal needs and the details of our personal lives, within the cosmic scale of the Bodhisattva vision.
While something deep within us beyond the egoic self, may recognise this grand perspective, and the sense of meaning and purpose that it bestows, parts of the superficial egoic self inevitably respond to it also. Parts of us that are existentially vulnerable, and carry feelings of powerlessness and insignificance in the face of the heroic ‘self-development’ project will naturally find comfort in the sense of participation in the ‘drama of cosmic enlightenment’, and in the idea that there are spiritual forces in the universe that will help us if we turn to them in worshipful receptivity.
In the ancient East, it was natural for the Buddhist worshipper to believe absolutely that he is experiencing the blessing of the Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. In the Western context such contact is more psychologically complex. While his intuition is telling him that he is experiencing objective spiritual realties, his Western cultural conditioning tells him or her that what he has experienced is a personal experience. If we do not yet recognise that everything in our experience is actually ’empty’ and non-personal – and that it is ultimately beyond subject and object – then we may struggle to find psychological congruence, and in that struggle will often find ourselves prone to forms of inflation.
The ‘Self-Discovery’ Approach – Vajrayāna
It is not until we reach the Vajrayāna stage, that the dichotomy of self-power and other-power, or ‘self-development’, and self-power, or ‘self-surrender’, is reconciled. This is partly because the Vajrayāna takes the Buddha’s teaching of ’emptiness’ as foundational – not as a distant goal, but as a foundation for practice, seemingly from the outset. The Vajrayāna can also be thought of as a return from a focus on the faculty of visual and devotional imagination, to a focus on ‘the somatic’ – the mystery of embodied Consciousness. The fact that a non-personal spiritual reality finds embodiment in apparent persons is indeed a great mystery, and the Vajrayāna confronts this head on.
So, in the ‘self-discovery’ stage, what is being discovered is the ’empty’ transcendental reality within; the so-called Buddha-nature; that dimension of the Unconditioned that is embodied within us – embodied within us but obscured by the kleshas. The kleshas, the somatic ‘defilements’ that accumulate in the egoic mind as a result of our identification with the skandhas, are very much part of the Hinayāna ‘self-development’ process, and indeed the Mahayāna ‘self-surrender’ process, but in the Vajrayāna ‘self-discovery’ process they especially important. The Vajrayāna seeks to release and transform psychological and somatic energy by understanding how the klesha energies and the corresponding Wisdom energies are archetypally connected – and can even be thought of, not so much as as opposites but as two inseparable expressions of the same archetypal principle.
So, there is a high entry-level for genuine Vajrayāna practice:
It requires, firstly, a recognition that the primary reality of Consciousness is collective and objective, and pervades the universe – and that the experience of mind and world arises in dependance on that primary reality.
Secondly, it requires a deep engagement with the close relationship between archetypal structures and energies of Consciousness, on the absolute, or Dharmic, level of mind, and the parallel archetypal structures and energies on the egoic, or relative level – and the recognition of the ultimate inseparability of these levels.
Thirdly, it requires a deep engagement with ’emptiness’ – the need to really look at our our actual experience and to begin to notice the way it is assembled from ’empty’ cognitive-perceptual component processes (skandhas).
Fourthly, it requires a recognition of the somatic – and a willingness to investigate the mysterious somatic anatomy whereby an objective and collective field of Consciousness finds embodiment in apparent persons.
Vajrayāna as Familiarisation
Tibetan Vajrayana practices often involve complex and detailed visualisation of the male and female archetypal Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, with the intention of allowing practitioners to become intimately familiar with the Five Wisdoms. Indeed this principle of ‘familiarisation’ with the Dharmic principles can be regarded as one of the keys to understanding Vajrayāna practice. The ornate Tibetan temples with their elaborate shrines are called gompas – gom being the Tibetan word for familiarisation. So the gompa is the place in which the practitioner familiarises him or herself with the ultimate nature of mind, and with the archetypal buddha figures that give us a glimpse of the Transcendental.
An important characteristic of the visualisation practices of Tibetan Buddhism is that they take the practitioner from the Mahayāna attitude of devotion and self-surrender, to the more distinctively Vajrayāna attitude of recognising the somatic resonance of the Transcendental within the field of their body. The practitioner is invited to familiarise themselves with the actual bodily-felt experience of Enlightenment within.
The accumulative series of ten meditations that I shall be offering in this series of articles – one meditation for each of the archetypal Buddhas of the Dharmadhātu Mandala, is offered in this spirit. While this meditation series is not a visualisation practice, is takes the visually rich imagery of the ten archetypal Buddhas of the Mandala that are described in the Bardo Thodol, as the starting point for a systematic meditation on the bodily-felt energies of the ten corresponding Dharmic principles. While this is not an approach to meditation practice that I have formally learned within Tibetan Buddhist tradition, my hope is that these reflections will provide a bodily-felt process of familiarisation and self-discovery that is very much in the spirit of the Vajrayāna.
Mindfulness and the Three Yānas
I find the idea of the three yānas as deepening stages of practice to be so foundational that we can usefully apply it to almost every aspect Buddhist philosophy practice. To do justice to the Buddha’s rich and subtle practice of Mindfulness for example, it can be useful to reflect on it in terms of the three yānas.
A Hinayāna, or ‘self-development’, perspective on Mindfulness practice might sees it as a personal quality of mind – the idea we can deepen our awareness and expand it into many areas by an application of the personal will. A Mahayāna, or ‘self-surrender’, perspective, with its Bodhisattva ideal, and characteristic emphasis on shunyatā, and on the idea of the bodhicitta as a suprapersonal force in the universe, might frame Mindfulness practice as an invitation to rest receptively ‘in’ awareness – with the idea that awareness is infinitely spacious, non-locatable and non-personal; and can be developed in all its aspects by seeing it personified in the archetypal Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The Vajrayāna can be characterised as a ‘self-discovery’ perspective that takes this further still – and would say that mind is by nature luminous and aware, and that Mindfulness practice can be characterised as an invitation to rest naturally ‘as’ that timeless awareness, recognising the ultimate inseparability of the absolute and the relative levels of mind and Consciousness.
The implication here is not that the realisation of the great sages of the Mahayāna and Vajrayāna was in any way superior to that of Gautama, the historical Buddha. What is being acknowledged however, is the development of a greater sophistication in the expression of the insights, and the increasingly subtle conceptual distinctions regarding the the process and the path that are seen in the more developed frame of reference of the later yānas. I need to emphasise once again, that I am using the three yānas here primarily as as a way of talking about stages of deepening engagement with the Dharma – not only as cultural and historical stages in the history of Buddhism. While this connection between the larger collective process within the tradition and the process within individual practitioners, may seem a little confusing, the value of acknowledging the yānas both as nested perspectives and as developmental stages in our spiritual growth is too valuable to ignore.
Vajrayāna – Active and Receptive; Self-Discovery and Emergence
I like the simplicity of Dharmachari Subhuti’s three-fold formulation of ‘self-development’, ‘self-surrender’, and ‘self-discovery’ – which echoes the three yānas of Buddhist history so clearly. Others (notably Jñānavāca and others at the London Buddhist Centre), also inspired by this model, have chosen to develop the conceptualisation further, and have pointed out the third, or Vajrayāna, stage can be seen as having two sub-stages – so that there are four stages altogether. They have identified, I believe correctly, that while the active component of the Vajrayāna familiarisation process can be called ‘self-discovery’, there is also a spontaneous dimension to the this process – one which may be characterised as ’emergence’. As with he previous perspectives, the subsequent stages are nested within the previous ones, so while what is spontaneously discovered as we let go into the experience of resting as Consciousness is also a form of self-discovery, the process of that discovery is receptive rather that active.