This article is the third of fifteen articles inspired by 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 Dharmadātu 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 can be found here.
In this article, I make reference to the five-fold ‘System of Practice’, that has been used, within the Triratna Buddhist Community, as a framework for thinking about the dimensions of meditation practice and the Dharma life more generally. This model originally identified Integration, Positive Emotion, Spiritual Death (i.e. Insight), and Spiritual Rebirth, as four key stages. To these four, a fifth component was later added – Receptivity.
I need to acknowledge, and indeed emphasise, that where I have suggested that Receptivity should be given greater primacy, and have suggested that five of the ten deities are particularly supportive of the initial ‘Integration’ phase, and that another five can strongly support us during the subsequent ‘Positive Emotion’ stage, this is an invention from my own explorations, and certainly goes beyond the standard interpretation of Sangharakshita’s model. I do not however, believe my ideas are in conflict with Sangharakshita’s emphasis. I prefer to think of them as a respectful engagement with his ideas – building on the foundation of Sangharakshita’s work, by continuing to forge the Triratna meditation practice model in the furnace of experience.
In this article, I hope I can begin to tentatively explore how the kleshas and Wisdom energies, that I spoke about in the last article in this series (here), are located in the fields of the body, and on how we can begin to ‘hold the tension’ between those opposite groups of energies – as they appear as polarities within our bodily-felt experience in meditation practice.
The Dharmadhātu Mandala as a Ten-Fold Meditation Cycle
I prefer to meditate on the ten dieties, not only as five apparent ‘couples’ as in the ‘Inspiration-Prayer’ – with one male-female pair representing each of the Five Wisdoms – or as five female Buddhas and five male Buddhas. Rather, I meditate first on what I have come to think of as the five ‘receptive’ deities (three female Buddhas and two male ones), and then on the five ‘expansive’ deities (three male Buddhas and two female ones). The two diagrams below, show these two groups of five deities – each with the ‘Dharmic Principles’ that I find useful for identifying the aspect of the Five Wisdoms that they personify, represent, or embody.
In the course of the articles in this series, I shall be explaining the words that I have chosen for the ‘Dharmic Principles’ – there are two ‘Dharmic Principles’ for each Wisdom – and expanding upon them. Briefly however, the eight ‘Dharmic principles’ that are shown in the four quadrants of the two mandala are either brahmavihāras (Equanimity, Appreciative Joy, Loving Kindness, and Compassion), or are closely related to the brahmavihāras (Being, Embodiment, Uncaused Happiness, and Life Energy). While the Five Wisdoms are usually defined as the aspects of the wisdom that arise as the emptiness of each of the skandhas is recognised, I, like many others, regard the brahmavihāras as an equally important way in to an understanding of them – and absolutely key to our bodily-felt experience of the Wisdoms in meditation. In previous articles on this website, I have already written quite extensively on each of these Dharmic principles, but will be expanding on each one as we progress in this series of articles.
Whenever we use a single word for a Dharmic principle in any context, there is a loss of meaning. A word, as Buddhist tradition tells us, can only ever be a conceptual ‘pointer’ – a finger pointing at the moon, not the moon itself. In the Buddhist tradition, we nevertheless are forced to use these single word conceptual labels as placeholders for the larger meaning, trusting that our listeners will engage in the meditative enquiry that the word invites, and will take the time to unfold the layers of meaning that a held within. So, I use these Dharmic principles somewhat tentatively, aware that they are the words that ‘work for me’ – and hoping that my readers will either connect with them, or perhaps find alternative words that work for them.
I am suggesting that we can, if we wish, approach the ten deities as two separate cycles of five Buddhas: one cycle culminating with White Tara, and a second cycle culminating with Vairocana. In this article, I shall be explaining in more detail the distinction that I make between the ‘receptive’ or ‘yin’ deities and the ‘expansive’ or ‘yang’ deities, but essentially, I regard the ‘receptive’ deities as more related to foundational processes of psychological integration (i.e. the ‘Integration’ stage in the Triratna system of practice), whereas the ‘expansive’ deities as more related to our social, relational, and ethical engagement and with our evolving embodiment, skills, generosity, and emotional positivity in communication, relationships, and work (i.e. the ‘Positive Emotion’ stage in the Triratna system of practice).
Receptivity, Integration and Positive Emotion
Founded by the English Buddhist, Sanghakshita, the Triratna Buddhist Community, which was where I first encountered Buddhism in the early 1980s, follows an approach which is widely accepted in the Buddhist world, approaching meditation via the two foundational principles of ‘Integration’ and ‘Positive Emotion’. In the context of meditation, these principles find expression in the ‘Mindfulness of Breathing’ practice (Integration), and the Mettābhāvana, or ‘Cultivation of Loving Kindness’ (Positive Emotion), but they can also be engaged with more broadly as ‘aspects of the Dharma life’. There is a compelling intuitive logic to the idea that Buddhist meditation needs to combine these two key ingredients – they are felt to be a reflection perhaps, in our initial exploration of meditation practice, of the ultimate Buddhist goals of Wisdom and Compassion – a transformed mind and transformed heart.
There is however, a third foundational meditation practice taught within the Triratna Community – the ‘Just Sitting’ practice. Over the years, the increasing recognition of the importance of this practice, and its subtle attitude of openess and receptivity rather than sustained effort, has led to the formal inclusion of ‘Receptivity’ as a fifth element in the Triratna ‘System of Practice’. Those who have read my previous article in this series, will know that I strongly agree with the inclusion of this additional dimension. I also believe it encourages a more Mahayana attitude to meditation practice – the idea of cultivating a receptivity to the suprapersonal forces that drive spiritual evolution became increasingly important as Buddhism developed. This Mahayana spirit has always been at the heart of the Triratna approach, and is at the heart of these reflections on the Dharmadhātu Mandala guided by Padmasambhava’s ‘Inspiration-Prayer’.
The Relative and the Absolute
While it has been proposed that Receptivity can be regarded as a third ‘stage’, coming after Integration and Positive Emotion, and before Spiritual Death (i.e. Insight), and Spiritual Rebirth, I prefer to see Receptivity as foundational and primary – perhaps even as a necessary precursor for the Integration and Positive Emotion stages.
Others will understandably regard it as necessary to initially present meditation practice primarily an act of a personal moral will – even if that will is later going to be found to be ’empty’. There is a very subtle balance to be found here. Although this very difficult to conceptualise, we live simultaneously in the relative and absolute. It is as if we have one foot in the personal world view of individuality and taking responsibility for ourselves, and moral agency, where we make choices, and exert ourselves, and make seemingly personal efforts; while our other foot is in the universal, and in the recognition that self is an illusion and that Consciousness is an objective and collective phenomenon.
I regard receptivity as our bridge between those two, seemingly incongruous, worlds. It is through Receptivity that we forge an internal relationship between the two, and ultimately reconcile them into a internally relational unity – as we rest receptively as the universal Consciousness while engaging with the appearance in which we find ourselves. In my previous article (here), I spoke about how I see White Tara, the female Buddha counterpart of the male Buddha Vairocana, as our personification of this attitude of resting as Consciousness – this core and essence of the Buddha’s Mindfulness practice. One of the best ways of finding this subtle way of being that is ‘resting as Consciousness’, in our experience, is to feel the receptive presence of White Tara ‘behind us’ as Padmasambhava’s ‘Inspiration-Prayer’ verse suggests (below). White Tara is many things – she is Connection, Spaciousness, and Relatedness – and she is also the quintessence of spiritual receptivity to suprapersonal forces – and one of the ways in which we can integrate this quality of receptivity, is by making ourselves receptive to her.
When through spiritual ignorance, I wander in samsara,
on the luminous light-path of the Dharmadhātu Wisdom,
may Blessed Vairocana go before me,
and White Tara behind me;
help me to cross the bardo’s dangerous pathway
and bring me to the perfect buddha state.
The Dharmadhātu Mandala, with its ten deities, calls to understand how Integration, Positive Emotion and Receptivity combine to provide a comprehensive approach to meditation – and I shall be doing my best to explain this in the course of this series of articles. I have come to regard the three factors as equally important, and see a great benefit in giving emphasis to Receptivity either from the outset, or at the earliest possible stage. The spiritual receptivity with which we are blessed by White Tara’s presence behind us, allows us to stand on a profound spiritual threshold, as if with the absolute world behind us and the relative world before us – holding the tension between the two.
Whatever our preferred emphasis, it is important to understand that the ten deities, and our receptivity to the suprapersonal energies that they represent, can serve us even during the foundational stages of our practice, as well as in the subsequent insight and bodhicitta stages (Spiritual Death and Spiritual Rebirth). We could perhaps imagine the double, or quadruple (or multiple), circumabulation of the mandala that I am proposing, as an ongoing spiral (or helix-like) process of receptivity, in which the Five Wisdoms are visited and revisited at higher and higher levels of Integration, emotional transformation (Positive Emotion), insight (Spiritual Death), and embodiment (Spiritual Rebirth), as we progress on the Path of the Dharma.
It needs to be acknowledged that although, as novice students of meditation and/or Buddhism, our psychological frame of reference may be an entirely personal one, with an illusory egoic will in the centre of that frame, in reality there are always suprapersonal forces at work in us. All our motivations (samskaras skandha) are ultimately recognised to be non-personal, universal, and life-serving – but this only becomes clear when people are able to step out of the egoic frame of reference. The Buddha understood all this very well indeed, but it was not until the Mahayana and Vajrayana stages of Buddhism’s development, that these ideas were fully articulated.
The Mahabrahmavihāras – Suprapersonal Forces at Work in our Lives
We saw for example, in the Mahayana phase of Buddhism, the development, out of the pre-Buddhist notion of the brahmavihāras (upekshā – Equanimity; muditā – Appreciative Joy; maitri / mettā – Loving Kindness; and karunā – Compassion), a refinement of understanding in which it was acknowledged that the brahmavihāras have two aspects – a suprapersonal, or absolute, or archetypal dimension (mahupekshā; mahumuditā; mahamaitri / mahamettā; and mahakarunā – each brahmavihāra being prefaced with maha which means ‘great’); and a dimension that is felt in, and finds expression in, our individual lives. Both aspects are in fact non-personal.
I took the mahabrahmavihāras as my starting point for a long series of some forty articles, which can be found in the ‘Meditation’ menu of this website. One of my aims in those articles was to raise awareness to the suprapersonal aspect of the brahmavihāras, and to show the way that people can approach them in their in suprapersonal aspects in meditation practice. The perspective that I proposed in those articles, is one in which the mahabrahmavihāras are regarded as inseparable from, and implicitly present in, the brahmavihāras. I also aimed to help my readers to understand the value of practicing all of the four brahmavihāras in a single meditation session – that is, in a meditation ‘cycle’, I am proposing something somewhat similar with the ten deities of the Dharmadhātu Mandala.
One of my main aims in this current series of articles, is the help students of Buddhism to recognise the antecedent roots of the Five Wisdoms and of the ten deities of the Dharmadhātu Mandala, in the various formulations of the Dharma that the historical Buddha used in his teachings. Of these, clearly the brahmavihāras are one of the main ones, but I shall also be talking about the ‘Five Spiritual Faculties’, and ‘Four Foundations of Mindfulness’ – and of course the five skandhas, five kleshas, and the five Realms. If the vast libraries of the Mahayana had not been burned by India’s Moslem invaders, we would have a much better sense of how the Dharmadhātu Mandala evolved, and these connections would be much better known. In the absence of those texts, we have to look to our own experience, and need to do what we can to work out those connections for ourselves.
It needs to be said, and acknowledged as a historical fact, and as context for our study of the Dharmadhātu Mandala, that the great Indian monastic university of Nalanda, where Padmasambahava, studied, practiced, and taught, before taking the Mahayana teachings to Tibet, was quite probably the greatest spiritual institution that the world has ever seem – a extraordinary powerhouse of spiritual knowledge. I cannot help feeling, that anything that we can do, through our own self-enquiry, to understand the spiritual knowledge in Padmasambhava’s teachings, is in some way also recovering the lost spiritual knowledge of Nalanda in our own experience, and is deeply worthwhile – and is much needed for the world’s healing.
Receptive (Introversion) and Expansive (Extraversion) Stages
In my experience, the energies of the five deities of the initial ‘receptivity’ (Integration) stage, create a psychological and ethical foundation on which a further more externally relational and ‘expansive’ (Positive Emotion) stage can be built. There ultimately needs to be a balance between the somatic experience of ‘receiving’ and ‘integrating’ on one side, and the experience of ‘expanding’, ‘relating’, and ‘responding compassionately’ on the other, but the establishment of a capacity to rest receptively as Consciousness (to be truly Mindful) needs to come first – or it is likely that the ‘Positive Emotion’ stage will not be understood or practiced correctly.
To acknowledge this need for balance, and to name this polarity in psychological functioning, Carl Jung invented the terms ‘Intraversion’ and ‘Extraversion’. These are very subtle and generally very poorly understood ideas, but are of enormous value if we are interested in personality, integration, wholeness, and particular problems of the psychological shadow that we see in spiritual practitioners and spiritual communities. I have written several articles previously about the Shadow archetype, primarily though a Buddhist frame of reference (here, here, here, here, and here), and shall be incorporating this foundational vigilance into the approach to meditation that I am describing in this series of articles.
I hesitate to make these connections, but they are very powerful and undeniable, and they take us to the heart of the Buddha’s teaching. The notions of Introversion and Extraversion give us a way of understanding the fundamental egoic defenses that prevent us from going beyond the subject-object dichotomy – Introversion is a subjective orientation and Extraversion is an objective orientation, and we need to make both orientation conscious before we can reconcile them.
Buddhist wisdom invites us to recognise that Consciousness (the empty vijñāna skandha) is both subjective and objective. We eventually come to see a similar transcendence of the subject-object dichotomy in the other four skandhas. When we get deep into our enquiry into the other four skandhas we find that, while there is egoic identification, each of the cognitive-perceptual functions also tend to operate either subjectively (Introversion) or objectively (Extraversion), but rarely both. Once we begin to release egoic identification, and the choice of Introversion and Extraversion is made conscious, then the transcendence of the subject-object dichotomy in regard to the four functions becomes a possibility.
What I am calling Receptivity is an introverted mode of relationship to Consciousness, in which there is a receiving of positive psychological energy from suprapersonal sources. This Receptivity is very unlike our ordinary egoic expression of Introversion however, because it involves a balancing dimension of the inner extroversion – a profound acknowledgement of the inner ‘otherness’ of the archetypal Buddhas. Similarly, what I am calling Expansiveness is an extroverted mode of relationship, in which we recognise ourselves as sources of positive psychological energy from suprapersonal sources. While this Expansiveness is focused on the outer ‘other’, and on the whole social and even global context, it is very unlike our ordinary egoic expression of Introversion however, in that it acknowledges that everything in the external world, including ourselves is animated by an interior energetic dimensions – the archetypal forces that are personified by the Buddhas are a work in all human perceptions, decisions, motivations, and activities.
Padmasambhava’s Understanding of the Shadow of Egoic Consciousness
We cannot afford not to consider the possibility that the unconscious Shadow of egoic consciousness will show itself in our lives as Buddhists. The brighter the light of our conscious intention, the darker will be the potential Shadow in our individual personality, or group dynamics. This is why the Buddha so frequently urged his students to be aware of the kleshas. Even the Buddha did not exclude himself from this vigilance and ethical scrutiny, and he was relentless in his invitation to students to engage in an ongoing practice of fierce self-confrontation in this regard. The mandala wisdom that Padmasambhava gave us, is an aspect of the All-Accomplishing Wisdom. It provides us with a framework for such a self-confrontation – it allows us to be systematic, direct and effective in the task of cleaning up the energetic mess that is our accumulation of egoic kleshas.
Padmasambhava needs to recognised as a spiritual master who embodied the particular type of psychological wisdom that recognises, confronts and integrates the shadow. This is highlighted in his mythologised biography. We are told that the first scholar-monk, Shantarakshita, sent to Tibet from Nalanda encountered a peculiar problem when tried to build monastries in Tibet, in which all the building work achieved during the day (by the conscious mind?), was torn down at night by the local demons (by the unconscious mind?). Padmasambhava, sent in his place, overcame this problem, supposedly by a magical process through which the destructive energy of the demons was harnessed, so that they became protectors of the dharma, but we need understand this metaphorically. Padmasambhava was not only Enlightened – he powerfully embodied the intuitive All-Accomplishing aspect of Enlightenment and was extremely astute regarding both collective and individual psychological dynamics.
In pointing out Padmasambhava’s psychological genius, I do not wish to lessen our appreciation of his extraordinary social skills in the complex task of his mission to Tibet, or to disparage the idea that he was an actual magician. On the contrary, I believe it was his psychological genius and his knowledge of the dynamic play of conscious and unconscious forces in the psyche that gave rise to these other gifts. It should come as no surprise to us that the All-Accomplishing Wisdom – the knowledge of the volitional energies (the non-personal play of empty samskaras skandha) – came to be symbolised by the vishva vajra, a central symbol in Vajrayana Buddhism, which is essentially a mandala.
All of the three principles that we have been addressing (Integration, Positive Emotion, and Receptivity) can be thought of as ways of uprooting the kleshas, and overcoming the tendency of the egoic mind to generate incongruous Shadow attitudes and perceptions, or to form rigid impermeable defenses against unconscious contents that actually need to be seen and recognised, and subjected to ethical scrutiny. Meditation, if we understand it incorrectly, or practice it incorrectly, can actually generate kleshas – can generate Shadow. The egoic mind always generates kleshas. It may lessen some of the kleshas, but it will often generate more kleshas in the process – only wisdom fundamentally removes them. As meditators we need to be aware that any attitude of egoic consciousness always has a complementary opposite attitude – a Shadow. Shadow may be temporarily repressed into unconsciousness, but will be held somewhere in the somatic fields of the body, and will always return in some form.
The most fundamental way in which we can stop generating kleshas is by resting as Consciousness. We break the reactive cycle by which these kleshas are sustained by stepping our of the egoic mind into a state of Mindfulness, if only for a few moments at a time, especially when we find our selves in afflictive states. If we could do this really effectively and consistently, we might not need to meditate. For most of us however, meditation practice is a necessary part of the energetic clean up that we need.
Systematically Rooting Out the Shadow Kleshas
It is my belief, that the best way to build our vigilance, and build our immunity to Shadow is though mandala-based approaches to meditation and Mindfulness practice – either all four of the brahmavihāras; or all four of the ‘Foundations of Mindfulness’; or all five of the Wisdoms; or all ten of the deities of the Dharmadhātu Mandala. The systematic and comprehensive nature of these models means that they have a way of revealing Shadow kleshas and rooting them out. I personally also think the direct study of Carl Jung’s ideas about the mandala structure of the psyche can be of enormous support to Buddhists who wish to understand and address Shadow dynamics in themselves and their communities. Jung treasured the mandala wisdom in Padmasambhava’s teachings precisely because they addressed the Shadow of the egoic mind so comprehensively.
Jung borrowed enormously from Buddhism, and Buddhists would do well borrow from him – perhaps even regarding him as one of their own. He based his own mandala model of the psyche on the Dharmadhātu Mandala, unfortunately without acknowledging it – fearing that this would undermine the legitimacy of his theory. He hoped to propagate Padmasambhava’s ‘All-Accomplishing Wisdom’, the mandala knowledge of the complementary nature of consciousness and unconsciousness within the egoic mind – and perhaps save the world from the destruction and self-delusion that was described in the Realms, or lokas, of Buddhist tradition. Having witnessed the Shadow of unconsciousness in himself, in his clients, in two world wars, and in the rise of fascism and totalitarian communism, he had good reason to fear for humanity’s future.
Taking a Deep Dive into the Mandala Wisdom
When we see the ten deities grouped as two arrangements of five Buddhas in the particular way that I have shown above, we reveal several dynamics within our somatic anatomy that are not at first apparent. The polarities across these mandalas from east to west and from north to south are not just feminine-masculine oppositions, they are key polarities between Dharmic principles that belong together in the Enlightened mind, but cannot be reconciled on the egoic level. I shall be talking about how we can use the breath to support the integration of these pairs of Dharmic principles – a somatic integration that is keenly felt in the body, and leads rapidly to significant corresponding changes on the level of personality and our ethical and relational functioning.
In this article therefore, I shall be approaching the ten deities of the mandala in this perhaps rather curious order – not only making the distinction between the five ‘receptive’ and five ‘expansive’ deities, but also highlighting the polarities, or oppositions, within the mandala structure. I very much hope that my readers will bear with me as we take this deep dive into the energetic complexity of the Dharmadhātu Mandala. I have no doubt that if you are willing to read the whole series and gain the necessary overview, you will find this information not only intellectually illuminating, but a powerful boost to your meditation practice. My intention here is to find a way of exploring and unfolding these deeper dimensions of the mandala wisdom, so as to make these powerful deities more accessible and directly supportive to us in our meditation practice, and so that we can come to recognise the dynamic suprapersonal forces of the mandala within ourselves.
To read the next article in this series please click here.