This article is the fifth 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. The first article in the series can be found here; brief summaries of all the articles can be found here; you can read the previous article in the series here; and you can read the five verses here.
The Mandala of ‘Receptive’ Deities Continued
This series of articles is essentially a systematic description of the ten deities of the Dharmadhātu mandala, and in this article I shall be going one step deeper into what I have chosen to call the mandala of the five ‘receptive’ deities. This division of the ten deities into two groups – five ‘yin’, or ‘receptive’, deities, and five ‘yang’, or ‘expansive’ ones – is not a traditional formulation as far as I know, though it has several parallels in the traditional teachings. I feel very motivated to share it however, because I have found it to be such a powerful framework in my own meditation practice. It is my hope that readers will wish to experiment with meditating systematically on the somatic resonance of each of these deities as I have done. While you may wish to simply meditate on the deities as a ‘meditation cycle’, as I initially did, I hope to be able to demonstrate that these deities are best approached in pairs – since the pairs of Dharmic principles that are behind the west-east and south-north pairs of deities, represent profound spiritual oppositions that must be reconciled and integrated if we are to fully embody the energies of the Five Wisdoms.
The two-stage model that I have adopted (meditating on the ‘receptive’ Dharmic principles first, followed by the ‘expansive’ ones) correspond to the two initial stages – ‘Integration’ and ‘Positive Emotion’ – in the ‘System of Meditation Practice’ that was first proposed by Sangharakshita in the 1970s. The five deities in the first group, which we are currently investigating, are ‘receptive’ in that they are associated with ‘yin’ ,or ‘receptive’, energies in the somatic anatomy of the body that play an essential part in creating a foundation of psychological integration in the early stages of meditation practice. They represent five key Dharmic principles, in the necessarily more introverted and self-empathetic process of our initial self-healing, and of gaining familiarity with the experience of ‘resting as’ embodied Consciousness.
It is helpful to understand that the next stage, and subsequent stages, are built upon, or nested within, the foundation provided by these first five Dharmic principles. These five principles are never left behind, but rather are supplemented by a further five Dharmic principles, which can be characterised as more extraverted; more actively compassionate; more profoundly challenging to the egoic mind; and even more supportive of positive transformation in our personality and capabilities.
Pandaravarsini – Uncaused Happiness
In the first three articles in this series, I focused on the central pair of deities (White Tara and Vairocana) and on outlining my rationale for making this division of the ten deities into two groups. In the fourth, immediately preceding, article (here), I spoke in detail about Pandaravarsini, the central female Buddha of the western quadrant, who represents the ‘yin’, or ‘receptive’, aspect of the Discriminating Wisdom. She is traditionally associated with the ’emptiness’, or non-personal nature, of the samjñā skandha (evaluative discrimination, or Feeling), and with the klesha, or ‘obscuration’, of rāga, or ‘craving’. Importantly, from the point of view of meditation practice, she is a personification, or symbolic representation, of the ‘yin’, or receptive functioning of the Emotional Body, as we rest as Consciousness – and with the back of the associated Solar Plexus Chakra. Hence, the invitation in Padmasambhava’s ‘Inspiration-Prayer’, that I have been using as a starting point in this exploration, to recognise the presence of Pandaravarsini ‘behind us’, can be taken quite literally, as guidance to the actual embodied experience of resting as Consciousness – the experience of that aspect of Mindfulness that is the receptive aspect of the Discriminating Wisdom, and sometime referred to in Buddhist circles as ‘self-mettā‘.
When, through craving, I wander in samsara,
on the luminous light-path of Discriminating Wisdom,
may Blessed Amitābha go before me,
and Pandaravārsini behind me.
Primarily, what Pandaravarsini is receiving, is love itself – by which I mean the Loving Kindness (mettā / maitri) personified by her male Buddha partner, Amitabha. She is therefore, at the very core of our capacity to be self-empathetically present with ourselves, or to love ourselves – a capacity without which we cannot meditate. She is also a personification of the ‘Spiritual Faculty’ of shradhā, or Faith – that response in us that knows and recognises a source of love beyond the egoic mind, in the objective and collective space of Consciousness, and is able to rely upon it and surrender to it. It is in her wise faith , and her discerning recognition of the love that is inherent in Consciousness, that she models for us the ability to find love ‘within’, rather than looking for validation from external others, and for emotional fulfilment in external experiences.
Most essentially then, Pandaravarsini is a personification of the feminine aspect of the Discriminating Wisdom. Attempting to identify her with a single ‘Dharmic principle’, I have chosen the two-word term ‘Uncaused Happiness’, but the words ‘contentment’, or ‘self-mettā’, would also serve as pointers to this principle. She bears confident witness to that mysterious unconditioned happiness, which the Buddha discovered to be inherent in the ’empty’ vijñāna skandha of Consciousness, and in the ’empty’ samjña skandha of ‘evaluative discrimination’, or Feeling – and indeed in all the skandhas when they are recognised to be empty. When our egoic personalisation of Feeling is released, the Discriminating Wisdom opens up, and at its core there is a dynamic between the limitless expansiveness of the primordial Loving Kindness, and the blissful receptive relationship to that, which I have characterised as Uncaused Happiness. I shall be talking more about this dynamic in a future article, when we come to examine Loving Kindness (and Amitābha) in the context of the Positive Emotion stage of meditation, and mandala of ‘expansive’ deities.
Equanimity – Receptivity to the Primordial Mental Stillness
In this article, we shall be crossing the mandala from west to east, and shall be meeting a male archetypal Buddha figure who, I believe, can be thought of as a spiritual complement of Pandaravārsini – because of his position opposite her in the Receptivity Mandala. I am talking about the bodhisattva Vajrasattva, who is a male personification of the Mirror-Like Wisdom, and who, like Pandaravārsini, is energetically yin, or receptive – at least in the way we experience the resonance of him in the somatic anatomy of the body.
The Dharmic principle that I associate with Vajrasattva is Equanimity, or upekshā. Equanimity is one of the four brahmavihāras, and is a key attitude, or quality, of the field of Consciousness, which we can integrate into our personality by making ourselves receptive to it. The Buddhist tradition is telling us, in effect, that if we want to de-clutter our minds; and wish to cultivate a quality of mental calm or stillness; we would do well to acknowledge that this primordial peace is always already present – inherent in Consciousness – and to surrender to that suprapersonal energy by resting as Consciousness in our Mindfulness and meditation practice.
This may seem curious – that a male deity would be energetically yin, or receptive. The reason for this reversal is completely understandable however. When we recognise that the Mirror-Like Wisdom describes the mental clarity of the Enlightened mind, and that Vajrasattva is a personification, in a male figure, of that aspect of the Mental Body that is primordially pure and clear in both men and women; and also remember that the Mental Body is generally energetically yin, or receptive, in men, and energetically yang, or expansive, in women; then it is clear that Vajrasattva would be the personification of the yin, or receptive aspect of the Mirror-Like Wisdom, and that his female Buddha partner Buddha-Locana, would represent the yang, or expansive, aspect – that difficult-to-define experience, or qualia, that in English we call Being.
Vajrasattva and Buddha-Locana – Equanimity and Being
When we look at the origins of the Five Wisdoms in early Buddhism, it is clear that the Mirror-Like Wisdom corresponds to the brahmavihāra of upekshā, or Equanimity. Vajrasattva and Buddha-Locana give us a way of grasping the nature of the Mirror-Like Wisdom, and identifying its masculine and feminine dimensions. In this article on Equanimity, I shall be focusing on Vajrasattva – the more yin, or somatically receptive, of these two figures. I shall however, be returning to talk in detail about the rich and complex figure of Buddha-Locana later in the series of articles – she represents the more yang, or somatically expansive, aspect of the Mirror-Like Wisdom – one which I have come to associate, not only with great mental clarity and creativity, but with the notion of Being, which I will exploring later in this article, and in a future article when we come to the mandala of the five ‘expansive’ deities.
We should be in no doubt that there is great value in reflecting deeply on both deities – Vajrasattva (Equanimity) and Buddha-Locana (Being) – if we wish to fully grasp what Buddhist tradition came to mean by the Mirror-Like Wisdom. Equanimity is however, perhaps the more foundational of the two Dharmic principles – and is absolutely essential in the initial Integration stage of meditation practice. Returning to regular meditation in later life, I initially focused on the cultivation of the four brahmavihāras – and have written extensively about the foundational importance of those four principles. One of the things that becomes very clear when we practice the cultivation of the brahmavihāras, is that meditation works best when we connect, from the outset, with the essence of that which we wish to cultivate. This was the great innovation within the Buddhist tradition’s approach to meditation, that eventually gave rise to the beautiful ‘visualisation practices’ of Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
So, if you want Equanimity, you need to find Equanimity in your experience of Consciousness right now – and make yourself profoundly receptive to it in your meditation practice. You need, in effect, to find that in you that which is already deeply familiar with, and rooted in, Equanimity, and take that as your starting point. Mahayana Buddhism formally recognised that each of the brahmavihāras has an archetypal, or suprapersonal, source in this way – the so-called mahabrahmavihāras, or the ‘great’ brahmavihāras. This same attitude is being evoked, I would like to suggest, in the second of the five verses in Padmasambhava’s ‘Inspiration-Prayer’, which I have copied below. Vajrasattva is the personification of of the archetypal source of Equanimity within all of us. You, as embodied Consciousness, already have a bodily-felt familiarity with Equanimity and you are being invited to recover that connection and cultivate it.
When through hatred, I wander in samsara,
on the luminous light-path of the Mirror-like Wisdom,
may Blessed Vajrasattva go before me,
and Buddha-Locana behind me.
‘Hatred’, in the verse above, refers to the klesha of dvesha – the somatic residue that the egoic mind inevitably accumulates through its conceptualising, judging and Thinking function, which in Buddhist tradition, is spoken of in terms of the rūpa skanda. In the initial Integration stage of meditation, it is of enormous importance that we come to understand how dis-integrating the egoic Thinking mind (rūpa skandha) is – how it ultimately causes us to accumulate the obscuring klesha of dvesha, or hatred; and how powerfully integrating, on the other hand, is the Dharmic principle of Equanimity. The exploration of this polarity is one of my primary goals in this article.
Locating Equanimity in the Body
Above, in a brief recapitulation of my previous article in this series, I mentioned that Uncaused Happiness, the Dharmic principle that I associate with Pandaravārsini, can be found in our experience by attending in meditation to the middle of the back – the back of the solar plexus area. This is the point in the body where we can most easily connect with the sense of Pandaravasini “behind me” on the “luminous light path of the Discriminating Wisdom” as we are advised in Padmasambhava’s ‘Inspiration Prayer’. This is where we feel her emotional receptivity, and her faith in the Loving Kindness that is inherent in Consciousness. Through her Uncaused Happiness, we can then connect much more deeply with Loving Kindness and with the figure of Amitābha. The logic behind my suggestion to attend initially to the back of the solar plexus during the ‘receptive’ Integration stage of meditatation practice, comes partly from the ‘Inspiration Prayer’ (and from the main Bardo Thodol verses); partly from the association of solar plexus with Amitābha and Pandaravārsini in Tibetan Buddhist tradition; and partly from the commonplace observation that solar plexus is generally ‘yin’ or receptive in women.
When we similarly combine these three pointers once again, this time in regard to Vajrasattva, we can take them, I believe, as advice to open to his quality of Equanimity “before us” on the “luminous light path of the Mirror-Like Wisdom” – to attend to the Dharmic principle of Equanimity, in the front of the hara chakra. I shall be talking about this in more detail, because this area of the front of the hara is where we naturally focus our attention when we are familiarising ourselves with the attitude of receptivity to the divine purity and mental stillness that exists beyond the egoic mind – the relationship to Consciousness that Vajrasattva represents and embodies.
Akshobhya and Vajrasattva
In the course of the development of the mandala wisdom within Tibetan Buddhism, it appears that the white Bodhisattva figure of Vajrasattva came to replace the dark blue Buddha figure of Akshobya, that was more common in the Indian Mahayana, as the main male Buddha figure in the eastern quadrant of the Dharmadhātu Mandala – as in the image below. The fact that later Tibetan mandalas came to depict the eastern quadrant as white rather than dark blue is a reflection of this change in which the pure white figure of Vajrasattva increasingly came to replace the dark blue figure of Akshobhya. Personally, I am happy to think of Vajrasattva as a sort of inner essence of Akshobhya, but much prefer mandalas in which the eastern quadrant has a strong dark blue colour (as in the image below), so that the colour white is reserved for Vairocana and White Tara / Ākāshadhātvishvari, and for the centre of the mandala.
While the variations between the different historical and cultural forms of the deities within the Buddhist mandala wisdom can be confusing, if our main interest is in the archetypal or Dharmic principles ‘behind’ these expressions, we can simply embrace these variations as providing additional pointers to the archetype that we are seeking to recognise in our experience. In this case, we have Akshobhya, the familiar dark blue Buddha with the ‘Earth Touching’ mudra, and whose name means ‘Imperturbable’, or ‘Unshakable’. He highlights one aspect of the experience of the archetype, and one aspect of the Mirror-Like Wisdom, while the pure white figure of the Bodhisattva Vajrasattva highlights another. Indeed we can think of them as a single archetype, which is frequently called Vajrasattva-Akshobya.
Equanimity and the Mirror-Like Wisdom
I need to emphasise once again that my association of the Dharmic principle of ‘Equanimity’ with Vajrasattva is my own attempt to give a convenient label to, or to sum up in a single word, the masculine aspect of the Mirror-Like Wisdom that Vajrasattva represents. I make this association, conscious that any conceptualisation in the context of the non-dual wisdom that we are exploring here, is a reduction of an experience that defies description, to a word – which inherently holds to danger of leading to a narrow conceptualisation. I therefore invite my readers to bear with me, and hope that this article (and the related ones) will help you to unfold the direct bodily-felt experience and wisdom that is contained within that word. My aim here is only to provide a word which can serve as a placeholder – and perhaps as a doorway. You will need to explore the domain beyond the doorway for yourself – in your own somatic experience.
If we are seeking to know the Mirror-Like Wisdom experientially, we need to remember that the mirror emerged within the Buddhist tradition as a primary metaphor for the ultimate nature of the Thinking mind – and indeed as a metaphor for Consciousness itself – because a mirror is unaffected by the images that are reflected in it. In the relative world, everything is affected by everything else, but the mind as Consciousness is not – nothing that happens in the relative world ever affects the primordial mirror of this absolute level of mind. The mind as Consciousness, the mind of the Dharmic level of conditionality (the dharma niyama), is like a diamond – it is indestructable, unstainable, imperturbable and absolutely pure, and entirely unaffected by our thoughts. It is by allowing ourselves to recognise and be affected by this primordial stillness and purity that pervades the universe, that we connect with the essence of Vajrasattva, and begin to cultivate the Equanimity that he personifies.
The Five Niyamas and the Importance of Receptivity
According to Buddhist tradition, there are five levels, or orders, of conditionality in the way the universe is structured, called the five niyamas. These are essentially: (1) a physical level; (2) a biological level; (3) a level related to the organic functioning of the mind (the brain, the nervous system, and the endocrine system); (4) a karmic level related to the energetic momentum of our actions and intentions; and (5) a transcendent, or dharmic, level. Of these, the first four levels – the relative levels – clearly affect each other profoundly and mutually. The fifth level however, is the absolute level, the level of mind as non-personal Consciousness. This level is unaffected by the lower levels – it is diamond-like, or Mirror-Like, in relationship to the lower levels of the mind.
Most importantly, while this transcendent level cannot be affected by any of the levels below it, it can nevertheless profoundly effect those lower levels. In other words the dharma niyama can profoundly effect us – especially if we make ourselves receptive to it. This is a further way of understanding the great importance of receptivity in spiritual development. Within the karma niyama level of conditioning, we can strive to evolve spiritually, or to act ethically – diligently considering the effects of our actions of body, speech or mind on ourselves and others – but if we are not actually familiarising ourselves with the dharma niyama level of reality through meditation and self-enquiry, and beginning to integrate the key Dharmic principles through the power of receptivity, we can still lose our way.
Perhaps somewhat confusingly, we sometimes call the transcendent dharma niyama level, ‘The Unconditioned’, because it is unconditioned by anything in ‘Conditioned Existence’ – Conditioned Existence’ being everything in the four lower levels of conditionality. We need to take care not to fall into the assumption that the ‘Unconditioned’ is therefore completely separate and disconnected from the conditioned world of the first four niyamas – which Buddhist tradition calls samsara (wandering). On the contrary, the two orders of existence completely interpenetrate each other. It is just that the lower order cannot affect the higher order, even though it is profoundly affected by it – and indeed is entirely dependent on it.
Consciousness as an Animating and Ordering Principle
The idea that the existence and functioning of the lower levels of conditionality is dependent on a transcendent order, is an idea that Buddhist tradition shares with other religious philosophies in humanity’s history. It is only the very recent Western philosophy of scientific materialism that denies the existence of a higher power in the universe, which brings order and meaning to the world. It would be a great mistake for Western students of Buddhism, in their enthusiasm for the great rationality that can be found in that tradition, to subscribe to a view that gives no power to the dharma niyama level of conditionality – no relevance to it, in terms of the way we practice meditation. To avoid this error, we must swim against the current of scientific materialism and boldly assert the existence of the Dharmic level of existence – taking courage perhaps, from the discoveries of Quantum Physics and Quantum Biology, which the broader scientific and medical community is still struggling to make sense of. These new understandings within Science, powerfully support the Buddha’s perspective.
The Five Niyama model of conditionality, gives us a way of understanding how Consciousness functions as an animating and ordering principle in the universe. I, like Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose and many others who are familiar with Quantum Science, take the view that Consciousness is necessary for even the most primitive forms of biological life, and absolutely necessary for evolution at every level and stage from the single-celled organism to Homo Sapiens. I strongly recommend that people study the Penrose – Hameroff hypothesis regarding the Quantum Biology of the brain, and the mechanism of the mind-brain interface. Their hypothesis has yet to be disproved, and is steadily accumulating experimental evidence. It is worth studying – it had a profound affect on me spiritually, and I feel sure that it could help others, but unfortunately it is not well known.
The Mandala as Padmasambhava’s Vision of the Dharma Niyama
Even readers who do not wish to venture into that area of research and theory-building, will appreciate that everything in the karma niyama level of causality – the social and cultural level, and the level of ethical action – would be a meaningless chaotic mess if it were not for the existence of a dharma niyama level. History is replete with dreadful examples of how even our attempts at creative, moral, and compassionate action on the karma niyama level, often still end up creating unnecessary pain and suffering – at worst finding expression in religious wars and genocide. While our mystics, saints, spiritual teachers, and founders of religions, have had glimpses of the dharma niyama order of things, the meditation practices that build a receptive connection to that transcendent order, and the self-enquiry practices that provide spiritual practitioners with an internal source of guidance, are rarely sustained by the religious institutions that follow them.
Truly creative and ethical actions spring from a deep receptivity to, and real knowledge of, the dharma niyama level of conditionality – such as we see in the life and teachings of Padmasambhava. The ever-present reality of Consciousness is our evidence that the dharma niyama level of conditionality is always with us, but if we wish to allow the suprapersonal energies of Consciousness to predominate, and wish those suprapersonal energies to sweep away the residues of our egoic conditioning, which are such obstacles to liberation, we need the meditative receptivity of samadhi – we need, in my view, to rest as Consciousness and familiarise ourselves with its qualities – using Padmasambhava’s mandala as our guide.
Mindfulness of Dharmas
The profound healing of our volitional energies (samskaras skandha) that leads to nirvana – the extinguishing of egoic identification, and of our belief in an egoic will – needs to come from the dharma niyama level, from deep receptive familiarity with the suprapersonal powers that I have been calling ‘Dharmic principles’, and which are personified in the Buddhist tradition by the ten mandala deities. In terms of the four areas of Mindfulness practice that the Buddha gave us in his ‘Four Foundations of Mindfulness’ teaching, this is Mindfulness of Dharmas – the fourth ‘Foundation’. Mindfulness of Dharmas in this instance, is often translated as Mindfulness of ‘Phenomena’ – an inadequate translation, in my view.
I feel a need to give a little time to exploring this notion of Mindfulness of Dharmas, because it is so relevant to what I am engaged with in writing these articles – articles in which I am setting out to provide some insight into the ten deities of the mandala by identifying the Dharmas, or energetic principles, that they embody. For me, a Dharma, in this context, is a Dharmic principle, and is better understood as an energetic phenomenon, a suprapersonal force, a phenomenon of the dharma niyama level of conditionality. It is not surprising that a confusion has crept in, in regard to Mindfulness of Dharmas – a very subtle and illusive concept is being named here. While a Dharma might at first appear to be merely a concept, it is, in its essence, beyond form, or beyond conceptualisation, and beyond description – and much better considered as a suprapersonal energy or archetypal principle. In Western philosophy there is the related notion of a noumenon – a mystery whose existence cannot be concretely known, but only inferred by its effects.
It is important to recognise that a Dharma is never just an intellectual labelling, or a description, of a phenomena. The Dharmic principles are more akin to Platonic forms – they have an objective existence on the transcendent, or Dharmic, level of reality that interpenetrates and informs our own. By entertaining the possibility that a Dharma can be related to energetically through spiritual receptivity, we open up profound possibilities for the transformation of our own energetic nature. We are given a way of seeing the Spiritual Faculty of Energy (virya) very differently, stepping out of the heroic mindset of the egoic will, and into the worldview of the Bodhisattva – an altogether different sort of hero.
We are talking here of becoming mindful of suprapersonal energetic phenomena – phenomena that are not known directly, but nevertheless can be recognised via the perceptual function of Intuition (and indirectly therefore, by the outer senses) to be profoundly affecting us. Not all energetic phenomena are of the Dharma niyama – not at all. Buddhist tradition is keenly aware of the energetic obscurations (kleshas) that together give us our illusory sense of being a separate self with a personal will – all of these egoic kleshas have an energetic component that can be recognised in terms of the samskaras skandha. The interpenetration of the karma niyama level by the Dharma niyama is so complete however, that every samskara contains the essence of its own liberation – a Dharma. This recognition that there is a Dharmic essence in each of the ’empty’ samskaras is an aspect of the All-Accomplishing Wisdom, and a key idea in Vajrayana Buddhism.
Although we inevitably tend to fall into identification with the karma niyama and Dharma niyama energies, both of these categories are not in fact in any way personal. The volitional energies of the egoic mind are actually no more personal than the suprapersonal energies of the Dharma niyama – they just appear to be personal because we identify with them so easily. Similarly, or perhaps I should say conversely, the suprapersonal forces – the Dharmic principles associated with the mandala deities – although they are not personal at all, can still be identified with in an egoic way. We can find ourselves identifying with them, believing them to be personal, even though they are actually suprapersonal or transcendental. There is a significant danger in this that needs to be understood and addressed.
The Ever-Present Danger of Inflation and Shadow
Carl Jung had a lot to say about the dangers of relating to archetypal forces in the wrong way – and he spoke of this danger using the concept of inflation – a term which describes what happens when we identify with an archetypal figure or principle in a way that appropriates its energies to the egoic self, and therefore personalises them. Inflation is an extremely valuable conceptualisation – being a metaphor for the way the egoic self so easily becomes puffed up and grandiose, and loses perspective, as it comes into contact with the archetypal forces of wisdom and compassion.
The lack of ethics shown by people in states of spiritual inflation is a very common phenomenon – but can be very difficult to understand and very difficult to address. Such people become completely incongruous – one moment they seem be altruistic and highly conscious individuals, and the next minute they appear to be being manipulative, using people, and both unwilling and unable to recognise the harm they are doing. And the problem is of course greatly compounded, and takes a tragic turn for the worse, when the person, not having a conceptual framework for understanding themselves, or a cultural context that might encourage them to reflect and confront their own psychological shadow, provides dubious rationalisations for their behaviour. Even the most conscious people can fail to recognise their own unconsciousness. Indeed the identity of ‘being a spiritually developed and conscious person’ can itself create a psychological obstacle to this recognition of Shadow.
Every Dharmic principle is inevitably distorted by the egoic mind. Our direct engagement with archetypal forces is, quite literally, ‘dangerous’, as the full title of the ‘Inspiration Prayer’ is perhaps suggesting. We need a mandala map that shows the whole territory – not just parts of it – one which shows all the pit-falls that are the Realms of Conditioned Existence and the kleshas, and alerts us to the ever-present karmic danger of falling back into a personalised and personalising view. More than this, we need the fundamentally more humble understanding of the nature of mind that the Buddha taught – an understanding that everything in our mental experience is non-personal. As we develop spiritually we cannot rightfully claim that development for our egoic selves – our integration of Dharmic principles into our apparent personhood, is always, at least in part, just a receiving of the blessings that flow from the divine, or Dharmic, order of the universe.
Carl Jung’s Mindfulness Model
Inspired by his study of Buddhism – especially the mandala wisdom of Padmasambhava – Carl Jung created an eight-fold Mindfulness model, which is very illuminating if we study it concurrently with Buddhist teachings. Comparing Jung’s Mindfulness model with that of Buddhism, we see that Mindfulness of Dharmas, like all of the four ‘Foundations’, is divided into two (as they are in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta) – an ‘internal’ and an ‘external’ mode of Mindfulness. Jung spoke of these ‘internal’ and ‘external’ aspects of each of the four Foundations of Mindfulness in terms of Introversion and Extraversion.
Where the Buddhist tradition spoke of ‘internal’ and ‘external’ aspects of Mindfulness of Dharmas, Carl Jung spoke of Introverted and Extraverted Intuition. Extraverted Intuition is that divergent, expansive, and explorative aspect of Mindfulness that gathers the perceptions of patterns, processes, and dynamics that we observe in our experience of ourselves, and in our experience of the social, cultural economic life in the world around us. Introverted Intuition, on the other hand, is that convergent, receptive, and integrative aspect of Mindfulness by which we internally organise the chaos of our perception of the patterns, processes, and dynamics of our experience, into meaningful values and concepts.
The connection between the samskāras skandha and the perceptual function of Intuition is best understood by thinking of the samskaras as the category of cognitive-perceptual data that is taken in by the outward-focused ‘gathering’ function of Extraverted Intuition, and organised meaningfully by the inward-focused function of Introverted Intuition. These perceptual functions do, of course, in general function without any recognition that both the data and Consciousness itself are empty, or impersonal. The Buddhist notion of Mindfulness of Dharmas, can be thought of as a description of what happens when the Intuition functions are being used in a Dharmic context and with a Dharmic orientation, as in this instance, where we are examining the Dharmic principles that are personified by the mandala deities.
It is important to make a distinction between this Intuitive mode of perception that engages with the samskaras (the volitional component – purposes, dynamics, energies, etc.) and Dharmic principles, and the conceptualising (rūpa skandha) and evaluating (samjñā skandha) functions that usually work in tandem with then. I shall be returning with a more detailed explanation of these connections between the ’empty’ samskāras and the Dharmas, when we come to Amoghasiddhi and Green Tara and the All-Accomplishing Wisdom. When we begin to grasp the nature of the All-Accomplishing Wisdom, we appreciate that the distinguishing feature of Dharmas (in the context of the ‘Foundation’ of ‘Mindfulness of Dharmas‘) is that they carry psychological energy, and our Mindfulness of them is not just a mental awareness of them, but a perception of them in which we are energetically effected.
The Mental Body is ‘Yin’, or Receptive, in Men
Both Akshobhya and Vajrasattva embody the Mirror-Like Wisdom, but express different aspects of it – and both are associated with the rūpa skanda (conceptual form); with the klesha of dvesha (hatred); with the Hell Realms; and with the Mental Body and the Hara Chakra. In the light of the discussion in my last article, about the alternating polarities of the subtle bodies and chakras, it is not surprising however, that the lighter, more androgynous figure of Vajrasattva came to the fore as the personification of the meditative experience of the primordial purity of the mind as Consciousness, because the Mental Body is ‘yin’, or receptive, in men.
Men, who are familiar with the light, empty, receptive, ‘pulled in’ feeling of the hara centre, which often naturally arises in connection with a still, quiet mind, will appreciate that Vajrasattva is a much better representation of the equanimous state of ‘resting the Mental Body as Consciousness’ in a male figure – even though the dark blue solidity of Akshobhya also resonates strongly. I have therefore identified Vajrasattva (rather than Akshobya) as one of the two male Buddha figures in the mandala of ‘receptive’ deities, which can be characterised as providing support in the Integration stage of meditation. Although he is a masculine figure, the Mirror-like Wisdom energy that he embodies and personifies is best characterised as yin and receptive.
Women, on the other hand, experience the Mental Body as being characterised by an expansiveness and a fullness, and often describe the hara energy as a ‘womb energy’ – associated with creativity, feminine authority, and Being. When a woman is resting as Consciousness, she is more likely to experience the Mirror-Like and imperturbable quality of Consciousness as a fullness of Being – a somatic resonance that is associated with the archetype of the female Buddha, Buddhalocana.
Men who are conscious of the Mental Body and the hara – as many men are through martial arts training – usually experience this dimension of the somatic as a ‘pulling in’, or ‘drawing in’ – an energy of ‘receiving’. There is a sense of emptying, releasing, or draining away, the egoic contents of the Mental Body, and of becoming focused and still through an attitude of receptivity that ‘taps into’ a source of power beyond the self. So, when the ‘Inspiration-Prayer’ invites us (all of us – women and men), to recognise Vajrasattva going ‘before us’ on the luminous light-path of the Mirror-Like Wisdom, we can take this as a direct pointing to the importance of opening to the stillness and purity of Consciousness via a sense of receptivity in the front of the hara chakra.
The balance of yin and yang – the yin, receptive energy of the Mental Body in the vigorous and youthful figure of a male Bodhisattva, is beautifully represented in the iconography of Vajrasattva, who is depicted carrying both masculine and feminine symbolic objects. He is almost always seen with a vajra (a masculine and phallic symbol) in his right hand, and a ghanta, or ‘vajra bell’ (a feminine symbol) in his left hand. Like the vajra, the ritual ghanta has powerful symbolic associations with the notion of Emptiness. The hollow of the bell represents the hollow, empty, or non-personal, nature of all phenomena, and also the empty primordial space of Consciousness within which all phenomena arise. The sound of the bell, like all phenomena, arises, radiates forth, and then dissolves – symbolically returning to emptiness. I have provided some detailed reflection on the symbolism of the vajra, in one of my articles on the rūpa skandha – which can be found here.
Mirror-Like Wisdom – Clear Creative Thinking and Purifying the Mind
It is very much the experience of meditators, especially as they become familiar with the ’empty’ non-personal nature of Consciousness, that the pure and imperturbable reality that underlies the Thinking mind, is a suprapersonal force that can be ‘received’ into our being. This receiving is experienced as a cleansing; a purification; a washing away of the obscuring mental kleshas of hatred, judgement, worry, anxiety, and grievances.
Vajrasattva and Akshobya are associated with the downward-moving, cleansing, Water element, and the Mirror-Like Wisdom can be thought of as a downward-moving mental clarity that we see symbolised in the clockwise downward movement of the eastern side of the mandala. Recognising the ultimately compassionate and ’empty’ nature of volitional energies of the human needs (samskaras skandha); we engage with them through Thinking (rūpa skandha) that is creative, solution-focused and objective; in order to create practical and beneficial solutions – fulfilment of human needs in the concrete sensory world (vedana skandha).
This creative flow downward from the realm of the energetic and abstract (samskaras skandha) into the realm of the concrete (vedana skandha), is reflected in the traditional visualisation practice of Vajrasattva, in the course of which, the meditator, while visualising himself (or herself) as Vajrasattva, visualises the five Buddhas of the Dharmadhātu mandala pouring their Wisdoms down upon him so that they flow together in a single white waterfall-like stream.
When the ‘Inspiration-Prayer’ invites us to sense the presence of Vajrasattva going ‘before us’ as we face life’s challenges, we are being invited, I believe, to recognise Vajrasattva in our own experience – as that receptive connection to the primordial stillness and purity of Consciousness that is always present in the Mental Body, however obscured our minds might be by the klesha of dvesha, or ‘hatred’. In essence, Vajrasattva is our doorway into Equanimity – the non-reactivity and mental calm that we have always longed for.
The Rūpa Skandha, the Klesha of Hatred (Dvesha), and the Hell Realms
The basket of ‘afflictive states’, or ‘obscurations’, or ‘defilements’, that are indicated by the traditional klesha of dvesha, includes not only hatred, but also anger, hostility, aggression, ill-will, judgement, mental reactivity and the impulse to punish or condemn. All of these spring from our unconscious and unskillful use the conceptualising function of the mind, which the Buddhist tradition speaks of in terms of the rūpa skandha. Because of the importance of rūpa, and because of the prevalence of misunderstandings in relation to this skandha, I have written a series of articles on the rūpa skandha (which are listed here). Those interested in gaining a really comprehensive understanding of this aspect of the mandala wisdom will find it useful to read those articles in conjunction with this one.
One of the misunderstandings that I find most frustrating in relation to the rūpa skandha, is fact that it is so often narrowly identified with ‘the Body’. While it is an understandable error to jump from the idea of rūpa as ‘form’, to rūpa as ‘body’, it is a tragic oversimplification. It is enormously important to the usefulness of the profound and essential ‘Five Skandhas‘ self-enquiry framework, that we recognise rūpa as an archetypal principle – as a cognitive-perceptual function, and as a component of the cognitive-perceptual process by which we assemble our reality. While it is accurate to translate rūpa as ‘form’, we need to understand that this category that we are calling ‘form’ includes all forms whatsoever – all forms that either appear objectively, or are created by the conceptualising function of the mind. The word that we use in English to describe the function of the mind that creates, organises, and makes judgements using, conceptual forms is Thinking. We entirely fail to understand the rūpa skandha, and we lead our fellow students of Buddhism astray, if we do not strive to re-establish the association of rūpa with Thinking in Buddhist discourse.
One of the keys to understanding the nature of the rūpa skandha, is to ‘work backwards’, historically speaking, from later Buddhist understandings – rather than by simply trusting that the Pali cannon will provide a better explanation because it is ‘closer to the source’ – the ‘source’ being Gautama Buddha. The Indian Mahayana understanding that we find in the teachings of Padmasambhava – also a fully enlightened Buddha – is that the mental clarity of the Mirror-Like Wisdom arises when the non-personal nature of the rūpa skandha is recognised – this is a hugely significant understanding, which clearly links the rūpa skandha with the Thinking, or ‘conceptual form’ creating function of the mind, but is largely ignored by Buddhist scholarship.
The other way in which we can ‘work backwards’, is by acknowledging the hugely important triple connection between the rūpa skandha; the klesha of dvesha, or hatred; and the archetypal Hell Realms, which are described in Buddhist tradition. The fact that Padmasambhava, in the Bardo Thodol, makes these connections, and tells us that it is our identification with the rūpa skandha that causes us to generate the kleshas of dvesha, and to be re-born in the Hell Realms, is of enormous importance. The Hell Realms should not be forgotten, or dismissed merely as an artefact of Buddhist cultural history, or as an equivalent in Buddhist cosmology of the crudely moralistic order of the Christian world-view. The Hell Realms need to seen as an archetypal psychological reality – and archetypal psychological reality that most of us are familiar with every day of our lives, because it is inherent in the egoic mind.
When we recognise that the Hell Realms are populated by beings who are either engaged in, or are the victims of, the mental activities of hatred, judgement, condemnation, punishment, justification, and of mental creativity turned towards torture and extreme violence, then we start to see the archetypal connection between the rūpa skandha and Thinking. I have written previously about the archetypal psychology of the Hell Realms – about the way the Thinking, or conceptualising, function of the egoic mind has a particular capacity to create suffering for ourselves and others – in several articles (here, here, here, here, and here). It is very important that we recognise that the two classes of beings depicted in the Hell Realms – the victims and the persecutors – are usually both psychological parts of ourselves.
Conceptualisation (Thinking) versus Evaluative Discrimination (Feeling)
As students of the mandala wisdom, we are called to acknowledge the opposites within the psyche, which are represented graphically as the axes of the mandala. Although Padmasambhava very clearly places the conceptualising (Thinking) rūpa skandha in the east opposite the evaluating (Feeling) samjñā skandha, these energetic oppositions are seldom examined in detail in Buddhist discourse. Having studied Carl Jung’s perspective concurrently with the Buddhist one, and having looked carefully at my experience over many decades, I find, like Jung, that rūpa cannot be considered in isolation from samjñā and vice versa.
In the egoic mind these functions are complementary opposites of each other. It is only in the Enlightened mind – described comprehensively by the Five Wisdoms – that we see how the cognitive-perceptual functions can only begin to function in a completely integrated and unified way when our attachment to the egoic self-illusion is released. To fully understand the skandhas then, we need to appreciate that within the egoic mind, every cognitive-perceptual component functions as a defence against its opposite on the other side of the mandala.
We can see an example of this, among those analytically-minded individuals whose main orientation in life is though what Jung called Introverted Thinking. They have a strong and usually unconscious preference towards a mode of thinking in which they continuously refine their own ‘internal’ system of conceptual understanding (rūpa), in order to feel (samjñā) emotionally independent and self-sufficient through that knowledge. There is therefore, in this type of person, an innate suspicion of emotional connection that might compromise their intellectual autonomy – but while their conscious position is to deny the need for external validation, that need nevertheless operates in them unconsciously, and finds expression in unconscious anxieties about the evaluations of others, and a resultant lack of true individuality.
So, paradoxically the Introverted Thinking function in such a person, is not free to think independently because the emotional, or Feeling, side of the psyche is not actually free – only repressed. I touched on this in my previous article and at the beginning of this article, in relation to Amitābha and Loving Kindness; and Pandaravārsini and Uncaused Happiness. Unless a person with a predominantly Introverted Thinking temperament can gain the sense of unconditional emotional nourishment and warm receptive inner relationship to Consciousness that I have been associating with Pandaravarsini, their identity will be fragile and the development of the imperturbable clarity of the Mirror-Like Wisdom will not be possible. However much they apply themselves to rational reflection on the nature of objective truth, and on what ‘makes rational sense’ for themselves personally, real fulfilment will elude them, since true joy and happiness (and our ability to function well in social relationships in every day life) require the integration of the principle of Uncaused Happiness – through a recognition of the objective nature of Consciousness, and through the Feeling connection to that reality, which came to be represented in Buddhist tradition by Pandaravārsini.
For completeness we should look also at that ‘external’ dimension of the conceptualising (rūpa) function of the mind, which Carl Jung called Extraverted Thinking. The person in whom this cognitive-perceptual function predominates, derives their identity and confidence from a very external form of Thinking that is very focused and adaptive in relation to the objective world, including the social world – strategically directed towards navigating the social rules and standards of their sub-culture, or of the wider society. Importantly, this sense of the consistent, predictable and logical, serves as a defence against the internal, emotional, and values-based dimensions of life, which tend to be regarded as nonsensical, unpredictable, and chaotic.
Once again however, even though the Extroverted Thinker is identified with the attitudes of rational conceptualisation and objectivity that are associated with rūpa skandha, the development of psychological integration and wholeness, and the deeper rationality that the Buddhist tradition came to call the Mirror-Like Wisdom, will elude such a person until they confront their fears. They will only find mental stability and Equanimity if they a willing to open, not only to the healing of their mental habits of fierce criticism and harsh judgement, but to a confrontation with the seemingly irrational subjective world of evaluative discrimination (samjñā skandha) – and to discernment through Feeling, and a willingness to embrace the life of the emotions.
Psychological Integration and Somatic Integration
The idea of Integration is foundational to our understanding of meditation – and when we combine the Buddhist mandala wisdom with Carl Jung’s understandings about cognition and perception, we have a way of understanding this concept in much more detail. We also have a way of understanding how the psychological integration by which we develop our self-awareness, skills, and social capabilities, in the course of our lives, are reflected in the somatic integration processes that we either spontaneously experience in meditation, or foster through systematic forms of meditation practice.
An awareness of how our somatic integration can support our external psychological development, is enormously relevant if we are meditating to support desired personality changes. The relationship of the psychological and the somatic is also deeply relevant if it is spiritual liberation that we seek – and well understood in Buddhist tradition as the relationship of Ethics to Meditation and Wisdom. Our personality and psychological behaviour is always energetically patterned into us as the somatic reality that we experience in meditation. With this understanding, each stage or level of meditation practice can be thought of as a further stage of both somatic and psychological integration, and if we understand the inherent obstacles to integration that exist within the mandala of the psyche, we are better able to directly engage with the meditative process of transforming the somatic patterning that finds expression in personality dynamics.
I have included these reflections on the way the Thinking mind (rūpa skandha) serves as an ultimately unsuccessful defence against Feeling (samjñā skandha), to highlight the fact that the Mental Body and the Emotional Body are best addressed together in the somatic integration process. This goes hand-in-hand with the understanding that the integration of the principle of Equanimity (Vajrasattva) requires the simultaneous integration of the principle that I have been calling Uncaused Happiness (Pandaravārsini). And with that understanding we can then consider how the polarity of Equanimity and Uncaused Happiness is reflected somatically in the field of the body as we experience it in meditation.
Equanimity and Uncaused Happiness
I would like to share once more, the stupa schematic that I used in my last article, and which I have been using in all my articles, to illustrate the hierarchical structure of the somatic anatomy, with its nested ‘subtle bodies’ and its chakra points or areas, where the energetic state of each subtle body is most keenly felt. While most readers will be familiar with the seven chakra / seven body model of Indian tradition, this simple five-fold schematic reflects, five elements of the mandala, and my preferred focus on the four ‘surface bodies’ in which the our illusory energetic sense of being a separate self is primarily located.
There is great value for the meditator in being able to locate Dharmic principles in the somatic field of the body, while simultaneously locating those principles within the imaginal and conceptual space of the mandala. The mandala presents the relationships between the Dharmic principles as incongruous polarities to be integrated, and as tensions to be held. If we can approach the somatic experience of meditation armed with some of the understandings of psychological dynamics that the mandala can give us, we have a way of staying oriented in the inner space – even as that space begins to dissolve into Emptiness.
Mindfulness of Breathing
There is much that needs to be said about this understanding of the relationship of the psychological to the somatic, as this has direct relevance to our understanding of how Mindfulness of Breathing practices support our integration. The questions that we need to be asking are not only ‘How and why does Mindfulness of Breathing bring about temporary states of one-pointed concentration?’, but also ‘How and why does Mindfulness of Breathing bring about insight into the nature of mind, and permanent personality transformation that is characterised by real psychological and somatic integration?’.
This second question is answered for us when we start to recognise that the value of the breath as an object (rūpa skandha) of Mindfulness is not only in its utility as a subtle object of concentration that is always with us. The breath needs to be appreciated as a phenomena that serves as a doorway into the somatic. While it is in reality only a phenomena of the physical body (rūpa skandha), it has the power to take our awareness into the realm of the somatic sensations (vedana skandha) – and the difficult-to-conceptualise phenomena of embodied Consciousness. It does this in a very particular way – the polarity of in-breath an out-breath supports our awareness of the somatic polarities within our experience of embodied Consciousness.
The principles of Uncaused Happiness and of Equanimity, for example, that I have outlined in this and the previous article, constitute a somatic polarity of complementary Dharmic principles – an apparent dichotomy that needs to be integrated if we are to find that perfect combination of mental clarity and love that the Buddha spoke of. We may wish to support this integration by using the rhythm of the breath to alternately dwell on the Uncaused Happiness principle and the Equanimity principle in order to gain a bodily felt sense of how these two principles are necessary complements of each other. While Uncaused Happiness is embodied in the Emotional Body (and felt most keenly in the back of the Solar Plexus chakra), Equanimity is embodied in the Mental Body (and felt most keenly in the front of the hara chakra). This sort of rhythmic scanning (up with in-breath and down with the out-breath) between the Solar Plexus level and hara level of the torso, is an example of what I call a Short Breath stage of the Mindfulness of Breathing practice. I shall be returning to this, and talking more about this Short Breath / Long Breath approach to Mindfulness of Breathing in future articles.
In following the breath, we scan the sensations (vedana skandha) in the internal space of the body – its somatic fields – and register the incongruous mixture of kleshas and Dharmic principles (Dharmas) that we find there. This somatic mixture is a reflection of the Buddha’s ‘Four Noble Truths’ – our unsatisfactoriness and our conditioning, are present simultaneously with a glimpse of Enlightenment, and with the recognition that our freedom is inherent in Consciousness. The Buddha was advising us to notice this fundamental dichotomy in our experience, and to hold the tension – never denying either pole in that incongruity, but giving particular attention to the resonance of the Dharmic principles (Dharmas). This is perhaps, the essence of the Buddha’s practice of Mindfulness, and of his path to Enlightenment.