The Five Wisdoms of the Mandala

Known as a Mandala, or Medicine Wheel, this framework has provided a guide for personal growth and effectiveness that has withstood the test of time for thousands of years.
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In my last two posts, I wrote about our hungry spirit and how this clinging energy of ours both serves us well and causes us endless suffering. Here I share a Buddhist paradigm that breaks down this hungry spirit into five aspects of knowing and relating to the world. In learning to work with these aspects consciously, we become more effective, happy and successful.

Although ancient, this framework first appeared in modern thought from the study of indigenous cultures from across the world -- Native American, African, Celtic, and Tibetan, among others. Anthropologists and psychologists found these cultures share unmistakable similarities in their views of what it takes to be an effective human being. Their views typically consisted of four or five archetypal intelligences that were portrayed in a diagram of the cardinal directions of the compass. More commonly known as a Mandala, or Medicine Wheel, this framework has provided a guide for personal growth and effectiveness that has withstood the test of time for thousands of years.

The version I share here is an adaptation of the Tibetan Buddhist Mandala (the Leadership Wheel in my professional work). The Mandala shows how our hungry spirit is an energy of 'becoming' that naturally forms and moves toward knowledge, consciousness, and action. It is a five-step cycle in the development of our ego, and provides a vision for the totality of our being.

This cycle not only represents the five aspects of our hungry spirit, but also the five ways of knowing, five ways of clinging, and five parts of our human nature. They contain both the root to our suffering as well as the seed to our wisdom. I call them intelligences. Each is an expression of our being, and a certain mode of how we become, know, and relate to our world. They are interdependent and interactive, and work together in an integrated cycle that culminates in understanding and action. As a whole, they symbolize balance and perfection.

According to many of the ancient traditions, however, we enter this world through one of them and naturally prefer that style. So from the beginning, we are partial, imperfect and incomplete. Yet the purpose of life is to venture beyond our natural preference, and to learn and grow to completeness by accessing the others. In drawing on the unique and complementary wisdoms found in the others, we become a fully effective human being.

Each of these intelligences has both a wisdom and shadow aspect. Wisdom arises from letting go of self and opening to other (through awareness and compassion - see my last post), while the shadow comes from holding on to the ego and serving self-interest. The wisdom distorts into shadow by "hanging-on" to a particular view through strong attractions and aversions that are rooted in the clinging of our hungry spirit. We get stuck and rigid by overplaying them to the point of turning an inherent strength into a weakness.

The shadow transmutes back into wisdom by letting go of this grasping and stepping through the fear to go beyond what we think we know. Instead of negating, limiting, or ignoring our fears, we turn them into vehicles of awakening. Through releasing our particular grip on the world, we let go of self interest, venture toward vaster perspectives, and discover the basic goodness of which we are all made. Grounded in the confidence of that basic goodness, we become more complete, more authentic, more effective, and more fulfilled.

The Five Wisdom Intelligences

EAST: The TEACHER -- Intellectual Intelligence. The archetypal wisdom of the Teacher is intellectual intelligence. It is what you know with your mind. It is the place where the awareness of your six senses first makes contact and recognizes what appears in your experience. As a Teacher you observe the world just as it is, coolly, objectively, and precisely without bias or projection, you then analyze it with a sharp and powerful logic, and finally you turn it into knowledge to be shared. You suffer few illusions because you are focused on the present, near, specific, and concrete. You are a problem solver who seeks data to know where you are and how things are going. Thus you work with the facts, immerse yourself in the details, and methodically question assumptions to see and understand reality clearly.

Your shadow comes from a fear of being wrong or not knowing. When something arises outside your current range of understanding, you feel thwarted, or even threatened. To compensate, you overly attach to your view and try to make everything black and white, or yes and no. You even stubbornly fixate on your ideas, and become uptight and righteous in their defense. As such, you fall victim to analysis paralysis and fail to see the big picture or put things in perspective. When all else fails, you become annoyed, even angry. Relating to you authentically is difficult because you are so focused on being right.

Your shadow transmutes into wisdom as you let go of your anxiety and relax in your natural objectivity. This pacifies your fear of not knowing. Your wisdom is mirror-like because your objectivity reflects a reality untouched and unmoved by its images.

SOUTH: The NURTURER - Emotional Intelligence. The wisdom of the Nurturer is about emotional intelligence. It is the place where the intellectual input of the first direction is enriched and deepened through a feeling or emotional reaction. It is your heart response to your head. As a Nurturer, how things are done are just as important as what is done. Thus you focus on creating harmony among people and forging strong and supportive relationships. You care about others, and build strong friendships, families, and cultures. You are also socially skilled and constantly help others become the best they can be.

Your shadow arises from of a fear of inadequacy or not being enough that manifests as a need to hold on and self-proclaim. Here, your clinging to feeling and emotion is turned inward to the point of over identifying with yourself. As a result, you take yourself too seriously, and become defensive and overly sensitive to criticism and the suggestions of others. You are also so attached to harmony in your relationships that you become conflict avoidant, overly friendly, and dependent on others. This makes authentic relationships with you difficult because everything is skewed toward supporting and protecting your emotional self-worth.

This shadow transmutes into wisdom by letting go of your self-importance and experiencing the enriching depth, expansiveness, and abundance of all life with equanimity. You have discovered your basic goodness and this gives you resilience for tackling life's most difficult challenges.

WEST: The VISIONARY -- Intuitive Intelligence. The Visionary is about intuitive intelligence. As a Visionary, you assimilate the intellectual and emotional impressions of the first two wisdoms to discern and conceptualize what is most important, and then form a vision or plan for moving forward. You see the big picture, and think creatively and strategically in a way that gives you insight into the opportunities and the possibilities. You have a clear purpose for what you are doing, and that vision serves to uplift aspirations, and both magnetize and galvanize yourself and others with a commitment for action.

Your shadow arises out of a fear of meaninglessness or loss of purpose. So you compensate by constantly pursuing new possibilities and compulsively fan the flames of your hungry spirit by jumping from one idea to the next. As a result you lose sight of reality, let detail fall through the cracks, and fail to follow-through. Your distractions spread you too thin, suck the space out of every moment, and leave no time for your discriminatory faculties to function. Others begin to wonder who you really are.

This shadow transmutes into wisdom by letting go of indiscriminate grasping, and reengaging your discerning powers. With a vision, your self-interest falls away, and your passion is transformed into a compassion that magnetizes the greater purpose you serve.

NORTH: The WARRIOR -- Action Intelligence. The Warrior is about action intelligence. The Warrior takes the formative and conditioning forces of the previous wisdoms and puts them into conscious, volitional action. As a Warrior, you actualize plans by closing the gap between knowing what you should do and actually doing it. You have learned it and internalized it. So you are driven, task oriented, disciplined, and tough minded in getting things done. As a result, you assume control, take risks, and make things happen. You are also a master of yourself because you walk the talk and align your words with your deeds. This gives you an integrity that demands trust.

Your shadow arises out of fear of being left behind, or of losing control. You become so attached to accomplishing things that that you constantly compare yourself to the achievements of others and become overly ambitious, aggressive, and controlling. You become a busybody, doing for the sake of doing, and often charge off in the wrong direction.

This shadow transmutes into wisdom by letting go of your paranoia to reveal a keenness for action that is without ego. Your wisdom is truly all-accomplishing in the sense that you draw on the powers of the first three directions to subjugate self impulse to enable a balanced and selfless action rooted in a deeper consciousness and basic goodness.

CENTER: The SAGE -- Spiritual Intelligence. The Sage is about spiritual intelligence, and it is both the first and last step in this five-step cycle. It is the place of consciousness where wisdom develops, and the latent, driving, and governing urge to realize your potential for higher states of being awakens. This is one step up from the sensory awareness of the Teacher -- it is awareness of awareness, thinking of thinking, and consciousness that sparks further consciousness. As a Sage, you are open, candid and humble in striving to grow. Your awareness makes you balanced and adaptive by allowing you to tap the potential of all the other directions. You are optimistic, calm and serene because you know every situation is workable and you make the most out of any experience.

Your shadow arises out of a fear of powerlessness - you feel victimized so you withdraw from taking responsibility for your life. You become dull, complacent, and unawake, and just hang out in your comfort zone and won't be bothered. You leave your life unattended, shrink from reality, and lose focus on who you are and what you are doing. Instead, you bury yourself in mindless activity, and ignore important signals to change. Nothing excites or moves you -- you are just numb and dumb. As a result, no one connects to you.

You transmute your shadow into wisdom by waking up and letting go of doubt, sloth, and stupor. Taking time to pay attention and reflect stirs you out of your slumber. This provides a basic ground of awareness that is an all-encompassing wisdom. It awakens all aspects of your being, and gives you dominion over your experience.

The ultimate wisdom of the Sage is the place of primordial space - empty, vast, and devoid of inherent existence, yet imbued with and not separate from an all-pervading sense of love and compassion - your basic goodness. This is the essence of being fully human, the space that is revealed after peeling back all the layers of self-delusion, and the ground that exists before the obscurations of self-interest appears.

Following the Path of the Mandala

Having taken this brief, introductory tour, take time to ask where you might be on the Mandala. What are your strengths, challenges, and areas of growth? I hope you see how it can serve as a guide to help you awaken and realize your full potential.

The Mandala is a holistic path to human effectiveness that begins and ends with the governing hand of the Sage, and progresses through a five-step cycle to higher and higher states of consciousness. The intelligences overlap and are interdependent. They reinforce and build on one another in a cyclical process that continually fosters learning and development. The Sage provides the awareness, the Teacher the intellect, the Nurturer the support, the Visionary the purpose, and the Warrior the action for learning and change to occur.

The more this cycle is repeated, the more balance is created, the more your basic goodness is revealed, and the more moved you are to serve something other than yourself. For most on this path, the confidence that comes from experiencing basic goodness remains a goal that once tasted arouses a yearning for more. With repeated tastes, the emerging breadth and depth of understanding begin to change and transform your behaviors and attitudes. You relax in who you are and what you have to offer, and become more authentic, more effective, and happier.

In doing so, you redirect your hungry spirit to move toward human fulfillment and help make this world a better place.

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