The Five Meditating Buddhas - An Enquiry into Spiritual Aesthetics
Long, long ago, before the idea called history evolved, there existed a sexless entity called the Adi-Buddha or Primordial Buddha. From ‘Him’ emerged the duality which was to be the potential progenitor of all creation. This dual element is visualized in Buddhist aesthetics either as the deity Vajrasattva or Vajradhara.
The significant characteristic common to them is the bell (female) and thunderbolt (male), which they hold in their hands. These deities are believed to be two expressions of the same principle, and the wellspring of all creation.
The above hierarchy is essentially spiritual. It represents an idealized abstract state, graspable only to those on an elevated mental plane. Ordinary mortals like us, require some kind of a concrete expression to bring forth a heartfelt response.
In Buddhism, the path to spiritual salvation is not envisioned as some lofty abstract journey, rather it is stressed that the attainment of enlightenment involves a profound transformation in our innermost being. But how is such a dramatic transformation to come about? The answer is said to lie within those very inherent negative traits which keep us spiritually imprisoned and unfulfilled. The same knotted energy that feeds the poisonous delusions, when unknotted, empowers and enlightens the mind.
In its typical penchant for classification and categorization, Vajrayana Buddhism divides the negative delusions plaguing the human form into five categories. These are: ignorance, anger, pride, attachment, and jealousy. They are said to be the sum total of all factors which keep us away from enlightenment. But hope lies in the belief that the human mind holds within itself the potential to metamorphose these negative traits into positive attributes. In a supreme moment of creative inspiration, which can be counted amongst the highest achievements in the history of human aesthetic instinct, these transformed emotions are visualized as five different, beautiful and resplendent Buddhas. Invariably seated upon their auspicious lotus thrones, they are known collectively as the Dhyani Buddhas. This is in consistency with their iconographic representations, where they are inevitably shown seated in the posture of meditation, known in Sanskrit as Dhyana. They are also known as ‘jina,’ meaning victory, signifying a conceptual victory over our unenlightened minds.
The Five Dhyani BuddhasAll the five Dhyani Buddhas are said to have originated from Vajrasattva himself. But it needs to be appreciated here, that though they have all sprung from the same spiritual father, these Buddhas nevertheless have important physical differences. For example, each displays a different hand mudra, is associated with a different direction, rides a different animal, denotes a particular moment in the life of the historical Buddha, and has a different color.
The last is a unique contribution to the aesthetic heritage which is shared by all humanity. Indeed, the link between our negative emotions, and the positive qualities into which the Dhyani Buddhas transform them can be illustrated most directly through the medium and experience of color. It is well known that changing the color of our surroundings can have a profound effect on our state of mind. Color also expresses our emotions, as when we say that we are green with envy or feeling blue. Color is logically thus one of the significant means through which Buddhist art gives a tangible form to human emotions and nowhere is this more explicitly displayed than in the typical iconography of the five Dhyani Buddhas.
Each of the five Buddhas first identifies a specific human failing and then helps us in transforming it into a positive attribute, bringing about the spiritual evolution required for enlightenment. How they inspire us to achieve this transition through their traditional iconography is discussed below.
The five Dhyani Buddhas are:
For detailed descriptions of each Buddha and the mudras, click here.
The five Dhyani Buddhas represent the five basic types of human personality and demonstrate the absolutely perfected form of these personality types. Most importantly, each of them represents a negative quality as well as the completely transformed aspect of that failing, manifested as a glorious wisdom. It is an ample demonstration of the genius of Vajrayana Buddhism that these weaknesses are not denied or suppressed. They are instead worked upon, until their illusory nature is understood and they become aspects of one’s inherent wisdom.