Samantabhadra: Syzygy in the form of divine union

Adi Buddha Samantabhadra, Unknown artist, unknown date, via Wikimedia Public Domain.
Adi Buddha Samantabhadra, Unknown artist, unknown date, via Wikimedia Public Domain.

As a basic principle, archetypes are not realized in static form but present in dynamic form, expressing transformations in consciousness. Archetypal images transform as awareness transforms. Or said another way, archetypes appear in various forms as consciousness shifts.

In terms of enlightenment, sacred images represent transformations in consciousness, expressing a movement from duality to integration and wholeness. Archetypes are therefore expressed in symbols of transformation: representing transformations in consciousness; transforming as consciousness transforms. [1].

The syzygy is a potent symbol of transformation, representing core transformations in the phenomenology of the Self [2]. The transformations in the syzygy archetype emerge along with transformations of the self, movements from duality to integration.

The syzygy image appears spontaneously in dreams, imagination, art, and spiritual vision. It is an image reflecting the dynamic poles of psychic life, at the most basic level the feminine (anima) and masculine (animus) poles. As such the syzygy usually presents itself in anthropomorphic representations, as anima and animus.

Carl Jung work illustrates the various forms of the syzygy: the anima/animus pair, the anima/animus projection, and the parental pair (in Freudian terms we find images of the parents in coitus), and the divine couple. The couplings form a continuum of transformations in the representations of the Self: from the lower to the higher, from the mundane to the spiritual, from the outer representations to the inner realizations, from duality to integration.

The dualistic form of the syzygy presents itself as the anima and animus out of union. In this form, the anima and animus take on a dramatic form in which gender dynamics represent the dynamic play of duality. This play is presented in the theatrics of contra-sexual images. In an essay titled, The Syzygy: Anima and Animus (CW 9ii), Carl Jung speaks to the anima/ animus as the ‘projective making factor.’ This drama represents central psycho-dynamics, as the unconscious and underrepresented aspects of the self are projected onto the outer world. In a male, the contra-sexual image may represent eros, as a projected emotional dynamism. For a woman, the contra-sexual image may represent logos, as a projected reasoning or ordering principle [2].

As integration of these polarity images occurs, the syzygy archetype begins to present itself in the form of union. The play of duality is no longer projected outward but is brought inward, realized as the inner play of duality: the unconscious and conscious,  the inner moon and sun, the emotional and the rational.

Further transformations include: the eternal and temporal, the infinite and finite, freedom and necessity, and (in Indian philosophy) ignorance and wisdom. At the highest level of psychic integration the syzygy transforms into an image of divine union, realized as a dynamic non-duality.

The painting presented at the top of this page is an image of syzygy as divine union, called Samantabhadra. The image is from the enlightenment teachings of Dzogchen.

Chogyal Namkhai Norbu teaches an enlightenment practice in a book titled the Supreme Source: The Fundamental Tantra of the Dzogchen Semde. For the practitioner, Samantabhadra is a teaching in and of itself. As an enlightenment practice Samantabhadra represents the highest realization of non-dual union.

Samantabhadra is always found in yab-yum with his consort, Samantabhadrī. Samantabhadra is dark blue; Samantabhadrī is white. The world ‘yab-yum’ can be translated as ‘father-mother.’ Together these two aspects form the primal mother-father of consciousness. This primordial coupling is sometimes called the Adi Buddha or the primordial Buddha.

As mother-father, the yab-yum expresses the primordial relationality of consciousness: Samantabhadra is mental consciousness; Samantabhadrī is groundconsciousness. Gomadevi states:

“The spheres of sense perception are the male and female Bodhisattvas. The ground-consciousness is Samantabhadri; The mental consciousness is Samantabhadra. This is the siddhi of the non-duality of the male and female deities! (in Norbu, p. 40)

The realization of the non-dual union of the deities is siddhi. Siddhi is a Sanskrit word meaning perfection, accomplishment, attainment, enlightenment. Samantrabhadra is the siddhi of non-duality.

In enlightenment practice, Samantabhadra takes the form of a spiritual teacher, as ‘Self arising wisdom’. This is the inner teacher or inner guru. Norbu says:

“The teacher is the dharmakaya Samantabhadra who abides in the state of total bliss beyond union and separation. (Norbu, p. 237)

Samantabhadra is a highest form of the divine syzygy. The image is Self-knowledge: ground and mental consciousness exist in a primal relationality— a non-dual union— beyond union and separation.

Norbu makes it clear, the non-dual is a ‘state of consciousness’ (p.93), as ‘the primordial state,’ and it is also the ‘nature of reality’ (p.142). Samantabhadra is the dharmakaya, the ‘dimension of essence’, the essence appears as both the nature of reality and of mind [3].

To meditate on the nature of Samantabhadra is to meditate on the ‘absolute reality present in every being’ (p 20), in the form of ‘the light of great wisdom.’ This is our natural condition. Norbu offers an understanding:

“Understanding the essence that is the very nature of primordial enlightenment one finds oneself always in this state: this is called “Samantabhadra,” or “Immutable Light” (‘od mi ‘gyur), this itself is the “Primordial Lord” (gdod ma’i mgon po) perfect in his original condition…. Without color or form, beyond the limit of size, and transcending the duality of abode and of someone dwelling therein, it is the immutable nature of the fourth time, beyond past, present, and future, the infinite space of self-perfection endowed with the five perfect conditions for the transmission of knowledge until the end of time. This is the pure dharmakaya dimension, the essence of the vajra of clear light, that also contains the dimensions of sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya. (Norbu, p. 21)

The Buddhist Tantra, The Kunjed Gyalpo, is said to be a teaching of Samantabhadra. This text, also called the Kulayarāja Tantra is one of the ‘ancient tantras’, possibly dating around the 8th century. This text was originally written in Sanskrit.

Samantabhadra holds a conversation with Vajrasattva. Vajrasattva is a bodhisattva, ‘a lamp of the teaching’. In the text, Samantabhadra offers wisdom as the primordial state:

“I am self-arising wisdom that has existed from the beginning.
I am the fundamental substance of all phenomena.
I am the supreme source of everything, pure and total consciousness.
The primordial womb whence all phenomena originate.
All that manifests is my magical display.
All sounds and words express only my meaning.
I transcend all affirmations and negations,
I am beyond all phenomena, as no object exists that is not myself, I am beyond meditating on a view.
I am the original non-duality that is beyond everything.
I, the source, am total perfection because there is nothing in me that is not perfect.
I am the essence of all phenomena; nothing exists that is not my essence.
I transcend the dualism of subject and object.
The manifestation of my essence is the innermost core of everything and is thus its ultimate substance.
The three times, past, present, and future, abide exclusively in me.
Dispelling the darkness of ignorance, I kindled the light of great wisdom….

In the Kunjed Gyalpo, Samantabhadra continues, telling us how we become enfolded in the darkness of error.

“Not knowing that all phenomena of existence are precisely the natural condition of enlightenment, beings become enfolded in the thick darkness of erroneous conceptions. Showing them that everything that exists springs from the supreme source, pure and total consciousness, I enable them to recognize this condition. In this way, dispelling the darkness of discriminating concepts and judgments, I am the light of great self arising wisdom; thus, I am called the one who dispels the darkness of ignorance and kindles the light.

Samantabhadra tells us that it is our desire which gives rise to attachment.

“The desire for happiness is the disease of attachment; one can be happy only when free of desires. Realization is not achieved by striving for it; it arises spontaneously when one abides in a natural state without seeking anything. So remain in the natural state without seeking, without concepts!

Non-dual union, as expressed in the form of a syzygy, is the ever-present light of awareness. This union is bliss, beyond the darkness of discriminating concepts and judgments.  Samantabhadra is Self-arising wisdom: a realization available to any self, as the truth of one’s own nature [4].

References:

The Supreme Source: The Fundamental Tantra of the Dzogchen Semde By Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, Adriano Clemente . This text was original written in Sanskrit as the Sarvadharma Mahasandhi Bodhichitta Kulayarāja Tantra

Collected Works of C.G. Jung Volume 9.2: AION: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self.

Footnotes:

  1. This is the subtle realization offered in Carl Jung’s book titled titled Symbols of Transformation.
  2. See Carl Jung, CW 9ii Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self.
  3. Samantabhadra is a representation of the dharmakaya. The word dharmakaya translates as “truth body” or “reality body”. Words associated with this are light (p. 21), the non-dual mind (p. 38), like space (p. 22), beginningless, free of aggregates, happiness (p. 42). Furthermore, the Dharmakaya is said to be “one’s own mind, uncorrected and unaltered, when one is in the natural condition” (p.012) Vajrasattva is a bodhisattva, and also a representation of the sambhogakāya, the dimension of the richness of qualities, also called the buddha realms or pure lands.
  4. The nature of Self-arising wisdom:
    • It is free of all the defects of dualistic thought (dualistic thought is only capable of referring to an object other than self).
    • As its essence is the purity of original emptiness, it transcends the limits of being an eternal substance: it has nothing concrete and no specific characteristics to display. As its nature is self-perfection, it transcends the limits of nothingness and non-being: the clarity of light is the pure nature of emptiness.
    • Thus, this [is the] natural condition of primordial enlightenment.
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