The Three Gems and The Cross of Reality
Buddhism has the “Three Evils”. These are Greed, Malice (or Ill-Will) and Ignorance. These are evils because they do something to the “cross of reality” (which is a mandala). They dismantle it. They attack one or more fronts of the cross of reality.
Against the Three Evils, Buddhism pronounces the Three Gems, represented in the vow: “I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha”. The elements of the cross of reality are here represented once more. Let’s see how this plays out.
This was once again brought to mind after reading a post on Wilber’s AQAL model, which I consider deficient and have expressed why I do think its inadequate in an essay the was re-posted on the Integral World website entitled: “My Beef With Ken Wilber”. (It did not ingratiate me with Wilber’s superfans).
We can’t get to the gist of the Buddhist vow of the Three Gems following the logic of Wilber’s AQAL model, but we can using Rosenstock-Huessy’s cross of reality (not is the AQAL model a complete mandala). In the Buddhist vow of the Three Gems, the four elements of the cross of reality are presented in the “I”, “the Buddha”, “the Dharma” and “the Sangha”. These also correspond to the Christian monastic pattern of the “I”, “Christ”, “the Rule”, and the “Community of the Faithful”, or the congregation or Brethren, and so on.
Wilber’s AQAL model does not reveal the secret of this pattern.
You see, what was subdued in the Trinitarian pattern was the “I” form, which was not considered a Gem itself, since it is the form intended to be subdued by the other three, even when it is latently expressed within the Buddhist vow of the Three Gems itself. It should, then, also be considered the “fourth Gem”.
The “I” form here finds itself in the position of being a respondee or a listener. The Buddha represents the imperative form — “Thou!” or “You!”. He is called “Chakravarta” for that reason — the wheel turner who gets things moving through his summons to the people to awaken. It is fully the equivalent of Jesus’ imperative to his followers: “Be thou therefore perfect even as thy Father in Heaven…” But “perfect” in those days meant “whole”, “complete”, “thoroughly made”, which is connected, of course, to the realisation of “the truth that sets free”.
But in todays religious and institutionalised Christianity, there are only vague echoes or distortions of the original meaning of all this, which is why Blake and Nietzsche hated “religion”. They were otherwise actually pretty well-disposed towards Christianity. Nietzche’s ideal of “the free spirit”, after all, is just an interpretation of the Christ’s imperative.
So, we have here in the Buddhist vow of the Three Gems, so far the subjective “I” form expressed and the imperatival “You” or “prejective” form (to use Rosenstock-Huessy’s formal terms for this). So now we have the Dharma.
The Dharma is the Rule, and is the objective law. The Dharma corresponds to the objective front of the cross of reality corresponding to the grammatical form “It is…” so. It is such-and-such, or what Buddhists sometimes even call “suchness”. For Buddhists, the dharma is everywhere — under a rock, when you do the dishes, when you hear the whisper of the wind in the trees, or the singing of the birds. It’s all dharma or “the teachings” (in aboriginal terms). This corresponds also to what Christian mystics refer to as “the presence of the Kingdom”, and which William Blake saw pretty much all the time.
So, the dharma is the world of objective fact as perceived directly by those who have succeeded in “cleansing the doors of perception” or “unfolding the wings of perception” (in Castaneda’s don Juan’s terms).
So, we have almost now completed the mandala or “cross of reality”. We have the subjective “I” performed. We have the prejective “You!” performed as “the Buddha”. And we have the objective “It” performed in terms of the Dharma. That leaves the “We” form now represented by the Sangha — the congregation or community of the faithful.
The Sangha is an historical body — the community of the “we” form is represented. It is not a collection of “I”s or egos because in the We form the I is subdued. It is the guardian of the continuity of the Buddhist community across the generations — the treasury of its narratives, stories, tales of victories won or defeats suffered. The “We” is an entity in itself, and it corresponds to the “historical person” or what Rosenstock-Huessy calls “trajective” front of the cross of reality.
In the “I” and “Dharma” forms, the subjective and objective aspects of the mandala are represented. In the Buddha and the Sangha forms are represetned the temporal aspects — the founder and the followers. And Wilber’s AQAL model does not reveal this temporicity of the full cross of reality at all.
The Buddhist Three Evils are, of course, rampant today, and are pretty much the meaning of “the New Normal” which is also why society’s “cross of reality” is disintegrating and falling apart. In the Buddhist vow of the Three Gems we see attempts to restore the cross of reality or complete the mandala, and which has some connection too with the “four Heavenly Kings” or the four “Guardians of the Four Directions”. Here, the four Gems are the “I”, “the Buddha”, “the Dharma”, and “the Sangha” as the subjective, prejective, objective, and trajective fronts of reality expressively.
This is also the meaning of the Christian “tetramorph”, represented in the cross and in the symbolism of the four Evangelists — Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John — especially in their zoomorphic forms. This is also the pattern of North American indigenous “Sacred Hoop” teachings, as we see represented in this all important symbol which is itself a mandala.
Between the Buddha and the Sangha it is the obstacle of time that must be overcome. And between the I and the Dharma it is the obstacle of space that must be overcome. The overcoming of the obstacles of space and the obstacles of time is called “Eternal Now” or “presentiation” in Gebser’s terms. And the overcoming of the obstacle of time is called by him, too, “time-freedom”.