The Five Tatagathas (compare to LRBP).
My ignorant thoughts by Mike Gray
Buddhism makes extensive use of symbols and has a large number of archetypal figures who are to be meditated on. This mandala of five comes from a Tantric school of Buddhism.
To enter the mandala, we pass first through a barrier of fire, representing transformation. Then there is a wall of diamond thunderbolts (the fusion of an irresistible force and an unbreakable object). And then at the eight points and sub-points of the compass, there are eight cremation grounds, symbolising the need to let go.
We enter the mandala from the East. There we meet a deep blue Buddha, Akshobya the imperturbable. His time of day is the dawn, of course. His throne is supported by elephants, representing his immovability. He touches the ground with one hand, his symbolic gesture. He represents “mirror-like” wisdom, meaning, seeing things and reflecting them as a mirror does, without being changed by them.
He can also represent a kind of cold intellectual anger: he is intent on destroying ignorance and delusion. He is associated with the realm of hell. He was the first Buddha I met, and I didn’t like him all that much.
As we move towards the middle of the day, we travel to the South, and there at noon, we meet a golden Buddha, a very different character, Ratnasambhava. His throne is supported by horses. He is surrounded by richness, by vegetation, fertility, creativity, music, the arts. His gesture is of a hand extended in giving. He represents generosity and prosperity. This is much nicer than that cold Akshobya. Ratnasambhava’s wisdom is the “wisdom of sameness”: refraining from judgement, from distinguishing. He is linked with the realm of human existence.
As we draw towards evening and the West, we meet the red Buddha, Amitabha. This is a place to relax, unwind. His hands are folded in meditation, his eyes closed. Amitabha is the most popular of the five to meditate on. He represents compassion, and his wisdom is the opposite of Ratnasambhava’s: Amitabha has the wisdom of discrimination, of seeing each thing as different from every other thing. He is supported by peacocks! I am told that symbolically, peacocks were said to be able to eat poisonous snakes and transform their poison.
Whereas Akshobya forcefully destroys your ignorance, Amitabha just gently loves you. Oh, and in some representations, he has a flask of the nectar of immortality. It’s worth making friends with him. He is a bit of a hippy, and occasionally depicted holding a flower.
And then! Midnight in the North! Amoghasiddhi, the green Buddha of unobstructed success! The man of action! He is carried through the air on his throne, supported by winged men! (Elevation). He makes a gesture of reassurance, of fearlessness. We can do it! Amitabha just sits there, but Amoghasiddhi gets on with it. Drive and energy. His actions, paradoxically, do not arise from volitions, but from pure spontaneity, from the depths of the unconscious. He destroys envy. (Maybe this is why he is green?) He was the last one I got to know.
Finally, at the centre, as you may guess, a white Buddha, the Buddha of light, supported by four lions: Vairocana. He represents Kingly energy, and he holds a golden wheel, the wheel of the dharma, representing the sun. And representing the mandala. His colour includes all the colours, and his wisdom includes all the wisdoms.