A brief disquisition on the five wisdom energies, and how they can affect your marriage and the process of reconciliation

Okay, so that’s probably my longest post title to date. Let me explain why I’m writing this post; hopefully in the end the title will seem appropriate.

I have been asked a number of times how I can be so certain that I will reconcile with my wife. I often say (and have written here) that her behavior right now is just a more extreme form of behavior I have seen from her many times over the course of our seven-year marriage. I did not really understand why this type of behavior kept cropping up until I took a course last summer on the so-called “five wisdom energies.” The course was largely experiential, and centered around meditative practices designed in the 1970s by the great Tibetan master Chögyam Trungpa. One explores these energies by holding a specific meditative posture for a period of time, normally about 40 minutes or so; to heighten the effect of the posture, the practices are normally done in rooms that are painted in the color of the energy being explored. Alternatively, the practitioner can wear a set of glasses with lenses tinted that color. You don’t do anything other than hold the posture, direct your gaze in a specific way, and then notice what happens. It can be revelatory, or it can be pure hell. Incidentally, it was right at the end of this course that the crisis in my marriage exploded on me, and I do not think that is a coincidence.

Confused? I’ll try to explain the wisdom energies first, then I’ll get to how this impacted my marriage and how it impacts my reconciliation efforts.

In Buddhism, generally speaking, everything is energy. I won’t get into the various schools and doctrines that might dispute this, but as a general principle, and certainly from the standpoint of Vajrayana Buddhism, the claim of everything being energy is a pretty good starting point. (It’s interesting to note that quantum physics would tend to agree with this standpoint, and that Buddhists have known this experientially for a couple of millennia now.) The five basic energies that define our basic make-up as humans, as well as that define our world and everything in it are known as “wisdom energies”. This is sometimes depicted in a mandala that shows the five “wisdom” Buddhas associated with these energies, as shown in the image below.

5 dhyani Buddhas
Each energy has a location (direction) in the mandala, a color, a name, a set of qualities, a time of day, a season of the year, a sense faculty with which it is associated, and so on. Somewhat confusingly, in Asian countries compass directions are sometimes reversed, so north appears in the south and vice versa. That will be the case with the picture above. Moreover, the directions are a bit “stylized” here, so the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west) appear in the corners of the painting.
Rather than attempting to explain these energies in detail, I’ll quote an excellent synopsis by Irini Rockwell that was published in the magazine Shambhala Sun:

Traditionally, at the center of the mandala is Vairochana, lord of the buddha family, who is white and represents the wisdom of all-encompassing space and its opposite, the fundamental ignorance that is the source of cyclic existence (samsara). The dullness of ignorance is transmuted to a vast space that accommodates anything and everything.

In the east of the mandala is Akshobya, lord of the vajra family, who is blue and represents mirror-like wisdom and its opposite, aggression. The overwhelming directness of aggression is transmuted into the quality of a mirror, clearly reflecting all phenomena. Vajra is associated with the element water, with winter, and with sharpness and textures.

In the south of the mandala is Ratnasambhava, buddha of the ratna family, who is yellow and represents the wisdom of equanimity and its opposite, pride. The fulsomeness of pride is transmuted into the quality of including all phenomena as elements in the rich display. Ratna is associated with the element earth, with autumn, with fertility and depth.

In the west of the mandala is Amitabha, buddha of the padma family, who is red and represents discriminating-awareness wisdom and its opposite, passion or grasping. The intense desire of passion is transmuted into an attention to the fine qualities of each and every detail. Padma is associated with the element fire, with spring, with façade and color.

In the north of the mandala is Amogasiddhi, buddha of the karma family, who is green and represents all-accomplishing wisdom and its opposite, jealousy or paranoia. The arrow-like pointedness of jealousy is transmuted into efficient action. Karma is associated with the element wind, with summer, with growing and completing.

The important thing to understand here is that each energy has two poles: at the one end is wisdom, and at the other, neurosis. It’s not a simple binary opposition, but rather a spectrum along which these energies can manifest. An energy could be pure wisdom, pure neurosis, or some mixture of the two, and, being energy, it is not fixed and can move toward greater clarity or neurosis at any given moment. As humans we are said to possess all five energies in their pure state, but express at most two or three of them predominantly. These energies can be either clear, or they can be stuck.

My energies are primarily buddha-vajra-ratna (BVR), and my wife’s energies are primarily padma-karma (PK). The opposition of vajra-ratna and padma-karma is very healthy: the fire of padma is tempered by the coolness of vajra, and the speed of karma is cushioned by the slowness of ratna. Buddha energy accommodates all, and when it is in balance it can absorb the neuroses and bolster the wisdom of any of the other four energies.

What does a BVR person look like? At best, his personality is open and  spacious (buddha), very understanding and clear (vajra), and generous to all (ratna). At worst, his personality is dull and spaced out (buddha), dogmatic and conservative (vajra), and stingy with either too much pride or too little self-esteem (ratna). A PK person at best recognizes the specialness of everyone and everything (padma) and is efficacious and efficient in accomplishing goals (karma). At worst, she is passionate to a fault and overly self-conscious (padma), and can be destructively goal-oriented and act without considering all of the possible consequences (karma).

That dysfunctional PK person is my wife right now. Rockwell describes this dynamic very well in her most recent book, Natural Brilliance:

The fire of padma can be a small flame, but together with the wind of karma, it will soon flare up into a bonfire of activity driven by passion. This can accomplish amazing things at work, but burnout could be just around the corner. Have you ever seen people who combine these energies when they are in love? They burn themselves out. (Rockwell, 61.)

That’s why I keep telling people that my wife and I will reconcile. That burn-out has happened many times over the course of our relationship. I call it a “meltdown,” because that’s what it looks like. Typically she will have some goal in mind,  like a recital program she will perform, or some other work-related project, and then throw herself into it with reckless abandon. I have watched her practice 8, 10, even 12 hours a day in preparation for such event, and I have seen her spend all night at the computer typing up papers. This will go on for days and even weeks on end, and the result is never good. She breaks down physically, mentally, and emotionally. The breakdown often comes right before the deadline, too. I have seen one or two breakdowns so severe that she had to cancel the project altogether.

This project, the adulterous affair, is different in that there is an external input in the form of the adulterous partner who helps to feed the padma/karma dysfunction. I don’t know what this adulterer’s energies are, but I suspect they are probably somewhat similar to my wife’s, and that is a recipe for complete disaster. Put fire on fire and wind on wind, and you get an explosion. The meltdown is inevitable, but its timing is a bit unpredictable, as there is another party involved.

So how do I deal with this knowledge? I basically have to try to stabilize my own energies as much as possible, and to recognize the manifestations of neurotic energy coming from my wife as it arises. It’s all pretty clear, in a way, and somewhat interesting to watch, as well. It’s like a closed system that cannot interface with the world except through the filters of its own internal dysfunctions. Everything else is pushed away. That everything else includes me at the moment. The walls of that system are very, very fragile, like the walls of a bubble. When that bubble pops, the whole system melts down. That’s when she’ll come back to me, because she knows I truly understand her soul. I have seen it before, and I know how to nurture it back to health. She’ll come back, I guarantee it.

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