The Buddha families as presented by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche are a description of five qualities of energy.
They describe qualities we all have. They are not meant to solidify one’s ego through identifying them the way some people identify with their astrological signs. They are instead a fluid working basis for recognizing our current sanity or neurosis.
Practitioners of the buddhadharma are not expected to be uniformly cool or warm, smart or spacious. Especially since these families come from the vajrayana tradition, they permit a great openness for us to work on ourselves in order to bring out our intrinsic wisdom. The main demand is to be honest and to be willing to see how we are manifesting—sanely or neurotically.
Each Buddha family has an emotion associated with it, which can be transmuted into wisdom, as well as a color, element, landscape, direction, season, and even a time of day. Since we change both physically and mentally, our styles, modes of being, likes and dislikes change over the years. Thus the predominant Buddha family of a person may change, influenced often by age or circumstances. This is because we all embody and have access to all the five Buddha energies.
vajradhara thangka shambhala sakyong trungpa boulder
The central Buddha family is Buddha, which has the quality of space and accommodation. If a friend asks you, “Would you like to see ‘Avatar’ or ‘Oceans’?” you might say, “Oh, either one,” if you were in a Buddha frame of mind. It’s not that you don’t care. It’s that you have no sharp edges, no strong likes and dislikes. Your mode of being is even and does not tend to react to excitement, yet you are open if not enterprising.
But the neurosis of the Buddha family is dullness, a kind of bubble-gum or molasses mind. Buddha neurosis ignores the vividness of life because it does not want to see. Think of someone in a Lazy-Boy chair in front of a blaring TV who cannot find the remote and who doesn’t want to bother to get up to change the channel. Although the stupor is thick, if there is a flicker of wakefulness, it can transform the sloth into the Wisdom of All-Encompassing Space. That flicker of wakefulness can encourage him to be tired of nesting in indifference and inertia, and can provoke him to get out of the Lazy-Boy, turn off the TV, and clean up the living room, creating space.
This is the wisdom, which makes it possible for the other Buddha families to function. It is like wakeful oxygen, the air of life. The Buddha energy is usually portrayed as blue, like the sky or cool space. Its symbol is the eight-spoked wheel of dharma.
The Vajra family is known for precision and intellectual exactness. It is associated with the East and the lightening sky of dawn. Its symbol is the diamond-like or adamantine thunderbolt called a vajra. If it were a Vajra person who asked the Buddha friend which film he would prefer, the attitude of “either one” would be puzzling and require investigation. At times a Vajra person may seem cold or sharply cutting like an icicle, because there is a tendency to analyze or at least question, “How can you have no preference?”
The Vajra personality works with white-hot anger. Vajra neurosis tends to have a short fuse, super ready to criticize or at least to analyze what is wrong with an idea or situation. But if a Vajra person can just feel and stay with the emotion of anger, rather than either self-righteously expressing rage and getting off on it—or suppressing it tightly inside—the clarity of anger turns naturally into Mirror-like Wisdom and he can begin to express intelligently and without blame his concerns and insights.
Usually when we’re angry we want to get it off our chest, or, out of fear, suppress it. In both cases we are trying to get rid of the anger rather than acknowledging and staying with it. But by registering the emotion, we can touch the clarity within the emotion and find a skillful way to express ourselves, without polluting and emoting all over the place, and without bottling it up for another day.
The Ratna personality tends to be proud and loves to collect and draw in richness. Ratna literally means jewel or precious gem. A Ratna lady’s home may be like a comfortable fortress full of various rich collections. Perhaps she has a great library or collection of paintings. In the kitchen where she loves to cook, she has every imaginable utensil, herb, and spice. Her garden may be a rich jumble of vegetables and colorful flowers, surrounded by vine-covered walls and planters overflowing with velvet petunias. She probably has a multitude of scarves, or silk ties if a man, and enjoys wearing a great deal of gold jewelry or “bling”. Such a person is gregarious and enjoys being surrounded by companions.
The sanity of Ratna expresses itself in the Wisdom of Equanimity. There is balance, and earthy stability. She is aware of self-existing richness in herself and her world and doesn’t have to always go “over the top”, replaying certain opera arias or dressing in brocade!
Recognizing the tendency to be prideful is the beginning of loosening up into the Wisdom of Equanimity. As the tendency to defend herself and to maintain ego’s way of doing things elaborately relaxes, she feels inspired instead to be generous and hospitable to everyone in her world.
Ratna is connected with the South, to the fertility and abundance of autumn. It is like sunshine mid-morning on a luscious, ripe and juicy peach!
The Padma family is provocative and magnetizing. Padma literally means lotus. This family is connected with fire and the burning red of the setting sun in the West, and with springtime, the time when winter softens into tender growth and brightens with the brilliant color of wild flowers. Many artists are of the Padma family. Padma people tend to be attractive and warm, with an instinct toward union.
But Padma neurosis is prone to fascination and seduction, followed by disinterest because the desire is to attract more than to have. This neurotic form of passion can be transformed with self-discipline into Discriminating Awareness, which knows what to attract, what to reject, in the first place. Then respect and communication can occur along with the warmth of genuine compassion, instead of the cycle of entrapment-rejection.
The final Buddha family is that of Karma, symbolized by a sword. This is the most efficient and active family. Karma literally means action or activity. It is like the energy of a good wind, which blows away any leaves still clinging from winter’s stasis, or like a summer breeze in the Northern Highlands of Cape Breton, whipping through the tall, sword-like grasses, for it is summer when all living things are most active and growing. The color of the Karma family is green but the mood is that of dusk, post-sunset, like an early summer night teeming with the activity of everything from insects to partying humans!
Karma people like things to work, to be functional, and timely. They are pragmatic, with a tendency toward competition. The neurosis of Karma is speed, restlessness, and jealousy. Karma neurosis feels that if something isn’t functional all the time or doesn’t fit a predetermined scheme, it should be destroyed!
But again, recognizing this tendency toward speed, competition, and jealousy is the first step in having the neurosis loosen its hold. As one slows down, action becomes appropriate. Then one can be less self-conscious, competitive, and jealous. And one can learn to delegate. This is the beginning of All-Accomplishing Action.
These families represent five different approaches and styles, which are equally valid. A practitioner may relate predominantly to any one of them, or partially with several of them.
There is no fixed type-casting. Each family has the potential to be a different expression of sanity. In that way our various styles do not need to be considered as hang-ups but as the display of a variety of valuable energies.
~ Linda V. Lewis
Statue of Buddha