Life on planet earth, within the Sol solar system, on the outer spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy, itself made up of 100 thousand million stars, has never been particularly easy. But the challenges we share globally, and the problems we face individually, have reached a whole new level of difficult. Yet for those who follow the spiritual path, not as an avocation, but as an inner imperative, it is a unique opportunity to deepen realization and expand one’s compassionate heart. Still, while we decrease grasping and abandon the false narrative of both narcissism and self-hatred, we need protection. It may be a paradox that the path towards non-self requires fences and walls, yet it is painfully true. The crucible of the soul in which we transform our small mind and fragile form into a vehicle for infinite luminosity and unlimited consciousness needs containment. Ironically, someone on “the path” needs far more protection than the those who are limited to the luxury of such mundane problems as family, finances, relationships, career, health and all our other enduring anxieties. None of these persistent sufferings of the human condition should be minimized or underestimated. The pain that people endure in the simple process of living is always beyond our expectation and happens in spite of our best hopes. But those who are compelled to enter the spiritual highway immediately acquire whole new levels of difficulty. One of the those compelling issues is protecting this sacred part of life from those very life problems we have mentioned. One’s sacred center needs to be guarded and sheltered from a thousand distractions, interruptions, toxic intrusions and destructive forces. These include all the passive issues of life, as well as active opposition from the jealous, the hateful, the misdirected, the confused, the self-righteous, the well-meaning disruptor, the lost souls and more. While we aim to take our realization and our deepened wisdom into the world and make it a better place, this is only possible if we have maintained a secret and safe hermitage somewhere in the depths of our being.
Creating Sacred Space
Yet it is simply not possible to keep track of all the issues and problems that beset us, that can knock us slightly off kilter or drive us over the edge. And in any case that kind of accounting would not be a spiritually skillful approach. Instead we can achieve this end through the internal power of the psyche, using visualization, mantra, and connecting to finer energies and a higher consciousness. While there are many methods within Vajrayana for guarding our inner sanctity none is more simple, and more commonly used, than the sung-kor—the protection circle.
At the core of Tibetan Buddhism are tantric practices in which we take on the enlightened form of the Deity, allowing the mantric force within the heart to resonate and radiate light throughout the larger world. But as a preliminary to this shift in reality, our practice environment needs to be transformed into a circumscribed sacred space. And the protection circle is an ideal way to demarcate this imaginal landscape.
Traditionally the sungkor is fabricated from visualized crystal vajras that form a domed latticework of floor, walls and ceiling that completely encircles and enclose our meditation area, creating a fully cloistered space. Whether this is done in concise or elaborate form, those who use this method become aware of its power, its effectiveness, and its depth, far beyond what we might expect from the “imagination.” The great meditation master Kalu Rinpoche stated that this was the main practice of his father, also a renowned yogi, who treasured it above all the myriad of other skillful means at the disposal of a Vajrayanist.
Here though, we can are suggesting a simpler, but no less effective method, and one that s also ancient in its provenance. The five element protection circle is inherently the same as using the crystal vajra, which itself represents the Five Wisdoms and the five Buddhas families in male and female expression. The pure element approach is particularly valuable and accessible, because each of the five layers of our protective sphere has a meaning, a purpose and its own special relation to our mind, body and activities.
In order to create our sungkor we surround our selves with five sphere, like cosmic bubbles, one inside the other. We start from the inside and work our way out to the periphery.
The Elements, being the basis of all we know and all we see, are a vast topic, and in spite of the experience of sages, scholars and healers for thousands of years, there are many books yet to be written on the subject. Here we are merely sketching out some basic ideas about Elemental characteristics and their effects, a framework for future investigations.
Setting the Sphere
Our sphere can be as expansive as we wish, but we will keep it cosy for now. The first sphere is closest to the body, six inches or a foot away. It is golden yellow and made of light, a luminous egg. This represents Earth Element. As the essence of stability, structure, and order, it protects against physical injury and harm, augments the immune system, and makes mind and emotions strong and firm against all opposition.
The next layer, six inches to a foot outside the first sphere, is Water Element, a luminous shimmering white globe, like transparent crystal. This encompasses fluidity, nurturing, a strong and understanding heart and a sense of unity and connection with life. The protection it offers is freedom from depressive and negative energies, and illnesses that affect the digestive system, liver and overall metabolism.
Outside this is the sphere of Fire Element, the epitome of energy, warmth, drive and willpower, vitality and engagement. A transparent dome of ruby and vermilion, the cocoon of Fire staves off debility, weakness, febrile illness and anger and hatred in our physical and mental environment.
Next is the Air sphere, a hologram of emerald light, encompassing vibrance, action, creativity and every form of movement in our body and mind. It guards against invasive forces that are outer and inner storms, physically impacting us with tension, spasm, neurological problems, anxiety and over-stimulation in general.
Finally, the outermost bubble of protection is that of Space, deep sapphire in color, yet appearing like a glowing mirage. Space is the ground on which all arises and to which all returns. But it is also wisdom itself, providing guidance, harmony and balance. This sphere is the final barrier, holding back chaos and disorder, ignorance and a contracted mindset that does not recognize the wholeness and interdependence of all things.
The Anytime Protector
We can use this method of protection circle creation anytime and anywhere. It is an ideal meditation for falling asleep at night. In the morning, it is the best way to start the day. Set it and forget it! We should understand that as we go through our daily activities, we will gradually create an enhanced protection against that which would harm our body, disturb our mind, or be an obstacle to what we need to accomplish. Think that sickness, manipulation, deception, disputes, ill-will, hatred, greed and misfortune are unable to enter our impenetrable energetic protection sphere. Remember thought that this is a semi-permeable membrane in which we determine what should be digested and what rejected. Though we are guarding the inner treasures, we actively welcome the forces of creativity, goodness, tolerance, care, inner strength, resilience and wisdom that are all around us, flowing freely across the galaxy and into our open presence.