Five becomes three
I am obsessed with the five element model, certain at my core that it is a fundamental formative principle of body, mind, world, life. But it is not the only operant system that has eluded modern science. The Law of Three pervades our experience, and knowledge of its workings is a feature of religious, spiritual, and transformative systems throughout time and place. The Armenian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff propounded it in an extremely clear way, naming these three the Holy affirming, Holy denying, and Holy reconciling. In simple terms, these could be thought of as active or motive, passive or inertial, and mediating or harmonizing. They are the electron, proton, and neutron of the unseen world, in actuality. Note that this third force, while neither active nor passive, is not neutral. It has a catalytic or unifying effect, without which those opposing forces could never produce a reaction or result. Also, these are not hierarchical in a strict sense, so various series of three related to ever-higher levels may be something altogether different. The Buddhist three sacred bodies—Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya, or cosmic, energetic/etheric, and material—are examples of these kinds of stages. Neither are they a temporal sequence, such as the Hindu Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, the forces of creation, maintenance, and destruction. And it really won’t help us to become entangled with the mathematical properties of three, as fascinating as they are. What we are interested in is the rarely studied knowledge of these world-creating dynamics, whose traces can be seen in all deeper, esoteric transformative practices. Traditionally, it was these inner spiritual traditions that were the keepers of these truths at a time when science was sacred science, and how things work was simply mechanics. But the fact remains that three archetypal forces are always involved with the process of both material objects and living beings.
Traditions of the three
In some spiritual paths of old, various forces and conscious energies were personified as deities or “gods,” while others used symbols and technical terms to point toward these formative energies. Medieval European alchemy, based on Arabic and Persian works, clearly portrayed the three forces as sulfur, mercury, and salt (active, resistant, reconciling). Sometimes the marriage or unification of the three forces was seen as sun (male), moon (female), and spirit (a cosmic bird). They are graphically portrayed in the familiar Christian Holy Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or the Mother-Sophia, Jesus-Sophia, Spirit-Sophia of American Christian mystic Cynthia Bourgeault). Remember, we are not speaking of the exoteric, “Wikipedia,” or theological meanings of these terms, but their inner, Essene or Gnostic meaning. The Egyptian priests recognized these forces as the Osiris, Isis, and Horus—these triplets also existing in several other guises depending on the epoch and region of ancient Egypt. They are also related to the Vedantic concept of the three gunas: rajas, tamas, and sattvic, which can be taken as purely psychological or on a deeper level of the law of three. Very prominently and well known is the Daoist concept of the opposing sources of Yin and Yang, and their unifying context, the Tao or Dao. We must, however, focus a particularly bright light on Buddhist Vajrayana, being very accessible in its discussion of the mixing of these three fundamental forces within our physical organism. Still, nowhere are the movement, location, and characteristics of energy more fully discussed than in Chinese Daoism; although sifting through the seemingly countless lineages and styles can seem chaotic. Unlike Buddhism, there was no strict codification of teachings, as different masters (male and female) in the vast land of China developed unique schools based on their particular skill and realization. To complicate matters, it was a standard ethos to keep the inner teachings of one’s school behind a strict wall of secrecy. However, there is agreement within qi gong and inner alchemy (neidan) that there are two main forms of chi or energy in the body. As we can expect, one is yang and the other is yin. But as the modern Western master Damo Mitchell explains, they can accurately be described as electric and magnetic energy, respectively. Because electrical energy (ionic depolarization and field creation) is considered yang, it is associated with the nervous system. Magnetic energy is yin in nature and associated with the breath and circulation of fluids. Here we will avoid the muddle of the difference between magnetic and electrical fields, field oscillation, how they influence and create each other, and the mathematical complexity of quantum theory. They are simply quite different energetic forces and contained meanings, as observed (but not understood) by physics. In doing various spiritual practices, we accumulate, condensate, and learn to spread electrical and magnetic energy. But what is the third force needed for this alchemy? It is biophotons—carriers of consciousness itself—that is the required reconciling force to cook our inner cauldron. These three forces—electrical, magnetic, and photonic—are the primal yin-yang-dao, the active-passive-reconciling, the sulphur-mercury-salt that we see in so many traditions.
Finding the three
While all phenomena, small and vast, take place because of the three forces, it helps our understanding to go beyond theory to discover how they are localized in the body. Indeed, three focal areas are in different medical and spiritual anatomy systems around the globe. In Daoism, these are the three “dan tiens,” or energetic spheres, basically denoting the lower body, chest field, and head area. This is identical to Gurdjieff’s three centers: intellectual, emotional, and moving. It also corresponds to the well-known three-chakra or three-center system of Vajrayana that we have examined many times. The white father energy, the world of form and name, lives in the head. The red mother energy or life force, dwells in the pelvis. In the center, consciousness resides in the heart, beyond either form-formless and alive-inert. There is also the three-chakra expression of Om-Ah-Hung, symbolic of the form-energy and consciousness that uses the shorthand of forehead, throat, and heart. These are the two great forces that need to be mixed, stored, circulated, controlled within our human form. This is a major purpose of mantra recitation, pranayama or breath retention, body postures and body movements (tsa lung). But what is the looking for a union of three forces, not just the tremendous build up of the electro and magnetic fields. The practice of tummo in Vajrayana and various internal firing of Chinese inner alchemy or neidan, are some of the complex ways in which these three become a unitary force of change.
The fourth and final
And yet the union of these three is not the end of the story. It is only the means toward transformation. If the three are harmonized and truly reconciled, a fourth state is produced. “The interweaving of the three produces a fourth in a new dimension.” And here is the final product in the Light Body formation process. A new “something” arises, something we can barely name. This could be called the “rainbow body cell.” It is a cosmic molecule, one built of internal bio-energies, different forms of chi or prana, different “hydrogens” of the Gurdjieffian scale of spiritual substance. But the Light Body is not built in a day. These atoms, cells, molecules of Light Body have to be accumulated over decades, over a lifetime of work, which may run the whole gamut of meditations, yogas, mantra-recitation, and energy manipulations that have been perfected over millennia. This gives the lie to the “ascensionist” school of light body wishful thinking, or those that think “heaven” is the reward for a life well lived. It certainly helps, but much more is required for such a gargantuan step beyond the feeble human existence. How many light-cells does it take, and what degree of luminous structure do we need in order to have at least a framework that will assure an afterlife possibility? This gets into Harry Potter territory, with the “muggles” or ordinary folk on one side, and the “wizards-in-training” on the other. But such categorization was already necessary long ago. Buddhists called those who went beyond the karmic wheel, “stream-winners.” Gurdjieff spoke of “person number four” who had developed beyond those centered on intellect, emotions, or physicality (person numbers one, two, and three), having harmonized their three forces such that they were connected to higher internal centers. There are obviously numerous other titles for those with a little or a major amount of attainment, from rinpoche to shaman, magi, or maestro. Mostly these are ceremonial, as outer distinctions are no guarantee of inner development. But according to a private teaching whose source cannot be attributed, the average “good” person may develop about 10–15 per cent light-form cells within their lifetime, while it requires some 30 per cent of this kind of transmutation in order to assure that one can continue their Light Body development into future lives. This additional requirement is significant, as it simply does not happen by itself. It is not part of Gaia, of the natural or biological world. Nature does not need this, as it loves conformity, every blade of grass like every other. It is the spiritual seeker who shatters the natural order, breaking free of the mundane, the fatal path. This is the alchemical meaning of creating gold from lead, of creating a “second Kesdjan body” of Gurdjieff, the transubstantiation of Christianity, the Vajra Body of Tibetan Buddhism, the hong hua (rainbow) of the Daoists, and the Lataif or subtle body of the Sufis. Wherever we are in our lives, if we clear negative karma, and try to accumulate positive force through thought, word, and deed, practicing earnestly in a tradition in which we have confidence, the goal will inevitably arise.
Baker, Ian. 2019. Tibetan Yoga: Principles and Practice. Rochester: Inner Traditions.
Bourgeault, C. 2013. The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity. Boston: Shambala.
Guinness, Lowel. 2018. Rainbow Body. Chicago: Serindia Publications.
Johnson, Jerry Alan. 2017. The Hidden Teachings of Christian Mysticism (Vol. 1): Spiritual Transformation & Divine Healing. Pacific Grove: International Institute of Qi Gong.
Mitchell, Damo. 2016. White Moon on the Mountain Peak: The Alchemical Firing Process of Nei Dan. London: Singing Dragon.