In honour of the forthcoming Veask Celebration in Queens Gardens, Shepparton, we bring you this article of interest on visualisation in Buddhist meditation. Not all meditation is darkness, blank, emptiness, shunya. Visualization practice sometimes involves traditional symbolism that Westerners have trouble relating to, says Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. He shows us how we can make the most of this powerful method for transforming perception.
The technique of visualization is employed throughout the Vajrayana practices of Tibetan Buddhism. Its use of our imagination makes it quite different from other meditations, such as shamatha, or calm abiding. Imagination also plays a major part in our deluded experience of life. Everything we encounter and perceive in our daily life is a product of our imagination, but because we believe in the illusions we create, they become such deeply rooted mental habits that we completely forget they are little more than fantasy. The imagination is therefore one of our most powerful tools, and working with it by changing the ways we look at our world is what we call the practice of visualization.
One small problem for beginners is that the English word visualization can be misleading. Most people think visualization means focusing on an image and then holding it in their mind’s eye. But physical appearance is only one element of visualization practice, and by no means the whole story. Peoples’ attitudes and understanding change according to their situations and education. Until very recently, Buddhist masters brought up in Tibet would have looked on salad and green vegetables as animal fodder and would never have willingly eaten it themselves. Now that Tibetans have become familiar with food outside of Tibet, their attitudes have changed, and it is precisely this kind of shift in our perception that we work with in our visualization, which is also called “creation meditation.”
Another example of the way we adapt our attitudes to situations can be found on the World Wide Web. Most erotic pictures are usually quite small—certainly nowhere near life-size. Logically, it is hard to believe that such tiny images could cause living, breathing human beings to become aroused, but they do. Our habits are so entrenched that, having programmed ourselves to respond to a specific kind of image, it will consistently have the power to turn us on or make us angry, sad, or even depressed, even when we see it on a tiny YouTube screen. To a certain extent, this is how visualization works, and neither size nor so-called realism have anything to do with it.
Were you to tell a worldly friend that everything we see around us—the houses, cars, trees, and shops—does not truly exist as we believe we see it, he would most likely think you had finally lost it. Yet, according to Vajrayana theory, your perception of this world is unique; it is not seen or experienced in the same way by anyone else because what you see does not exist externally. Vajrayana students who were born and brought up in the modern world often have difficulties with visualization practice. Part of the problem, I think, is that Tibetan teachers like myself assume all sentient beings process things the same way Tibetans do. We teach you to picture the Buddha the way he is traditionally depicted in Tibet, adorned with ornaments that are valued by Tibetans and convey specific meanings to them. But becoming a perfect Tibetan iconographer is not the point of visualization practice.
You can read more of this article on meditation and visualisation in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition here.
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