Is Visualization Essential?

Is Visualization Essential?

Answering the karmic call to Vajrayana can be second nature or it can feel slightly odd. Both calls are genuine and regardless, vajrayana will always be challenging, as it should be in order to change the perceiver of self, other and world.

Visualization as a way of meditating can be one of those things that feels foreign. However, we all visualize every moment of our lives, but visualizing for buddhaood? Really?

Let's review some theory. Unlike other Buddhist paths, Vajrayana holds the fields of experience in daily life as enlightenment's pure appearances simply because appearances are never separate from the stainless nature of an experiencer's mind. Realizing this is the first goal of vajrayana's tantric meditation.

In Vajrayana, visualization meditation is a method for understanding that one's own mind is the wisdom mind of primordial buddhood. Beginning with mahayoga, this is revealed through deity self-visualization and deity mantra recitation focused outwardly on self- identityand the inhabited world. In anuyoga, these techniques (and others) are directed inwardly towards the subtle body and in atiyoga Great Perfection, this is revealed by directly encountering the nature of mind and cultivating stability and irreversible realization.

Lama Tharchin Rinpoche was fond of pointing out that the world we experience is the result of our successful visualization meditation gone astray. In other words, the world we inhabit is an imaginal world held together by visualization. Unfortunately, in the last few centuries of Western thought, the value of the imaginal world has fallen to the wayside.

In any case, visualization is already something we are doing. Dudjom Rinpoche explained the reason for using this technique by quoting the Vajra Essence tantra:

Those fettered by a habitual propensity towards concepts,
Should begin with conceptual methods.

Visualization is one of these conceptual methods that skillfully leads to non-conceptual wisdom.

Of course, deity visualization is different from everyday unconscious visualization in that what is visualized in Vajrayana is truly already embedded in the deep recesses of our mind-nature and will gradually reveal itself as we engage with the methods of meditation.

But, I digress.

Is visualization essential in Vajrayana?

Vajrayana is, in many ways, a visual tradition, suggesting that certain visualizations can facilitate the internal vision of the spiritual truth.

By definition, deity meditation is based on visualization and mantra recitation. Sight and sound are considered to be highly evolved spiritual sense faculties. If one sense is weak, we can use the other! Both are purifying our propensity for coarse experience in preparation for encountering our mind as as primordial buddha mind.

Mind is capable of so much more than we can imagine. It's capacity is unlimited. Therefore, there's no such thing as a mind that cannot visualize. There's only a mind that is visualizing wrongly.

What is also helpful to keep in awareness is that we are not our limitations and our present incarnations. It is our nature to be everything and be everywhere. Living this is called accomplishing the deity.

The sky can become anything—clouds, wind, thunder and lightning, and so on.



Visualization is a mobile reference point. Don't try to hold your visualization steady for any period of time. It will naturally clarify and stabilize but don't strive for that measure of success. Instead, just use it, however it may be, as a way of focus or finding your deity-ness. The deity mandalas are holographic, so visualizing a small portion or the whole thing doesn't matter. Meditation is experiential. Run with what's happening in your session.

Whatever is visualized,  small or large, clear or blurred, is a portal, not a destination. It's perfectly fine to construct and deconstruct a visualization many times in a session. The goal is meditative experience (mnyams), not graphic prowess.

Reframe into possibility. Instead of regarding the deity mandala attributes as Must Visualize Perfectly, consider them as possibilities for your consciousness to explore and relate to. This is particularly helpful when the self-deity is of another gender or has exaggerated characteristics such as many heads and arms or is wrathful. Flexibility reigns.

Pure, Clear & Vibrant, Jamyang Dzongsar Khyentse

Your Comments?

I'd love to hear about you experience with visualization. Please share in the Comments below. Thank you.

Lama Yeshe Dechen Wangmo is a lineage holder of the Dudjom Dakini Heart Essence (mkha 'gro thug thig). Based on thirty-eight years of vajrayana study and practice and her knowledge of literary Tibetan, she offers inspiration, teaching and guidance. In 2002, she established Jnanasukha Foundation as a venue for the teachings of Yeshe Tsogyal and the female buddhas. Since then, the Foundation has generated several initiatives such as support for the birthplace of Yeshe Tsogyal in Tibet, pilgrimages to Tibet, scholarships, grants and humanitarian aid.

The Profound & The Miraculous

The Profound & The Miraculous

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