Tuesday, 10 February 2009
On the Practice of Deity Visualisation
I will leave the exact treatment of the method of deity visualisation to the experts, particularly since it is considered a secret in the Vajrayana vehicle of Tibetan Buddhism. This is not a religious blog and I do not profess to be an expert on the subject. I did, however, want to offer an observation or two on the visualisation of deities. Or rather, how not to visualise them.
It appears that certain disciplines require an exact and precise discipline in the image visualisation of deities. I have no quarrel with this. What appears to be infinitely more interesting is the mind's ability to assign attributes to the deity, and the degree of control one has over this process. I have never seen a description of this particular point in my travels, although that could well be my ignorance showing.
To make my point, consider the Bodhisattva Manjushri above. He is a particularly beloved deity of mine, being the embodiment of all the Buddhas' wisdom. That is an attribute he has - wisdom. When people meditate upon his image, they also meditate upon the wisdom aspect he represents. And that's all we are usually given - "wisdom". The exact details of his wisdom are certainly written up, but the average person will probably remain unexposed to this.
And herein seems to be a problem. For when we visualise the divine Manjushri, we automatically assign to him our personal version of wisdom, however correct or incorrect this may be. This means that as we meditate upon him and admiring and taking on his qualities, we may in fact simply be falling in love with our own story and projection about wisdom. Whilst I'll grant that the average practitioner is probably well-meaning, it also means that any blind spots in his conception of wisdom will continue to remain blind spots. If he successfully reaches what he believes to be wisdom, then he will only have attained his conception of it, at whatever level that may be. In not addressing this point, problems arise in the development and perhaps even dangers if the conception of wisdom is particularly flawed. This could happen if the practitioner comes from a culture of "should" and "should not" and subconsciously imposes that upon his deity, who may or may not have such attributes in the first place.
[Note: I have decided to edit out the final paragraph to this piece, as it had contained a couple of hints on the finer details of meditation. These, in retrospect, should be left to each person's personal teachers.]