Visualization

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Visualization

Postby Bookman » Mon Sep 03, 2012 10:48 am

Hi, I'm new here and joined to ask one specific question, though I intend to be around for a long while if you'll have me :)

My question concerns visualization in Buddhism. I have been a Buddhist for just a couple of years and practice alone due to both my geographical location and a physical disability which makes public sitting a non-starter. I practice mindfulness meditation, but I have always had a vivid imagination and I have 'accidentally' constructed a mental Buddhist temple that I go to when I sit. I use a visualized Buddha statue as a focal point to begin with, then proceed with straightforward mindfulness meditation.

Now, is my use of visualization here unskilful? My 'inner temple' is quite a bit nicer than my real surroundings, but it isn't real, so it could be viewed as an escapist fantasy. Should I stop using it or is the positive gain I get from it okay? Since 'I' am also just an imaginary construct, does that mean all such constructs are to be eradicated, or simply recognized as having no basis in reality?

I know that other schools of Buddhism use visualization, and that the whole 'Second Life Buddhism' approach could be viewed as something similar, but I'd appreciate comments from the sangha - which would be you guys and gals :-)

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Re: Visualization

Postby Ben » Mon Sep 03, 2012 10:56 am

Greetings Bookman and welcome to Dhamma Wheel.
As you know - other forms of Buddhism utilize visualization.
With regards to Theravada practice - I would question what you are intending to do with the visualization practice and whether there is any basis for the practice within the Nikayas or ancient commentarial literature.
I would also encourage you to look at standard (tried and tested) meditative practices within the Theravda to help you with your unruly mind.
kind regards,

Ben
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Re: Visualization

Postby Bookman » Mon Sep 03, 2012 11:01 am

Hi Ben :-) Many thanks for your reply - that sounds like good advice. So basically no use of imagination is considered skillful in Theravada? I had assumed that since meditations on the body parts (which includes internal organs) necessarily use the imaginative faculty, there might have been some merit to it. I'll hit the books and consider myself corrected :-)
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Re: Visualization

Postby Alobha » Mon Sep 03, 2012 1:38 pm

Hi Bookman and welcome to Dhammawheel :smile:

Bookman wrote:Now, is my use of visualization here unskilful? My 'inner temple' is quite a bit nicer than my real surroundings, but it isn't real, so it could be viewed as an escapist fantasy.

It depends on the intention of why one imagines a place different from the here and now.

Bookman wrote:So basically no use of imagination is considered skillful in Theravada? I had assumed that since meditations on the body parts (which includes internal organs) necessarily use the imaginative faculty, there might have been some merit to it. I'll hit the books and consider myself corrected :-)

The Buddha made frequent use of quite vivid imagery but they were used to demonstrate an aspect of the teaching, prevent careless living and to establish mindfulness in the present moment instead of possibly escaping into thoughts and perceptions.
The meditation on body parts and contemplations of death (maranassati), like contemplating the appearence of an executioner or the destruction of property don't have this possible "pleasant" aspect compared to a nice, comfy temple imagination. The body parts, seeing the body as subject to many dangers or death contemplations are tools to get a clear understanding of the first noble truth and the three marks of existence.
So I hope you can see that there is some difference between contemplations of the body or death and conjuring up images of a "safe" place.

Ben wrote:I would also encourage you to look at standard (tried and tested) meditative practices within the Theravda to help you with your unruly mind.

That's what I would recommend, too.

Best wishes,
Alobha
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Re: Visualization

Postby James the Giant » Mon Sep 03, 2012 1:54 pm

Bookman wrote:Now, is my use of visualization here unskilful?

I say it's skilful. You seem to use it as a tool to get you into a state where you can then switch and do the real work of meditation. Just like counting breaths, then switching to vipassana/satipatthana/insight when you are concentrated enough.
So I would say that it's skilful. You have found that it works for you. Use it. As long as you are not using it as an end in itself.

Expedient means, I think they call it.
Ah yes, I found "Upaya" It's a Mahayana concept, but I feel it is a useful idea for us in (modern) Theravada too. Or maybe not in Theravada, but in modern theravada-based practises. Whatever:
"Upaya-kaushalya is a concept which emphasizes that practitioners may use their own specific methods or techniques that fit the situation in order to gain Enlightenment.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upaya
Then,
saturated with joy,
you will put an end to suffering and stress.
SN 9.11
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Re: Visualization

Postby santa100 » Mon Sep 03, 2012 3:10 pm

just like a fighter would know how useful his forms of practice only after stepping onto the ring, you should investigate to see if your form of practice leads to progress or improvement in the 3 areas of: moral precepts, concentration, and wisdom, or as the Buddha had taught:
"As for the qualities of which you may know, 'These qualities lead to dispassion, not to passion; to being unfettered, not to being fettered; to shedding, not to accumulating; to modesty, not to self-aggrandizement; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to entanglement; to aroused persistence, not to laziness; to being unburdensome, not to being burdensome': You may categorically hold, 'This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher's instruction." ~~ http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html ~~
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Re: Visualization

Postby Bookman » Mon Sep 03, 2012 3:28 pm

Thank you all for your responses - there is plenty of me to think about there. Basically the visualization is just a shorthand way of getting centered and focusing on meditating rather than the million and one other things that I have to do in my immediate environment. I don't continue imagining that I'm in a temple or anything for the duration of the sitting - I pay attention to the breath and to the normal stimuli that happen to come along (external noises, etc.) I guess until today I viewed it as being a valid alternative to having a dedicated meditation area - something that I'd really like but which isn't possible for a while. I also meditate outdoors when I can, and in that case observing nature itself serves the same centering purpose, so I don't bother with the visualization.

With metta :smile:
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Re: Visualization

Postby Nyana » Mon Sep 03, 2012 5:44 pm

Bookman wrote:I had assumed that since meditations on the body parts (which includes internal organs) necessarily use the imaginative faculty, there might have been some merit to it.

If it helps to inspire and motivate your study and practice then it's skillful and meritorious. Plus, there are some beautiful visionary images in Pāli texts, such as the Buddhāpadāna: The Tradition of the Previous Excellent Deeds of the Buddha, as well as other practices that can include visualization like the Jinapañjara Gāthā. The Theravāda is a rich tradition with many different practices and meditation methods.

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Re: Visualization

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Tue Sep 04, 2012 5:50 am

Anything that can get you "in the mood" for meditation is helpful, but don't let it supplant your actual practice.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.
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