Visualization can seem unnecessarily complicated for some people when they encounter meditation instruction. But creating a mental image and using that as an object of our attention is an important technique on the Vajrayāna path. Here, Phakchok Rinpoche shares some brief instruction on how to incorporate visualization practice into your daily meditation. Rinpoche helps us understand how we can use visualization as we practice both śamatha (calm-abiding) meditation and vipaśyanā (clear seeing) meditation. (We know the audio recording is a bit choppy in places, but we feel the message is important.)
Rinpoche here bases his instruction on the late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s advice entitled, The Sage Who Dispels the Mind’s Anguish. Please take some time to study this precious text that gives very clear guidelines on how to practice meditation. This text serves as an important reference throughout your practice–return to it frequently as you gain more experience to see how you gain more insight.
When you start practicing with Buddha Śākyamuni , you concentrate on his physical form. And that all depends on how you perceive him. Different students see different forms. But according to the texts most of the Buddha’s students saw him in one way. The Buddha’s physical form displays 32 major qualities, or marks. Additionally, texts list 80 minor qualities. These specific attributes were then used by artists to create likenesses of the Buddha in sculpture or in paint.
Visualization: Begin Using an Image
So first, start by using a statue or a picture of the Buddha for your meditation. Later on, as you gain proficiency in holding your attention, you imagine this statue becomes smaller and smaller and then disappears.
But as we begin, you can try to visualize the Buddha just as the picture or statue that is in front of you. Place the image at a level that is comfortable for you to look at repeatedly. But understand that when you focus on the picture, it is not only a picture – you need to view it as the real Buddha Śākyamuni in front of you. This is a key point. It is very important that whatever support object you use–a statue, or a painting, or a photo–whatever you visualize, you must regard it as the real Buddha Śākyamuni in front of you. He is neither two-dimensional like a photo, nor solid like a stone or metal image.
In the text, Dilgo Khyentse talks about how you can first focus on the Buddha in totality. But then you can also shift your attention to focus on different areas of Śākyamuni Buddha’s form. Each of these foci has a different purpose. If you want to be blissful, and pacify dullness you can focus on the clear light above his head.
Or you could focus on three lines at the Buddha’s throat. And in his heart center, you can visualize the endless knot–this helps reduce agitation and stabilize your meditation. Another focus is between his eyebrows where there is a white hair that coils to the right.
All of these visualizations belong to the category of śamatha meditation. Your attention focuses one-pointedly on a virtuous object.
Visualization in Vipaśyanā: Examining How the Mind Functions
When you practice vipaśyanā meditation, you do not simply rest the mind. Instead, you begin to examine how the mind functions. Where is the Buddha? First you can make the Buddha’s figure become smaller and smaller. It becomes very subtle until it becomes the size of a sesame seed. Then allow the image to disappear completely– and then you relax. The second practice is to just let be. This is very easy–it is actually much easier than the previous focus. But this process is how you master the mind.
The text talks about emptiness meditation. When you are focusing on Buddha Śākyamuni, ask serious questions–where is he? Is he in your head, or outside it? Maybe he is to the left of you? Where is he? Is his hand Śākyamuni Buddha, or is his leg or his shoulder?
Yet, when you try to find him, you cannot. And similarly, when you look at yourself and your body– who are you really? Again, you are not going to find anything, just like with Buddha Śākyamuni. His essence is emptiness and likewise your essence is emptiness. After analyzing like this, you rest in the natural state and let go. And that is vipaśyanā meditation.