Mirror to the Light—Part I: Visualization

For those of us born and raised in the West, one of the more challenging aspects of Vajrayana Buddhism is visualization practice. Our minds are heavily influenced by a need for empirical, verifiable data. This scientific approach to viewing the world assumes what we see is solid and substantial. Therefore, it is subject to a kind of inquiry that may result in greater understanding. This is a wonderful way to become more skillful in dealing with the relative world of our perception. But strict scientific methods fails to illuminate when it comes to creating something out of nothing. Visualization is about the insubstantial, ungraspable, luminous nature of the wisdom mind.

So, to experience innate light beyond our grasp, we need to access awareness through working directly with the one who sees. We must rediscover our own clear luminous vision. In Vajrayana, we begin by settling the mind and observing the way we create our reality. By employing an image that mirrors our natural wisdom and compassion, we behold the holy idea of our hidden insight. With practice we recognize we are peering into a mirror to the light.

In order to accomplish the practice of visualization we need to reclaim our mythopoeic mind, an ancient way of viewing reality as inhabited by mystical beings and spirits. Just as a child has imaginary friends and makes bunnies out of passing clouds, we re-inhabit a kind of awareness that sees the world as dreamlike and magical. The images of visualization offer us a wildly beautiful place to focus our attention and every image reflects kindness and compassion. The real magic is what we do with that attention. The intersection of attention and insight spontaneously arises when we dissolve the image and recognize the emptiness nature of the wisdom mind.

This sounds very esoteric to our empirically habituated mind but, for our vast unlimited awareness, it is quite normal. When we dissolve, we unmask and strip away any remnant of the false self and realize our true nature. We experience unconditional love. This, of course, takes practice. It is best to begin by playing with the visualization like a child exploring something new. In this way we are more likely to see without the discursive mind needing to be fed with conceptual data. If we are lucky, we may see the light from the beginning. Hallelujah!

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