The visual object could be anything we see, or it could be something that we find inspiring, maybe a flower, a crystal or the image of a mountain; or we could use an image of a buddha which has the added advantage of having a meaning that that evokes our deepest nature in all it’s facets. Wisdom and compassion are automatically communicated to us through the image of a buddha and by invoking a buddha, we invoke those qualities in ourself. Few people, regardless of their faith, fail to be moved by a beautiful image of a religious deity be it Buddhist, Christian or from any other faith.
The next step is to use visualisation as the object of your meditation. We imagine a deity and focus on that image in our mind. We see the deities as beautiful in a beautiful landscape, emitting and surrounded by brilliant light, and ethereal like a rainbow. These images are full of symbolism that speak to us even when we don’t consciously know the details of their meaning. For example, the Vajra (Tibetan Dorje) looks powerful to anyone, especially when held in a commanding way.
Then we add mantra to that visualisation, and the mantra causes light to flow. Different practices have a different structure, but an example is the healing meditation of Vajrasattva where the light flows from the deities above your head, down through your body and washes your sickness and negative karma away. Each visualisation practice has a beginning a middle and an end, and each has a distinct spiritual purpose.
I never wanted a religion, but when I discovered these practices, I realised that they support my spiritual growth in a way that simply isn’t possible without such a structure. The practices I’m referring to here are the five visualisation practices that comprise the Vajrayana preliminaries (Ngondro) which not only prepare you for further Vajrayana practice, but are a full spiritual practice in themselves.
The beauty of these visualisation practices are many, but without going into the details and meaning of each practice, we can look at the over all concept very simply.
There is nothing more uplifting and inspiring than imagining a deity or yourself filled with light, especially while singing or chanting.
Following the structure ensures that you actually sit and practice for as long as it takes (the timing is flexible depending on how elaborately you do it)
The structure makes sure that you have all the elements necessary for a complete and fulfilling practice.
Visualisation practices deepen our meditation.
They provide support for our spiritual growth and foster mental and emotional health.
When you are sick, grieving, dying or otherwise miserable, you have a practice to turn to. These practices help us to see what is most important in life, to trust ourselves, to feel compassion, to heal, to be grateful and generous and to experience our true nature.
If you accumulate enough of these practices by committing yourself to a period of time where you focus on them, then you gain the further benefit that turning to these practices for support is automatic. You don’t have to think, oh I should do that, you simply do it, or you find that the practice is so ingrained in you that just to think of the mantra once will evoke the whole meaning of the practice and bring about its benefits.
It’s easy to shy away from such practices for a myriad of reasons, but they are all just ego’s excuses to stop us going deeper. These visualisation practices may appear religious but practicing them takes us way beyond religion. I often find myself in gratitude for the time I spent focusing on these practices, for that accumulated experience remains with me and provides a ground of peace and contentment that is unshakable even in the worst of circumstances.