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Visualizations

Lama Yeshe

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Lama Yeshe

Using visualizations can be a powerful form of meditation—but don’t imagine visualizations are something new and foreign that you have no experience with. In reality, you visualize all day long. The breakfast you eat in the morning is a visualization; in an important way it is a kind of projection of your own mind. You are visualizing that your breakfast has some kind of independent existence. Similarly, whenever you go shopping and think, “This is nice,” or “I don’t like that,” whatever you’re looking at is a projection of your own mind. When you get up in the morning and see the sun shining and think, “Oh, it’s going to be nice today,” that’s your own mind visualizing. Visualization is not something supernatural; it’s scientific. So the challenge is to harness that already well-developed skill and make it into something wholesome and useful. Accordingly, consider the following practices:

Visualize yourself as a buddha, standing upright or sitting on your cushion, with your body completely transparent from your head down to your feet. Your body is utterly clear and empty of all material substance, like a balloon filled with air. Nothing at all is inside. Contemplate this for several minutes.

Or try this: Instead of looking at others, telling yourself your usual story about who people are, visualize every person you see as the Bodhisattva of Compassion, the very embodiment of compassion. Deeply doing this, there’s no way you can feel negative toward them. It’s impossible. Instead of misery, they give you blissful energy. This practice is a powerful way to purify negativity.

Another visualization you can experiment with is this: When you wash, imagine that you are washing your divine body with blissful energy instead of washing your mundane, suffering body with water. Then dress your divine body with blissful, divine robes instead of ordinary clothes. If you start your morning like that, the rest of your day will be much easier.

From When the Chocolate Runs Out by Lama Yeshe © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Wisdom Publications.

Image: Lama Yeshe at Yucca Valley, 1977, photo Carol Royce-Wilder, courtesy Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive

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wtompepper's picture

I would agree with celticpassage that the "flavour" of this article does make it seem to be presenting visualization as a sort of feel-good self help technique you can do in a spare minute. Most of the objections to celticpassage are objecting that the serious practice of visualization should not be like this, but this short "reader's digest" piece does really make it sound like that. As Pope said, "A little learning is a dangerous thing."

I'm curious about the description of visualization you give above, Janet. It sounds very much like the classic debate in aesthetics: one side worries that art is a copy of an already confused and illusory world, and so it can only increase our delusions. The response is that art can, instead, bring out, call attention to, or give form to, the reality underlying the confused and illusory vision of the world we ordinarily have, and so help clear away our delusion.

Your description make visualization sound, then, like a kind of aesthetic practice meant to help us see through our ordinary delusions. If this is the case, though, it would seem that WHAT we should visualize would need to be fairly culturally specific, since the particular form our delusions take is somewhat culturally shaped. Being attached to ancient visualizations of blissful robes and transparent bodies and assorted deities would seem to further increase, not eliminate, our delusions. Wouldn't it be better to visualize something that helps us see through the actual delusions we have today?

janetmartha's picture

Hi Tom (?), first of all, please note it's not MY description, my first paragraph describing why Lama´s visualiztion does not add more delusion if it's done properly is a very rude summary I made of the Dalai Lama's response to a question close to Celtic's. Any further comments I make (the plumbing analogy) come from my own very limited understanding of the topic and may not jive with the DL's teaching above. In other places, the Dalai Lama mentions that we should be careful not to get to caught up in or thrown off by the extravagent cultural trappings of Tibet, or any other exotic practices. I agree, any technique you have to scratch through layers of conditioned interpretations that pass for "perception" is great! Whether any given visualization increases or cuts through delusions seems to have more to do with your intention, sincerity and wisdom than the specific object you´re using.
The relation to the aesthetic debate in art is interesting, and maybe fruitful. Maybe you could say that time proven geniouses have created windows that open many eyes and hearts, so it's definitely useful to contemplate them. Other modern artists are also great perception revitalizers (my favorite is Rothko), but there are so many "artists" now who make cheap imitations without having achieved the heart, that it's easy to pass off a postcard for a door. The traditional visualizations are the old masters of the field, maybe they no longer speak to you, but they're a good place to start to understand how to distinguish good wood from rotten wood in more contemporary practices.

Danny's picture

Okay, I see where he's coming from, but shouldn't we proceed with caution? It seems like our visualizations could easily become delusions.
Furthermore, something I cannot imagine is dressing myself in "blissful, divine robes".

Dominic Gomez's picture

'I cannot imagine...dressing myself in "blissful, divine robes". Has the emperor no clothes? ;-)

Danny's picture

Probably not, Dominic. lol. I guess I'm just feeling a little "over-meditated" lately...

TravellerThruKalpas's picture

I think Lama Yeshe was saying that, since we are always engaged in visualization, whether our eyes are opened or closed, and since we are also engaged in projecting at the same time, it's important to realize the nature of these activities and turn them into positive ones -- through applying more mindfully chosen positive projections, which help generate more Bodhicitta and compassion, as well as a purer view. I don't think he was advocating the mere use of "creative imagination" just as a self-help method… remembering an expression he was fond of, that would just be "another trip."

tara123's picture

Isn't it true that our visualizations are just as "real" (possibly more real) than what we see as "real life"? Lama Yeshe was certainly special, one of the earliest teachers to share his knowledge and wisdom with the west.

celticpassage's picture

No. That is definitely not true.
"new-agey" perhaps, but definitely not true.
Our visualizations are no where near as real as the real world

janetmartha's picture

hello celtic, I notice you've posted several critical posts to various articles lately, many of which make good points, and some of which just seem irritated. I have my own history of being driven by irritation, I know it's got some real value as a bs detector, but I also know it can turn on you and make you skeptical of everything except your own island of truth. I'm learning to use my irritation in a different way, look at what it is inside me that feels chafed by the "irritator" and bring my attention to that part of me rather than wrangle with all those "wrong" people. Maybe they are wrong, maybe they aren't, but what's most fruitful for me is looking at that sore spot within that's asking for something and can't get it. With that focus I usually come across some vulnerability that, given a chance, is more than happy to lay down its arms. Do you know the saying, "every time you point your finger there are three pointing back at you"? I'm just sharing the three that are pointing back at me with you. What do you believe in or live by? It's very easy to find fault with any affirmation, but what do you affirm? Is there any part of the Buddha´s teachings that are meaningful to you? Just wondering, really....

celticpassage's picture

Hi Janet.

Thank you for your concern but you don’t need to worry, I am not stuck in my own island of truth. I examine everything including my own beliefs and views continuously.

I understand that most people have been raised to equate taking a strong stance on something as pretty much the same as being irritated and/or angry, but that needn’t be the case. Of course, even if the motivation of the person was anger or irritation, it does not follow that what they are saying is not true/relevant/or perhaps needs to be said. Nevertheless, as I have said before, I am not particularly irritated or angry although I may have used some calculated inflammatory language occasionally.

I am in general, not commenting on people, but on what they say or the ideas that are promoted here (I separate what a person says and the ideas they believe from the person as a person). I relax that criterion more when talking about teachers since they have set themselves up as authorities and I believe they should be held to a higher standard of accountability and criticism both of what they teach and who they are (since in religious circles they are often seen as models or mentors).

So in this case, I think that deliberately generating a fantasy only serves to take you out of the now and does not promote the continued awareness sought in enlightenment. Rather, what it does is to promote a dualistic view. Does it matter if a person decides to live in such a fantasy? No. People can do what they want. But to the degree such a person is invested in their fantasy, it is to the same degree they are not attending to the here and now: the gateless gate.

And what’s the point/goal of deliberately generating these fantasies? One point/goal as stated by the author is: “There’s no way you can feel negative toward them…This practice is a powerful way to purify negativity”; as if feeling negative toward someone was a problem. It isn’t. So the Lama is not only promoting a false problem, but its false solution.

janetmartha's picture

Hi Celtic,

fair enough, let's leave aside all questions of emotional responses to the teachings and teachers, after all, we all have them, and nobody's in a position to judge whose responses are healthier/holier.

I´d like to respond to your comment: "I think that deliberately generating a fantasy only serves to take you out of the now and does not promote the continued awareness sought in enlightenment. Rather, what it does is to promote a dualistic view." Here's an excerpt from "Answers: Discussions with Western Buddhists"by HH the Dalai Lama. (Snow Lion publications) Someone comments to the DL: "...visualizations cannot lead us to enlightenment because with visualizations we are creating an illusion and then making that illusion part of ourselves. Therefore, we are only adding illusions to illusions and not coming to understand reality." The DL responds that that's an excellent question. It seems quite close to your question so I think yours would get similar praise. The DL's response takes 6 pages and it's impossible for me to do it any justice in a few lines, nor do I claim to have digested it. Let me give it a rough try here, but obviously reading the whole answer is far better. Here goes:

The root of samsara is the mistaken apprehension of true existence. The way to cut the root is to direct the mind to an object that opposes the grasping at true existence. The antidote to apprehending a self is to develop the apprehension of selflessness. (That´s why we visualize a deity who exemplifies selflessness.) You could object here that simply by visualizing the body of a deity you're generating a concept of self. Acarya Buddhajnana answered that in fact we are to perceive the deity´s body as having the quality of essencelessness. The deity ia the object and emptiness is a quality of that object. We preserve the appearance of the deity´s body even when its empitness is ascertained for the purpose of accumulating merit and accumulating wisdom simultaneously. Taking the body of the deity as the object we accumulate merit, realizing the lack of true existence of that body, we accumulate wisdom. It's important to keep in mind that the visualization starts within the sphere of emptiness, and from the underwstanding of emptiness one visualizes the body.

All of that is the Dalai Lama's summary of Acarya Buddhajnana's answer to part of your question. As for whether the visualization takes us out of the "now", I think we need to clarify what you mean by the "now". If you mean the immediate perception of physical objects and relating directly to situations, well, our perceptions can be very clouded. These visualizations are, I think, ways of cleaning our perceptions of the "now", tho it seems we have to disconnect from our most immediate sensory objects for a spell to be able to come back to them more clearly. Maybe it's like turning off the main entrance of water to your house so you can fix the plumbing. The tools you take to clean your perceptual pipes are not tools you use in the everyday "now", but while you use them they certainly are part of the "now" of sharpening your perceptions, and when you put them down and return to the normal task of washing the dishes, your "now" water runs clearer. There is nothing that isn't "now". Choosing to focus your attention on carefully chosen objects rather than just floating on the most immediate sensations can be a skilful use of "now" that may lead to the gateless gate. If you're already there, you don't need the exercise. But I think most of us could benefit from some deliberate contemplation of what we hope to achieve. Of course, there are many, many ways of doing that and each has to do what suits his or her nature.

celticpassage's picture

Thank you Janet for finding a conversation so close to this one; that's great :-)
I don't know the conversation of which you speak so I can't comment, but it does sound like interesting reading.

I should clarify what I mean I though.

I realize that chanting or visualizing CAN be used to focus on the now and when it is done successfully, then of course it is as good a practice as experiencing the breath or the body and surroundings during meditation.

What I was objecting to was the flavor of the article which to me seemed to suggest 'that if your day is going badly here is what you can try so that you feel better', and that I believe is an escape from and not an engagement of reality. And that most ordinary people would probably find it more difficult to not have visualization not be an escape because I think that it's the wandering mind lost in fantasy which is the major obstacle for meditators.

janetmartha's picture

Right, this short excerpt maybe gives that impression, but I don't think that's the intention you'd hear if we had the bigger context of the book. It seems to me Lama Yeshe is suggesting practices for neutral moments here, not ways to counteract anger in the moment that it that arises. My guess is that he'd agree with Pema Chodron's advice for handling anger, or any conflictive emotion; aknowledge it, let it run through your body without clamping down on it or lashing out from it, and when the tidal wave has passed, take a calmer look at what inside you got hooked or hurt. And if there's something in the environment that continues to hurt or anger you despite your self-evaluation, change it or get away from it or develop a new strategy for living with it. I agree, visualizing a better reality without acknowledging what's before you or having a responsible relationship to it IS escapism, but I really don't think that's what Lama Yeshe is suggesting.

mosephine's picture

Guess what bubbled up in my meditation this morning? the transparent buddha. I was filled with emptiness for a short while.

TravellerThruKalpas's picture

Thanks so much Martha for taking the time and care to present some of the deeper meanings related to these practices. When I practice sadhanas involving visualizations of (or self-generations as) various deities, the view at the outset is that the deity is already empty and non-existent as such. While it seems obvious, it's a crucial point since this aspect of emptiness informs the whole practice, subtly transforming one's perceptions over time, so that emptiness becomes an experiential factor throughout one's life as the view and practice deepens. In other words, since the deity is already empty, I and all other beings are effectively experienced as empty as well. And since this accords with the aspect of "wisdom" on the path, it only adds another strong impetus for attaining enlightenment.

Perhaps I risk some assumptions in thinking that Zen practitioners often don't "get" Tibetan Buddhist practices such as these, since they clearly fall under Tantra, as opposed to the more immediately non-dual aspects which are central in Zen. Therefore I think they might find a better fit for comparison with Mahamudra or Dzogchen, which tend to move beyond both Sutrayana and Tantrayana, and involve resting in the natural state of awareness. Although having said that, it is interesting to me when a Zen teacher like Joan Halifax Roshi appears to have determined a need to recommend a TB practice like Phowa to her community. So some Tantric practices seem important enough to merit inclusion in Zen.

But as you pointed out, "each has to do what suits his or her nature." Due to differences in our karmic dispositions, our spiritual requirements and abilities will vary, and Buddhadharma covers the entire range. May all beings benefit!

barkingbuddhas's picture

Thank you thank you and thank you to both JanetMartha and Traveller! You've both answered exactly what I was wondering.

I've practiced Zen for 11 years but felt a pull towards these other, more ornate teachings. I appreciate how they can show your edges that you might not have found otherwise, but I, too, couldn't get over the "aren't I making this all up? Aren't I supposed to be stripping away illusions?" But your answers are so clear! Thank you so much - this really helped me!
You're weren't risking any assumptions (at least from me)- as must as I've enjoyed Pema and other Tibetian teachers, I just couldn't get past the visualizations part. But I can see how the practices compliment each other, with both emphasizing different aspects of reality.
Here's to learning more from practitioners like you!

TravellerThruKalpas's picture

Lama Yeshe was speaking provisionally (that is, contextually, according to practice methods in Tibetan Buddhism) -- and not definitively, which is where your critique seems to be coming from. Your way of dealing with what arises as a practitioner (meeting things in the here and now, the gateless gate) appears contextual as part of a Zen approach… since both approaches are actually provisional, it may be better not to apply definitive views about them, but to see them as two different methods in the spiritual toolkit, which contains many other techniques as well, each of which is applied contextually. In the Buddhist view, context is everything!

celticpassage's picture

Well perhaps you can explain how it works.
Enlightenment is living in the moment. So regardless of the path the result is the same. So how is it that a practice that doesn't encourage being in the moment will end up producting that result?

TravellerThruKalpas's picture

It seems nothing really needs to be explained, since you've already got your answer: that enlightenment is living in the moment... However, that in itself is not enlightenment. We can say all we want that we are already enlightened -- but that will only be wishful thinking, until we attain the actual state of enlightenment, no? That's very different... Until then, every body-mind organism has its own methods for achieving its journey to that state. And respectfully, what may look something like spiritual by-passing (or whatever) to one may be legitimate dharma practice to someone else... __/\__

mosephine's picture

I sense you are suffering from too much thinking. I may be entirely wrong. All there is is living in the moment. That is the path, the result, and neither of these, and everything and nothing. Just be.

celticpassage's picture

I am so grateful there are so many realized (and psychic) people here that know all about what I'm sufferring from. Thank all you so much for your insight and concern.

It might be better for others' reading though if you all stick to the points under discussion instead of using your awesome insight to expose the wretched condition of my mind, and my lack of any realization at all which is causing me so much sufferring and misery...just a thought.

Unless maybe this approach is the best one to bring me to the level of realization that you all share.

Thank you all so much again, for your profound teachings and your deep compassion.

--Deep Gasso.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Moses' visualization of the burning bush was pretty real, according to contemporary accounts. And he was a Western teacher.

celticpassage's picture

Really.
How do you know he was visualizing? There could be no other explanation I presume?

And Moses wasn't a Western teacher

Dominic Gomez's picture

Descriptions seem to indicate a hallucination. No other scientific explanation can be presumed. But didn't the Abrahamic religions arise west of the Indus River Valley?

celticpassage's picture

Well, scientifically, Buddhism is sheer nonsense and it's members under a collective delusion, with the Bhudda probably suffering from some form of schizophrenia, so I don't think you want to stress science too much when dealing with religious phenomena.

I don't think equivocating on the meaning of Western is helpful.

Unfortunately, I'm becoming more disappointed that the pollyanna attitude of many Buddhists, or practitioners, seems to be about the same as fundamentalist Christianity.

TravellerThruKalpas's picture

celtic -- Your commentary is rather suspect in its typical presumption upon the veracities of the scientific model. Science has already self-revealed its own limitations by the highly prescribed manner in which it operates. As such, and despite its endless documented "proofs" and "facts," it will ultimately only ever be serving up an extremely small slice of the pie of "reality" — and who will ever want to settle for that?

If one were merely to regard the Buddha as a wise and accomplished "self-help" teacher (and a supreme one at that), it would yet be preferable to using modern psychotherapy… Freud's rather incomplete "realization" (to be generous here), that there are only two kinds of people — the normally unhappy and the neurotically unhappy — make choosing any of the profound Buddhist teachings a no-brainer. After all, liberation from samsara is also a liberation from "science," a typically samsaric conceit.

BTW, Osho prophetically said, back in the 70s, that scientists would take over from politicians since they ostensibly had a "better grasp" of how the material world works, but their own limited understanding would necessitate their eventual turning towards "sages and mystics" for help and guidance. If you check your spiritual GPS, you'll see we are approaching this point, just up ahead… ;-) Happy driving!

wtompepper's picture

Traveller,

Just as a clarification, Freud's most quoted statement about the goal of analysis is, as so often is the case, not something he ever said.

He did say that moving from abject misery to ordinary unhappiness would be a good beginning, but he never said it was the goal.

I always find it interesting how eager people are to dismiss Freud without knowing anything about him, even when their only knowledge of psychoanalysis is on popular quotation which is not even accurate. Psychoanalysis has much more in common with Buddhist thought than most people realize, and it might be worth actually reading a little of it before dismissing it. It's true that it is not the MOST modern form of therapy (it is, of course, modern by any ordinary sense of the word), but it would be much better if it were.

celticpassage's picture

Freud isn't modern psychotherapy

celticpassage's picture

I wasn't advocating science but its inability to asses religious realities.

fishman.ellen's picture

@ celtic-I'm becoming more disappointed.
Disappointment is an interesting perspective, what exactly are you disappointed in ? The practice is singular, there is no collective. Whenever I enter into disappointment something within me is there that I am resisting. No one can do this practice for you or me, and there can be no escape from the suffering, delusions, The Maras that need to be felt and dissolved. May you find a practice that works for you.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Such is the times we live in, celtic. Science has lost credibility as the great technological savior of all mankind's ills, politics is a circus sideshow, and economics is bankrupt. What else can humanity place hope and faith in?
Pollyanna was an optimist, at least. And in the final analysis, East IS West. The two met and became good friends a lo-ong time ago...

rockinghorsedesign's picture

This is pretty much how I interpret the author's meaning. By following the dharma, we keep our minds pure and thereby, our projections (visualizations) will be more peaceful.

jackelope65's picture

The real miracle is that you shower while 3,000,000,000 people have absolutely no sanitary facilities.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Visualize whirled peas. (bumper sticker)

tara123's picture

That's the real answer. Thank you for true en-"light"-enment.
In other words, we should "lighten up." There used to be a saying (not a bumper sticker, but could be), "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly."

celticpassage's picture

Right.
I guess that was the 'real' message of the article.

celticpassage's picture

Seems to me this blurb is problematic and more or less pointless.

What's the point?
If you're still wishing your day will go well and are trying visualizations to make it so, then I think that's a problematic teaching for most people. It seems to me to be an exercise in creative imagination which has no real relevance.

Indeed, if you spend a lot of time visualizing already (as suggested by the author), it would seem pointless to suggest cultivating that "skill" further and remaining in an imaginary world even longer.

The statement that it's "scientific" is pretty meaningless. It is often used by people knowingly or unknowingly to add merit to their statements. The statement "it's scientific" would be best left out of all articles: You certainly won't find it in real science articles.

unystrom's picture

Perhaps the point in this was to offer us a way of imagining positively instead of letting our endless daydreaming enter into (often so familiar) negative paths. No harm in that.....?
I found the suggestions helpful and will try them. Thank you.

celticpassage's picture

Well there would be no harm in visualization exercises and instruction if becoming enlightened was a psychological endeavor, primarily aimed at making you feel good.

However, realizing the true 'self' is not a psychological endeavor to make you feel good about yourself.

rohiller's picture

Similar to the washing visualization described above, I cams across the following shower-related visualization just yesterday on another forum I frequent. It very much resonated with me, so I am sharing it here:

Deep inside me I believe water is the physical form of consciousness at its most pure. I can not prove this of course, hence why I rarely share this with anyone. But you are my astral family so I decided to share it. Please do not copy it letter for letter if you want to do something similar. Get the idea, and create your own little “act of respect”/ritual. We avoid dogmatic repetitious thinking in this manner.

Before showering I focus on my breathing and go to the shower in a very relaxed and awakened state of mind. As I feel the water all over my body, I send it energy. I visualize energy coming from my heart and going into the pipes. I ask the water to forgive us for putting her in pipes, plumbing, refrigerators, and all sorts of contraptions we use that restrict its real properties.

I do this usually closed eyes and in a very natural way as I go about a normal shower. Once the first part of the visualization is done, I visualize the entire water of the universe. Our oceans, comets, water in meteorites, water in other planets deep beneath ice, water on Saturn’s rings, etc. Let your visualization go far and you’ll see things that can not be put into words.

I ask the water of the universe and its Guides that swim within her ( I call no names from any religion as I don’t believe those entities have names..) to help me with intuition, clairvoyance, to clean my chackras, to open channels to my passed father, to help in OBE's in essence I ask her to help in anything I might need or someone else may need. If someone is sick...I visualize that person drinking special water that has been blessed by this attention to help heal them...

I end the ritual thanking the water for having bathed me and soothed me.

tara123's picture

Profoundly beautiful - thank you!

unystrom's picture

What a beautiful "grateful" meditation! Water is so precious and too often we take it for granted. Thank you so much for sharing it!

andrew238's picture

Thank you for these wonderfully profound yet simple, everyday visualisations - a precious gift.