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Buddhadharma : Win 2012
36 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY WINTER 2 0 1 2 at least very good-looking. But good-looking to one person is ugly to another, because, again, our interpretations are so very different. Surely there is no need for Americans and Mexicans and Bul- garians to have to learn the Tibetan definition of “good-looking.” All we can do is make the best use of our own interpretation. Don’t forget that even as you read these words, the mind inter- preting this text is your mind, and its interpre- tation is based on your habits and perceptions. You may think that you have understood what I mean by “good-looking,” but you haven’t; all that has happened is that you have developed your own version of what you think I mean by “good-looking.” Another important point is that we do not visualize deities holding a vajra (a symbolic weapon or scepter) or kapala (a human skull- cap used as a ritual bowl) for aesthetic reasons or because ritual objects are especially useful. Some students wonder whether they should visualize deities holding something more modern, such as an iPad or an iPhone. But the attributes, orna- ments, and implements associated with each deity all hold important symbolic significance and should therefore remain intact, just as they have been described in the sacred texts. The teachings on ngöndro—the founda- tional or preparatory practices that students are required to accomplish before going on to further Vajrayana teachings—tend not to emphasize one key point about visualization. This point is usu- ally only mentioned in the context of sadhana practice, which is introduced after the student completes ngöndro. This key instruction is that as you create an image in your mind, the deity you picture should be clear, vibrantly alive, and sealed with an appreciation of nonduality. To give you some idea of what this means, take the example of visualizing Guru Rinpoche as small as a sesame seed, sitting in a palace as large as Mount Meru. The palace you envision could even be as large as the whole universe. It may sound awkward and ugly, but in practice it works perfectly because the container is neither too big nor the contents too small. The difference in size between the sesame seed and Guru Rinpoche presents no problem at all. Other visualizations nothing will change. With practice, though, your guru will become less like an apple and more like a glass of water that you then pour into a bucket of water—which is an indication that you are beginning to understand the process of nondual- ity a little better. Eventually, you will come to realize that the dissolution happens in the same way that the space inside a container mixes with the sky and the whole atmosphere—and this is the part of the practice that many students misunderstand. Imagine a clay pot. It is both surrounded by and filled with space. When the pot breaks, the space that had been inside the pot mixes with the space that had been outside of it and the two become inseparable. It is not possible to tell the “inside” space from the “outside” space; space is just space and there is no way of knowing where any part of it originated. This is how the practitioner and the guru dissolve into each other to become inseparable. Right now, because you cannot help seeing the guru or the Buddha as an independent entity separate from yourself, try to remember that what you see is exclusive to you, and everything that any of us sees, hears, or thinks is based on our own personal interpretation. This is the prin- ciple that not only forms the basis of all Buddhist philosophical theory but is also the reason that visualization practice works. Louise may think of herself as “Louise,” but she would never describe herself as a “visualization of Louise,” even though that is precisely what she is. In fact, every one of us is a visualization of ourselves. Questions often come up about whether or not visualization is a method that’s effective only for people in certain cultures, or if it involves some kind of theistic worship. But as I have said, to visualize Guru Rinpoche or Vajradhara as they appear in a Tibetan thangka is a mistake. Even if it were possible for everyone to use exactly the same thangka, each individual’s perception of it would be different, and probably wouldn’t even come close to what the thangka’s artist had in mind. So, as we visualize Guru Rinpoche, or any deity, we might as well be bold about it. Guru Rinpoche is a sublime and superior being, and one aspect of “sublime” is usually beautiful, or