Vision and Visualization

David L. McMahan

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online September 2010 | | DOI:
Vision and Visualization

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  • Tibetan Buddhism
  • Zen Buddhism



Visual metaphors, visionary literature, and visualization practices are pervasive in Buddhist traditions. Vision and seeing are dominant metaphors for knowledge, awakening, and insight: the Buddha has various supernormal “eyes” with which he can see, for example, the past and future; upon attaining awakening, the Buddha “saw” the entire process of the dependent arising of all conditions in the world; meditation allows one to “see” things as they are. Seeing in this sense often suggests incisive knowledge that penetrates delusions and conceptual fabrications apprehending the truth as it is. In Mahayana and tantric traditions, these pervasive visual metaphors contribute to the emergence of visionary literature and meditative/devotional practices that use the visual imagination. These include practices in which the practitioner envisions a buddha or bodhisattva as a kind of visualized icon to worship or receive teachings. Visualizations in the Pure Land schools are performed in order to gain rebirth in a buddha’s purified realm. Tantric Buddhism contains often elaborate visualizations of buddhas and bodhisattvas, and frequently practitioners are instructed to visualize themselves as these deities. Tantric practices also include visualizations of the interior of the body in order to manipulate the energies of the body and mind.

Article.  2688 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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