Questioner: Rinpoche, could you speak a bit about visualisation and how one develops it in practice?
Rinpoche: Generally, in the West and in any country where television has reached, people’s ability to visualise is radically impaired unless they really work on it. Visualisation, as it is spoken of in Tantra, is not really what we call ‘visualisation’ at all; it requires emptiness. If one is struggling to see something, this is not visualisation; one would call this ‘active imagination’. Visualisation is only when whatever arises, arises out of emptiness. If you are having a hard time with visualisation, it is really important that you consider the practice of emptiness a little bit; because without the ability to let go of thought, trying to visualise is difficult. In Tibet there was the custom of teaching visualisation, because everyone was capable of it; everyone had a strong active imagination. For example, there would be travelling story-tellers, who would arrive in a nomad camp and start telling some story in the evening. They would be fed while they were there. They would tell the story of Ling Gésar or whoever. People would simply sit, sometimes with their eyes open, and they would see horses charging across the plain – they would just see the entire story. This is common for young children as well. As we get older we lose it, because we are surrounded by imagery all the time and having to imagine anything is quite difficult. That is one aspect of it.
There is another story I would like to tell which concerns Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche, and the young man who once asked him a question about visualisation. He said,
Rinpoche, I find it difficult to visualise. I wonder if you could give me some advice. Kyabjé Rinpoche said,
You obviously have no devotion to your teacher. The young man, who was a disciple of Kalu Rinpoche, looked really horrified. He was completely mortified and said,
I have great devotion for him; but maybe not enough… And Kyabjé Rinpoche said,
Never mind. What is your sex life like? The man thought, ‘Where are these questions going?’
What is your imagination like? What’s it like when you want to see what you want to see? And the young man said,
Ah, well that can be quite good. Kyabjé Rinpoche said,
When you want to see the yidam as much as you want to see whatever else you want to see, you’ll have good visualisation!
If you can see something in your mind that you desire, then you know that you can do it. Desire is important there – or call it wishing, or call it whatever you like, but it is a need to see that, and seeing that is fulfilling in some way. If you can see a nice new pair of cowboy boots, but you cannot see Chenrézigs, then you know the cowboy boots are more important. I just leave you with that idea: if it is important, you can see it; if it is not, it is harder to see.