Today, I am going to consider the word visualize, or visualization. The Tibetan word is dmigs.pa (pron. mikpa). I've long suspected that there was a problem with the usual translation of visualize, but it was only when I was writing The Magic of Vajrayana that I was forced to face the fact that there was something seriously wrong with that translation.
After a few conversations with other translators, my doubts were confirmed. The word dmigs.pa is used in a number of other contexts and seems to mean "to hold something in mind." It is also used in the phrase dmigs.med.snying.rje, which is usually translated as non-referential compassion, but could be glossed as "compassion that arises when nothing is held in mind."
Okay. That's the background. How does this affect practice?
First, despite all that is written, don't feel that you need to generate a mental image. Some people can do so quite easily, but many of them find that the mental image that they see so clearly in their mind doesn't help them in their meditation.
As I wrote in The Magic of Vajrayana (see pg. 82), forget about visualizing the deity and forget about imagining you are the deity. Instead, be the deity. Don't hold in mind an image of the deity. Instead, hold in mind that you are the deity.
Let's take Chenrezi as an example. Chenrezi is awakened compassion, compassion and emptiness arising together, just as a candle flame arises as both heat and light. Say to yourself, "I am empty compassion. I am Chenrezi." What happens?
You may feel a sudden shift in your body as much as your mind. For many people, that shift is not subtle. The mind goes empty and the body does not know what to do.
Okay. That's a good start.
Now rest in that shift. It will probably feel unfamiliar and, quite possibly, a little uncomfortable. No matter. Rest there. Rest and be empty compassion, be Chenrezi. Let your body and mind absorb the fact that you are empty compassion and that you have all the capabilities and qualities of awakened compassion. Don't think about it. Don't visualize. Don't imagine. Just hold in mind that you are empty, groundless compassion and open to the infinity of possibilities that entails.
Parts of you may arise in rebellion. If they do, remember that you are the deity. What does Chenrezi do with those parts? You know because you are Chenrezi. You don't have to think about what to do or strategize. It's right there. It's a knowing that is right there. It's a muscle that you, the ordinary you, has not flexed before, but it's still right there, ready and waiting.
The feeling of being Chenrezi will, of course, come and go. Whenever it fades, don't try to recover it. Instead, take a short break. Let mind and body rest. And then, be Chenrezi and rest in the shift.