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The Body in Meditation - Johannes Aagaard

- Buddhist Visualization and Christian Metaphorical Experience



Is imagining simply imagination?

Imagining in dreams

Erotic and sexual imagining

Religious imagining

Imagining as part of understanding

Imagining as part of creativity

Sick imagining

Image-manipulation in authoritarian political systems

Image-manipulation in authoritarian religious systems

How do images come into being?

What do we do with sick images?

A theological interpretation of light and sound, of imago and logos

Words create what they mention

Images are creating what they communicate

Original images and reproductions and kitsch

Icono-later or icono-clast?

Buddhist attitudes to images

Buddhist meditational concepts and techniques

Let me dare a hypothesis as a shot from the hip!

Ten loathsome objects

Christian meditation on images/eikons

Analogical or metaphorical experience

Christian meditation on death and dying

Is Imagining Simply Imagination?

One could "imagine" that it is humankind's ability to create images, which holds the key to many of the riddles which at present closes the door to our self-understanding.

Could we possibly "visualize" how the white spots of our existential maps could be filled out by insights into the way of imagining.

Could we thus possibly get away from the fixation that imagining is just an imagination, thereby meaning something illusionary?
Imagining in dreams

There can be no doubt that our imagining is the key to our dreaming. We dream because we make images, run an inner video-machine with a lot of different programs, which partly draw on the same machines' image-production during daytime, but partly also (in the mixer-room) puts the day-imagery into completely different settings and contexts.
Erotic and sexual imagining

Neither can there be much doubt that the strange reactions of humans to erotic and sexual phenomena are grounded in the imagining-process more than in factual observation and thinking.

The arousal of sexual feelings are often started by imagining something more than from seeing something or hearing something. This fact is the basis of the modern sexual industry. Jealousy is a typical reaction to imagining something which is in fact "nothing but imagination". That is why jealousy - at any rate sometimes - is a mixed bag, created at any rate partly by sexual stimulation.

Sexual stimulation is not - that is a well-known fact - directly proportional with the quantity of sexual exposure. What matters is not what is shown, neither what is not shown, but the way in which it is not shown! as someone phrased this insight.

Direct pornography is normally either dull or absurd or even weird, and it is therefore counter-effective when it comes to "inspiration".
Religious imagining

Religions are divided in their attitude to imagining. The pro and con in relation to images, eikons, idols take a lot of time and space in the history of religion.

The nature of the divine is expressed in words and images, both, but not least in imaginings! which are not easily brushed aside as pure imaginations.

Even when the attitude to religious images takes the form of what is called "idol-worship" one can at any rate not write it off as an irreality.

The Christian teaching of humankind created in Gods image has been and is one of the of the most important factors in the humanisation of mankind. No other concept has been so important in the fight against racism as the faith that we are all created in the image of God what ever shade of color our skin has got.
Imagining as part of understanding

We often hear nowadays that we shall understand with our heart at least as much as with our head. That is of course a imagery which is difficult to understand, since no one understands with ones heart. It is good for a lot, but not for understanding.

What is meant by the "image" heart is on the other side easy to understand, for it is a well-known fact that strong emotions are registered in the heart in connection with the blood-passage there.

The relation however between emotions and images is also clear, but less recognized. Both positive and negative reactions in form of emotions are released by images, similar to the reactions released by words.

Images should not be understood in their consequences apart from words, but also the other way round. Words should not be isolated from images, and if that happens the process of understanding is seriously hampered.
Imagining as part of our creativity

But one thing is to understand and register, another thing is to create and invent and plan for the future. In this relation the process of imagining is more obvious than in any other place.

One has to make an image of anything one wants to do. First imagine, then act. In the imagining, however, the acting has already began. Imagining is in itself a creative process.

In the mating situation one has to imagine ones partner, and in erotic fantasizing a preparation takes place which is necessary in order to act in the field of mating.

Erotic and sexual fantasies are therefore life-affirming and necessary for a healthy continuation of the generations. To hinder or stop such fantasies by making them guilt-laden is of course a dangerous affair. Erotic literature therefore is also life-affirming and healthy.

This, however, makes selection necessary. There are imaginings which turn sick and become a substitute for realization, a caricature of actual life. All dreaming can go wrong and end up in night-mares. All fantasy can end up in perverting reality and turn sick. This is important, for such people need help before they in fact make attempts to realize their sick images.
Sick imagining

Imagining more often than normally registered go sick. Mental diseases are to a large extent the result of imagining which turns sick and therefore makes the person sick.

Dreams must be kept within their limits. Daydreaming is an innocent affair for children - still within certain limits. But daydreaming may in grown-ups end up as an escape from reality.

And dreams may flood the consciousness in people who seemingly are awake to such an extent that they themselves do not know if they are sleeping or awake. That is the case in a number of mental diseases of a psychotic nature.

It should be easy to understand that the consequence is that also religiosity can go sick. In their attempt to find answers to religious questions, to find the goal for religious searching people may end up in serious religious diseases, which are, however, rarely taken seriously by the psychiatrists. In many cases wrong diagnoses mean wrong treatment for many years, may be for life.

People may be diagnosed schizofrenic while in fact their problems are genuinely religious since they have lost contact with their own religious base.

This often begins with wrong imagining, whereby they are led to areas of religion, where they did not want to go.

In consequence it is necessary to recognize that there are sick religions also. A phenomenon as Scientology represents a religion which already from its founder L.Ron Hubbard was an expression of mental disorder and makes people mentally sick, taking them away from their own religious bases.

The methodology of Scientology directly implies that the "meditator" first has to become "clear", which means emptied from all previous programs in order then in the OT courses to be filled up with new programs. In the words of one of the Scientology-disciples: They have taken my memories away and are giving me a new memory. That is what is meant by "base" in this context.
Image-manipulation in authoritarian political systems

Authoritarian systems which attempt to uniform their populations obviously work on the minds of their people through a image creating uniformity. Art is taken into the service of the system in the form of for instance social realism (so called).

Alternative image-making is not allowed by the leaders and private art is rejected as perverse and anti-social. This is necessary and inevitable for authoritarian systems. Without image-control you cannot have thought-control and mind-control.

Communist image-making is easy to recognize as is Nazi image-making. The mind-systems express themselves perfectly in the various images not only as illustrations, but first of all as expressions of manipulation.
Image-manipulation in authoritarian religious systems

Religious systems can function similar to political systems. The "art" of Jehovah's Witnesses or of Children of God are easily recognizable in their own "right", for they express perfectly the sort of manipulation of their respective movements.

Such images again are not illustrations, but creative imagery, which produces exactly the effect they aim at.
How do images come into being?

Nowadays images are found everywhere. They are on the walls, they are in the papers and magazines, they are in the cinema and the TV and the Video, in the albums and everywhere.

But once there was not a single image? We can at any rate imagine that it was so! But again we cannot imagine that without making an image of pre-historic man, which we again have from some picture of him and her jungle and on the plains.

At any rate, imagining is prior to images. We no doubt have the ability to imagine by making mental images before there were any actual external images. Such external images are projections of our internal images, but that it is so of course is another imagining.

The image-making process is the precondition for humans' ability to recognize. To know again, i.e. to re-cognize presupposes that you have already images in your memory and therefore can compare a new image with the originals in the process of recognizing.

You can do the same by the means of a name. The sound of a name can operate as the factor which starts the process of recognizing, but it is important to notice that the recognition does not take place when we remember that we know the name, but when the image of the person appears on our inner video as an image.

But imagining is more than that. Imagining is also creativity and composition. We understand and think also in images.

Some people walk in the streets talking to themselves. That is not so strange as one should think, for we all talk to ourselves. We all now and again have inner dialogs. By expressing ourselves we impress ourselves. We reach conclusion by means of an inner dialog pro and con.

We also have an inner production of films. When we think we run short filmstrips, some do it in color, some in black and white. Some do not know that they do it, others do it on purpose and knowingly.

Sometimes such filmstrips go exterior and extrapolate themselves on their primitive existence in the on the wide-screen of daily life. That can be very negative, but also very positive.

These phenomena has to do with visualization, and we shall deal with the phenomena in a special chapter. But let us at once observe that in its negative form such visualizations can be fatal and make life unreal. What matters are the visions - and auditions - which are pro-duced, pro-jected from ones own inner life. Thereby the internal dialogs substitute the external dialogs, and the inner world excommunicates the external world. One can in this way withdraw totally from normal life and go psychotic.
What do we do with sick imagining?

Religions in general deal with imagining in the positive sense, as we shall see later. But religions also in general deal with the fact that very many people have gone sick in their imagining. What to do with all that mental suffering, which is the consequence of image-harassment? People are haunted by their own imagining, which appear for them as demonic imaginations? Here we touch on the general tendency in most religions to take a share in the healing-ministry. Healing and health has always been part of the religious service offered to humankind during the centuries.
A theological interpretation of light and sound - imago and logos

All human beings live between the light and the sound as the two most decisive dimensions of life. We are (normally) not blind, nor deaf. We see and hear. We receive light and even reflect it somehow. We receive sound, and we make sounds ourselves. In this inter-communion with light and sound we are socialized as seeing and hearing beings, as people who relate.

Images result when the pure light is broken and colors and forms come into being. The world is seen by light in different colors. Light in its own way make life possible.

When sound is broken, words result and thereby meaning comes into existence. Or rather: different meanings appear.

By light and visualizations the imago comes forth. By sound and expressions the signum comes fort.h as meaning, i.e. as logos.

Light gives imagination, while sound gives signification. Imagination needs signification in order not to go wild. And signification needs imagination in order to be able to go anywhere at all.

It is a radical impoverishment if we pretend to live on words and the communication of words. We may thereby become logikoi, of the nature of logos, but we loose our grounding in the world of images.

We not only live by images, however. Only in a double relationship to light and sound, to seeing and hearing do we live full lives.

Faith is possible when life is full in the sense of including all our possible ways of access to reality. Faith is not less than knowledge, but is obviously of a different quality. To believe (have faith) in someone, is different from having faith in something. To believe that "I will arrive on Saturday" is less than knowledge but to believe in a person is more than knowledge.

By faith we have personal knowledge and personal belief. By faith we have that light which gives warmth. Without faith we can only have that knowledge which is colder than ice, the light of Lucifer! the lightbearer without faith.
Words create what they mention

Theology has always upheld the truth of the creative word. Words are more than sounds. They are causative realities which realize what they communicate. This can of course be proved by observation. A rude word creates irritation or sadness. A living word creates peace and joy. A no has different results from a yes etc. etc. We all know that words matter.

There are schools of thought who make attempt to reduce words to sounds and empty talking, but that which they deal with are in fact not real words, but degenerated language, separated from both text and context.
Images are creating what they communicate

In a similar way images are definitely not illustrations and empty visualizations. They are also creative. You are caught by images. They enter you and operate within you.

You can experience that images liberates you or arrest you, they may give you peace and joy, but they may also haunt you.

Not only words but also images preach and witness. The prohibition in the Law of Moses against making images are therefore very dangerous, and it is a great step forward that Christians got rid of that 2nd commandment in the early part of its history.

5ince Jesus Himself was the image of God, the fear of idols was lessened and the rich image-making history of Europe was made possible in contrast to the history of Judaism and Islam, in which imaging was hampered or even hindered.
Original images and reproductions and kitsch

What makes and image into original art? That is not an easy question. It is normally quite easy to see what is not original art but simply or a copy or reproduction or even the sort of art-degeneration which we call kitsch.

Images are made by minds, and it is on their way through the mind's complicated jungle some impressions end up as art-expressions.

A real piece of art is not reproducing reality. It is reality. An image is different from a photo, for it does not show a piece of reality. It is real itself.

Naturalist art pretends to reproduce reality, but even that is not true. Any piece of art is a projection of some mind, and the image reveal how that mind is.

Original images are thus very exhibitionistic. They reveal the secrets of the creator. The artist is in his or her art.

This has a special importance when we deal with religious imagining through religious art, for what reality do we pay our respect and adoration? the artist or the divine content? When we approach the art of Rembrandt, do we then relate to the artist or to his art? Both of course, and therefore one cannot separate the two. The artist cannot be a fake without making his art fake-art.
Icono-later or icono-clast?

One thing is sure, an eikon is never irrelevant, it not only serves a purpose, but it has a purpose. Art for arts own sake is always meant as a distraction from the real purpose.

There need not be a conscious subjective purpose, for the eikon itself is a purpose. It either attracts or repels. It either creates iconolaters, i.e. worshipers of the eikon, or iconoclasts, i.e. attackers, destroyers of the eikon. It is in the nature of image-making that it has meaning and creates meaning. It can be said even stronger: image-making is meaning-making.

That is why religions are bound up with image-making - but both pro et contra! Making images is the natural process, and image-making religions are natural religions. Such religions work and operate according to the nature of human beings. Such religions differ of course, but they share the common basis in humankind's image-making capability.

This does not mean that they are icono-laters. Some are, some are not. But they share a positive relationship to images. They differ in their positive approach. The icono-laters overdo the respect and honor which they show the eikon. They may even mix up the creator with creation and change the eikon into an idol!

The icono-clasts, however, go against the human image-making nature. To be an icono-clast means to reduce ones ability to learn and experience life as it is. It means a reduction of human beings as such. They become less than human when their image-making process is reduced or destroyed.

No more violent attack on the human mind can be made than the iconoclast's attempt to make human beings non-visual in their approach to life.

Iconoclasts are normally fanatically centered on the auditive approach to life. Truth has to be heard. It is Gods word, not Gods image, which matters. It is important that God hears our prayers, not that God sees our dilemma.

The iconoclasts in fact can go so far that they make Gods Word their idol, forgetting in their way that all words are parts of creation and are not identical with Gods own reality.

God communicates - in images and in words. Human beings are image-making and word-making creatures. Only in both dimensions can true humanity come into being in relation to true divinity. The human and the divine co-operate in mutuality in imagining and speaking, in seeing and hearing.
Buddhist meditational Concepts

The meditational concepts are very important parts of Buddhist meditation. There is in such meditation a clear movement from the gross to the subtle, from the external to the internal.

Meditation starts up with objects, and Buddhist meditation thus is also object-meditation, not simply object-less meditation as often implied.

Meditational external objects are called kasinas, and there are ten basic kasinas to be used, all of a visible nature (more or less!)

The first four are the four material elements earth, water, fire and wind. To them is added space and consciousness, which in Esoteric Buddhism and in other forms of Buddhism are counted as the 5th and 6th elements.

To the elements are added the four basic colors blue, yellow, red and white.

To meditate on these 10 kasinas are meant as a preparatory necessary exercise by which to achieve samatha, i.e. concentration.

Already these exercises, however, are meant to take the attention away from the external world into the interior of the mind. All external attachments are to be loosened gradually.

The first part of the imagining process is to create a copy-image of the external objects and let it get its own life in the mind. This copy-image is called Parikamma-nimitta, the image for preparation.

This first part of the meditation is really preparatory, and the various masters do not agree as to how long time and how much energy the students should set aside for it.

Such concentration can become counter-effective, for it is obviously attached to the kasinas, which are external objects, even if this is not so in the gross sense of attachment. But attachment is attachment, and you can become more attached to subtle and positive realities than to gross and negative realities.

The first series of images to be produced are simply copies. The task is to "see" with closed eyes exact replicas of the kasinas, so that the objects themselves are left behind.

The next stage however is to idealize the inner image, so that all deficiencies and faults are left behind. This image is called uggaha-nimitta i.e. applied sign or image or achieved image or sign.

This applied image is thus not a copy any longer, it is rather a sublimated version of the object.

But the process can continue. When the concentration is moved away from the kasina to the applied image of the kasina, which now in its subtle and refined form become an "object", a counter-image may arise, called patibhagga-nimitta.

A simple example: Colors can change to counter-colors, a phenomenon which is well-known in all color-theory. Concentrating on the uggaha-nimitta of red the counter-color of green will appear.

In the application of various meditational deities or divinities or Buddhas or Bodhisattvas the same approach is taken, and a very important interrelatedness of the various meditational divinities will thus come into existence. Some of the divinities are in fact counter-divinities to others, some are exoteric expressions of esoteric realities, and that is experienced meditationally according to this system, moving from the exoteric but interiorized image to its counter-image on to its form without form.

It is the meditation on the counter-image which can finally take the meditator into a completely object-less trance, the famous jhana-meditation, which is obviously a very far away goal for most meditators.

Let us summarize:

1. the first stage is object-meditation on the kasinas

2. from there an interior exact image is produced

3. this exact copy is refined to an ideal image

4. the interior, ideal image is used as object and the counter-image is reached

5. the counter-image is used for the final meditational step into the final absorption in which all sense-orientation is left behind.

There is a real problem in connection with the understanding of the patibhaga-nimitta, the counter-image. Buddhadasa emphasizes that it is of uttermost importance not to take this counter-image to be real. To take it to be real will lead the meditator into insanity.

Others are not at all that much careful, but takes it for granted that the counter-image represents the Reality to which the whole movement in meditation away from the realities, so called, goes.
Let me dare a hypothesis as a shot from the hip!

Buddhadasa is in fact a Theravadic monk. His attitude corresponds with the Theravadic tendency to keep cool and call a spade for a spade and a non-spade for a non-spade. He plays around with the counter-images, but does not take them seriously.

If you do take them seriously you enter into another world. Lay people cannot make all the subtle distinctions. They are by such meditational techniques easily tempted to call a non-spade a spade.

The whole Maha-yana approach to images has this inner ambiguity. The lay people certainly believe all the pantheons and their outfit to be the real thing. Even if the monks take all of it to be meditational devices.

In Tantra-yana this double approach is very clearly expressed. Sometimes it can take a form which comes close to double-think, since the meditator tends to live in a double-world, partly ultimate and partly relative, or rather both ultimate and relative at the same time.

The real problem for a non-Buddhist is to find out if Buddhists consider the kasinas the real thing, or the internal images there of the real thing, or the counter-images the real thing.

To recognize all three stages to be real the thing could come close to having multiple personalities in one body.
Ten Loathsome Objects

There are in Buddhist meditation more objects than the ten kasinas. There are also ten Loathsome Objects, ten recollections, four sublime abodes, four formless spheres etc. etc.

The ten loathsome objects are an intriguing and awful part of meditation. They are:

1. Bloated corpse

2. Livid corpse

3. Festering corpse

4. Corpse cut open

5. Gnawed corpse

6. Scattered corpse

7. Hacked and scattered corpse

8. Bleeding corpse

9. Worm-infested corpse

10. Skeleton.

These meditational objects are often exhibited in meditational halls and pagodas and are called "bad pictures". They are meditated upon as a means to loosen the attachment to the body. Similarly there are in many meditational halls and pagodas skeletons exhibited in glass-montres, again for meditational purposes.

Meditational students often perform their meditations on the ten loathsome objects at the ghats where the dead bodies are cremated in order to get to the real thing and remember the impermanence of their bodies.

In places of pilgrimage and in specific Buddhist shops popular pictures are sold, exhibiting the death-dimension of human life. In life death is found, and beautiful young men and not least women are seen as half skeletons. The aim is again to reduce attachment to the body.
Christian meditation

Christian meditation is normally straightforward object-meditation, i.e. meditation on a text, on a hymn, on an eikon, a prayer etc.

Christian meditation can, however, also be what has been called creational meditation, for instance meditation on the elements or one of the elements, on colors or one of the colors, and in this way it comes close to the use of kasinas.

Christian meditation can also include the concept of uggaha-nimitta the mental images whereby an internalization of the objects happens. This will, however, not take place in order to get away from the objects and reduce attachment, rather in order to get close to the objects and attach to them.

A very important part of Christian meditation on the elements and the colors and the senses in general is to move into the deep interrelatedness of everything, the center and the telos of the world as Gods creation.

Christian meditation thus is not passive and observing, but integrating and participating, promoting the sensitivity to life in all its dimensions, the hight, breath, length, and not the least depth!

In Christian meditation you in principle meditate with open eyes, not with closed eyes. All senses are activated in order to strengthen the sensitivity and receive input from Gods creation in all its diversity and complexity. If you close the eyes this is only in order to bring together all impressions and to intuit the deep communion of them all in Christ.

It is an open question if Christian meditation allows for a counter-image. It is even a question if it is needed and useful.

There is in Lutheran theology, however, a deep teaching operating on the basis of "sub contrarie specie", i.e. under the opposite form. This approach means that we see the glory of God in the misery of the human suffering, that we see Gods richness in human poverty, Gods power in the weak and powerless multitudes.

In this way there is a possible Christian meditation under the opposite form, but that of course does not correspond with the meaning of the pathibagha-nimitta, the counter-image, for the whole perception is different.

One could be tempted to say that the image of Buddhist meditation seen together with the image of Christian meditation is like image to counter-image. The two are so different that they do not compare. They contrast so much that they in a very deep way meet in contrast.

It could be that this is really what the encounter of religions is all about. Not a meeting between varied forms of the same reality, but a meeting between contrary options which only understand themselves in an encounter with their opposites.
Analogical or metaphorical experience

Buddhist meditational concepts are as a whole analogical as are Hindu meditational concepts. The cosmologies implied are always built up analogically: As it is in the macrocosmic reality, so it is in the microcosmic reality. Elements and chakras correspond and one can manipulate the macrocosmic elemental world by means of the microcosmic chakras. That is what yoga - Hindu or Buddhist - is presupposing.

The Christian approach is as a whole metaphorical and in metaphors the dissimilarity is the point. That is so both in jokes and in parables! The point at stake is expressed in a surprising contradiction which releases laughter (in the joke) a sense of awe (in the parable) sometimes with tears.

This is, however a long and complicated difference to develop, and that must wait till the next chapter.
Christian meditation on death and dying

Christian meditation of course also includes death and dying as its concern. But the focus of such meditation is always Christ's death and dying and the resulting resurrection of the body.

There are and have always been Christian meditational traditions where the phenomenon of human death has been prominent. In certain Franciscan traditions for instance (The Cappucins) the death-fixations are awful. Whole chapels are built of the bones of departed monks! They serve as a "memento-mori".

And there are Christian meditations on the dying Christ (in the Gothic tradition) where the wounds and the blood of Christ are made objects of meditation in very exhibitionistic ways.

The Crucifix (- which means the cross with the crucified Christ - not just the cross) obviously have been and is a major object of meditation in Christian traditions, Catholic as well as Protestant.

There is, however, always in such cross-meditation a dimension of the resurrection, making the sufferings on the cross the meaningful event it is for Christians. To follow Christ on the road to the cross is also to follow Christ to the final resurrection.


And that resurrection is seen as the resurrection of the body! That is the whole focus. Not the individual bodies, but the body of Christ as his community of disciples. The risen body of Christ is already here in the bodily presence of Christ in his congregations. And therefore Christians are already parttakers in the divine nature of Christ in his resurrected body. That is the depth of Christian meditation.