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Language of Images

Visualization and Meaning in Tantras


Sthaneshwar Timalsina

While Indian visual culture and Tantric images have drawn wide attention, the culture of images, particularly that of the divine images, is broadly misunderstood. This book is the first to systematically address the hermeneutic and philosophical aspects of visualizing images in Tantric practices. While examining the issues of embodiment and emotion, this volume initiates a discourse on image-consciousness, imagination, memory, and recall. The main objective of this book is to explore the meaning of the opaque Tantric forms, and with this, the text aims to introduce visual language to discourse. Language of Images is the result of a long and sustained engagement with Tantric practitioners and philosophical and exegetical texts. Due to its synthetic approach of utilizing multiple ways to read cultural artifacts, this work stands alone in its attempt to unravel the esoteric domains of Tantric practice by means of addressing the culture of visualization.
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Chapter 1. Image, Imagination, and Meaning


Chapter 1


νοεῖν οὐκ ἔστιν ἄνευ φαντάσματος1


Hermeneutics of Tantric Visualization

No wonder we lack imagination. We have not yet been able to brush off ideas such as that of Gilbert Ryle that “there is no special faculty of Imagination, occupying itself single-mindedly in fancied viewings and hearings.”3 The prominence Aristotle gave to imagination is matched by the equal amount of negligence in the Semitic traditions and analytical philosophies. If not for the contemporary resurgence of image and imagination, thanks to the cognitive scientists, humanity would have banished what we have in hand, in quest of the philosopher’s stone called ‘reality.’ Addressing imagination is not easy. The project at hand, Language of Images, is even more challenging, as it rests on the presumption that readers are familiar with the contemporary discourse on image and imagination, are familiar with Indian culture in general and Tantric culture in particular, and are familiar with the salient presuppositions of Indian and Tantric philosophies. ← 1 | 2 →

Although all these disclaimers may sound unwelcoming, my objective in the following pages is to give a brief overview of all of these so that I do not have to engage the issues on philosophy or cognitive science and can focus only on the different aspects of Tantric visualization for the remaining pages. For whatever it is worth, this work is not a manual for visualization practices but rather a contemplation upon aspects of such...

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